Profiled: Hermosa Tours and the Sedona MTB Festival



Words by Travis Reill | Photos by Aaron Ingrao

Most mountain bikers are familiar with Sedona, Arizona. With some of the most spectacular scenery I have experienced and some of the most unique riding, it is a destination many have on their bucket lists.

Every year, thousands make the pilgrimage to the little city surrounded by red-rock canyon walls for the Sedona Mountain Bike Festival. While I still haven’t attended the festival, following a recent camp I can now check “Riding in Sedona” off my list.

At the beginning of March, I joined several other mountain bike journalists at a media camp in Sedona, Arizona, just ahead of the festival. Our agenda consisted of eating phenomenal food, riding bikes, and learning about new products the bike industry offers.

While on our group rides, I met Matt McFee, owner of Hermosa Tours. As I rode with McFee and got to know him better, I found that he not only owned the guide service showing us around, but also played a pivotal role in starting the World-renowned Sedona Mountain Bike Festival.

With the 10th anniversary of the Sedona Mountain Bike Festival coming up next year, I caught up with McFee to chat about the beginnings of Hermosa Tours, and learn how they are connected to the festival’s beginnings and how it came to be.

Profiled: Hermosa Tours and the Sedona MTB Festival


McFee founded Hermosa Tours in 2007 in Durango, Colorado. Before throwing all his eggs in the mountain bike guiding basket, McFee worked on business development and project management in the software industry. However, the software business wasn’t for McFee.

“There’s always one guy in a group of friends who plans wackadoo adventures,” McFee confessed, speaking of himself. Weekends were his time to escape the business world and really get out there. If he made it back in relatively one piece, McFee would drag his friends along the following weekend.

After moving to Durango in 2005, the pieces started coming together for McFee to leave the corporate world. By the time he participated in the Great Divide Race in 2007, McFee was getting close to pulling the trigger. “17 hours a day on the bike gives you a lot of time to think,” McFee told me. “There’s no time like the present,” he told himself.

McFee filed the paperwork in September 2007, and Hermosa Tours was born.

Profiled: Hermosa Tours and the Sedona MTB Festival

Like many ideas and projects in their infancy, McFee’s new guiding service didn’t start well. Timing played a massive role in Hermosa Tours’ struggle in the first year.

With the genesis of Hermosa Tours in the fall of 2007, the mountain bike guide services’ first real season would be in 2008. Thinking back to 2008, the economy wasn’t exactly in the most stable place, and guided trips of any kind weren’t on most people’s spring or summer itineraries.

The other issue – which McFee laughed about – was what he called a “terrible idea,” especially given our country’s corresponding economic crisis at the time. Initially, McFee had envisioned Hermosa Tours as a bougie luxury guide service.

“[The idea] was sort of really high-end, like pillow-top beds, nice lodging, and masseuses,” McFee laughed.

Not only did this business model not work because of the economic crisis, but McFee found that, for the most part, that’s not who mountain bikers are.

“Mountain bikers, in general, are pretty hardy folks,” McFee explained. “They’re resourceful. It’s a rough and tumble; beers, burritos, and ‘let’s go get lost in a rainstorm type of thing.”

Profiled: Hermosa Tours and the Sedona MTB Festival

It also helped that when McFee reflected, he didn’t have one friend or know one person who wanted a luxury mountain bike experience. With that, the focus shifted away from luxury, but McFee also began bouncing around the idea of a self-guided model.

Hermosa Tours’ decision to begin focusing on self-guided tours also resulted from considering who mountain bikers are. These hearty, resilient folks didn’t need pampered or someone holding their hand down the trail. On the contrary, McFee realized that “mountain bike tourism” was alive and well; he just needed to tap into it.

“People are taking their bikes, putting them on top of their Subaru, and putting some camping gear and a cooler in the back,” McFee said. “And then they’re driving—maybe seven hours someplace for a long weekend.”

McFee didn’t need to reinvent the wheel but offered a service, taking some of the work off a potential client’s plate. So he began building Hermosa Tours around the self-guided model, where clients ride between camps established by a Hermosa staff member following along. The client’s primary concern is enjoying each leg of the trail.

Hermosa Tours operates these multi-day self-guided experiences in Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. They also provide shuttles and offer guided day trips in places like Sedona, Hermosa Tours’ largest office. McFee also befriended Mike Raney in Sedona, helping start the Sedona Mountain Bike Festival.

Profiled: Hermosa Tours and the Sedona MTB Festival


Arizona was always a natural choice for McFee. Offering mountain bike tours in Arizona meant significantly extending the year for Hermosa Tours. This was especially true when McFee landed a permit for operating in the Sedona area in 2011.

