Hiking in Sedona

Hiking in Sedona

Witness red rock beauty up close with a hike in Sedona.  See forest service site for trail maps and descriptions of hiking trails.

Sedona and the Verde Valley offer some of the most picturesque hikes in the world.

There are dozens of options to keep the novice and experienced hiker delighted for many days–trails along rivers, trails on mesas and high up in the mountains, trails in canyons, trails through arroyos, washes and fields, and trails to scenic vistas and archeological heritage sites. Hikes on these trails vary by length and steepness. Trail information and maps are available at Visitors Center. There are also some excellent books on the subject.

1. Choose the hike that is best suited to your fitness level, interest and seasonal appropriateness. When you plan your hike, think of the position of the sun. On hot days you will want to hike early and late in the afternoon. If you do hike during the day, choose trails along creeks and those that provide shade. In the cooler weather, you may prefer to hike mid morning through mid afternoon to take advantage of the sun’s warmth. Although it doesn’t rain or snow often in Sedona and the Verde Valley, when it does, trails can be slippery and sometimes dangerous. Check with forest rangers and/or the Visitors Center for updates on conditions and/or closures.

2. Carry plenty of water. The hiking rule of thumb is to drink a liter of water per hour, but in weather than exceeds 85 F, the need for water intake increases dramatically. Carry more water than you think you will need. It is easy to become dehydrated very quickly without realizing it is happening.. Signs of dehydration include headaches, fatigue and nausea. Drinking small sips of water throughout the day is a good way to stay hydrated. Some hikers find that pliable water bottles with tube extensions, called bladder bags, fit nicely into daypacks, and offer hikers the opportunity to sip whenever they feel thirsty while keeping their hands free.

3. Bring a snack for fuel. Sports bars, sandwiches, dried fruits, jerky and trail mix are some popular foods for taking on the trails to snack along the way for energy.

4. Protect yourself from the sun. Wear hats with broad brims, sunglasses, sun screen and long-sleeved clothing. Consider wearing layers to modulate your body temperature. If you hike early in the morning, the weather will get much warmer by mid-day. If you hike late in the afternoon, be prepared for a significant temperature dip when the sun goes down. Wear comfortable, broken-in boots or hiking shoes that will protect your feet from heated surfaces and loose, sharp rocks. A slip-free sole is a must!

5. Know and tell where you are going. Study the trail before you head out. Bring a map so you can keep track of where you are going. Keep landmarks in sight. Bring a fully charged cell phone and a first-aid kit. Be sure to tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return. Should you get lost or run into trouble, this will speed rescue efforts.

6. Consider bringing a walking stick to help with your balance and to relieve stress on your knees and joints. A staff can also alert wildlife that you are on the way. Although rattlesnakes do not often show themselves, they do live in the desert, especially in dense brush or rocky areas. So be mindful where you put your hands and feet.

7. Follow trail etiquette. Stay on the trails. The area’s cryptobiotic crust is very delicate. Pack out all trash, including garbage and toilet paper.Bury human waste at least six inches deep and 100 feet from any water source.

8. Leave what you find. Make it possible for others to share your sense of discovery: Leave rocks, plants, animals, archeological artifacts and other objects where you find them.

Red Rock Passes

A Red Rock Pass (or Golden Eagle, Golden Age or Golden Access) is required when recreating (hiking, biking, swimming etc.) on national forest land in Red Rock Country. The pass must be displayed in the windshield when you park at a trailhead; otherwise you may receive a citation.

A pass is not required if you stop to take a photograph or to enjoy a scenic vista for a few minutes. These passes can be purchased at the Sedona Chamber of Commerce, many commercial vendors and machines throughout the area. The cost is nominal: $5 per day; $15 per week; $20 per year.

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Sedona Hike Wilson Mountain Trail

Sedona Hike Wilson Mountain Trail

Wilson Mountain Trail

Welcome to The Big Hike!…Wilson takes you to the highest point in Sedona and provides the most dynamic panoramic views in the area. In order to get to this point you must put in the work. Wilson climbs over 2500 feet in just 4.5 miles (9 miles round-trip). This trail takes you through two distinctly different environments. The first part of the trail take you through a rough desert environment featuring low growth junipers, manzanita, prickly pear cactus and Parry Agave then past the “first bench” into a coniferous forest featuring a variety of large pines and oak trees. Don’t miss the views of San Francisco Peaks in Flagstaff as you make your way up the side of Wilson after the “first bench.” San Francisco Peaks hold considerable religious significance to numerous American Indian Tribes in the area.

