Its no secret that Sedona is my happy and most beloved place in the USA. In fact, had it not been for the pandemic currently happening and jacking up my plans, I would have had my feet firmly planted on those red rocks as I type. There are a million reasons why I keep going back every year to explore this magical place. But I feel equal parts happiness and frustration that it seems like the over the years, the rest of the world has also fallen in love with Sedona as much as I have. I’ve definitely noticed a marked increase in Sedona’s popularity over the course of the many years I’ve been going there. Crowded trails and trailheads, Jeep tours galore, traffic jams, trash on the trail, inability to find parking… While I certainly love that people are enjoying the beauty of this magnificent place, it can take away from the experience for me. I once missed getting to a hike for sunset because I got stuck in a 45 min traffic jam at a roundabout in town caused by pedestrians. So I’ve adapted… I’ve taken to visiting during the colder months when the town is a bit quieter. I get up really early to get to the trails before everyone else, so to have them to myself. And I like to attack the harder, less frequented hikes, so that I can continue to enjoy the reasons why I fell in love with Sedona in the first place.
Since none of the trails I’m going to list are any big secret in town, I have no issues with sharing them here. I won’t bore you with information about the hikes, because any simple google search or a stop at any hiking shop in town can give you more information than you can dream of. I will simple explain why I love the hike ! And if you have hiked it or loved it too, I would love to hear your feedback. I would also love to hear if there are any other hikes that you recommend that I have not featured here.
Here they are in no particular order, because they are all awesome in their own way:
1) Cathedral Rock and/or Surrounding Trails at Sunset:
This one is a no brainer. It is by far one of the most popular hikes in town and the photo that ends up on most of the post cards of Sedona. The reason is clear… it is truly magnificent. I have featured this hike before as one of my favorites, and despite the popularity of the place, it still remains one of my favorites. Typically, I choose to go and visit for sunset. If you take this hike for sunset viewing, make sure you are comfortable with some rock scrambling up (and down). Down will be in the dark. While this isn’t a really “hard” hike, some people with unsteady feet or fear of heights may struggle on one scrambling section. Make sure you have a headlamp for the way down. Get here well before sunset so that you can enjoy the changing colors of the sky and the beautiful orange glow on the rocks in both directions. Magic happens here at dusk. Every sunset still gives me goosebumps. If you aren’t in the mood for or able to be climbing this giant rock for sunset, I recommend taking the Baldwin trail which runs around the backside of cathedral rock. You could even explore the Little Horse trail which will allow you views of cathedral from the front side and the golden glow of the red rocks all around at sunset. Both offer equally epic sunset glow opportunities (although you won’t be able to see the actual sun setting from these last two like you can from the top of cathedral).
2. Bear Mountain Trail:
This hike is not for the faint of heart. It is probably one of the hardest hikes I’ve done in Sedona due to the fact that you just… keep… going… uphill… forever. Despite this, the views continue to become more and more epic as you ascend, giving way to many different expansive viewpoints in all directions. I personally feel the best views aren’t from the top of this trail, but include the changing vistas in various directions on the way up. Despite this, getting to the top is certainly worth it to say that you did. From the top you can see all the way to Mt Humphry (which I had successfully climbed the day before). Bring lots of water and some good snacks, there are a few level mesas with views where having a sit and rest to take it all in would be ideal. The trail gets a lot of sun, so make sure you are well protected if hiking during the hottest part of the day.
3. Doe Mountain Trail:
This hike is one of my most favorite. It’s a fairly decent hike uphill to the top of an expansive mesa, with trails that roam all around the top in various directions, leading to some pretty fantastic view points over Sedona and the surrounding Red Rocks. The great part of this trail is that once you reach the top, you can certainly find your own slice of solitude and escape any crowds. The plant life on top of the mesa is why I love this trail. There are so many types of cacti and flowers in bloom here. I was snapping photos like crazy the entire hike. While this isn’t rated one of the top trails in Sedona, I can’t figure out why. It gets your heart pumping to get up to the views, and once you reach the top, you have nothing but time and space to explore. I think this one takes the cake. Pack a picnic lunch and bask in the glory of this piece of paradise. You will not be disappointed.
4. Munds Wagon/Hangover Trail/ Cow Pie Trail:
If you want to do a longer hike that isn’t yet insanely popular and will take a good part of the day, explore this option. The majority of the trail is quite exposed so the sun will scorch on you if you do this at the hottest part of the day… so start early. You’ll also find a lot of mountain bikers on this trail as it is a popular one for biking thrillists (you’ll see why). None the less, this hike is pretty epic. Lots of uphill scrambles, expansive vistas, various different looking rock formations, and if you are here during rainy season you may be blessed with a water feature or two along the way. I love the diversity of the terrain on this trail, and that it wasn’t a overly popular spot, so for the most part, we had it to ourselves. Although I didn’t go seeking, I’m told here is a vortex near this trail as well.
5. Fay Canyon Arch
If you find yourself in Sedona in the hottest part of the day, finding a chill little oasis from the heat will be atop your list (along with a cold beer and a sweet pool). Look no further than Fay Canyon. This short but sweet stroll is manageable for any age and fitness level, winding through the floor of the canyon and shaded by lots if lush vegetation. A short incline at the end has a moderate view which is satisfying for the output to get there. For those looking to up the adventure and take a bit of a risk, try to find yourself on the path to the Fay Canyon Arch. This side trail is a bit of a climb on a trail that is not well defined with lots of loose rock, but the arch is something else to see standing underneath of it. If you’ve totally lost your mind, you’ll see that there is a way on top of the arch, albeit very dangerous. It requiring some serious rock scrambling and exposed maneuvers. You have been warned.
Honorable Mention (with exceptions):
Devils Bridge Hike
Truth be told, this is a great little hike with a unique rock bridge at the end and decent views over the red rocks, especially during the golden hour. However, it is one of the most popular hikes in Sedona, and for this reason, it took away from my experience here. I did go during the middle of the day, on a weekend in the prime season. Try this hike early.. before the sun rises, in the off season, on a weekday and you may just strike gold. It is my game plan for the next time. The arch itself offers great photo opportunities and wow factor. If you find yourself here at a busy time, be prepared to share the bridge with other people and you’ll have to queue up to take your photo standing on the bridge. If you get stuck having to visit during prime time and the parking area is full, in addition to the road surrounding the start of the trail, I recommend the alternative Mescal trail head (also recommended in the link below). Although it adds a bit of distance, it saves waiting around for a parking spot to open up, and its a nice flat, but scenic trail that I rather enjoyed.
What other trails are your favorite in Sedona? I need some more unique challenges for my next adventure here !