12 top-notch hiking trails in Sedona

Sedona is one of Arizona’s most scenic areas and one of the best destinations for casual hikers looking to spend a few hours hiking along the red rocks or through dramatic canyons. Trails here range from easy, family-friendly trails around buttes or along the base of cliff walls to more challenging routes that will take you high above the city to ridges with fantastic lookouts. In addition to the incredible views, other highlights along some of the trails include a natural bridge, rivers and streams, wildlife, and even energy vortexes. Located at an elevation of over 4,300 feet, hiking trails around Sedona aren’t quite as hot as those in the desert around Phoenix or Tucson, but it’s low enough that you can hike here year-round.

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1 Cathedral Rock Hike

Cathedral Rock Hike | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

With so many great hikes in the area, it’s hard to say which hike is the absolute best hike in Sedona, but when people see historic Cathedral Rock, hikers no doubt ask if they can climb it. This popular route offers great views of Bell Rock, Courthouse Butte, the colorful rim of Mogollon and once you reach the saddle you will see the rolling countryside to the west. It is also home to one of Sedona’s famous energy vortexes.

The trail runs along the east side of Cathedral Rock, across a relatively flat area, then climbs up the cliffs and crosses the Templeton Trail. Some parts are quite steep and can be a bit tricky. It will certainly require the use of hands and feet. The trail is one mile round trip with a total elevation gain of 550 feet .

The highest point on the trail is the saddle between two massive towers, and this is the tipping point. Some hikers choose to test their nerves by following a narrow ledge down the right to a lookout point, clinging precariously to the mountainside. Most people don’t try this. The trailhead is located midway on Back O Beyond Road, off Highway 179, between Sedona and the village of Oak Creek.

2 Doe Mountain Trail

Do Mountain Trail | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
Do Mountain Trail | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Outstanding views, solitude, and the unique opportunity to wander on top of a mesa make this another top contender for the best hike in Sedona. It is a 1.2 mile up and down trail with a steady and gradual climb that takes you to the flat top of Doe Mountain. Up here, the trail is flat and takes you from one end of the mesa to the other. The mountain top seems quite removed from the valley below, like a country all on its own, but you can still see birds, rabbits and other wildlife.

Although this is a popular walk, it’s easy to find your own piece of solitude to gaze out over this beautiful landscape. Views stretch in every direction, but some of the signature features include Mescal Mountain, Courthouse Butte, Fay Canyon, and Bear Mountain. The best views are on the southwest side of the mesa. Total elevation gain is approximately 425 feet and the trailhead is on Boynton Pass Road (FS152C), where there is ample parking.

3 Fay Canyon

Fay Canyon | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
Fay Canyon | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

This easy 2.4-mile trail takes you through scenic Fay Canyon, located in one of Sedona’s most beautiful areas. The hike takes you right into the heart of the red rocks, passing under dramatic rock walls and hanging gardens. Unlike many other hiking trails around Sedona, this one passes through a treed area and offers some shade most of the way, especially in the spring and summer when all the leaves are out. The trail ends at a towering rock formation and canyon walls on both sides. A sign marks the end of the maintained trail, but you can wander past the sign and walk on the rocks for a better view of the gorge. This hike only has a slight elevation gain of 190 feetand is suitable for walkers of all abilities, especially children who enjoy climbing on the rocks at the end of the trail.

4 Boynton Canyon

Boynton Canyon | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
Boynton Canyon | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

The Boynton Canyon trail is a 6.1-mile out-and-back hike through several types of forests typical of the Sedona area. Beautiful views of the canyon extend all the way. Near the start of the trail is an energy vortex. The first half to three-quarters of the trail is in the open sun and parallels the Enchantment Resort property, an ideal place to grab a cold drink and a tasty snack for lunch or dinner after your hike. Beyond this section you will find yourself in small trees and then finally large pine trees that provide ample shade. The last part of the hike takes you to the end of the gorge where you have a decent view of the gorge. Most of the walk is on level ground, but there is certainly some elevation gain.

If you’re only interested in the vortex, it’s right near the start of the trail. Be sure to take the siding called the Boynton Vista trail and it’s about half a mile to the vortex, located at the base of a rock mirror. Views from here are Deadman’s Pass, Mescal Mountain and Courthouse Butte in the distance.

5 Courthouse Butte Loop

Courthouse Butte Loop | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
Courthouse Butte Loop | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Non-stop views of Courthouse Butte, the beautiful Mogollon Rim, Bell Rock, and even a smaller spaceship-shaped rock at the trail’s end are what you’ll find on this hike. This is a moderate 3.9-mile run , and is best done in a clockwise direction. You get a little bit of everything on this hike, but the best part is the solitude you’ll experience once you escape the crowds that converge around the Bell Rock area. The trail is a moderate elevation gain of about 350 feet and is mostly over flat ground. It is best to park in the Courthouse Vista parking lot, but if this small parking lot is full, you can park in the Bell Rock Vista parking lot, just a little further towards the village of Oak Creek.

6 Devil’s Bridge Trail

Devil's Bridge Trail
Devil’s Bridge Trail

This is the most visited trail in Sedona, largely due to the fact that the visitor centers recommend this hike. It is also something that almost anyone can do. The trail is 4.5 miles round tripand it leads to a beautiful natural sandstone arch. You can walk under it and then take the stairs to the top, and if you choose, you can actually walk on top. This is a busy trail shared with jeeps, ATVs, mountain bikes and probably countless other hikers. The first part of the trail is wide and easy; the back half of the path is narrower and steeper as you climb to the arch. Note that there is virtually no shade on this entire hike until you reach the end, so make sure you come prepared. Parking is very difficult here. It is likely that you will have to park on Dry Creek Road and walk to the trailhead.

If you want to avoid the crowds and the dusty jeep, start at the Chuckwagon trailhead for a slightly shorter four-mile trip . This trailhead is on the right side of Long Canyon Road. Be sure to study the map at the trailhead, as it’s important to make a key left at the first intersection you come to. The Mescal Trail starts just across the road.

7 Airport Mesa Trail/Airport Loop Trail

Airport Mesa Trail / Airport Loop Trail | Photo copyright: Lana Law
Airport Mesa Trail / Airport Loop Trail | Photo copyright: Lana Law

This loop route offers beautiful views of the colorful bluffs of the Mogollon Rim, Highway 179, West Sedona and the surrounding area. It follows the edge of the Airport Mesa, high above the valley floor, and runs along the edge of the airport for a great overview of the city and beyond. Some sections of the trail follow drop-off areas, which may not be suitable for children. The sun can be intense and there is little shade on this hike. On cool winter days it can be a nice temperature for walking. The total distance of the Airport Mesa Trail is 3.5 miles with 200 feet of elevation gain . At the start of the trail is the Airport Overlook Trail, a short step up to the overlook. It is also the site of one of Sedona’s energy vortexes .

8 Bell Rock Pathway

Bell Rock Pathway | Photo copyright: Lana Law
Bell Rock Pathway | Photo copyright: Lana Law

Bell Rock’s unmistakable shape is easy to spot along Highway 179, near the village of Oak Creek. Tourists come here to hike, bike and sightsee. The sloping walls, which are deceptively steep up close, make this landmark an attractive object for walkers. The Bell Rock Trail is a very easy and accessible trail and suitable for hikers of all ages and abilities, but it does offer some optional challenges for those looking to climb a short distance on the bell. When you get to the formation itself, you walk across sections of red slickrock. The trail is wide and mostly flat as it loops around the skirt of Bell Rock until you descend towards the village of Oak Creek.

The main Bell Rock Trail runs from the Bell Rock Vista parking lot to the Courthouse Vista parking lot. This section is 2 miles long, but it is recommended that you park in the Courthouse Vista parking lot and do the first 1.5 miles and return the same way . Despite what you might expect, this trail does not circumnavigate the base of Bell Rock. The area near the Bell Rock Vista parking lot just crosses a field until it reaches Bell Rock. If you want to climb Bell Rock, there is a side trail that leads you to the lower reaches of this impressive structure. Be prepared to encounter mountain bikers on this route, as it is one of the best mountain bike trails in the area for beginners.

9 West Fork Trail

West Fork Trail
West Fork Trail

Located in the beautiful Oak Creek Canyon, West Fork Trail is a departure from many of the other popular hikes in the Sedona area. The trail crosses West Fork Creek several times and passes beautiful rock formations formed by the rushing water. The trail offers shade, water, and plenty of trees, making it an ideal choice for hikers looking to escape the intense desert sun in the summer. The trail is 6.9 miles long, with 400 feet of elevation , but you can make it as long or short as you want since it’s an in-and-out trail. The trailhead is 11 miles north of Sedona, along 89A toward Flagstaff. The parking lot fills up quickly, and parking along the highway is dangerous, so get there early.

