Arizona Backcountry Discovery Route

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Rocky, remote and hot are three words that come to mind for Arizona. Blessed with a surprising number of mountain ranges, the Arizona BDR is more green and mountainous than many people expect. Starting on the US/Mexico border, the 750- mile route stays east of Tucson and Phoenix and explores the historic Empire Ranch, Sierra Ancha Cliff Dwellings, Mogollon Rim, Saguaro Cactus Forests, Navajo Nation, wild horses, Vermillion Cliffs and options to see the Grand Canyon from vantage points most people never see.

Best time of year: April through June and Late September/October. July and August have very high temperatures and should be avoided. August is also monsoon season and is not a good time to ride the route.

Additional Route Information

IMPORTANT: . You MUST obtain an Arizona State Land Trust Recreational Permit. Visit AZ Recreation Permit.

Another permit is needed for riding through Navajo Nation (Section 8).  You MUST obtain a pass to ride and camp in Navajo Nation.

See the FAQ for more information on the two required permits, and Ride Responsibly.

Visit the Forest Service Website for current information on forest closures and fire restrictions in the Coconino National Forest.


47893 N Hwy 288, Young, AZ 85554
Ph. 928-462-4022

Located in the heart of the Tonto National Forest in historic Young. Offers unique Arizona lodging and a 1800’s western saloon.

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47661 N. Hwy 288 (Arizona 288 & Midway Ave), Young, AZ 85554
Ph. 928-462-3593

A small 10-unit motel right on Hwy 288 along your route in Young, Arizona. Rates vary from $75.00 single occupancy to $80.00 double occupancy. Rooms have in-room coffee, refrigerators, microwaves, cable t.v., internet and if you want, serve breakfast.

The Jonquil is more than just a motel, it is your road trip oasis in the desert southwest. We have one of the largest outdoor event spaces in old Bisbee with several patios and seating areas suitable for groups. The backyard area features an outdoor stage, a wooden barrel sauna, and private dry-camping in a charming park-like setting with a seasonal creek.

The Jonquil Motel is owned by motorcycle filmmaker Sterling Noren and his partner Eva Rupert. The owners understand the needs of motorcyclists and are able to provide advice and information for both on and off-road riding in the area. The Jonquil is a short 45-minute ride from the start of the Arizona Backcountry Discovery Route. There is off-street parking for motorcycles in front of the motel and riders can also park in our courtyard next to their motel rooms.

317 Tombstone Canyon, Bisbee, AZ 85603
Ph. 520-432-7371

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I-40 and BDR Route
Day – 928-527-1177  Eve. 928-853-3676
Services: Gas, Groceries, Liquor, Towing Service

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Utah Border (AZBDR)

Side trip.

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Start near Mexico Border (AZBDR)


This packing list serves as an example and is not intended to be a complete list for your backcountry riding needs. Feel free to customize this list to work for you.

  • Helmet
  • Boots
  • Goggles
  • Gloves (2 sets)
  • Protective gear (pressure suit, Leatt brace, knee braces)
  • Jacket
  • Pants
  • Balaclava or neck gaitor
  • Water bladder or bottle
  • Hydration pack
  • Ear plugs


Below are answers to some Frequently Asked Questions about the Arizona Backcountry Discovery Route.

The Arizona Backcountry Discovery Route (AZBDR) is a 750-mile scenic ride across the state of Arizona, beginning at the Mexico border and finishing at the Utah border. This South to North route consists of a mostly remote dirt roads and winds through the remote high desert country, jagged canyons, wild lands, pristine mountain ranges, and a surprising number of water crossings.  It passes through iconic locations including the Mogollon Rim, Sunset Crater National Monument, Grand Canyon and the Navajo Nation.  The route includes dirt, gravel, and pavement surfaces and may include rocks, ruts, sand, mud and snow depending on time of year and conditions. The route can be completed in 4-6 days depending on pace, and is also accessible by four-wheel drive vehicles, as the entire route is at least double-track.

The longest gap between gas stations is approximately 136 miles from Young to Winona.  There is gas at Clints Well, which is 10 miles off the route.

There is a monsoon season that begins in August that may cause significant rain in many places that time of year, however, there can be periods without rain also.  For any backcountry ride, the weather should be surveyed and taken into consideration to determine how the trip and road conditions might be effected.  Extreme heat can also be an issue in the summer months. Most or all of the AZBDR can be ridden from April to November if weather allows. Spring and Fall can be the best times for weather. Early in the spring, some roads may be damaged from winter storms or may still be closed for winter by land managers.  Summer months can have challenges due to heat and rainy season.

