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Cycle: Mountain Bike Getaway to Munds Park

The view from on top of Crystal Point in Munds Park, with a stright shot toward Sedona, is among the best in Arizona.
The view from on top of Crystal Point in Munds Park, with a stright shot toward Sedona, is among the best in Arizona.
photo by Jason Franz

Arizona is known worldwide as one of the nation's best mountain biking states because of its varied terrain and consistently good weather. Think about it -- this place has deserts, plateaus and high(ish) mountains and it's always 80 degrees and sunny somewhere.

Sure, spots like the Catalina Mountains in Tucson, South Mountain and Black Canyon in Phoenix, Red Rocks in Sedona, Mt. Eldon in Flagstaff and Sunrise in Pinetop get most of the dirt love, and deservedly so. But a small vacation home town about 25 miles south of Flagstaff is a secret mountain bikers' paradise with endless miles of off road bliss rolling in every direction.

Munds Park may seem like it's more of an ATV capitol at first glance, but the double track trails and infinite web of forest roads make some prime riding for those looking to roll their knobbies over any kind of dirt.

Vacation homes line Odell Lake with the Crystal Point trail heading up through the pines at the right.
Vacation homes line Odell Lake with the Crystal Point trail heading up through the pines at the right.
photo by Jason Franz

Just off of the I-17 on the high plateau above Sedona that leads up to Flagstaff, Munds Park sits at 6,200 feet in the Coconino National Forest. Named for the Munds family who came up from Oak Creek Canyon to first homestead the natural pasture area, the town is now a popular vacation home area complete with country club and 18-hole golf course.

Munds Park is also the gateway town between the freeway and the dirt road that cuts through the forest to Mormon Lake, for those who don't want to drive up to Flagstaff and drop down Lake Mary Road. The road, appropriately named Mormon Lake Road, is the backbone for a massive network of backcountry fire roads and trails that are commonly populated by summer campers.

There are two primary mountain bike trails to access directly from Munds Park, and each of these trails link to an infinite combination of other trails and roads that can lead north to Flagstaff, south to Sedona (via the legendary Schnebly Hill Road), east to Mormon Lake, and west to the rim of Oak Creek Canyon. Feel free to let an adventurous spirit take over and explore the area, but just be sure to have a good map or GPS in hand and an eye on the constantly changing weather.

The Trails
Two popular trails anchor each end of town: Frog Tank Loop on the northwest end and Crystal Point Trail to the east. The favorite area trail of the Cycle Mountain Biking Team (of one) extends on the Frog Tank Loop to take in more of the parks and land tucked in the Coconino National Forest around the northeast side of the town.


Frog Tank Loop (9.5 miles) - This was the first primary singletrack hiking trail in the National Forest that would lead from the high plateau and hillside that the northern homes sat on down to the main watering hole for cattle and other wildlife to feed. The trail has a couple of primary trailheads, but the best place to set in is at the Iron Springs Trailhead at the top of the development off of Iron Springs Road and Cedar Wood Drive.

The Iron Springs trail is fairly rocky with a bunch of jagged obstacles jutting all along the track, but the trail runs downhill making for an easy entrance to the forest. Iron Springs runs about a mile and a half before connecting into the actual Frog Tank Loop. Hang a right and hold on for a rocky descent off the plateau. Stay right on the trail, rolling over some exposed boulders, and you'll be fine.

Stay right along this drop and roll over the rocks down into the basin section of the Frog Tank Loop.
Stay right along this drop and roll over the rocks down into the basin section of the Frog Tank Loop.
photo by Jason Franz

Once at the bottom of the twisting drop, the trail turns into buttery smooth double track bliss. Look for a right turn that cuts through the forest and ride the trail along the creek bed for another mile until the trail ends at NF 78B. Hang a right and follow the fire road another mile on a very slight incline until it ends at a hillside and pit. Test your climbing and try to ride up the hill that hits upward of 35 percent in spots, and then hang on for dear life for the short downhill and take some jumps off of the double ramps at the base before heading back to the loop.

 

The hill at the turnaround at Frog Tank Loop will fray the legs and thrill the senses.
The hill at the turnaround at Frog Tank Loop will fray the legs and thrill the senses.
photo by Jason Franz


Double back down 78B to the Frog Tank Loop trail that you came out on and turn back in on that trail, this time taking a right at the Y about half way back (look for the sign). This leads to some very smooth if not loose silt trails that make riding fast but slippery. The trail will come out to a large pasture and the namesake pond on the left of the trail. Keep following it around the tank back towards town along this largely downhill run (watch those rocks!) until the trail forks with a rocky, steep stretch to the left or a leafy, longer, more gradual climb to the right. Both end up at the same spot and offer the choice of cutting out of the forest at the Janice Place Trailhead (the sign mistakenly says it's a mere 52 inches ahead) or returning for another loop.


