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Sterling Pass Trail #46, AZ

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Guide 45 Triplogs  1 Topic
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Sedona > Sedona NE
3.3 of 5 by 22
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Difficulty 3 of 5
Route Finding 1 of 5
Distance One Way 2.2 miles
Trailhead Elevation 4,840 feet
Elevation Gain 1,049 feet
Accumulated Gain 1,053 feet
Avg Time One Way 2 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 5.71
Backpack Yes & Connecting
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Photos Viewed All Mine Following
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25  2019-06-01
Wilson Mountain Loop
16  2019-06-01
Wilson Mountain Loop
6  2017-11-03 Barrett
16  2017-10-21 ThirstyLizard
18  2017-10-07 Grimey
15  2017-05-20 Tortoise_Hiker
30  2016-11-11 Uncharted
13  2016-03-23
Morning Glory - Sterling Loop
Page 1,  2,  3,  4
Author joebartels
author avatar Guides 213
Routes 824
Photos 10,834
Trips 4,261 map ( 21,471 miles )
Age 49 Male Gender
Location Phoenix, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Apr, May, Sep, Oct → 10 AM
Seasons   Spring to Autumn
Sun  6:15am - 6:24pm
Official Route
5 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Geology Nearby
Meteorology Nearby
Named place Nearby
A great workout in a beautiful forest
by joebartels

Likely In-Season!
Sterling Pass trailhead lies up and across the road from Manzanita Campgrounds. There is a small pullout next to the Manzanita Campground sign more suitable for high clearance vehicles. There is also a small pullout at the trailhead, which I would recommend for cars. This trail takes you up Sterling Canyon to Sterling Pass. The pass is a break in the rocky mountain so you won't be peaking out on this venture. You have the option of continuing another three quarters of a mile down the other side to Vultee Arch.

The trail takes off going up a steep pitch. I was sweating within minutes. A small break in the forest opens up passing over a typical Sedona sandstone wash. By this time the sounds of the highway are behind you. The forest doesn't break away for more views until further up the trail. Passing over the wash several more times it was calm below. I could hear the wind rushing high above in the tall pines. Some of the ponderosas are extremely tall. The wash has caused them to lean every which way. In a couple of areas they have grown apart making a huge "v" and some cross paths making a huge "x".

Beware of poison ivy in patches alongside the trail. You will brush against it if you don't pay attention. The poison ivy goes away soon after leaving the wash area and the ascent continues. The trail gets steeper. I imagined how tough this area would be to follow without a trail. The forest is dense making it hard get an idea of which way is which. Thankfully the trail leads the way. One area after a huge manzanita bush is extremely steep. You will likely need to grab hold of a limb to pull yourself up.

On this trip in early September the scattered ferns were all dried up. Cute little baby lizards in large numbers scampered the area. The ground in the upper portions is more in front of you than under you. The baby lizards kept my eyes peeled thinking a snake was crossing at every switchback.

Great views come into play before reaching the pass. You can see the canyon below and the rim in the distance. Oak trees take over as you reach the pass. There really are no great views from the pass as the trees block the view. You have the option of heading down the other side to the Vultee arch or trailhead. If you venture to the right you will see a crevasse in the rock formation. It's possible to top out and get some better views. Though I definitely don't recommend that unless you're a skilled climber. It's way too steep, actually leans outward in one section.

The return trip is the best part of the hike. All the sweating is behind you. The views open up in front of you. I've mentioned it before. You feel like you've completed a long venture, now coming down the canyon to the homestead. I recommend late September through the third week of October for this hike.

According to the 2018 FS map camping is allowed after 0.5 miles into the hike outside the green line. Campfires are NOT permitted in Oak Creek Canyon period so bring a good blanket and flashlight.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your hike to support this local community.

2000-09-05 joebartels
  • Sedona Trails 2018
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    Sedona Trails 2018

Coconino FS Details
Named for a local settler, Sterling Pass Trail leads over a high saddle from Oak Creek Canyon into nearby and equally scenic Sterling Canyon. The climb is steep right from the trailhead. The trail climbs up an unnamed drainage through a mixed conifer forest dominated by huge orange-barked ponderosa pines. Dwarf canyon maples are plentiful here too. They turn scarlet and peach in the fall, making this a great place to enjoy the most colorful of seasons.

