Flagstaff: A Mountain Biker’s Mecca

Flagstaff: 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 single track, much of which falls within the city limits. It’s also just north of Sedona, which has its own incredible mountain biking 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 our five favorite stretches of mountain biking trails and neighborhoods in Flagstaff that are close to those trails.

 

 

 

1) 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.

 

 

2) 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.

 

 

3) 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 to the Arizona 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.

Check out a few of the Flagstaff neighborhoods that will be close to this trail:

 

 

4) Walnut Canyon Rim Trail 

This trail follows the Arizona Trail from Old Walnut Canyon Road to Fisher Point with sweeping views of Walnut Canyon and canyon-rim riding along the way. With the exception of one short difficult section (that can be walked easily), this is a spectacular moderate ride.

Check out a few of the Flagstaff neighborhoods that will be close to this trail:

 

 

5) Campbell Mesa

Campbell Mesa is a good introduction to Flagstaff for those getting used to the high elevation. Relative to surrounding trails, you’ll do less climbing and you’ll get used to the rocky terrain. Nice views along the trail. The trails in this area are mostly buff singletrack through the ponderosa pine. The turns are never too tight, and the climbs/descents are never too steep, making this a very nice ride for beginners, or a quick blast for more advanced riders wanting to squeeze something in after work.  There are a few additional loop options in the area, but it’s hard to get lost. Just follow the trail and go.

The Walnut Meadow Loop section will be more gratifying than the Campbell Mesa or Continental Loop for the experienced rider as it has more flow.

Check out a few of the Flagstaff neighborhoods that will be close to this trail:

 

 

Bonus: A Flagstaff Favorite: The Flagstaff Urban Trails System (FUTS)

Besides the main trails listed above, Flagstaff has other great mountain biking rides that are a little more tame. One of the favorite parts of Flagstaff is the Flagstaff Urban Trails System (FUTS). The Flagstaff Urban Trails System (FUTS, say “foots”) is a city-wide network of non-motorized, shared-use pathways that are used by bicyclists, walkers, hikers, runners, and other users for both recreation and transportation.

At present there are about 56 miles of FUTS trails in Flagstaff. The overall master plan shows about 75 miles of future trails, to complete a planned system of 130 miles. About half of the miles of existing trails are paved, either in concrete or asphalt, and half consist of a hard-packed, aggregate surface. FUTS trails are generally eight or ten feet in width.

FUTS trails offer an incredibly diverse range of experiences; some trails are located along busy streets, while others traverse beautiful natural places – canyons, riparian areas, grasslands, meadows, and forests – all within the urban area of Flagstaff. The system connects neighborhoods, shopping, places of employment, schools, parks, open space, and the surrounding National Forest, and allows users to combine transportation, recreation and contact with nature.

Check out a few of the Flagstaff neighborhoods that will be close to this trail:

 

Bonus: Mountain Biking in Sedona

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. Sedona is great year round for mountain biking: summer to winter. 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.

 

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.

Here are our favorite rides in Sedona:

  • Mescal-Cockscomb Loop
  • Slim Shady and Llama Trails

 

Photo credit: Emily Oppliger