Water rushes over sandstone and granite ledges on Wet Beaver Creek.
© Randy Prentice
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Bell TrailIf you've had too much eggnog and holiday cheer recently, this scenic route near Sedona is the perfect way to get back on track.
By Robert Stieve
This is one of those trails the locals like to keep to themselves for fear it'll be inundated by city mice searching for a dose of the great outdoors. However, unlike the Colonel's recipe, the secret's out. It's been out. Nevertheless, this trail is never too crowded. You won't be alone, but you won't be stuck in a conga line of neophytes, either.
The trailhead is located a stone's throw from Sedona Exit 298 off of Interstate 17. There are two main trails in the area — Apache Maid and Bell — and both take off from the Bruce Brockett Trailhead, which is named for the late poet, politician and cattleman who owned the surrounding V Bar V Ranch. As you look around, you'll see why he sank his roots in this vibrant red dirt. It's spectacular.
Like many of the trails around Sedona, the Bell Trail is doable any time of year. In the summer, Wet Beaver Creek, which parallels the trail, offers a respite from the heat. During the other three seasons, including winter, the creek is just another carrot at the end of the stick — with or without the water, this trek is one of the best.
The trail kicks off in a field of rocks and prickly pear cactuses. Watch your step. These things hate people. After about a mile or so, you'll come to a cattle gate, followed by a series of switchbacks that lead toward the creek. Although the Bell Trail doesn't intersect the creek until Bells Crossing, there are a number of side trails that'll take you down to the water, which runs year-round and is home to smallmouth bass and trout.
At the end of the switchbacks, you'll see a large dead cottonwood. Just beyond the tree, look up to the left at the hillside of prickly pears. If the sun is shining, the cactuses will appear as if they've been rigged with fiber optics. You won't see anything like this in Michigan.
After another mile or so of meandering, the trail leads to the boundary of Wet Beaver Creek Wilderness Area, which was established in 1984 and encompasses 6,000 acres. The Weir Trail veers to the right at this point; the Bell Trail continues east. As you head that way, look up, down, left or right and you'll get an eyeful. Eventually, the trail climbs to a narrow bench that runs along the canyon's north wall. It's the perfect place to kick back, listen to the creek and eat a Zone bar.
From there, the path drops down to the canyon bottom, where it finally fords the creek at Bells Crossing. Although the trail continues for another 1.5 miles to the south rim, this is the obvious turnaround point. In the summer, this is where you'll take your shoes off. In January, it's simply another dose of the great outdoors — the carrot at the end of the stick.
Trail Guideclick to expand
Length: 6.6 miles round-trip (to Bells Crossing)
Elevation Gain: 3,820 to 4,100 feet
Directions: From Phoenix, take Interstate 17 north to Sedona Exit 298 and turn right onto Forest Road 618. Take FR 618 for 1.5 miles to the old Beaver Creek Ranger Station turnoff, turn left, and continue a quarter-mile to the trailhead parking lot.
Special Consideration: A $5 day pass is required.
USGS Map: Mount Bigelow
Leave No Trace Ethics: