The Best Scenic Sunrise Hikes in Sedona, Arizona

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive commissions when you click links and make purchases at no extra cost to you. View details here. By purchasing items through the included links, you help me (Sam) keep this site running. Thank you for your support!

Red Rock formations, pink skies, hot air balloons and early mornings are some of my favorite things about sunrise in Sedona, Arizona. Sedona is the world’s most magical desert destination, filled with natural beauty, easy trails, and unique caves, and despite the crowds, still has a calmness to it- maybe in thanks to the many energizing vortexes found within its red rocks.

Sedona is a haven for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. With magnificent views, sky-high butte formations, and sweeping canyons, the rich, fiery colors look absolutely brilliant at sunrise, and even better with the right amount of clouds. Even if the clouds do not show up, sunrise is still the best time of day to enjoy the beauty of Sedona.

Catching a sunrise in Sedona is less about seeing the actual sun rise and more about seeing how the sun transforms the surrounding landscapes. Embark on one of the best sunrise hikes in Sedona, and you’ll know exactly what I mean.  

There’s a sunrise excursion for everyone in Sedona, from the most challenging hikes to family-friendly paths and flat lookouts. Strap on your hiking boots and hit the trails early in the morning to enjoy the best sunrise hikes in Sedona.

Hot air balloon in front of Cathedral Rock in Sedona

Tips for Watching Sunrise in Sedona

Before you embark on a sunrise hike in Sedona know that parking can be very tough at most trailheads. The Sedona Shuttle is a great way to avoid the headache of parking, but it only operates Thursday-Sunday, 6:30 am to 5 pm (check the website for updates), which means you’ll miss sunrise if you take the shuttle. It is best to plan your sunrise hikes outside of the shuttle operating days, as parking will be prohibited at some trailheads if the shuttle is running.

Sunrise is anywhere between 5 am and 7:30 am, depending on the time of the year. Check daily sunrise times at Time and Date. Make sure to allow yourself enough time to secure parking and hike to your desired sunrise spot. Ideally, it is best to be at your sunrise spot 30 mins to 45 mins before the sun rises above the horizon for the best views and photo ops. The magical lighting of Blue hour happens 20-30 mins before sunrise, and Golden Hour is the hour right after sunrise. Once the sun rises above the horizon, the landscapes dramatically change- and not for the best. Harsh shadows and washed-out views will start to appear, so rise early to enjoy the best sunrise hikes in Sedona.

Always download off line maps to help your self navigate, especially if you are hiking up in the dark. I use All Trails and highly recommend the paid version for off line trail maps. If you are an avid hiker this app comes in super handy.

You will also need a Red Rock Pass to access some of these trails. Check the site to know what areas in Sedona require a Red Rock Pass. You can also use an America the Beautiful National Park Pass to avoid the Red Rock Pass Program fee. Display your Park Pass on the driver’s side dashboard when parked in a Red Rock Pass zone.

The Best Hiking Trails for Sunrise in Sedona 

From the most popular hikes up rock buttes to secret caves and mountain summits, here are the best sunrise hikes in Sedona, Arizona. Add any of these to your 5-day Sedona itinerary for a spectacular Arizona getaway.

Bell Rock

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Distance: 0.8 miles
  • Route Type: Out & Back
  • Elevation Gain: 203 ft
  • Parking: About 35 spots at Bell Rock Vista parking lot and Courthouse Vista lot. Both lots provide access to Bell Rock and surrounding trails.

Bell Rock is one of Arizona’s most remarkable red rock buttes and one of my favorite sunrise hikes in Sedona. Just north of Oak Creek Village, Bell Rock is a popular spot for both Sedona sunrise and sunset hikes and offers plenty of additional hiking in the area.

While there are a plethora of hiking trails around Bell Rock, I recommend conquering the Bell Rock Access Trail that takes you to the very top!

