Arizona is rad, most mountain bikers will agree. Nothing quite compares to a desert sunset, the black silhouettes of saguaros illuminated by a full moon, or the rare sighting of a gila monster crawling over a rocky patch of decomposed granite. To complete the list of uniquely satiating attributes are a rewarding number of national forests, each with an exclusive set of ecosystems and trail networks — the region has much, much more to offer than cacti and sand. It’s nearly impossible to pick a favorite because you really can’t go wrong.
Coconino National Forest encompasses two legendary mountain biking destinations (how lucky!). A gateway to the Grand Canyon and Colorado River, the four-season city of Flagstaff is home to an array of environmentally-conscious recreators — a population promoting a common, primary drive to live a life worth exploring. Adorned with whispering pine-laden forests interspersed by soaring white-washed aspen groves, the region also boasts a plethora of cinder cones and craters as a part of the San Francisco Peaks, Arizona’s tallest mountain range and home to the notable 12,633ft Humphreys Peak, one of three dormant stratovolcanos. But to ice the cake, Flagstaff offers something even more important than a significantly interesting geological hotspot… a beautiful bounty of singletrack.
Less than an hour away and completing the colorful duo are the infamous red rocks of Sedona! With more than 200 miles of pristine singletrack, slickrock, and challenging ridgeline riding, Sedona is a remarkable destination — a real jaw-dropper. The buttes and spires soaring upward from the high desert floor create a wonderland targeted for wandering. Ranked as one of the most beautiful places in the US, the spiritual town is full of revitalizing energy, and successfully satisfies the needs of professional mountain bikers and thrill seekers, too. Plus, the views… the vistas… words can’t possibly illustrate their naturally-rugged elegance with any form of justice.
Whether your goal is to navigate the Arizona Trail (AZT) or pedal a brewhouse tour in downtown Flagstaff, the time to visit Coconino is now. (Did we mention there’s beer?) We promise that the hardest part is leaving (or cleaning the glorious red dirt off of your bike… keepsakes!).
Top 10 Mountain Bike Trails in Coconino National Forest
This list was difficult to narrow down… because the riding in this region is SO GOOD.
Hangover Trail, Sedona
This trail takes the cake. If you want to experience the best of what Sedona has to offer, ride Hangover. Bring your skills because it’s no joke and is not for the faint of heart (or mindset, especially if you don’t like heights.) Full of slickrock, rock drops, step-ups, and steep descents, the challenge is serious… seriously rewarding.
Arizona Trail (AZT) Passage #34, San Francisco Peaks, Flagstaff
The entire trail is roughly 800 miles long and traverses the entire state of Arizona, from the Mexico to the Utah border. But the section of Passage 34 that climbs up from Snowbowl Rd. to Aspen Corner is gorgeous, and at this point, you can choose to keep riding the entire 35-mile section or split off and hit FS Rd #418 for some sweet, flowy and fast singletrack.
Hiline Trail, Sedona
Thrill seekers, if you’ve ridden Hangover, here’s your second chance at another awesome and equally-advanced experience. More amazing views, cliffs, techy slickrock, and speedy, steep descents. Again, the exposure and skillset required is no joke, so if you don’t like heights, take heed!
Slim Shady, Sedona
Featuring a decent amount of flow, some slickrock and absolutely stunning views, this trail is a must-ride. And for those weary of heavy amounts of technical riding, this trail is a good intermediate choice. It can be made into a loop when it runs into Templeton, followed by Easy Sleezy, or the opposite direction with Hiline. Now, if only Eminem rode bikes…
Interested in riding the circumference of greater Flagstaff? This trail has been constructed to IMBA standards, which will help ensure long-term sustainability and quality of the singletrack and environment in which it resides. Quality segments include parts of the AZT, Schultz Pass, Rocky Ridge, Sandy Seep and Skunk Canyon trails. When completed, the entire loop will be 42 miles. Check out the interactive map, provided by Flagstaff Biking Organization.
The Three Hogs (more notorious “H” trails in SHREDona!)
This is definitely an intermediate- to advanced-level technical ride with some chunky rock drops, but well worth it (just like Hiline and Hangover). Keep going on past Broken Arrow trail if you feel inclined!
This 17.9-mile passage of the AZT traverses through towering rock walls and pine forests from Marshall Lake through Walnut Canyon south of Flagstaff. If you ride it in the springtime, the canyon floor is green and full of wildflowers. Also, take the time to climb up to the rim — the view of the canyon is breathtaking!
Aerie Trail, Sedona
Located in the western part of Sedona, the Aerie trail is easily accessible and can be made into several loops throughout Fay and Long Canyons. Complete with rollers and climbing, the variety and flow are a good change of pace. If ridden from Boyanton Canyon trailhead (to the east), you’ll enjoy some fun downhill. The Aerie trailhead has parking and is also near one of our recommended camping areas (keep reading!)
Top 3 Off-Bike Attractions in Coconino National Forest
Many options exist for whitewater rafting, Grand Canyon tours, and day trips to Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend — there’s even a shuttle that runs between Flagstaff and Sedona and offers guided helicopter tours of the red rocks. Looking for something more spiritual? Sedona’s energy will deliver whatever it is you seek. The options are endless, so choose wisely!
