Escape the Winter Doldrums in Northern Arizona

Starting in early November, residents of the Pacific Northwest start to look for a winter getaway. The gray skies, damp and dreary days, and long nights can cause Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD) in those who thrive on sunshine and outdoor activities.

While Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean are appealing destinations to escape the winter doldrums, Sedona, Flagstaff and the southern region of Arizona are great options for those who’d rather go winter trail running, mountain biking and hiking without experiencing numb fingers and frozen toes. Located about 90 miles northeast of Phoenix, Arizona, Sedona sits at 4,350 feet above sea level, which means the winters are mild and the summer days are cooler than Phoenix.

“Sedona offers incredible, year-round recreational opportunities for every type of enthusiast, from history to geology, archaeology, art and the great outdoors,” said Jeffrey Frost, Race Director for RunSedona. “There is an extensive connection of renowned hiking, biking, and horseback-riding trails that tarry through Sedona’s ancient rock formations accessible from just about anywhere in the area.“

The Sedona Half Marathon, 10K and 5K on February 3, 2024 are great destination races to encourage training and fitness through the fall and winter. The routes combine the scenery of the Coconino National Forest District as well as a jaunt through the town of Sedona, what ABC’s Good Morning America dubbed one of the “Top 10 most beautiful places in America.”

“With a 14-year history, the RunSedona event offers three distances – half marathon/10K/5K will challenge runners of all ages and abilities,” Frost said. “Pre-race Expo at Posse Grounds Park, and race day finish celebration includes a beer garden and close to 20 vendors/exhibitors who’ll treat participants with a great running experience.”

For those just looking to get away and not do any racing, there are endless possibilities for trail running around Flagstaff. With more than 50 miles in the Flagstaff Urban Trail System, runners will find paved roads and hard-packed surfaces. The single track Schultz Creek Trail meanders through ponderosa pine trees along the creek bed.

Trail running in Arizona is not limited to the Flagstaff and Sedona region. Ultra marathoners can test their mettle in the Southern Arizona Triple. Composed of three 50-milers in the southern part of Arizona, the Triple was completed by only 15 participants in the 2022-2023 season.

“Southern Arizona is a great winter running destination,” said Bob Bachiani, former Race Director for the Old Pueblo 50, the third race in the series. “We have mild temps in the 60’s and 70’s, and close proximity to several national parks and monuments. Plus we are surrounded by several mountain ranges with elevations from 8,000 to 10,000 feet. We have miles of trails from desert running among the majestic Saguaros or mountain running in the Coronado National Forest. From easy peasy to hard technical trails, we have it all.”

The first race in the series is the Colossal Vail 50/50 (December 2, 2023) and starts and finishes at Colossal Cave Mountain Park. On January 27, 2024, the second race of the Triple, AZT Oracle Rumble, takes place north of Tucson in Oracle along the Arizona Trail. The Old Pueblo 50 (March 2, 2024) completes the Triple and is the hardest of the three races but rich with history as runners start at the historic mining site of Kentucky Camp where pioneers learned to survive on the arid land.

Extensive trail systems are not only good for runners, but for mountain bikers as well and the location of Flagstaff on a mountain in the Coconino Forest surrounded by volcanoes makes the area a year-round destination for not only competitive mountain biking but recreational biking as well. Sedona offers more red rock riding while Flagstaff has a big mountain feel.

“Sedona and Flagstaff have some of the best trails (and views) in the world,” said Tim Racette, Executive Director of the Mountain Bike Association of Arizona. “What makes these two towns so great is the number of trails and access to these trails right from town. High elevation, rocks, roots, red rocks and epic views are all treats you’ll find on the trails in Sedona and Flagstaff. Plus, if you get snowed in up in Flagstaff in January, you can pop down to Sedona (about a 45-minute drive) and be riding.”

Racette’s organization (MBAA) organizes the XC Race Series. The series includes races in Phoenix, Flagstaff and Prescott.

Rarely does one think of snow skiing when they think of Arizona. And, what most do not realize is that the San Francisco peaks reach summits of more than 11,000 feet above sea level. Arizona Snowbowl, located only 25 miles north of Flagstaff, has almost 800 acres of terrain and eight chairlifts.

When the snow has melted and the heat in Phoenix has become unbearable, the hiking in the mountains around Sedona and Flagstaff offers tremendous views. The more adventurous hikers can summit Humphreys Peak with an elevation of 12,633 feet above sea level.

“Whether you like to bike, hike, kayak, rock climb, horseback ride, you name it Arizona has it,” said Racette. “Sedona and Flagstaff are destination towns that offer incredible access to the outdoors within close proximity to big cities like Phoenix and Tucson.”

If you’re looking for a last minute marathon to jump into, the Tucson Marathon, Half Marathon, and 50K occurs December 10, 2023. As well, Phoenix hosts the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Half Marathon, 10K, and 5K on January 13 and 14, 2024.