Crystal Point (7 miles) - The Crystal Point Trail leads up to the highest point around Munds Park, past the idyllic Odell Lake, to a summit that locals have adorned with an assortment of odd things that are better left to be discovered after a strong climbing effort. The climb is a steady average incline of nine percent with 15 switchbacks winding the way up. The trail is nice and smooth all of the way up with the exception of some rocks at the very base and a couple boulders to hop or dismount for near the summit.

Starting from town, get to the trail by way of Walapai Road (just past the country club, turn right at the fire station), which leads to Havasupai Road (follow it left). Ride along Havasupai past the golf course up to Odell Lake to the end of the driveway and look for the small gate to the forest on the right. Cut through the gate and follow the trail around the property fences towards the lake, cutting across to the doubletrack trail to the right.

The base of the climb to Crystal Point.
The base of the climb to Crystal Point.
photo by Jason Franz


Near Odell Lake, keep your eyes peeled for herons and osprey either down on the lake or high in their nests atop the surrounding trees. Follow the trail around to the right to the sign indicating the distance to the summit and to the other trailhead. At this point, it's all uphill for the next two miles so settle in for a nice spin. Just remember that you're now at altitude so be wary of breathing and heart rate. And keep drinking water.

Once on top, you'll come across a picnic table and a clean view straight out towards the red rocks of Sedona. This is one of the sweetest views in all of Arizona.

Once you have your breath and a few pictures, follow the trail to the right and begin the ride back down to town. This is not a speedy descent, so be wary of some exposed boulders and tricky corners. And if the trail is muddy or wet at all, it can be like riding on ice.

The trail drops down for a little over a mile before hooking into Mormon Lake Road. For a fast downhill bomber run, take the paved road down back into town (be careful, it gets steep and fast!).

 


Frog Tank to Horse Park Loop (15 miles) - Horse Park is one of our favorite spots in all of Arizona here at Cycle. This long stretch of pasture, backed by a small dam for a water tank, feels like one of those ideal Arizona forest pockets that always have perfect clouds looming overhead and a blanket of wildflowers coating the fields.

To get there, take the Frog Tank Loop via Iron Springs Trail out to NF 78A and follow this fire road up and around until it meets with NF 700, about four miles. 700 is another of those primary fire roads that extends north through Mountain Aire to Flagstaff. To get to Horse Park, turn right on 700 and follow it as it rolls along the remains of an old railway (look for the rail timbers alongside the road).

Horse Park, outside of Munds Park.
Horse Park, outside of Munds Park.
photo by Jason Franz


Horse Park will appear on the right about 3.5 miles uproad. Follow the ATV trail to and across the dam and look for a fallen tree to stop and take in the scenery while refueling on some food and drink. Previous visits here have brought views of deer, elk, herons and wild turkeys, depending on the ATV activity in the area.

Follow the trail along the edge of the pasture until you come hit a road that cuts to the right uphill into the forest. Follow this doubletrack up a couple steep pitches for about a mile and a half before a steep drop down to a wire gate. Head on through and pop back out onto FR 78B near the Frog Tank Loop hill and return back to the Frog Tank Loop trail, kicking back out at Iron Springs or around to Janice Place.

Lodging
Munds Park is more of a cabin/home area than a hotel zone. One hotel, Motel in the Pines, sits on the hillside just off the I-17 off ramp. This is a fairly standard hotel with clean beds and bathrooms and not much else. But rates are super cheap, starting at $50 per night during the week and topping around $100 for the King Mini Suite. Perfect for a quick weekend, but rooms do get booked up.

The other option is renting one of the cabins or homes in the area. If you're looking for a longer stay, say a week or longer, this is certainly the way to go. VRBO has a full listing of cabins available for rent in the area, and weekly rates run from $800 per week and up, depending on size and luxury.

Food
This is where Munds Park comes up short and why renting a cabin is key. There is only one restaurant currently open in town, Pinewoody's Pizza, located on the west side of the freeway. The pie there is pretty good, even better after a ride, with a good selection of stuff to lay over the cheese and sauce. And they have pitchers of beer, which is always good.

Pinewoody's Pizza in Munds Park
Pinewoody's Pizza in Munds Park
photo by Jason Franz


Aside from Pinewoody's, there are two gas station convenience store good for little more than emergency provisions, and that's it. So either plan to cook (always a great option) or head into Flagstaff and eat at one of the great local spots up there such as Diablo Burger, Criollo, Beaver Street Brewery, Josephine's or Brix.

Bike Service and Rental
There's nothing in Munds Park, but Absolute Bikes, with shops in Flagstaff and Sedona, is one of the southwest's great mountain bike centers. Located right on the main drag on the east end of old town in Flagstaff, Absolute Bikes has rentals starting at $40 a day for hard tails and $70 a day for full suspension rigs. They're open typical hours seven days a week, so if you have any mechanical issues, they're your shop.

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