Sedona Hiking Guide: Must-Do Trails & Some To Skip
There are many reasons to plan a trip to Sedona, but there’s no question that Sedona’s hikes are one of the biggest draws. The area’s iconic red rock landscape offers year-round hiking, ranging from an easy stroll to near-vertical climbs.
But there’s so MUCH hiking that it can be a little overwhelming when you’re planning a trip, trying to figure out which ones to do. At least that’s what I felt when I was planning my own visit. So I wanted to share my hike recommendations and experiences to help you plan your own adventure.
The red rocks tend to rise above Sedona on all sides, forming a bowl of sorts, which means that no matter where you go for hiking, you usually have an awesome view and in most cases a good chance at an epic sunrise or sunset.
No matter what time you visit, you should always make sure you wear sunscreen (here are some of my faves) and bring plenty of water even if you’re hiking early. And as I mention in my Sedona tips, you won’t get cell signal in many places so prepare ahead of time by downloading any maps or trail info you’ll need.
See my other posts about planning a trip to Sedona!
Where to stay in Sedona: I stayed at Enchantment Resort which is a major splurge and while the location is amazing, I didn’t feel like the property quite lived up to the price (see deeper review). On the more luxury end, next time I would still splurge a bit but try Amara instead.
I also stayed a couple nights at Arabella and would recommend it as a great mid-range option. It has a nice courtyard and pool, and they plan lots of activities that guests can join in on (happy hours, stargazing, hikes, etc.). It’s also a pet friendly option.
Do I need a rental car? Yes! I don’t think there’s really another remotely realistic way to get around. For renting a car, I always search in a few different places and compare both the prices and specific offerings/benefits. My go-to’s are DiscoverCars, RentalCars.com, and AutoEurope as well.
Here are my deeper posts on Sedona hikes, and I’ve linked these in each section as well:
My recommendations on Sedona hikes
Obviously I can only speak to the hikes that I was able to do myself in the 4 or 5 days I was there, and everyone’s mileage may vary based on preferences, weather, season, or foot traffic.
- Great: Cathedral Rock (at sunrise)
- Great: Airport Mesa & Vortex (at sunset or sunrise)
- Great: Sugarloaf Loop Trail
- Great: Kachina Woman
- Okay but skippable: Fay Canyon
- Okay but skippable: Boynton Canyon (though I hear Subway Cave is great)
- Skip: Jordan Trail, Devil’s Sinkhole, Seven Sacred Pools
Full caveat, I didn’t get to do Devil’s Bridge, which is possibly the most famous Sedona hike (maybe tied with Cathedral Rock). So I can’t speak to it, but it was high on my list and I did want to try it (despite the fact that parking is challenging and you might have to wait in line for a photo). I also didn’t have time to try any of the hikes along the Scenic Byway.
For reference, I was visiting in late April, so mornings were quite chilly and it got pretty hot during the day. I avoided hiking at midday even at that time of year, SOOOO hot and the sun is really intense.
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Cathedral Rock (at sunrise)
1.5 miles roundtrip, difficult
This is one of the most famous Sedona hikes, and was one I both REALLY wanted to do but also was…honestly a little scared of?? I talked myself into it at the last minute, and am so glad I did. It’s an absolutely stunning hike, particularly at sunrise, though not for everyone.
Though short, it’s challenging and super steep, with sheer drop-offs and achingly beautiful views. I started off in the deep indigo of still-night, being really careful of my steps. As I climbed, I tried to keep an eye on the few folks in front of me to follow their path (there are cairns, but they’re hard to see in the dark).
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I kept stopping for pictures as I ascended, but also didn’t want to waste too much time and miss the sunrise at the top. But my timing was perfect, with the pinks, purples, and oranges sweeping across the sky just as I hit the top of the trail. It was just…EPIC.
My biggest worry had actually been getting back down the mountain, and it definitely worried me a bit. I did a lot of sliding on my butt (to be safe), but made it just fine.
