Mountain biking in the Southwest isn’t all about slickrock, though there is plenty of that to go around. Arizona offers epic singletrack in a range of styles, from technical desert challenges to loamy forested trails to epic canyon views and red rock adventures. Make sure your mountain biking bucketlist includes Arizona’s most epic mountain bike trails.
Truthfully, Sedona is more than one trail. But if we started talking about every single piece of singletrack in Sedona you would be reading a different list.
This small town in central Arizona has become a mecca for mountain bikers across the globe. Many of the trails are rated intermediate and above, and riding slickrock presents a different kind of challenge. If you are not as technically confident as some, cut your teeth by riding the Bell Rock pathway outside the Village of Oak Creek then upgrade to Mescal loop in “West Sedona.” Seriously skilled riders will jump right into the classic crushers like Highline, Hangover, and High on the Hogs trails. All boast sticky red rock that clings to your tires and spins you along over rolling sandstone drops and punchy technical ascents.
No matter your skill level, you can find something to enjoy in Sedona.
Arizona’s number two epic, and likely number two most well-known, is without a doubt the Black Canyon Trail. This IMBA “Epic trail” is an 80 mile (one-way) thru-ride in the Sonoran Desert outside Phoenix. It winds through forests of 50 ft tall giant saguaro cactus, gaining and losing elevation with every breath.
Plan your trip on the BCT, as locals affectionately call it, carefully. There is very little road access along the route and cell-signals are scarce. This is serious wilderness. Most riders heading out on a day trip select a section of about 30 miles or less and set up a shuttle. Others simply make their ride an out-and-back. Those mountain bikers who plan to ride the entire length of the Black Canyon Trail often do it as a bikepacking trip or arrange for support from friends or a local outfitter. The most popular duration is a 3 day, 2 night trip.
It’s a miracle the Rainbow Rim trail isn’t overrun by mountain bike tourists from around the country. This trail is one of Arizona’s best kept secrets.
Rainbow Rim trail runs along a portion of Grand Canyon’s North Rim, just outside Grand Canyon National Park. The North Rim of the Grand Canyon ranges in altitude from 8-9000 ft above sea level and offers high alpine terrain that is perfect for summer riding. The trail cuts along the rim, passing through stands of quaking aspen, spruce, and fir trees, opening up to far-reaching views of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River. While the Rainbow Rim trail is not very technical, it does present some areas with exposed drop-offs on one side and the high elevation can present quite a challenge to many riders.
This list wouldn’t be complete without the Arizona Trail, but including it may be a bit unfair. Why? Because the 800 mile long Arizona Trail offers more riding options than all the rest of Arizona’s epic mountain bike trails combined. Since the trail was completed, many have aspired to ride it start to finish. A good number have conquered it. Whether a feat of that level is in your cards or not, there are plenty of popular sections of the Arizona trail worth riding.
Near the Grand Canyon’s North Rim is a fun section of the AZT that can easily be combined with the Rainbow Rim trail for a perfect weekend of riding. A short ways south of the canyon, not far from the mountain town of Flagstaff, Arizona you’ll find some jawdroppingly beautiful and toe-curling flowy fun AZT singletrack in the high-alpine San Francisco Peaks. Further south, explore more of the Sonoran Desert on a popular section of trail near “Picketpost” outside of the town of Superior. If you’re feeling adventurous, bikepack from Picketpost to Tucson, heading through the rugged desert wilderness of the Gila River. Bit by bit, you can ride the entirety of the Arizona Trail and get to know the wide variety of singletrack available in Arizona.
From rocky challenging climbs to flowing through fields of ferns, Arizona has singletrack of every kind. It’s the best mountain bike destination the world hasn’t yet discovered, and it’s not just about Sedona. Plan a trip, explore the best of what Arizona has to offer, and before you’re even finished you’ll find yourself planning the next one.