The Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte Loop Trail hike is a favorite among visitors to Sedona Arizona, and there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to hiking around these skyline dominating formations.
Not only is the Bell Rock Courthouse Butte Loop Trail one of the top hikes in Sedona, it is also the perfect warm up or warm down act for hiking Cathedral Rock.
Can you climb Bell Rock in Sedona?
You can’t climb to the very top of the Bell without specialist equipment. But with a little scrambling you can hike up as far as the bottom of the Bell handle to reveal spectacular views over some of the most famous formations in Sedona, including the awesome Cathedral Rock Trail.
We also have a hidden gem for adventurous hikers to consider on Bell Rock that not many others know about, which will be revealed later.
In this guide we will cover:
- Which forest or agency pass you need to display
- Your parking options (where to go when the main lot is full)
- Full hiking walkthrough of the loop and climb
- The best time to hike Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte
- Loads of photos so you can see the trails from start to finish
Let’s hike the popular Bell Rock Courthouse Butte Loop Trail in Sedona Arizona!
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Who Is The Bell Rock And Courthouse Butte Loop Trail For?
The Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte Loop Trail is perfect for the whole family, adventurous hikers, couples and just about anyone visiting Sedona.
Because the diverse trail selection in the Bell Rock area is inclusive for everyone.
The flat and easy loop around Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte is great for the less able or families with younger kids.
Whereas the more adventurous can scale Bell Rock via some fun scrambling sections and even tag on a daring loop (our hidden gem) with awesome views.
If you have plenty of time on your Sedona itinerary, be sure to include this hike to your list. But if you’re only in town for one day, hike Cathedral Rock and one of the Sedona cave hikes instead.
What Are Bell Rock And Courthouse Butte?
Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte are the two skyline dominating rock formations on the far South side of Sedona in Northern Arizona.
The red rocks burst out of the ground in Munds Mountain Wilderness, an area of Coconino National Forest within Sedona.
You can find awesome views over Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte from the likes of Cathedral Rock, Chapel of the Holy Cross and Broken Arrow 4×4 Jeep Trail.
Bell Rock got its name because it looks just like an old vintage church bell. A small and narrow spire is perched on top of a mound-shaped red rock formation.
Sedona is well known for being home to a number of vortex sites (areas of concentrated energy). Bell Rock is one of the 4 most powerful vortexes in Sedona.
The elevation of Bell Rock summit is 4,919 feet.
Courthouse Butte is a much larger formation and one of the most prominent in all of Sedona. It is so enormous we had to take 3 photos and stitch them together to get the image above.
There’s no relationship between a courthouse and the shape of the formation as far as we can tell, so who knows where the name came from?!
The elevation of Courthouse Butte summit is 5,454 feet.
Top tip: If you hike Cathedral Rock for sunrise, you will see the sun burst out from directly behind Courthouse Butte at dawn.
Let’s take a quick look at trail distance, elevation, difficulty and time required for the Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte Loop, climbing Bell Rock as a standalone hike and a combination of both.
Bell Rock And Courthouse Butte Loop Trail
- Trail Distance: 4 miles
- Elevation Gain: 400 feet
- Hike Difficulty: Easy
- Time Required: 2 hours
Climb Up Bell Rock
- Trail Distance: 1 mile
- Elevation Gain: 400 feet
- Hike Difficulty: Moderate
- Time Required: 1 hour
Bell Rock And Courthouse Butte Loop Trail + Bell Rock Climb
- Trail Distance: 4.5 miles
- Elevation Gain: 800 feet
- Hike Difficulty: Moderate
- Time Required: 3 hours
Do You Need A Pass To Hike Bell Rock And Courthouse Butte?
Yes, you need to display either a Red Rock Pass or America the Beautiful Interagency Pass on your vehicle dashboard for the duration of your hike around Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte in Sedona.
Red Rock Pass
You can buy a Red Rock Pass at this specific recreation.gov site in advance, or you can buy one at a ticket machine when you arrive in person at either parking lot listed further in this guide.
Red Rock Pass options include:
- 1 Day Red Rock Pass – $5
- 7 Day Red Rock Pass – $15
- Red Rock Annual Pass – $20
If you plan to hike more trails around Sedona over a period of 2 – 7 days, you should buy the 7 day pass because you will need it at many other trailheads in the area.
America The Beautiful Pass
Are you a regular visitor to US National Parks and Monuments?
It’s highly likely you already have an annual National Parks pass, which is also known as America the Beautiful or the Interagency Pass.
Don’t have one yet?
Read our guide on why America the Beautiful national parks pass is one of the best things you can buy if you plan to visit multiple parks in the next year.
Instead of buying a Red Rock Pass you can simply display your America the Beautiful Pass.
For those planning to hike more trails in the area, you will need either a Red Rock Pass (or America the Beautiful Pass) to access this list of places in Sedona.
Where To Park
Parking can be a real challenge for accessing Bell Rock. This is because it is a well known hike but also one of the major Sedona vortex sites, both of which draw hundreds of tourists to relatively small parking areas each day.
Bell Rock Trail runs North to South, with the North side being the main parking area (Bell Rock Trailhead North) and the South side a further 0.5 mile hike away from the loop trail (Bell Rock Trailhead South).
You have 3 parking options in total for hiking the Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte Loop Trail.
Let’s take a look at each:
Bell Rock Trailhead North Parking Lot
Bell Rock Trailhead North parking lot is the best and most convenient place you can park for the hiking the loop trail. It is also called Courthouse Vista parking on local signs and it is located right at the base of Bell Rock and very close to the entire loop trail.
Hiking Bell Rock and Courthouse Loop Trail is very popular and spaces are limited at the main lot. To guarantee finding a free parking space, you should aim to arrive very early in the morning.
Sedona is incredibly popular and there are often issues getting parked up at trailheads. If you arrive later than 7am you can expect to be in a line waiting for spaces to open up.
If you snag a parking spot here, you can climb Bell Rock at the very beginning or very end of your hike.
Here’s North parking Google Maps location off of highway 179.
Bell Rock Trailhead South Parking Lot
Bell Rock Trailhead South (which is called Courthouse Loop South Trailhead on Google Maps or Bell Rock Vista parking on local signs) is an alternative parking lot you can use if the main lot is full.
South parking area is just 1.5 miles South of the main lot, continuing along highway 179 towards the Village of Oak Creek.
There are a similar amount of spaces in this lot, if not more than the main lot on the North side of Bell Rock Trail. Just remember, you will have an additional half mile hiking each way to reach the loop.
This also means you will have to climb Bell Rock half way around your hike, as opposed to the beginning or end of your hike.
Here’s South parking Google Maps location off of highway 179.
Yavapai Vista Point Parking Lot
If you’re visiting Sedona during its busiest times of year (typically Spring and Fall) you may not get a spot in either lot. Your backup plan for getting parked is to use Yavapai Vista Point lot.
The backup lot is located on the opposite side of highway 179 near Bell Rock North parking lot. It only takes around 10 minutes to walk from Yavapai Vista Point parking lot to Bell Rock trailhead.
Important – This lot is also a spillover for Cathedral Rock so it also gets busy very early in the day.
Here’s Yavapai Vista parking Google Maps location off of highway 179.
Hiking Bell Rock And Courthouse Butte Loop Clockwise Or Anti-clockwise?
You can make or break some loop hikes depending on which direction you choose. Bell Rock Courthouse Butte is not one of those trails.
We hiked clockwise and we didn’t pass many hikers coming in the opposite direction. But you aren’t going to benefit from any additional views or perspectives by going one way or the other.
Looking for hiking inspiration? Read our popular guide to the 50 best hiking trails in the US next!
Bell Rock Courthouse Butte Loop Trail Map
The Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte Loop Trail is part of a complex web of interconnected hiking paths in Sedona. There are multiple spur trail options on almost all hikes in the area.
Many of the trail names are confusing around Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte. Google Maps, All Trails and the official trail names do not match up.
Use the map of Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte Loop Trail above to familiarize yourself with the area before hiking.
The map shows:
- Orange Boxes – Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte formation locations
- Red Loop – Courthouse Butte Loop Trail
- Blue Line – Bell Rock Climb
- Gold Circle – Hidden loop trail around Bell Rock
- Green Lines – Connecting trails to Courthouse Butte from North and South Bell Rock trailhead parking lots
- Grey Boxes – North, South and Yavapai Vista parking lot locations
Walkthrough Of The Bell Rock Courthouse Butte Loop Trail Hike In Sedona
Let’s get into the hike!
Park at the main lot on the North side of Bell Rock Trail.
Display your already purchased Red Rock Pass / America the Beautiful Pass on your dashboard. If you have just arrived and need to purchase a pass, you can buy one at a ticket machine right at the trailhead in the parking lot.
There are restrooms (vault toilets) you can use in the parking lot.
Take Bell Rock Pathway
Head toward Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte which you can clearly see as massive towering rocks right from the parking area.
