Sedona, Arizona: 6 scenic hikes
Courthouse Butte at sunset
Sedona, Arizona introduction
Billed as perhaps the largest Vortex, Yoga, and New Age destination in the Southwest, Sedona, Arizona is also a hiker's mecca offering beautiful hikes in and around the famous sandstone Red Rocks formations which encircle the city. The trailheads are well marked and easily located offering great hiking opportunities with interesting natural wonders that are accessible by no more than 2 hours of hiking. Regardless of which hikes you choose in Sedona, it's hard to get it wrong. But with any hike, short or long, take some precaution and keep an eye on the weather forecast (or the cloud-build-up overhead), take plenty of water, and wear proper foot attire and well as clothing. This page will summarize some of the more popular and not -to-miss hikes in or near Sedona: Fay Canyon, Devils Bridge, Airport Loop, Bell Rock Pathway and Courthouse Butte Loop, Crescent Moon/Red Rock State Park, and Bell and Weir Canyons. All are easy to moderate hikes and can be completed in 3 hours or less for those in good shape. Elevation gains are no more than 350 feet.
Javelina statue, Red Rock Visitor Center (USFS)
If you are new to Sedona it might seem a little overwhelming at first, especially if you want advice as to where and when to hike. The city limits of Sedona range from 4,000 - 4,500 feet above sea level so hiking in the summer, while still popular, is hot. Consider hiking early in the day, at first light. The best place to get unbiased or impartial advice, updates, and information is at the Red Rock Forest Service Visitor's Center/Ranger Station on Route 279 south of Oak Creek Village. Sedona has scores of tourist information kiosks but most are sponsored by hotels or time-shares and they will attempt to push you into tourist traps, time-share presentations, or a pink jeep tour. If you do find yourself in the middle of the tourist section of Uptown Sedona, the best place to get impartial advice is from the kiosk sponsored by the City Chamber of Commerce at 331 Forest Road.
Courthouse Butte Loop
Before you hike: Sedona hiking dangers & precautions
- Lightning storms
- flash floods
Extreme heat in the summer as well as sudden lightning storms and rattlesnakes are probably the biggest precautions and dangers to consider. Other smaller dangers include contact with prickly pear cactus and cliffside exposure depending upon where you hike. Flash floods can also pose a threat during the monsoon season. Before you hike, check the weather bulletin and pack plenty of fluids if you are hiking in the summer. Try to start your hike in the early morning rather than the afternoon in order to avoid the brunt of the heat and lightning storms which typically form in the late morning and early afternoon. Triple digit temperatures are not uncommon in the summer. Rattlesnakes are common so use precaution and stay on marked paths as much as possible. If you are caught in a downpour and the water levels are filling a wash, get to higher ground, if possible.
Courthouse Butte Loop Trail
1. Fay Canyon
Fay Canyon takes you into the Red Rock - Secret Mountain Wilderness in Coconino National Forest with the end point of Fay Arch/Rock. The maintained trail will end at the base of the so-called arch, although it's more of a rock. Don't let that dissuade you from this 1.1 miles (one-way) hike which gains no more than 150 vertical feet while wandering along the bottom of Fay Canyon. Cross the road and head north following the well-signed trail. Beautiful views of the sandstone cliffs tower above on both sides. In summer watch for swallowtail butterflies which are abundant among the sycamore groves. Beware of rattlesnakes too. Fay Canyon is easily accessed from Boynton Pass Road which is off Dry Creek Road. For the more adventurous there is also the nearby Palatki Heritage site further to the west but it is accessed only after 4.5 miles of dirt and gravel road surface.
Fay Canyon, east wall from trail
2. Devils Bridge
This is one of Sedona's favorites because it offers the chance to access a natural sandstone bridge known as Devils Bridge. The hike starts at the trailhead along the Forest Service Road FR 152 and is 0.8 miles one-way in length gaining 350 feet. Views of Sedona from the arch are spectacular as are those of the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness to the north. The route there, along Trail #120, is nothing out of the ordinary but the view from the bridge, Sedona's largest sandstone bridge, are worth the efforts. The route is well signed and easy to follow but it gets steeper the closer to the bridge you get. For this reason there is a good mix of hikers on this path. Walking under the base of the bridge is almost as cool as walking across it - exercise caution as it's a fatal 50 foot drop. Getting to the top requires a scramble up a sandstone staircase. It's not uncommon to run into people practicing yoga - so be mindful and respectful.
