Distance: 11.5 miles | Type: Out-and-Back | Time: 6 – 7 hrs | Level: Hard
Wilson Mountain Trail was our favorite hiking adventure in Sedona. It’s the tallest peak in the area and rewards hikers with endless views of Sedona and beyond.
While the hike is long, the trail is well-maintained, and effectively graded making it an enjoyable hike from start to finish.
In this guide, I include what to expect when hiking Wilson Mountain Trail (North and South), what to pack for the summit, and awesome nearby adventures I recommend.
Table of Contents
Complete Guide to Hiking Wilson Mountain Trail
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About Wilson Mountain in Sedona, Arizona
Wilson Mountain is the tallest peak in Sedona standing at 7,122 feet. From the summit, hikers can gaze over 2,000 feet above Sedona.
Wilson Mountain Summit can be accessed via both the north side and the south side. The south trail, commonly referred to as just Wilson Mountain Trail, is the more exposed route. North Wilson Mountain Trail, on the other hand, brings hikers up the backside on a more wooded route.
Both trails provide beautiful views along the way. However, after researching the two trails, we chose to hike Wilson Mountain Trail from the south.
Red Rocks Pass Fee
Regardless of which route you take to explore Wilson Mountain, you will need to pay the Red Rocks Pass Program Fee. The program is a conservation initiative aimed at protecting and preserving Sedona’s incredible landscapes.
A Red Rocks day pass is $5. There is also a week-long pass and a couple of other options. Hikers can purchase the pass at a self-pay kiosk near the trailhead. Before hiking, display the pass on your vehicle dash.
You do not need to purchase a Red Rocks Pass if you have an America the Beautiful National Park pass.
North Wilson Mountain Trail
Distance: 9.5 miles | Type: Out-and-Back | Time: 5 hrs – 6 hrs | Level: Hard
North Wilson Mountain Trail is a slightly shorter, alternate route to summiting Wilson Mountain. This route has somewhat less elevation gain than the south trail but is also rated as difficult.
Completing the hike usually takes around five or six hours. One pro to taking the north route is that it’s less trafficked than the more popular, south option. The trail is also more forested and shaded and is a cooler option during high-temperature days.
Views along North Wilson Trail are also beautiful but perhaps less dramatic than the South Trail. The trail begins at the Encinoso picnic site off of North State Route 89A. Make sure to use the vault toilets here as there are no facilities along the trail.
About 1.8 miles in, the north and south trails converge before continuing to the summit. Just like the south trail, North Wilson Trail culminates at a jaw-dropping viewpoint overlooking Sedona.
What to Expect Hiking Wilson Mountain Trail (South)
The trailhead for Wilson Mountain Trail is located near Midgley Bridge. The parking lot is very small. We arrived just after sunrise and had no issue finding a spot. However, when we were returning to our car post-hike, there was a line of cars waiting.
The trail begins at the back of the parking lot just after the vault toilets. For the first mile, the grade is mellow as the trail leads hikers away from the road and towards the mountain.
This first section of the hike provides the most opportunities for shade. Once you begin the switchback section (around 1.5 miles in) the trail becomes completely exposed to the sun. Around this point, the grade also intensifies but it’s nothing too intense.
The toughest aspect of Wilson Mountain Trail is the loose stones making up the path. Not only are the rocks hard on your feet, but they require a lot of intentional foot placement.
11 miles is a long time to be concentrated on each step. In my opinion, going up was easier than going down.
The trail changes again around mile 2.8 where the south and north trails meet. From here, the views change from dramatic red rocks and canyons to flat chaparral flora.
This is the final stretch to the summit and around 1.5 miles from the long-awaited overlook.
The foliage changes once more when you reach the top and the trail grade levels out. The top is relatively flat and forested.
This final section of the trail brings you to the center of the summit. To experience the views. you have to choose between two paths to follow.
Hikers are presented with a Y on the trail. At this junction, you must choose whether to go left towards Sedona Overlook or right towards North Canyon Overlook.
We went right first towards Sedona Overlook and were blown away. We came across only two other people while soaking in the sweeping views. The overlook provides an unobstructed, panoramic view of Sedona and the surrounding areas.
We spent a lot of time at this overlook, soaking it in and fueling up for the hike back.
However, before we headed back down we made the last-minute decision to check out the other summit trail, pointing towards North Canyon Overlook. We had already walked this far so it seemed silly to not check it out.