As you ascend the steep slope you'll notice that, above the mosaic of tree limbs that form the forest ceiling, huge monoliths of deep red and buff sandstone tower toward the sky. You'll be rubbing shoulders with these giants as you slide between them at the top of the pass and begin the descent into Sterling Canyon. The best overlooks are along the climb, so be sure to take a break every now and then to enjoy them. The view from the top is somewhat obscured by trees.

One-Way Notice
This hike is listed as One-Way.

When hiking several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.

Most recent of 17 deeper Triplog Reviews
Sterling Pass Trail #46
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My original plan was to do Vultee Arch from Dry Creek, but after driving only about a third of it to get to Devil's Bridge, I thought I would spare my beloved Taco the bruising and drive around and bag it using the Sterling Pass approach. Several setbacks and a phone call had me soon had me pressing for time, so I was only able to go up to the saddle and I had to turn around. Never enough time.
Very nice fall color and some cool red rock and tafoni.
Sterling Pass Trail #46
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Morning Glory - Sterling Loop
Finally got a loop around Wilson. jj felt a little uneasy driving up noticing I was wearing pants and a long sleeve shirt. "Off trail on this hike?"... no worse, the overnight low is 31 :scared:

55 degrees starting just before 9am and not much over 60 all day. Hiking weather.

Saw a few individuals heading over Wilson Bench. First time on Jim Thompson. Nice, nearby trails are nicer. Cibola is one of the nicest non water trails around Sedona.

Up and down MG Spire in 1h 15m at a nothing special pace. Couldn't clear the first pitch last month due to a chest injury earlier in the month. Healthy made all the difference. The first pitch was no trouble up or down. The slant up higher was as I remembered. First look it appears a bit sketchy. One or two steps into it and it seems impossible to have trouble unless you jumped out of the crack and off the wall.

Sink hole, seven super sacred pools then off to the arches. Morning light was the ticket last month. Just fair this round, almost dark inside mid day. Crossed paths with a group of interesting people, really just wanted to keep

First time on the west side of Brins. Most probably like the red rock east but the west is cypress tree canopy. A pleasant surprise. Up Vultee and down Sterling. The scariest part of the hike was the last mile along the highway. No shoulder and cars whizzing by ultra close.

not much, very isolated
Sterling Pass Trail #46
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Wilson / Sterling - Vultee
We've talked about this one for awhile and even tried it a month or so ago only to find the area was closed for 3 more days. The plan, up Wilson North #123, check out the South Overlook, out to the North end and go to Lost Wilson out and back, then down the North slope of Wilson to meet up with the Sterling Pass or Vultee Arch trails.

We were not sure what shape any of the trails would be in since they opened a month or so ago. All were in great condition

North Wilson Mountain Trail #123 - We were the first vehicle in the lot at around 7:30a. The colors were still hanging on in pockets on the way up in the Canyon. The first respite from the climb is at The First Bench of Wilson Mountain. The next climb took us to views to the the South (Sedona) overlook, and give a great overview of the opportunities for hiking in this area. There was one or two cars in the Midgley Bridge lot when we went by, it appeared full now.

Next off to the North end to check out our opportunities. The Land Bridge that appeared to exist on Topo and GE from the Northwest corner of Wilson to Lost Wilson Mountain, did not exist. So off to try to complete our loop off the North end of Wilson. We dropped in at the place I'd spotted on GE, and started the thick, steep, prickly drop down. After making it down 300' we made he decision to retreat back to the top.

On the way back to the TH we took lunch at the high-point of Wilson Mountain @ 7,122'.

Next we drove over to hike up the Sterling Pass Trail #46 to the Vultee Arch Trail #22 and get to the Arch and back before dark. The climb to Sterling Pass is a steep one, (1,100' in 1.2 miles) especially the upper 1/3rd. The colors were holding on nicely. Geology helps make this an interesting trek.

Down the western side of this trail, to the Vultee Arch Trail #22, you loose 775' in about the same distance. This side has less step ups and the switchbacks are lazy in comparison.

