The federally-designated land stretches across 1.25 million acres and contains more than 450 miles of non-motorized trail and singletrack. The entire forest is divided in half by Interstate 17, hugging the city of Prescott to the west and encompassing the Bradshaw, Juniper, Santa Maria, and Sierra Prieta Mountains. The eastern half sprawls toward the Verde River headwaters, covering notable destinations such as Mingus Mountain and Jerome.
Many people identify the national forest with the city of Prescott, once the capital of Arizona. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln named the old western town the provisional headquarters of the newly formed territory after it’s official post-Mexican-American War establishment. Prescott’s surrounding beauty is littered with peaks, valleys and a pristine network of trails. Notably, it’s home to professional cross-country mountain biker and US Olympic athlete Chloe Woodruff.
But outside the city there is so much more! Explore the Bradshaw Mountains for some seriously chunky mountain bike riding or hit up Mingus Mountain for some shuttle runs. Whether you’re looking to bikepack from Prescott to Crown King or strictly shred some singletrack, you CAN’T be disappointed.
“We have everything here, from higher elevation and pine tree laden trails, to semi-arid desert hard pack and slow-tech granite structures in the Dells,” says Andrew Fiore, owner of the Bikesmith Cyclery in Prescott. “The mountain bike community is made up of amazing people. The night riding is second to none. It’s a pretty good place to call home.”
The Top 10 Mountain Bike Trails in Prescott National Forest
You’ll want to pack up your bike and hit the dirt immediately, we guarantee it.
Bonus: Each photo is linked to a YouTube video of the trail!
Wolverton Pass (9415) Mountain Bike Trail
This trail, known for its good riding and stunning scenery, is a part of the Whiskey-Off Road courses, as well as the Prescott Circle Trail. If you start from the bottom, it begins with some twisty climbing up some tree-laden singletrack and eventually pops out of the foliage, continuing up Wolverton Mountain with stunning views of Thumb Butte and the Prescott Valley. The singletrack is moderate in difficulty with some loose rock, but ends with a fun doubletrack downhill. Ridden the other direction, the gradual climb turns into a pretty sick descent.
It’s 4.9 miles in length with ~1,200ft of climbing. The lower trailhead is located just across the road from White Spar campground, the #1 spot on our list of places to camp.
Willow Trail (347)
A fast, flowing downhill (with sweet, lofty rollers if you want some bonus air time) located in the Granite Basin area, northwest of Prescott. It is one of the local favorites. The change in elevation is about 750ft over 1.6 miles. Due to the fun network of mountain bike trails located in the basin, riders can lengthen their ride pretty easily, with a variety of choices in difficulty.
Goldwater Lake (396) Mountain Bike Trail
This twisty, fun bit of singletrack can be ridden in either direction, and will start out climbing no matter which end you choose. The 4.6 miles interweaves the pine forest and scrub oak without much technical difficulty, is mostly shaded, and has pretty views of Goldwater Lake. The descents are equally pleasing.
Ranch Trail (62)
“Climbing, views, and foliage” describes this trail. Riders will ascend about 1,200 feet during their 7.4-mile pedal through scrub oak and manzanita. The east end of the trail is more difficult, with steeper pitches and loose rock. You can start at either end, and both directions are equally enjoyable. To lengthen the route, hop on trail 9854 and continue on Watershed Trail 299. Or from the trailhead on Senator Hwy, cross the street and hit up Goldwater Lake (396). The extra effort is totally worth it.
Whiskey Off-Road “30 Proof” Route
This 31.7 mile course is awesome. It’s composed of a conglomeration of some of the best singletrack in Prescott National Forest – climbing through the pines, some fast, flowing descents roaring through the manzanita and over water bars, loose rock, and twisty, turny smooth dirt. The 30 Proof route omits the climb to and from Skull Valley, but feel free to add that in at your own discretion. A comprehensive list of trails included on the current route are listed on our page here on Singletracks, as well as a map and a few more videos of the course.
Spruce Mountain (307) Trail
Located in the Bradshaw Mountains just south of Groom Creek, this trail is typically ridden as a 9-mile loop, with a steep climb leading to the best reward: a ripping downhill through the forest. The trail contains a lot of tree roots and logs (for erosion control).
