Fountain Hills Climbing Route, starting from AJ’s (Mountain View & Via Linda).
It stands to reason that the town of Fountain Hills would have some … er … hills to climb, and the circuit shown above doesn’t disappoint. The route features numerous climbs, many over 10% grade, including the second steepest climb in the Phoenix area (as far as I know) – Golden Eagle Blvd, which tops out at chain-stretching 22% grade. A big plus of this route is that most of the roads feature nice riding on wide bike lanes. Once in Fountain Hills, the scenery is great, the traffic is light and the wide bike lanes make for relatively safe riding.
I’ve arbitrarily started this route at AJ’s, a popular cycling hangout at the corner of Mountain View and Via Linda. It makes a good post-ride destination for coffee and snacks.
The first part of this ride follows a popular route to the Hidden Hills area, just west of Fountain Hills. From AJ’s, go east along Mountain View Rd, turn north on 124th St, then east again on Via Linda, all the way to 136th St. If you were to keep going straight on Via Linda, you’d be doing the Hidden Hills climb, which I usually do after riding out to Fountain Hills. For now, turn south on 136th St down to Shea Blvd. If you look diagonally to your left, you’ll see a paved bike path on the south side of Shea. It’s worth taking, for it keeps you out of traffic along Shea Blvd.
The bike path along Shea Boulevard.
Unfortunately, this bike path only lasts for a mile or so, and then you get dumped back onto Shea Boulevard. As a general rule, I avoid Shea like the plague when I’m out cycling, but here I make an exception for the following reasons: (1) There are three lanes of traffic going each way, giving cars plenty of room to go around you, (2) you have the semblance of a bike lane, although only part of it is actually marked as such, (3) in the early morning hours of the weekend, the traffic is relatively light, (4) you’ll only be on Shea for about a mile, and (5) you don’t really have a choice, if you want to ride out to Fountain Hills.
Once you leave the bike path and onto Shea, the climbing begins in earnest. But it’s not too bad, mostly 2% grade, and gradually steepening to 5-6% grade near the top of Shea. You’ll cross two sets of lights. The second set at the top is at the junction of Shea Blvd and Palisades Blvd. It’s here you’ll be turning north. You have a bit more climbing to do to reach the top of Palisades Blvd, but this is mostly 3-4%, nothing too serious. Then you’ll get a nice little downhill, followed by a 5-7% climb to the intersection of Palisades Blvd and Eagle Ridge Dr.
The Eagle Ridge climb is on this circuit, but I usually do it on the way back. So instead of turning onto Eagle Ridge, stay on Palisades Blvd. You’ll get a short downhill, followed by another climb to the junction of Palisades Blvd and Sunridge Dr. This climb is in the 8-11% range. Make note of Sunridge Dr, because you’ll be coming back this way later on.
After topping Sunridge Dr, you’ll get a nice long downhill, between 4-8% grade.
Descending Palisades Boulevard in the heart of Fountain Hills.
After a mile or so, you’ll come to a four-way stop, at the intersection of Palisades Blvd and Golden Eagle Blvd. Turn left onto Golden Eagle. This is where the fun begins. You’ll head northwest, up a series of three climbs, each getting progressively steeper. The first false summit has grades in the 8% range:
Is this all there is to Golden Eagle? Don’t be fooled!
Once you top this first false summit, you’ll soon encounter another one, this one peaking at 15% grade:
Maybe this will be the top. Maybe not.
When you crest the second false summit, you’ll see that the road curves off to the left. That’s where the real climb is:
The big climb of Golden Eagle, as the road curves to the left.
Once you zoom down to the corner, your sights will now be set squarely on the big kahuna of the day:
The third and steepest climb along Golden Eagle.
Pictures don’t really do justice to this climb. Although not terribly long – a block or two, the real Golden Eagle climb averages 18% grade, and peaks around 22% grade near the top.
Without actually surveying the roadway, it’s hard to know the real grades along a climb. The grades reported via GPS aren’t always accurate. On my Garmin Edge 305 GPS, the built-in barometer helps a lot, but still, every time you do a climb, you are likely to get different readings, depending on how fast you do the climb, what the wind is doing, etc. The last time I did this climb, a 28% grade flashed momentarily on my GPS, but that’s been the only time I’ve seen that high of a grade. Most of the time, the max grade I see is around 22%, so that’s what I’ll go with. The road department tags this hill at 18%, which you can see if you turn around and look back down the hill after reaching the summit:
Sign confirming 18% grades.