In retrospect, we could have skipped this portion of the trail.
Hiking to and from North Canyon Overlook makes up the last three miles of the hike. I don’t think the view is as spectacular as the one you already get at Sedona Overlook.
From North Canyon Overlook you do get a view of the San Fransisco Peaks just north of Flagstaff.
However, if we were to do it again we would save ourselves the three miles and only hike to Sedona Overlook. This route would be 8.5 miles instead of 11.5 miles.
What to Pack
Wilson Mountain Trail is a long hike you want to be properly prepared for. The trail is directly exposed to the sun, rocky, and uphill.
Dressing appropriately and packing the right things will determine whether you spend the next six hours enjoying yourself or wishing you were off the mountain.
One of my favorite things about Wilson Mountain Trail is the changing of scenery and surroundings as you climb in elevation. With the higher elevation comes a drastic change in temperature.
We started the hike in the early morning just after sunrise. We were dressed in flannels layered under our light-down coats. Come mid-hike, I was already down to just my sports bra. By the time we reached the summit, there was snow on the ground and we were bundled up again.
Even if hiking in the summer, I still recommend packing a layer for the summit.
One thing I vividly remember from hiking Wilson Mountain Trail is how rocky the terrain is. For most of the hike, you’re tromping over loose stones and jagged rocks.
You need shoes with good cushion, tread, and support to be able to navigate this trail quickly and confidently.
My favorite hiking shoe I’ve ever found is the Saucony Peregrine ST trail runner.
For a brief time at the beginning and very end of the trail, you get some refuge from the sun, but that’s it. You’re completely exposed to the sun for the remainder of the hike.
Make the hike more enjoyable by throwing a pair of sunglasses, hat, sun-shirt, and/or sunscreen into your day pack.
Water and Snacks
Packing adequate water for a hike at this length is crucial and often overlooked. An easy rule of thumb is to drink about half a liter for every hour of walking.
In the case of Wilson Mountain Trail, you need about three liters on hand. I prefer to carry a water reservoir in my pack as opposed to packing heavy and bulky water bottles.
With a trail this length, the last thing you want to be doing is carrying a phone or water bottle in your hand the whole time. Day packs are a must in order to house your hiking necessities in one place.
Toss your layers, water, sun protection, and snacks into your pack to prepare for the hike.
My favorite small day pack is the Gregory Nano 16L.
Awesome Adventures Nearby
Cathedral Rock Trail for Sunset
Hiking Cathedral Rock Trail for sunset is one of my most cherished moments from our Sedona trip. The trail is very popular and heavily trafficked but it’s extraordinary, nonetheless.
Experience this iconic Sedona spot during its most remarkable hour: sunset. Watch the surrounding rocks glow fiery red from the top, and enjoy the cotton candy hues on the return hike.
Don’t forget to pack your headlamp and, if you’re up for it, take the longer, more secluded route via the Baldwin Trail. For more information, check out my guide, Hiking Cathedral Rock Trail at Sunset.
Hot Air Balloon Ride for Sunrise
Sailing above Sedona at sunrise in a hot air balloon is hands down the most magical way to see the area. Sedona is notorious for its towering rocks surrounding the town.
During sunrise and sunset, these rocks radiate hues of red and orange.
We booked with Red Rock Balloon Adventures and loved every moment of our experience. You even get to toast with celebratory champagne when you land.
Pro Tip: Book your balloon tour for the beginning of your trip dates. Tours often get canceled because weather conditions must be perfect for a safe flight. Leave yourself some wiggle room just in case. We had to reschedule three times before we got to launch.
Indian Gardens Cafe & Market
We stumbled upon Indian Gardens Cafe and Market as we were leaving Sedona on our way to Flagstaff. The cafe has wonderful food and an adorable, large outdoor seating area.
With it being only five minutes down the road from Wilson Mountain Trail, it makes for a great post-hike lunch spot.
Slide Rock State Park
We visited Sedona in February so we opted to skip Slide Rock State Park. However, if you’re visiting during the warmer months definitely check out the area for a fun spot to cool off.
Expect this location to be crowded with others looking to have some fun in the sun and take a ride down the famous 80-foot natural water slide.
If you’re still on the fence about whether or not Wilson Mountain Trail should be added to your Sedona adventure list, drop me your questions below in the comment section.
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