Sedona Day 1: Riding the Upper Dry Creek Trail System

Matt Mcfee of Hermosa Tours was the brains behind my trip to Sedona, and while I didn’t want to tear him away from the office, he insisted on personally guiding me around Sedona’s trails for the duration of my trip. Mainly, I think he wanted an excuse to ride his bike instead of staring at a computer screen!

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Matt Mcfee shredding the red.

Our first ride of the trip was destined to be the longest single loop in the area and the longest ride mileagewise, but mileage doesn’t necessarily correlate directly to effort in Sedona. We began our ride straight from the Sedona Real, the hotel where I was staying, with an easy pedal up the pavement. In no time at all we split off of the asphalt onto red Sedona dirt, curving through the short, squat pine trees and the spiny cholla cacti.

We were pedaling through the Upper Dry Creek Area, which is a complicated yet well-signed trail system full of delicious singletrack. Our big loop route roughly encircled the entire system, while hitting most of the very best trails on that side of town along the way.

Our route consisted of: Lizard Head > Chuckwagon > Mescal > Deadman’s Pass > Aerie > Cockscomb > Rupp > Girdner > AZ Cypress > Anaconda > Girdner. Since this system is so complex and interwoven, you can really create any route you’d like. But thanks to Matt’s expert advice, it’d be hard to beat this route!

Photo: Matt Mcfee
Photo: Matt Mcfee

By the end of the trip I realized that the Upper Dry Creek Area was really a Sedona primer, as it was actually the easiest set of trails that we rode all week. Of course they’re not the easiest trails in the area, but with most of the trails in Upper Dry Creek well-within the capabilities of an intermediate rider, there’s little reason to ride anything easier.

Many of the trails consisted of quality red Sedona dirt winding through the trees and cacti, with several stretches of rock gardens and sand pits mixed in. However, once you work your way up towards the mountain sides and traverse across on the Chuckwagon, Mescal, and Aerie trails, you’ll get your first taste of classic Sedona red rock riding.

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In places like Moab the slickrock riding often takes placed on exposed rock domes or slabs, but here in Sedona the rideable bedrock most often protrudes as ledges from the sides of near-vertical cliffs. These ledges are deliciously tacky rock, which also conveniently form easy-to-ride natural benches with generally mellow, attainable grades.

Some of the red rock sections here in Upper Dry Creek are undoubtedly technical and challenging, but if you want a red rock primer before tackling technical masterpieces like Hangover, these are the trails to check out. If you have trouble negotiating the obstacles here, your experiences are destined to go downhill fast if you decide to attempt other, more technical Sedona classics.

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Despite more moderate technical features, the views off of these red rock trails are exceedingly superb! Of course, the views are amazing while simply walking down the street in Sedona…

We completed our loop by sampling from freshly-dug singletrack lower down in the valley, complete with stiff climbs, delicious bench cutting, and ripping downhills. By the time we’d completed 22 miles I was ready for some pizza and beer!

Lodging at the Sedona Real

I had the pleasure of beginning this ride right from the parking lot of the hotel we were staying at for the week: the Sedona Real.

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Photos from SedonaReal.com

The Sedona Real is a gorgeous hotel located on the edge of West Sedona in a beautiful setting. Not only is the exterior attractive and well-kept, but the rooms are plush, the beds comfortable, and grounds inviting.

My wife and I stayed in a king suite while we were here, which is actually on the most affordable end of the suites available here. While we thought ours was spacious and luxurious, if you fancy spending even more, you can get a much posher setup. But let’s be real, here: we’re mountain bikers, and even $209 per night for a king suite or double queen suite might seem like a lot.

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However, these suites are anything but simple hotel rooms: all of the suites have at least two rooms. Ours had a gorgeous room with a bed, TV, and gas fireplace, as well as a sitting room with couch, chairs, and second TV. In between the two is a spacious bathroom, second sink, microwave, fridge, and coffee maker. I have to mention the fridge and microwave: I’ve stayed at too many expensive hotels that didn’t have these things. I want a place to keep my beer cold, and reheat some leftovers from going out to eat the night before!

real king suite sitting

While $209 may seem steep, if you’re bringing a bunch of dudes you could sleep a lot of people in the double queen suite, especially if some people were willing to crash on the floor, which would bring the cost per person way down. Don’t have anyone planning to sleep in the sitting room? That’s a perfect space to keep your multi-thousand dollar bikes safe and sound. Since the owner of the hotel is an avid mountain biker and heavily involved in the local scene, he undoubtedly knows how much your bikes are worth… and how much you want to keep them safe.

A nice room is one thing, but staying at the Sedona Real brings a bunch of other excellent amenities with it. There are outside patios and barbecue grills, laundry facilities, and an excellent outdoor pool and hot tub.

And then there’s the breakfast.

Seriously, I’veĀ never experienced a complimentary breakfast this delicious at a hotel before. They offer everything under the sun: bacon, eggs, pancakes, waffles, fruit, yogurt, cereal, pastries, breakfast burritos… you name, it’s there, it’s fresh, and it’s incredibly delicious! If you’re planning to head out for a hard day of riding, fueling well in the morning is of paramount importance, and at the Sedona Real it’s easy, it’s convenient, and it’s free. A couple of months after our Sedona trip my wife and I were at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico, and while it was a great experience, the breakfast just left something to be desired. I found myself wishing I was back at the Sedona Real chowing down on someĀ real food.

I know I’ve prattled on and on about the place we stayed… and yet I’m sure there are aspects I haven’t even touched on. It’s pretty unusual for me to get this stoked on lodging. Usually I consider a place to crash for the night and keep my beer cold good enough. But staying at the Sedona Real was an extremely pleasurable experience that both my wife and I remember fondly. In all honesty, I can’t recommend it highly enough!

Stay tuned for Day 2: The Hogs, tomorrow!

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