No, you can complete the AZBDR using motels and restaurants, but they are fewer than other BDR’s. Motels are in most towns, though some are one motel towns. There are no motels in Young and Winona.

In most cases camp fires are allowed, but check with local Ranger Stations to determine if campfires are allowed before you build one. Forest fires are a threat during parts of the year and the rules that manage this risk must be followed. Be sure to fully extinguish fires so they are DEAD-OUT. Use water to ensure a fire is fully extinguished and the ground is left cool and wet.

There are many campgrounds and suitable dry camping locations along the route. The Butler Motorcycle Map for the AZBDR has a tent icon showing campgrounds on the route and many near the route.  The AZBDR Butler Map is available at or

Please note, on Navajo land (Section 8) you must camp in designated areas only.

Yes, you will need to obtain two permits.
The first one is the Arizona State Land Trust Recreation Permit from the AZ State Land Trust (AZSLT). You can now obtain it online at  Please Ride Responsible and purchase the permit.
The second permit is needed when riding through Navajo Nation (Section 8) you MUST obtain a pass to ride and camp in Navajo Nation. Camping and riding permits are $15 each per person (cash only). They can be purchased at the small round building at the junction of Hwy 64 and 89 in Cameron. Don’t plan on entering these lands after dark after the permit office is closed. Cameron Visitor Center: P.O. Box 459, Cameron, AZ 86020 tel : 928.679.2303, fax: 928.679.2017, email:
Please also note, no alcohol or firearms are allowed on Navajo land, and you must camp in designated areas only.

The tracks for the route can be downloaded free of charge online at .

Always bring a complete set of maps for the area you plan to ride. They have good information about roads, water sources, and are an indispensable resource when the GPS doesn’t work, or is giving questionable advice. Unplanned events can occur and having paper/synthetic maps of the area can be a life saver. National Forest maps are available at and local Ranger Stations. AZBDR Butler Motorcycle Maps are available at or

There are a few natural water sources along this route however, depending on the snow pack, some may not be running. You can find potable water in the towns along the way.  It is suggested that plenty of water is carried for personal and cooking use. Here is a video on water filtration filmed in the Oregon Backcountry:

The AZBDR is best from May-June and Sept-Oct.  The route can be done in April or November but snowpack in the high mountains may keep you from doing the entire route as mapped. There have been some years where the snow has not cleared from the high country until the May. Because the route travels in the desert where the temperatures can reach above 100 and then move into the mountains where the temperatures can drop in the 30’s, you must plan accordingly for gear.

Any bike that has a license plate, can run knobby tires, is set-up to carry the gear you plan to bring, and has the fuel range to make the distance between gas stops. Most adventure or dual-sport motorcycles will be suitable for the trip.  Choose the bike that you are the most comfortable riding in desert and mountain terrain.

Any GPS unit capable of displaying 10 track logs with a minimum of 500 points each is suitable for use on the AZBDR. Garmin models that work best for this application are: Zumo 665/660, Montana, GPSMap 60, 62, 76, 78 and 276. Other GPS manufacturers may have units that will work. Check the technical specs to determine suitability.

The AZBDR route is designed to be ridden on adventure and dual-sport motorcycles, as well as driven in 4×4 vehicles. There are no single-track style trails on this route. Many of the roads are in remote areas where road maintenance is minimal or non-existent. You can expect to cover sections of road with deep ruts, loose rocks, sand and other challenges. There are also sections that have extend periods of deep sand. Road conditions change from week to week based on the recent weather.  When you see signs that read, “Roads maybe impassable when wet”, use caution, roads become very slick and can be impassable. You may also encounter sections that have trees or branches over the road. There are alternate “easier” routes around a few of the most challenging sections. Depending on time of year and weather, there may be a few deep water crossings. Flash floods are frequent during summer storms.  Don’t cross flooded washes. Wait until water subsides.

DOT approved knobby tires (such as Continental TKC 80, Mefo Super Explorer, or Dunlop 606) are strongly recommended.

The temperatures in the southern part of the route can reach highs over 100 and then lows in the thirties in the high mountains.  The nights are normally cooler in the desert, so gear needs to be appropriate for such temperature changes.  Arizona has fast moving thunder storms during the summer months in the higher elevations.  These storms usually build in the mountains in the early afternoon and usually contain lightning, hail stones and heavy downpours.

