Elevation: 4,000 – 4,400 ft
Elevation gain: 400 ft
I asked my parents when they would let me hike while vacationing in Sedona. They said I could hike all I wanted as long as I was back to cook breakfast by 9 AM. Since I was awake by 6:30 AM anyway, I started going out at sunrise to enjoy the area. I did this trail twice, because the southern trailhead is less than 50 yards from where I am staying near the Crescent Moon Picnic Area. I did not have a map at that point and had no idea where the trail would lead, but it turned out to be wonderful early morning hike with 270-degree views of the surrounding areas. The rock cairns were easy to follow and the views were spectacular.
Cathedral Rock in the early morning light. Not the best time to photograph it. Sunset is much better.
The first day I did the hike, my camera froze up and I was unable to take pictures, which is why I ended up doing it twice. There were also six hot air balloons hovering around Cathedral Rock, which made it particularly festive. I was practically in tears that day knowing I had the chamber of commerce shot right in front of me. My frustration was in vain, however, because my early morning photography skills could use an upgrade. I am so used to taking pictures in the middle of the day, that I did not do very well in the low light conditions.
Note that the first half-mile of this trail is not in the books or on the Sedona trail map. It is obvious, however because there is a large cairn right at the trailhead. These cairns exist all the way to the published trailhead on Chavez road. After that they disappear. Note also that there are more trails in this area than exist on the map so it is hard to tell exactly what trail one is on. Anyway you go will be nice, just realize that unless you do an out and back, finding your way home without a map may be time consuming.
The final pitch to the top of the ridge is a steep and rocky outcrop. Poles would help in coming down this portion.
On my first trip, I did an out and back, turning around the far end of the ridge at a T-intersection. On my second trip I decided to take the left fork of this T for a longer hike. This is the continuation of the Ridge Trail. It goes down the hillside towards Sedona. Since I had a breakfast date, I did not want to go too far but decided to try and find my way back along an old streambed. Do NOT do this! Going off trail has risks that most should not take. Following streambeds means very rocky terrain. Additionally, I had 5 class 2 scrambles to descend where the rocks ended in sharp 6-foot ledges. At each of these locations, I had to evaluate whether I would be able to turn around and retrace my steps. As it was, this streambed ended up intersecting with one of the many trails in the Carrol Canyon area and I continued on them to get out. Later, I studied a map of the area. Had I had this map while hiking, always a better plan, I would have known that 30 yards from where I turned off the trails would have intersected naturally.
So, I have not hiked the Ridge Trail from end to end, but scaled the easy, by Colorado standards anyway, 400 ft to the top. The views are well worth that effort. Early morning is a delightful time to hike, even in spring. The sun, in these exposed areas is welcoming and the vistas are awe-inspiring. The following day, I hiked up Fay Canyon, which was beautiful, but cold first thing in the AM. In the heat of summer, I am sure the coolness would be most welcome.