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Sunday, May 1, 2011


Everyone who visits Sedona eventually ends up standing on the rim at world-famous Oak Creek Canyon Vista Point along US89A. The views are breathtaking, that’s for sure, however, the combination of crowds, pavement, rails and the requisite viewing scope kinda dilutes the wilderness experience. Besides, ever since my eye socket was on the receiving end of camera-wielding tourist’s elbow; I swore off this little slice of Chamber-of-Commerce outdoors and now opt for alternative ways to peer over this majestic red rock gorge. The alternative can be found by opting to hike one or more of four short but steep trails leading up to the rim over Oak Creek Canyon. Offering savory solitude, the trails are: Thomas Point, Telephone, Harding Springs and Cookstove. Thomas Point is located directly across from the West Fork trailhead---so parking is a major ordeal. Yet, just mile up the road, it’s usually easier to find a parking spot near the Harding Springs trailhead. Of the four “rim trails”, Harding is the least steep, but will still require some respectable physical exertion. Ascending through dense stands of pines, firs and maples in brisk, switch-backing style, Harding Springs-Cookstove Loop trail gains 1,200 feet in less than a mile, connects with “no-name rim trail”, traverses the cliffs above US89A and descends along Cookstove trail. With “zero-crowdfill” and “elbow-free” natural viewing overlooks, this loop hike delivers a rarefied Sedona experience.
Head 0.8 mile UPHILL on Harding Spring Trail #51. At the top of the trail, a bare wooden post marks a 3-way junction. Just before the post, a rock carin on the left denotes the turn off for the “no-name Rim trail”, another carined route veers left from the post (presumably going to Thomas Point) and the third branch heading straight ahead along a short, rock-lined footpath leads to a very nice scenic overlook. Don’t skimp-- make this short detour because there are myriad “Kodak moments” to be had here. Once done cheesing for the camera at the overlook, head back to the 3-way junction and pick up the “no-name Rim trail”, heading north. This woodsy, 1.3-mile, mostly flat segment is a challenge to follow. Pay attention and look for cairns among the toppled trees and pine needle litter. Where the path crosses drainages and a seasonal creek, the trail picks up directly across the dips. There are no signs indicating the start of Cookstove Trail #143. Instead, sporadic cairns mark the way through a quagmire of rotting logs and volcanic rubble. It’s not easy to find—but if you get lucky, expect a very steep, 0.75-mile descent---seriously, it goes straight down! Once at US89A, hike 1.3 miles back to the Harding Springs trailhead.
RECOMMENDATION: hike both trails from bottom up before attempting the loop. That way, you’ll be able to better to find your bearings. 
LENGTH: 4.15-mile loop
RATING: difficult—route finding, extreme grades, loose footing
ELEVATION: 5,400' – 6,800'
DISTANCE FROM PHOENIX: 136 miles one-way
From Phoenix, go north on I-17 to exit 298 for SR 179 North (Sedona-Oak Creek).
Go west (turn left) and continue on SR 179 to the “Y” intersection with US89A in Sedona. Enter the traffic roundabout and veer right (heading northeast) onto US89A and go 11.5 miles and park along the side of the road between mileposts 385 and 386. The trail begins across from the Cave Springs Campground at the large forest service sign.
FEE: a Red Rock Pass ($5 daily per vehicle) is required to park along the road --available at the Oak Creek Ranger station as well as many local merchants like Circle-K.
If you want to park in any of the campgrounds along 89A, there will be additional fees.
INFO: Coconino national Forest, Red Rock Ranger District:
(928) 282-4119
Red Rock Pass Program:

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