Arizona's 5 Most Popular Trail Networks According to Trailforks Data

Oct 19, 2021 at 8:42
by Brice Shirbach  
The American Southwest is chock full of bucket list locales, and perhaps no single southwestern state is home to more of them than Arizona. The 6th largest state in the country by area, Arizona's vast geography lends itself to a surprisingly diverse set of trails and trail networks for a place most often associated with cacti and dry desert landscapes. From the mixed and evergreen forests of Flagstaff, to the stunning red rock canyons of Sedona, to the massive "sky islands" of Mount Lemmon and everything in between, The Grand Canyon state is a veritable playground for mountain bikers and the trail associations who call it home know it.

We wanted to see which networks in Arizona were the most popular, and so we headed to our sister site Trailforks to get the intel. Trailforks is a trail management system for riders, builders and associations and it aims to provide the very best tools to inventory, maintain, promote and showcase trail networks. By using the Trailforks ridelog feature, we were able to take a look at which trail networks across the state are the most ridden. While this is an accurate representation based on user input, this is not a list of favorites per se. It is a direct reflection of Trailforks usage, and if you want to ensure that your own riding has an impact on lists like this, you can do so by connecting your Strava account to Trailforks, or by simply using the tracking feature in the Trailforks app itself. This information can make for some spirited conversation, but more importantly can be leveraged by trail associations in their advocacy efforts.



This area was formerly known as Pima/Dynamite, and was incorporated into the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. It's a multi-use network that is also popular with hikers, runners, equestrians as well as mountain bikers. The trails are remarkably different than the rest of the valley. The vast majority of the trails are buff smooth, with very few on-trail obstacles. There are plenty of spiky flora just off the trail, which probably represents the biggest threat to you and your bike. There is also very little elevation change in the area. The steeper climbs tend to be very short and punchy, and the longer climbs are easy and gradual--most well below 5% grade. The trails tend to climb from south to north. All of this adds up to a great place for beginners, kids, and anyone looking to build their skills. It is also a great single-speed destination for riders looking to avoid hike-a-bike. These trails are looked after by the Desert Foothills Mountain Bike Association.

Brown's Ranch mountain biking trails





South Mountain is the premier trail network in Phoenix, AZ, the largest city in the state. At more than 16,000 acres, South Mountain Park/Preserve is one of the largest municipally managed parks in the nation and consists of three mountain ranges - the Ma Ha Tauk, Gila and Guadalupe. Additionally, the roadways throughout the park are a favorite for bicyclists. It utilizes 1,400 vertical feet of relief from its highest point to its lowest, and features over 116 miles of multi-use trail for riders, equestrians, and hikers. The Gravity Riders Organization of Arizona have their advocacy efforts focused on both South Mountain as well as the Phoenix Mountain Preserve.

South Mountain Park mountain biking trails

Dropping into the steeps. Self portrait with radio trigger.




Hawes is a stacked loop system of trails east of Scotsdale, AZ. It is currently home to 28 miles of mostly XC trail with an additional 7 miles planned per the Hawes Trail Alliance master trail plan. The trails are built on land that was previously used as a construction road for buried fiber optics from the radio towers. The trails utilize a maximum vertical relief of 1,200 feet and while many of the trails are undulating and can be technical in nature, there is an increasing number of sustained descents and features throughout the network as well.

Hawes mountain biking trails

I ve been loving these spring rides in Phoenix. Flowers in full bloom beautiful weather and rocky trails that are as rocky as ever.




McDowell Mountain Regional Park offers over 40 miles of hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding trails. Park Trails range in length from 0.5 miles to 15.3 miles and range in difficulty from easy to strenuous, with a maximum available elevation gain/loss of 2,300 vertical feet from the highest point to the lowest. The trails are primarily XC oriented and there is connectivity via dirt to neighboring Brown's Ranch just north of here. The Desert Foothills Mountain Bike Association advocate for and steward these trails among many others in the greater PHX region.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park mountain biking trails





Sedona isn't often broken down into specific trail networks by those who pay it a visit, and it gets plenty of visitors every year. Instead it's often simply referred to as Sedona, and rides here are often a combination of any number of given trail networks due in large part to its interconnectivity. Oak Creek is the southernmost trail network in Sedona, with 45 miles of riding spread out among 41 different trails. The year-round rideability coupled with stunning vistas in every direction can make for a busy place, but the Verde Valley Cyclists Coalition are hard at work advocating for all cycling in Sedona and the Verde Valley.

