Sedona, Arizona is known worldwide for its incredible red rock formations and beautiful scenery. The largely unspoiled wilderness provides excellent opportunities for nature lovers, and outdoor adventures of all sorts including, of course, hikers. There are dozens of hiking trails in the Sedona area ranging from very easy to very difficult, with Bear Mountain Trail being one of the more difficult. The hike is 2.5 + strenuous miles each way with an 1,800 foot elevation gain. Some consider this one of the most difficult hikes of this length in all of Arizona. Allow at least 4.5 hours for this hike if you are in good shape. You are rewarded by incredible views as you ascend through the scenic red rock formations. On the summit you will be able to see Mt. Humphey, the highest point in Arizona.
For those living in or visiting Scottsdale or Phoenix, Sedona is a must see stop for many reasons. To get to this Sedona hiking trail from Scottsdale / Phoenix, drive north on I-17 to the Sedona (Rt. 179) exit. Continue north on Route 179 to the junction of Routes 89A and 179 in the heart of Sedona and take Rt. 89A west 3.2 miles to Dry Creek Road on the right (on your way you will pass one of the only McDonalds with a green “M” instead of yellow). Go 2.9 miles to a “T” and turn left on Boynton Pass Road. Go 1.6 miles to another “T” and turn left onto FR 152C. Continue for 1.2 miles to the trailhead parking area on the left (there are no bathrooms so stop somewhere along the way). You need a Red Rock Pass or National Parks Pass to park at the trailhead. You can get one at the visitors center you pass on your way up Rt. 179.The total drive from North Scottsdale is about 125 miles and the entire route is paved. Cross the street to the Bear Mountain Trailhead and climb through the fence to start.
As you look at the trail and mountain ahead of you, you may think you are looking at Bear Mountain. The truth, however, is that Bear Mountain is not visible from the trailhead as it lies beyond, and above the mountain you are seeing. The hike begins along a red dirt trail surrounded by contrasting green cacti. The trail gently ascends for about 1/4 mile before reaching the wilderness boundary at the base of the mountain. From here your first major ascent begins as you climb a series of rocky switchbacks that take you 450 vertical feet up the mountain. The far views and closer red rock formations are breathtaking, motivating hikers to proceed higher.
You will reach a low plateau where the red dirt trail continues along the mountain (sometimes close to the edge) providing more up close red rock views along with additional and changing distant vistas. After a short distance your second major ascent of 500 vertical feet begins as you continue up the mountain you saw from the trailhead. The views never end as you climb higher and higher along the steep, rocky trail.
Once you complete this section you will feel like you are at the top but you are really less than half way there. There are great views from here and this is a natural stopping point if you had enough. If you continue onward you will be following the plateau as the trail ascends slightly before dipping down as you get your first views of the real Bear Mountain. Follow the trail to another major ascent of 400 feet to a false summit but don’t give up there; you are getting close.
Continue onward, climbing the sandstone face and you will reach the true summit. The summit provide great views just like the rest of the hike. It is not a particularly beautiful summit with panoramic 360 degree views like Camelback Mountain, however, you will have spectacular views to the south as soon as you do finally summit (see video). You can even see the trailhead parking lot if you look closely. If you proceed about 200′ north you will be able to see the San Francisco Peaks which include Mount Humphrey.
From here you simply turn around and begin your decent. The decent, while less of a cardio workout, can be quite difficult because of the steepness. Use caution to prevent a sprained ankle or worse.
Check out hikes in Red Rock State Park for easier hikes with great views in Sedona.