Bear Mountain Trail, Sedona

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I had originally ruled out Bear Mountain Trail, since everything I had read about it made it sound too long and too difficult.  I didn’t want to invest an entire day on just one trail.  But then, I kept hearing people talk about it.  Apparently, for plenty of Sedonans, this is one of their favorite trails.  So, I decided to give it a try, and see what all the fuss was about.

The first thing you should know about Bear Mountain is, what you see is not what you get — at least, if you judge it by what you see at the trailhead.  From here, it seems fairly obvious that you’re probably headed to the top of the mountain that’s right in front of you.  You’re wrong.  From this point, you can’t even see Bear Mountain — it’s hidden behind these cliffs, and a good distance further to the north.

I didn’t realize this until I made it all the way to the ridge that you see in the picture above, just to the left of the big hill.  I didn’t go much further than that point, before turning around.  So, I can’t tell you about the entire trip — but the good news is, there’s plenty to talk about along the path I did complete.

After you squeeze through the fence at the trailhead, you will cross a level plain with a few trees and a couple of dry washes.  Then, the first easy part is over, and you have to start some serious climbing.

The first climb gains a few hundred feet relatively quickly.  Think of it as an early test to see if you really want to go all the way to the top.  Sure, it’s a bit like climbing a staircase covered with loose gravel at times, but …

… you receive your first reward, even before you make it to the top of the first level.  A great view east, looking back towards Sedona, opens up.

There’s a brief, tough section that requires your hands and feet, in order to make it to the top of the first level.  As soon as you get here…

… head out to the edge of the big rock that’s nearby, and take a moment to soak in the view.  Even if you go no farther towards Bear Mountain, this stop makes the climb worthwhile.  The good news is, now that you’ve completed the first strenuous climb, the next section of the trail is easier.

After another very brief elevation gain, the trail rises up to the base of that hill that you thought was Bear Mountain, way back at the trailhead.  You’ll also come close to the base of that red rock chimney, but the trail turns to the left, so you’re never close enough to touch it (without a side trip).

Once the trail turns to the left, it’s moderately flat for a while, with only a slight elevation gain, as you circle around the base of that big hill.

The trail takes you around to the backside of this outcropping…

… and a new view is revealed, of more rounded sandstone hills to the west.  Eventually you end up in a side canyon of sorts…

… and it becomes obvious where you’re going: UP.  Once again I’ll say, if you only hike the trail this far, it’s still worth the trip.  I considered stopping here, but with the top of the hill so close, I decided I had to go for it (of course, at this point, I still thought I was nearing the top of Bear Mountain, when in reality I was far from it).  After another fairly intense climb…

… I reached the top of the hill, only to discover, as the landscape leveled out…

… that this was just the edge of a plateau.  For the first time, I got a glimpse of the real Bear Mountain.  That’s it, underneath that dark cloud.  I decided I had gone far enough.  Besides, there was plenty to see and explore, right without going any further towards the summit.

The entire hike, from trailhead to the top of Bear Mountain, is 2.5 miles (one way).  At this point, I had probably only hiked about 1.5 miles — but that’s just an estimate.  I believe the next section of the trail is fairly easy, but I can’t guarantee anything.  I do know that Bear Mountain has a false summit, which means you’ll think you’re about to reach the top, only to discover a slightly higher mountain just behind it.  When you do reach the top, you’ll have a spectacular view, all the way to the San Francisco Peaks to the north (the mountains near Flagstaff, including Humphreys Peak).

When the trail tops off at the edge of the plateau, turn around, and hold onto your breath, because it’s about to be taken away.  You can see for miles…

… as you realize how funky the landscape really is, in these parts.  Weird hills and mountains are poking up everywhere!

You can make a short side trip here, out to the end of a small ridge.  The top of the ridge is slanted, and with all the rocks running at an angle, it can be a bit disorienting (translation: you’re leaning further to the left than you think you are!  So don’t get too close to the edge).

Make your way around the scratchy plants and across the slanted sedimentary rock…

… and you’ll locate a nice spot for sitting and admiring the view to the west.

In the distance, you can see Black Mountain (on the left), Casner Mountain (on the right), and in between the two is Sycamore Pass.  Turn to the southwest…

… and you can see the entire valley that contains the towns of Clarkdale and Cottonwood.  You can even make out the ghost town of Jerome in the side of Mingus Mountain.

By the time I made my way back to the trailhead, I had been on the Bear Mountain Trail for 2 hours, 45 minutes.  If I had hiked all the way to the end of the trail, it probably would have taken at least another hour, maybe 90 minutes.  I may not have gone all the way, but I was generously rewarded by the distance I went.

Bear Mountain trail is located on Forest Road 152C.  From West Sedona, take Dry Creek Road north.  Turn left two times, when the road dead-ends.  You will pass the trailhead and parking area for Fay Canyon.  The next parking area serves Bear Mountain and Doe Mountain.

Note: This page was first published in 2008.

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