Sedona is packed with fantastic hiking trails. There are trails for hikers of all levels, challenging day hikes or short, family-friendly trails. Bear Mountain Trail is one of the more challenging hikes due to 2,000 feet of elevation gain over the first 2.5 miles. This 5-mile out-and-back hike has views that’ll make you forget every gasping breath it took to get there; believe me, this is one of the area’s most scenic and challenging hikes.
If you are ready for some good old-fashioned huffin’ and puffin’, Bear Mountain might be the trail for you. Join me as we journey through a hike that’s equal parts: “Ouch, my legs!” and “Oh, my eyes!”
Bear Mountain Trail, Sedona, Arizona
Location: Sedona, Arizona
Distance: ~5 miles out and back
Time: 4.5 hours; according to AllTrails, I did it in 3 hours
Parking: Free gravel parking lot
Dog Friendly: Yes, on a leash
Cost: Red Rock Pass $5, kiosks onsite
Restrooms: Yes, toilets in the parking area
Bear Necessities: Essential Hike Info
Oh, bother! Bear Mountain is no stroll through the Hundred Acre Wood. This 5-mile round-tripper is a bit of a beast, boasting a 2,000-foot elevation gain across the initial 2.5 miles. Be prepared to huff, puff, and admire the terrain that turns progressively more wow-worthy with every step.
The hike begins across Boynton Pass Road with a deceptive easiness through the iconic terracotta-hued soil of Sedona—a neatly carved path cushioned by short brush on either side. Don’t be fooled. It’s merely the mountain’s way of rolling out the red, or rather, ‘reddish,’ carpet before the fun begins.
Gear Up: Your Bear Mountain Hike Checklist
Hat. Sunglasses. Sturdy boots and sunblock? Check, check, and check! The Bear’s gonna throw some shade (not much, though), so be sure you have plenty of water.
My pack holds an 85-ounce bladder, and I drank every last drop of water in early October on this hike. I started at 7 a.m., and the temps were in the mid-70s when I finished. In addition, you will need a few energy-boosting snacks and a plucky playlist to propel those climbing legs.
Side note: I prefer hiking with a lightweight, long-sleeved hoodie to protect my upper body, perfect for this day.
The Uphill Battle: Facing Bear Mountain’s Steep Ascents
Getting to the top of Bear Mountain isn’t a walk in the park. Shortly after starting, it gets real…and quickly. Navigating this trail requires some scrambling, climbing vertical rock sections, and a lot of very consistent inclines.
Yes, it gets steep. If you are not an avid hiker, this trail will be tough. But with every strenuous step, the views become increasingly panoramic, making the challenging ascent worthwhile. Prepare for a workout, embrace the adventure, and earn those unforgettable vistas!
The trail is well marked with white diamonds painted on the ground, but be careful. It’s still possible to lose track of the trail, which I am guilty of. I recommend an app like AllTrails to help keep you on course.
Bear-y Special Flora and Fauna
Bear Mountain’s ascent isn’t just a journey in elevation. It’s also a trek through diverse vegetation. Starting with tall pine trees, the trail transitions to the distinct red-barked manzanita trees. As you climb higher, the landscape shifts, introducing an array of vegetation.
The Reward: Breathtaking Views
Bear Mountain isn’t just a pretty face. It has curves, edges, and exquisite spots that will capture your heart (and your camera lens). Watch for intriguing rock formations, serene overlooks, and perhaps a critter or two scurrying under the vibrant vegetation.
Each twist and turn brings new vistas into view. As you climb, you can see views of Fay Canyon to the northeast and Sycamore Canyon.
A GoPro is a great way to capture the views as you climb. Sometimes, I was so focused on watching my footing that I felt like I was missing the views.
Oh, and watch your footing; don’t get too close to the edge. And for the love of all that is good, hang on to your phone. It’s a long way down if you drop it.
The Downward Trek: Safely Navigating Your Descent
Heading back down Bear Mountain poses its own set of challenges. It’s crucial to prioritize your knees and joints by taking it slow and perhaps zigzagging through those particularly steep sections.
The descent demands mindful stepping and perhaps a few pauses to admire the view you might have missed on the way up. Some spots require scooting down on your hands and butt, so take it slow and get down in one piece.
Safeguarding your joints ensures many more hikes in your future – here’s to more adventures and safe trails! Some spots require scooting down on your hands and butt, so take it slow and get down in one piece.
Tail from the Trail
The crowds were small when I hiked here on a Saturday in early October. I started about 7 a.m., and some shade was still on parts of the trail.
Another thing I wanted to mention is that I used hiking poles, which I am new at. With some vertical climbs, the poles got in the way a bit. I had to brace myself against rock walls, and the poles didn’t help. But hiking poles can be helpful if you are comfortable using them.
Note: The trails in the surrounding areas are packed with people and cars parked on the side of the road, so be careful driving to and from this trailhead.
Relax and Refuel: Post-Hike Chill Spots in Sedona
You’ve conquered and snapped; now, it’s time to refuel. With its eclectic mix of cozy cafes and hearty eateries, Sedona is an excellent spot to replenish your expended energy. Or perhaps a spa day? Because, after befriending Bear Mountain, those muscles have surely earned a pamper.
Check out our complete guide to the best things to do in Sedona. Sedona is a fantastic spot to escape for a weekend getaway. There are so many things to see and do. If hiking isn’t your jam, take in the views, enjoy local galleries, or relax at a spa.
Here’s the dealio: this is not an entry-level hike. Bear Mountain is challenging even for avid hikers. I am not trying to scare anyone, but I just want people to know what they are getting into.
Many people train here for the rim-to-rim hikes at the Grand Canyon because the elevation gain at Bear Mountain is similar. On the other hand, you don’t have to go to the top to have a good time and experience this beautiful hike.
Steve Morrow owns Paddle About, an outdoor recreation and travel blog. Steve loves to travel, kayak, paddle board, camp, hike, and spend time outdoors with his wife and two kids. When he's not exploring the great outdoors, Steve enjoys writing about his adventures and sharing tips for getting the most out of your outdoor experiences. He has a lot of interesting stories to share, and he's always happy to help others get more out of life.