For most of my time in Sedona, I ended up going the “dinner with a sunset view” route, but I knew that I needed to do at least one amazing sunset hike. And hands-down, I knew that the Airport Mesa at sunset was the one.
What I didn’t realize until I got there was that SPECIFICALLY, the little Airport Vortex hill was going to be my vote for the best Sedona hike at sunset.
See my other posts about planning a trip to Sedona!
You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to hiking in general in Sedona, but particularly for sunrise and sunset hikes…because the red rocks rise and surround the city, as long as you go UP you’re going to have an awesome view.
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How to get to the Airport Mesa hike at sunset
The very lucky are able to snag one of the few spots in a small parking lot right at the Airport Mesa trail (pictured below). There are only about 10 spots and I was really hoping to find one, but no luck.
So instead I kept driving up the hill to the true mesa. There’s a massive parking lot there, costs $3 to park and then you have to hike down to the hiking trail. It’s just over a half mile, so plan for extra time on either side if you’re hoping to see the sunset.
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Across the street from the big parking lot is the Sedona Airport Scenic Lookout. It’s super popular at sunset since it doesn’t require a hike (I have a pic of it at the end of this post).
Look for signs for the Sedona View Trail, and make sure not to walk on the road. The trail down from the parking to the Airport Mesa trail is not difficult, but is a little tricky only because of the rocks embedded in the trail (see pic below).
It just makes it a little tricky to go quickly because you don’t want to turn an ankle, and coming back up in the near-dark you need to be really careful.
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When you get down to the main trailhead, you can immediately go up to the Vortex summit, or hike around the Airport Mesa Loop trail which circles around Tabletop Mountain. I didn’t do the entire loop trail (3.2 miles I think) due to time, but had also heard that the back side was a little less impressive.
From the trailhead I went clockwise (on the east side), and it’s a beautiful trail. It does have very sheer drop offs and the trail is quite narrow, so you need to be careful. It’s doable, just go slow and be careful. I’m not sure I’d recommend it with small kids, and I definitely wouldn’t recommend it at night.
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I pretty much had the loop trail to myself, only a few other folks wandering around (most were up at the Vortex).
My friend @sjems5 said this hike is amazing at sunrise as well, and since this piece of the trail faces east I’m sure it would be even better. I enjoyed the views, little profusions of wildflowers, and the occasional cactus.
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Soak in the views and the gorgeous golden light. This view in the first pic is looking back toward the Vortex summit (that little hill with all the tiny people on it). At this point I realized I better get moving back if I was going to really see the sunset from the Vortex.
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Then it was time to ascend the summit! I walked back to the trailhead, where it forks back up to the parking lot (on the left) and then kept going straight, following signs for Summit Trail.
The Vortex doesn’t require much of a hike, just a short steep scramble towards the end. There are handrails, which help, but definitely be careful if it’s wet.
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Some people had already chosen their seat for the sunset, but a lot of us wandered around trying to get different types of photos. As you can tell, I’m a little obsessed with starburst effects right now…
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I’m a sucker for a “sheer dropoff” pic…and there are plenty of angles to choose from here! Some people were smart enough to bring a tripod (I had my rarely-used selfie stick, but also asked a stranger to snap a pic of me).
And then it was time for the main event—really experiencing the Airport Mesa at sunset!
It was such a beautiful, peaceful stretch of time…people were just being chill, no shouting or music. Just soaking in that golden light and watching the sky change colors.
I mean…is that perfect or what?!
As the sun finally fell below the horizon and the sunset colors began deepening from the fiery golds and oranges to softer peach, I decided I better get a move on. I really didn’t relish hiking back up to my car in the dark, and spraining an ankle or something.
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Along with a bunch of other people, I started walking back up the trail. And what’s great is you still have an unbelievable view of the sunset as it deepens and shifts. You’re mostly on a narrow trail with a drop-off, so can see the whole of Sedona spread out before you, with the red rocks jutting into the sky.
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As I got back to the top, the sunset had shifted to pearly pinks and dusky purples. Here is the Scenic Lookout I mentioned at the beginning, there was a nice crowd of folks just enjoying themselves here without the hike.
If you fancy a meal or drink before or after experiencing Airport Mesa at sunset, Mesa Grill is just a few feet away (on the other end of the parking lot, down by the airport runway). I’d recommend a reservation if you can get one, as the place is hoppin’ during peak times.
Other gorgeous hikes you’ll love:
- Hiking Yant Flat & “Candy Cliffs” At Sunset: A Must In St. George, Utah
- Hiking Bodega Head Trail On California’s Sonoma Coast
- Sunrise At Bryce Canyon National Park
- Exploring Nevada’s Valley Of Fire State Park
- Why A Sunrise Hike Up Masada Should Be On Your Bucket List
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