Updated date:

Sedona, Arizona: 8 Scenic Hikes

Author:

Sedona, Arizona

Courthouse Butte at sunset from Bell Rock Pathway Trailhead, Village of Oak Creek.

Courthouse Butte at sunset from Bell Rock Pathway Trailhead, Village of Oak Creek.

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 to natural wonders accessible in no more than two 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 clothing.

This page will summarize some of the more popular and not-to-miss hikes in or near Sedona:

  1. Fay Canyon
  2. Devils Bridge
  3. Airport Loop
  4. Bell Rock Pathway and Courthouse Butte Loop
  5. Crescent Moon/Red Rock State Park
  6. Bell and Weir Canyons
  7. West Fork Trail
  8. Oak Creek Canyon via A.B. Young Trail

All are easy to moderate hikes and can be completed in three hours or less by those in good shape. Elevation gains are no more than 350 feet except for hike #8.

8 Sedona Hikes

A comparison of the 8 Sedona scenic hikes.

NameDistancePath TypeElevation Gain/LossDifficulty

Fay Canyon

1.1 miles

out and back

150 feet

easy

Devils Bridge

3.8 miles

out and back

350 - 400 feet

moderate

Airport Loop

3.3 miles

loop

200 feet

easy

Bell Rock Pathway / Courthouse Butte Loop

4.2 miles

loop

250 feet

moderate

Crescent Moon / Red Rock State Park

.5 miles+

loop/out and back

0 - 500 feet+

easy - moderate+

Bell Trail/Canyon

2.0 - 3.3 miles

out and back

250 - 500 feet

moderate

West Fork Trail

3.0 miles

out and back

150 - 200 feet

easy

Oak Creek Canyon

2.0 miles (one-way)

out and back

2,000 feet

strenuous

 

 

 

 

 

Sedona Orientation

Javelina statue, Red Rock Visitor Center (USFS)

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 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.

Trailhead Map

Before You Hike: Sedona Hiking Hazards

Along the Courthouse Butte Loop showing trail sign and Cathedral Rock in rear right.

Along the Courthouse Butte Loop showing trail sign and Cathedral Rock in rear right.

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 is rising in a wash, get to higher ground, if possible.

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 mile (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.

1. Fay Canyon

The sandstone walls of Fay Canyon; east wall from trail.

The sandstone walls of Fay Canyon; east wall from trail.

Road leading to Palatki Heritage Site/Boynton Canyon.

Road leading to Palatki Heritage Site/Boynton Canyon.

2. Devils Bridge

Devil's Bridge from the Devil's Bridge Trail.

Devil's Bridge from the Devil's Bridge Trail.

Red Rock Secret Mtn Wilderness boundary along Devils Bridge Trail

sedona-arizona-6-scenic-hikes

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 Mescal trailhead along the Long Canyon Road and is 3.8 miles round trip gaining 350 feet via the Mescal Trail, Chuckwagon Trail, and Devils Bridge Trail (#120). Views of Boynton Canyon from the arch are good and the contrast of the forest greenery and red rocks beautiful. The hike enters the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness about a quarter mile from the final destination. The route is well signed and generally easy to follow but be certain you return the way you came - Sedona's trails and scenery, although beautiful, can be notoriously confusing, if you don't pay close attention. Also be mindful that you will be hiking on three different, although well-connected, trails. The trail is very popular so if you do get confused, stay on A trail, and chances are hikers will come along before too long. 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 which gains close to 300 feet but it's nothing that anyone in reasonable shape can't do. It's not uncommon to run into people practicing yoga, so be mindful and respectful. You will need a Red Rocks parking permit to park at the Mescal Trailhead.

One of many trail junctions along route to Devils Bridge.

One of many trail junctions along route to Devils Bridge.

3. Airport Loop

Along the Airport Loop hike.

Along the Airport Loop hike.

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.

Prickly Pear Cacti along the Airport Loop Trail.

Prickly Pear Cacti along the Airport Loop Trail.

Sedona Hiking Quiz

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. What is the elevation of Sedona?
    • 3,000 - 3,500 feet above sea level
    • 4,000 - 4,500 feet above sea level
    • 2,000 meters feet above sea level
    • 7,000 feet above sea level
  2. What is the most prominent rock type in Sedona?
    • granite
    • limestone
    • basalt
    • sanstone
  3. What is Sedona's most famous natural arch?
    • Cathedral Bridge
    • Devils Bridge
    • Rainbow Arch
    • Delicate Arch

Answer Key

  1. 4,000 - 4,500 feet above sea level
  2. sanstone
  3. Devils Bridge

4. Bell Rock Pathway and Courthouse Butte Loop

The well-signed trail leading to Bell Rock.

The well-signed trail leading to Bell Rock.

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.

Along the Bell Rock Pathway.

Along the Bell Rock Pathway.

