I’ve heard this trail referred to as not just the worst mountain bike trail in Sedona but possibly the worst trail ever, I disagree. I love it!
The Airport Loop Trail in Sedona is 3.2 miles of certainly some of the most unusual and difficult trail riding in Sedona. It starts off easy enough and lulls first timers into a sense that it’s going to be relatively smooth and flowy, it’s not!
Counterclockwise is definitely the more manageable direction to ride it, although both directions are great. Clockwise being a very much more difficult climb. Most mountain bikers doing it start the loop at the Airport vortex, crossing the road heading west then flowing up and down for a bit. As soon as you make the acute left turn to start the climb, the real taste of what lies ahead begins!
It’s fairly steep and within the first 100 yards you’re getting a taste of what’s in store for the next quarter mile. Pacing yourself is key to cleaning this climb as it not only gets steeper but significantly more technically challenging nearing the top.
Personally I love this slow paced ascent. It gets more and more technical the closer to the top you get. Once cresting the climb you get a bit of a respite and you’ll pick up speed, take it easy though as the trail will get really difficult soon enough. About a quarter mile across the top of Airport Mesa heading east, you’ll cross a small valley that quite literally is a boulder field. You’ll need to be on point through this section, it’s a solid couple hundred yards or more of constantly riding over embedded watermelon and larger sized rocks, randomly jutting out of the ground as the trail ascends back up to the plateau. This section is “double black” trail riding at its best. Even the best riders will be moving at a snails pace through this super technical but doable section.
The bulk of the traverse is more embedded volcanic boulders that make it difficult to flow, infact I’d say this trail is the exact opposite of a flow trail. You need to get up and off the saddle with every boulder, so you’re going to feel as if you’re doing squats for the next third of a mile. Getting some speed will help but only if you’re very loose on the bike and familiar with the pumping process.
As you drop off the mesa the descent is where the real technical riding starts, it’s also one of the largest and more dense cactus groves in Sedona. The trail gets steep, narrow and incredibly rough and bouldery. Multitudes of front wheel swallowing spots that are crying out to throw you over the bars, and with the narrow trail bed throughout the down hill this makes it imperative to have some serious handling skills. There’s not much room for error. If you go over the bars, chances are you’re landing on a jagged boulder or a prickly pear bush!
I mentioned earlier that knowing how to ride loose and pumping the bike makes this much easier. Most people that have ridden this trail multiple times have fallen into cactus, it’s just inevitable. They keep coming back though because it’s so challenging not only physically but mentally too.
The possibility of getting a flat tire is elevated substantially through this section, so make sure to take necessary precautions. (check your tires latex levels)
The view overlooking Oak Creek is absolutely magnificent from this side but you’ll probably be too engaged in making it through this section unscathed to fully appreciate it.
Once you’ve completed the descent you’ll return to undulating trail for about a mile that’s still very difficult just not steep or as cactusy, it does however now have quite a few exposed areas on the down side of the trail.
The riders that do this trail regularly have come to appreciate the challenges this rugged trail presents. What prompted me to describe this great little loop was when I went onto the Trail Forks app to check the exact mileage and read the negative comments. This trail is not for everyone for sure. One thing I know for a fact is that if you ride this trail and embrace its gnarly essence, you will not only become a better rider but you’ll come away with a real feeling of accomplishment. If you listen carefully this trail might even teach you a thing or two not only about mountain biking but about yourself and life too!