Bikepacking The Coconino Loop
250 Mi.(402 KM)
% Rideable (time)
While Out Riding
Knitting together some of the finest trails in Northern Arizona, the Coconino Loop is a 250 mile bikepacking journey linking Flagstaff with Cottonwood, the Verde River and Williams, via the mighty wall of Mingus Mountain and the towering red buttes of Sedona. The singletrack is top notch – the ride even incorporates a classic section of the AZT, and a spectacular traverse of the mountain biking mecca of Sedona.
Concocted by Bikepacking.net‘s Scott Morris and buddy Chad Brown – both well respected bikepacking fiends – the loop boasts over 28,000 feet of climbing. The terrain is unrelenting as it is varied: baking desert and dusty red rock, ponderosas pines, lava flows, flatlands, mesas and snowy peaks, to name just a few. Almost half of the ride takes place on challenging singletrack; the rest traces roughly hewn jeep tracks and gravel county roads. Of course, no bikepacking adventure worth its salt is complete without a couple of grueling hike ‘n bikes thrown in too… curses and all.
- Camping out at Schnebly Hill Overlook, above the red buttes and mesas of Sedona, before savoring the technical Munds Wagon Trail.
- Experiencing Sedona (if time allows, put aside a day to explore the trails of this world-class mountain biking mecca).
- Chilling out at Buddha Beach… home to a powerful vortex??
- Flowering cacti in the spring.
- Dodging volcanic babyheads atop Sycamore Canyon.
- The 14 mile ribbon of singletack from the Snowbowl (9200ft) into Flagstaff (6900ft) – a highlight of the northern portion of the Arizona Trail.
- Spring and Fall are best, to avoid the sweltering heat of Sedona.
- Logistically, Flagstaff makes an ideal start and end point, as there’s an Amtrack station and it’s close to I40. Services include a range of hostals and affordable motels, and plenty of good quality bike shops. Revolution Bikes stocks bikepacking gear, and offers bike rental too. Basing yourself out of Sedona is another option. Both offer a network of trails to explore if you have the time.
- Segments of this trail are pretty technical, so best to ride the loop with a companion.
- It’s well worth going tubeless in this part of the world, as parts are rife with cacti and goatheads.
- All the relevant gpx files and waypoints can be downloaded at TopoFusion.com
- Camping in never an issue along the route, as much of the loop passes through National Forest.
- Flagstaff offers a range of hostals and affordable motels.
- Although Arizona can be hot and dry (so bring suitable water-carrying capabilities), sizable settlements, spread evenly throughout the ride, mean food and water are never a major issue. Stock up in Flagstaff, Sedona, Cottonwood and Williams.
- There’s a ranger station along the Lime Kiln Road, and bring water treatment for pulling H20 from Cayote Springs and the Verde River.
Coco Lite – the Mingus Bypass
I’m all for shouldering my bike – but if there’s a good dirt road alternative, I’m happy to take that too. To avoid the route’s most infamous hike ‘n bike, take the Mingus Mountain Bypass (see separate gpx file), which skirts around the top of the mountain, keeping to more mellow forest roads. It meets the route some 10 miles later. We noticed that it’s also possible to turn off onto a graded dirt road at a couple of points en route to the Bill Williams Overlook, saving yourself some potential off-the-bike toils. If the trail on the other side of the overlook is littered with blowdown, you can follow a dirt road down into Williams too.
The Coconino loop is generally raced in 4 stages as part of the Arizona Endurance Series , though madmen tackle it in one fell swoop (for the grand prize of a box of donuts, no less). As mere mortals, we rode it in 4 and a half days. If traveling from afar, consider spending an extra day of mountain biking in Sedona, where technical trails abound – a few hours in Flagstaff could easily be put to good use too. I’d add to that our first day out of Flag was slowed down considerably by tacky, clay-like mud on the Anderson Plateau, thanks to rain the previous night. So keep an eye on the weather.