Prescott Circle Trail
A challenging 54 miles of mostly singletrack encircling city of Prescott. Approximately 60% of the trail (the southern and western portions) are within the Prescott National Forest boundaries, providing a great link to various campgrounds and parking areas, as well as other trail networks. Be prepared to climb approximately 5,500 vertical feet, with the reward being a 360-degree view of Prescott Valley’s beautiful natural features.
Sierra Prieta (366) Mountain Bike Trail
This sweet trail can be accessed by riding the Whiskey Off-Road course, or by simply starting from Copper Basin Rd. It tops out near the beginning at the Sierra Prieta Overlook (6,940ft), leading immediately into a fast downhill through the ponderosa pines. The trail ends to the north, running into Potts Creek trail (327) and Trail 391.
Little Yeager (533), Mingus Mountain
Bomb down some legit singletrack and hone your skills negotiating both shifty rock gardens and smooth, twisty singletrack, all under a lovely, leafy canopy of shade. There are built-in dirt jumps, too! This trail is often shuttled, but many pedal up instead.
Firewater Trail (325)
This twisty little 1.2-mile bout of singletrack is best ridden as a descent (as most trails are!). It’s located in the Thumb Butte area west of the city of Prescott, and connects Trails 318 and 332 (the latter can be used to create a loop). Fun features include rock drops and a steeper downhill near the bottom. It’s a newer trail – less than a year old – but deserves the recognition. At least we think so 😉
For more mountain biking trails, be sure to check out the Granite Dells. This unique area of slickrock is snuggled in between the eastern and western halves of the national forest just north of the city of Prescott. The riding is soooo good it has to be mentioned. The Constellation trail network is premiere.
Also, check out the map below (click it to open active pdf in a new window):
The Top 4 Off-Bike Attractions in Prescott National Forest
Whiskey, hiking, and haunted ghost towns… there certainly isn’t a lack of things to do and see during your visit to central Arizona. Check out some of our favorites!
This historical strip of old pubs and restaurants fuels the heart of Prescott. The legendary concentration of watering holes has been around since 1900, and sources state that the area used to contain more than 40 saloons! Tap into your inner outlaw by spectating one of the city’s annual wild west shoot outs, or stroll through the art galleries and shops nestled between the taverns. A few spots worth checking out:
- Matt’s Longhorn Saloon — If you love country music and real western flair, this is your Honky Tonk.
- Prescott Brewing Company has been ranked as one of the top 10 microbreweries in Arizona for 17 years in a row.
- Superstition Meadery — They produce more than 130 meads and ciders!
- The Point Bar and Lounge, a legitimate prohibition-era speakeasy.
- The Raven Café is a must-visit for mountain bikers. Great craft beer selection (they have 30 taps), local live rock ‘n’ roll, organic and sustainably-created food and espresso — and a positive, all-are-welcome atmosphere.
- Far From Folsom — A Johnny Cash-themed bar and live music venue right in the heart of downtown.
- Prescott Public House, just around the corner from Whiskey Row.
- The Barley Hound — Check out this newer gastropub if you’re looking for some great food and cocktails.
- Bird Cage Saloon, a historic shotgun bar with live shows and a really cool collection of mounted birds (some from the Smithsonian).
Canoeing, Kayaking, and Hiking
“We have a saying at Bikesmith,” says owner Andrew Fiore, “’When we can’t bike, we canoe!’ (See how that works?)” If you’re looking to expand your recreational exploration of the national forest, renting or bringing a canoe or kayak is a highly recommended option. And if water isn’t your thing, the hiking is great, too. Check out the links below for more information on great locations to hit the water and trails by boat and foot.
- Prescott Outdoors Adventure Rentals — For kayaks and canoe rentals in the city of Prescott.
- Lynx Lake — The most visited lake, which also has a campground, marina and boat ramps, café, and store.
- Goldwater Lake — A great place to put a boat in the water nestled among the trees and not too far from White Spar Campground. There are also great options for hiking and riding nearby (Trail 396).
- Thumb Butte — Trail 33 is a 2.1-mile loop restricted to hikers only. Take in the views of Prescott Valley once completing a moderately difficult climb, or keep going on one of the many connector trails.