I have a *much* more detailed post on what to expect hiking Cathedral Rock at sunrise that you should check out if you’re considering doing it, to see if it is right for you. One important note—if you have a fear of heights, THIS IS NOT FOR YOU.
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Airport Mesa & Vortex (at sunset)
Distance varies depending on where you start; easy but drop-offs/no railing
You have a ton of great choices for sunrise and sunset hikes in Sedona, because the red rocks rise and surround the city so as long as you’re hiking UP you’re golden. But I think this might be the best Sedona sunset hike, and it’s a major bonus that it’s so easy.
I wasn’t able to snag one of the like 10 parking spots right at the trailhead, so drove up to the actual airport mesa where there’s a huge parking lot. Then I hiked down to the main trail. It’s an easy walk, though be careful as the path has uneven rocks in it.
I didn’t end up having time to do the entire Airport Mesa hike because I didn’t want to miss the sunset. I began walking clockwise from the trailhead, but then turned around to com back the same way…and got great views of the Airport Vortex mound as a result.
Be aware that 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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Now let’s talk about the Airport Vortex “hike” too (calling it a hike feels like overstating, it’s a brief little scramble up the hill). You have almost-360-degree views, so get up there early to get your fill of pictures, but then pull up a piece of rock and enjoy the quiet and peace of the sunset.
It really was lovely and thankfully people were just being chill, no shouting or music. Just soaking in that golden light and watching the sky change colors. My friend did this as a sunrise hike as well and said it was awesome, so that would be a good option if sunset doesn’t work for you.
I made sure to head back up the hill to my car before it got too dark, to make sure I didn’t sprain an ankle. What’s great is that you still have gorgeous views of the sunset as you walk up, so I got to watch it deepen from the fiery golds into pinks and finally purples. My deeper post on this hike has tons of pics if you want to see.
There is the Scenic Lookout at the top by the parking lot, where a crowd of folks will enjoy the sunset without the hike as well, if that’s more your style.
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Sugarloaf Loop Trail
About 2 miles; easy
This Sedona hike was one of my favorite discoveries! It’s not a secret, but I do think it flies under the radar. I did it late afternoon and it was amazing, but I think it would be awesome for sunrise or sunset as well.
Why did I think it was so great?? Well, it’s a pretty quick (maybe 20 minutes each way?) and mostly flat hike with 360-degree views from the top. With minimal effort you get majestic red rock views and lush greenery in all directions. And it’s far less crowded than any of the other trails I hiked in Sedona, making it super peaceful.
You start following signs for Teacup Trail until you come to the Sugarloaf Loop Trail juncture. It’s a pretty easy stroll up to that point, following the cairns and white painted diamonds. Then you hang a right, and you’ll come to the Sugarloaf Summit Trail where you have a small climb to the peak.
But the views are worth it!! It feels like you’re the king of the world up here…and I had it entirely to myself.
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Kachina Woman (Boynton Canyon Trail)
Less than a mile roundtrip from the parking lot? Easy.
While Boynton Canyon overall is on many people’s list, I think Kachina Woman is often overlooked. I only heard about it because one of the trial guides at my hotel said it was one of his favorites for sunrise. So I set out early one morning to see it for myself.
My timings were off a bit because the hike took longer than I’d thought (from the resort, not the trailhead) so I didn’t see *true* sunrise here…but the views and colors of the early morning were still beautiful.
“Kachina Woman” refers to the 80-foot weird tall mushroom-like tower that looms over the entrance to Boynton Canyon. It’s also called Bandito Spire apparently, which I honestly love. There is also apparently a vortex right behind here too? I didn’t try to find it as I can’t feel them anyway, but just FYI.
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You’ll find Kachina Woman on a trail offshoot called Boynton Canyon Vista. It’s quite a short hike from the Boynton Canyon trailhead and parking lot, which is another reason it’s a great sunrise option. It’s also fairly easy, so good for pretty much all fitness levels.
