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12 Top-Rated Hiking Trails in Sedona

Sedona is one of the most scenic areas of Arizona and one of the best destinations for casual hikers looking to spend a few hours walking along the red rocks or through dramatic canyons. Trails here range from easy, family-friendly paths around buttes or along the base of cliff walls to more challenging routes that will take you high above the town to ridges with fabulous 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. Set at an elevation of over 4,300 feet, hiking trails around Sedona are not as hot as those in the desert around Phoenix or Tucson, but it's low enough that you can hike here year-round. Hit the trails with our list of the best hikes in Sedona.

1 Cathedral Rock Hike

Cathedral Rock Hike
Cathedral Rock Hike | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
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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 the landmark Cathedral Rock, hikers undoubtedly ask if they can hike up it. This popular trail offers fantastic views of Bell Rock, Courthouse Butte, the colorful Mogollon Rim, and once you reach the saddle, vistas of the rolling landscape to the west. It is also home to one of Sedona's famous energy vortexes.

The trail runs up the east side of Cathedral Rock, across a relatively flat area, then ascends up the rocks, crossing the Templeton Trail. Some sections are quite steep and can be a bit tricky. It will definitely require the use of hands and feet. The trail is about 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 turnaround point. Some hikers choose to test their nerve by following a narrow ledge along the right side to a lookout, clinging precariously to the mountainside. Most people don't attempt this. The trailhead is located halfway down Back O Beyond Road, off Highway 179, between Sedona and the Village of Oak Creek.

2 Doe Mountain Trail

Doe Mountain Trail
Doe Mountain Trail | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
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Outstanding views, solitude, and the unique chance to wander around the top of a mesa, make this another top contender for the best hike in Sedona. It's a 1.2-mile out-and-back trail with a steady and gradual ascent that takes you up to the flat top of Doe Mountain. Up here, the trail is level and takes you from one end of the mesa to the other. The mountain top seems quite removed from the valley below, like a land all to its own, but you can still see birds, rabbits, and other wildlife.

Although this is a popular hike, it's easy to find your own piece of solitude to gaze out over this stunning landscape. Views extend out in all directions, but some of the landmark features include Mescal Mountain, Courthouse Butte, Fay Canyon, and Bear Mountain. The best views are at the southwestern end of the mesa. Total elevation gain is about 425 feet, and the trailhead is located off Boynton Pass Road (FS152C), where there is ample parking.

3 Fay Canyon

Fay Canyon
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This easy 2.4-mile trail takes you through scenic Fay Canyon, located in one of the most beautiful areas of Sedona. The hike lets you get right into the heart of the red rocks, walking below the dramatic cliff walls and hanging gardens. Unlike many other hiking trails around Sedona, this one runs through a treed area and offers some shade for a majority of the way, particularly in spring and summer when all the leaves are out. The trail ends at a towering rock formation and canyon walls on either side. A sign marks the end of the maintained trail, but you can wander beyond the sign and walk up on the rocks for better views back over the canyon. This hike has only a slight elevation gain of 190 feet and is suitable for hikers of all abilities, especially children who will enjoy climbing on the boulders at the end of the trail.

4 Boynton Canyon

Boynton Canyon
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The Boynton Canyon trail is a 6.1-mile out-and-back hike leading through several types of forests typical of the Sedona area. Beautiful views of the canyon extend the entire way. Near the start of the trail is an energy vortex. The first half to three-quarters of the trail is in open sun and parallels the property of Enchantment Resort, an ideal place to grab a cold drink and a tasty bite of lunch or dinner following your hike. Beyond this section, you'll find yourself in small trees and then eventually large pine trees that provide ample shade. The final stretch of the hike takes you up a rise at the end of the canyon, where there are decent views back down the canyon. Most of the hike is over level ground, but there is definitely some elevation gain.

If you are only interested in the vortex, it's right near the start of the trail. Be sure to take the side trail called Boynton Vista trail, and it is approximately half a mile to the vortex, located at the base of a rock spire. Views from up here include Deadman's Pass, Mescal Mountain, and Courthouse Butte off in the distance.

