Sedona is…the Arizona capital for overtourism, but it’s still worth visiting from time to time. It’s beautiful, and there are a multitude of amazing trails that you don’t want to miss. One of my personal favorites (so far) is Bear Mountain Trail, and I’m not alone as this is a trail that made it’s way into the 2021 #ILoveAZHikingChallenge list.
You will get some mind-boggling views of Sedona from the mountain, whether you make it to the summit or not. And Bear Mountain itself is a really cool, stony formation that’s a delight to walk up (even if your thighs are burning). That all being said, this is not an easy trail, and it can be dangerous if you let the “vacation spirit” get you thinking no bad can happen in Sedona. If you are in shape and/or ready to listen to your body, ready for a challenge, and respect the heat, definitely give this one a try.
When to Hike Bear Mountain Trail
(1) You are ready for the challenge
This trail isn’t like most of the trails that crowds of people flock to throughout the city and the surrounding landscape. It’s very difficult. You will be getting a lot of elevation gain. The trail isn’t always a maintained path- you will need to climb boulders and do some trail finding further up the mountain as you traverse the stony face of the mountain. There is very little shade and no water along the way. Furthermore, there isn’t much to do at the base of the trail. So, unless you are properly outfitted, physically ready for a challenge, and have good weather, Bear Mountain Trail probably shouldn’t be at the top of your Sedona bucketlist.
(2) You are looking for some amazing photos of Sedona
I’ve done quite a few hikes in Sedona and visited the town many many times over my lifetime, but I have never seen views as good as the ones I captured on this trail. I am seriously still shocked by the beauty of the pictures that I captured on Bear Mountain.
(3) You want to marvel at the geology
I don’t know the first thing about geology, I can admit that, but even so, Bear Mountain feels really special and it’s super fun to explore it (from the trail!). Besides the mountain itself, which is amazingly beautiful and sort of strange in a delightful way, you can take a peek at many geological wonders of Sedona from the trail.
Need to Know
Trail difficulty: Hard
Trail length: 4.9 miles
Elevation gain: 1,975 feet
Toilet at the trailhead: Yes
Entrance fee: Red Rock Pass $5.00, US National Park Annual Pass; Red Rock passes can be purchased at the trailhead
The trailhead for Bear Mountain Trail is the same as Doe Mountain (another good hike, and not as long). But for Bear Mountain, you will need to cross the highway in order to get your journey underway. (Look both ways!) After crossing the street you will have a couple minutes to warm up on the flattest part of the trail. You will dip down into a creek bed and cross a lovely little field before starting to climb up the mountain.
Red Rock Cliffs
The first upwards part of the hike sticks in my head because this is where the red rock really shines through. The lower part of the mountain is very red, from the dusty dirt of the trail, to the stones surrounding you. This section of the trail is a pretty steady climb, and there are a few sections where you will need to do a little bouldering. (ALWAYS wear good hiking shoes on the trail!). I’d also say that this part of the trail will be one of the most difficult for people who are uncomfortable with heights, as there are a few cliff sections.
Up the Stony Mountain
When you reach the top the final red cliff, you might be tempted to think that you are getting close to the summit. But that isn’t the case. The trek upwards, across the tan stone of the upper mountain and through the juniper forest is much longer than first section of elevation gain. Because the stone of the mountain IS the trail for several parts of this section of the trail, you won’t always be able to follow a trail as you might be used to if you haven’t done a ton of hiking in different environments. You will need to keep your eyes peeled for paint blotches on the stone, to guide you.
Be sure to take your time on the trail for both safety reasons, and to take pictures! But of course, know that you should turn around if you feel yourself getting too tired or it’s getting too hot.
Being Kind on the Trail
Also, because Sedona is suffering from overtourism, please be extra courteous while visiting here. (Be courteous everywhere, but it’s especially important in places overcrowded with visitors). On the trail, that means, letting people pass you who are hiking faster. Yield to people hiking up. Always pack out your trash! And when parking, do not create your own parking spaces. If there isn’t room for you, come back later.
How to Get There
Stay Safe on the Trail
I ALWAYS have a section about safety on the trail with my hiking guides, because I think the most important thing you can do while in nature, is protect yourself and others. Accidents do happen, but you can stay out of a lot of trouble by being prepared.
Many people look at Sedona like the Disneyland of the desert, and with the vortexes and beautiful mountains, it definitely feels magical. But that doesn’t mean that you can expect to be unprepared on the trail and always stay safe. Luckily, there are some things you can do to make sure that you have a great time, without mishaps.
(1) Bring food and water.
One time, while hiking Camelback Mountain, I heard someone tell a man that he was so “strong” for refusing water on the trail. Lol. No.