Village of Oak Creek mountain biking trails




102 Comments

  • 69 1
 Ah yes. The inevitable "top 5" lists that Outside is known for.
  • 77 2
 I do apologize for this article. Sadly my idea to do an article of top 5 e-Gravel Bike destinations was shot down and we went with this. Arizona is a great place to road ride as well if MTBs don't suite your fancy, Booby...great name, BTW...meow. Be safe be well, Incognito Robin
  • 8 0
 @notoutsideceo: hahaha love your work. Keep it up!
  • 10 1
 @notoutsideceo: ROFLMAO, Road riding great in AZ???
Only if you have massive suicidal tendencies.
The Rocks and Cactus are much safer than the drivers.
  • 3 0
 @Augustus-G: I agree. I stopped road riding because how dangerous it was, especially in Arizona. I’m afraid to drive a car here.
  • 2 0
 @jdendy: So you're saying gravel biking is the way to go?

Be safe be well,
Incognito Robin
  • 1 0
 Popular doesn't mean good. Three of the top five are just that...popular trails with dog walkers and smooth tread. Prescott, other sections of Sedona, and Flagstaff have trails that are more scenic and more challenging, maybe we should be glad they're not mentioned.
  • 35 0
 Ahh yes.. the Sedona trails in Vermont!! My favorite.
  • 1 0
 The Map & Link in the body of the article are wrong but the one at the bottom of the article is correct......
  • 30 1
 There might be the "5 most popular" trail networks in AZ. But, only because 4 out of 5 are in the Phoenix metro area. Where more than half of the population of AZ lives. BUT I've lived here for over 20 years now and this sure as HELL isn't a list of the five best riding areas in Arizona!!!!
  • 10 1
 What do you expect from someone listed from Wilmington, Delaware.
  • 3 0
 They're 5 good ones, but you're absolutely right. The most popular & ridden doesn't mean they're the best for everyone.
  • 1 10
flag whateverbr0 (Oct 19, 2021 at 20:18) (Below Threshold)
 All the best riding is around PHX anyways
  • 20 1
 The absolute best riding is at Brown's Ranch. Please everyone go check it out. Don't ride anywhere else. Just stay there.
  • 2 0
 @MattyBoyR6: Good one, that place is gnarly.
  • 5 0
 @SvenNorske: Said writer is quite familiar with AZ riding and in no way represents his favorites, that I'd bank on. This is based exclusively on riding volume data it appears.
  • 1 0
 @whateverbr0: This is ABSOLUTELY untrue.Most of the best riding in AZ is in Northern AZ. The lower desert is just where we go to escape winter occasionally. Most of the terrain around PHX is all similar. And there isn't a lot of sustained, high speed DH. So... That's a big no for me. Which is why I only ride down there once every year or two
  • 2 0
 Seriously. How did Hawes make it to #3?
  • 2 0
 @gafotes: guess you haven't been to Hawes in a while. Since Dec of 2020 Hawes has added 6+ trails and rerouted Alpe de Huez really opening up the east side. Sunday we're opening another 2 miles of hand cut DH trail.
  • 17 0
 @Brianpark @mikekazimer
Three nearly identical articles, but I only see one in the Pinkbike feed. Location limited/based articles to track more localized engagement? How's about 3 nearly identical comments asking for some of that sweet promised transparency?

Vermont:
www.pinkbike.com/news/vermonts-5-most-popular-trail-networks.html

Arizona:
www.pinkbike.com/u/briceshirbach/blog/arizonas-top-5-trails.html

Oregon:
www.pinkbike.com/news/oregons-5-most-popular-trail-networks.html
  • 3 0
 Can confirm, I am west coast and I do not see the Vermont article in my feed.

