More than 150 sanctioned hiking trails snake throughout the canyons of Sedona in various levels, assuring both leisurely strollers and fitness warriors alike tap into their inner voyager. They explore the unforgettable landscapes that have forever framed this perfect hiking destination, and I too have become fond of hiking in Sedona.
This is a big statement considering I’m the less hiker-y person you’ll ever meet (I once did a hike through the Atacama Desert in loafers). That said, I love hiking in Sedona, and it’s definitely changed the way I see hikes.
Sedona has been long considered a place of healing, where the first visitors—Native Americans—pilgrimaged here for ceremonies and recreation, spiritual quests and rehabilitation. Fast-forward two millennium later and, well… not much has changed in this low-key, scenic desert town cradled in a picturesque valley. There’s something here that really taps into your soul. Like everyone I’ve traveled here with, you really feel the heartbeat of Sedona.
Travelers continue to flock to the ancient red rocks for holistic (and hedonistic!) adventures with a reboot in enlightenment—whether soul-searching or selfie-sticking—best experienced by the most traditional means: on foot. Here are the best hikes I discovered if you plan on hiking in Sedona.
Ask anyone—hotel staff, local tour guide, repeat vacationer—what the most popular hiking trail is and you’ll yield very different responses. No two trails are quite alike, and everyone has a personal favorite. Among the top trodden trails—that include Soldier’s Pass, Boynton Canyon and Airport Mesa—Devil’s Bridge is one of the most visited thanks to its easy, flat and short loop. It also features a main attraction—the actual “Devil’s Bridge”—that feels like a reward for the effort getting here (as opposed to many other trails that simply offer views on a loop).
— Matt Pace (@MattPaceWeather) November 11, 2018
Start at Dry Creek Road: the path is surrounded by gorgeous juniper and prickly pear cactus in virtually open plain. The scenery continues to impress as the trail gradually inclines, then descends to a view of Devil’s Bridge, a natural sandstone formation that arches like a bridge, just a mile from the entrance. At the base of the 60-foot arch, you’ll feel quite Lilliputian under this massive attraction. If you’re not acrophobic, a steep, natural rock staircase takes you to the wide top surface, a somewhat victorious moment considering the breathtaking views of verdant valley and red rock canyons.
Devil’s Bridge is a moderately easy hike, best taken at sunrise as the backdrop of the Secret Mountain Wilderness proves a magical photo opp—and the crowds are still at bay. “Devil’s Bridge easily stands as one of the most unique and picturesque sites in all of Sedona and the greater Southwest,” says Jason Danoff, owner of Trail Lovers Excursions, LLC. “Here, visitors stand in the foreground of Sedona’s most breathtaking wilderness area, Secret Mountain Wildnerness, for a picture of a lifetime!”
Vortexes in Sedona are akin to the Northern Lights in Northern Norway: it’s the phenomenon—not the place—that lures visitors. Vortexes, essentially strong energy points around the globe, allegedly affect a person to feel positive, inspired and healed (hence, Native American pilgrimages). Some visitors have even experienced miracles. Sedona is chockfull of vortexes, which could explain its metaphysical impact and ability to seduce spiritual-minded visitors.
One of the most powerful vortexes can be found at Cathedral Rock, incidentally one of the most sought-after spots for hiking. “Cathedral Rock is the heart of Sedona,” says Claudia Granger, a well respected local psychic and healer. “The strong energy currents flow throughout and connects it with major other vortex areas like Bell Rock, Courthouse Butte and Pyramid Rock. It’s my favorite spot to bring guests, not just due to the vortex but the scenery is quite striking as well.”
Vortexes aside, Cathedral Rock—in Coconino National Forest—is magnificently majestic, protruding high in Sedona’s landscape as a natural landmark with rising spires and monoliths towering from the trail entrance. It’s one of Sedona’s most adventurous trails considering the various levels and steep grades.
From the entrance, the hike starts relatively easy on a clear path that winds through juniper trees as Cathedral Rock looms ahead. Once you’re on rockside, the trail gradually slopes to a broad ledge about 1/4 of a mile in, already harboring terrific views of rolling valleys and a whole lotta sky. From here, the real adventure begins.