Once home to one of the richest copper mines in the world, this ghost town prides itself on being the largest ghost town in Arizona (its Halloween celebration is unlike anything else). Complete with picturesque views of the Verde Valle, the famed Jerome Grand Hotel began its legacy in 1927 as a one of the most modern hospitals in Arizona, complete with an asylum. After being closed for nearly 44 years, it was refurbished into a hotel. But visitors heed this tip — it’s haunted! If you want to take your mind off of the paranormal activity or relax before joining one of the town’s many ghost hunting tours, be sure to visit the Caduceus Cellars tasting room. Started by none other than famed musician Maynard James Keenan of the bands Tool, Puscifer, and A Perfect Circle, their wines are delicious — his family heritage stems from northern Italian winemakers.
A few more watering holes off the beaten path…
There are a slew of quaint, old west towns littered throughout the Prescott National Forest. Emulating the historic nature of the region, many of these rural communities were established as homes to cowboys and ranchers, and provided places to stay and eat for passersby.
Barnstar Brewing Company, Skull Valley, AZ — Grab yourself a growler full of their delicious IPA (or one of the other 8-10 beers they brew). Better yet, you can get here by bike, but be prepared for the climb — it’s a notable part of the Whiskey Off-Road.
If you’re looking for some good grub, stop by Sal’s Skull Valley Diner, and be sure to check out the general store and historical museum nearby (entry is free).
Crown King Saloon & Cafe, Crown King, AZ — Famed as the oldest operating saloon in Arizona, they’ve been open for 110 years, and even have their own private-label whiskey. Located in an old ghost town, this joint has great food, a selection of fine cigars and awesome scenery — live music, too!
The Top 4 Campgrounds and Cabin Rentals in Prescott National Forest
Our recommended campgrounds have trailheads right on the property (or really, really close nearby). Click here for a complete list of all sites within the Prescott National Forest boundary.
White Spar Campground
Want to be close enough to the city to grab some grub, and smack dab in the middle of the trails? Just a few miles outside the city of Prescott, White Spar boasts large campsites with room for a tent and an RV. There are conveniently-located water pumps throughout the grounds and fire pits at each of the 57 campsites. Know what’s even better? This campground is the perfect hub to hit some of the forest’s more notable mountain biking.
Lynx Lake Recreation Area
There are two campgrounds located in this area, Hilltop and Lynx, with 37 and 35 sites, respectively. It’s a great place to stay if you want to ride, but also provides access to fishing, boating, and the 80-acre Highland Center for Natural History (get your learn on!). There’s a store and café on site. If you camp here, it’s easy to hop on the eastern start of the Ranch 62 trail and do some climbing. The twisty singletrack and views are worth it. Ranch 62 is also a part of the Prescott Circle Trail, and further connects to Goldwater Lake (Trail 396).
Mingus Mountain Recreation Area
Located in the eastern portion of Prescott National Forest just above Jerome, Mingus Mountain has some great options for mountain biking and spectacular scenery. The area has a small lake and two campgrounds: Mingus Campground and Potato Patch. The former allows both RVs and tent camping, has fire pits, plus gorgeous views of Sedona and the Verde Valley. Potato Patch also allows RVs and tents, faces Prescott Valley, and has drinking water available on site. For some excellent riding, check out Little Yeager (Trail 533), Yeager Canyon (Trail 28), and for some more gnarly gnar, Coleman (Trail 104).
Juniper Well Ranch
For those seeking a little more luxury, why not reserve an adobe or log cabin snuggled among the juniper trees of Tonto Flats? Each cabin is fully stocked and has a kitchen — the ranch even provides firewood. There is also a site for tent camping. It’s the perfect place to take in and appreciate the serenity of Skull Valley. Located just west of the Granite Mountain area, great riding is within quick reach.
The Top 3 Mountain Biking Events in Prescott National Forest
Submerged in the spirit of the wild west with a course that winds through some of the best singletrack in the area, there is no lack of stoke surrounding this legendary part of the Epic Rides Off-Road series. This three-day mountain bike event embodies all the best attributes of the region. Legitimate note: the race isn’t for the faint of legs (the “50 Proof” version contains a grueling 7,100 feet of climbing, but the total event purse is $90K!).
