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Destination: Sedona, Arizona

Red rock to slickrock: Mountain biking around Sedona is the best way to spend time in this desert destination.

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Saying hello to Sedona slickrock. Photo by Zach Vestal.
Saying hello to Sedona slickrock. Photo by Zach Vestal.

Sedona, Arizona is a paradox of a place. On one hand it caters to artists, tourists, sightseers and New Age spiritualists who revere the area as a cosmic power center.

On the other hand it sits smack in the center of the biggest red rock playground outside of Southern Utah, and is a wonderland for hikers, mountain bikers and athletic adventure-seekers of all stripes.

Fortunately, the wide range of visitors to Sedona seem to coexist with minimal conflict, so mountain biking on the vast array of trails is as viable an activity as is crystal gazing or painting. Actually, mountain biking is the best way to spend time in Sedona, because the riding is probably the best red-rock-style riding you will find outside of Moab.

Sedona is literally surrounded by trails, on all sides, and they are well mapped and easy to find. Plus, it’s hard to get lost, as the town is often visible from high points. The riding is like Moab, minus the sand and some of the slickrock. There are plenty of rocks, ledges and slickrock sections, but most of the trails are hard-packed silt or sand. It’s rare for trails to actually dip into a sand wallow or wash, so generally the riding is much more fun and consistent.

Best of all, most of the climbs are relatively short and the descents have fantastic flow and features. The marked and mapped trails are super fun, but if you are lucky a local rider might let you in on some secret trails that are typically much more challenging that what you can find on the maps.

Significant chunks of riding include scrub evergreen trees, shrubs and even green grass and flowers in springtime. It feels less like a desert than Moab, and in fact, climbing just a thousand feet or so puts you right into pine forest.

Sedona is stunningly beautiful. Aside from the red rock cliffs, the evergreen trees and blue sky make for startling color combinations. It’s no wonder that it has inspired an artist and spiritual community like no other.

Sedona proper is generally crowded, full of tourists and shops hawking T-shirts. By contrast, The Village of Oak Creek just six miles south has a much more scaled-down, easygoing feel. If you are in town to ride rather than sightsee, stay in Oak Creek, where some great trails jump off.

Oak Creek is home to the Bike & Bean, one of the friendliest bike shops you can find, plus they brew great coffee. About a block away is the Quail Ridge Resort, which is the most relaxing, peaceful retreat you could hope to roll home to after a day on the trails. It’s less like a resort and more like a retreat center with small A-frame chalets, a courtyard with a fire pit, a pool, hot tub and the best view of Bell Rock in town.

Must-do trail: The Bell Rock Pathway is a great jumping off point for most of the good trails. Broken Arrow is a classic, as is Templeton Trail. But for flow and fun find the Llama trail east of Bell Rock.

Best bike shop: Sedona Bike & Bean has two locations, our favorite is in the Village of Oak Creek plus a new one in Sedona. Mountain Bike Heaven and Absolute Bikes in Sedona are also great resources.

Best map: Cosmic Ray’s Fat Tire Tales and Trails Mountain Bike Guide to Arizona is a classic book that covers not only Sedona, but the entire state. For an in-depth look, stop in the Oak Creek Bike & Bean and check out their 3-D topographic map/model diorama.

Best coffee: Again, the Bike & Bean has great coffee and mountain bike culture, but the Ravenheart coffee shop is probably the best.

Best bar/restaurant: Sedona is mostly a resort/tourist town for an older crowd, so there isn’t much of a bar scene. But restaurants abound. We like Maria’s Restaurant & Cantina for Mexican food.

Riding season: Sedona gets pretty hot in the summer, so spring and fall are ideal.

Getting there: Sedona is a two-hour drive north of Phoenix, which is the nearest major airport. It’s an hour south of Flagstaff.

Lodging: Sedona is a tourist town, so you can find 5-star luxury condos, bed and breakfasts, and chain hotels. But the best place to stay, by far, is the Quail Ridge Resort in the Village of Oak Creek. It’s quiet, relaxing and two minutes by bike from trail heads.

Other things to do: Sedona has a couple of swanky golf clubs and numerous art galleries, new age shops, and the like.


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