Sunday, September 30, 2012

North Wilson Mountain, Sedona Area, Arizona

Distance: 10.0 miles round trip (16.1 km)
Elevation: 4,750-6,840 feet (1448 - 2085 m)
Difficulty: Strenuous
Time of Year: March - November

A view from the summit of Wilson Mountain with Bill Williams Mountain visible in the distance

The North Wilson Mountain trail is one of the most diverse trails with some of the grandest views in Northern Arizona. You climb out of the famous Oak Creek Canyon, climb through areas of burned areas full of dense chaparral shrubs and expansive fields of wildflowers, shadowy forested canyons with maples and firs, open Ponderosa pine forests, pinyon-juniper savannas, and then a views back down 2,000 feet across all of these ecosystems.

Fire did not burn the cooler shady canyons where pines and firs remain alive

The trail begins at the Encinoso Picnic Area located off Highway 89A. Make sure you have a Federal Interagency Pass or Red Rock Pass when parking there. Trail begins climbing almost immediately. It heads up a draw that was burned about 6 years ago. There are a number of fallen logs and some brush that has grown over the trail. It doesn't look like the trail has been maintained in a few year. But, as you head further up the draw, you will come across some patches of live forest where the trees survived in the cooler north-facing slopes with fire scares on their trunks.

The trail then begins climbing steeply up the cliff. As you reach the summit of the first ridge, you will get your first spectacular views back down the length of Oak Creek Canyon. The trail then follows the ridgeline gradually climbing until reaching a flat mesa top.

On top of this first flat-topped mesa, you have passed phase one of this diverse trail. Phase two is an open mesa filled with thousands of wildflowers following the summer monsoon season. To the east, you will see Oak Creek Canyon below and the other rim across the canyon bright yellow in flowers. To the west, there is the other mesa located a few hundred feet higher up. The southern portion of this mesa is called South Wilson Mountain. This is the mountain visible from Downtown Sedona and at that summit there is a viewpoint back down onto Sedona. 

After crossing the first mesa, you will meet a trail intersection. If you head left, you will come to a viewpoint looking over east Sedona and up toward Schnebly Hill. If you head right (the sign directs you), you begin climbing the slope of the next mesa. As you rise above the first mesa, you can see expansive views across the Mogollon Rim and Mormon Mountain becomes obvious in the distance.

Yellow blooms of wildflowers tint the surface of the Mogollon Rim

Upon reaching the summit of the second mesa, you will head in and out of forests. If it is late summer, wildflowers will be plentiful. But, there will be more of them in the open areas that were burned in the 2006 Brins Mesa Fire. After heading up a slope you will encounter another trail intersection, which may be obscured by a large fallen tree, that will direct you to the "Sedona Overlook" located to the left. I recommend you take this 0.4 mile spur to get an incredible view from the summit of South Wilson Mountain across all of the Sedona Red Rock area and even out across the Verde Valley to Mingus Mountain. On a clear day, you can even see Granite Mountain and the Bradshaw Mountains near Prescott.

Once you return to the intersection, continue right for 1.4 miles across open burned forest areas toward North Wilson Mountain. It will pass through an couple of closed forest sections, but most of it is open, offering glimpses of the landscape surrounding the mountain. Once you you reach the end of the trail, you will arrive at a cliff that drops nearly 2,000 feet straight down.

The trail will branch off to the left and right very close to the cliff edge. To the right, the view is one down the length of Oak Creek Canyon, with the San Francisco Peaks and Mount Elden visible in the distance.

Oak Creek Canyon with the San Francisco Peaks to the left and Mount Elden to the right

To the left, you will be able to see across almost all of the Secret Mountain Wilderness and backcountry areas of the Red Rocks region. Directly below you can see Vultee Arch (another must-do hike to be described later). Sit back, eat lunch, and enjoy the incredible splendor in the shade of large Ponderosa pines and Douglas fir on the rock edge. Then return the way you came.

Vultee Arch located almost 2,000 feet below North Wilson Mountain


Anonymous said...

This trail is awesome. I went to Az on a business trip in December knowing there were tons of trails I brought my boots. I was so glad to do to have found this one. It snowed the day before so when starting out it was dry with slush here and there about mid way I started hitting an inch or two. I think by the time I made it to the top there was about 4-5 inches. This trail is perfect year round if you ask me. The white snow tops are beautiful and coming across packs of deer breath taking.

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