Not drinking water while hiking anywhere, let alone in the desert, isn’t strong, it’s stupid. And believe me, you might feel ok while you hike, but if you get dehydrated during the day, you are going to have a killer headache at night. Plus, you put yourself at higher risk for heat exhaustion or weakness on the trail.
Make sure you have enough! A single 8 oz. bottle isn’t enough unless you will be hiking 1-2 miles on flat ground. (It DEFINITELY isn’t enough for Bear Mountain trail- you should be bringing 3 liters AT LEAST for this one).
It’s always smart to couple your water in-take with some salt as well to keep your electrolytes in good balance. Bring some salty snacks like chips and jerky for this, and you can bring some sugary snacks for little boosts in energy too.
(2) Wear the right clothes.
Always wear good, sturdy shoes while hiking. This will help you be more sure-footed on the trail, and protect your feet from injury. People have gotten stuck on the trail because they left for a hike with flip flops on. Athletic shoes are a step up from that, but the soles don’t tend to have a good grip and cholla spines can go right through the softer material of a running shoe.
Remember, the last thing you want to get hurt while you are away on the trail, are either of your feet.
(3) Stay on the trail.
The best way to get lost is to leave the trail. Sometimes this can be accidental, but please please don’t do it willfully. Getting lost is dangerous for you, but it also puts rescuers at risk, so if it does happen to you, you don’t want it to be because you decided to explore off the trail. Furthermore, walking off the trail does damage the environment. You might think there isn’t much damage that you can do, but remember that other people might follow your tracks and following other people’s spider trails make them more established.
Just don’t do it. There are thousands of miles of trail in Arizona. There is plenty that you can see while also being responsible.
(4) Let people know where you are going.
Whether you are hiking solo or with friends, let someone who will be at home know your plans. They should know what trail you are doing, when you plan to leave and when you plan to come back. You might also let them know what vehicle you are driving, and what you are wearing, just in case. Check in with them when you leave and return.
You might also consider getting a GIS locator for extra safety. AllTrails is also a great tool for navigating the trail.
(5) Only hike in good weather.
Not too hot and not too cold. But seriously, it gets super hot in Sedona, just like most of the rest of Arizona. It is no joke. Don’t be caught out on the trail when it is 90 F or more. I will discuss heat further in the following section, but just keep in mind that people die from heat exposure in Arizona every year.
Storms are also of concern in the desert. We have monsoons here and those can include flash flooding and dangerous amounts of lightning. Bear Mountain Trail would leave you vulnerable to lightning strikes. It is also very steep in many places, so even hiking in just the rain could be dangerous as it would make the trail more slippery.
Take the Heat in Arizona Serious
I grew up in Arizona, and I always take the heat seriously. But even so, I had a run in with heat exhaustion on Bear Mountain Trail, so I think this guide is the perfect place to discuss it in more detail. This story is a tale of mistakes, so these things can happen even when you have the best intentions. That’s also why I’d like to share this with you all.
A friend and I left the trailhead early in the morning, probably around 6a, planning for the heat. But we took our time on the ascent, and we had dogs with us. So we lost a lot of time during the coolest part of our day. By the time we turned around, things had started to heat up, and we were all starting to run low on water.
It got to the point that the dogs started running ahead of us, just so they could lay down in the shade. And that got me really worried. Dogs are far more at risk for heat exhaustion and heat stroke than humans. So you really need to ideally not take your dogs when it is hot. Or really really make sure that you have enough water for them and keep them cool.
In any case, at that point, my hiking buddy also started needing to sit down in the shade to rest as we kept hiking down. And while I understood the need for rest, I also knew that the longer we spent on the trail, the hotter and hotter it was going to get. Without water and losing both shade and what coolness there was in the morning, we were not in a good situation.
What to Do
We were lucky that her husband was able to hike up to us with water so that everyone could rehydrate and make the last leg of the trip. But even so, by the time I made it to my car, I was feeling sick to my stomach and exhausted.
We were all at risk. We should have (1) not brought the doggies along, it was too long of a trail and too hot of a day. If it’s too hot for humans it is WAY too hot for dogs. (2) We all needed more water- we should not have run out. (3) We needed to leave earlier to make sure that we didn’t end up being out so late so that it was so hot. There was no intention for us to get in a dangerous situation. We had good shoes, we did have water, and we even left early. But with a little more planning and extra caution for our furry friends, we would have ended up with a much more pleasant experience.
More Arizona Travel Tips
Arizona is our lifelong home. If you want more tips for visiting our beautiful state, check out our Guide to Arizona. And if you are looking for more hiking inspiration, consider our guide to beautiful lake hikes near Phoenix-metro.
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