Next to the ticket machine and an information board you will easily see Bell Rock Pathway (Bell Rock access trail on Google Maps).
This is a very flat dirt packed path which is easy to walk on and transports you to a trail junction.
Turn Left To Bell Rock Path
Bell Rock is directly ahead of you as you approach a crossroads in the trail.
If you want to climb Bell Rock first, now is the time to go right ahead. You can rejoin this walkthrough once you descend back to this point.
We would suggest hiking the loop first, so you can end with the most fun part. Turn left (so you are hiking clockwise) and follow cairns consisting of stone piles wrapped in mesh wiring.
Turn left toward Bell Rock Path, also following the left arrow for Courthouse Butte Loop.
Alternatively you can walk straight ahead following signs for To Rector.
If you follow To Rector you end up at another sign almost immediately with a left turn for Rector Connector which also takes you to Courthouse Butte Loop Trail.
Yes, we know how funny that sounds!
Take Llama Trail
Walk along the flat Bell Rock Trail heading East for around 0.3 miles until you reach a split. You’ll see a sign for Courthouse Butte Loop Trail and Llama Trail, which is the route you want to take at this point.
You will only be on Llama Trail for 300 feet.
An optional left turn would take you on a loop around Baby Bell Trail (see the small rock formation in the photo above).
If you have plenty of time and you want to fully explore this area, there’s no harm taking Baby Bell Trail and rejoining Llama Trail just a few hundred meters further up.
Important – If you do take Baby Bell and rejoin Llama, you have to turn right on Llama heading back to Bell Rock so you can join Courthouse Butte Loop.
Split Onto Courthouse Butte Loop Trail
Assuming you don’t take Baby Bell, you will only walk on Llama for 300 feet before reaching a very obvious fork in the path.
Again this is signposted well, and you will take the right fork for Courthouse Butte (as in the photo above).
If you are rejoining the trail from Baby Bell and Llama, you will come down the left fork and take a sharp left to join Courthouse Butte on the right fork.
Follow The Loop
Continue to follow the obvious path and cairns.
The trail is relatively flat, with some slight gains and drops in elevation. At certain points the trail is less obvious but you can follow what looks like a beaten path.
We hiked Bell Rock and Courthouse Loop Trail on a brisk December morning during our visit to Sedona in Winter and there was just a sprinkling of snow with some ground ice.
This whole section of trail remains in shadow during the morning and can be cold if you visit Sedona in Winter.
Look For The Domes With Flat Tops
You will keep the enormous red and orange monolith of Courthouse Butte to your right at all times as you begin to encircle the formation.
There aren’t really any landmarks to use as reference points on the far side of Courthouse Butte until you reach two flat topped domes. They look like stacks of pancakes and one is slightly taller than the other.
Stay to the right side of the rounded rock formation and continue curving around to the South. This section of the trail has a more beaten path because it doubles as a horseriding spot.
You’ll pass through trees and rough desert vegetation until you reach another split in the trail.
Enter A Narrow Wash
As the trail forks, stick to the right side and you’ll enter a creek bed or wash. There may be some water in the wash, but there were only a few shallow puddles when we hiked in December.
The creek is only around 500 feet long and at the very end you will reach an intersection.
Follow Signs For Big Park Loop
A left turn at the end of the wash (up the steps) would take you onto Big Park Loop Trail (signed as Courthouse Butte Loop in the photo above).
This would head South and eventually lead to the South trailhead parking lot.
But you want to follow the right turn sign for Big Park Loop. This will take you to the right side of the wash as you leave. Follow the right curving turn with stones to either side of the path.
If in doubt at this point, just follow the path sticking closest to Courthouse Butte monolith.
Enter Flat Open Field
Coming out of the wash you have some slight elevation to gain on dry red dusty stones. Around 0.3 miles after leaving the dry creek bed you will reach another intersection.
Left would take you along Middle Trail, which is popular with mountain bikers. Stay straight on Big Park Loop Trail.
You are now in a picturesque and photogenic wide open prairie-like region. Courthouse Butte is very close to your right side so you can really appreciate the grandeur of the giant monolith.
Finish The Bell Rock Loop
Continue straight ahead passing by another left turn that would also take you down to South Bell Rock Trailhead (the other side of Big Park Loop Trail).
These cut through trails effectively shortcut from Courthouse Butte back to the South parking lot. You don’t want to take any of them.
One of our favorite parts of the hike was seeing what appears to be a mini Bell Rock formation on the back side of Courthouse Butte monolith (see the photo above).