I really enjoyed all three of these first time trails for me. Perfect weather and company (for the most part). I hope Joe is not too much of a bad influence on you Ray :sl:

Video from the top of Mount Wilson
(South and Northwest Overlooks) :next:

Colors ranged from past prime to just beginning on the lowers portions close to the Sterling /Vultee intersection
Sterling Pass Trail #46
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Wilson / Sterling Pass
My first hike in the Sedona area. I've been spoiled the last two weekends with great adventures and great hiking partners. Joe's trip log (Wilson / Sterling - Vultee Arch) eloquently captures the details of the hike, so I won't repeat it here.

What I will say is that the weather was perfect, the colors were brilliant and the views were breathtaking. All of them. Perhaps the most enjoyable part was the continuous banter (some might call it bickering) between Bruce and Joe. When I wasn't sucking air trying to keep up with them, I had a hard time catching my breath because I was laughing so hard! These two would have made a great comedy team in an old style variety show of the 70's and 80's.

One thing I've learned about hiking off trail with Joe and Bruce, I need to do a better job of protecting exposed flesh. The scramble in the bramble (not bramble, but I like the rhyme) on the attempt to connect N Wilson and Sterling left me a little bloodied. While Joe and Bruce so deftly navigated their way down the steep slope (and back up) without so much as a nick, I was hooking myself on every barb out there. I need to work on that.

All in all, it was a great hike and another beautiful day in Paradise!
Sterling Pass Trail #46
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Wilson / Sterling - Vultee
For many moons I've wanted to connect Wilson to Sterling. We headed up North Wilson #123. A large portion of this was torched in the 2006 Brins Fire. A good portion survived too. Regardless it is one beautiful pocket heading up to First Bench of Wilson Mountain.

Once on Wilson we showed Ray the southern lookout. Not up to snuff with the Munds overlook yet mighty darn close. Next we headed to the north. Took a gander at Lost Wilson Mtn. Bruce laughed no. It does looks sketchy. While I think it is doable it would take the entire day from what I saw so I wasn't totally heartbroken. Contact me if interested.

Next it was over to the northern lookout. Yeah... not sure why I haven't been here before. Stunning. We headed down a sliding steep slope covered in nasty needle barbed brush. On occasion a friendly bush was grasped to control the slide. It wasn't looking great so Bruce sent out a test Joe to survey. I saw a steeper but still borderline doable canyon to my right. Bruce informed me his track went left. Now that I'm home looking at it, I'm grateful I did not take the right plunge. That would have dropped us down the Sterling side... doh!

I checked out the left, circling around to a saddle Bruce mentioned from above. It looked more of the same we came down. Ultimately we decided to abandon the option. I'm pretty sure it's doable after reviewing the route plus based on what I saw above and below.

We headed back and lunched on the peak at 7122. This was low on my radar. While a little brushy I think it's worth it. There is a red rock layer up there not seen at lower elevations. The views are fabulous. Oak Creek, the San Francisco Peaks, Kendrick, Sitgreaves, Bill Williams, etc.

Since we couldn't make a loop out of Wilson and Vultee we drove to Sterling for an over-n-back. Autumn foliage in Sterling goes from picking up in the lowest elevation to a week past in the upper. Basically perfect. Bruce and I hit Vultee while Ray took a breather at the pass. We made it out just before headlamps were necessary.

Warm for the area and time of year, luckily that meant perfect!

Looks to have been extreme a week ago. This was a warm year so most areas hit later than normal.
Sterling Pass Trail #46
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It rained overnight so we weren't sure what the hiking would be like in the morning but things turned out great. We hiked up (and down) Sterling Pass Trail to check out the Vultee Arch, which was way cool, then cruised out Vultee Arch Trail to check out the trailhead off FR152. Like the day before we enjoyed an overcast morning which made hiking very enjoyable. With the overnight rain some of the rocks were a little slick but nothing too bad. The hike back up and over the pass was a lot faster then the climb up from 89A, taking advantage of all the switchbacks. Very nice morning hike in beautiful Sedona :y:
Sterling Pass Trail #46
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When you can't decide whether to go for a ride or go for a hike, you ride to a spot where you can hike! Kat and I are going to do as many of the trails in Oak Creek as we can, here's another checked off. This is a great trail, the elevation gain is constant, but nowhere near as exposed as the AB Young trail (sun-wise), so it doesn't seem as difficult. We didn't go all the way to Vultee Arch because we got a late start and it was hot.
Sterling Pass Trail #46
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This is easily my new favorite hike in Sedona excluding West Fork of course. The first mile or less of trail is the worst for elevation gain but the view of Wilson Mountain's unique northern face add to this unnamed(?) canyon's already inherent beauty which successfully paying off the brutalizing deficit taxing your body with high dividends of spectacular beauty. This first leg as painful as it is, is itself worth the drive from Phoenix to Sedona. Keep an eye out for a cave on the on the southern wall which may be more noticeable this season than in later seasons. I didn't take the time to explore it this trip but perhaps somebody else might.

