People come not just from all over the country, but from all over the world for the unique mountain biking experience this southwestern state has to offer. By following a line down Interstate 10 and Interstate 17 corridor you can take a tour of some of the best mountain biking you’ll ever experience.
To the North, you have Flagstaff and its high elevation trails. Some even get snowed out in wintertime. Here, you’ll encounter Schultz Pass, with its Pine forests, gradual climbs and fast descents.
Further south and you’ll encounter massive trail systems surrounding the city of Phoenix, including the breathtakingly scenic Brown’s Ranch loop. Just North of Phoenix is the IMBA Epic Black Canyon trail, which takes you on a tour through the desert hills mountains that overlook the city.
In Tucson, located in the southern part of the state, several trails will take you tours through canyons and deserts including Honeybee Canyon Loop.
Here are 10 of the best mountain bike trails in Arizona.
1. Desert Classic, Guadalupe
Known locally as DC, this trail is widely popular for its relaxing pace and scrubby, peaceful desert terrain. Among the many trails found in Phoenix’ South Mountain park, this is easily the least technical option, but the many washes from the surrounding hills add some interesting, moderate challenges.
Although it’s an ideal choice for an easy weekend ride or a level-up for beginners, it also features plenty of optional ramps and drops to challenge more accomplished riders. Most of the length is made of hardpack soil, but there are several stretches of sandy ground to shake things up.
Keep in mind that the Classic appendage, along with the low difficulty, means it attracts plenty of people, so it might be worth scheduling a visit early in the morning.
2. Hangover Trail, Sedona
Sedona is home to some of Arizona’s premier MTB trails, and first among equals is Hangover Trail. It also happens to be one of the most challenging, harrowing rides anywhere.
Anyone thinking of tackling Hangover needs to be overwhelmingly sure of their fitness, skill level, and confidence around heights
Starting out with a steep climb to a saddle between two red sandstone rock formations, the trail then drops riders slightly down a segment of slickrock onto a razor-sharp ridge dangling 200 feet above the canyon floor below.
From there, follow a hair-raising ride along dirt singletrack and overhanging rock (the trail’s namesake) before reaching a challenging slickrock climb to finish it off.
3. Schultz Creek Trail, Flagstaff
Schultz Creek is a popular out-and-back trail that can either be climbed to Schultz Pass, or taken as a fun, flowy descent into Flagstaff.
The section leading up to the campgrounds near the pass is just over four miles, but the extended trail runs an impressive 25 for more energetic riders.
This trail shows off some of the outstanding natural beauty along flagstaff, including pine, aspen, and Douglas fir woodlands, as well as Schultz creek itself. Several technical sections are placed along its length for more adventurous riders, although the uphill climb is more than enough workout for beginners.
Being near Flagstaff, one of Arizona’s tourism hotspots, this trail can get pretty crowded in the evenings and on weekends, so aim for an off-peak visit.
4. Hiline, Village of Oak Creek
Hiline is a trail best suited for experts, not necessarily because of its tricky technical climbs and descents, but because of the nerve-jangling ledges, you’ll have to navigate to earn the views at the summit.
Beginning with a tough, steep climb off of the nearby Slim Shady Trail, Hiline winds around the cliff edge overlooking the valley below Cathedral Rock. There are several extremely narrow sections of singletrack on the way to the top of the mesa, so it’s more than fair to walk some of the way.
Finally, on the second half of the trail, there are several very steep portions where you’ll have to keep your nerve and a steady grip before dropping out just below Cathedral Rock.
5. Slim Shady Trail, Village of Oak Creek
Often overlooked by intrepid riders on their way to Hiline, Slim Shady’s fun, rolling technicals are definitely worth a stop. From the trailhead located at the edge of Village of Oak Creek, just south of Flagstaff, riders will soon roll onto well-worn singletrack through picturesque desert lowlands.
The surface itself is easy, flowy dirt with little in the way of rocks or other impediments. For the most part, this trail is easily tackled by moderately experienced riders, although those just getting into mountain biking may need to walk a few sections.
Slim Shady is, as the name implies, well-protected from the sun, so this is a good option for midday rides with lower heat.
6. Honeybee Canyon Loop, Catalina
Honeybee Canyon is the kind of trail that sneaks up on you, beginning with a deceptively gentle climb and carrying on to a challenging endurance ride through sand and cactus.
Running through the foothills west of Catalina, the trail is largely firm, smooth dirt singletrack. Only a mile after setting out from the trailhead off of State Route 77, riders will have to negotiate their way through two strands of detachable barbed wire fence. After that, there are no more obstacles that can’t be ridden over.
It should be noted that an Arizona State Land Department recreation permit is needed to use this trail, but these can easily be obtained online before setting out.
7. Black Canyon Trail, Spring Valley
Nestled between the Bradshaw Mountains and Prescott National Forest, this trail is a tough technical descent over nearly 80 miles of singletrack.
The northern sections of the trail feature wide-open desert and occasional small canyons. Along the way, you’ll have several streams to cross, but these can offer welcome relief in the heat of the desert sun. The middle of the trail features wide plains of cactus and rolling desert hills, while the final third is a calm and easy descent into the outer fringe of Phoenix.
Several trailheads for branching trails can be spotted along the way, and there’s a wealth of campgrounds, intriguing little towns, and hole-in-the-wall bars along the way. Getting the most out of the trail will take 2-3 days, but the trail can be ridden in one.
8. Cathedral Rock Big Loop, Village of Oak Creek
There are many outstanding trails woven through the hills between Sedona and Flagstaff, but if you could only ride one, it should be Cathedral Rock. While hardly a beginner’s ride, it does have some areas that will be easier for intermediate riders along with plenty of truly difficult stretches.
Starting off on flowy red dirt, the trail soon turns to rocky climbs before topping out near Cathedral Rock itself. The views from this point span for miles around, offering exceptional natural beauty.
Along the way are several accessible creeks and streams in case riders need a quick dip to cool down. The final descent back to the trailhead contains several rocky technical sections which will take more than a little skill to navigate, and intermediate riders may need to walk some of the way.
9. South Mountain National Trail, Laveen
South Mountain Park, one of Phoenix’s prized local hotspots, is one of the largest municipal parks in the world. It covers the whole range of the South Mountains, with plenty of grassy scrublands and fascinating wildlife on display.
The trail itself runs the length of the park, and it’s likely to appeal to more seasoned riders who’ll be able to enjoy the natural beauty without having to focus on getting through the ride. A singletrack running over rolling ridgelines and moderate descents, there are plenty of technical areas and rock gardens dotted around.
Apart from technicals, there are plenty of obstacles and narrow stretches to wind through, making it a satisfying challenge to complete the loop.
10. Brown's Ranch Perimeter Loop, Carefree
This crushed granite trail circles Brown’s and Granite Mountains and features some breathtaking desert views before swinging back by Balanced Rock and the Amphitheater, folding some of Scottsdale’s best natural beauty into one great ride.
While it won’t be much of a challenge for advanced riders, with no significant climbs and one or two fast downhills. Even beginners will need some endurance, however, since most of the trail is composed of tight turns and switchbacks.
Particularly appealing are the wildly varied cactuses and animal life, including horned toads, rattlesnakes, and gila monsters. If up for an extra challenge, riders can take a branch trail by the foot of Fraesfield Mountain before swinging back onto the main loop.