After an eventful couple of days sightseeing through Northern Arizona, I was so pumped to finally be able to lace up the hiking boots and hit the trails in beautiful Sedona.
We woke up to a brisk 9 degree morning in Flagstaff and were very happy that we decided against camping. I also wasn’t feeling too hot and couldn’t figure out why until I checked our altitude: 7,000 feet. That’ll do it. I knew we’d been above 4,000 feet almost the entire trip at this point. Arizona has this annoying habit of posting the elevation on all of the highways anytime you cross an even thousand. It was basically my worst nightmare. But I didn’t realize Flagstaff was quite that high until my body started freaking out. Maybe someday I’ll travel enough that I don’t have to readjust every single trip we take.
Lucky for me, the 30 mile drive down to Sedona also includes a 3,000 feet decline in elevation. On top of making me feel better, it also made it about 30 degrees warmer. Perfect hiking weather! It was also a beautiful drive down from the mountains with the snow still clinging to the peaks. I wish I had gotten a picture, but it was a very windy, treacherous drive down and I had to pay attention to the road.
Downtown Sedona was adorable. We came at the perfect time of year though, I can’t imagine what a mess it is during the summer.
We decided to begin the day with the more popular hikes to try to beat the crowds as much as possible, so we started with Devil’s Bridge. It’s the largest natural sandstone arch in the area and a very popular photo destination.
The trailhead is only accessible by high clearance vehicles (and only has about 6 parking spots) so we parked at the Mescal Trailhead and hiked the Chuck Wagon Trail to the base of Devil’s Bridge. It was a very easy hike and the perfect way to start our first hiking-heavy day in a long time.
We passed this cute little rock pictured below. It was somehow sticking up on its own, only attached by a tiny corner.
And then after a rough final half mile and quick scramble straight up, we made it!
There were less than a dozen people when we got there. Perfect timing! I’ve heard it can take hours to wait in line and get your picture out on it. Not worth it. This is definitely one you want to plan early. You can even see the snow and ice still clinging to the ground above. It was all melted by the time we headed back down though.
We only waited about 15 minutes behind a few couples and a nice guy behind us took our picture for us.
This picture doesn’t really do it justice. It kind of makes it look like there’s just a tree below us blocking the rock, but it’s actually a bridge. (The picture below shows you what it looks like from underneath.) It also looked slightly more terrifying in person. Many people there were freaking out and refusing to go, but it was much wider once you were actually on it and really cool!
As we began to leave a HUGE group of obnoxious 20-something year old boys reached the top screaming and yelling and singing and making everyone super mad. Again, we were so glad we made it up early and got the heck out of there as fast as we could.
From there, we went to the next popular hike: Cathedral Rock.
It’s named for the sandstone spires that resemble a cathedral.
Parking at the parking lot requires a Red Rock Pass ($5 I believe), but our America the Beautiful national parks pass also worked (not to mention the government was shut down so no one was checking.) This was also the first place we really noticed the shutdown. The bathroom facilities at the base were all shutdown. We survived though.
This hike was more of a rock climb than a hike which obviously isn’t a complaint coming from me. But don’t let the half mile distance fool you, it is straight up. And some places are very narrow and only have room for one person to shimmy up. But it was so worth it! The view the whole way up of the valley was incredible and the spires tower over you the entire time.
We finally reached the top of the trail at the base of the spires and there were a handful of people, all of whom stopped right there. I had read during my research that if you keep hiking to the left around one of the spires you can get even more incredible views.
So off we went! When you reach the top of the trail and the “End of Trail” sign just take a left and proceed around the right side of the spire over there. Once you reach the other side, you scramble up a steep rock cliff (not too challenging though) and wah-lah!
We ran into a few more adventurous people exploring off the beaten path once we left the “summit”, but after the scramble up to the secret spot we had complete solitude.
I LOVED this spot and could’ve stayed there all day! Just look at how tall these spires are!
Yes, that is me standing at the base.
And there’s James looking the other way! So much rock to climb. I was in heaven!
From there, we took a nice lunch (and beer) break. Hey, we deserved it! According to my phone app we did 11 miles, 24,000 steps and 175 floors worth of hiking. It felt good to be back.
After that we decided on doing a nice and easy hike to get more panoramic view of the area and I had heard good things about Airport Loop Trail. The entire trail is just one big loop around the base of the local airport.
It was nice and flat and very cacti-filled (one even attacked James, but that’s a sensitive subject with him).
There were panoramic views of the whole valley as we circled the entire mountain. We could also hear the airplanes landing and taking off above us. And when we finally circled around to the other side we could watch them fly right over us and approach the runway. You can see the fence below that protects the tarmac. Way cool!
From there it was sunset and relaxing time. I found the Baby Bell Trail in my research and loved that it was a nice, short hike to cap off a long day of hiking. And unlike the other popular sunset hikes, you could see all the major landmarks from there.
So up we went! It took us less than ten minutes to reach the top and once you get to the base of the “bell” there isn’t really a trail (or at least not one that we saw) so we just scrambled up until we couldn’t go any higher.
We had the place to ourselves for awhile until a loud trio (one of which was wearing high heels!) came up and decided to sit directly between us and the view of the valley. Thanks. But hey, these lands are for everyone to enjoy so I tried to hide my annoyance and they didn’t stay long before continuing along.
Again, the views of the valley and Route 179 were beautiful!
Not to sound spoiled, but we did suffer a little from lack of beautiful sunsets during our first few days in Arizona. Every day was just so nice that there were zero clouds in the sky and nothing for the colors to reflect off of. It was still beautiful, but we didn’t get to see the stop-you-in-your-tracks Southwest sunsets that we had been told about until we got back to Phoenix the next weekend.
There’s the “grownup” Bell Rock on the right that we’ll hopefully get to hike next time we pass through.
And you can really see the cathedral spires in the picture below. I believe the baby one is the one I posed next to. It’s crazy how small it looks from there.
Thank you, Sedona, for the most perfect day! It felt so good to get our hiking legs back on, even if only for a day.
From there we made the 3,000 foot ascent back through Flagstaff and set off to our first national park of the trip: Petrified Forest. But first we had to make a quick pit stop for a good night’s sleep and some touristy pictures. Hint: it involves a flatbed Ford and a song that I could NOT get out of my head for a week straight. More to come soon!
Three Things You Can’t Miss in Sedona:
- Exploring the top of Cathedral Rock
- Devil’s Bridge (early in the morning!)
- Shopping and eating your way around downtown Sedona