Robbers Roost Overnighter (The Stolen West)
49 Mi.(79 KM)
% Rideable (time)
Sedona’s premium technical singetrack, incredible red rock scenery, and historical cliff dwellings and rock art sites are no secret. However, there are quite a few lesser used tracks, jeep trails, and hidden places that are well worth exploring. I spent nearly two months in and around Sedona last winter riding as much of the trail system as I could while concocting this nice little overnighter to escape the crowds and see some of the most beautiful places the area has to offer.
The Robbers Roost Overnighter is a figure-8 loop designed to begin and end at the Cultural Park Trailhead in West Sedona with an overnight camp at or near Robbers Roost. The route starts on some premium singletrack, linking up trails such as the reworked Girdner, Chuckwagon, and the famed Mescal Trail, complete with a mesmerizing ride along a massive slab of red rock.
Once you leave the singletrack section, at FS 152C (Boynton Pass Road), the route turns to smooth gravel for a while until you reach Honanki and turn onto jeep roads. If you wish to visit the Honanki rock art and cliff dwelling site of the Sinagua (see Trail Notes below for full details), make sure to arrive during the hours of operation.
According to local legend, Robbers Roost, was a hideout for bandits and bootleggers, although there’s no official history of the cave. There’s no doubt this off-the-beaten-path cave would make a great lair, and even a campsite, as some have done. The cave features two windows with expansive views of the surrounding redrock and national forest. However, it’s not easy to get to. There’s quite a scramble involved to get up to it.
Difficulty: This route is not too difficult, by any means. However, we chose to give it a 6 out of 10 in difficulty based on a few semi-technical sections of singletrack, as well as the lack of water (see tabs below for details, along with a detailed itinerary under Trail Notes).
- Non-stop views of the breathtaking red rock formations around Sedona and Coconino National Forest
- Encircling the Cockscomb, an unmistakable red rock mountain top
- Taking in some of Sedona’s best and least-ridden singletrack, such as Girdner and Outer Limits, both recently reworked and better than ever
- Riding West Sedona greats such as Mescal, Chuckwagon, Aerie, and Cockscomb
- Bouncing along scenic, ridgeline jeep tracks in the West Sedona backcountry
- Visiting two heritage sites of the Sinagua, ancestors of the Hopi. Honanki (Badger House) and Palatki (Red House) are both accessible from the route.
- Exploring the rock peak at Robbers Roost. At 5,130′ in elevation, it offers one of the best views around. And the cave is nice and cool, too.
- The route starts and finishes at the Cultural Park Trailhead. There is plenty of parking there and we had no problem leaving the car overnight. See Trail Notes for a full route itinerary.
- The best time to visit and ride in Sedona is early spring and late fall, although this route can be ridden throughout the year. Be aware that it can get very hot during the summer, and very cold at night in the dead of winter.
- July and August are monsoon season in Sedona, so expect means short periods of (often heavy) rainfall at the peak of the afternoon heat.
- During the high tourist season it’s best to ride this route mid-week as the OHV and “Pink Jeep” traffic can be quite annoying on the jeep tracks.
- This route is recommended for intermediate to advanced mountain bikers as there are a few areas where the singletrack trails scan be a technically challenging.
- What Bike? A hardtail or full-suspension mountain bike is highly recommended, as are tubeless tires. This is not a gravel bike route. I rode the Carbon Chameleon, which was absolutely perfect.
- There’s no camping allowed in most of the Coconino National Forest around Sedona until you are west of Dry Creek, or at least that’s the general consensus. Either way, stick to established and marked campsites. There are plenty along the way and many are noted on the map.
- The route was designed to make camp near Robbers Roost. However, if you fall short, there’s plenty of roadside camping on the way to Robbers Roost, some of which is marked on the map. Note that it is not allowed to camp in the cave; bikes are not allowed off the road in this area.
- Camping is not allowed at Robbers Roost cave. Plan to leave your bike at the road and hike up to the cave; it takes a little bit of hike-a-bike and scrambling to get up there. Proceed with caution.
- This is a backcountry bikepacking route and there’s no food or resupply along the way. Carry food for all your nutritional needs.
- There’s very limited water along the way as well, so it’s advised to carry all water necessary for cooking and drinking. Plan to stay hydrated as it can get quite hot in these parts.
- There are a few potential sources for water along the way, but the two known places (in Dry Creek) are at the route’s beginning and end, so they are kind of useless. I was also told that you may be able get water at Honanki. However, it was closed when I passed, so I couldn’t verify.
The Robbers Roost Overnighter leaves the trailhead parking area and immediately begins following singletrack trails. Recently overhauled, Girdner Trail has a couple of technical blips, but is mostly a beginner trail. Chuckwagon and Mescal are a bit more technical and the latter has a couple more advanced ledges and steps.
As mentioned, the route is designed for an overnight camp at or near Robbers Roost. This itinerary calls for about a 25-mile ride with 2,200 feet of elevation gain on day one. Although that doesn’t sound like too much, there are a few bits of semi-technical singletrack that can be taxing, so allow plenty of time. I left in the late afternoon and fell a little short of Robbers Roost. Depending on your fitness and speed, a pre-noon start is be recommended.
Once you leave the singletrack section at FS 152C (Boynton Pass Road), the route turns to smooth gravel for a while until you reach Honanki and turn onto jeep roads. If you wish to visit the Honanki site, make sure to arrive during the hours of operation.
Honanki and its sister site, Palatki, were the largest cliff dwellings of the Red Rock country between AD 1150-1350. Both sites were inhabited by the Sinagua, ancestors of the Hopi. The sites both have Hopi names that were assigned by a Smithsonian Institute archaeologist: Honanki (Badger House) and Palatki (Red House). The Hopi, however, have no specific names for these sites. The Honanki Heritage Site cliff dwelling and rock art site is just along the route. It’s open from 9:30 AM to 3:00 PM seven days a week (it’s closed Thanksgiving and Christmas). Please review the Archaeological Site Etiquette Guide before your visit.
After leaving Honanki, the route immediately leaves the smooth gravel for more chunky and rugged jeep tracks. There are a couple steep climbs in the mix on these roads, so bring your legs!
On the way up to Robbers Roost, Sycamore Pass Road can be steep and rugged at times, but it’s well worth the side trip. According to local legend, Robbers Roost was a hideout for bandits and bootleggers, although there’s no official history of the cave. There’s no doubt this off-the-beaten-path cave would make a great lair, and even a campsite, as some have done (note that this is not allowed, however). The cave features two windows with expansive views of the surrounding red rock and national forest. However, it’s not easy to get to. There’s quite a scramble involved to get up to it.
After Robbers Roost, the route rejoins the smooth gravel before taking in a couple more jeep tracks. Note that at or around mile 37.3, I had originally routed it back to the Outer Limits Trail via a footpath up a wash. However, I was unable to verify that this trail is acceptable, although it was clearly beaten in (more so in some places).
After turning off gravel and dirt roads onto the Cockscomb Trail, the Robbers Roost Overnighter culminates with a ride along the recently redone Outer Limits Trail. There is a lot of new trail work going on in this area, so feel free to mix in other trails to get back to the trailhead. However, as is, this is a great finish.