Sans the beautiful textures of the immediate rock formations the views from Sterling Pass, obscured even in winter by leafless oak, were a little underwhelming to the west. I would recommend, if the Pass is your final destination, going just a little further down the west face. At the second switchback you'll be graced with some unobstructed views of Sterling Canyon and the mountains beyond. You'll have the opportunity to walk through a grove of "Curvy" oak. This strange sensory input provoked me into a left leaning walk, my body was somehow trying to orient to the trees. Suffice it to say, I would probably go easy on the peyote before adventuring into this steeply sloped forest.

For those who decide to press on to the Vultee Arch, the decent into Sterling Canyon offers more secrets. Hidden amidst the trees are giant rock monoliths that rise from the steeply slopped terra. The trail wraps around them as it switchbacks, allowing a proper inspection. Meanwhile the the canyon walls of Wilson Mountains western face loom high above like city sky scrapers, the light bouncing off the sandstone walls come orange, come red, come yellow and ever more warm and beautiful.

Gradually the steep slope lessens as another canyon begins to break on the right. Shortly the Vultee Arch appears but only if you're looking for it. Otherwise, your eye will eventually be drawn to it. Shortly after that this trail intersects with the approach to the Vultee, hang a right and that should be obvious. It is definitely something to see but for me the true rewards were the views of the opposing mountains as seen from the Vultee itself.

We had the Vultee to ourselves for the first twenty minutes or so. I risked most of it, however, trying to get to a perch that promised the "Perfect" photo-op of Wendi's first "Wendy". If ever there was the spot to entice her, standing on top of this impressive arch was gonna be it. I tried and succeeded reaching it from above and behind the perch, but don't do that. I tried and succeeded returning from behind and below the perch, but don't do that. There is a third approach which is pretty much a straight shot but with some exposure, I didn't try it but I guess at least you can see the exposure. The sandy ground along my routes just fell away and the efforts just to make each step was hardened by all the sharp, pointy fauna. By the time I returned with my hard won photo we were starving. Though we had imagined eating our lunch on top of the arch, we noticed a guy setting up his tripod on the sandstone benches below and another couple approaching from the DCTH. We relinquished our hold and exited stage left.

We managed to find a spot just off trail that still allowed views of the opposing mountains. I was able to make out Wilson Mountain sitting there, but the closest one and smaller turned out to be Lost Wilson Mountain and it's foothills. From this vantage it was drawing all the attention. In it's shadows a few tops of the pine trees managed to find sunlight reminding me of one Tibber's Saguaro photos. Others were bare of nettles and looked to Wendi like tooth picks. The pattern created accented the stained lines on the rock face. It is my new absolute favorite lunch spot!

After lunch we made our way back down through the tightly cropped manzanita forest we earlier had to come through. It is pretty tight coming through here. A few were just beginning to bloom. Once we made back to the sandstone steps we noticed a plaque affixed to the upper level but there was a couple up there so we didn't get to read it.

From here the plan was supposed to be to hike west to the Dry Creek Trail Head (DCTH) and then a couple miles up the Dry Creek Trail but we got so bogged down with all the photographing all the many beautiful sights that we had already shortened it to just DCTH.

I do have to say that, and this despite the flatter easier approach, folks with High-Clearance accessing from this Th are truly missing out if they skip Sterling Pass. This one case where "Low-C" owners can stand proud! Unless I am hiking up Dry Creek Trail I will probably skip this side trip. It is noteworthy to say that this a winter hike, perhaps Fall is a completely different thing. I will be sure to to correct that in the fall because you can be sure I will be back this coming season.

The return of course means ascending the western slope of Sterling Pass, which was thankfully much easier than coming up the other side, but it is still a huffer. It was a pleasure revisiting all the wonderful sights. Wendi, wasn't keen on the fact that I was re-photographing the same stuff on the way out, but the lighting had changed! I started explaining what I could do with a real camera. "If I could just adjust my shutter speed here...", "If we catch this spot with the sun rising just there...". I think I planted the seed.

The only fauna we saw were two paired Steller Jays. I think they were checking us out for snacks. They got a little snippy when we didn't offer them any and made a bee-line to that camping area across the 89. We saw Painted Lady, or Checkered Spot perhaps, hard to tell because it was chasing another unknown type butterfly, mostly black with a deckled white trim along it's wing's lower edge. It was at least 1-1/4 times bigger than the Checker Spot. They seemed to be in a disagreement, who knew!

After the hike we drove through town. Wendi directed me to a restaurant we had seen high-lighted on "Check Please! Arizona". "Cafe Jose" and thankfully it was back on the 179 in the Village of Oak Creek, far away from all the tourist traffic in Sedona proper. On the trail I had the sudden urge for a hot dog so I was excited to see something called "Devil Dogs". Two premium hotdogs wrapped in bacon and a heaping helping of chili on top. Seriously the best "Sonoran Style" dog I have had to date! Man was it good. Of course I was obliged to help Wendi with her Beef Quesadilla. It was stuffed with juicy shredded beef, lots of it. With it's large menu and an absolutely huge mural of Bell Rock I can officially recommend this as one of my facorite "Best After Hike Dines" for this area.
Sterling Pass Trail #46
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I've gotta find someplace where it's not raining, I thought, studying the weather maps. Sedona appeared to be storm free, so off I went. Along the way, I decided on the Sterling Pass Trail.

The sky was humid, overcast, but rain free as I started up the Sterling Pass Trail late in the afternoon. A healthy climb took me over the pass and into beautiful Sterling Canyon. The frantic snapping of branches alerted me to the fleeting presence of a small black bear, who bounded off into thicker cover a few hundred feet ahead, as I approached the turnoff for Vultee Arch.

Vultee Arch was my destination, where I took a break atop its narrow sandstone span, enjoying the surrounding red rock cliffs. With the day growing late, I soon began my return trip to Oak Creek Canyon.

The weather remained cooperative until I reached my truck at dusk, when light showers rolled in. Being early for a night owl like myself, I headed north to Flagstaff to pick up some dinner and a cd at Haistings. Hooray for a 24 hour Subway!

The drive home on highway 89A was exciting as always. Wild thunderstorms were parked over top of Jerome and Prescott, and I felt obliged to stop frequently to enjoy the sights and shoot photos. I finally arrived home around 1:30 am, knowing I would feel like garbage at work in only a few hours. But it was worth it. Another great adventure!
Sterling Pass Trail #46
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Pretty sweet loop around Wilson Mountain of course linking a handful of trails together. :D I was having an off day so I skipped a sidetrip to Vultree Arch or the top of Wilson Mt and my time logged includes 2 half hour siestas along the way. :zzz:

Permit $$
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Map Drive
Paved - Car Okay

To hike
From the Sedona 'Y' ( 179/89A ) go North on 89A just past mile marker 380. Either park at Manzanita Campground ( fee area ) or if you're lucky enough to find a spot along the shoulder you're set. The trailhead is on the left or West side of the road just North of the camp area.

Location: 22 miles south of Flagstaff (5.5 miles north of Sedona) on paved roads in scenic Oak Creek Canyon. Elevation is 4840 feet at the trailhead. Access: Drive 22 miles south out of Flagstaff or 5.5 miles north from Sedona. The trailhead is a bit hard to see but it's on the west side of the highway, near mile marker 380. It's about a hundred yards north of the entrance to Manzanita Campground and a short distance south of Slide Rock Lodge. Parking is available some distance away, south of Manzanita Campground, on the east side of the highway.
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