The Airport Mesa Loop Trail Offers Awe-Inspiring Views of Sedona Vortex and Red Rock Formations
There is no other hike in the Sedona area that offers such awe-inspiring views as the Sedona Airport Mesa Loop Trail. It offers hikers a 360-degree panorama with views of almost every major red-rock landmark along the perimeter at an elevation of 4,500 feet.
Accessing the Airport Mesa Loop Trail
From the intersection of State Route 179 (SR 179) and State Route 89A (SR 89A), head south on SR 89A for approximately a mile and turn left onto Airport Road. About a half mile up Airport Road, there is a parking area on the left for accessing the trailhead. The parking lot also provides access to a well known Sedona vortex spot. Due to the popularity of both the Airport Mesa hike and Sedona Airport Vortex, it can be very difficult to find parking at this location during peak daytime hours. It is a very small lot with approximately ten parking spaces. If parking is unavailable at this location, it may be necessary to park at the top of the Airport Mesa in the Airport Scenic View parking lot and walk about a mile back down Airport Road to the trailhead.
Heading toward the trailhead, you will see the Mini-Mesa directly to the north, which is believed to be the site of a Sedona vortex. Either at the beginning or end of the hike, you will want to take the easy climb to the top of the Mini-Mesa, and experience first-hand the sensations reported by many about the vortex. Some believe that a vortex is an area of concentrated energy rising from the earth. Others believe that the vortex is a portal for celestial and terrestrial spirits, and believe they feel a range of sensations from a slight tingling on exposed skin, to a vibration emanating from the ground. People report that often, a vortex is felt by palpable sensation across the nape of the neck and the shoulder blades. They also believe that Sedona has several vortex or power spots, making it a highly sought-after spiritual and metaphysical destination.
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The last time that we hiked the Airport Mesa Loop Trail, it was a couple days after Sedona had been hit by a significant snowstorm. The trail was icy in spots, and at the beginning of the trail, we were required to walk across a narrow and precipitous stretch of red rock that was very slippery due to a build-up of ice. Many other parts of the trail were muddy due to the melting snow. However, on other occasions when we have hiked this trail, it has been very dry and warm. The first half of the trail has little or no shade; in warm weather, it is suggested that hikers wear wide-brim hats, sunglasses, long sleeve shirts, and bring at least two quarts of water.
The trail begins at the north end of the Airport Mesa, and is easy to find, due to good signage. The trailhead flows in a southeasterly direction as it follows the slope. There are outstanding red rock vistas from the northeast to the south, through the Oak Creek Valley. The trail is relatively flat for the first mile, and then gradually begins a gentle ascent as it heads south towards the end of the Mesa. Along this stretch of the trail, there are spectacular views of Elephant Rock (Twin Buttes), Courthouse Butte, Bell Rock, and Cathedral Rock.
As the trail meanders to the top of the south corner of the Mesa, it levels out and begins to head north, following the airport perimeter fence for about a quarter mile. Occasionally, aircraft will be seen taking off or landing as the hiker traverses the portion of the trail immediately below the end of the runway. At approximately 1.7 miles into the hike, the trail intersects the Table Top Trail. This trail is about a half mile one way, and ends up overlooking The Sedona Pyramid, a pyramid-shaped red rock formation as seen from the Sedona Airport Mesa Loop Trail. that many locals have half-seriously speculated is man made, or a site originally visited by aliens! Other formations visible to the southwest are Cockscomb and Chimney Rock. Also visible is Sedona Red Rock High School on Upper Red Rock Loop Road.
Backtracking from the end of the Table Top Trail and continuing on the Airport Mesa Loop Trail, the path heads in a northwesterly direction. At about 2 miles into the hike, it intersects with the Bandit Trail that leads down into West Sedona. At this point, the Airport Mesa Loop Trail begins to descend for about a quarter mile, then gradually climbs in an eastward direction for the final stretch. The hiker is rewarded with spectacular views of all of West Sedona and beyond. This portion of the trail has a considerable amount of shade which makes hiking more comfortable during the warmer months of the year. To the west, Thunder Mountain (also known as Capitol Butte) looms as the highest of Sedona's red rock peaks; it merges with Coffee Pot Rock, followed by the Soldier's Pass wilderness, Wilson Mountain, Fin Rock, and Steamboat Rock. The trail ends at Airport Road, right across from the parking lot at the trailhead.
After you've experienced what is, to us, the most scenic trail in Sedona, combined with a Sedona vortex experience (the short walk to the top of the Mini-Mesa), take Airport Road to the top of the Airport Mesa and visit the scenic overlook. It's definitely worth it, especially at sunset. And don't forget your camera—you won't be disappointed!
Access: The trail can be accessed from Airport Road. The parking lot is on the left about .5 miles from Highway 89A.
Length: The Airport Mesa Loop Trail is approximately 3.5 miles, and if you hike the Table Top Trail at the south end of the Mesa, it adds another mile to the hike.
Rating: The Airport Loop Trail is rated as easy to moderate. However, during the summer, it can get very hot and hikers should prepare accordingly. Following rainstorms or snowstorms, the trail can be slippery in places; a few short sections of the trail lie along steep ledges. Hikers are encouraged to always bring enough water, and a minimum of two quarts is recommended, especially during the summer months.
Use: Heavy year round, not only because this is among the most scenic of Sedona hikes, but also because it's considered a Sedona vortex site.
Season: Year round, but during the summer months, hikers should wear protection from the sunr. During winter months, one must exercise caution if the trail is icy or muddy in places.
Hiking Time: Varies, but the above-described hike should take approximately 2.5 to 3 hours.
Cumulative Elevation: The elevation gain and loss is minimal, and varies between 50 and 100 feet.
For additional information and trails, visit the USDA Forest Service page about the Airport Mesa Loop.