Courthouse Butte Loop Trail

Courthouse Butte Loop Trail

Sedona Hiking Poll

5. Bell Trail/Canyon

The start of the long Bell Trail

The start of the long Bell Trail

A few miles southeast of Sedona the classic Red Rock topography gives ground to a mix of volcanic and sandstone mesas. 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, 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 signaling the creek bed. Find the USGS gauging station and pick a location above or below that to dip into the cool refreshing pools of Wet Beaver Creek, a rarity in that it is not ephemeral. Return the same way back to the trailhead.

The walls of Bell Canyon showing volcanic caprock

The walls of Bell Canyon showing volcanic caprock

Petroglyphs along the Bell Trail.

Petroglyphs along the Bell Trail.

Swimming holes abound in Bell Canyon's Wet Beaver Creek, like this one just below the USGS gauging station.

Swimming holes abound in Bell Canyon's Wet Beaver Creek, like this one just below the USGS gauging station.

6. Crescent Moon Recreation Area & Red Rock State Park

Morning light on Cathedral Rock from the Crescent Moon Recreation Area.

Morning light on Cathedral Rock from the Crescent Moon Recreation Area.

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 upstream 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.

Cathedral Rock above Oak Creek.

Cathedral Rock above Oak Creek.

7. West Fork Trail

The West Fork Trail is considered by many to be one of the most scenic in Arizona. It won't give you views of the Red Rock country as much as it profiles the bottom of a shady tributary canyon which feeds into the larger Oak Creek Canyon. This is a good hike for kids (with the exception of numerous stream crossings) because it has very little elevation gain. Secondly, it provides great shade as it winds along the bottom of a narrow canyon and has lots of tree cover below sheer sandstone cliffs. The trail begins at Call of the Canyon Recreation Area (USFS) which is approximately 10 miles north of Sedona along US 89A. This is a fee area so you will have to purchase a parking pass at one of the on-site kiosks. The trail is well marked and begins on the south side of the parking area in an apple tree grove. It winds 3 miles upstream along the canyon walls. You can go farther but it requires more stream crossings, wading, some swimming, and more planning. The trail is especially beautiful and popular during autumn when the leaves change color.

West Fork Trail at Call of the Canyon

West Fork Trail

Sheer sandstone walls along the West Fork Trail.

Sheer sandstone walls along the West Fork Trail.

8. Oak Creek Canyon via AB Young Trail

This is the most strenuous of the 8 hikes but affords the most sweeping views and the best of Oak Creek Canyon.

Start the hike at the Bootlegger Picnic Area (USFS) along 89A. Note that there is no potable water here so be certain to fill your bottles before you set out. This is also a fee area, so be prepared to pay for parking in this small lot which accommodates maybe 12 cars.

The hardest part, arguably, is finding the beginning of the trail. Start the hike at the south end of the picnic area by going down a set of concrete stairs towards the Oak Creek. When you reach the creek find a suitable place to cross (there is no footbridge). Once you have crossed you will have to climb the steep embankment and look for the trail which is under some old telephone poles to your right. Once you pick it up follow the signs for the AB Young Trail and within minutes the trail will open up into the east facing slope of the Oak Creek Canyon. You will be fully exposed to the sun so avoid this hike in the summer. The hike switches back about 33 times before topping out on the rim of Oak Creek Canyon. The views are stunning. A faint but easy to follow trail also continues to the East Pocket Knob Fire lookout from here.

Oak Creek Canyon from the AB Young Trail

Looking south from the AB Young Trail, Oak Creek Canyon

Looking south from the AB Young Trail, Oak Creek Canyon

Oak Creek Canyon

Oak Creek Canyon from the AB Young Trail

Oak Creek Canyon from the AB Young Trail

Driving Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona, Arizona

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Comments

jvhirniak (author) on May 17, 2018:

Dale Anderson: Should be a good time to go: weather still not too hot and less crowded, I hope. Enjoy!

Dale Anderson from The High Seas on May 11, 2018:

I am in Mesa, Arizona right now and your hub has inspired me to go. Not this weekend, but next for sure. I will use your helpful guide here to plan the trip. The wife will be very pleased indeed.

jvhirniak (author) on July 22, 2016:

Kathleen - indeed! No words can describe it. Thanks for reading!

Kathleen Cochran from Atlanta, Georgia on July 19, 2016:

It is a different country west of the Mississippi. Thanks for the beautiful pictures.

jvhirniak (author) on September 12, 2015:

Ilonagarden - thank you kindly! I hope to go back sooner rather than later and share your fondness for Sedona.

Ilona E from Ohio on September 12, 2015:

I love Sedona- one of my very favorite places. You've done a fantastic job of presenting a great guide for travelers. I just wish I could go there more than once in a blue moon.

srsddn from Dehra Dun, India on September 11, 2015:

jvhirniak, beautiful hikes. Glad to find a mention about Yoga. Thanks for sharing.

mactavers on September 10, 2015:

Great Hub and all of these hikes have their own beauty.