Hike at the foot of cliffs
Driving up 179 towards Sedona, past the Village of Oak Creek, past Bell Rock and Court House Butte, the Twin Buttes are on your right. At the foot of the west butte is the famous Chapel of the Holy Cross. Behind the east butte is the (in)famous Chicken Point where at times a dozen Pink Jeeps congregate. The Twin Buttes Loop is a delightful short loop hike around the two buttes. About half the hike is on unoffical trails, the rest follows Forest Service trails. All of the hike is visually stimulating because you're walking close to foot of the Twin Buttes red rock cliffs.
The hike starts at the Mystic Trail trail head, at the T-junction of Chapel Road and Antelope Drive. There is parking for about three cars on the north (left) shoulder of Chapel Road and some more parking on Antelope Drive. As soon as you cross the fence, Mystic Trail goes off to the east (right), parallel to the road. A very short way later the trail turns sharply to the north (left); don't follow the trail at this point! Look carefully and you'll see a faint "blocked" trail continuing on a bit to the right. There are branches across the path, but only for the first dozen yards or so. From then on the trail becomes clear and reasonably easy to follow. It climbs a few feet still basically going east towards the foot of the east butte, then it turns left (north) and follows the cliff face of the butte.
I call this trail "Upper Mystic Trail" because it parallels the Mystic Trail. It's used by some locals to walk their dogs, but you rarely encounter anybody. Bikers use it, too, because it connects to a wonderful bike trail. But again, I've seen the bike tracks but have rarely encountered a bike. It's a much more interesting trail than the Mystic Trail because it isn't so wide and because it's closer to the butte. The trail goes reasonably straight north, following a bit the contours of the land. It meanders here and there and it's a bit faint in spots, but for almost a mile it keeps on going mostly north.
Just short of a mile into the hike the trail turns to the right (east) and starts switchbacking a bit to gain some elevation. At this point the trail becomes very distinct and you can tell that some people worked hard to build the trail. It is a well built trail, not just a path trodden by many feet and bike tires. It leads smoothly through some reasonably challenging terrain, always offering new vistas.
There is a bit of story here: depending on when you happen to come along this trail you may find it in great shape or you may find it partly ripped apart and turned into an obstacle course with dead branches. While I personally think that this trail is a great trail that fills a need, the Forest Service doesn't think so (not invented here). They periodically attack and destroy the trail, "renaturalize it" in their parlance. Then during the next few weeks and months the obstacles mysteriously disappear and the trail gets repaired. And no, I have not been involved in the construction and repair of the trail; I'm just an observer and frequent hiker.
The trail keeps on climbing and weaving its way through slick rock and small cliffs. No scary drop offs, but lots of beautiful cliffs and rocks. At about 1.5 miles from the trail head you come to Cemetery Ridge (because it overlooks the cemetery). From this ridge you have a great view over parts of Sedona and, in the other direction, into the valley at the foot of Munds Mountain. There are about five trails coming together at this spot: First, the trail you've just come up on. Just to your left, a trail climbs back down to the cemetery. A few steps further on, another trail goes off to the left (north) towards Battlement Mesa, the rock formation to your left. You can follow this very faint trail to some great view points, but it's a dead end. A few more steps and the trail splits -- one branch goes straight ahead down a bit of a gully, the other branch goes a bit to the right and then rightaway splits again. The left branch is of no particular interest, it just parallels the trail down the gully but isn't as interesting, the right branch however leads up to the Twin Buttes Saddle which you see to your right. The trail to the saddle is easy to follow even though quite steep in places. If you have the time (and energy), this one mile side excursion is well worth it; the view from the Twin Buttes Saddle down onto the Chapel of the Holy Cross is spectacular. The other side of the saddle is almost vertical. I'm told there is a non-technical way down but I've never tried it. From the saddle you can also bushwhack and scramble up to the east or west butte, but again, I've haven't tried this yet.
From Cemetery Ridge you follow the trail down the little gully heading straight east. You'll be walking mostly on slick rock with only occasional detours when the rock ends or drops off to steeply. You keep on going down. Once you come to the "end" of the slick rock, the trail goes off to the right for a bit, but then picks up some slick rock again. Follow this slick rock to the end. You'll see the main trail continuing on straight ahead but you should look to your right, up a small ravine. You'll see a faint trail climbing up the left side of the little gully. After a little while the trail becomes more distinct, meandering around and over rocks, through Arizona Cypress forests. The trail climbs initially, but then levels off and follows the contours of the land heading generally south. You'll have great views down onto Broken Arrow Trail and the Pink Jeep road paralleling it. You may even hear the screeches of the tourists in the Jeeps. And of course you'll see the Jeeps below you.
At about two miles into the hike, you'll see Jeep tire marks on the rock to your left, a wire cage cairn in front of you and you're back on an official trail. From now on, the hike follows Forest Service trails, initially Broken Arrows Trail continuing south to Chicken Point. The trail is well marked and easy to follow. Once you're past Chicken Point with the crowds and the Jeeps (unless you're there very early, then you may have it to yourself), the trail changes name to Little Horse Trail and veers for a short while to the left. You follow this trail around a curve to the bottom of the big Chicken Point rock, then keep on going southwest at the foot of the Two Nuns (rock formations which are part of the east butte).
At about three miles into the hike you come to the marked intersection with Chapel Trail. Little Horse Trail continues on to the left towards the trail head on SR 179. Chapel Trail goes off to the right, following the foot of the butte. The trail is essentially level, just going up and down a bit as the terrain requires. You'll soon have a great view on the right up towards Twin Buttes Saddle. Chapel Trail is generally not busy because there is no parking for the trail at the Chapel end. The Chapel guards its scarce parking spots jealously and will tow you if you park there for hiking purposes.
Once you get to the Chapel, you might as well visit it if you aren't too sweaty. If you decide against this, you turn left and follow the road to the gate. You continue on the road (Chapel Road), past Dracula's Castle (a monstrosity of a house under permanent construction on your left). In less than a quarter mile you'll come to the Mystic Trail Head at the intersection of Antelope Drive and Chapel Road. Total length of the hike is less than four miles.
Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.
Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.
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.
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