Looking for a selection of the best Sedona hikes? Check out our picks for tough mountain hikes like North Wilson and Capitol Butte.
How about something short and sweet? Doe Mountain and Cookstove pack million dollar views into just a few steps.
In the American Southwest, we are blessed with an excess Red Rock landscapes. Moab, Grand Canyon, Zion, Canyonlands. Yet each one is unique, and the Red Rocks of Sedona are like no other. The absolute best way to enjoy the Red Rock jungle is to get out on foot. Sedona hiking is the best!
With over 300 miles of hiking trails in the Sedona area, I would be lying if I claimed to have hiked every single mile. To be honest, you could throw a dart at a trail map, and wherever it landed would no doubt be a spectacular place for a hike. However, I would like to share picks for the best Sedona hikes. Enjoy!
North Wilson Trail
The hike up Wilson Mountain from Midgely Bridge is one of the most popular hikes in Sedona. With good reason: the views from atop Wilson are absolutely stunning. However, there is a better way to get to the top, in my opinion. From the Encinoso picnic area in Oak Creek Canyon, the North Wilson Trail climbs the northern slopes of Wilson, eventually connecting with the South Wilson Trail atop the First Bench of Wilson Mountain. This route gets you to the same fantastic views, but is less crowded and is a little shorter of a distance too.
Distances, Difficulty, and Best Time to Go
Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult for most hikers.
- Trailhead to First Bench of Wilson Mountain: 2 Miles, 1500 feet elevation gain
- First Bench of Wilson Mountain to South Overlook: 1.5 miles, 750 feet elevation gain
- First Bench of Wilson Mountain to North Overlook: 2.5 Miles, 750 feet elevation gain
- Total Round Trip with both overlooks: 10 Miles, 2500 feet elevation gain
A full tour of Wilson, visiting both viewpoints, is quite a hike! A moderate option is to go to the First Bench of Wilson, which is about 4 miles round trip and 1500 feet of elevation change. First Bench has some excellent views too, so I highly recommend that as a shorter option.
Like most Sedona hikes, you can theoretically go year round. However, if it has snowed recently, this one can be a cold, wet mess. The top of Wilson Mountain is up at 7,000 feet, so it can get pretty chilly up there, especially on a windy winter day.
This one can also get pretty warm in the middle of summer, but its north facing ascent normally allows it to be shady and shouldn’t top 100 degrees, even on the hottest days. March to October is my recommended time frame for hiking the North Wilson Trail, with the spring and fall being my favorites.
From the Encinoso picnic area, the trail doesn’t mess around, climbing up the steep western slope of Oak Creek Canyon. I’ve always enjoyed the grand views looking up at Wilson Mountain itself after rounding the first bend. From here you can also see evidence of the 2006 Brins Fire that burned through this part of the canyon. Continuing up the trail into the drainage above, you will get an up close look at the forest regenerating after a destructive wildfire. While the ponderosa pine trees are scorched above, the ground cover is already growing back.
Eventually the trail climbs out of the drainage and tops the First Bench of Wilson Mountain. The eco-system abrubtly changes to grasslands mixed with pinon pine and juniper trees. As the trail makes its way across the bench, views of Sedona appear to the south, over two thousand feet below!
The trail makes another ascent, this one moderately steep, through another stretch of the Brins Fire burn. In fact, most of the time you are atop Wilson Mountain, you will see evidence of this fire, and the forest making its recovery. It may be wise to avoid this area during windy conditions though. The scorched ponderosa pine tend to blow over, and it would be unfortunate to be caught by a falling snag.
Atop Wilson, the trail comes to a fork. Turn left and you will be the the South Overlook in one-half mile. Turn right and you be at the North Overlook in 1.5 miles. If you’ve got time and energy, go to both viewpoints, you will not be disappointed. The South Overlook is a great option if you don’t want to go the extra 2 mile round trip to the North. To choose between the two based on beauty, it’s a coin flip! Each is jaw-dropping and spectacular.
The South Overlook faces Sedona, looking down on the expanse of Red Rock spires and buff sandstone cliffs. The real beauty is in the details, you could sit for hours finding shapes in sandstone ridges that surround. This spot is always sunny due to its orientation, so expect to soak up some rays with the world class views.
The North Overlook faces Oak Creek Canyon and the San Francisco Peaks beyond. This one can have some extra wow factor if it has snowed on the San Francisco Peaks recently. Because it faces north, this viewpoint is often shaded and tends to be cooler than the South Overlook.
No matter which way you decide to go, you a certain to have a fantastic hike at Wilson Mountain! This is undoubtedly one of the best sedona hikes.
All roads are paved and passenger car accessible. From the intersection of Highway 89A and Highway 179 in Sedona (the big roundabout), drive approximately 5 miles north on Highway 89. Turn left to enter Encinoso Picnic Area. Red Rock Pass required.
