Wilson Mountain Trail Fast Facts
Length: 3.2 miles
Elevation gain: 413 ft.
Type: Out and Back
Dogs: Yes, on a leash
Approximate time to hike: 2 hours
Red Rock Pass: Required.
Parking: Wilson Mountain Trail Parking
About the Wilson Mountain Trail Hike
Wilson Mountain Trail is an 11.5 mile out and back trail that is a must-see for any hiker. Named after Richard Wilson, a bear hunter killed by a grizzly bear in Wilson Canyon in 1885, Wilson Mountain is the tallest mountain around Sedona. The summit is a grassy basalt plateau stretching nearly 2 miles wide, unlike the smaller summits found at the end of other Sedona hiking trails. Wilson Mountain Trail is a long hike with over 2,800 ft. in elevation gain and offers little to no shade – but the view from the top is more than worth the sweat along the way.
Hiking Wilson Mountain Trail
Wilson Mountain has two main trails that will take you to the top. The first is the North Wilson Trail, which is the longer, more difficult, and more scenic of the two. The second option, which is a bit easier but still challenging and worthwhile, is called Wilson Mountain Trail #10. North Wilson Trail starts from the Encinoso picnic area along AZ 89A, while Wilson Mountain Trail #10 begins next to Midgley Bridge. Both are fine options, but we prefer the North Wilson Trail, which this guide will focus on.
Starting from the Encinoso Picnic Ground, the North Wilson Trail starts with a gentle climb up a wooded hill overlooking the parking lot and highway 89A. Once you reach the ridge at the top of the climb, cross over a small grassy area before heading into the woodland. Follow the path straight for about half a mile, heading towards the orange and white cliffs of Oak Creek Canyon.
As you approach the base of the cliffs you’ll run into a shady section of trail before veering southwards and starting a long climb with many switchbacks. This is the steepest and one of the most challenging parts of the whole route, as you’ll gain more than 1,000 feet in less than a mile. Be careful along this stretch as the trail becomes very narrow, and the rocks tend to be very loose. After a bit of hiking, the trail levels off before you arrive at the First Bench of Wilson Mountain. From here, you’ll get a panoramic view of Red Rock Country and an opportunity to rest before continuing on to Wilson Mountain Trail.
While some hikers choose to turn around at the First Bench, most will keep on along the Wilson Mountain Trail. After hiking through a grassy prairie you’ll come to a few moderate switchbacks before approaching an area that’s a mix of new growth and dead trees. The rest of the trail is relatively easy to hike and doesn’t take much time. The Wilson Mountain Peak overlook offers incredible views of Oak Creek Canyon, Capitol Butte, and the Verde Valley. If you’ve made it this far, you owe it to yourself to go the extra mile (literally, it’s about another mile) to the edge of Sterling Canyon. This is where you’ll find the best view in Sedona.
Quick Tips to Hike Wilson Mountain Trail
- Wilson Mountain Trail is a very long trail with a large amount of elevation gain and little shade. Be sure to bring plenty of water and ample sun protection.
- Pack snacks to help you keep your energy up along the way. There are several points along the trail to stop and take a break, so be sure to take full advantage of that.
- Download a map of the trail before you head out so you can be sure that you’re heading the right way. While the trail is well-marked and fairly easy to navigate, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Photography pro tips
Being the tallest mountain in Sedona at 7,122 feet, Wilson Mountain offers some of the best views in Sedona. Of course, a panoramic or wide-angle camera lens will get you some great shots at the top, it’s impossible to go wrong. Our tip is to make sure that you really spend some time at the canyon overlook and explore the different vantage points. You’ll find that your photos will look very different depending on where you’re standing, and depending on the time of day you may get an interesting shot of the sun illuminating the canyon below.