Trek Southwest - Hiking and Camping the Desert Southwest

Courthouse Butte Loop Trail – Sedona, Arizona

in Arizona

The Courthouse Butte Loop Trail in Sedona, Arizona is a lovely, family-friendly moderate 4.2 mile long hike that wraps around both Courthouse Butte and nearby Bell Rock. Bell Rock is one of the vortex sites in Sedona. This is a heavily used trail with easy access from two different parking lots. The day we visited in late April of this year it was very busy (much to my dismay.) A large thunderstorm was on its way so I had hoped that we’d avoid some of the normal crowds. Turns out I was wrong – nothing can keep folks away from their vortex sites!

Courthouse Butte

We started out trying to find parking in the southern lot (the Bell Rock Vista Parking Lot) but it was simply too crowded. Not a great start, but luckily we knew that there was another parking lot available. And honestly – between the two choices – the northern parking lot (the Courthouse Vista Parking Lot) is a better starting point for the Courthouse Butte Loop Trail. Both parking lots have vault toilets, but no potable water. They also both require either a Red Rock pass or an America the Beautiful annual pass.

Courthouse Butte northern parking lot

View from the parking lot

Another parking lot shot


There is also a Red Rock pass dispenser in the parking lot (which I think is super handy!) that takes cash or credit cards. Red Rock passes are also available at nearby ranger station if you want to stop in there first and grab a map and your Red Rock pass.

Red Rock pass pay station

This trail is dog, kid, and horse friendly, but mountain bikes are not allowed in the Wilderness area (they can access part of this trail, but must veer off in another direction as it wraps around Courthouse Butte.) This hike is best done anytime other than summer. Temperatures in summer are in the high 80’s and 90’s and there is little shade. If you opt to go in summer – please, please bring more water than you think you’ll need (for both your human and canine family members.)

To get started you hop onto the trail and follow the sign towards Bell Rock Pathway.

Getting started The view directly in front of you is of Bell Rock. It’s really quite stunning!

Bell Rock

Follow the trail until you reach this ‘Y’. You’ll want to follow the arrow towards the Courthouse Butte Loop.


The trail is nice and wide with lots of red clay. And the views in every direction are ah-mazing!

On the loop

Here’s a distant shot of Courthouse Butte if you turn a slight right.

Courthouse Butte

As you continue hiking – you’ll start to feel some of the mild elevation gain. The first shot below is in front of me, the second shot is when I turned around. It’s such a gradual change that you barely notice it unless you look behind you.

Elevation starts

Behind shot

There were lots of wildflowers in bloom. My 9 year old adores them and helped me take pictures of as many different kinds as she could find. When we got home we attempted to identify them.

Winding Mariposa Lily

Winding Mariposa Lily

Tall Mountain Larkspur

Tall Mountain Larkspur

Blackfoot Daisy

Blackfoot Daisy

Feather Peabush

Feather Peabush

When you get to this sign – just keep trucking towards Courthouse Butte Loop Trail. I forgot to mention earlier, but it’s worth noting that we hiked the trail clockwise. You could also hike it counter-clockwise – it’s purely a matter of preference.

Sign to trail

And the wildflowers just kept coming! They were gorgeous and made the hike simply beautiful.

Gooseberry-leaved globemallow

Gooseberry-leaved globemallow

At this point in our hike – it started to rain…lightly at first. You can see the sign in the picture below is wet. When it rains out there, it smells wonderful – like sage.

Trail sign

Here’s a different shot with that same sign – but look at what you’re coming up to! Courthouse Butte just got huge all of a sudden.

Courthouse Butte close up

If you turn around at this same spot – you can get a great view of Cathedral Rock (the rock formation that is further away in the shot below.)

Cathedral Rock in distance

Remember when I referred to how mountain bikes weren’t allowed into the Wilderness area? Well – here’s how you can tell you’ve reached that point.

Wilderness Boundary

Here’s a great shot of what most of the trail looks like – fairly flat and even.

Trail surface

And just around this bend, we found some lovely red flowers on a hedgehog cactus.

Hedgehog cactus with red blooms

My kids were thrilled when they found this heart shaped prickly pear cactus paddle.

Heart shaped prickly pear

Having hiked this before without our kids – the hubby and I knew what was coming up right around the corner. It’s a crazy dome-shaped rock outcropping that looks like a spaceship. In fact – I’m not sure of the actual name of it, but our family now affectionately calls it “Spaceship Rock”.

It’s a great spot to stop and grab a snack. We did stop for a short time, but the rain was rapidly approaching “big storm” level so we kept it short. This point in the hike is about 2 ¼ miles into the loop.

Spaceship Rock

And here’s a shot of the backside of Spaceship Rock.

Back of Spaceship Rock

As you keep hiking the trail, you come to a very cool dry wash area with a rather deep section.

Deep Wash

At this point in the hike – you’re all the way around Courthouse Butte. Here’s what it looks like from the southern side…isn’t it gorgeous?

South Side of Courthouse Butte

And if you’re looking straight ahead – this is what it looked like…at this point – we decided to hustle it back because we knew a big dump was coming at us fast. The thunder and lightning were pretty impressive. Still – not a generally good idea to be outside in a field during a thunderstorm.

Impending rainstorm

Here’s another sign that you’ll pass by – Bell Rock Pathway is what takes you around Bell Rock itself.

Head towards Bell Rock Pathway

And this is the last shot I got before the skies opened up and we literally ran for it…you can see how wet the trail and surrounding area is. I didn’t think red rocks could be any more beautiful, but it turns out that when they’re wet – their color is even more intense.

Bell Rock Path takes you back around to the Courthouse Vista Parking Lot. I’m not sure if you can see from the sign, but it says “Bell Rock Path”.

Wet Courthouse Butte

We definitely had fun on the Courthouse Butte Loop Trail. It took us about 3 ½ hours with two kids and two dogs (one of the kids was dragging her feet at times.) It can be a bit crowded at times, but all in all it’s totally worth the views! It should definitely make your “need to do” list when you visit Sedona.

Other Nearby Parks and Trails:

RobinGuest Post by Robin Laulainen. Robin writes about camping and other outdoorsy stuff at Trek Southwest, pets every dog she meets, and drinks more coffee than she should. She blogs about her other passion - creating - at Make It Yourself Girl.

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