North Star Mountain Bike Guides (NSMtb) enjoyed the company of five adventurous riders for four days of guided riding on the scenic trails that loop amongst the beautiful red rock formations of Sedona, Arizona.
The transition from the cold, grey Minnesota winter (bereft of hope) was a welcome change for our riders, but three days of rain prior to riding led to several impromptu stream crossings and a selection of more weather friendly trails.
Day 1 started at the Scheurman Mountain trailhead, riding down Scorpion a two-mile, mostly downhill trail embedded with numerous basalt rocks to keep you on your toes and off your saddle. The trail was in good condition and immediately piqued our riders focus with challenging line choices, slick rock, and quick turns; all in close proximity to cactus and pokey desert shrubs.
As with many Sedona trails, the views are amazing and what goes down, must go up. Adrenaline pumping from Scorpion, we rode to the nearby Old Post trailhead and started a gradual climb up Ramshead to Secret Slickrock. The trail rolled up and down through creek washes with rocky step-ups and slick rock climbs offering a good primer to Sedona riding.
Stopping atop Secret Slickrock you get a view down to Oak Creek and across to Cathedral Rock, while enjoying a slickrock playground to practice roll downs, drops and climbing.
After a break, we headed up Ridge, a climb that starts with easy single track and gets progressively rockier and steeper with a short hike-a-bike, before topping out with a sweet three-quarter mile descent on rocky, rowdy single track with good site lines. Our first introduction to black rated trail, everybody rolled off this section with big smiles on their faces.
Merging onto Carroll Canyon we rode the sand packed trail that twists and turns through desert shrubs to Old Post; which was in good shape from the recent rains. After some climbing on Carroll Canyon and Old Post, we finally made it to our last trail of the day, Skywalker; a worthy finish.
Skywalker starts with a fun downhill that abruptly climbs one-sixth of a mile to a high point with 360 degree views of Sedona’s beautiful red rock formations. After a photo and snack stop we rode the off-camber and slightly exposed sections of trail, picking up a friendly trail dog that ran and “herded” us to the end. To our amazement she easily kept up with us, sometimes running down the canyon and back up to the trail. The last mile of trail rolls mostly downhill and is a thrilling ride as it corners around a scenic, slick rock ledge before ending at the Scheurman Mountain trailhead. It was a big first day that gave our riders a great taste of Sedona trails.
Day 2 began at the Little Horse Trailhead riding south on the Bell Rock pathway for several miles before climbing onto Baby Bell, a connector trail to Llama. Llama rolls up and down through creek beds, with sections of slick rock and a number of punchy little climbs and descents armored rocks that require good fitness and technique to clean.
Stopping at a slick rock feature we practiced drops before heading to Little Horse and Chicken Point; a destination for many hikers and jeep tours because of its views and the infamous Whiteline, a double red trail, ridden by few riders because of the extreme risk of falling.
Where Llama meets Little Horse it’s almost a mile climb to Chicken Point. The climb up has numerous fun rocky step-ups and rock features to maneuver around, before finishing at the huge slick rock dome of Chicken Point where we stopped for photos and the view.
After our big first day, we decided to split the group up according to energy and ambition, where half rode down Little Horse and the other rode Broken Arrow and Hog Wash back to the house where we were staying. The ride down Little Horse is a fun, fast decent with several technical rock roll down sections and fun rock features to roll or hop; but can have a lot of hikers requiring a cautious approach and yielding to their right-of-way.
Tara lead the other half of the group up the singletrack to Broken Arrow and Hogwash, which provided a much more technical riding experience compared to what the group had experienced thus far. Both trails feature numerous technical bits, especially on Hogwash which combines technicality with exposure.
Day 3 started with riding up the mellow Long Canyon before turning west onto Deadman’s Pass. Deadman’s has a short climb followed by a three-quarter mile descent where you can carry good speed over numerous rocky step-downs, that can be rolled or dropped.
From Deadman’s Pass, we climbed a short section of twisty, rocky trail to the slick rock to the iconic Mescal trail. Mescal is one the more popular trails for hikers and bikers, as it winds along the base of Mescal Mountain for roughly two and a half miles on slick rock ledges. Once, on the slickrock we were met with amazing, close-up views of the Mescal formation. The slick rock ledges offered plenty of breathing room, except in a few spots. When you stop and look back at where you’ve ridden you realize how small you are compared to the red rock formation and the ribbon of trail. After the slick rock we enjoyed a half-mile descent on twisting rocky trail, slick rock back to where we began.
This loop is a great ride on its own, but everybody felt like they wanted MORE! We rode across the road to a connector trail to access Chuckwagon. We were quickly faced with the first of several creek crossings, this one across Dry Creek; which wasn’t very dry. In fact, it was flowing fast and too deep to ride from the previous rains. After hiking across the not so Dry Creek, we climbed south on Chuckwagon to the Dry Creek Trail head.
The views at Dry Creek Trailhead were worth the ride up and rested and snacked before heading back down the trail we just rode up; which was a hoot. At the intersection of the connector trail and Chuckwagon, one group headed back to the vehicles and another for the remaining four miles of trail which rolls up and down with rocky sections, slickrock, creek crossings, twisty descents in trees and desert shrubs, and fun rocky descents; a trail I’ll gladly ride again.
Day 4 started at the Boynton Canyon Trailhead not too far away from previous days ride, in large part to avoid the wetter and more technical trails we had originally planned to ride. Which, in retrospect was a good idea after hearing of the trail conditions that were wet and slippery on techy sections.
From Boynton Canyon Trailhead we rode Aerie with its magnificent views of canyons and red rock formations, continuing onto Cockscomb. Both trails are dirt packed with numerous chunky rocks and moderate climbs requiring good line choice. They also feature really fun descents, because chunky rocks are so much easier to ride down.
The group then turned onto Rupp, a trail that descends chunky rock with good site lines; allowing riders to bomb down the trail only to come to an abruptly stop or take a bath in the flowing creek. Heading back north on the Arizona Cyress, we had several more creek crossings, before a final Conga line plunge across not so Dry Creek, once again.
Drying off on Dawa Trail we climbed back towards the vehicles, finishing on a short section of Cockscomb and onto Aerie with a strong tailwind. After another great day of riding in Sedona with the extra credit riding the day before, plus riding four days in a row, most of our riders were happy to call it good. Sedona riding is generally much more technical in nature than other locations. With numerous rock ledges and steps, punchy climbs, and technical descents, miles can be slow and tiring making distances seem much longer than they are. As Tara says, miles only tell one part of the story.
But, the prospect of heading back to Minnesota with no open trails to ride, offered little in comparison to Sedona riding. Understanding the situation, Tara offered to shuttle drop a group at Girdner then pick them up five miles down trail. Our two youngest riders, who are brothers, jumped at the opportunity. Tara dropped us at the Dry Creek Trailhead and we rock and rolled
our way down Girdner, mostly descending for three and a half miles, until we had our final climb up to the trailhead where our shuttle waited. A great way to end our ride.
Normally, we would run our four days of guided rides with a rest day in between; but the weather forecast for day five was not good. It turned out to be rainy, cold, windy, and snowy. Four consecutive days of riding was tiring, our group did amazingly well. We maintained social distancing on the trails and seldom went out because Tara cooked us great meals.
A big thank you to all who joined us on this trip with NSMtb. Your positive attitudes and sense of adventure made it a pleasure to show you some of the trails we love to ride in Sedona.
Byron & Tara