After a winter off from mountain biking and attempting to maintain some semblance of fitness through visits to the climbing gym and the occasional cross country ski; we headed to Arizona to ride the red rocks of Sedona and attend the Sedona Mountain Bike Festival. Tara would be teaching for VIDA MTB Bike Series during the festival, so we arrived a few days in advance get in some riding together.
Upon arrival we unpacked our bikes and went for a shakedown ride from our hotel in Oak Creek Village. Just up the street were some warm up trails that rolled across the creek beds in the shadow of Bell Rock, one of the many amazingly beautiful red rock buttes and mesas in the area. We immediately found out that the airlines had not used kid gloves with our bikes; Tara’s derailleur hanger was bent and the rear brake rotor on my bike was whacked out. No matter how many times Tara adjusted her shifting it kept “drunk shifting” on her, so we pedaled to the local bike shop, Absolute Bikes, where they diagnosed the problem and made quick fixes, so we could ride.
This post will present most of the riding we did during our week in the Sedona area. We used Trail Forks (www.trailforks.com) and a hard copy map Sedona Singletrack Arizona. Cell reception is spotty in areas, especially in the canyons, so having a paper back-up was welcome. Trail Forks is the preferred app for the area, as the maps are more complete than Mtb Project. It should be noted that the trail ratings in the area differ between Trail Forks, MTB Project, and the Sedona Singletrack Arizona map.
Day 1 - From the Village of Oak Creek we drove about 25 minutes to the Long Canyon Trailhead (TH), located northwest of the City of Sedona. FYI, this drive takes closer to an hour on the weekends with additional tourist traffic in Sedona. To reacquaint our legs to pedaling, we started on Long Canyon (rated green); a gradual uphill climb on sand packed single track with occasional small rock step-ups/erosion bars. Signage was good and the trail was easy to follow to Deadman’s Pass (rated green), more sand packed gradual climbing; but included several fun rocky sections that were fun to roll down with speed. Pulling up to the Mescal intersection, it was easy to see the difference between the green trails we were just on and Mescal. Mescal is rated black on Trailforks, blue on our hard copy map, and rides more like a blue for all but very short sections, which you can walk. Mescal is rockier, more up and down, and dirt packed with numerous sections of slick rock ledges. The ledges are wide and transition to rocky, sandy dirt or pinch-out, with little step-ups and downs to other sections of single track. Mescal has beautiful red rock views, and it is worth stopping for pictures and to take a break to admire. We encountered lots of hikers were on the trail and had very positive interactions, everyone was very friendly. As the trail transitions away from the bluff, it weaves through the desert before ending with a fun, twisty downhill that leads to the main road where we were parked. After a snack and consulting the map we pedaled to the northern most entrance to Chuckwagon, another black rated trail by Trailforks, which is blue on the hard copy map. Luckily we started on the north entrance going clockwise, because there’s a rocky downhill towards the southern end that is fun to descend; but probably not so fun to climb; at least for us flatlanders starting our riding season. Chuckwagon had a good variety of features and is worth riding during the week; otherwise it’s the main hiker’s trail to the Devil’s Bridge and is highly congested with hikers on weekends. The weather was in the 50’s and sunny, ideal for riding and we were out riding for about 2 hours, not super long, but a good start to the season.
Day 2 - It snowed overnight, a rare occurrence for Sedona, and the red rock was coated with a beautiful snow layer; but the trails were too wet to ride; so we rode around town, took pictures, stopped at the bike shop to chat, drank coffee and waited for the afternoon sun to dry things out.
Day 3 - Doug, Tara and I drove to the Scheurman TH, west of Sedona. Parking was next to the high school parking lot and the TH was just off the road; look for the rusty metal signs with trail name carved into the square. We started by descending Herkenham, a bit techy, rocky, and fun, I’d rate it blue-black for the area. We then climbed Old Post, a good rocky climb, not too steep, but keeps your attention to line choice and requires some decent fitness. Then onto Carroll Canyon, a blue for the area, which had two good rocky descents that required good form and also had great views of the red rocks. Carroll Canyon led back onto Old Post which had lots of sandy, twisty sections in low areas before climbing to Skywalker. Skywalker is very scenic and rolls along the edge of hills that slope down to the dry washes below. There is some exposure; but there is plenty of trail to ride and room to dismount if you are uncomfortable. Skywalker ends with a great downhill, twisting around corners on trail cut into the side of the hills. We took about two hours with breaks, navigating, etc.; but this might be closer to 1 hour 15 minutes with steady riding.
Day 4 - Doug and I rode Long Canyon to Deadmans’ Pass, and onto Aerie which is twisty with short up and down sandy sections, to its intersection with Cockscomb. This part of Aerie is fun to maintain your speed on around corners and down short descents for a free ride up the next ascent. At Boynton, go straight, not right, to the intersection of Aerie and Cockscomb. Here Aeire continues, but changes character into a rocky single track with a fun slick rock corner and switchback climb. Look at Trailforks for pictures to see what I mean, I was too busy having fun riding to stop and take pictures. Aerie then rolls up and down along the side of a hill with big chunky rocks all over the trail that rewards good line choice, otherwise you’ll be working harder.
At the Aerie/Cockscomb TH we were again rewarded with great views of the red rock. I headed to meet Tara and Casey who were riding in the area; but unfortunately my right contact lens dried up and flipped out of my eye into the red dust - it was a dry and windy day. So, I made an executive decision to ride the road back to where Tara and Casey were parked, since I was lacking depth perception to negotiate rocks and downhill sections. It took about 15 minutes on paved roads to get back to where they were parked, where I waited for them to finish their ride.
Day 5- Tara was teaching at the VIDA clinic, so I took my time in the morning, ate breakfast in the sun, and rode out the door north through Oak Creek Village onto Slim Shady (rated black). This turned out to be a good decision because Slim Shady was my favorite trail of the trip. From the south it starts with climbing rocky step-ups, twisting and turning upwards passing the trails Made in the Shade and Hi-Line. At the top of the climb there were many other riders dropped off from the festival shuttles. The descent heading north was a lot of fun with numerous rock rolls, step-ups, fun corners, slick rock roll downs and drop offs into creek washes. It was definitely worth the effort to climb up. After Slim Shady I rode HT (rated black), a rocky climb, then under the highway northeast to Little Horse (rated black) which has several hard rocky climbs to Llama (rated blue). From the north Llama starts out slow, but gets fun as it rolls up and down through dry creek washes with several good rock climbs and sections of slick rock. There are several spots to jump and drop, which made the trail fast and fun – really good views too. Llama runs into the Bell Rock pathway, a flat hiking trail, which heads south to Oak Creek. This was a really good loop from our place, and could easily be made longer by riding Templeton, Easy Breezy, Made in the Shade, or Hi-Line.
Day 6 – Tara and I were both tired from riding, her coaching, etc. so our plans to ride the Hog Trails had to wait until next time. Instead, we opted to ride from the Little Horse TH northeast to Little Horse, south onto Llama, looping back on Baby Bell, Easy Breezy, Templeton, and taking HT and back to the trailhead. We both liked the south half of Llama and practiced our climbing. However, when you’re tired, just one pedal strike, tire spin out, or hitting a rock the wrong way can lead to pushing your bike instead of pedaling-it, ugh!
We both want to go back to Sedona for the amazing beauty of the red rocks, the challenging riding and friendly nature of almost everybody we ran into on the trails and elsewhere. We had many friendly encounters with hikers and bikers. Riding here will definitely improve my riding, fitness and the elevation doesn’t immediately take your breath away like in Colorado or other higher elevation locations we’ve ridden.
Cheers - Byron