Eventually the real Bell Rock will appear from behind Courthouse Butte, and it will get larger and more prominent as you head directly towards the fun looking formation.
Long grass, attractive trees, and a standout orange and brown dirt path make this point the most visually stunning part of the Bell Rock Courthouse Butte Trail.
Stick to the right side as the trail splits one final time, hugging closely to the side of Bell Rock. This final part of the loop gains more elevation before you arrive back to the Bell Rock Climb sign.
Climb Bell Rock
Adventurous hikers should not miss the chance to scramble up slickrock to a vantage point near the top of Bell Rock.
You can climb up to a flat ledge lookout point but you won’t be able to scale the top part without climbing experience and ropes.
Even if you only get half way up Bell Rock, it is still well worth the effort for the views you will receive as reward.
Follow signs for Bell Rock Climb, look for cairns and see which routes other climbers are taking. Use common sense and shoes with good grips to avoid accidents.
Take care when climbing when wet or icy.
We could only get to a certain point on the climb before it was too slippery to continue. Ice doesn’t melt until later in the day when the sun hits this face and it warms.
Find The Secret Loop Route
Here’s our hidden gem secret loop.
As you walk directly toward Bell Rock front on, you will climb a little and then reach a flat plateau. Once you reach the plateau with a sign stating Bell Rock Climb to the left and right, take the right turn.
This would mean you are now not climbing directly up Bell Rock, but you can do this hidden loop either before or after you summit Bell Rock.
By taking the right turn, you will be walking West and you will loop around Bell Rock half way up in an anti-clockwise direction.
You can also take the left turn at the sign to hike clockwise. However, we took the right and we think it works better for views at the end as you loop back around.
Stick to the ledge and begin to circle around Bell Rock staying at roughly the same elevation.
You will have to forge your own path at first, but it all leads to a narrow gap between two rocks and that is the only way you can continue the loop.
In the photo above we were already a quarter way round Bell Rock, looking back North at the same view over Sedona you get from climbing Bell Rock.
Back Side Of Bell Rock
After reaching and passing through the narrow V shaped gap in the photo above, you are now on the back side of Bell Rock at quite a height.
You can look down on the Courthouse Butte Loop Trail you just walked and the Village of Oak Creek is visible from this height.
Stick closely to Bell Rock at all times. There are sections of this path with loose stones and narrow hiking areas, so shoes with good grips are a must.
You can follow lightly beaten tracks and make a lot of the route your own, plus you are unlikely to see many (or any!) other hikers here.
Eventually the loop rejoins the front side of Bell Rock but it will take you a good 30 – 40 minutes to get around and it is by far the most entertaining part of hiking Bell Rock.
Important – This hidden loop on Bell Rock should only be attempted by experienced hikers who are capable and have the correct footwear.
Finish The Hike
In the photo above we were on the South side of Bell Rock hiking East directly toward Courthouse Rock with a wonderful view of the imposing monolith.
Once you’re back to the beginning, find your way down the rock face and head back to the parking lot.
Now you’ve completed the best hike the far South of Sedona, it’s time to move on to your next trail!
Pros and Cons To The Bell Rock And Courthouse Butte Hike
- Easy loop hike for the whole family
- Additional Bell Rock climb for adventure
- Wonderful North facing elevated views over Sedona
- Very difficult to get parked
- Bell Rock scramble can be slippery when wet or icy
- Extremely busy trail
Best Time To Hike Bell Rock Courthouse Butte Loop Trail In Sedona
The very best time to hike Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte Loop Trail is early morning on a weekday in Spring or Fall so you can benefit from perfect hiking conditions but also get a parking spot and enjoy a relatively crowd free hike.
If you visit Sedona in Spring or Fall when it is at peak tourist season, you simply have to be out early at trailheads or you’ll have problems getting parked.
Winter and Summer offer quieter periods in Sedona, which means you have more chance getting parked. It’s less about temperatures and busy trails, more about finding free parking spots.
Try to avoid weekends, holidays and midday for the best chance of parking to hike Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte Loop Trail.
Sunrise And Sunset
Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte are incredibly attractive formations to admire from afar around sunset. You can capture wonderful images of the formations from Airport Mesa, Cathedral Rock and Chapel of the Holy Cross.
However, the trail around Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte is not any more spectacular to hike at dawn or dusk. At both twilight periods most of the trail would be in shadow.
However, with that said, we do think Bell Rock provides one of the many stunning Sedona sunset spots from around half way up the formation. Plenty of others think the same, so prepare to share Bell Rock at dusk.