Beer… and beer… and more beer…
The following list may inspire you to do a self-guided brewery-by-bike tour… sorry not sorry! Or for a human-powered trolly party, book a tour on the Alpine Pedaler for a 2-hour pub/brewery crawl to three stops of your choice in downtown Flagstaff — it’s a hoot.
- Beaver Street Brewery, Flagstaff
- Dark Sky Brewing Company, Flagstaff — they’ve had more than 200 creative recipes in three years!
- Flagstaff Brewing Company, Flagstaff
- Historic Brewing Company, Flagstaff
- Hops on Birch, Flagstaff’s Craft Beer Bar (not technically a brewery but their beer selection is worth the mention!)
- Lumberyard Brewing Company, Flagstaff
- Mother Road Brewing Company, Flagstaff — named after John Steinbeck’s moniker for historic Route 66. A fine road, and some fine brew.
- Oak Creek Brewing Company, Sedona
- Wanderlust Brewing Company, Flagstaff
Yoga, meditation, spas… oh my!
Rest, relaxation and mindful awareness. After a long day on the bike, why not treat yourself to a custom massage or wellness treatment at the Spa of Sedona? Or, participate in a meditation workshop and awaken yourself through Shamangelic healing. Whether you visit in February to attend the 3-day Sedona Yoga Festival or end the day star gazing with professional astronomers, Sedona will open you up to you.
Interested in hiking a dormant volcano? Humphreys Peak is one of three major summits in the San Francisco range, rewarding you with views of the Grand Canyon, White Mountains, and the desert peaks near Phoenix. There are three major routes to the summit (12,633ft) that rise between 3,000-4,600 feet in elevation. (The Inner Basin Trail begins at the Lockett Meadow campground if you choose to stay there.) It is is best explored between May and September and can take upwards of 8-10 hours, so plan ahead.
Top 3 Campgrounds in Coconino National Forest
Forest Service Rd. 525 dispersed camping, Sedona
Just west of town and close to Boynton Pass, these dispersed camping sites are fantastic — quiet, fairly “secret,” and not too far from some really good riding (shhh!). And the further north you travel on 525, the better it gets. It is a quick drive to the Fay Canyon and Aerie Trailheads to the east, as well as Loy Canyon to the north, all of which have parking. Check out the Dispersed Camping guide for Coconino National Forest for more information.
Schultz Pass Rd., Flagstaff
Dispersed camping along Schultz Pass Rd. just north of town is an officially unofficial area very popular among mountain bikers, particularly for its location trailside. Fires are prohibited, but the area provides access to Schultz Creek trail, the Mt. Elden trail system, Secret Trail, and the Arizona Trail (AZT). Bring water and food, but there is a Shell station on Hwy 180 as you turn onto Schultz Pass Rd.
Chavez Crossing Group Campground, Sedona
Located in the middle of town and right on Oak Creek, this group camp is great. It hosts three shaded spots and is pretty quiet, considering its location near town. This is a great place to get in the creek or fish. The USFS requires a minimum of 10 to reserve one of three available spots. Quick access to shops, food, and other attractions make it a good place to stay for off-the-bike fun.
Top 3 Mountain Biking Events in Coconino National Forest
Three full days of demo bikes, shuttles, generously flowing beer… and a plethora of SICK SINGLETRACK. Completely open to the public, the event even has a campground set aside for attendees (limited to 80 in 2018, so reserve a spot early). Shuttles are provided by Hermosa Tours, an awesome company that provides self-guided tours throughout Arizona, Utah and Colorado.
A Leadville Trail 100 MTB qualifier and bonafide kick in the butt: the endurance event has 25, 50, and 100-mile options. It isn’t technical, but for those that need some thin-air exposure, the elevation varies between 7,900-8,100 feet. And, because it takes extra carbs to race at altitude, beer tickets are included in your race fee!
Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon (Flag2GC) is a one-day, 65-mile mountain bike ride from the city of Flagstaff to the edges of the Grand Canyon National Park. There are three sag stops along the way, dinner upon arrival at the GC, and a place to camp (camping gear is shuttled for those riders staying over night). There’s also a shuttle available back to Flagstaff the next day. Better yet, the proceeds from the event go toward northern Arizona charities, including the Wounded Marine Program and Toys for Tots.
Top 3 Bike Shops in Coconino National Forest
Absolute Bikes – Flagstaff AND Sedona!
Rated one of America’s Best Bike Shops in 2016 and having received a Gold-level rating by the League of American Bicyclists’ Bicycle Friendly Business program, this is your shop, and they are located in two great Coconino destinations! They have a great selection of parts, gear and rental bikes, too!
Coffee + bikes = an excellent shop with great service and some the best Italian java in the area. Bike rentals include several models of Kona and Santa Cruz mountain bikes, as well as cruisers for pedaling around town. A great place to meet local riders and learn about Sedona, be sure to check out their online Ride Guide for recommendations and great trail maps, too.
Nestled next to Mother Road Brewing Company and Pizzicletta joint, this shop is a great place for linking up with locals on a group ride or stopping in for service after a beer and a slice of Italian pie. They even sponsor their own team of homegrown athletes and avidly participate in local trail maintenance.
Your Turn: Have any tips or information we missed? Please add it in your comments below!