Explore Arizona

4 new Sedona trails for hikers, bikers

The Arizona Republic

Apr 21 2016

After you’ve been out of high school for a long time, everything seems different when you return. Of course, the school I revisited wasn’t mine in the first place, so that may have been a factor. And unlike the wrinkled and sagging faces of former classmates at a 40-year reunion, the changes I saw did not make me feel old.

I went to Sedona’s Red Rock High School to hike and discovered several new options.

The school serves as a trailhead for Schuerman Mountain Trail, a moderate route across the broad back of Schuerman which is more mesa than mountain. The Forest Service has been busy here lately. It recently unveiled three new trails radiating from the school and another one nearby. It was a sweet gift. I felt like I did when a quiz got canceled because the mimeograph machine was broken. And knowing what mimeograph is — now that makes me feel old.

Scorpion, Pyramid, Skywalker and Sketch are the latest additions to the Sedona trail system. All are the result of continued cooperation between the Forest Service and the mountain-biking community. By working together to build official trails that offer challenges to all skill levels, there has been a decrease in haphazard user-created trails that damage habitat. It’s a winning scenario for everyone who likes to hike or bike in Sedona’s captivating outback.

Scorpion-Pyramid loop

From the parking lot, I started on the Schuerman Mountain Trail. Almost immediately, Scorpion peels off to the left. It hugs the flank of the mountain, zigzagging through the scrubby forest. The biker design is immediately obvious because of the comfortable flow and swooping turns. This was once a bootleg route known as Special Ed. It was renamed Scorpion after the mascot of Red Rock High School.

At 1 mile, Pyramid Trail enters on the right. I continued on Scorpion to make a clockwise loop of the two trails. Bikers should turn onto Pyramid so they can tackle a short but steep section of trail as a downhill. Most of Pyramid is rated intermediate but the steep patch — about 200 yards with uneven rocky spots — should only be attempted by advanced riders.

Past Pyramid, Scorpion begins gradually dropping downhill for the final 0.9 mile. It ends at a dirt parking lot at the Upper Red Rock Loop Road/Chavez Ranch Road intersection. Just before that terminus, it reconnects to the Pyramid Trail.

I turned right on Pyramid to complete the loop encircling the namesake formation. Although from this angle, it’s difficult to see a pyramid shape. Don’t sweat it. Just enjoy the beautiful hike that climbs onto a bench at the base of a towering red-rock wall. There’s a nice grove of ocotillo here, accompanied by dramatic views of Cathedral Rock. For the best photo options, do this hike in the afternoon to put the sun at your back when facing Cathedral.

The steep segment is the kind I don’t mind climbing because every time I pause to catch my breath, I’m soaking in some big panoramas. Once atop the plateau, it was a quick ramble back to the junction with Scorpion Trail, and another mile to my truck. But I wasn't done yet.

Difficulty: Moderate.

Length: 4.1 miles.

Skywalker-Old Post-Herkenham loop

The trailhead for Skywalker is directly across the road from the high school. There are a few parking spots, or use the same lot for the previous hike. As soon as I finished the Scorpion Trail, I crossed the road and walked down Skywalker.

Skywalker first moseys past a Courtyard by Marriott hotel under construction but quickly bends east as it crosses mostly open ground with a scattering of woods accessorized by wildflowers. Paintbrush grew under several bushes and there was plenty of globemallow, cliffrose and Goodding’s verbena. The standouts were bunches of blackfoot daisies lining the trail. It looked like leftover bouquets from a cultish mass wedding.

I enjoyed impressive views from the lofty perch. This is something Sedona does just about better than anywhere else in the state, providing visitors almost instant access to backcountry. Trails start right in town but within minutes you’re walking or riding amid scenic beauty so palpable it jolts you. Skywalker ends at Old Post Trail, a mail route back in horse-and-buggy days. This is also part of a network trails that surround Carroll Canyon, so plenty of additional treks are available.

I hung a right onto Old Post and ambled slightly downhill on the western side of Carroll Canyon for about a mile until I reached the turnoff for the Herkenham Trail. I returned via this path, crossing a big wash along the way. The entire Skywalker-Old Post-Herkenham loop is rated intermediate for mountain bikers.

Difficulty: Easy.

Length: 3.7 miles.

Sketch-Ridge loop

Sketch is the last of the new trails and though it doesn’t launch from the high school, it’s not far away. It’s long been a favorite for Sedona mountain bikers, so I tip my hat to them because it’s a peach.

Much of Sketch is an exposed path clinging to the eastern rim of Carroll Canyon. With nothing on one side but air, views are epic. Footing is firm but if exposure and drop-offs make you nervous, better skip this hike. Apparently, those qualms aren’t in biker DNA because Sketch is considered an intermediate ride.

Sketch intersects Ridge Trail in two places, so it makes a natural loop. The easiest access is from Chavez Ranch Road. I started north on Ridge Trail but soon Sketch enters from the left and I veered onto that. While Ridge climbs the middle of the hill, Sketch pushes out to the edge. It’s a gorgeous hike and, as a bonus, I got great views of the Pyramid, quite distinct from this vantage point.

The trail finally pulls back from the edge and meanders through woodlands sugared with blackfoot daisies before it rejoins Ridge. I turned south and enjoyed more big panoramas on the return to my truck.

Difficulty: Moderate.

Length: 2.7 miles.

New Sedona hiking trails

Scorpion-Pyramid loop: From the intersection of State Route 89A and State Route 179 in Sedona, travel west on 89A for 4.2 miles to Upper Red Rock Loop Road. Turn left and go 0.25 mile, then turn right into the third driveway at Red Rock High School and proceed to the signed trailhead parking.

Skywalker-Old Post-Herkenham loop: Follow the directions to Upper Red Rock Loop Road. Turn left and go 0.25 mile to parking on the left.

Sketch-Ridge loop: Follow the directions to Upper Red Rock Loop Road. Turn left and go 1.5 miles to Chavez Ranch Road. Turn left and drive past the end of the pavement. Ridge Trail crosses the road at 0.8 mile. Pullouts for parking are 200 yards beyond.

Admission: Free.

Details: 928-203-2900, www.fs.usda.gov/coconino.

This article originally appeared in The Arizona Republic.