Trail Report: Sedona Loop Hike

Trail Details

  • Time on Trail: 7 hrs
  • City / State: Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness /
  • Distance: 14.17 miles
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Elevation: +/- +2585/-2462ft.
  • Categories:   ,

Highlights

This loop hike covered 14 miles and including the Dry Creek Trail, Bear Sign Trail, David Miller Trail, and Secret Canyon Trail. The views were spectacular from the David Miller Trail and each canyon held a different experience. The upper section of the Secret Canyon Trail reveals a short slot canyon and towering Ponderosa pines. The Bear Sign Trail is reminiscent of my old stomping grounds in Pennsylvania with heavier growth but has clearings where you can see the coconino sandstone pillars.

Trail Description

We parked at the Secret Canyon Trailhead and walked the .9 mile section of dirt road up to the Dry Creek Trailhead. We figured we should get the boring part out of the way and it served as a nice warm-up. Once on the Dry Creek Trail, we made our way up the wash crossing back and forth multiple times. The views along this section were more open and you get a good feel for your surroundings. After about .75 miles, we reached the intersection of the Bear Sign Trail which heads of to the left. We jumped on Bear Sign here.

Bear Sign Trail has a different feel. The canyon walls seem to close in a bit more and there was better coverage overhead providing nice shade. We crossed back and forth through the wash several more times, exploring the various overhangs, formations, and water-carved features. The views are certainly better on this section of trail and I rattled off about 50 pictures! The heavy vegetation gives way occasionally to a cool rock feature, sometimes towering a few hundred feet above. Along the way, we encountered a section of trail with very dense tree growth, almost giving the feel of bamboo stands that I had seen in the past. I’m not sure what type of tree it was but the stand covered a pretty large area and was the topic of conversation between Ryan and me for quite a while. We continued up Bear Sign to the end, unable to go any further without a machete in hand. The trail ends at the base of the Mongollon Rim and surrounds you with high sandstone walls on three sides. We retraced our steps about a mile or so to the junction of the David Miller Trail.

The David Miller Trail is where the real work began. This is essentially a connector between the Bear Sign Trail and the Secret Canyon Trail that takes you up and over the canyon wall. It was a real workout navigating the natural steps and switchbacks in what seemed like a direct line up the side. The switchbacks are short, and the trail is loose dirt and rocks so careful foot placements are essential. The upside (no pun!) is that you only climb a few hundred feet. We completed this section in short order. Once on top, the views are more than reward for the effort. Sweeping views of the Secret Canyon Trail and surroundings provide ample photo opportunities and it’s a good place to catch a breather and take in some fluids. The view from this perch is exactly what you think Sedona should look like!

The descent down the side of the hill is challenging. I really felt it in my knees and feet. There were a few slip-outs, so be careful. Turning an ankle or knee in this section would not be hard. The descent is quick and believe it or not, the views get even better.

We reached the junction of the Secret Canyon Trail and headed to the right as marked by the trail signs. Read more about the signs in this post as I rant about it in detail. To be clear, the trailhead where we parked (Secret Canyon Trailhead) is to the left and not marked and there is no indication on the signage. The trail to the right takes you deeper into the Secret Canyon Trail for another 4 miles leading away from the trailhead. Our guide book made no mention of this and failed to include this section of trail on it’s map.

The Secret Canyon Trail follows the deep cut of the creek back into the canyon below Maroon Mountain, Secret Mountain, and the Mongollon Rim. We encountered very large Ponderosa pines almost immediately and passed a few dry waterfalls. About .25 miles in, we discovered a short slot canyon off to the right and made our way through. It’s only about 50 yards long but is very cool to see none-the-less. We retraced our steps and got back on the trail which ascends the left side of the canyon to a higher level. Ponderosa pines become more prominent and we even entered an area where they seem to tower above everything else. Ferns line the trail and the shade from the afternoon sun was a welcome treat. We explored this canyon for about 2 miles and then retraced our steps to the junction of the David Miller Trail.

We made a right onto the Secret Canyon Trail section that slopes down into the wash again and continues on to the trailhead. This section seemed much less spectacular. Of course, we had logged over a dozen miles by then and it was much hotter than when we started. We reached the trailhead and the car in one piece. We had logged over 14 miles in 7 hours and I can say, for one, my legs were feeling it!

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Trail Photos

Trail Video

Trail Notes

Our side trip into the Secret Canyon was the plan. The problem was that we didn't initially realize that's where we were. From the intersection of the Secret Canyon Trail and the David Miller Trail, we continued to the right, marked as the Secret Canyon Trail. For more than a mile, we believed we were heading towards the trailhead and approaching the side canyon. We didn't realize until we referenced the GPS that we were already in it! Lesson learned I guess. Read more about it here.

This hike was certainly one of my favorites and I have given it the title of one of Trail Sherpa'sBest Hikes. Our guide book suggested doing this hike in reverse. In my opinion, we chose the right direction. You get the ah-ha moment of cresting the saddle and seeing the valley below in front of you, not over your shoulder as you ascend.

Bear Sign Canyon is one that deserves more exploration. There are a ton of cool rock features back there and plenty of places to go off-trail and explore along the canyon walls. It's easy to do that in a canyon that is as narrow as this one.

Last bit of advice, start early. We were on the trail by 8am and it was getting hot, really hot, when we finished.

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I'm the founder of Vestor Logic, the digital strategy and web design firm that created Trail Sherpa, ParksFolio, and Modern Steader. I'm a day hiker, top chef in camp, doting husband, and father to two headlamp wearing boys. My work in digital media brings those experiences to life.

  • Good trail report.  The road mentioned at the top should be “Dry” Creek Road, but otherwise a great post.  Glad you clarified the trailhead issue too.

    • Thanks David.  Fat thumbs!  What a great hike.  I’d do it again on my next trip to Sedona.