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Sedona, Arizona is a land of fabled mountain bike trails and beauty. It’s so fantastic, in fact, that several of our writers lobbied hard so that it would make our “Top 10 Mountain Bike Destinations in North America” list… even though I hadn’t personally ridden there yet. How did this place earn such a renowned reputation? Is the riding really all it’s cracked up to be? And what’s the deal with “red rock country…” isn’t Moab the king of beautiful red rock? I resolved myself to find the answers to these questions and more during my time in Arizona.

Since I had no idea what to expect from Sedona, I envisioned it to be Arizona’s version of Moab. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Rider: Matt Mcfee / Hermosa Tours

Rider: Matt Mcfee / Hermosa Tours

Climate

While Moab and Sedona are both located in deserts, as anyone who’s spent serious time there can attest, the desert can vary wildly in its composition and character in the space of just a few miles. While Moab is located in a dry, rocky, arid desert, I’ve heard Sedona referred to as a “lush desert.” While you’ll undoubtedly spot cacti ranging from small hedgehog cacti all the way up to spiny prickly pear cacti as you roll down the trail, viewed from afar the hills surrounding Sedona look more like a deep forest than a desert. When you get up close you’ll realize that the pines covering the hillsides are small, scraggly, desert pinions, but nevertheless they lend Sedona a feel more akin to a forested mountain range than a windswept desert.

There are plenty of trees in Sedona! Rider: Matt Mcfee, Hermosa Tours.

There are plenty of trees in Sedona!

Adding to the lushness of Sedona is the ever-flowing Oak Creek that runs through the bottom of the valley. Really a small river than a “creek,” dropping down down into the river bottom next to Oak Creek brings you into a radically different ecosystem filled with tall grasses, lush undergrowth, and even deciduous trees that yes, include oaks.

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The Town

The town of Sedona is also radically different from that of Moab. Much of this is due to the decentralized community. There isn’t just one downtown area in Sedona… in fact, there are at least three: West Sedona, Sedona, and Village of Oak Creek. While unfortunately this means that there’s not one cool, unique walkable downtown area like you might find in a place like Durango or Salida, it also won’t be traffic-choked and loud as is often the experience in Moab.

Also contributing to the radically different feel is the quality of the architecture. Thanks to pretty stringent building codes, even the local McDonalds and super markets feature gorgeous southwest style architecture. And restaurants and hotels? There are some pretty classy places here!

This classiness is due in large part to the different demographic of people visiting Sedona. Whereas Moab attracts a large redneck motorsports contingent, the supposed vortexes and spiritual energy of Sedona attract an upper class, hoity toity new age crowd, coupled with a curious mix of hippiness. As Matt McFee, owner of Hermosa Tours said, “I’ve walked into Safeway to see an old man with a beard and flowing white robes buying bread. That’s normal, it’s Sedona.”

Trail Layout

According to Matt McFee, there are over 250 miles of quality, bike-legal singletrack trails accessible from downtown Sedona, without having to get in a car. Now if you’ve ridden in Moab, you’ll know that while you can hit a few trails from town, most of the best trail systems require a solid drive to access, a shuttle to the top, or sometimes both. In Sedona, however, all of the best trails can be ridden right from town. During my week-long visit we cut out some connector miles and tried to save our legs by driving around a bit, but the trails are well and truly wrapped in and around the town of Sedona. And these aren’t just easy-access, mild trails, either. Generally it seems like the most accessible trails in a destination are the mildest, and the hardest trails are way out in the middle of nowhere. Here in Sedona, you can go from downtown pavement to intense technical gnar in a matter of minutes!

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However, don’t expect to find any epic shuttles here in Sedona like you will in Moab. All of the best terrain is primarily served up by pedal-power. As you tune in to my ride reports over the coming week you’ll notice that we did do one shuttle… but it takes a lot more effort than most shuttles, and there’s still a ton of pedal power required to access the goods. So when you come to Sedona, be prepared to pedal!

The Views!

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We chose a few Sedona trails for our “20 of the Most Scenic Mountain Bike Trails in the Western USA” list, as a nod to the entire Sedona region in general. In my opinion, Sedona is the most beautiful spot on the planet that I’ve visited, aside from some epic high-mountain locations. (I have a personal bias towards epic mountain ranges, so take that with a grain of salt 🙂 ) Yes, that means that Moab (especially the town of Moab) doesn’t even come close. In Sedona, you can gawk at world-class views from the grocery store or from your hotel… they’re really that incredible, and that close! These gorgeous red rock cliffs and mesas surrounding the town of Sedona lend it a beautiful, surreal quality, a landscape that’s been shared in photographs, paintings, stories and books, and replicated and imitated in video games and more. Unfortunately, many of those beautiful spots are off-limits to mountain bike access thanks to the wilderness areas bordering Sedona on all sides, but at the very least riders can enjoy the protected scenery from the bike-legal trails.

Hermosa Tours

I began my trip by getting in touch with Matt McFee of Hermosa Tours. Hermosa Tours is one of the premiere mountain bike tour companies in the Western United States, and they have one of their two headquarters in Sedona. I figured if anyone had the low-down on the best trails to shred in Sedona, it’d be Matt. Spoiler alert: I was right.

