Located in America’s stunning southwest, Arizona is quite simply a nirvana for outdoor enthusiasts. Bordered by New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, California and the country of Mexico, Arizona is the sixth-largest state in the union—a place that offers a broad range of terrains that are guaranteed to please off-road riders of every skill level. From the majestic beauty of the Grand Canyon, to the cacti-laden deserts of Tucson to the challenging red rocks of Sedona, Arizona is an ideal destination for mountain bikers looking to test their skill—and bravado—on some of the best trails the country has to offer.
Below we will describe, in detail, five of Arizona’s most popular trails, and highlight some of the challenges and scenic beauty that each of them bring to the table.
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Located 27 miles east of the town of Payson in Eastern Arizona, this 12-mile route, known simply as Trailhead 260, offers a great ride with terrific views of the Eastern Arizona valley. The trail, which is classified as a “moderate loop,” begins at the base of a small mountain and climbs steadily to the top of Mogollon Rim. The climb is fairly demanding and unsteady at times, with loose, gravelly terrain, but is well worth it, both for the view one is treated to at the top and the exhilarating descent that follows.
The descent is loaded with taxing challenges, including a number of jumps, berms and high-banked turns, so for obvious reasons Trailhead 260 is not recommended for beginner riders and should never be ridden alone. According to locals, the trail is not very well marked in certain sections, so it’s important that riders keep their eyes peeled—as one missed turn can result in a very long detour.
Mount Elden (Sunset Trail to Schultz Creek Trail Loop)
Located in the beautiful city of Flagstaff, in Northern Arizona, Mount Elden, specifically the 14-mile loop from Sunset Trail to Schultz Creek Trail, is a wild and thrilling ride that promises something for every level of rider, regardless of their experience. The loop features a difficult aerobic climb, a speedy, obstacle-burdened descent and some of the most rewarding and magnificent views the state has to offer.
The trail’s 6-mile climb, which begins at Elden Lookout Road, takes riders up to an elevation of 1,700 feet above sea level, before ultimately dropping them off the backside of the summit at record speeds. The trail itself features everything you would expect in a Northern Arizona ride, including tricky landscapes, challenging obstacles and a mountainous terrain that even advanced riders will appreciate.
Cathedral Rock is situated on the red-rock clay of Sedona, Arizona—an outdoor paradise that attracts thousands of mountain bikers each year. This particular region of the state includes a number of great trails for beginner, intermediate and advanced riders, all set among the backdrop of the breathtaking Northern Arizona desert.
Cathedral Rock can best be described as a rapid and twisting single track; a track with an abundance of jumps and drop-offs that are spaced expertly amid the trail’s more technical sections. At the halfway point of the Cathedral Rock Trail, riders will come upon the sparkling and alluring waters of Oak Creek, the perfect spot for cooling off (perhaps via the tire swing) before completing the backside of the trail. From there riders will encounter some moderate to strenuous flat riding as they make their way back to the trail’s starting point.
Fantasy Island North Singletrack (FINS)
Situated near the western portion of Phoenix—Arizona’s capital and largest city—the Fantasy Island North Singletrack, or FINS as it is known locally, includes a number of great trails that are regularly frequented by the city’s outdoor set.
Each of the trails at the Fantasy Island North Singletrack are conveniently marked as beginner, moderate, or advanced rides, including certain sections of track that should only be attempted by expert riders due to their 10+ level of difficulty. Beginner trails typically include 3-4 miles of flat track riding, with a few challenges sprinkled in to keep the ride interesting and entertaining. The moderate to advanced trails include a bevy of great features that one would expect from a well-known mountain biking park, including strenuous, calorie-burning climbs; extended flats; and thrilling descents, complete with switchbacks, drops, jumps, berms and more.
Mountain bikers can spend hours at the Fantasy Island North Singletrack and never tire of riding it, and the park’s convenient location, just outside of Phoenix, ensures some fairly crowded conditions here, especially on weekends and holidays.
The trails at Willow Springs create a fun and exciting loop—a loop that is home to the famous Kona “24 Hours in the Old Pueblo” Bike Race.
Located in scenic Tucson, Arizona, the “Willow Springs to Old Pueblo Mountain Bike Trails” are appropriate for all levels of riders. This includes beginners who are just mastering the basic skills of speed and direction control, to the elite lever racer looking for new and unique challenges on the fast single track.
Beginners will face long, gradual climbs, followed by flowing, manageable descents that will take them through the more scenic sections of the park. However, on the more advanced sections of Willow Springs, riders will endure a steep, leg-burning climb that quickly transforms to a rapid and rocky descent—a descent that is appropriately nicknamed “the bitches” due to the many obstacles it presents.
Due to their arid, desert location, the trails at Willow Springs should be ridden in cooler weather (mornings during the summer). Also, be sure to bring along plenty of your own water to prevent dehydration and heat exhaustion.
image credit: radbike.ca