One of the best aspects of living in Scottsdale is having one of the most beautiful places on earth a 2-hour drive away. The Red Rocks District encompasses over a half million acres of buttes and canyons. The iron oxide in the rocks lends an orange-red color to the cliffs that captivate as you approach the area from Phoenix on Interstate 17. As you enter the district, the layers of sandstone, dotted with green foliage, rise up in spectacular shapes. Many of the formations have been given nicknames such as Snoopy and Coffee Pot.
Sedona offers many hikes for locals and travelers to enjoy the views, and I have tried many of the trails. The paths vary in difficulty and present different views, from red rocks soaring up from the canyon bottoms to the expansive vistas from the tops of cliffs. Here are some of my favorite hiking trails.
1. Brins Mesa Trail
Length: 4.5 miles (out and back)
The Brins Mesa Trail tends to be my first choice for bringing visitors. The route is usually not crowded, and although it is moderately challenging, there are plenty of places to rest and take in the scenery. North of the main Sedona tourist strip, a road leading off West Park Ridge Drive leads to a parking lot for the Jordan Road Trailhead. Veer to the right after passing the rustic restroom to start on the Brins Mesa Trail.
A gradual incline leads through a gorgeous canyon that opens to larger views. At first, the path is dirt but begins to turn more into rock steps as you wind through the valley. Near the top, a small outcropping provides a good place for a snack break with stunning views over Sedona. As you crest the butte, you emerge from the trees into a meadow as the world expands to a vast landscape of red rock mountains. While walking across the top, keep an eye out for a small side path that brings you to a scramble up an outcropping for amazing 360-degree views.
Pro Tip: Continue along Brins Mesa Trail to join Soldier Pass Trail and then Cibola Pass for a gorgeous 4.5-mile loop.
2. Soldier Pass Trail
Length: 4.5 miles (loop)
Soldier Pass Trail offers some of the most interesting geologic sights in Sedona. Along the route, you pass Devil’s Kitchen Sinkhole and Seven Sacred Pools, as well as a view of a large arch across the valley from the trail. These three formations demonstrate various effects of erosion over time. Touring jeeps often parallel the beginning of the trail but then the peace of the cypress forest sets in. The moderate incline eventually leads to expansive views over Sedona in one direction and the Mogollon Rim in the distance to the north.
Parking is available at Soldier Pass Trailhead if you want a short, up-and-back walk to the pools. You can also join the trail after embarking on the Cibola Trail at the Jordan Trailhead. This quiet path provides a lovely jaunt through trees and shrubs. On my last visit, a group of deer munched the vegetation, unconcerned by the humans gawking at them.
3. Devil’s Bridge Trail
Length: 3.9 miles (out and back)
On my initial visit to Sedona a couple of decades ago, the top of Devil’s Bridge Trail was my first view of the red rocks from above and it is still embossed on my brain. The path to the base of the cliff meanders over a wide, fairly easy dirt path. From there you can gaze up to where the cliff and a column of stone are joined by a rocky bridge that doesn’t appear thick enough to remain suspended. You can then climb narrow, steep steps up to the overlook that amazed me. You can continue around to the bridge and walk across it to pose for a spectacular photo if you have enough courage.
Pro Tip: Devil’s Bridge is one of the most popular sites in Sedona and can be very crowded. If you want to walk onto the bridge, embark on the trail early in the morning.
4. Bell Rock Pathway
Length: 2.8 miles (out and back)
On entering Sedona from the south, the first parking area after leaving Oak Creek provides a close-up view of Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte. These formations fit their names and set the stage for the landscape. One hike will take you around Courthouse Butte, but I prefer heading up Bell Rock. Rather than traversing a defined trail, once you reach the “bell,” you can scramble over smooth, wide rocky ledges that offer views in all directions. The more adventurous you are, the higher up the bell you can climb.
Several parking areas enable access to the Bell Rock Pathway. Besides the Bell Rock Vista parking lot, further up Route 179, Courthouse Vista and Yavapai Vista Point are good access points. The terrain to the base of Bell Rock is fairly easy making this a good trail for families. More active members can scramble up the rocks while others relax at the base.
5. Huckaby Trail
Length: 5.7 miles (out and back)
Although most trails climb to open views, Huckaby Trail brings a welcome change. You start the trail with broad views and then head down a moderately-steep decline that leads to Oak Creek. As the path winds down alongside a cliff wall, the sound of water gradually fills the air. When the flow is low enough, the route continues across boulders in the creek. On a warm day, Oak Creek provides a cool piece of paradise with a sweeping view of the Midgley Bridge above you.
You reach the Huckaby Trailhead by turning east off Route 179 onto Schnebly Hill Road. The view here from the east edge of Sedona differs from the trails deep within the red rocks. Reaching the creek requires a four-mile round-trip trek. However, you can stroll a shorter distance out and back to view the incredible scenery from this side of Sedona.
If you prefer to hike down to Oak Creek more directly, you can park at Midgley Bridge off Route 89A and find the Huckaby Trailhead at this lot.
6. Mescal Trail
Length: 6 miles (out and back)
If you are looking to avoid crowds, Mescal Trail is a wonderful alternative to the popular Boynton Canyon. This trail opens up to spectacular views on the western side of Sedona. The path ascends to wind along a stone ridge of Mescal Mountain with layers of colorful rock rising next to you. Wild desert spreads out before you with red rock formations in the distance. There are a limited number of parking spaces at the trailhead along Long Canyon Road. Be prepared for plenty of sun exposure and carry enough water to stay well hydrated.
I enjoy these spectacular trails in Sedona because they are moderately difficult, but you are well rewarded for your effort. The vibrant red dirt and various flora — from cacti to pine trees — create an incredibly picturesque setting for the gorgeous buttes and canyon walls. Whether you choose a loop of several miles or just wander a bit along a trail and turn back, your day will be filled with beauty.
Pro Tip: If you are driving up from the Phoenix area, stop in at the Red Rock Visitor Center and Ranger Station on Route 179. The center offers clean restrooms, educational displays on history and geology, and trail maps. You can also buy a Red Rock Pass which will need to be displayed in your car at the trailheads. Chat with one of the rangers to help plan your time in Sedona. A wide plaza out front provides an initial taste of the beauty that will soon surround you.