Arizona Backcountry Discovery Route ( AZBDR )


I will be using this thread to give readers a rundown on each section of the AZBDR as I complete them.

My wife and I have just moved to Tucson and have tried to make it a point to explore AZ as much as we can on the weekends. Long trips, and rough trails are currently out of the picture as we are expecting our first child within the next few months, and rough roads wear my wife out as we bump our way down the road. With that in mind we have decided to drive the AZBDR is shorter sections until we complete the whole thing. As I was researching the route, I noticed there wasn't a lot of current info on the route since it has been built, giving me the idea to breakdown the route in detail for future travelers.

What is the AZBDR?

The AZBDR is a 750 mile route that was created by Backcountry Discovery Routes, and takes its travelers from the US/Mexico border, to the Utah/Arizona border, on mostly mild-moderate dirt roads. The route can be downloaded as a GPX at , and used in your favorite GPS system. On the route are waypoints for points of interest, fuel, and alternate routes. Also check the attached link for route updates such as road closures, or detours, as they arise. Now, without further ado.

Section 1 AZBDR

As you approach the start of the route, you will most likely be pasing through the Town of Sierra Vista. A quick stop to replenish gas and grab the all important beef jerky will be wise, as the next fuel will be roughly 100 miles down the route. Once your on the route, the first notable POI is the Coronado National Memorial. If you suspect snow in the mountains, stop at the visitors center and ask if Montezuma Pass is drive able. The road is narrow and steep, and turning around if its snowed over might prove to be difficult. unnamed (1).jpgunnamed.jpg
Once you crest Montezuma Pass, You will now be in the open grassland between the mountains and the border. The road is nice and wide until you turn off and start on the less traveled cattle roads. Be on the watch for cattle in the road, and ranchers and there vehicles and the occasional Border Patrol Officer, and be sure to give them a wave as you travel through "Their Turf". Average speed in this section for us was 45 MPH, but wet roads or low light will make the journey slower. Before you know it, you will be at the edge of the greatest country in the world!unnamed (8).jpgunnamed (9).jpg
unnamed (7).jpg
After you take some cool pictures and count your blessings, you will begin your trip North! The roads through the grasslands were for the most part, very nice, but again, beware of traffic as it increases the closer you get to the foothills. As you exit the foothills, you will jump on to Hwy 83, and drive about 15 miles on paved Hwy into Sonoita. Welcome to Sonoita, and the end of Section 1 of the AZBDR! Now,grad you some chow at the Steak out Restaurant and Saloon, because Section 2 has some surprises.

Section 2 AZBDR

After you have filled up on gas and food, you will head East for about 5 miles until you turn left onto your next stretch of dirt. The road into Empire Ranch is smooth and well traveled. As always, watch out for ATV riders, they travel a lot faster than you are, and its quite a surprise when you meet them in a corner ( ask me how I know ). If your not watching your map, you might pass Empire Ranch, so keep your eyes peeled for corrals and pens on the left, once you see those, drive through the gates and enjoy the historic Empire Ranch, complete with pit toilets and walk through tour signs and brochures ( located in the foyer/front porch of the Ranch house ). After getting a taste of early to mid 1900's life, you have 2 choices. The main route, described as having deep sand, and a alternate route. The alternate route takes you West on another main dirt road before intersecting Hwy 83 that takes you to I 10 which will take you straight to Benson, and the end of Section 2. However, the main route takes you on a dirt loop before terminating at a paved road that takes you NE to Benson. This dirt loop is the roughest you will travel on up to this point. The route description warned about deep sand, we didn't come across any, but my suspicions are they have had gravel poured over the sandy sections. Keep in mind, we were driving a 4x4 Tacoma, and not a adventure motorcycle, just because I didn't perceive any deep sand doesn't mean there wasn't any. However what you will find on this loop is a lot of rough and bumpy and rocky road, with several deep washes you have to descend and ascend. These washes were all in good condition,but after a heavy rain, they're sure to be washed out due to the sandy soil. Several washes had steep climbs mixed with loose baseball sized rocks, that I would guess would be a challenge for 2 wheeled adventurers. unnamed (5).jpgOnce you travel through the wash section, you will climb out of the valley and up onto a plateau. This plateau is all red clay dirt, very rutted, and when wet will be a slippery peanut butter mess. When we traveled through, several days after a snow, there were several mud puddles, all were passable with 4x4, but just keep that in mind if your coming after a heavy rain.unnamed (3).jpgunnamed (2).jpgunnamed (4).jpg

Once you climb to the top of this plateau, you start your decent back down to the paved road. Once on the paved road, head NE towards Benson, and that is the end of Section 2 of the AZBDR! Having fun yet? Well stick around! Once I finish Section 3, I will be sure to give you some more route detail goodness!


Well-known member
I was literally just in Benson last week and had cancel my BDR due to work. Nice to see this.

Like the pizza cutters on the Taco. What lift and tire are you running if I might ask?


Expedition Leader
Nice writeup.

Congrats on the baby. Ours just turned 18 - it seems like yesterday we took her camping for the first time when she was 3 months old.



Being relatively new to AZ this is on my list of things to do, or at least sections of it. Congrats on the addition! Adventuring with kids is great, they don't remember the days in front of a TV.


New member
I LIVE IN WHETSTONE, south of Benson and my Dad lives literally at the beginning of the AZBDR.
My brother and I plan on running the BDR the 2nd week in May, and finishing up at Overland expo west, 2020. It will be a combination of dualsport bikes and 4x4s. Looking forward to it.


Active member
Great write up! Nice rig! I just put the same size tires on my truck and really like em. I have some rentals in Mesa and I live in Mexico. This would be a fun way to go north do some work then head up to Utah.


Awesome write up! I never heard of this, even though I've lived in the state since 1999. Thanks for sharing!