This 0.8 mile out-and-back trail may only have a 200-foot elevation gain, but it’s a very steep, moderately challenging and not well-marked. However, the unbridled panoramic red rock views from the summit make it totally worth the effort. 

To embark on this hike, start from the Courthouse Vista lot, then connect with the Bell Rock Access Trail also labeled as the Bell Rock Loop Extension Follow the signs for “Bell Rock Climb” or “Upper Bell-Rock.” 

Once you’ve done your fair share of rock scrambling to the top, it’s time to take in the 360-degree canyon views painted with the soft morning colors. 

Looking for a slightly easier alternative? Try out the Courthouse Butte & Bell Rock Loop trail which is over 3 miles but significantly flatter. 

Airport Loop Trail + Airport Mesa Trail

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Distance: 3.2 miles
  • Route Type: Loop
  • Elevation Gain: 416 ft
  • Parking: The small parking area at the trailhead holds 10 cars or pay $3 to park at the Airport Road, Sedona View Trail parking lot.

The Airport Loop Trail is easily combined with the Airport Summit Trail (also called the Airport Overlook and the Mesa Vortex), which is one of the easiest and shortest Sedona sunrise (and sunset) hikes there is. These trails have gorgeous views of Sedona and, when combined, will give you a complete hiking experience. 

Plan to arrive early and park at the Airport Mesa Road lot to accomplish this easy hike. If there is no parking head to the Sedona View Trail parking lot, 0.5 miles past the Airport Mesa Trailhead lot and take the 1.4 mile Sedona View Trail to the Summit Trail.

From the Airport Mesa lot walk along the small, flat path for about 5 minutes towards the Airport Mesa lookout. Elevation gain is super minimal – less than 100 feet! 

You’ll arrive at the Airport Vortex Summit Trail in no time. This is the best spot to sit and watch as the sun rises! 

Look out across the sweeping valley and majestic canyons towering right in front of you. The Red Rock State Park landscape, Thunder Mountain and the town of Sedona will gradually glow with the soft pink and blue hues of sunrise. 

After sunrise head back down to the trailhead and continue along the Airport Loop Trail. This moderate loop trail in Red Rock State Park is 3.3 miles total, and circles Airport Mesa and Table Top Mountain. 

Open and unshaded, it’s perfect for unobstructed valley views. Sunrise is the perfect time to try this hike, as the afternoon sun is quite strong here. 

Once you arrive at Airport Vista Overlook, you’ll be able to admire the most beautiful rock formations washed in the morning light. 

Look to the east to see the Twin Buttes. Look south to see Cathedral Rock. And on the north side, you’ll see Thunder Mountain, Chimney Rock, and Coffee Pot Rock

For additional views, take the optional short Tabletop Trail to see Sedona’s “Pyramid”.

Sunset at Slickrock Trail in Sedona

Red Rock Crossing and Baldwin Trail to Oak Creek

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: 1 mile
  • Route Type: Loop
  • Elevation Gain: 65 ft
  • Parking: Parking lot along Verde Valley School Road near the Baldwin Trail Head.

This area in the Coconino National Forest is a spectacular place to explore. Trails and scenic drives reveal magnificent scenery, natural pools, and stunning river gorges. 

A hike along this short 1 mile loop trail is an unforgettable way to enjoy a Sedona sunrise with stunning views of Cathedral Rock and the morning sun rising between its pillars.

Red Rock Crossing is easy and flat and meanders along Oak Creek before returning along Verde Valley School Road taking less than 30 mins to complete. Many people head to Oak Creek to enjoy a refreshing swim on a warm summer day and photographers love capturing the reflection of Cathedral Rock in its waters.

Many other trails intersect each other in this area so if an easy 1 mile trail isn’t your style you have plenty of options to extend your sunrise hike. I especially love taking the Baldwin Trail to the Templeton Trail to the top of Cathedral Rock which has fantastic panoramic views no matter what time of day you make it to the summit.