@brianpark
  • 11 0
 @pockets-the-coyote, are you asking if certain articles are geo-targeted? If so, the answer is yes - it's something we've had in place for at least 5 years, if not longer. That way local race results from, say, a race in New Jersey can make it to the homepage, and people in Jakarta won't complain about seeing results that aren't relevant to them.
  • 2 0
 @mikekazimer: oh absolutely meant to be tongue in cheek, but as someone not familiar with the behind the curtain tech, 2015/2016 seems like a fairly competitive time to have implemented that functionality.
  • 3 0
 @mikekazimer: hell, I'm surprised I haven't been called out for generating awareness and clicks for posts people normally wouldn't see. Oh no, am I one of those secret shopper style guerilla marketing teams that manipulates the popular meta conversation to drive further engagement with the platform? Find out in this week's podcast....
  • 3 0
 West coast cannot see Vermont, @PB would appreciate cross reference at the post to related articles
  • 3 0
 @nickmalysh: yep we'll have a homepage article that links to all of these shortly.
  • 1 0
 @brianpark: woo. great to hear.
  • 1 0
 @brianpark: thank you! I Like the following concept of articles, super dope;
Ideally bike parks overview would fall into same scope
  • 15 0
 No mention of Flag area riding. I am suspect. Errr....never mind....There's no riding up in Flag.

Is 'Men's Journal' doing this article? Asking for a friend Smile
  • 5 0
 There’s no riding in flagstaff. And the Village of Old Creeps is the best. Phoenix metro area is where all the action is.
  • 9 1
 As an AZ local for the last 3 years, this list reads like a computer generated article. We've got great stuff here but don't use this info to plan your trip. It's embarrassingly terrible.
  • 3 0
 I gotta agree, I’m not from AZ, but I get over that way to ride, and I’ve never really been drawn to riding around Phoenix.

Why ride trails in a big city?

If I’m on vacation, I’m gonna ride remote stuff that more unique.

So yeah, pretty much an Outsiders view of the goods.
  • 7 1
 @nurseben: south mountain is as unique as it gets
  • 4 0
 yeah that's definitely not the impetus for these. It's just a way to showcase how Trailforks data can be organized. It's especially useful for advocacy orgs looking for leverage. It's also just interesting to see the unique* visits for a given trail network within a state.
  • 1 0
 @nurseben: Until you hit the blacks and reds at SoMo, you're the outsider.
  • 1 0
 @HtownGiant EXACTLY!!! I've been here for 20 years plus and I think this list is a joke TBH.
  • 1 0
 @sagebrown: Unique as compared to anywhere in the world? Yes... I'll agree. But unique as compared to other PHX area terrain. Not so much. Rocks, cactus and kitty litter soil. It's all more or less the same crap. But, living in Northern AZ, I'm probably a little biased. At least SoMo gives us high country residents somewhere to ride when winter gets rough up here though.
  • 9 1
 Hey Brice, I think you've got Pine Hill, VT trails embedded where Oak Creek, AZ should be.
  • 1 0
 @briceshirbach ^ checks out. Wrong link for Sedona...
  • 3 0
 @dan23dan23: Yeah I put together 5 of these in 2 days...too many windows open! My bad...we'll get 'er fixed
  • 3 0
 That's been fixed now!
  • 1 0
 @briceshirbach: We still love you!
  • 1 0
 It's called the VOC or the Village...If you're in the area never refer to it as "Oak Creek"