5 Courthouse Butte Loop

Courthouse Butte Loop
Courthouse Butte Loop | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
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Non-stop views of Courthouse Butte, the stunning Mogollon Rim, Bell Rock, and even a smaller spaceship-shaped rock near the end of the trail are what you'll find on this hike. This is a moderate 3.9-mile loop, and it's best done in a clockwise direction. You'll get a bit of everything on this hike, but the best part is the solitude you'll experience once you escape the crowds that congregate around the Bell Rock area. The trail has a moderate elevation gain of approximately 350 feet and is over mostly level ground. It's best to park at the Courthouse Vista parking lot, but if this small lot is full, park at the Bell Rock Vista lot, just a bit farther on towards the Village of Oak Creek.

6 Devil's Bridge Trail

Devil's Bridge Trail
Devil's Bridge Trail
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This is the most frequented trail in Sedona, largely due to the fact that the visitor centers recommend this hike. It's also something almost anyone can do. The trail is 4.2 miles out-and-back and it leads to a beautiful natural sandstone arch. You can walk below it and then take the stairs to the top of it, and if you choose, you can actually walk right out on top of it. This is a busy trail that you will share with jeeps, ATVs, mountain bikes, and likely, countless other hikers. The first part of the trail is wide and easy; the back half of the trail is narrower and steeper as you climb towards the arch. Note that there is virtually no shade on this entire hike until you reach the far end, so make sure you are prepared. Parking is very tough to come by here. It is likely that you will need to park on Dry Creek Road and walk to the trailhead.

If you'd like to avoid the crowds and the dusty jeep trail, start at the Chuckwagon trailhead for a slightly shorter four-mile trip. This trailhead is off Long Canyon Road on the right-hand side. Be sure to study the map at the trailhead as it's important not to miss a key left turn at the first trail intersection you come to. The Mescal Trail begins right across the road.

7 Airport Mesa Trail/Airport Loop Trail

Airport Mesa Trail/Airport Loop Trail
Airport Mesa Trail/Airport Loop Trail | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
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This loop trail offers stunning views out to the colorful cliffs of the Mogollon Rim, Highway 179, West Sedona, and the surrounding area. It follows the edge of the Airport Mesa, high above the valley, and skirts the edge of the airport for a great overview of the city and beyond. Some sections of the trail follow along areas with drop-offs, which may not be suitable for children. The sun can be intense, and there is little shade on this hike. However, on cool winter days it can be a beautiful temperature for hiking. 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 spur up to the lookout. It's also the location of one of Sedona's energy vortexes.

8 Bell Rock Pathway

Bell Rock Pathway
Bell Rock Pathway | Photo Copyright: Lana Law
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The unmistakable shape of Bell Rock 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 deceivingly steep up-close, make this landmark an enticing object for hikers. The Bell Rock Trail is a very easy and accessible pathway and suitable for hikers of all ages and abilities, but it does offer some optional challenges for people who want to climb a short distance up the bell. When you get onto the formation itself, you'll be walking on sections of red slickrock. The trail is wide and mostly level as it rounds the skirt of Bell Rock until you start descending towards the Village of Oak Creek.

The main Bell Rock Trail runs from Bell Rock Vista parking area to Courthouse Vista parking lot. This section is 3.6 miles one-way, but it's recommended to park at the Courthouse Vista parking area and just do the first 1.5 miles and return the same way. Despite what you might expect, this trail does not circle 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'd like to climb up Bell Rock, there's a side trail that leads you up to the lower reaches of this impressive structure. Be prepared to come across mountain bikers on this trail as it's one of the best mountain biking trails in the area for beginners.

9 West Fork Trail

West Fork Trail
West Fork Trail
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West Fork Trail is located in beautiful Oak Creek Canyon and different from many of the other popular hikes in the Sedona area. The trail runs along and crosses West Fork Creek several times, passing wonderful rock formations that have been sculpted by the rushing waters. The trail provides shade, water, and plenty of tree cover, which makes it an ideal choice for hikers looking to escape the intense desert sun in summer. The trail is 6.9 miles long, with 400 feet of elevation, but you can make it as long or short as you'd like as it's an in-and-out path. The trailhead is located 11 miles north of Sedona, along 89A towards Flagstaff. The parking lot fills quickly, and parking along the highway is dangerous, so be sure to get there early.