Wilson Mountain Trail is a 10.3 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Sedona, Arizona that features a great forest setting and is rated as difficult. The trail is primarily used for hiking, walking, nature trips, and birding and is accessible year-round.

Wilson Mountain is 7,122 feet tall and named after Richard Wilson. Richard Wilson was a bear hunter who was killed by a grizzly in 1885. His body was found in Wilson Canyon, which is also named after him. This is the tallest mountain around Sedona, Arizona. The trail to the summit leads to an absolute killer-view of Sedona and far beyond, of Oak Creek, and even of the San Fransisco Peaks. The hike has two parts: Part 1 goes up to the First Bench. This can be done from Midgely Bridge (most exposed, but most scenic) and from Encinoso Picknick Area., also called North Trail. Part 2 goes from 1 bench to the Sedona Lookout. If you start out late, or loose your wind, only going up to 1st bench is well worth the effort. But the Sedona Lookout is unsurpassed, as you can see! A stunning, vertical drop of several hundred feet straight down, looking right into the famed red-rock stone sculptings of Sedona. Absolutely amazing.

Although hot and at least moderately strenuous, well worth the time.

Sedona HIke Bear Mountain Trail

Sedona HIke Bear Mountain Trail

Bear Mountain Trail

Ready for a challenge? This is one of Sedona’s steep and difficult hikes. The trail is considered difficult due to its terrain, elevation and ability to navigate. Known for its difficulty, it is also known for its spectacular views that only get better the higher you ascend. If you are up for the challenge then you will be rewarded with incredible 360°views of Sedona and San Francisco Peaks in Flagstaff. From the trailhead this hike looks deceptively easy—however, you are only seeing 1/3 of the trail. The trail is made up of a series of plateaus that take you higher and further than what meets the eye. Note: This is a difficult hike and not meant for novice hikers. Proper gear, footwear and hydration is highly recommended.

Bear Mountain Trail is a 4.3 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Sedona, Arizona that features beautiful wild flowers and is only recommended for very experienced adventurers. The trail is primarily used for hiking, walking, nature trips, and birding and is accessible year-round.

This is a strenuous trail not suited for many hikers. It is in the desert sun with no water along the trail. The difficulty that arises is that there are so many of them and you must travel so high, that it can easily wear down a hiker.

The hike is a five mile round trip with a vertical climb of 2000 feet from the creek bed to the true peak (as measured on USGS Topographic Maps). If you decide to take this trail you need to leave early in the morning and plan for an all day hike. Take lots and lots of water (1 gallon per hiker) and energy bars, along with hiking boots, sunscreen and a wide brim hat. A hiking stick or stabilization will also be of help.

One of the confusing factors that hikers may encounter is that it appears the end of the trail has moved. The “True” peak on the old USFS map (red map below) is actually north of the left fork of Boynton Canyon. This is confirmed on Typographic maps with an elevation of over 6560 feet. However, the new USGS map shows the trail end at a peak below the secondary peak which is at the west side of the left fork of Boynton Canyon (Blue USGS map to right). Currently, there is a Trail End sign at the trail peak (elevation over 6440 feet). The trail to the true peak is too poorly marked with many false trails to go further than the peak where the trail officially ends (as of 2016).

Sedona Hike Brins Mesa Trail

Sedona Hike Brins Mesa Trail

Brins Mesa Trail

Beneath the highest structure in Sedona, lies an exquisite trail that takes you up 500 feet to a mesa overlooking Wilson Mountain, Mormon Canyon and Soliders Pass. This is a great trail when town is in full season. The parking and trailhead are located in a secluded area behind uptown.

How have I missed this all these years? That’s what you’ll think within the first 71 seconds of hiking the Brins Mesa Trail. Not only because of the surrounding beauty, but also because it’s so easy to get to. For a few lucky Sedonans, one of the trailheads is right out the back door. For everyone else, it’s just a few blocks from the pink jeeps and turquoise jewelers.

Before you get started, you should know there are two established trailheads for this hike. The most accessible is the Jim Thompson Trailhead — the one that’s so close to the strip. The alternative is out on Vultee Arch Road. If your SUV has wings or extremely high clearance, that trailhead is an option. Otherwise, take the easy route. You can navigate it with a Mini Cooper, and the hike is equally impressive from either end.

From the parking lot on the Thompson side, the trail hops up and over a small embankment and immediately passes two other trails (Jordan and Cibola Pass). The intersection is well marked. Keep right for Brins Mesa, which begins as an easy walk through manzanitas and junipers. Sedona red is all around, without any signs of civilization. Even the traffic noise disappears. It’s a lovely loneliness.

The trail points north at this point, and after about five minutes, it crosses into the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness. There are certain responsibilities that come with hiking in these areas, including the principles of Leave No Trace. Please be responsible. A little farther up the trail, you’ll see what happens when you’re not.

The trail stays about the same — rocks and trees — for the next 20 minutes. That’s when the hike heads west and launches into the only significant ascent. There aren’t any switchbacks. Just a natural rock staircase that winds upward. Along the way, there are several points that invite you to stop, turn around and look around. Do so.

Ten minutes later, you’ll arrive on the mesa and see the effects of irresponsibility. The Brins Fire, which scorched 4,000 acres on and around the mesa, was ignited by an illegal, unattended campfire on June 18, 2006. Most of the trees on the mesa were lost, and their descendants won’t be back for many decades. It’s a drag. That said, the grass that moved in makes a gorgeous placeholder, especially in the morning. This time of year, that’s when you’ll want to hike Brins Mesa, and if you can time your arrival to see the sunrise from up on the mesa … well, it’s very beautiful.

From the top, the literal high point of the hike (5,099 feet), you’ll begin a gradual descent that offers long views in every direction. You’ll see Soldier Pass to the left, and up ahead, more trees — the fire line is obvious.

At the 50-minute mark, you’ll intersect the Soldier Pass Trail and begin a steep drop. It’s short, about 100 yards, and when the trail hits the bottom, it leaves the wilderness area and enters a good-sized wash. The forest is thicker down there, and some of the trees are unexpectedly big. One of the biggest isn’t around anymore, but the stump that remains can attest to the tree’s Bunyanesque heyday.

Just beyond the big stump, the trail crosses the wash, crosses again, and crosses once more before arriving at a large, flat rock, about the size of a Whole Foods’ produce department. The trail then parallels the wash, going back and forth for most of the rest of the hike — beware of flash floods, especially during monsoon season.

A few minutes later, you’ll pass through a fence and begin the 200-yard home stretch to the the trailhead on Vultee Arch Road. You probably won’t see anyone when you get there, but if you do, it’s a good bet their SUV has extremely high clearance. Or maybe a set of wings.

 

Sedona Hike Long Canyon Trail

Sedona Hike Long Canyon Trail

Long Canyon Trail

Think of this hike as a high desert jungle with a built in bird sanctuary. You will have to put in a 1.5 miles of open trail work to get to the best parts of this trail but it is well worth it. This trail does provide refuge from the heat once you move past the 2-mile mark. After the 2-mile mark you are rewarded with a wide array of high canopied trees (cypress, ponderosa, juniper, alligator juniper) and shaded trail with glimpses of red rocks as you go up down and through several arroyos. Note: because of ample shade/moisture, it is recommended you bring a little bug spray, especially in April and May.

Long Canyon Trail is a 7.2 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Sedona, Arizona that offers scenic views and is good for all skill levels. The trail is primarily used for hiking, nature trips, and horses and is accessible year-round. Dogs and horses are also able to use this trail.

This is a nice 7 mile round trip moderate hike through a forest with red rock views. The first 3/4 mile is not shaded and can be very hot in the summer. But once you are in the forest, the shade helps offset the summer heat. With all the growth, it’s sometimes difficult to take the photo you want to. You intersect the Deadman Pass trail about 1 mile in. We hike Long Canyon about 3 .5 miles but you can go further. The trail becomes steeper, however.

If you’ve ever hiked in the Grand Canyon or Sycamore Canyon or Aravaipa Canyon, Long Canyon won’t strike you as all that long. And its eponymous hike is even shorter. It’s only 6 miles round-trip, with no significant elevation change. That means it’s easy, and unlike those other marquee canyons, this one can be explored on a whim, without a lot of prep work — no training hikes, no topographic maps to study, no power diets. All you have to do is roll out of bed and hop in the car.