Other than one guy who left shortly after I arrived, I had it entirely to myself. If you’re looking for a beautiful, short, and uncrowded hike that gives you major returns in views, then definitely give Kachina Woman a look…particularly at sunrise!
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About 2.5 miles round trip, easy minus the climb up, moderate with the climb
I’ll start off by saying that the main Fay Canyon trail is completely skippable. Nothing much to recommend it, except quite a bit of shade (which is rare hiking in Sedona). My uncle, who lives in Sedona, highly recommends this hike but only once you go past the “end of trail” sign.
So once you hit that, you’ll see a big rock spire rise in front of you. You can climb up this (it’s a “scramble” up big rocks that act as steps), and are rewarded with a pretty awesome view of the canyon.
One of the things I loved about it was that it was lush and green—very different than the more desert and red rock scenery you see in this area. You could have told me this was in the Smoky Mountains and I’d have believed you.
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Here’s what I ended up LOVING about my Fay Canyon visit, though. After climbing up the rock spire, we headed back on the trail, but cut off to the side and he took me to his special place. Locals will find their only little places that tourists never do, and what it really reiterated to me was not to get too caught up in the “must do” hikes (one of my Sedona tips).
It was quite a little climb up, but at the top of the small spire, I had the most AMAZING view. I can’t tell you where it is…both because I could never find my way back there and I wouldn’t betray his special place, but don’t be afraid to explore a bit on your own, or make friends with a local who can show you the ropes!
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Jordan’s Trail, Devil’s Sinkhole, Seven Sacred Pools
No idea on distance, to be honest; easy walking though
For me this was completely skippable, definitely the least enjoyable hike I did in Sedona. I still feel like I maybe went wrong somewhere despite trying my best to follow the right trails. I hadn’t planned to do a long hike that morning, and started at Jordan Road Trailhead parking lot…yeah, 2.5 hours later I got back!
This trail is part of the much larger network of trails around Soldier Pass and others, and I found the trail signage SUPER difficult to follow. I tried sticking to signs for Jordan, though in looking online when that failed me I then I think followed Cibola Trail? Honestly I don’t even know.
It’s not a particularly pretty or interesting hike by Sedona hike standards, and there isn’t much shade either. I did finally hit the Devil’s Sinkhole and…MEH. No idea why people find it worth hiking to.
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I continued on to the Seven Sacred Pools, another quarter-mile or so. And guys, I just don’t get it. If you see photos on Pinterest or other blogs, it looks kind of magical. But sadly that was not my experience. Maybe it’s time of year?
Obviously at sunrise or sunset the lighting would be better, but that wouldn’t have made much of a difference since there wasn’t enough water to matter. For the length of the hike it definitely was not worth it. If this is something you’re wanting to see, maybe check and find out if there’s been any rain lately to see if the pools would be fuller and prettier?
Anyway like I said above, this entire hike was my least favorite of my Sedona visit and I think there are just dozens of better (and shorter) hikes with significantly better “rewards”.
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Neither of those are the usual draw for people who visit Boynton Canyon. A lot of it is just regular Sedona hiking, though parts have great views over Sedona. But something that really pulls certain people in is the Subway Cave, which honestly sounded awesome.
I met several hikers headed that way early in the morning when I was wandering the Boynton Canyon Trail toward Kachina Woman. This Earth Trekkers post has a lot more detailed info if you’re wanting to hike to the cave yourself.
I definitely want to do a return trip to Sedona in the future, so let me know what other Sedona hikes I missed that you’d recommend I try out!
Other amazing hikes to fall in love with:
- Why You Have To Visit Utah’s Underrated Snow Canyon State Park
- What It’s Like Hiking in California’s Redwoods (Armstrong Woods)
- Hiking Oregon’s Stunning Trail of Ten Falls
- Hiking Utah’s Yant Flat & “Candy Cliffs” At Sunset
- Sunrise At Bryce Canyon National Park
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