Looking back east down Golden Eagle from near the summit. You can easily reach speeds of 45-50 mph zooming down this hill.
Once you’ve caught your breath at the top of Golden Eagle, and have admired your climbing prowess as you look back down the hill you just came up, continue on west, down the gentler slopes of the western side of the Golden Eagle. “Gentler” is a relative term, for if you were to climb up this side, you’d still see grades of 10-12% and higher.
Go down the hill one block to the intersection with Sunridge Dr. Turn left. That’s your ticket back. This is a beautiful street, with wide lanes and very little traffic, and the scenic McDowell Mountains off to your right. You’ll be doing a series of rollers, some topping 10% grade. But the funny thing is, those rollers will seem easy after having done Golden Eagle — that is, if you have any strength left at all.
Note: When I last did this route, I noticed another street, Sierra Madre, heading off to the west up the slopes of the McDowell’s. This road looks as steep as Golden Eagle. I don’t know whether the upper reaches are accessible to the public. Someday, I’ll find out, and possibly add yet another climb to this circuit.
Update: Sierra Madre does not go very far to the west (up), but it does go about a mile down and east. It’s one possibility for a short-circuit avoiding Golden Eagle. Also, there is a road that goes quite a ways up and west off of Sunridge Dr. That road is North Mountain Parkway. Unfortunately, it’s gated, and I’ve never seen the gates open. Too bad, for it would take you up the heights of Fountain Hills, into the 2,200 foot elevation range.
After a mile or two of rollers, you’ll do a climb to the top of Sunridge, where it joins up with Palisades Blvd. You’ve gone full circle through Fountain hills. Turn right onto Palisades Blvd, where you’ll begin another descent and then start ascending to the intersection with Eagle Ridge:
Looking south from the top of Sun Ridge, heading towards Eagle Ridge.
Once you reach the intersection with Eagle Ridge Dr, you can – if you feel up to it – climb to the top of Eagle Ridge. It won’t seem that bad after Golden Eagle. Once you’ve reached the cul-de-sac, you can take in the sights of the Hidden Hills climb, now some 100 feet below you:
The Hidden Hills climb as seen from Eagle Ridge.
Looking down to the cul-de-sac, the “top” of the Hidden Hills climb, from Eagle Ridge.
You can do this climb up Hidden Hills later on. But first, zoom back down Eagle Ridge and rejoin Palisades Blvd and on down to Shea Blvd, retracing your route. Turn right onto Shea and enjoy the nice downhill. Once you’ve reached 136th St, near the Mayo Clinic, it’s best to get off of Shea and turn right onto 136th St. At the junction with Via Linda, if you have the legs for it, you can turn right and do the Hidden Hills climb, as I’ve done on the map shown above. (On the day I recorded this route, I only went to the gates of Hidden Hills. I didn’t go all the way to the top.)
The Hidden Hills climb is one that I do at least once a week, as it’s part of the Gainey Ranch training route on Thursdays. Usually, the Hidden Hills climb feels tough (especially if you are trying to stay with the pack). But after having just done Golden Eagle, you’ll find the Hidden Hills climb to be like carving soft butter with a knife. The 2-6% grades will seem easy.
After doing the Hidden Hills climb, you can retrace your steps back to AJ’s for coffee and rolls, trading war stories with your fellow cyclists. Or, if you are a real masochist, before heading back to AJ’s, you can add one more climb to this circuit and do the Scottsdale Mountain climb.
The Fountain Hills Circuit is becoming a favorite of mine, although I can’t usually convince many of my cycling friends to do it with me. But it makes a great training route. From my house, it’s about a 52 mile loop. And do note, once you get into Fountain Hills, there’s nothing stopping you from doing the circuit in a clockwise direction, rather than the counter-clockwise direction I’ve described here. Going clockwise is easier, only in that you aren’t doing the steep side of Golden Eagle. But you’ll still see grades in the 12-15% range, and will have a long climb back up Palisades Blvd from the junction with Golden Eagle. I do the easier direction when I don’t want to push quite so hard, but still want to get some climbing in.