Rating: 5.0 out of 5 stars
Recommended supplies and information:
- Bring at least 100 ounces (3 liters) of water
- Small First Aid Kit
- Trekking Pole for Steep Ascents
Approximate Trekking information:
Distance One Way: 4.6 miles (7.4 km)
Total Hiking Time: 5-6 hours
Elevation at base 4,700 ft to 7,011 ft: 2,311 ft Ascension Climb
Elevation at base Metrics: 1,433 meters to 2,137 meters: 704 meters Ascension Climb
Temperature for January 25, 2015: 57 F to 87.6 F / 13.8 C to 30.8 C
The Most Diverse Hike in Sedona
If you noticed by my 5 star rating, Wilson Mountain North Trail has received a perfect score of 5. Here is why: Wilson Mountain can be accessed to the summit by two main trails, a southern trail and a northern trail. I chose the north trail because of several factors.
1. During the most extreme portion of the trek along with an extreme incline, the northern trail offers complete shade until you reach the first plateau. While the southern trail, a slightly longer trail that starts down by Midgley Bridge, blazes an early morning sun directly on your back the entire ascent.
2. Heading back down on the north trail offers shade again if you’re descending before 2pm. I managed to make it back to the extreme decline around 1:30pm. The temps at that time began to soar upwards to 87F (30C) and the shade of the canyon absolutely helped lower the temps tremendously.
3. Arriving in the early morning, there is ample parking and no crowds during the daytime. My hike began a 7:31am (empty lot). The parking lot was full when I returned but keep in mind it was a holiday weekend with several additional picnic tourists.
4. The mountain trail is made up of multiple facets of terrain; Canyons, dense woods, expansive rolling hill prairies, high desert mesas, scattered pine forests, massive rocky cliffs 360 degrees, and watery regions.
5. The entire trek on the north trail, both up and down, I did not come cross one hiker along the way which added an additional sense of peace and tranquility.
The Trail: Steep but Clever Ascent
After parking my truck in the empty parking lot, I noticed a well supplied picnic ground with restroom facilities and a Park Pass Machine. Since I was trekking on a holiday weekend (President’s Day), no $5 fee was required.
After getting my pack and gear in order I began immediately hiking the North Trail of Wilson Mountain. I knew the trail was going to be a little tough in ascent until I reached the first plateau, but to be honest, it wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be. The trail begins with incredible views of Oak Creek Canyon even at the low altitudes and then quickly flows directly into the shaded hidden canyon. The weather was perfect for hiking and the temperature was very cool when I started out, but as soon as the steepness of the trail hits you within 5 minutes, you begin warming up quickly.
The trail has amazing views of the canyon walls and cliffs, and as the trail switchbacks multiple times, the views become more expansive and beautiful. I liked this trail because I wasn’t so much focussed on the strenuousness of the ascent, but my focus was on the next stretch of zigzag to see what the opening between the forested trees had to offer. Before I knew it I was at the top of the first plateau at 6,200 ft (1,890 meters).
Although I was trekking in mid February I can only imagine the colors of the maple trees within the wet and thickly wooded canyon of October. If it is anything like Loy or Long Canyon trail, the experience would be that much better.
The High Prairie
Once reaching the high desert prairie, it was almost as if I had just entered into another time long ago. Untouched beauty with well vegetated terrain flattened out like a carpet allowing for a gracious and grand view of the green plateaus to the northeast and the summit of Wilson Mountain to the west. I was very pleased by the solitude and majestic panoramic views around me. Photos do not convey the beauty of this wilderness.
Continuing through the prairie about .5 miles (.8 km) eventually brings you to the crossing of the north and south trail. Proceed on the Wilson Mountain Trail and ascend another 505 ft (154 meters) on a gradually inclining trail. The trail eventually brought me to a surprisingly pined forest much to my delight. Actually, I was expecting a sparse flat mesa with no vegetation of any kind, but the clumps and aroma of pine needles and pine cones blank the entire area.
The trail itself had become quite of an obstacle course as seen by the photo above. Yes, the trail continued straight ahead. This part of the trail had multiple locations for setting up a camp for the night. Soft ground with plenty of flat areas to choose for setting down a tent.
The Second Plateau
At 7,000 ft (2,134 meters), the terrain changes again into a mix of sparse pine trees, soggy and dry ground, fallen and lightening struck trees, and a path that is muddy and in some portions very watery due to the recently melted snow. Patches of snow could be seen in shaded areas of the mountain.
Reaching the middle of the Second Plateau, a sign points out two directions to continue onto. The southern direction will bring you to a Sedona town overlook. I spoke with two hikers visiting from San Diego that went to the Sedona overlook and said the views were spectacular. They were also amazed at the beautiful weather they were experiencing on the mountaintop. One of the highlights for me was crossing paths with a white tailed deer swiftly prancing through the tree line.
Choosing the northern trail brought me to the end of Wilson Mountain with incredible views of the canyons looking in the eastern, western, and northern directions. The trail itself stops abruptly with a 2,000 ft (610 meters) cliff drop-off. The view looking down into the canyon where I had just hiked up from was absolutely breathtaking.
The end of Wilson Mountain is shaped like a large horseshoe. So following the perimeter around the outer circumference allows for spectacular photography and scenic views. Also, trekking off-trail for a short bit to ledges, unique and never before seen perspectives can be captured. I would have never known the rock formation existed by the photo above if I had not ventured a few hundred yards. There are so many other locations on the mountain that need to be explored.
Eventually I found my way to a great spot to have a hearty meal with an amazing view. What I also found pleasurable was the opportunity to see Vultee Arch from this high point perspective. I knew the lower treed canyon was Sterling Pass. So I followed my sights along the canyon and then spotted Vultee Arch miles away. To think I just hiked Sterling Pass up to Vultee Arch just two weeks ago.
Final Thoughts: One of the Best in Sedona
Wilson Mountain North Trail was the finest trek I’ve completed in a year. There is so much to see with an incredible variety of terrain whereas it seems as though this is several hikes all rolled up into one. I would highly recommend approaching Wilson Mountain from the North Trail since the southern trail is in the direct sunlight and is congested with multiple tourists stopping to view Midgley Bridge. They use the south Midgley trail parking lot.
This trail is recommended for hikers in moderate to good condition and not for younger children. The initial hike can be rigorous but primarily levels out once you reach the first plateau. Leave early as possible to stay in the shade in the early portions of the trek and at the final descension.
View all images of the trail:
View Complete Trekking Analysis
View GPS Map and photo locations:
From Sedona, go north on Route 89A to Encinoso Picnic Area on the left. Trailhead is adjacent to the parking lot. There is ample parking, but arrive earlier as possible.
Terrain Map to Wilson Mountain North Trail, Sedona, Arizona