It may sound like one of the least interesting hikes in the Sedona area: a loop around the airport. Surprisingly, this hike is amazingly great, with incomparable views of everything Sedona has to offer.
I had visited Sedona several times before, and I thought I had hiked most of its great trails. I had heard a few good things about the Airport Loop, but I had a hard time believing them. I mean, just look at it there, a low, flat-topped hill, covered with trees and almost no red rocks. How could a loop around this featureless mesa possibly be rewarding?
On this visit, however, I didn’t have a plan, and I did have just a couple of hours of daylight to burn, before sunset. I knew the Airport Mesa Loop Trail was a little more than 3 miles, and mostly level — meaning I could easily get it done before sunset. I wasn’t very thrilled about it, but I didn’t have any better ideas, and it was nearby.
The trailhead is located along Airport Road, making this one of the easiest trails in Sedona to access. No worries about Jeep-quality dirt roads. The only potential problem was parking, and I was lucky enough to arrive, just as someone else was pulling out of their spot.
The loop trail begins at the Airport Vortex — one of four main energy vortexes in the Sedona area. I’m not especially in-tune with the energy that some people say they feel in these places, but some say the Airport Vortex is rich in masculine energy. They also say you can hone in on the areas where the energy is most concentrated, by watching for the twisted trunks and branches of juniper trees.
Even if, like me, you’re not feeling the energy, the vortex is still a neat area to visit, because it’s beautiful. There’s a nice area of red-rock here, including a small hill which you can easily climb. I ended up at the top of the hill for sunset. I don’t think you could ask for a nicer place.
The loop trail begins at the crest of the saddle. You’ll see a sign pointing you in the right direction. The trail drops below the hilltop, and skirts the southeastern side of the mesa.
It’s not especially challenging, aside from some rocky surfaces. The trail stays relatively flat for the entire length of the mesa, until you circle around the foot of the runway, and cross over to the other side of the hill.
All along the southeast side, you’ll be treated to a wide panorama of Sedona’s glory. The Munds Mountain Wilderness is to the east, and during late afternoon and evening, it’s beautifully lit by the sun.
You’ll be able to see all the way down to Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte, and the village of Oak Creek.
Can you spot Sedona’s famous Chapel of the Holy Cross in this picture?
There it is!
Keep an eye out for some big patches of cactus, which could be dangerous if you’re not paying attention. I have backed into these before. It’s not fun.
There’s a short, moderately steep section of the trail that takes you up to the top of the mesa. You’ll see a fence that separates you from the airport property. At times, the trail runs alongside the fence, making this the least scenic part of the trail. But, you do get to walk directly past the foot of the runway. It could be a fun place to be, when a plane is arriving or taking off!
Around in this area, you’ll see a side-trail known as the Tabletop Mesa Trail. It’s a short, out-and-back trail that leads to the top of a nearby ridge. It’s fairly obvious where this trail goes, and it’s very likely that it will provide some nice views. Since it was late in the day, I figured I didn’t have enough time to hike it. And, I figured that the views wouldn’t be much different than what I could see from the main trail.
As soon as you’ve left the runway and the fence behind, you’ll be on the northwest side of the mesa. The views are now totally different, but still extraordinary. Now, you’re looking more northward, towards West Sedona (one of two Sedona business districts — the other is north of the “Y”). You’re also looking towards the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness, and features such as Brins Mesa…
… and the Coffee Pot. The view directly towards the west isn’t all that great at this time of day, but the mountains to the north will be beautifully lit.
This part of the trail passes through some trees, so your views will be limited in places.
Also in this area, you’ll come upon the Bandit trail, which leads down to another trailhead and a residential area, along Shelby Drive.
I think I stopped at every break in the trees, and took more pictures of the view!
The trail eventually ends up back where it started.
With just a few minutes of sunlight remaining, I hiked back up to the top of the red-rock hill, just above the vortex saddle.
The views kept getting better and better in every direction, until finally, the show is over for the day.
The Bottom Line
The Airport Loop Trail is a great place to get acquainted with many of the features in the Sedona area. It’s also short and easy enough that most people should have no trouble hiking the entire loop in a reasonable amount of time. Don’t do what I did, and wait until your fourth or fifth time in Sedona — hike this trail on your first visit!
The Sedona Airport is located on a flat, boring-looking mesa, essentially in the middle of town — west of Oak Creek, and south of 89A. From the “Y”, take 89A west, then turn left onto Airport Road. You’ll see a trailhead with limited parking when you’re about halfway up the hill.
Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive around Sedona: