Walk among red rocks
Discover why these Sedona hikes are some of the best in Arizona
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.
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.
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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.
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.