Walk among red rocks

Dis­cover why these Se­dona hikes are some of the best in Ari­zona

The Arizona Republic - - Front Page - Roger Nay­lor Spe­cial to Ari­zona Re­pub­lic | USA TO­DAY NET­WORK

Some of the best hikes in Ari­zona weave among the red rocks of Se­dona. Part of the ex­pe­ri­ence is the lure of loop trails, which means no back­track­ing.

Go­ing around in cir­cles may sound like a bad thing but it can be pretty sweet when you’re wear­ing hik­ing boots. Loop trails mean no back­track­ing. Ev­ery step of­fers some­thing new and ex­cit­ing un­til be­fore you know it, you’re back where you started. Some of Ari­zona’s best hikes — and that means some of our best loop trails — weave among the red rocks of Se­dona. Here are four of Se­dona’s best loop hikes. All are less than 5 miles and rated easy to mod­er­ate, so any rea­son­ably fit per­son can en­joy them. Next time you make your way to the red rocks, why not walk cir­cles around a few of them?

With such a fan­tas­tic trail right out­side the back door of Se­dona Red Rock High School, it’s a shock that more kids aren’t play­ing hooky. Their willpower is ad­mirable.

From the small park­ing area be­hind the school, start out on the Schuer­man Moun­tain Trail. Very quickly the Scorpion Trail peels off to the left. It hugs the flank of the moun­tain, zigzag­ging through the scrubby for­est with panoramic views peek­ing through. Pyra­mid Trail en­ters on the right, but con­tinue on Scorpion to make a clock­wise loop.

The trail be­gins grad­u­ally drop­ping down­hill for the last stretch in long swoop­ing curves where it ends at a small park­ing lot. Just be­fore that ter­mi­nus, it re­con­nects to the Pyra­mid Trail.

Turn right on Pyra­mid as the trail climbs onto a bench at the base of a tow­er­ing red-rock wall. There’s a nice grove of ocotillo here, ac­com­pa­nied by dra­matic views of Cathe­dral Rock ris­ing be­hind you. For the best photo op­tions, do this hike in the af­ter­noon to put the sun at your back when fac­ing Cathe­dral.

After dip­ping into an ar­royo the trail makes a steep but short climb up the slope. You won’t mind too much be­cause ev­ery time you pause to catch a breath, you’ll en­joy daz­zling views. Once atop the plateau, it’s a quick ram­ble back to the junc­tion with Scorpion Trail. Where: From the junc­tion of State Routes 89A and 179 in Se­dona, travel west on 89A for 4.2 miles to Up­per Red Rock Loop Road. Turn left and go 0.25 mile, turn right into the third drive­way at the high school and pro­ceed to the signed trail­head park­ing. Ad­mis­sion: Free. Dif­fi­culty: Mod­er­ate. Length: 4.1 miles. De­tails: 928-2032900, www.fs.usda.gov/ co­conino.

Slim Shady-Made in the Shade Loop

Slim Shady (the path, not rap­per Eminem’s al­ter ego) is a pop­u­lar moun­tain-bik­ing route con­nect­ing Bell Rock Vista with the Tem­ple­ton Trail. It par­al­lels State Route 179 and dishes up a rolling panorama of the for­ma­tions pop­u­lat­ing this end of red-rock coun­try.

From Yava­pai Vista, a web of short trails cre­ates a bit of a labyrinth but maps are posted at each junc­tion. Fol­low the Kaibab Trail straight to Slim Shady. The curvy sin­gle track am­bles at a slight down­hill grade through pines and ju­nipers on the flanks of rocky hills. Views of Bell Rock and Court­house Butte are spec­tac­u­lar and ever chang­ing all along the route.

Pass the first junc­tion for Made in the Shade but hang a right at the

sec­ond one and be­gin to loop back. Made in the Shade makes a gen­tle climb closer to the cliffs for more out­stand­ing views. Along the way it crosses a cou­ple of slick­rock ledges that make primo seats for a red-rock pic­nic.

Where: From Phoenix, take In­ter­state 17 north to Exit 298 for Se­dona. Turn left on State Route 179 and go 11.4 miles to the Back O’ Be­yond traf­fic cir­cle near mile marker 310. Drive around the cir­cle so you’re head­ing back south on SR 179 and go 1.4 miles south to the Yava­pai Vista Trail­head on the right. Ad­mis­sion: A $5 Red Rock Pass is re­quired, avail­able at the trail­head kiosk. Dif­fi­culty: Easy. Length: 3.2 miles. De­tails: 928-2032900, www.fs.usda.gov/ co­conino.

This hike starts and ends in the shadow of one of Se­dona’s most iconic and ac­ces­si­ble for­ma­tions. The Bell Rock Path­way is a big, wide lane, more thor­ough­fare than trail as crowds jos­tle to­ward the road­side dol­lop of bell-shaped sand­stone.

But don’t be dis­cour­aged. About a half-mile from the park­ing lot, Court­house Butte Loop peels to the right. This scenic sin­gle track swoops through the ju­niper and pine fringe sur­round­ing mighty Court­house and quickly leaves the tourists be­hind.

You en­joy a sense of still­ness as you study Court­house from all an­gles. The trail makes a tight cir­cle around the base of the mono­lith. You’ll cross a dry stream bed, then the trail ram­bles through light wood­lands.

Two dis­tinc­tive for­ma­tions come into fo­cus on the north side of Court­house. The spires of Rab­bit Ears rise to the right just be­fore the trail curls past the eerily smooth dome of Space­ship Rock. Space­ship also goes by the moniker Muf­fin Rock. What you see de­pends on how hun­gry you are.

You’ll re­join the crowds when you re­con­nect with the Bell Rock Path­way, lead­ing back to the park­ing lot. Don’t fol­low Bell Rock Trail signs that climb up onto a slick­rock shoul­der of Bell. That’s a nice lit­tle ad­ven­ture if you have time and are OK with heights. Bell Rock Path­way stays on level ground and leads back to the park­ing area.

Where: From Phoenix, take 1-17 north to Exit 298 for Se­dona. Turn left on Ari­zona 179 and go 8.8 miles. The signed park­ing area for Bell Rock Path­way and Vista is on your right.

Ad­mis­sion: A $5 Red Rock Pass is re­quired, avail­able at the trail­head kiosk. Dif­fi­culty: Mod­er­ate. Length: 4.2 miles. De­tails: 928-2032900, www.fs.usda.gov/ co­conino.

The Hogs

One of Se­dona’s most scenic loops criss­crosses the es­carp­ment ris­ing be­hind the Chapel of the Holy Cross. Views are stun­ning, a sky­line of ragged red and cream spires and buttes. While not overly steep, there are a few sharp an­gles with ex­po­sure and drop-offs.

Set out on the Bro­ken Ar­row Trail be­fore quickly bear­ing right on Twin Buttes Trail, tak­ing the loop clock­wise. Twin Buttes climbs gen­tly, with ever ex­pand­ing views, to a T junc­tion. Hog Heaven branches to the right and con­tin­ues the loop.

If you’re so in­clined, High on the Hog, veer­ing left for 0.3 mile, makes an in­trigu­ing but chal­leng­ing lit­tle side trip. After a short climb it clings to the cliff edge, a sliver of a trail with lofty views of Munds Moun­tain Wilder­ness.

Con­tin­u­ing the loop, Hog Heaven crosses sand­stone plat­forms and the views are re­lent­less. Turn right on Hog Wash and be­gin drop­ping through the for­est from the high perch back to the trail­head. It sounds con­fus­ing but signs and maps with “You Are Here” in­di­ca­tors are posted at ev­ery junc­tion to show all op­tions for ex­plo­ration in this beau­ti­ful back­coun­try cor­ner.

Where: From Phoenix, take 1-17 north to Exit 298 for Se­dona. Turn left on Ari­zona 179 and drive 12.8 miles to Mor­gan Road. Turn right and go 0.6 mile to the end of the pave­ment and con­tinue an­other 100 yards to the park­ing area. Ad­mis­sion: Free. Dif­fi­culty: Mod­er­ate. Length: 3.1 miles (3.7 miles if High on the Hog is in­cluded). De­tails: 928-2032900, www.fs.usda.gov/ co­conino.

Find the re­porter at www.roger­nay­lor.com. Or fol­low him on Face­book at www.face­book .com/RogerNay­lor­inAZ or Twit­ter @AZRoger Nay­lor.

The Twin Buttes Trail com­bines with Hog Heaven and Hog Wash for a 3-mile loop filled with panora­mas.

The Scorpion Trail starts from the high school and of­fers a view of the Pyra­mid for­ma­tion.

PHO­TOS BY ROGER NAY­LOR

One of Se­dona’s most scenic loops crosses the es­carp­ment ris­ing be­hind the Chapel of the Holy Cross and starts out on Twin Buttes Trail.

The sys­tem of Hog trails in Se­dona are pop­u­lar with hik­ers and ex­pe­ri­enced moun­tain bik­ers.

Hik­ers en­joy an out­ing on the Pyra­mid Trail.

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