10 Soldier Pass

Soldier Pass | Photo copyright: Lana Law
Soldier Pass | Photo copyright: Lana Law

Soldier Pass trail is one of the most interesting hikes in the Sedona area. Important sites here include the huge Devil’s Kitchen Sinkhole , along with the beautiful Seven Sacred Pools , an important religious site for the local indigenous people. Depending on the season, the pools may not have much water. The 4.1-mile loop trail is generally uncrowded. Total elevation gain is just over 600 feet. The trailhead has a small parking lot with spots for about eight to ten cars. Due to local residents’ complaints, street parking is prohibited within half a mile of the trailhead, so this adds another mile round trip to the distance above if you can’t park in the parking lot. The trailhead is off Soldiers Pass Road on Shadow Rock Drive in West Sedona.

11 Bear Mountain

View across Fay Canyon from Bear Mountain
View across Fay Canyon from Bear Mountain

If you’re an experienced hiker looking for a heart-pumping hike and don’t mind quite a bit of elevation, Bear Mountain Trail is a great hike. The trial is only 4.3 miles but the elevation gain is a significant 1,975 feet . The 360-degree views from the top include the extinct volcanoes of the often snowcapped San Francisco Peaks, the ghost town of Jerome, Doe Mountain, Courthouse Butte, and the Mogollon Rim in the distance. The trailhead, the same parking lot as the Doe Mountain Trailhead, is on Boynton Pass Road.

12 Mescal

Author Lana Law on Mescal Trail | Photo copyright: Michael Law
Author Lana Law on Mescal Trail | Photo copyright: Michael Law

Mescal is often associated with mountain biking, but it’s also a fantastic hike. It’s generally less crowded, fairly flat once you get to a certain point, and the views are excellent. The trail follows a skirt around Mescal Mountain. Following along a ledge of an impressive tower of rock, look out for stunning views that extend to Cathedral Rock and Courthouse Butte. Depending on the season, you can see the ocotillo in bloom or an assortment of small desert flowers glowing yellow, pink or purple in the sun.

The trail is a 2.4-mile out-and-back trail with just over 200 feet in elevation. Be wary of mountain bikes on this trail. The trailhead is located on Long Canyon Road, across the street from the Chuckwagon Trailhead. Mescal can also be combined with the Boynton Canyon if you want to recharge your emotional batteries at one of Sedona’s famous energy vortexes.

Where to stay in Sedona

Nature lovers will find all sorts of wonderful accommodations in the Sedona area. Most tourists prefer to base themselves on the action in Sedona. For slightly better prices, you might want to look into the village of Oak Creek, just south of Sedona. This is about 10 minutes from Sedona and that’s where you’ll find sites like Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte. Luxurious resorts can be found in both Sedona and some of the beautiful surrounding canyons.

  • Luxe hotels:Just below the tourist area of ​​Uptown Sedona is the luxurious L’Auberge de Sedona Resort and Spa. This classic property offers pretty hillside cottages with fireplaces and sunny balconies that overlook the red rocks and Oak Creek that meanders below the resort. This is the perfect place to stay if you want to be in the city. Just a short drive outside of town, in the scenic Boynton Canyon area, which is arguably the most beautiful scenery around Sedona, is the upscale Enchantment Resort. Views from the rooms, the pool and the excellent restaurants are in fact enchanting. From here you can access some of Sedona’s premiere hikes and enjoy a full nature retreat. The resort also has an incredible spa and a small golf course where you can often see deer.
  • Mid-Range and Budget Hotels: In the Village of Oak Creek, you’ll find three properties worth considering if you’re interested in mid-range or budget prices. All of these offer swimming pools and are well positioned for access to hikes such as Bell Rock, Courthouse Butte and Cathedral Rock. The Desert Quail Inn Sedona features spacious rooms and suites with fireplaces, some of which also feature Jacuzzi tubs. The Days Inn Kokopelli Sedona, which despite the name is actually located in the village of Oak Creek, features similar amenities and generally offers good rates. Another popular choice with beautiful mountain views is The Andante Inn in Sedona.

More related articles at PlanetWare.com

  • Hiking in Arizona: Winter is the best time to hit hiking trails in the South. If you’re looking for hikes from December through February or March, be sure to check out our articles on the best hikes in Tucson and the top trails in Phoenix. From spring through fall, the hikes in higher elevations in the north of the state open up and offer completely different hiking experiences. For ideas on hiking during this time, check out our piece on the best hikes in Prescott. And for inspiring year-round ideas, don’t miss our Best Hikes in Arizona, featuring our top picks in the state.
  • Sedona: This small city has a wealth of outdoor activities to offer visitors, as well as an interesting downtown area, which is actually known as Uptown Sedona. Check out our article on the top attractions in Sedona for an overview of how to spend your time here. If you prefer to spend your time on the trails on a bike, be sure to see our piece on the best mountain biking trails in Sedona. And campers looking to pitch a tent or pitch an RV should be sure to check out our list of the top campgrounds in the Sedona area.

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