What To Pack For Hiking Bell Rock And Courthouse Butte
- Footwear – Good shoes are essential for the scramble up Bell Rock. Without a decent grip on your sole, you will slip and slide all over the rocks.
- Water – The loop trail alone will take you around 2 hours, which means you’ll need to take water. Summer months require more water and even electrolyte drinks.
- Sun protection – Sunglasses, sun hats, long layers and sunscreen are vital if you are visiting Sedona in Summer. The good news is the Bell Rock climb is on its North face, which means the top of the Bell keeps a lot of the climb in shade.
5 Tips For Hiking Bell Rock And Courthouse Butte
- Park at South lot or Yavapai Vista if you can’t get into the main parking area
- Wear the pair of shoes you know has the best grip for scrambling Bell Rock
- If hiking in Winter you may need layers, hats and gloves for shaded sections
- Views of Cathedral Rock are awesome from half way up Bell Rock (photo above)
- Don’t miss our secret loop trail around the middle section of Bell Rock
Sedona Arizona Visitor Summary
How to get around – Sedona is small but you’ll need a car to access the best hikes to the north and south of town. If you want to get to the hard to reach places, you should hire a jeep.
When to visit – Spring and Fall are the best seasons to visit Sedona, but they come with a higher price tag and more crowds. Winter is a fantastic time to avoid both.
Where to stay in – Accommodation is expensive in Sedona, but there are plenty of very high quality places to stay including Matterhorn Inn, Lantern Light Inn, Arabella Hotel, Whispering Creek B&B and The Suites at Sedona.
Popular things to do – Sedona is one of the best places to hike in the US, but it is also a wonderful place to get off-road in a jeep, shoot stunning photography, visit historic sites and drink wine.
Bell Rock Trail Sedona Arizona FAQ’s
Let’s take a look at some of the most asked questions about hiking Bell Rock in Sedona.
Is Bell Rock Trail Hard?
Bell Rock Trail is moderate in difficulty due to rock scrambling up sections of slick rock and fairly significant drops. Good tread on footwear is essential. The Courthouse Butte Loop trail extension to Bell Rock is flat and easy.
Is Bell Rock A Vortex?
Yes, Bell Rock is one of the 4 major vortex sites in Sedona. Despite the entirety of Sedona being a vortex, some sites have more pronounced concentrations of energy and Bell Rock is a favorite spot among visitors.
The 4 main vortex sites are Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock, Boynton Canyon and Airport Mesa on the east side of Sedona View Trail.
Is Bell Rock Hike Dog Friendly?
Yes dogs are welcome on the Bell Rock Trail hike in Sedona. Dogs must be kept on a short leash and be able to climb steep rock scramble sections along the route.
Bell Rock is a great hike if your dog is agile and loves to jump from rock to rock.
Is Bell Rock Worth Hiking?
Yes, Bell Rock is well worth hiking for beautiful views and an adventure rock scramble. If you have time in your Sedona itinerary you should also hike Courthouse Butte Loop from the same trailhead.
Hiking is among the best things to do in Sedona and Bell Rock is one of the most popular trails in town.
We suggest hiking Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock and the extremely popular Devils Bridge Trail if you are short on time and want to hike the most famous trails in Sedona.
More From Sedona
- Cathedral Rock – Sedona is filled with amazing hikes but Cathedral Rock Trail is one of the most iconic. If you’re short on time, this is the short but steep hike for you.
- Subway Cave – How to hike Boynton Canyon Trail to Subway Cave, the most popular and photogenic cave in Sedona.
- Doe Mountain – If you’re looking for a sunrise hike in Sedona, make your way up Doe Mountain Trail in time to watch hot air balloons take off at dawn.
- West Fork – Want an escape from the crowded hikes in Sedona? Drive 10 miles north and hike the family friendly West Fork Trail to a subway tunnel climax.
More From The Southwest
- Zion National Park – Zion is an adventure playground for adults, find the very best hikes in Zion and choose between 5 ways you can spend a one day in Zion itinerary.
- Grand Canyon – Just 2 hours from Sedona is the incredible Grand Canyon South Rim, create your wishlist from the best hikes at Grand Canyon South Rim.
We hope this guide to hiking Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte Loop Trail helps with planning your visit to Sedona, Arizona!
Please let us know if you have any questions about hiking Bell Rock Courthouse Butte Loop Trail or your visit to Sedona in the comments below.
Mark and Kristen
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