Red Without The Pink
This Sedona Jeep trail has been made famous by the tours run by a local company that utilizes pink Jeeps. After years of use (many would argue overuse), mismanagement, debate, and argument, recent times have been somewhat placid for this trail. It seems that the agreement that has been made with the forest service allows only one of the many Jeep tour companies in Sedona to run this trail, limiting the use somewhat from its past highs. Now, in partnership with the FS, the jeep tour company helps maintain the road, keeps it clean, prevents overuse, off-trail driving, resource damage, etc.
While you can enjoy this ride in the back of a pink Jeep, it is also a normal forest road that the public can access provided they have a vehicle capable of it. This trail is conveniently located near downtown and offers up some spectacular scenery with relative ease.
I'm posting this brief description here on HAZ because in my previous research, I was hard-pressed to find any detailed or valuable information on what should seemingly be easy to find. (Not like this is in the middle of nowhere or anything obscure!)
In a nutshell: you need a Jeep. Or another highly-capable 4x4 with low range. The road is narrow and tight so big trucks can't do it. My attempt was in a stock 08 Tacoma (TRD Off-road). Skid plates took a healthy beating. Approach and departure angles hurt me, and I would've done better with a shorter wheelbase and a little bit more clearance. Rear bumper took a direct blow a couple of times, as did the skid under the front bumper. I didn't have the goods to conquer the "Devil's Staircase" (at least not without risking more damage than I was willing to put on the line).
The FS has installed a nice man-made step at the start of the trail. It verifies that you're Ford Taurus-rental tourists don't even attempt the trail. You can make it over the step and still end up in trouble later, but it's a good deterrent.
Step by step: The trail begins at the manmade step and proceeds easily for a few hundred yards before a small pullout and sign warning users again of proper driving use and the dangers ahead. (This is where my GPS track begins).
After the pullout, a couple of short, easy climb up and down some solid Sedona red rock before ascending a hill and being presented with a fork in the road. Go right for the 200-yard spur to the Devil's Dining Room sinkhole. Turn around and head back out to the main road.
Shortly, the road splits again, but this time there's an arrow indicating that you should go to the right. It goes around a hill and joins back up with the main road shortly thereafter.
Continue for about 1/2 a mile along a narrow section of trail that parallels a wash and features some tight turns and narrow fits between trees and brush (pinstriping on this trail isn't guaranteed, but it's a good liklihood). You'll pass another road which goes to the right. This is where you will come out on the return trip. It's about 100 yards below the Devil's Staircase, and if you're in a stock off-road 4x4 like mine, it might be worth parking in a nearby pull-out and taking a short hike up to check it out from below. It will save you a lot of backtracking against traffic later on if you decide not to go for it.
At about the 1 mile mark the road forks again, one way leading right and up hill, and another continuing straight, down through a dry wash, and the first real challenging climb of the trip. (I believe the jeep tours go right here, and cross the wash on the way back, but you can go either way). After crossing the wash and making the very short but steep climb up the other side, the road continues for a couple of hundred yards to a parking area at Submarine Rock. There is no driving allowed on Submarine Rock, but getting out for a walk or picnic here is a great idea. If you time it right, you can be alone. If you don't, there might be as many as 3 or 4 pink jeeps and all of their tourists on the rock with you, so you might keep that in mind when choosing which fork to take when.
After visiting Submarine Rock, head back to the main road, enjoying the noise of metal on rock as you descend the steep drop back into the wash.
Continue along for another half mile and pass a road on the right. Don't turn here yet as this will be the road you return on. Note that from this road forward, you are much more likely to encounter oncoming traffic as there is no alternate route in this area.
A quarter mile further and you will reach the end of the road at Chicken Point. As with Submarine Rock, you may be sharing this area with numerous people, jeeps, and even hikers as there are two or three hiking trails that converge at this spot. Enjoy the views or a picnic and head back the way you came.
Heading back downhill, you will take the left fork I mentioned above. If you couldn't make it to Submarine Rock earlier in the trip, don't bother taking this road to the left. You won't make it. This section features tougher climbs, bigger steps, and more fun ... if you're in the right truck! Keep in mind, that if you head back the way you came, you will likely encounter oncoming traffic, which will require sections of reverse since there are infrequent pullouts for passing. If you're not comfortable driving in reverse in 4wd on a tight rocky road, you shouldn't be out here anyway.
So ... assuming you take the left fork on the way back, you are immediately presented with a nice step to climb, followed by a narrow turn through some trees. Another small step and a climb up some rock results in some of the best views of the day as you top out at some rock formation that I don't know the name of. There's just enough room to drive around the formation in a complete circle if you want, before continuing up the rock to a higher point. Here the road heads downhill and to the right, but there's another very short "play" loop that goes left and features an impressive and bumpy drop that the jeep tours seem to take to entertain the younger guests (it's sort of like a roller coaster). Again, I'll mention that if your vehicle can't do this "play" loop descent, head back now because there's no point continuing.
Following the road downhill features quite a bit of straight red rock driving, a couple of small steps and shelves, and some tight turns. A little bit more than a quarter of a mile from the "play" loop you will reach the top of the Devil's Staircase. This is a series of steps that has been well traveled. It's steeper and deeper than the photo illustrates, and there is very little technical skill that will keep your vehicle from doing what it wants to do. The well-worn tracks are slick and ultimately your vehicle will settle into those tracks and you will just have to take what it gives you!
Shortly after the staircase, the road re-joins the road you came in on. Turn left to return to the trailhead, or right to head back up toward Submarine Rock.
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.