Cathedral Rock Summit view of red rock vistas

Cathedral Rock Trail

  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Distance: 1.2 miles
  • Route Type: Out and back
  • Elevation Gain: 741 ft
  • Parking: There are two lots off of Back’O Beyond Road. Parking is not allowed at the trailhead Thursday-Sunday during shuttle hours.

Cathedral Rock is a magnificent, towering red rock formation with dramatic pillars that can be reached in a few different ways. It is one of the most popular hikes in Sedona– and for a good reason.

The Cathedral Rock Trail is a short but moderately challenging 1.2-mile hike that takes you to the top of the formation in about an hour with a bit of a steep climb. This well-marked, steep trail is easy to navigate, and cairns will guide you to the summit.  

Rock scrambling is involved, so be sure to wear a headlamp on the way up to keep both hands free. 

Once you arrive at the top, you’re in for a serious treat. The sun rises behind the summit illuminating the sweeping red valley below with delicate pinks and fiery oranges. With the most magical panoramic summit, the top of Cathedral Rock is one of the best spots in Sedona for a spectacular view.

If you are up for a longer hike, start from the Boynton Canyon Trail off of Verde Valley Road. Take the Boynton Canyon trail to Templeton Trail to the Cathedral Rock Trailhead. You will get great views of Cathedral Rock and walk along Oak Creek before heading towards more open views of the surrounding buttes.

Girl sitting on a ledge in with red rock scenery along Devil's Bridge Trail

Mescal to Chuckwagon to Devil’s Bridge Trail

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Distance: 4.0
  • Route Type: Out & Back
  • Elevation Gain: 512 ft
  • Parking: There is a 22 car lot at the Mescal Trailhead. If you have a 4×4 high clearance vehicle you can skip Mescal Trail and park at the small lot at the Devils Bridge trailhead. You can also reach Devils Bridge Trailhead by parking at the Dry Creek Visit Lot and walking along the 4×4 road to Devil’s Bridge Trailhead. Sedona Shuttle operates to the Dry Creek Rd parking lot Thursday-Sunday from the Posse Ground Park and Ride location. Check to see if Dry Creek Rd. lot is open during shuttle operating days.

Devil’s Bridge is a spectacular natural red rock arch that appears to hang over the canyons and across the sky. Visitors don’t mind waiting in long lines to snap photos on Devil Bridge because of its sheer natural beauty, and breathtaking scenery.

Devil’s Bridge Trail is one of the best sunrise hikes in Sedona, and one of the busiest. Start this hike early for the best views and to avoid the crowds at the bridge which seem to double by 8am. Starting from Mescal Trail means walking through a shaded trail and crossing Oak Creek (ankle deep water with stepping stones) and but allows for more 360 views of the surrounding red rocks and more fantastic sunrise spots.

Give yourself at least 20 mins to get to the best sunrise vista along Mescal Trail or at least an hour to reach some of the best sunrise views along Devil’s Bridge Trail. If you do have a 4×4 vehicle you can shave 2 miles off your hike by parking at the Devil’s Bridge Trailhead.

Either way, you’ll have parking lots all to yourself before 7am, as fewer people come for sunrise. Space is a luxury at Devil’s Bridge, which is typically jam-packed with sunset viewers. 

Once you arrive at the bridge from the hiking trail, you’ll see two options. One path is to the left, taking you below the bridge. To walk along the top of the arch, take the steeper path to the right. This section of the trail gets really muddy and slippery and in cold temperatures is covered in ice so be careful.

Walk along the bridge and enjoy the sunrise illuminating the colorful Red Rocks and explore the other stunning viewpoints overlooking the wilderness below.

Bear Mountain Trail

  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Distance: 4.9 miles
  • Route Type: Out & Back
  • Elevation Gain: 2,024 ft
  • Parking: Trailhead parking lot off of Boynton Pass Road

Bear Mountain is the most challenging hike on this list, but it offers immense rewards (and not just beautiful sunrise colors!) 

