Bell Rock Pathway & Courthouse Butte Trail


Just a couple miles south of Sedona, Rte. 179 passes a red rock formation that you simply can’t miss, or mistake for anything else: Bell Rock.  No surprise here, the rock looks like a big bell.

I parked at the large parking area about 1/2 mile south of Bell Rock.  This is the starting point of the Bell Rock Pathway (if you’re headed north, towards Sedona; if you’re headed south, it’s the end).  The Bell Rock Pathway is a wide, 3 1/2 mile long dirt road reserved for pedestrians and bicyclists, running roughly parallel to Rte. 179.  The Pathway skirts the western edge of Bell Rock, and if that’s all you’re interested in, then your destination is just a short walk away.

I decided to make this a longer walk, though.  Before reaching Bell Rock, a trail turns off to the right.  The Courthouse Butte Trail is the long way around to the other side of Bell Rock, making a big loop around Courthouse Butte…

… another monumental pile of red rock, albeit a little less distinct in appearance than the big bell.

There aren’t many surprises on this trail.  Most of the way, there’s really just one thing to look at: Courthouse Butte, and you’ll have plenty of time to look at it as you walk along its south side, through a wide-open, flat, desert landscape.

On the southeastern side of Courthouse Butte, the trail crosses a dry wash, then climbs up the other side.  This is the first place that the trail can be considered even remotely physically challenging.  Thankfully, the varying terrain makes it a little more interesting, as you round the far side of Courthouse Butte.

On the far side of the butte, the trail briefly crosses into wilderness territory, as indicated by the big iron pipe marker.  Don’t even try to resist the urge to give it a big thud with your walking stick, or even a rock.  People nearby will think that Bell Rock just rang.

While the Bell Rock Pathway is bicycle friendly, the Courthouse Butte Loop is not.  Bikes are not allowed in wilderness areas.  Even though the path only briefly crosses into a wilderness area, bicyclists must turn around, or risk a hefty fine.

Spaceship Rock

After staring at the sheer rock wall of Courthouse Butte (and not much else) for a good half hour or more, the trail threw in a pleasant surprise:

This is Spaceship Rock, an odd-looking lump of red rock rising abruptly from the terrain. The trail runs right next to Spaceship Rock.  It’s a fortress on this side, but the other side offers a nice slope that makes it easily climbable.

 At first sight, I actually thought Nipple Rock would be a much more fitting name, since at the top, there’s a nub of rock, standing at attention as if it was a cold day (you can just barely see it in this picture, along with a couple of hikers sitting on it.  How rude.)

Bell Rock is well known and widely accepted to be one of Sedona’s energy vortexes.  However, some guides list Spaceship Rock as an additional, separate vortex.

From the top of Nipp… um, Spaceship Rock, you have a nice view of the eastern side of Courthouse Butte (it was early morning when I took this, so it’s still shadowy over here)…

… and if you zoom in, you can also see Cathedral Rock in the distance.  Of course, you can see Cathedral Rock from just about everywhere in Sedona.

Back on the trail, it was suddenly cold as I dipped into the shadow cast by Courthouse Butte.

Once back in the sun, the north side of Courthouse Butte proved to be about as exciting as the south side.  Eventually I made it back to the dirt-road expressway of Bell Rock Path, to close the loop and head back to the parking area.  But I was in for one more pleasant surprise:

It’s fairly easy to climb up onto the side of Bell Rock.  The climb requires you use your hands, feet, and butt at times, but by choosing a creative path, you can make it up one ripple after another.

If your primary interest is climbing the side of Bell Rock, you don’t have to hike very far.  Just park at one of the small parking areas at the edge of Rte. 179, and make your way across the Bell Rock Pathway, and directly up the side of the rock. 

That’s me, admiring the view of Courthouse Butte, while pondering the long trail encircling it.

Because Bell Rock is well known as an energy vortex, you’ll likely see people gathered here, hoping to suck up some of those vibes.  These folks were doing tai chi, I believe.  Hey, you couldn’t ask for a nicer view to go along with balancing your yin and yang.

The entire loop route, plus the short detours up Spaceship Rock and Bell Rock, is roughly 4 1/2 miles, give or take.  I made the trip in about 2 1/2 hours, plus a little extra time to relax on Bell Rock.

Note: This trip was first published in 2007.

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