But the party… the party is for everyone. The XC race starts and ends at Whiskey Row in downtown Prescott, where riders and spectators can partake in beer provided by Four Peaks Brewery (Phoenix, AZ), rock out to live music, and mingle with some of the coolest folks in the bike industry.
Bonus tip: Bikesmith Cyclery offers free tune-ups for all registered Whiskey racers during the month of April.
MBAA Enduro – Prescott
The Mountain Bike Association of Arizona (MBAA) set up its first enduro event in 2016, and what better place for initiation than Prescott? The race consists of four timed segments traversing some of the most picturesque and unique landscapes near the city. Now that this foothold has been established, the future is even sweeter. According to Andrew Fiore from Bikesmith, who is a sponsor of the event, the plan is to create a full-on state-wide enduro series.
This 60-mile gravel grinder is no joke… you’ll have completed 10,000 feet of climbing by the time you finish (but at least there’s free beer)! The event begins in Mayer, AZ. From there the course traverses west, straight in to the heart of the national forest, taking riders on a journey through the Bradshaw Mountains toward Crown King. If you opt for the 30-mile version, you’ve reached your finish and can fully divulge yourself in boozy suds at the Party in the Pines. If not, take a drink and head back to Mayer. There will be a cold one waiting for ya.
The Top 4 Bike Shops Near the Prescott National Forest
Looking for tubes, a reliable mechanic, or simply a place to meet local riders over a beer? These shops located in the city of Prescott are sure to please!
Hailed as the OG bike shop in Prescott, Bikesmith Cyclery has had their doors open to riders for nearly 70 years. Whether you’re looking for great service and trail information, mechanics that can fix damn near anything (with guaranteed “no compromise” repairs), or a new bike (they carry Pivot, Marin, Giant, Evil, Yeti, Transition, and Devinci), this shop will be sure to treat you right. They also allow customers to demo or rent any bike in the shop, and if they like it, they can special order and have their new bike custom built.
What’s better yet, Bikesmith owners Andrew and Leah Fiore are board members of both the Prescott Mountain Bike Alliance (PMBA) and Prescott Gravity Trails Coalition (PGTC). “We ride a lot so we know what works!” said Andrew, and he’s right. Active in the industry and in the community, the Fiores put on shop rides, trail work days, and a summer-long Enduro series, complete with prizes and beer. Be sure to stop in — there’s always a keg on tap!
How many bike shops have you been in that are owned and operated by all women? This attribute makes Soul Ride not only unique in Arizona, but in all the US. Specializing in custom-built bikes, they are also a dealer of Ibis, Heller, Niner, and Advocate Cycles. “We have a belief that mountain biking is for everyone,” they said. “We work hard to create an inclusive environment where all are welcome,” by offering year-round skills classes for beginners and advanced riders, women’s retreats, and kids mountain bike camps.
Southwest Sounds and Cyclery
If you make your way to the heart of downtown Prescott, you’ll find this fully-stocked shop nestled among the old-town charm of Whiskey Row. Need something custom? Ed Furbush can order and build up almost anything. His shop offers full-service sales and repairs, and carries Salsa, Soulcraft, and Surly brands. What about the “Sounds?” Why not pick up some tunes to enhance your aural pleasure — he offers a sweet collection of music for purchase, too!
This isn’t your classic brick and mortar shop. A specialty bike company, Prescott Cyclery is bringing the bike industry to the city — a first!
Owner Jay Clark has been a design consultant in the bike industry for nearly 18 years, launching a line of bottom brackets under his own brand in January 2017. The frames he designs are named after local trails, he said, with the first crop being shipped out in July. “The 396 TR is first. The trail is a great mix of twisty, fun singletrack that you can make as hard or easy as you want. It’s perfect for our first bike.” Even better, its versatility is designed to fit both 27.5″ and 29″ wheels.
“I ride one [of their bikes] and I love it,” said Jesse Rens, a Prescott native. “I would love to see more bike industry here!” You can check out and order their products through their online storefront.
Damn, Jenny, how’d I miss this over the years? I guess I gotta go back to the Southwest again! Great article.
Thanks, Scott! Let me know when y’all are back in AZ to ride – Prescott is definitely worth the trip!