The highest elevations are reached early on in Section 4, where elevation reaches over 8,000 ft.

Most people average 150 miles a day on a backcountry motorcycle trip. Plan on doing this route in 4-6 days depending on how fast you want to travel and how early you want to roll out of camp.

Yes, there are several gates on the route. Most remain open unless BLM or NFS has closed them due to snow closure.  Please leave gates as you have found them.  Many sections will have grazing cattle in the forest.

Much of this route is remote and out of reach for cell phone towers. There will be long sections with no coverage. Your best bet is to talk or text in the towns. You will be surprised where you get coverage and where you don’t. A satellite communication device is a good idea in the backcountry.

Visit the AZBDR thread of where you and other riders can post experiences, photos, and road condition reports.

This is a tough question to answer because conditions are constantly changing.  If the weather has been moist or temps have been cool, the sand will be firmer and significantly easier to ride.  If it has been hot for some time, the sand becomes very soft and deep.  So the bottom line is, learn to ride in deep sand before your trip which will make your ride more enjoyable.

Yes the route can be done North to South, but you will not be able to obtain a Navajo travel permit until you get to Cameron. You still need to stop and pick up your permit and please let them know you traveled prior to getting your permit and pay for the proper usage. You will also be traveling on Navajo lands after Cameron, so a permit is necessary.

There are several sections where the road is a clay surface north of Flagstaff all the way to the Utah border.  When wet, these sections become very slick and virtually impassable.  When you encounter wet clay roads, a higher gear selection is recommended to keep your rear wheel from sliding.  Slow and steady will get you through, but in some cases travel will come to a halt due to slick conditions.

Backcountry Discovery Routes are designed by motorcyclists specifically for dual sport and adventures motorcycles. With the exception of some ATV areas that require permits, BDRs run solely on public roads. However, BDR did not develop these routes for 4×4 vehicles and some of the roads on our routes are simply not suited for 4×4 vehicle travel.

We get this question all the time. Here are some key things to consider as you put together your plan.

All of the BDR routes include intermediate to advanced terrain. If a person is on a large bike twin-cylinder bike like an R1200GS Adventure or Yamaha Super Tenere, the routes can be very difficult. If a person’s skills are not advanced level, they may consider taking a smaller bike or choosing the easier options when possible. A BDR is something a person should build up to and it shouldn’t be their first overnight trip on their ADV bike.

Although, WA and CO are less difficult than UT and AZ,  they all contain difficult sections. We suggest looking at the Butler Map and take the optional easier routes to avoid the difficult sections. Even taking this approach there may be difficult stretches depending on changes in road conditions, weather, construction and the unknown. This is part of what makes it an adventure. Regardless of its description on the map or in the film, no section of a BDR should be underestimated.

Do some shorter overnight trips as practice and ride increasingly difficult terrain to build up your skills and confidence. Also remember that riding with a fully-loaded bike should be practiced prior to tackling a BDR. Lastly, always ride with a group so that you have a team to help overcome any obstacles whether it’s terrain, mechanicals, navigation, medical emergency, etc…

In summary, take baby steps and work up to doing a BDR. Don’t make it your first adventure motorcycle outing on a full-sized twin-cyclinder bike.

This advice comes from Rob Watt, BDR Board and Expeditions Member, and Wilderness EMT.

We carry items for wound management, breaks, basic meds and dental.  You can buy a good first aid kit at one of the outdoor stores online or Touratech-USA.  Get one that is an Extended Day Backpacker or 3-4 person kit.  These kits usually have the basics for a motorcycle trip.

They usually don’t have a SAM splint, so pick one of those up along with a couple ace bandages.  One other thing that we do for every multi-day trip, is to gather important information about each rider: allergies, medications, medical issues, emergency contacts, etc.

Then we put that on a master sheet for each person, so if something does happen we have that information handy incase that person can’t speak.  Another good practice is to do a little research of where medical facilities are along your planned route.  Is there a “flight for life” in the area? Where are the hospitals, Medical clinics, etc?

