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If you know anything about me or this blog, you know that I love Sedona. The mountain biking there is my all-time favorite and the views just make me feel giddy (or maybe that’s the vortices…).
So when it was time to choose my first-ever bikepacking trip, I opted for one in Sedona, naturally.
The Robbers Roost Overnighter is a 2-day route that skirts the outer edges of Sedona on a mix of dirt roads and singletrack. The route passes by the iconic Robbers Roost
\, which supposedly was a hideout cave for cowboys and cattle rustlers in the late 19th century.
Overall, I loved this adventure. The views were amazing and the route had a good mix of singletrack and doubletrack. It was challenging at times – mentally and physically, but it was easy to plan, which is great for a first-time bikepacker.
In this post, I share my planning tips, a day-to-day breakdown, where we camped, and more.
The Robbers Roost Overnighter at a glance
These are the stats from my trip, which may differ from yours depending on where you camp and if you deviate from the route.
Time of year
*As measured by my Garmin Edge 830
**I always recommend having the route downloaded on the Ride With GPS app
Robbers Roost Overnight Map
What is Robbers Roost?
So what is the Robbers Roost in Sedona? Great question – here’s a brief history lesson:
Robbers Roost, which is often referred to as the “Hideout,” is a rock cave nestled in the rugged terrain northwest of Sedona.
Its name is steeped in the lore and legends of the Old West, where it is believed to have served as a hideout for outlaws and cattle rustlers in the late 19th century.
The natural fortress-like formation provided an excellent vantage point, making it difficult for lawmen to approach without detection.
Over the years, Robbers Roost has become a popular place for hikers, ATVers, and, of course, bikepackers.
Robbers Roost Overview
The Robbers Roost Overnighter is a 52-mile route through the Coconino National Forest outside of Sedona. It winds its way through the Dry Creek mountain biking area of northwestern Sedona and out to the OHV jeep trails farther west. Along the way, riders are rewarded with incredible views, awesome singletrack, and a cool experience at Robbers Roost.
The total elevation gain over the 52 miles is only 3,600 feet, making it a great two-day/1-night adventure and a perfect first trip for newer bikepackers.
Planning Tips & Things to Know
Bikepacking the Robbers Roost Overnighter is pretty straightforward, but there are a few things to keep in mind before setting out on your trip:
Where to start
Since this is a loop, you can really start anywhere. Bikepacking.com recommends starting at the Cultural Park/Girdner trailhead, which is where we started.
We left our van overnight and it didn’t seem like it would be an issue.
Plan for no water Along the way
Plan for NO WATER on the Robbers Roost Overnight route. Bikepacking.com does mark two places where there may be water, but when we did this trip in November, both of these creeks were dry.
There is a cow ‘pond’ on the side of the road on the way up to Robbers Roost, but it looked pretty nasty and I wouldn’t recommend relying on this either.
As newbie bikepackers, we had to ask some ATVers for 6 water bottles, which I felt pretty guilty about (they were more than happy to gift us water, but I felt like such a noob). We should have planned better ahead of time!
That being said, if you are in a pinch, you’ll see lots of ATVers with fully stocked coolers on the back, so if you find yourself running out of water, I’m sure you can bum some water from them as well.
How much water do you need? I recommend bringing 4L of water per person per day (so 8L for a 2-day trip). This may seem like a lot, but the Sedona climate is dry and exposed and can lead to dehydration quickly.
Where to Camp
There is no paid camping along the Robbers Roost route, but there are plenty of free dispersed camping options west of Dry Creek.
We camped about a mile and a half past the Honanki Heritage Site on top of a ridge with great views out over the red rocks. This made for a 20.5-mile first day and 32-mile second day.
If I did this route again, I think I would try to get down to the FS525C road that leads up to Robbers Roost just to make the mileage a little more even.
I wouldn’t recommend camping at the base of Robbers Roost, though. It’s not as scenic as other places and people think it’s ok to leave their toilet paper. (Unfortunately, there is no camping allowed inside the Robbers Roost cave).
Be Prepared for OHV traffic
Be prepared for a lot of OHV traffic once you leave the Dry Creek mountain biking area. For this reason, I do not recommend doing the Robbers Roost Sedona Overnighter on a weekend or during a holiday week.
Most of the ATVers were courteous toward us and slowed down when they saw us, but others just zoomed right past leaving us choking on a cloud of dust.
This is also a big reason why I wouldn’t do the FS5913 road again (see Day 2 below). There was lots of ATV traffic and the road was so torn up because of them.
The Robbers Roost Trail
The Robbers Roost Trail starts about a mile from the parking area. The road to the actual trailhead is super rough and rugged, so most cars can’t make it.
But you’ll be on a bike, so enjoy cruise along the mile stretch of road it takes to the actual trailhead!
The Robbers Roost Trail is only about 0.4 miles and is relatively easy to follow. The cave is on the lefthand side of the rock formation, so keep making your way up and to the left
There are some several rock ledges along the short hike that you will need to traverse. If you’re afraid of heights, it might be a challenge, but I promise the cave is worth it!
Navigating the route
The Robbers Roost Overnight is pretty easy to navigate, but I recommend bringing a paper map if you just plan on using your phone. Cell service is spotty in places and you don’t want to run the risk of draining your battery.