Situated in Coconino National Forest, the Bear Mountain summit hike is 4.9 miles of beautiful high-elevation views. Taking around 3.5 hours total when following the white diamond trail markers to the top. 

You’ll be blown away by the 360-degree views from the summit.

Spot Fay Canyon in the distance and admire Flagstaff’s far-off San Francisco Peaks. As a breathtaking bonus, you’ll have a chance to spot Sedona’s hot air balloons launching at sunrise.    

Pro Tip: Attempting this hike in winter? Be prepared to face some snow and ice. Bring a windbreaker for any season, as the top gets chilly and windy. 

Birthing Cave

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Distance: 2.0
  • Route Type: Out & Back
  • Elevation Gain: 291 ft
  • Parking: Small lot at Long Canyon Trail trailhead with some street parking

The Birthing Cave is one of the best sunrise hikes in Sedona– Why? It’s a bit off the beaten path. The path to this secret cave is a flat, short trail that only takes about 30 minutes (as long as you don’t get lost). And the photo ops at sunrise are off the charts. 

So how do you find this enchanting cave? First, you’ll hike along Long Canyon Trail for about 0.6 miles, accessed via the Long Canyon Trailhead. 

At this point, the path will fork. Take the left path for roughly 0.3 miles. Then you’ll see a narrow pathway that climbs steeply upward into the red rocks. This is the homestretch to Birthing Cave.

Once there, make your way to the back of the cave. This is where you’ll find that famous teardrop-shaped cave opening overlooking the magnificent canyons below. 

It’s a pristine place to cozy up and watch the sunrise over the mountains. For prime color-changing effects, arrive about 45 minutes before the sun comes up. 

Soldier Pass Trail

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Distance: 4.5 miles
  • Route Type: Loop
  • Elevation Gain: 839 ft
  • Parking: The trailhead lot is closed Thursday-Sunday. There are 14 spots at the gated trailhead open 8am-5 pm when the shuttle is not operating. Alternatively, you can park at the Jim Thompson/Jordan Road/Brines Mesa trailheads lot, and take Cibola Pass Trail #197 to Jordan Trail to Solider’s Pass which adds about 2 miles to the total hike to Solider’s Pass but is the best way to catch the sunrise.

Soldier Pass Trail in Coconino National Forest is a moderate hike with some of the best Sedona sunrise views. 

This 4.3 mile loop will take you a little over 2 hours to complete and features some of the most spectacular natural features of Sedona along the way. Stop at geological sites like the Devil’s Kitchen SinkholeSeven Sacred Pools, or continue down a spur trail to Soldier’s Pass Cave as you go. 

The peak of the trail will bring you to a wide-open mesa, with sweeping red rock vistas that glow under the pink and orange morning sun.

If you want to make this hike a bit quicker, park at the Jordan Road parking lot and connect to the Cibola Pass Trail. Hike for 0.7 miles, then connect with Jordan Trail. Hike along Jordan trail for another 0.3 miles until you arrive at Soldier Pass Trail. This route cuts down on distance and avoids the treacherous parking situation at Solider’s Pass Trailhead. 

Views of Chimney Rock and Thunder Mountain from Sugarloaf Summit

Sugarloaf Loop Trail

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: 1.9 miles
  • Route Type: Loop
  • Elevation Gain: 354 ft
  • Parking: Small 14 car lot at the Teacup Trailhead with access to Sugarloaf Loop, No official parking at the Sugar Loaf Loop Trailhead.

Sugarloaf Mountain Loop Trail is totally underrated-it’s absolutely one of the best sunrise hikes in Sedona (and my favorite easy Sedona hike) to see some of Sedona’s best 360° views.

This easy hike along the sandstone Sugarloaf hill features red-rock formations that dominate the landscape. Park at the Teacup Trail parking lot and follow signs for the Teacup trail.