Most of Hermosa Tours’ business consists of their “self-guided” trip model. Essentially, Hermosa Tours has located key point-to-point routes on epic trails like the Colorado Trail and the Arizona Trail. Instead of doing full-blown guiding and trying to wait on the entire group hand and foot, Hermosa Tours slashes the cost of entry by simply providing riders with a map and all the trail beta they can need and then letting them fend for themselves during the day, out on the trail. However, HT moves all of the riders’ food and camping equipment to the next spot, sets up camp, and has everything ready to go so that the riders can cook dinner when they arrive at camp.

While I hope to tackle a Hermosa Tours self-guided trip in the near future, the riding and guiding that they do around Sedona is usually quite different. Generally, their Sedona guiding is the more traditional full-service on-trail guiding, but in the form of full-day and half-day trips. But they’re flexible: if you want to book a whole week of riding in Sedona, you can do that! (Note: all of the self-guided trips in Arizona are based out of or near Sedona as well, with the Arizona Trail passing by not far away.)

Over the course of the coming week you’ll hear a lot more about Hermosa Tours, the specific rides we did in Sedona, and what kind of amenities the town has to offer. Stay tuned!

The Rest of the Series:

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# Comments

  • Corey Maddocks

    I … I think I just got called a redneck …

    Sedona has been on my wishlist for way too long. It’s time for a road trip.

    • Greg Heil

      Dude there’s nothing wrong with being a red neck! I was raised in the backwoods of Wisconsin… I feel more at home with gun-wielding, diesel pickup-driving, beer-swilling red necks than I do with vortex-seeking hippies any day.

      EMBRACE YOUR INNER REDNECK

    • asasailor1

      Great! Dear People, We Are Gathered here…
      to enjoy the wonderful opportunities of Sedona and Moab, rednecks & the like.
      I now pronounce you very happily engaged!
      You may have talked me into returning to Sedona, since I can’t do Moab alone…

    • PO4CH3R

      Where in Wisconsin Greg? I’m in Northern Wisconsin. (Minocqua) I leave for Sedona in 4 days! I can’t wait to ride here……especially given it’s high praise in comparison to Moab. I’m slightly injured at the moment, but I’m loading up on rAdvil and dealing with the consequences later. I can’t miss riding here.

      Cheers.

      JB

    • Greg Heil

      Hey man, originally from Neillsville–my Dad lived 5 miles from Levis Mound, so that’s where I learned to ride MTB. Definitely good times! I hope you have a rad time in Sedona! Hopefully your body doesn’t hold you back too much…

      Cheers!

    • John Fisch

      Greg,
      I didn’t know you were from Neidlsville. Of course, the only reason I know where that is is because of Levis Mound. It was one of the must do rides I incorporated into my travel when I moved from North Dakota to Ohio.

      “Dear, look what we’re passing by on the way to Dayton. Hope you don’t mind spending a few extra hours at the KOA while I shred the local IMBA epic!”

    • Greg Heil

      You bet, John! The dude who taught me to ride and mentored me in the sport was one of the two dudes who founded that place and built it from the ground up. The other guy who was instrumental in building it was my photography teacher and track coach in high school.

      I don’t remember if you saw this article or not, but check out this feature I wrote about Levis: http://www.singletracks.com/blog/mtb-trails/levis-mounds-wi-one-of-the-oldest-mountain-bike-trails-still-packs-a-punch/

  • Jeff Barber

    I get a red neck every time I go to Moab. I should probably wear sunscreen.

  • k2rider

    I think I’m the only person on the planet that wasn’t “blown away” by Moab, especially the infamous Porcupine Rim sections that is MILES of fire road. I definitely like Sedona overall more than Moab. It doesn’t hurt that the drive for me is half the time to Sedona. The views in Sedona are unmatched in my opinion and as you said, the town itself is full of variety when it comes to shops, restaurants and lodging options.

    • Fernierocks

      I am totally with you on Moab. I still had fun but expected so much more. On the same trip we went to Phil’s World in Cortez, Colorado and it totally over delivered on expectations and far far exceeded what I was expecting. My overall favourite is still Fernie BC which I think nobody hardly knows about.

    • Greg Heil

      Fernie is definitely on my radar… it’s just so far away 🙂 I hope to get up there soon, though.

  • Jared13

    We currently have ~2 ft of snow on the ground and I’m dying to ride some singletrack.
    Are Sedona’s trails generally open year round?

    • John Fisch

      Jared,
      Off and on. Most of them are exposed enough that snow doesn’t last long when it falls. But there are some blind spots with exposure on the north facing sides of some of the mesas which can be treacherous. Nonetheless, you’re odds are generally good for being able to hit some really high quality and stupendously scenic singletrack.

      Worst case scenario–you just drive 90 min south to Phoenix and hit the most reliable winter singletrack anywhere.

    • Jared13

      Thanks, John!
      I may need to plan a trip Sedona then. We’re hoping to hit Tucson in March with stops in Sedona on the way down and back. I may extend our stay in Sedona or make a trip down just for that. I just wish it was closer.

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