Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness, Sedona
By Robert Stieve
If you’ve ever hiked in the Grand Canyon or Sycamore Canyon or Aravaipa Canyon, Long Canyon won’t strike you as all that long. And its eponymous hike is even shorter. It’s only 6 miles round-trip, with no significant elevation change. That means it’s easy, and unlike those other marquee canyons, this one can be explored on a whim, without a lot of prep work — no training hikes, no topographic maps to study, no power diets. All you have to do is roll out of bed and hop in the car.
The trail begins just off the paved road that leads to the luxurious Enchantment Resort. But don’t let the neighborhood give you the wrong idea. This is a wilderness hike, and all signs of civilization disappear quickly, leaving you alone with a contingent of Sedona’s iconic red rocks, including Wilson Mountain, Maroon Mountain, Steamboat Rock, and a number of unnamed cliffs, spires, windows and arches. As you might expect, the panoramas are spectacular.
You’ll see that firsthand within the first few minutes of the hike. You’ll also see manzanitas and junipers along the path, which is red dirt and easy to follow. After about 5 minutes, you’ll come to an old jeep road. Turn right, hike another 30 yards, and follow the trail to the left. This stretch can be a little confusing, but a few minutes later, you’ll come to a sign that confirms you’re on the Long Canyon Trail — there’s no signage at the trailhead. About 15 minutes later, after passing an intersection with the Deadmans Pass Trail, you’ll arrive at the boundary of the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness.
All wilderness areas are special, but this is one of the crown jewels. Within its 43,950 acres, you’ll find everything from banana yuccas, agaves and junipers to cottonwoods, bigtooth maples and ponderosas. Badgers, bobcats, mule deer and mountain lions are in there, as well, along with ravens, red-tailed hawks, Steller’s jays and a litany of other plants and animals. And, of course, the red rocks.
Just beyond the wilderness boundary, the trail dips into a small wash, on the other side of which the trees start getting taller. At the 45-minute mark, you’ll see your first ponderosa, which is surrounded by a cluster of alligator junipers. Big gators. From there, the trail winds through a small drainage. The drainage is usually dry, but it still supports a community of water-loving vegetation, including a number of Arizona cypress trees, which are easily recognized by their shaggy bark and round, gum-ball-sized seeds. As the elevation climbs, oaks and other deciduous trees start showing up. The trail is well shaded along this stretch. That’s not a selling point in January, but other times of year, it’s a relief.
The topography remains about the same for the rest of the route, although, the walls start closing in and the ponderosas start getting bigger. The vegetation gets thicker, too, and the cairns start to pile up. Technically, even cairns are a violation of the Leave No Trace principles, but in the interest of “safety first,” they do come in handy. As a general rule, be religious about what’s best for Mother Nature, and respect the utopian ideals of our wilderness areas.
The trail ends after 90 minutes at a sandstone wall where there are a few small Indian ruins and some primitive pictographs. If you’re lucky enough to find them, leave them alone — it’s illegal to disturb them. Instead, take a look around, enjoy the moment and the solitude, and then begin the short walk out of Long Canyon.
Photo: The 6-mile round-trip Long Canyon Trail leads into the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness. | Mark Frank
Length: 6 miles round-trip
Elevation: 4,551 to 5,379 feet
Trailhead GPS: N 34˚54.722’, W 111˚49.544’
Directions: From the roundabout intersection of State Route 179 and State Route 89A in Sedona, drive west on SR 89A for approximately 3.1 miles, turn right onto Dry Creek Road, and continue 2.8 miles to Long Canyon Road (Forest Road 152D). Turn right onto Long Canyon Road and continue 0.8 miles to the trailhead on the left.
Vehicle Requirements: None
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Horses Allowed: Yes
USGS Map: Wilson Mountain
Information: Red Rock Ranger District, 928-203-7500 or www.fs.usda.gov/coconino