The trail begins just off the paved road that leads to the luxurious Enchantment Resort. But don’t let the neighborhood give you the wrong idea. This is a wilderness hike, and all signs of civilization disappear quickly, leaving you alone with a contingent of Sedona’s iconic red rocks, including Wilson Mountain, Maroon Mountain, Steamboat Rock, and a number of unnamed cliffs, spires, windows and arches. As you might expect, the panoramas are spectacular.

You’ll see that firsthand within the first few minutes of the hike. You’ll also see manzanitas and junipers along the path, which is red dirt and easy to follow. After about 5 minutes, you’ll come to an old jeep road. Turn right, hike another 30 yards, and follow the trail to the left. This stretch can be a little confusing, but a few minutes later, you’ll come to a sign that confirms you’re on the Long Canyon Trail — there’s no signage at the trailhead. About 15 minutes later, after passing an intersection with the Deadmans Pass Trail, you’ll arrive at the boundary of the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness.

All wilderness areas are special, but this is one of the crown jewels. Within its 43,950 acres, you’ll find everything from banana yuccas, agaves and junipers to cottonwoods, bigtooth maples and ponderosas. Badgers, bobcats, mule deer and mountain lions are in there, as well, along with ravens, red-tailed hawks, Steller’s jays and a litany of other plants and animals. And, of course, the red rocks.

Just beyond the wilderness boundary, the trail dips into a small wash, on the other side of which the trees start getting taller. At the 45-minute mark, you’ll see your first ponderosa, which is surrounded by a cluster of alligator junipers. Big gators. From there, the trail winds through a small drainage. The drainage is usually dry, but it still supports a community of water-loving vegetation, including a number of Arizona cypress trees, which are easily recognized by their shaggy bark and round, gum-ball-sized seeds. As the elevation climbs, oaks and other deciduous trees start showing up. The trail is well shaded along this stretch. That’s not a selling point in January, but other times of year, it’s a relief.

The topography remains about the same for the rest of the route, although, the walls start closing in and the ponderosas start getting bigger. The vegetation gets thicker, too, and the cairns start to pile up. Technically, even cairns are a violation of the Leave No Trace principles, but in the interest of “safety first,” they do come in handy. As a general rule, be religious about what’s best for Mother Nature, and respect the utopian ideals of our wilderness areas.

The trail ends after 90 minutes at a sandstone wall where there are a few small Indian ruins and some primitive pictographs. If you’re lucky enough to find them, leave them alone — it’s illegal to disturb them. Instead, take a look around, enjoy the moment and the solitude, and then begin the short walk out of Long Canyon.

 

Sedona Hike Mescal Trail

Sedona Hike Mescal Trail

Originally a bike trail, this trails starts out a little slow as it meanders across a low growth forest. Be patient…it gets much better. At 1.0 mile the trail rises up and around a ridge that takes you into a spectacular Red Rock “bowl” beneath Mescal Mountain. This alcove provides big panoramic views of Secret Mountain Wilderness and clear across Sedona to Courthouse Butte in the distance. The trail exits “the bowl” and leads you through a spectacular Red Rock corridor eventually connecting to Dead Man’s Pass Trail. Additional options include: a) connecting to Long Canyon via Deadman’s Pass b) connecting to Boynton Canyon via Deadman’s Pass.

Mescal Mountain Trail is a 5.6 mile lightly trafficked out and back trail located near Sedona, Arizona that features beautiful wild flowers and is rated as moderate. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible year-round. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.

The southeast end of Mescal Trail is accessed from the Long Canyon trailhead. You’ll get your blood pumping right away to get up the initial climb. It’s short, rocky, and quickly changes back to rolling trail.

The trail tops out and then travels toward Mescal Mountain, a gigantic red sandstone butte. The meat of the route is a traverse on the southern side along a long continuous slickrock ledge.

After some smooth red dirt, there’s one big push onto the first section of slickrock. Once on the sandstone surface you’ll hike along a fairly level elevation, occasionally going up down or around short sections of steps or boulders.

As Mescal Trail rounds the butte on the west end, the view becomes breathtaking into Boynton Canyon. Take in the scenery before a descent to the end of the trail. Turn right here to access Deadmans Pass, or bear left to connect to Aerie.