We stopped by Canyon Outfitters and picked up a Sedona Outdoor Recreation Map, which you can draw the route on.
Alternatively, I love my Garmin 830 Edge GPS Computer. The battery lasts a lot longer than a cell phone and makes navigation a breeze.
Best Time of Year to Ride
The best time to bikepack the Robbers Roost Overnighter are the months that have cooler day temp but don’t get down to freezing at night.
We did our trip in November and the temps were perfect. Day temps were in the 70’s and night temps were in the 40’s.
I think March and April would also be good months, but definitely check the weather and temp averages before you head out.
Rainfall also tends to be slightly higher in March and April, so there’s a better chance that water will be in the streams.
What bike to take
The Robbers Roost Overnight is best done on a hardtail or a short-travel mountain bike. Because of the singletrack, a gravel bike isn’t ideal.
Both Andy and I used our Santa Cruz Chameleons and they were perfect for this trip. I had 2.8” tires on mine and Andy had 3.0” tires on his and they worked great.
Because of the slightly techy singletrack, I wouldn’t recommend anything less than 2.4” tires.
What To Pack
You can find a full list of gear recommendations on my Bikepacking Gear Checklist and browse a few of my favorites below.
Specific to the Robbers Roost Overnighter, I recommend packing layers as daytime temps can be warm, but nighttime temps drop.
Bikepacking Gear List
Below are a few of my favorite pieces of bikepacking gear and recommendations:
Pack for your trip
My Robbers Roost Adventure
Here’s my detailed trip report of the Robbers Roost Overnighter. Hopefully it’ll help you plan your outing!
Day 1: Awesome Singletrack & no water
Day 1 in detail
We started at the Cultural Park at the Girdner trailhead as recommended on bikepacking.com. We left our van there overnight and had no issues (although the Cultural Park area is for sale, so I’m not sure how long overnight parking will be tolerated).
The first stretch of Girdner up to Cockscomb and Mescal is pedaly, flowy singletrack with a little bit of chunk and tech. Since we’re mountain bikers, we found all the singletrack to be totally manageable on our loaded bikes, but I could see several sections being a little tricky for those not accustomed to rock gardens and small trail features.
When we dropped down to the creek crossing at the Devil’s Bridge trailhead, we were hoping to find it full of water, but nope! It was completely dry. In fact, there was NO water along the route at all. We – as naive newbie backpackers – were kind of relying on the two water points along the route. Later in the day, we ended up asking a very nice family for 6 bottles of water from their fully stocked OHV rental cooler. Oops.
Once out of Dry Creek (which was very dry), the route continues on paved road and then mellow dirt roads all the way out to the Honanki Heritage Site. The views are gorgeous and I regret not taking the time to go look at this large cliff dwelling site…
From Honanki, the road takes a turn for the worse. It becomes rutted, rocky, and full of baby head rocks. Just keep pedaling! We camped at the top of the ridge about a mile and a half past Honanki (around mile 20.5) and had amazing sunset views out over the red rocks and were greeted by hot air balloons at sunrise the next morning.
Day 2: Robbers Roost & Outer Limits
Day 2 in detail
The descent down from our campsite on the ridge was very bumpy and rocky until we hit FS525C. From there it’s smooth sailing up to the Robbers Roost turn-off (which isn’t marked, make sure you take a right onto 9530! See map recommendation in the next section).
Robbers Roost hideout is super cool and definitely worth making the short trek up to. There are a bunch of trails without a clearly marked path, but just keep making your way around the left side and you’ll find your way to the cave.
As I mentioned above, the Robbers Roost Trail does have some expsoure, so take your time and be careful with your steps.
From Robbers Roost, you’ll enjoy several miles of fun downhill along jeep trails with 360° views. Take your time and enjoy it!
Now here’s where things get less fun. The bikepacking.com route says to take a right onto OHV road 5913 shortly after turning onto Red Canyon Road. If I were to do this route again, I would not take 5913 (aka Diamondback Gulch) and would instead continue on Red Canyon Road (525) to Boynton Pass Road.
Why? Because 5913 is a popular OHV route and in addition to having ATV’s zoom past you every few minutes, the condition of the road is awful. Some of the hills are so steep and torn up that they’re impossible to pedal up and you’ll be bumped and jarred around for the entire five miles (which feels like an eternity).
I’m not saying don’t do this section if you want to follow the route to a T, but personally, I wouldn’t do it again and I don’t think it’s worth it. (I would actually say definitely don’t do this section if you’re riding on a weekend due to the ATV traffic).
Once you make it through the FS5913 section, you’ll retrace your steps a bit and then pick up Aerie Trail to Cockscomb to Outer Limits. This last leg of the ride is only 9 miles, but for me, it felt so much longer, probably because I was super thirsty and rattled from the OHV road beating.
This was unfortunate because Outer Limits is one of the most fun (and technical) sections of the ride and I wish I had skipped the OHV road so I could have enjoyed it more!
Outer Limits will spit you right back out at the Cultural Park where hopefully you have a cold beverage waiting for you.
Have you done the Robbers Roost Overnighter bikepacking route in Sedona? What questions do you have about planning your trip? Leave a comment below!