Even in Sedona, Arizona, where gorgeous views are the norm, there are a few standouts. Devil’s Bridge is one of those exceptional spots.
Surrounded by the stunning red rocks that the northern Arizona town is famous for, Devil’s Bridge offers a breathtaking experience for hikers. After a short climb up, there it is: Standing 54 tall and about 45 feet long, the natural rock bridge dominates the radiant landscape.
Located in the Coconino National Forest on the northwestern side of Sedona off Highway 89A and Dry Creek Road, Devil’s Bridge is Sedona’s largest sandstone arch. It is unique for its bridge-like formation, as well as for the fact that you can walk out onto the top of the arch.
The Devil’s Bridge Trail is fairly short (about 1.8 miles roundtrip), but you will probably end up walking a longer distance because of the rough roads and the available parking options. Expect to walk anywhere from 4 to 5.8 miles round-trip and take about 2 to 3 hours to complete the hike.
The route to the bridge is rated as easy-to-moderate, and most fit hikers should be able to do it. Still, there are a few things that could present challenges. Here are 9 things to know before making the hike.
1. Don’t Expect Solitude
Regardless of the season, it seems, visitors in search of a thrill seek out Devil’s Bridge. Over the years, I have made the trek a number of times, including in the middle of the summer heat in July, after a dusting of snow in January, and most recently, during the warm fall weather of early November. On each return visit, the crowds had grown exponentially.
Although there are places in Sedona where you can have the red rocks mostly to yourself, Devil’s Bridge is typically not one of them. The spot has been an Instagram sensation for years, and crowds naturally gravitate to it. So expect to share the trail with groups of friends, couples carrying babies, and people hiking with their dogs.
The crowds don’t detract from the beauty, though, so I say go with the flow and soak up the views.
2. Arrive Early To Find Parking
There are a few things you can do to try to avoid some of the traffic. One is to arrive early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Crowds tend to be at their heaviest from about 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Planning your trip for the middle of the week could also help. But remember that although weekends are the most crowded, other days can be busy as well. When I went on a Friday morning in early November, I was surprised to find cars already lining the entrance road and no spaces left in the lot.
The trail’s main parking lot at the Dry Creek Vista Trailhead is fairly large, but it fills up fast. When that happens, people park along Dry Creek Road and walk to the trailhead. Parking on the road will add to your overall mileage, but it is an option if you have your heart set on hiking Devil’s Bridge.
Note that there are pit-toilet restrooms at the Dry Creek Vista Trailhead lot, but none at Devil’s Bridge itself.
3. Don’t Take Your Car Onto The 4X4 Dry Creek Road
Technically, there is a dirt road that leads to the Devil’s Bridge Trailhead, about 0.8 miles from the bridge. But it is an extremely rough road, and a sign at the entrance warns that it is not suitable for passenger vehicles.
Although plenty of rugged 4X4 Jeeps and all-terrain vehicles make the drive along the unpaved portion of Dry Creek Road, even they seem to have difficulty navigating the steep drop-offs and rocky ridges on the road.
So visitors should not expect to drive their rental cars or SUVs to the Devil’s Bridge Trailhead. Rather, plan to park in the paved Dry Creek Vista Trailhead parking lot or the Long Canyon Road lot and walk the adjoining recreational trails to get to the main Devil’s Bridge Trailhead.
4. Several Scenic Routes Are Available
Even though you will probably have a bit of a walk to the main trailhead, that is part of the fun of the Devil’s Bridge hike.
The Coconino National Forest lists two recommended routes to get to the Devil’s Bridge Trailhead, including: Mescal to Chuckwagon to Devil’s Bridge trails (4 miles round-trip) from Long Canyon Road, or the Chuckwagon Trail to the Devil’s Bridge Trail from Dry Creek Road (5.8 miles round trip).
The Chuckwagon Trail and Mescal Trails meander through beautiful red rock terrain and have plenty of signs directing the way to Devil’s Bridge.
Also, although the Coconino National Forest website says the unpaved portion of Dry Creek Road is a popular Jeep trail and not recommended for pedestrian use, most hikers seemed to be using that route to get to the Devil’s Bridge Trailhead when I visited.
5. There Will Be Stairs
Much of the Devil’s Bridge Trail consists of a gradual climb along a wide, well-maintained route that features a few rocky ledges. But when you get about three-fourths of the way to the top, you will begin to encounter steeper terrain.
On the final ascent to the bridge, you will need to climb two steep and uneven sets of rock stairs. The stairs can seem a little intimidating, and I have seen people turn back at that point. But the staircases are short, and most hikers have no problem with them.
I have found that taking your time and keeping your eyes on the step right in front of you helps to navigate the stairs. Also, don’t hesitate to use your hands to steady yourself on the rocks around you -- especially on the trip back down. One bright spot with the stairs is that once you get to the top of the second flight, you have arrived at the bridge.
6. Expect To Wait In Line For A Photo
Once at the top, it is unlikely that you will be able to go directly onto the bridge. Because of the popularity of getting photos while standing on top of the arch, Devil’s Bridge is known to have lines, sometimes with dozens of people.
But if a shot of you gazing into the red rocks from the top of Sedona’s most iconic arch is on your bucket list, it is definitely worth the wait. While you are in line, chat with the person next to you, and chances are you will be able to find someone to take a photo of you and your group.
7. You Don’t Have To Cross The Bridge To Enjoy It
Even though the bridge might look narrow and fragile in photos, I’ve found that it seems a bit wider and more stable once you get out there.
Still, if you aren’t comfortable going onto the bridge, or if you’re not interested in getting a photo of yourself, Devil’s Bridge is still an amazing sight to take in from afar. There is space for viewing on both sides to the bridge, and there is also a trail that leads to an area below the bridge.
8. You Might Get To See A Proposal
You never know what you might see while you’re waiting in line for a photo on Devil’s Bridge. When people get their turn, they have been known to do all sorts of things for the camera.
When I visited in November, a young woman in a long, frilly white dress was doing a photoshoot on the bridge -- dancing with her arms in the air, posing with her back to the camera, and reclining on the rocks.
Marriage proposals have also been known to happen. After I had started back down the trail on my recent visit, I heard an uproarious cheer from the crowd up above. I learned later than a marriage proposal had taken place on the bridge.
9. It Can Be Treacherous
Even though Devil’s Bridge is a fairly short hike, that doesn’t mean you should take it lightly. Remember that you are in the middle of the desert, and plan accordingly.
Sedona’s average high temperatures regularly climb well into the 90s in the summer and reach the 100-degree mark in July. Hikers should always carry plenty of water and salty snacks and wear a hat to shield from the hot Arizona sun.
And although it hasn’t happened often, people have been seriously injured and have even died on the trail. Two women are reported to have fallen to their deaths in 2014, and rescues of lost or dehydrated hikers happen often throughout the Sedona area.
Remember to use common sense when climbing the stairs or walking onto the bridge and follow experts’ advice not to venture off the trails.
Pro Tips: Hiking shoes or trail runners with good traction will make the climb up the Sedona slickrock easier. Recommendations for hiking safely in the Sedona area are available on the Visit Sedona website.
The best times to visit Sedona are April and May, when average high temperatures are in the 70s and 80s, and October, when the average high is 80 degrees. While winter -- with temperatures averaging in the 60s and somewhat smaller crowds -- can also be a good time, it’s best to avoid the Devil’s Bridge Trail after a (fairly infrequent) winter storm, when the surface can become slick with packed snow.