Devils Bridge, Sedona
Airport Loop, Sedona
3. Airport Loop
Follow signs to the Sedona Airport located on the summit of Airport Mesa. The airport is located between West Sedona and Uptown Sedona off U.S. 89A. The well-marked trailhead is located about 1 mile on Airport Road on the left hand side if you are heading toward the airport. Once parked follow the signs for Airport Loop which circumnavigates Airport Mesa in a 3.3 mile loop hike. Elevation gain and loss is no more than 200 feet. The south side of the loop has good views towards Oak Creek Village and Munds Mountain Wilderness while the north half offers spectacular views right above West Sedona. Watch out for prickly pear cactus many of which are at knee and ankle level. Rattlesnakes are also a common denizen. There are no views of the airfield as you are slightly below the mesa's summit but you'll hear and see plenty of airplanes and helicopters, many of which take tourists on flights around Sedona's Red Rock and beyond to the Grand Canyon.
Sedona hiking quiz
From Airport Loop, Sedona
Bell Rock Trail
4. Bell Rock Pathway and Courthouse Butte Loop
These are two different hikes which can be started from the same trailhead off Route 179, a Forest Service Scenic Byway. Park in the well-signed lots along the Byway north of Oak Creek Village. All of the parking lots along the Scenic Byway are fee-based and cost $5.00 per car (at the time of writing). If you want to hike the Bell Rock Pathway, it's more perhaps convenient to use the Bell Rock Pathway Trailhead, or North Trailhead. The four mile long loop hike circumnavigates Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte with minimal elevation gain or loss and crosses briefly into the Munds Mountain Wilderness Area on the east side of Courthouse Butte. Watch for the colorful pinyon jays among the trees and an occasional javelina. The views up towards the formations are spectacular as are those towards Sedona. The iconic Holy Cross Chapel is distantly visible along this trail. Closer to Bell Rock is the almost perfect miniature sandstone dome known as Baby Bell Rock. If you want to hike up to the benches below Bell Rock follow the well signed trail from the North parking lot. There are a few spots which require some caution and hand holds. Once you leave the marked trail on Bell Rock exercise caution as there is some exposure depending upon where you go with steep benches and cliffs.
Sedona hiking poll
What's the most scenic Sedona hike?See results without voting
Bell Rock Pathway
The Bell Trail
Wet Beaver Creek, below the Weir Trail
5. Bell Trail/Canyon
A few miles southeast of Sedona the classic Red Rock topography gives ground to a mix of volcanic and sandstone mesas. The Wet Beaver Creek runs through one of these canyons and is popular because of its numerous swimming holes, especially in the summer. If you cross I-17 under exit 298 follow FR 618 for about 2 miles until you see the Trailhead on the left. If you cross the bridge and picnic areas, known as the Beaver Creek Day Use area, beyond the Forest Service station you've gone too far. If swimming is your goal there are numerous side paths which lead down to the river. If you came to hike you can continue up the Bell Trail to Bell Crossing which is 3.3 miles from the trailhead. At the .8 mile mark a volcanic rock with petroglyphs stands on the left side of the trail. A good location to swim is roughly at the two mile mark but be sure to take the right hand path when the trial splits - follow the signs for Weir Canyon (Trail). The trail will wind around the prominent sandstone spire after which you'll see the thick covering of trees on the right signalling the creek bed. Find the USGS gauging station and pick a location above or below that to dip into the cool refreshing pools of the Wet Beaver Creek, a rarity in that it is not ephemeral. Return the same way back to the trailhead.
Sedona hiking table
out and back
out and back
350 - 400 feet
Bell Rock Pathway/Courthouse Butte Loop
Crescent Moon/Red Rock State Park
loop/out and back
0 - 500 feet+
easy - moderate+
2.0 - 3.3 miles
out and back
250 - 500 feet
Driving Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona, Arizona
6. Crescent Moon Recreation Area & Red Rock State Park
These two locations along the Red Rock Loop Road in West Sedona provide access and views of the iconic Cathedral Rock, arguably Sedona's best known rock formation. Both are fee-based: Crescent Moon Recreation Area is administered by the USFS and costs $10.00 per car; Red Rock State Park costs $5.00 per adult (at the time of writing). Crescent Moon has excellent views of Cathedral Rock, especially in late afternoon when the sun hits it square. Crossing the creek can be a challenge unless you are willing to get wet. Remember, Cathedral Rock is on the other side of Oak Creek. Still, maintained hiking paths lead one half mile up creek with good views along Oak Creek. The better option for hikers with more time is Red Rock State Park which has an excellent network of 10 maintained trails, a Visitor Center, and a bridge across Oak Creek. It's possible to access the foot of Cathedral Rock from the trails in Red Rock State Park. Wildlife sightings include mule deer, javelina , bobcat, and coyotes.
Sedona, Arizona area hikes
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