This is the perfect cold weather hike! Imagine soaking in the warmth of the sun on a chilly day while savoring gorgeous, panoramic vistas everywhere you look as you trek along a three-and-a-half mile circular path around Airport Mesa and its famed positive energy flow vortex. Talk about an energy boost! Airport Loop is a wonderful introduction to Sedona’s red rock country because it provides great views of West Sedona and some of our most famous landmarks: Coffee Pot Rock, Chimney Rock, Capitol Butte (Thunder Mountain), Courthouse Butte, the Cockscombs, Wilson Mountain, Munds Mountain, Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock – and (whew!) Sedona’s very own “pyramid mountain.” Yes, you can certainly hike this in warmer months, but in the summer it can get very hot, indeed, with hardly a shady spot for cover. NOTE: If you’re with a group or a partner and one wants to do the hike and another just wants to meditate or soak in the vortex energy, this is an ideal choice.
Short, sweet and simply stunning, the Bell Rock Pathway may be the most popular trail and one of the easiest of all the walk-ways and hikes in the Sedona area. Bell Rock, so named because the shape resembles that of a large bell, stands adjacent to Courthouse Butte and both, typically in tandem, are frequently the object of photographers and artists. The location also enjoys significant popularity as one of Sedona’s vortex sites.
The trail is wide, hard-packed with few if any hazards, easy to follow, and only 3.5 miles round trip, which for most (even us old fogies), can be accomplished in about an hour, packing a lot of scenic red rock punch for the time spent. The pathway heads out directly toward Bell Rock and through some beautiful upland desert—stands of juniper with a few pinon pine mixed in, yucca and agave, and thickets of manzanita. Bird song rings out from every direction and it’s not uncommon to rustle up a covey or two of Gambel’s quail scurrying for cover.
Courthouse Butte Loop Trail is a great moderate hike for the whole family. Do not let the “carnival” at Bell Rock discourage you from doing this trail. While many come to “play” on Bell Rock, they are truly missing the best part of the area. The real gem of this area is in doing the entire loop. You will have a choice on the southern side of Courthouse of doing the Courthouse Loop or taking the Big Park Loop (preferred). As you loop around the eastern and northern side of this great butte, you will unlock the most scenic, tranquil and upclose views of the trail. As you come around the northern side of Courthouse, do not miss the cluster of Ocotillo just below the smaller butte that my daughter affectionately calls “Pancake Rock.”
The Hike around Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte is an enjoyable easy to moderate 4.5 mile hike with some rock stair stepping.
There are two parking lots which you can use to hike this trail. One is South of Bell Rock, next to Oak Creek Village, the other is just north of Bell Rock (towards Sedona). (Bell Rock is shown on the right) Be sure to use the Kiosk to obtain a day use park permit.
Courthouse Butte Loop: To get to this wonderful trail, take the wide Bell Rock Pathway from the kiosk toward Bell Rock. It climbs gently and at ½ mile there is a signed intersection with the Courthouse Butte Loop Trail. Continue ahead on the wide trail (this description is for taking the loop clockwise). The trail continues a gentle climb circling to the left of Bell Rock. It levels out at 1 mile and curves to the right below the slopes of Bell Rock. Follow the large cairns to the 1½ mile point where the wide Pathway turns north (left) and a sign shows the Courthouse Butte Loop Trail branching to the right. Go right. This narrower trail passes to the left of Courthouse Butte heading toward Lee Mountain. At 2¼ miles, the trail passes to the right of a prominent dome-shaped outcrop, and then gradually descends, entering Wilderness. It enters a dry wash at 3 miles, circles to the right over bare rock and climbs out onto level ground as it leaves the Wilderness area and continues to circle Courthouse Butte. Approaching Bell Rock, the trail meets the pathway once again at 3¾ miles. Go left, retracing the entry route for ½ mile to return to the kiosk. The loop is mostly unshaded and can be hot in summer.