Soon you’ll come across a fork in the road. Take the Sugar Loaf Loop Trail to the right and if you are up for a little exercise follow the Sugarloaf Summit trail to the top. It is a short moderate hike to the summit where sweeping views of Sedona Town, Wilson Mountain, Coffee Pot Rock, Thunder Mountain, Chimney Rock and more await. It is also a great spot to see some hot air balloons flying high in the distance.

Give yourself at least 20 mins to reach the summit of Sugarloaf, the best place to be for sunrise. However, if you get a late start and don’t make it to the stop by sunrise you will still enjoy fantastic views of the red rocks shimmering in the morning sun. The summit views are fantastic no matter what time of day you enjoy them.

Pink Jeep on a dirt road with Red Rock Buttes in the background

Best ways to see the Sunrise without hiking 

Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride

If you are looking for more of a unique sunrise experience than just hiking, consider a hot air balloon ride that will take you soaring above the red rocks for an incredibly unique experience. At $350 per person, it is quite pricy but if you have never been on a hot air balloon ride, Sedona is a fantastic place to splurge on this bucket list experience.

I’ve flown in hot air balloons in Cappadocia, Turkey and Luxor, Egypt and absolutely loved the birds eye view of the magical surrounding scenery. It really is a special experience; yes you are packed into the basket with 13 to 18 other eager tourists but the fact that everyone is excited helps makes up for the cramped quarters.

Take a Jeep Tour

One of the most popular excursions in Sedona are the 4×4 open air Jeep Tours that take you to places normal highway cars can’t reach. They also include an educated guide and promise an adventurous experience. A Day in the West offers Private Tours starting at $99 a person up to 6 people. Pink Jeep Tours and AZ Safari Jeep Tours also offer private and group tours daily.

Enjoy a Scenic Drive

You can’t get much better of a vantage point than a hot air balloon ride but if your budget doesn’t allow for it, or hiking isn’t your thing, or you are pressed for time, having trouble parking or just simply want to enjoy the sunrise from the comfort of your car, you are in luck! Many scenic areas around Sedona are perfect for just that.

Here are some of the best scenic drives in Sedona for sunrise:

Verde Valley School Road turns into a packed dirt road right after the school and dead ends into the Red Rock Crossing trail along Oak Creek. It provides some great views of surrounding buttes and vistas with room on the shoulder to pull off to the side of the road and snap a few pictures.

Red Rock Scenic Byway is 7.5 miles long. Head north from Oak Creek along Hwy 179 and get gorgeous views of Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte in the early morning hours.

State Road 89A is much longer, over 80 miles, but the section that goes through West Sedona to Cottonwood offers many red rock views, including Thunder Mountain and Coffee Pot Rock.

Boynton Pass Road intersects with Dry Creek road off of 89A and has a ton of great scenery. At sunrise see Fay canyon, Bear Mountain, Boynton canyon and more in the Secret Mountain Wilderness light up with the morning rays. Boynton Pass Road turns into the unpaved Forest Service 152C Road about 1.3 miles west of the Fay Canyon Trail parking lot. Although unpaved it is pretty flat and most cars can pass with no problems with good conditions, however the views are best from the paved road.

***

No matter how you view the sunrise or sunset in Sedona, one thing is certain, you’ll love the experience if for nothing more than the calmness and serenity of the early morning hours. I recommend at least 5 days in Sedona to get a good taste of all this stunning Red Rock town has to offer, but you can also see a lot with just 3 days in Sedona. Make sure to catch a sunrise and head out on one of Sedona’s best hikes to get a feel of the natural wonders exploding with the energy that makes Sedona a world class destination!

Shop Travel Gear

Shop all my current obsessions and travel essentials I can’t live without. I only recommend products I’ve actually tried and loved!

Sam wearing backpack and hat walking through town.

The Best Travel Apps

Want To Travel Easier?

Get my Free Guide to the Best Travel Apps straight to your inbox

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Similar Posts