Here is a list of some items that you should have in your medical kit:

  • Bandages: Assorted sizes for small cuts, blisters, etc.
  • 4-inch closure strips or butterfly closures: For closing large wounds. 4-inch strips are more effective than butterfly.
  • 4 inch by 4 inch sterile dressing pads (5 to 10): To apply pressure to a wound and stop bleeding
  • Non-adherent sterile dressing (2 inch by 2 inch): Use these or Second Skin to cover blisters, burns or lacerations.
  • Gauze roll: Holds dressing in place.
  • Small roll of 1-inch adhesive tape: Holds dressings in place.
  • Multi-use tool or knife: Should include knife, scissors. A scalpel and blade are also useful for first aid.
  • Forceps or tweezers: For removing splinters, ticks, and removing debris from wounds.
  • Scissors: Trauma scissors, which have a blunt end to protect the patient, can be used for cutting away clothing from injury, cutting medical tape, etc.
  • Thermometer: Digital is generally more accurate, but batteries do wear out.
  • Malleable splint: Lightweight foam-covered aluminum, such as a SAM splint.
  • Irrigation syringe (35 cc): Used to flush and clean wounds.
  • Suction syringe (65 cc): Used to clear mouth of fluids when giving CPR.
  • Safety pins: Can help remove splinters, fasten arm sling, or make a whole in a plastic bag for improvised wound irrigation.
  • Cotton-tip swabs: For removing  foreign objects from eye, or applying antibiotic ointment.
  • Resealable plastic bags: Many uses, including icing a swollen joint or creating wound irrigation device.
  • ACE, Coban, or other rubberized bandage: Can be used as outer wrap on splints, wound dressings or support for joint injuries. Be careful not to wrap too tightly.
  • Antiseptic towlettes: For cleaning small wounds.
  • Cleansing pads with lidocaine: For cleaning. Includes a topical anesthetic for abrasions, stings, etc.
  • Topical antibiotic ointment: For application to wounds. Simple Vaseline can also be used in dressing a wound.
  • Moleskin: Prevents blisters. Cut and apply a section to your foot as soon as you discover a “hot spot.” Duct tape also works for this purpose.
  • Povidone Iodine USP 10 percent, 1 oz.: For preventing infection. Bottled PVD iodine 10 percent solution should be diluted to a ratio of 1 percent or less for flushing wounds.
  • Aloe vera gel: Found in packets or small bottles for relief of minor burns.
  • Pain relievers, including aspirin and Ibuprofen: Provides relief for minor aches and pains, reduces fever, helps reduce inflammation of sprains and other injuries.
  • Antihistamines: For relief of pollen allergies, or to reduce reaction to bites and stings.
  • Immodium 2 mg capsules or tablets: For relief of diarrhea from intestinal infections.
  • Pepto Bismol or antiacid tablets: For relief from general diarrhea, abdominal upset.
  • After Bite or hydrocortisone cream USP 1 percent: Relieves skin irritation from bites, poison oak, stings, or allergic reactions.
  • Latex or nitrile gloves: Protects against blood-borne diseases and infection.
  • CPR microshield mask: A compact flexible barrier with a one-way valve for rescue breathing, which protects user from blood, vomit or saliva.
  • Oral rehydration salts: Packet of electrolyte salts and glucose for treatment of dehydration, heat exhaustion, or loss of fluids from vomiting or diarrhea.
  • Space bag/blanket: Lightweight emergency shelter. For treating hypothermia victims.
  • Paper and pencil: For recording medical data such as body temperature, pulse, time and date of symptoms, injuries, medicines administered, etc. Most repackaged kits include accident report forms.
  • Wilderness First Aid booklet: Many prepackaged first aid kits contain one. An excellent pocket guide is the Wilderness Medical Handbook

Rating the Routes by Difficulty

We get a lot of requests to provide difficulty ratings. The difficulty of a route can change from day to day depending on weather, changes in the road conditions and road damage caused by a variety of forces including wind, storms, flooding, snow, logging, forest fires and more. The difficulty experienced by an individual also depends on their off-road skills, level of fitness, bike size and amount of weight carried on the bike. For these reasons we can’t provide a rating system like a ski resort. We can help you a bit by ranking the existing BDR’s from most difficult to least difficult. Here is the list: CA, NE, AZ, UT, CO, NV, WA, NM, ID, MA. So CABDR South is the most difficult especially if you ride the expert sections and Mid Atlantic BDR is the easiest in general terms. Although MABDR is the easiest there are still a few challenging rocky sections and the several water crossings that can get very difficult if the water is high. Also mud can be very challenging if it rains heavily. We hope this helps you in your planning. Be sure to also review the FAQ’s for each route prior to planning your trip.

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