The trail thins out so there’s really no physical hiking path but cairns (pile of rocks as markers) that indicate a suggested direction. The ascent on smooth rocks is so steep that you’re forced to climb on all fours, what local guides refer to as “scrambling” (there are several toeholds notched into the rock to help in steeper places). Eventually you’ll arrive at a wide “saddle” (a smooth, natural platform) for even more priceless views.
More advanced hikers and thrill seekers continue up short, steep climbs on unmaintained trailheads to two more saddles between sheer rock faces and a breathtaking, up-close view of an exposed lava dike. From here, between two rock formations, and about a mile in from the entrance, the panoramic views of the area’s geological formations and colorful layers are enormous, commanding and unforgettable.
West Fork Trail
“Many visitors in the past have told me that they came to Sedona to see Red Rocks, not water, because they have that at home,” says Jason Danoff. “What they don’t realize is that if they walk through the backwaters of West Fork, they’ll enter a wilderness area unlike any other they have seen or even heard of… not to mention West Fork’s water is the second cleanest in the world.”
— Bell Rock Photography (@BellRockPhoto) October 28, 2020
Unlike other hikes in Sedona, West Fork Trail in Oak Creek Canyon is a combination of land and water (water shoes are essential): visitors cross Oak Creek up to 12 times, zigzagging the breathtaking trail from bank to bank. It’s also semi-shaded, a relief from the hot sun. As one of the longest trails at 14 miles (approximately three hours), visitors can spend as little time as they desire and generally hike only three miles in.
The entrance to WFT is at the base of a grassy meadow—magically pastoral with butterflies and hummingbirds in the summer—the path wide and flat along low-rise rock outcrops. Once you cross the footbridge and bear left through a small orchard, visitors will find the ruins of Mayhew Lodge, a rustic cabin built in the 1870s that served as a getaway for movie stars like Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable and Walt Disney until it burned in a fire in 1976. It’s fascinating to explore, marking the area with history.
Within the forest, you’ll step along flat heavy stones for your first creek crossing as cliffs loom in the foreground. Take a whiff of fresh, crisp forest air as you continue on, thankfully shaded by tall oak, pine, fir maple and aspen trees. Considering the abundance of ferns, lupine, colorful wildflower and ivy along the banks, the scenery is straight from a fairy tale, and you’ll likely stop to admire the moment.
Continuing on deeper into the forested canyon, the gurgling creek becomes wider, deeper and flatter, in many areas forming pools that capture the reflection of the towering, 280-million-year-old canyons for a mesmerizing photo opp. Almost three miles in, the reddish-orange canyon walls gleaming in earthy tints eventually close in, so there’s nowhere else to go, indicating the end of the journey. Take in your final moment and marvel at how the water has etched away at the rock over the millennia. Lucky for you, West Fork Trail is not a loop, so you can do it all one more time.
— Jeffrey Hack (@Jeff_Hack_96) August 5, 2019
Nothing truly beats the summer heat like plunging into Oak Creek at Grasshopper Point. A best-kept secret for locals, Grasshopper Point has been gaining popularity with visitors thanks to sublime scenery and refreshing pools to swim in. There’s even a hiking trail, Allen’s Bend Trail, that follows the path of the creek for an easy, one-mile stroll through scenic forestry.
Here, visitors can observe occasional cameos by unique wildlife, like the Blue Heron and even Bald Eagles. Work up a sweat before heading back to the entrance, where the most popular pool is just down a dry rocky wash. The canyon wall will emerge into view (or follow the sound of splashing).
If you’re feeling fearless, cross over the creek and climb up to either one of two platforms used for cliff jumping into the creek (rest assured: it’s deep enough). The lowest platform is 30 feet above the creek surface, the perfect height for those who aren’t too faint of heart.
Don’t expect to fall into deep meditation away from the crowds at Grasshopper Point: it’s popular and often busy over the summer, where teens bring floaties and local fishermen cast lines.
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