Sedona was an easy place to tap into the tourism market. “It’s a town of 18,000 people that sees 4 million tourists a year,” McFee said. While their bread and butter, multi-day self-guided trips, weren’t as popular in the area, guided day trips were.

It was 2014, and McFee was operating quite a few Hermosa Tours trips out of Sedona. He connected with Raney, who, if his name is familiar, now owns Thunder Mountain Bikes in Sedona and the festival. At the time, Raney was one of the owners of Over the Edge, a bike shop chain with a Sedona location.

Raney was the bike shop, and McFee was the shuttle service. Hermosa Tours runs shuttles at the Sedona Mountain Bike Festival from the time the gates open until the festival ends. McFee is the man behind the bullhorn speaker, attempting to keep those shuttles running smoothly.

Profiled: Hermosa Tours and the Sedona MTB Festival

The two hit it off, became good friends, and eventually business partners. Others had made previous attempts at a festival in years past, but nothing that took off. However, it seemed as if change was in the air for Sedona.

“The momentum was pretty amazing watching Sedona grow by leaps and bounds,” McFee said. “We went from running a lot of day tours to: ‘I need to hire a whole staff here, and I got to move vans down here.’”

McFee began processing the idea of starting a festival in Sedona, so he approached Raney with the thought. Raney was on the same wavelength as he informed McFee that he just signed a lease for the festival space.

Festivals aren’t new to Sedona, as the growing town has been hosting them for years. A local magazine’s website currently has more than one festival a month to finish out this year. These festivals range from film, music, hummingbirds, and arts.

The first Sedona Mountain Bike Festival was the first weekend of March 2015. The men started from square one, with one of the very first conversations being the festival’s name. With McFee’s business background, he naturally took on vendor packets, securing a partnership with Ska Brewing for a beer garden.

Profiled: Hermosa Tours and the Sedona MTB Festival

Eight hundred people attended the Sedona Mountain Bike Festival that first year. Around 40 vendors were present, and shuttles ran to different trails all day. Everything was on a much smaller scale that year, and overall, the festival felt cramped.

Raney and McFee quickly found what worked and what didn’t. One thing that did work was the schedule, as they have continued with many of the same ideas over the years, the only change being overall growth. What didn’t work was the space. The store parking lot they were in wouldn’t work for the future.

“We were crammed into the Tlaquepaque shopping center, which was challenging,” McFee said. “Tlaquepaque didn’t want us back, and we didn’t want to go back.”

The festival grew from there. The Tlaquepaque parking lot wasn’t going to work. Luckily, the City of Sedona was able to find a space for future events at the location where the festival is held today.

But how did the Sedona Mountain Bike Festival go from 800 visitors and 40 vendors to a major event with 6,000 attendees and 90 different bike brands providing hundreds of demos and unveiling brand-new products, plus handfuls of group rides led by professional athletes? McFee said there are several reasons.

Profiled: Hermosa Tours and the Sedona MTB Festival

First, the City of Sedona backed the festival. After the first year, when the festival needed a new space, the city helped in finding one and continued to develop the area, allowing the festival to use the added space.

“They built it literally on the festival grounds,” McFee said. “It’s a dream come true—a full-blown amphitheater with bathrooms and a stage.”

Sedona’s trails surround the city, making it perfect for a mountain bike festival. With trails relatively close, attendees could demo bikes—and a lot of them. “If you are a vendor that’s bringing demo bikes, the number of turns you can get on a bike in a day is insane,” McFee explained.

Despite some criticism, the festival’s timing has also helped make it a major event.  March was always the choice for the mountain bike festival and for several reasons.

First, with a new year comes a fresh budget for many vendors. “It is the first event out of winter,” explained McFee. The Sedona Mountain Bike Festival kicks off the riding season and allows companies to announce products weeks ahead of Sea Otter. “The vendors were very receptive to it.”

Having the festival at a later date would conflict with too many other schedules. McFee’s Hermosa Tours shuttle vans will already be committed to trips in other areas. Festival staff and volunteers will likely have other engagements. The Sedona Mountain Bike Festival has been the first commitment of the year for many.

As we all know, March can be risky weather-wise, and we all hope never to see another “Snow-dona” Mountain Bike Festival like we did in 2023. Despite last year’s unfortunate weather, festival dates don’t look to change anytime soon. Neither will the location.

“And then it obviously helps that it’s Sedona, and it’s beautiful,” McFee concluded. McFee couldn’t be more accurate in this last statement. Sedona and the red-rock cliffs that surround its landscape are truly breathtaking.

If you visit, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a postcard.


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