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A Mountain Biker’s Mecca

Flagstaff, Arizona has great riding for beginners and pros alike


Flagstaff, Arizona is easily one of the best mountain biking towns in the country. Tucked into the largest contiguous ponderosa pine forest on the planet and set below the monumental San Francisco Peaks, it boasts several hundred miles of buff singletrack, much of which falls within the city limits. It’s also just north of Sedona, which has its own incredible terrain. Combine that geographic diversity with a regional climate that yields 266 sunny days a year and you have the perfect recipe for an epic trip. Here are five of our favorite northern Arizona singletrack stretches to get you started.

Hart Prairie

Best For: Beginners and Aspen Peeping

This 15-mile out-and-back ride swoops through groves of enormous aspen trees and ferns and through wide-open prairie under the looming bulk of Humphreys Peak. Start at Aspen Corner, on FS516, the road to Arizona Snowbowl. Ride a quarter mile downhill to intersect with the Arizona Trail, which stretches 800 miles from the Mexican border all the way to Utah. Take a right and pedal through meadows and around loamy switchbacks. Turn around seven miles later at FS418 and see it all from the opposite angle.

Aspen Corner to Snowbowl Road

Best For: Practicing Your Technical Skills

The Arizona Trail segment just south of Hart Prairie is decidedly more technical: a 4.8-mile slalom course of ponderosa pines and hip-high boulders. Start where the trail first intersects with FS516 and pedal uphill, practicing your pedal-stroke timing to slip between the rocks. As always in Flagstaff, which has become a major training ground for Olympians, beware of trail runners passing you. At Aspen Corner, flip open your shocks and weave your way back to the car.

Schultz Pass Loop

Best For: Smooth and Fast Fun

The 11-mile Shultz Pass Loop is one of many trails that wind through the San Francisco Peaks. Start up the Moto Trail to the intersection with the Arizona Trail. Follow the AZ Trail a few miles up to the Shultz Pass parking lot. From there, bomb four miles down the rocky Shultz Trail. You can extend the ride by tacking on the technical Little Gnarly and Jedi Trails at the beginning.

Mescal-Cockscomb Loop

Best For: An Intro to Slickrock Riding

If you get a cold day in Flagstaff or just want more of a desert feel, pop down to the red rock desert of Sedona, which sits just 30 miles south and 2,500 feet lower in elevation. The Mescal-Cockscomb Loop is a 10-mile Sedona classic and a great introduction to slickrock riding. Start at the Chuckwagon trailhead and ride into the massive red rock amphitheater that Mescal traverses on a cactus-studded bench. Don’t worry if you find yourself walking your bike early on—Mescal is the hardest part of the loop. The spectacular setting should make the ego discomfort worthwhile. Next, descend rocky switchbacks to the Boynton Canyon trailhead and then cruise Cockscomb, Dawa, Anaconda, and the first part of Chuckwagon back to the car. Tack on the entire Chuckwagon loop for extra credit.

Slim Shady and Llama Trails

(Emily Oppliger)

Best For: World-Class Technical Riding

From the Yavapai Point trailhead, also down in Sedona, figure-eight the Slim Shady and Llama Trails for a dozen miles of the best flowy and technical riding anywhere. Descend the ledges and banked turns of Slim Shady’s dry creek bed and then connect to Lama Trail via the Highway 179 underpass, Bell Rock Pathway, and Bail Trail. Bang a left on Llama and then detour up Little Horse to Chicken Point. Ride the White Line if you dare (not recommended). Descend Little Horse to Bell Rock Pathway and Bail Trail again to finish up on southern Llama’s stone staircases for a ride sure to test your lungs, legs, and nerve.

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