Kinda like mispronouncing Hurricane UT.
  • 5 0
 AZ is already flooded with new Californians and people who ride big bikes to compensate for their lack of skill and cant control their riding. Not to mention the trial etiquette in AZ is almost non-existent, hikers and bikers often sit in the middle of the trail to have a chat or take a selfie for their influencer page. The hikers can be absolute terrorists, placing rocks and logs in blind sections of trail. We had one man made city approved jump on the most popular trail on south mountain and it lasted a week before hikers tore it down, then a few months later the rangers completely removed it. Dogs off the leash ready to cause a crash is a very common thing at south mountain.
  • 2 0
 The change I've seen in riding here over the last two decades is incredible. Incredibly depressing.... Though I still enjoy riding here. I gotta admit... There was a time here, 10-15 years ago. When we had great trails, of all different styles, in all kinds of different environments and hardly anyone knew about it yet... Ah, the good ol days.... Smile
  • 7 1
 So 4 out of the 5 are where most of the people live, not where most of the people want to ride. I live in AZ, nobody goes to the Phoenix area for the phenomenal trails.
  • 5 1
 Too bad there's no mountains in AZ with 1000 ft+ elevation changes. I'm glad that this article didn't mention any of the areas I ride. We have enough issues already with the rude riders from the valley.
  • 3 1
 @topfuel564 You know what? You're right. Let all these outsiders think all the good riding is down south. We got enough issues with overcrowded trails, parking, etc. Smile
  • 1 0
 Best riding in AZ is def the phx metro. Stay there if you visit.
  • 5 0
 goat camp and fins are fun options too!
  • 1 1
 Agreed. Goat Camp is freakin' awesome!
  • 3 0
 @Tigergoosebumps True story! FINS is probably the best marked trail network in the valley. Love that place!
  • 5 0
 Yup, no good trails in Tucson. Better stick to PHX everyone.
  • 1 0
 Or Flagstaff, Prescott, around Payson... It all blows and it's all flat.
  • 6 0
 Pointless filler.
  • 3 0
 It’s pretty strange to separate the Village of Oak Creek from Sedona. Sure, they’re in different counties, but it’s all the same.
  • 1 0
 Considering the traffic means they are an average of 45 min apart right now.... They're quite different. And it's called The Village or the VOC.
  • 1 0
 @BasedGawd: thanks for the info. I’ve lived here since 2017
  • 1 0
 @BasedGawd: i also get out of my house before 7 when I’m going in between west Sedona and the village of oak creek, so it takes my 13 minutes or less
  • 2 0
 This post exemplifies the problem with trailforks. It will show you if something is popular, but you can't tell if it's any good. Just a mess of crap data fought over by too many players
  • 1 0
 There s a reason that a ton of roar and MTB pros show up to train in Tucson and not Phoenix in the off season- great off road and road riding, less people, and less traffic. For MTB you have Mt Lemmon, Tucson Mountain Park, the Az trail, and a ton of smaller trail regions. Road is the same with Mt Lemmon, Mt Graham, Kitt Peak, and a ton of flatter paved and unpaved country roads.
  • 1 0
 Going to Tempe area for my honeymoon first week of November we are going to ride for one day, is the Hawes trail system any good?

The only descent bike rental shop i could find is right on Hawes door step and we wont have a rental car big enough to take bikes to South Mountain.

Two wheels jones is the bike shop
  • 1 0
 Probably the best trail system in Phoenix from an outsider's perspective. I recommend red mountain rush trail. Heard good things about that shop, never been myself.
  • 1 0
 Hawes isn’t east of Scottsdale. It’s in NE Mesa.

I lived in the valley for 8 years. SoMo is fantastic, and the work they’re doing at Hawes right now is making that already great trail system even better.

Popular trails on trail forks folks. Not the best trails in the state, the most popular. Everybody is up in arms when the article was pretty clear.
  • 4 1
 Thank you for suggesting everything in the Phoenix metro area. That’s all there is. It’s the best.
  • 1 0
 Stop it already!!!! LOL
  • 2 0
 Yep, I don't live in AZ, but on occasion I load the bikes in the van, drive over from the coast, and ride the thousands upon thousands of trail in the Phoenix Metro area. They have everything there I need. No reason to go anywhere else in Arizona, except maybe to visit friends.....
  • 4 4
 Yeah this list sucks. Here's a real list from a born and bred desert rat (Arizonan) who likes the downs more than the flats/ups:

1. Sedona. The riding is good, the scenery is even better. The red rocks are really something; I've been there a lot and it hasn't lost its magic. Depending on your skill and exposure-tolerance, Hiline, Hangover, and the pig-themed trails are must-do's. The Sedona MTB festival is a good time, but busy.

