North of phoenix, saguaro cacti give way to evergreens. Traffic eases and the temperature drops. A silent expanse of volcanic mountains (notably the 12,000-foot San Francisco Peaks) stretches across the horizon. North America’s largest ponderosa pine forest is up here, and so is some of the best mountain biking in the country. Tony Fanelli, of Sedona Bike & Bean, chalks it up to the varied landscape. "We’ve got three stages of riding all within an hour’s drive," he says. "True desert, red rocks, and that high Rockies pine." Pedal Sedona and Prescott, paddle the Verde River, and, oh yeah, peruse that mile-deep gash in the Earth most folks call the Grand.
Sedona’s otherworldly red-rock spires are best glimpsed from the saddle of a two-wheeler, so stop by Sedona Bike & Bean (two-hour rental, $25; bike-bean.com). The venerable shop is right at the trailhead for the legendary Bell Rock Pathway, a rolling doubletrack in the shadow of towering sandstone formations. Afterward, relax your weary muscles at Sedona’s luxurious creekside Amara Resort and Spa (doubles from $175; amararesort.com).
Arizona’s only nationally recognized Wild and Scenic River, the Verde, snakes through canyons ablaze with full fall color. It also has Class II rapids ripe for kayaking. From Sedona, enjoy a guided three-hour float ($125; sedonaadventuretours.com). Dress warmly—air and water temps dip into the 50s. Head to Flagstaff for a burger and beer at Flagstaff Brewing Company, then overnight at the Hotel Monte Vista (doubles from $50; hotelmontevista.com).
The Grand Canyon’s Bright Angel Trail teems with tourists in summer: It’s the best South Rim–to–Inner Gorge hike in the park. But summer this ain’t. There are no crowds, though there may be some snow. The round-trip to Indian Garden—most of the way down to the Colorado—is 9.2 miles, plunging from 6,860 to 3,800 feet and back up. Recover at the Lodge on Route 66 in Williams (doubles from $79; thelodgeonroute66.com).
The New Goldwater Lake Trail starts from White Spar Campground on Highway 89, just south of Prescott, and offers a scenic taste of 1.25-million-acre Prescott National Forest. Rent a bike in Prescott and stock up on snacks there too (bikes, $24; ironcladbicycles.com). The well-marked singletrack weaves through pines for four miles to a side trail that leads down to Upper Goldwater Lake—perfect for a picnic.