Doe Mountain is my favorite easy hike in Sedona. It still gets its fair share of traffic, but its nowhere near as popular as Cathedral Rock and some of the others. If you get here early in the morning, there’s a very good chance that you will have the place all to yourself. Sit on the edge of Doe Mountain and enjoy the views!
Distances, Difficulty, and Best Time to Go
Difficulty: Easy for most hikers.
- Trailhead to the end of Official Trail: .7 miles, 500 feet elevation gain
- Explore on your own: extra .5 mile or more!
- Total Round Trip with Maximum Exploring: 2.5 miles, 500 feet elevation gain
Doe Mountain is a good option year round. Come on a 100 degree summer afternoon and you probably won’t have a good time. But on a summer morning before it gets hot, it’s a different story. The north facing ascent will keep you out of the low morning sun, and you will have a magical experience. I always prefer this one in morning to have the place to myself. Fall, Winter, and Spring should all have good if not great weather for this hike. Just go and do it!
From the trailhead, the trail heads south for a few hundred yards before starting the switchbacks up the north side of Doe Mountain. I call this hike “easy” because it’s short, not because you won’t work up a bit of a sweat getting on top. Even folks in poor physical shape should make it up here without too much trouble. In the morning, this climb catches full shade and on winter mornings it can even get chilly on the ascent.
Once on the top, the official trail ends and network of social trails branch off like tree limbs. Pick one and see where it takes you! The top of Doe Mountain is a flat mesa, so you will be walking through a maze of pinons and junipers until you make it the edge. Once there, the mesa drops off into a five hundred foot cliff! No matter which side of the mesa you’re on, the views should be astounding.
I personally enjoy walking around the edge almost all the way around the mountain so I can get maximum views. All sorts of cool details can be found, like skeletons of pinons and junipers pointing their dead arms at the Red Rock views, or prickly pear cactus soaking up the sunlight.
Make sure to pay attention to where you are so you can make it back to the trail and get down. If in doubt before the hike, get a GPS app on your smartphone so you can retrace your steps.
Once again, this is my favorite easy hike in Sedona. I seriously doubt you will be disappointed!
All roads are paved and passenger car accessible. From the intersection of Highway 89A and Highway 179 in Sedona (the big roundabout), drive west on Highway 89A through West Sedona. After 3 miles, turn right onto Dry Creek Road. After 2 miles, keep driving straight as road changes to Boynton Pass Road. Turn left at T-intersection to stay on Boynton Pass Road. Trailhead parking is on the left after another mile. Red Rock Pass required.
The Red Rock buttes like Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, and Courthouse Butte are truly the icons of Sedona. Yet, the forested walls and soaring cliffs of Oak Creek Canyon are also a big part of the Sedona landscape. Hiking Wilson Mountain (see above) is one way of enjoying views of Oak Creek Canyon, but it’s a beast of a hike. The shorter east rim of Oak Creek also features some great trails that take you up to great views, but require only a fraction of the effort. I could have easily chosen one of a handful others, like the Thomas Point Trail or the Telephone Trail, they’re all awesome. But the Cookstove Trail is special to me (it was the first Sedona hike I ever did), has an absolutely classic view, and gets the final seal of approval because it is so easy to get to (the others can be a challenge to locate).
Distances, Difficulty, and Best Time to Go
Difficulty: Moderate for most hikers.
- Trailhead to the end of Official Trail: .5 miles, 700 feet elevation gain
- On the canyon rim: Room for Exploration!
- Total Round Trip Out and Back: 1 miles, 700 feet elevation gain
Although this trail is very short, it is also very steep. As such, I have listed it as moderate difficulty. Avid hikers may fly up this trail in 20 minutes, mere mortals may have a tougher time
This trail is doable year round, although sunny summer afternoons may see highs pushing near 100 degrees. Hike it in the morning in summer, or any time of day during the spring and fall. During dry winters, you might even find this trail free of snow, but would be quite treacherous if snowy.
This trail takes off up a steep slope right across from the roadside spring at the Pine Flat Campground. Steeply switchbacking up through the pines, it is immediately pleasant. In June, you might even find fields of lupine wildflowers growing along the start of the trail. Be on the lookout for a knot in the side of a juniper that is known to look like a “baboon butt.” As the trail nears the edge of Cookstove Draw, there is one exposed spot where you have to cross a log that is right next to a big drop off. Gather your nerves and step with care, you can make it across!