2. Mt Lemmon. The Lemmon drop (top to bottom) is a great experience for those courageous enough. You'll eat well in Tucson too: a thriving immigrant & refugee population means great restaurants, plus local flavors (read: great Mexican), AND it's a UNESCO world heritage site for food for its more traditional, native offerings. Downtown / 4th Ave is fun now too with great options for brews, booze, and dancing.

3. South Mountain. It's the best Phoenix has to offer - a true gem in an otherwise flat, barren wasteland of parking lots. I wouldn't go to Phoenix just to ride, but if you're there anyway, this is where to go. Pivot does demos out of their building right by South Mt.

4. Mt Elden / Fort Valley in Flagstaff. There have been fires in recent years and I'm not sure what all is back open, but there's definitely still fun to be had. Flag is a cool little town: the small downtown area is easily walkable and has some good breweries and restaurants. Good camping nearby and easy to go to Sedona as well from here (1 hr drive) or connect with a visit to the Grand Canyon.

5. Thumb Butte in Prescott. Not all that noteworthy but there needed to be a fifth.

Also the AZT is quite cool if you're into that kind of thing (bikepacking).
  • 5 0
 you didn't read the first two paragraphs, did ya?
  • 1 0
 @briceshirbach: Only the headlines buddy. Only the headlines. SMH. Love ya buddy!
  • 1 1
 @briceshirbach: I did. Explaining the stupid premise of the article doesn't change the fact that it's a stupid premise. Nobody wants a "most populated" list, they want a list of what's worth riding.
  • 2 0
 Sedona broke every record for tourist infestation this year. It's been stop and go traffic every day, regardless of festivals.

Comeback when Californians can travel overseas again. Or Arizona gets sued out of it's "absolutely no limits on airbnbs" law
  • 1 0
 Look! We made data! Come buy our wonderful data that makes wonderous clickable listicles! And don't go to Tucson. The riding sucks and the food is all like mouthful of kitty litter and cactus.
  • 3 0
 Yoo stoked to get the cover photo!
  • 2 0
 "Popular" Now you know where to avoid if you like doing your own thing or going fast.
  • 2 0
 AZ's full and too hot, look somewhere else. the list sounds fun to my grandma. thx for not giving away the gems
  • 2 1
 I think all we've learned here is that mtbers are illiterate, triggered and unable to get past the headline of an article. FFS.
  • 1 0
 Next should be Nevada, and then California edition behind paywall

Jokes aside, thank you @Pinkbike for such articles
  • 1 0
 Stay away from Prescott 264
  • 2 0
 I thought this was going to be a worthwhile article, but I was wrong.
  • 2 0
 Whoever wrote this article is definitely not from Arizona. haha
  • 2 0
 I'm the first non American to comment in this thread ha!
  • 1 0
 So sick!!
  • 1 0
 Tucson didn't make the list??? Mt Lemmon, Sweetwater, Honeybee, Star Pass, AZT sections...geez.
  • 2 0
 No love for Tucson and the Catalinas...
  • 1 0
 Az riding sucks; horrible rocks and cactus. Phoenix has the best riding. Stay there
  • 1 0
 Pine Hill Park is showing in Vermont..... not Sedona....
  • 1 0
 I live in sedona. Never heard of it ‍♂️
  • 1 0
 Browns Ranch should probably by # 5 in my opinion...
  • 4 0
 The list is “popular”, not good or fun. It’s surely just driven off TF/Strava data.
  • 1 0
 @stevemokan: agreed browns ranch is gross
  • 1 0
 @stevemokan: Ding, ding, ding.....we have a winner!!! Brown's Ranch is "popular" because ANYBODY can ride it....with most trails 10 feet wide and some as wide as a two lane roadway. The El Diablo trails might be the best ones out there and since they are marked as black trails, I think I've seen a total of two riders out there on all my visits combined.
However, there is no denying it is "popular" as it's the "go to place when people decide to drive down to the Valley from Prescott.
  • 1 0
 Trailforks add! Flagstaff and Tucson not even mentioned?!
  • 1 0
 so glad you did not mention our local area, Northern Arizona
  • 1 0
 Major bummer.
  • 1 0
 What about Gold Canyon?

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