10 Soldier Pass

Soldier Pass
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Soldier Pass trail is one of the most interesting hikes in the Sedona area. Key sites here are the massive Devil's Kitchen Sinkhole, along with the beautiful Seven Sacred Pools, an important religious site for the local Indigenous population. The pools may not have much water in them depending on the season. The 4.1-mile loop trail is generally not crowded. Total elevation gain is a little over 600 feet. The trailhead has a small parking lot with spots for about eight to 10 cars. Due to the 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 lot. The trailhead is off Soldiers Pass Road on Shadow Rock Drive in West Sedona.

11 Bear Mountain

View over Fay Canyon from Bear Mountain
View over Fay Canyon from Bear Mountain
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If you are an experienced hiker looking for a heart-pounding hike and don't mind a considerable amount of elevation, Bear Mountain Trail is a great hike. The trial is only 4.3 miles but the elevation gain is a substantial 1,975 feet. The 360-degree views from the top include the extinct volcanoes of the often snow-covered San Francisco Peaks, the ghost town of Jerome, Doe Mountain, Courthouse Butte, and the Mogollon Rim in the distance. The trailhead, which is the same parking lot as the Doe Mountain trailhead, is located off Boynton Pass Road.

12 Mescal

Author Lana Law on Mescal Trail
Author Lana Law on Mescal Trail | Photo Copyright: Michael Law
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Mescal is often associated with mountain biking but it is a fabulous hike as well. It's generally less crowded, fairly level once you reach a certain point, and the views are outstanding. The trail follows a skirt around Mescal Mountain. Following along a ledge of an impressive tower of rock, you look out to amazing views that extend to Cathedral Rock and Courthouse Butte. Depending on the season, you may 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 a little over 200 feet of elevation. Be on the watch for mountain bikes on this trail.The trailhead is located off Long Canyon Road, across the road from the Chuckwagon Trailhead. Mescal can also be combined with the Boynton Canyon overlook if you'd like to recharge your emotional batteries at one of Sedona's famous energy vortexes.

Where to Stay in Sedona

Nature lovers will find all kinds of wonderful accommodation options in the Sedona area. Most tourists prefer to base themselves in the heart of the action in Sedona. For slightly better prices, you may want to look to the Village of Oak Creek, just south of Sedona. This is about 10 minutes from Sedona and where you'll find sites like Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte. Luxury resorts can be found both in Sedona and some of the beautiful surrounding canyons.

  • Luxury Hotels: Just below the tourist area of Uptown Sedona is the luxury L'Auberge de Sedona Resort and Spa. This classic property offers lovely hillside cottages, with fireplaces and sunny balconies that look out to the red rock mountains and Oak Creek meandering below the resort. This is the perfect place to stay if you want to be in town. Out of town just a short drive, in the scenic Boynton Canyon area, which is arguably the most beautiful landscape around Sedona, is the posh Enchantment Resort. Views from the rooms, the pool, and the outstanding restaurants, are in fact, enchanting. From here, you can access some of the premiere hikes in Sedona and enjoy a full-on nature retreat. The resort also has an incredible spa and a small golf course where you can frequently see deer.
  • Mid-Range and Budget Hotels: In the Village of Oak Creek, you'll find three properties well worth considering if you are interested in mid-range or budget prices. All of these offer pools and are well positioned for accessing hikes like Bell Rock, Courthouse Butte, and Cathedral Rock. The Desert Quail Inn Sedona features spacious rooms, and suites with fireplaces, some of which also have Jacuzzi tubs. The Days Inn Kokopelli Sedona, which, despite the name, is actually in the Village of Oak Creek, features similar amenities and generally offers good rates. Another popular choice with fabulous views to the mountains is The Andante Inn of Sedona.

More Related Articles on 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 to February or March be sure to see our articles on the best hikes in Tucson and the top trails in Phoenix. From spring until fall, the hikes in higher regions in the north of the state open up and provide completely different hiking experiences. For ideas on hiking during this time frame, have a look at our piece on the best hikes in Prescott. And for inspirational ideas throughout the year, 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, which is actually known as Uptown Sedona. For an overview on how to spend your time here, see our article on the top attractions in Sedona. If you would rather 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 who want to pitch a tent or set up an RV should definitely have a look at our list of the top campgrounds in the Sedona area.

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