Sedona Hiking to Honanki Heritage Site

Sedona Hiking to Honanki Heritage Site

Honanki Heritage Site is an ancient Native American cliff dwelling and rock art site located west/northwest of Sedona. This ancient site was occupied by the Sinagua from 1150-1300 A.D.. You can imagine the Sinagua living, hunting, farming and raising their families in this setting. The Honanki Site is mainly characterized by pictographs set in two alcoves. While most pictographs are from the Sinagua era (1150-3000 A.D.), some pictographs were found to pre-date this era as far back as 2000 B.C. Honanki Heritage Site is open 7 days a week (except Thanksgiving and Christmas Day) from 9:30am-5pm. No reservations are required but you will need a Red Rock Pass.

Honanki Heritage Site is a 0.6 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near West Sedona, Arizona that offers scenic views and is good for all skill levels. The trail is primarily used for hiking and is accessible year-round.

Indian Ruins and Rock Art

A good example of early Indian Life. Easy trail goes from the parking area to the ruins. The trail along the rock bluff provides an excellent view of the cliff dwellings.

With the backdrop of beautiful red-rock formations, it’s no wonder that people have been drawn to this region for millennia.

HISTORY & NATURE
Just outside present-day Sedona, various American Indians visited the Verde Valley and left their mark. The first full-time settlers at Honanki were the Sinaqua, who built dwellings into the cliff face and hunted game and tended crops on the lush valley floor, between 1150 and 1300 A.D. Honanki was last inhabited between 1400 and 1875, by Yavapai and Apache people, who also contributed their pictographs.

A great place to stretch your legs and breathe in the fresh air, the site has two trails for self-guided tours to explore the ruins as well as the surrounding pinon-juniper forest.

 

Hike in Sedona to Deadmans Pass Trail

Hike in Sedona to Deadmans Pass Trail

Deadman’s Pass is a splendid, easy hiking trail that provides excellent views as you pass between Boynton and Mescal Mountain. This trail also serves as an excellent “connector” trail between Boynton Canyon, Long Canyon and Mescal Trail. While most will begin the trail at the Boynton Canyon Road trailhead, there is an option of parking on Long Canyon Road and taking either the Long Canyon Trail to Deadman’s Pass or my preference is taking Mescal Trail to Deadman’s Pass. During the busy times of the year it can be difficult to find parking at Boynton since that trailhead is parking for multiple trails.

Deadman’s Pass Trail is a 2.6 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Sedona, Arizona that offers scenic views and is good for all skill levels. The trail is primarily used for hiking, walking, nature trips, and birding and is best used from March until October. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.

The route is fairly flat from the Boynton Canyon trailhead and climbs gradually past the intersection with Mescal. The trail is wider and mostly sand with some rocky and short climbs before it descends to Long Canyon Trail.

 

 

Sedona Hiking Cowpies Trail

Sedona Hiking Cowpies Trail

Cow Pies Trail is one of the oldest hiking trails in the Sedona Red Rock Country used by early settlers (late 1800’s and 1900’s) to transport produce and livestock to market in Flagstaff. The trail drops down into Bear Wallow Canyon and traverses the creek several times. You will find that the creek is often dry throughout the summer months but springs to life with numerous waterfalls during summer monsoons and late spring snow melts off the Mogollon Rim.

As you make your way up 2/3 of the canyon you will come upon Cow Pies Trail. Cow Pies is considered a major vortex site in the area and gives you the impression that you have just landed on Mars. Continue along the ridge into the Mitten Ridge Saddle for spectacular views of Oak Creek Canyon and Midgley Bridge.

Cow Pies and Hangover Loop Trail is a 8.2 mile moderately trafficked loop trail located near Sedona, Arizona that features beautiful wild flowers and is rated as moderate. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible year-round. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.

The trailhead is across the road from the parking area. You’ll pass through an area of small black rocks, which are pieces of lava. Sometimes you’ll find these rocks placed in the shape of a medicine wheel. You’ll make a left turn to go to the cow pies. If you go straight, you’ll be hiking the Hangver Trail. As you continue to the left, you’ll hike up on the “cow pies” which are very large circular red rock formations. There isn’t a defined trail so you’ll be free to explore the “cowpies.” Some believe this area has an abundance of vortex energy.