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.
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.
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.
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.”
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!
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!
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.
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:
- Sedona Day 1: Riding the Upper Dry Creek Trail System
- Eating Good Food, Drinking Beer, and Living High on the Hog in Sedona
- An Arizona Highlight: Riding the Hiline Trail
- When Bandit Trails Go Legit: The Hangover Trail, Sedona’s Crowning Jewel
- Beginnings Interview: Matt McFee, Owner and Founder of Hermosa Tours