This is a steep trail, and rough in spots, so watch your step as you ascend. A little more than halfway up, a sandstone platform (I call it “the Balcony) opens to a spectacular view down canyon. This is probably the best view on the hike, so don’t miss it! It’s a great spot to relax and enjoy the wonder around you. Continue up and eventually you will reach the canyon rim. For the most part, it is densely forested, but wander about and you can find some awesome cross canyon views through the trees. There is even a social trail that heads south from here that offers room for exploration. It tends to disappear at times, so only venture this way if you are comfortable with navigating in the backcountry. You might even make it the top of the Harding Springs Trail, another great route that would take you back down to the road, which you could walk to get back to the car (4 mile round-trip hike total).
Most hikers will just get to the top, and then head back the way they came. It’s only 1 mile round-trip if you do it that way, but its harder than your average mile of walking. Come prepared to do a bit of work and earn the right to see some awesome views. Check out my more in-depth description of this hike: Cookstove Trail: A Respite in the “Cool” Pines
All roads are paved and passenger car accessible. From the intersection of Highway 89A and Highway 179 in Sedona (the big roundabout), drive north on Highway 89A for 13 miles. Parking is along highway adjacent to the Pine Flat Campground. Red Rock Pass not required.
Wilson Mountain’s neighbor to the west is Capitol Butte, also known to the locals as Thunder Mountain. While most the neighboring mountains are flat-topped mesas and plateaus, Capitol Butte is more of a classic peak. Towering almost two thousand feet right over downtown Sedona, this is an important local landmark, and a beast of a climb! Top the summit and you will be treated to fantastic panoramic views of Sedona and the surrounding Red Rock country. But the destination is just part of the experience. This is not a typical hike, with sandstone ledges that need to be climbed and sections without trail requiring route-finding ability. This is quite an adventure crammed into a mere 3 miles round-trip!
Distances, Difficulty, and Best Time to Go
Difficulty: Difficult for most hikers.
- Trailhead to Summit: 1.5 miles, 1800 feet elevation gain
- Total Round Trip Out and Back: 3 miles, 1800 feet elevation gain
If you are only accustomed to hiking on smooth trails, there spots on this route that will freak you out. If you are experienced in rock climbing, this will be a piece of cake. It’s all about perspective and past experience. Either way, this is one of the most dangerous places in Sedona because the terrain and navigation is very challenging and potentially hazardous to your health. There are a high volume of search and rescue missions on this mountain because inexperienced and dimwitted hikers get in over their heads. Only attempt this route if you are already well-versed in backcountry navigation!
I’ve done this one in the summer and it’s a bit hot. Pick the wrong day in January and you might find yourself in a snow-covered nightmare of a mountain trying to kill you. Pick any snow free day between October and April and it will be glorious!
Even finding the correct route up the mountain is a challenge. In order to weed out the inexperienced travelers that tend to get into trouble up here, I’m going to leave the directions intentionally vague. From the pullouts along the road, a trail heads southeast into the foothills. Take the correct turns, and you will find yourself on a faint social trail heading toward the Southwest Ridge of Capitol Butte. It’s steep, rugged, and basically not maintained. You might even find yourself fighting through brush. At one point, if you miss the turn for an easy bypass, you’ll find yourself looking up at an eight-foot tall pitch of sandstone rock. If you aren’t perfectly comfortable climbing this easy class 2-3 pitch, you probably won’t make it through a couple of the hairier parts up higher.
Around the corner is a short catwalk that should lead to a notch that gains you access to the actual ridge. There’s a view beautiful slickrock domes and some spectacular views to be had here. Heck, if you want a really short hike with a little bit of challenge, this is a nice turnaround point in itself. This is where the route starts getting messier. Going up isn’t as bad, but memorize your surroundings, because it’s easy to miss the notch to get off the ridge. I’ve done it myself, once, and spent a good 20 minutes wandering around looking. The trail fades in and out, so you have got to be zoned in looking for the way.
There are cairns built in some places. Don’t trust them entirely, some of them will lead you astray. Others will show the right way. This route is at most class 3 rock climbing, which means that there are a few climbs, no more than maybe 8 feet tall, and none are exposed to the point where you should fear for your life if you were to lose your grip. If you find yourself contemplating a move that could result in a tumble of more than 15-20 feet, you are off route, and need to backtrack.
If you manage to find your way to the top, you will be treated to the most spectacular 360 degree view of Sedona and the surrounding country. Sit up there for a while and take it all in because it is like no other. The physical and mental challenge, combined the the reward of a world class view is exactly why this is my favorite Sedona hiking adventure.
All roads are paved and passenger car accessible. From the intersection of Highway 89A and Highway 179 in Sedona (the big roundabout), drive west on Highway 89A through West Sedona. After 3 miles, turn right onto Dry Creek Road. After 2 miles, find parking in roadside pullouts at intersection of Dry Creek Road and Boynton Pass Road. Red Rock Pass not required.
Disclosure: Mountain Tripper is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.