If you haven’t much time but are anxious to hike a trail for an outdoor fix, there is a quick, easy, “urban” hike (which means you’ll be aware of the city) that is ideal for either solitary meandering or a family outing. For this, plus wonderful red rock views, Sugarloaf is a great choice.

Thunder Mountain in Sedona AZ

Thunder Mountain (Capital Butte)

Since it’s popular locally, there is generally someone always on the trail but, thankfully, it is not at all crowded.  You’ll find neighborhood locals walking their dogs here, so if Fido needs a break, make sure he’s leashed and take one of the “doggie” bags at the entrance for “pickup.”

Sugarloaf also connects with other easy to moderate trails if you’re inspired to extend your hiking time.  Here’s one reason: a 14-acre park with Buddhist stupas – structures rarely seen in the Western world.  Have we piqued your interest? First, though, let’s get to Sugarloaf.

How To Get to Sugarloaf Trailhead

From the “Y” at the juncture of 89A and Hwy. 179 in uptown Sedona, follow the roundabout to head west on 89A to West Sedona and drive about 2 miles to Coffee Pot Drive. Make a right here and go 0.5 miles, then turn left on Sanborn Drive. Continue for about 0.1 miles to Little Elf Drive and turn right.  Go about 0.2 miles and veer right on Buena Vista Drive, where you’ll see the hiking trailhead sign on your left. Turn into the parking lot here.

  • Tip: You will need a Red Rock pass.

 To Sugarloaf Summit:

Take note of the area map at the trailhead for an orientation to the area’s trails.  You may want to take advantage of them.  The trailhead actually starts at Teacup Trail.  It goes over a few slightly rocky patches, but it’s quite easily negotiated terrain. You’ll notice the characteristically Sedona trail markers along the way – the wire barrel cairns filled with red rocks – that will help keep you on course. Generally, though, stay to the right on the trail close to Sugarloaf Hill. The summit is on your right about 250 feet up. But before we get there…

Chimney Rock Sunset in Sedona AZ

Chimney Rock, View from Sugarloaf

Option 1: Thunder Mountain Trail, Chimney Rock Vista

About 0.3 miles in and almost to the Summit trail, you’ll see a signpost for Thunder Mountain that points to your left. It’s an easy, level trail, but be warned – there is no shade at all here! From the signpost, it’s about 1.7 miles to the actual Thunder Mountain trailhead.


Local Lore:

Thunder Mountain” is favored locally over “Capitol Butte” or “Grayback Mountain” and comes from two possible sources: the title of Zane Grey’s novel, made into a movie in Sedona in 1947; or the local opinion that Native Americans called it Thunder Mountain because it seemed to attract a lot of lightning and thunder. Hmmm…

 Option 2: Peace Park

If you opt to take Thunder Mountain trail, look for the sign that says “stupa.”  Take this and you’ll be on a short detour to Amitabha Stupa, Tara Stupa, and a large wooden statue of Buddha on Peace Park’s fourteen pristine acres. According to Buddhist tradition, meditation and prayer are greatly enhanced and expanded at a stupa, which is considered to be the living presence of the Buddha and, as such, represents the Mind of Enlightenment. Imagine this within Sedona’s vortex energy – an amazing combination!

  • Tip: A great place for meditating, no matter what your spiritual/religious preferences.

 If you want to hike to the Thunder Mountain trailhead, there are several loops you can take on your way back to Sugarloaf.

  • One is 1.4 miles that starts at the trailhead and uses the trail’s southern portion with Lower Chimney Rock trail. From the loop, a short but steep climb up Summit Trail to Chimney Rock Vista will reward you with a great panoramic view.
  • A moderate 2.6-mile loop can be made using the Chimney Rock Pass Trail and more of the Thunder Mountain Trail.
  • A moderate “figure 8” of three miles can be hiked using the same trails.

 Now wend your way back north, pass Chimney Rock, and the trail will go east past Thunder Mountain until, 1.7 miles later, you’ll intersect Teacup Trail again.

Okay, back to Sugarloaf Summit.

At the Thunder Mountain sign, go straight on the trail for a short distance and you’ll see a cairn with a wooden post. Turn right here to climb 250 feet up to fabulous 360-degree views of Morning Glory Spire, Thunder Mountain, Coffee Pot Rock, and Chimney Rock. In the distance, you’ll see Munds Mountain, Wilson Mountain and, to the far west, Mingus Mountain.

 Now go back down and turn left to go back to the trailhead or turn right to complete Sugarloaf loop (see below). The total time from the Sugarloaf trailhead to the summit and back (plus whatever time you spend at the summit) is about one-half hour (1.2 miles).


  • Sugarloaf Summit is a great place for meditation, especially in the morning or at sunset. The summit is seldom crowded – in fact, there is hardly anyone there most of the time.
  • If you go around sunset, have a flashlight handy. (Yes, people have forgotten this.)

 Sugarloaf Loop:

Coffeepot Rock in Sedona AZ

Coffee Pot Rock, View from Sugarloaf

At the bottom of Sugarloaf summit, turn right and continue on. Keep your sights on Coffee Pot Rock and, as you make one of the turns on the trail, you’ll see, several rocks to the left of Coffee Pot and a little ways in the distance, the formation known as “Teacup” that looks more like a teapot.

 Options: The Cliff, Soldiers Pass

Keep going and you’ll come to a fork in the road.  A great view envelops you. This juncture is a cliff area. Go ahead and walk down it a little (don’t worry, there’s plenty of room here and you won’t fall off) and you’ll find flat rocks that are perfect for sitting and enjoying the great red rock view spread out before you. From this vantage point, you will be able to see the large sinkhole at Soldiers Pass, called Devil’s Kitchen, to your left a bit (about “11:00”) and in the distance.

  •  Tip:  The cliff area is a great spot for meditating and you’ll seldom hear anything but the occasional passerby on the trail above you.

 The trail to the left will take you on a trail through the bottom of the huge rock formations and on your way to Soldiers Pass. The trail to your right finishes Sugarloaf Loop.

 Sugarloaf Loop FAQs:

  • Open year round. Since there is not much shade, October to May is ideal.
  • Rating: Easy
  • Facilities: None
  • Dogs must be on leash. Be sure to use the doggie bags.
  • Elevation gain: 350 feet.
  • Activity usage per U.S. Forest Service: hiking, horseback riding, and biking.
  • Length: about 2.2 miles round trip.

 Special Tips

  • A great hike in the early morning and especially peaceful and beautiful at sunset.
  • Take enough water for a liter per person per hour.
  • Bring your camera.
  • The parking lot is small, so if it’s full, park on Little Elf and walk in.
  • Stay clear of the sharp points of agave plants and do not touch cacti – those fluffy looking green outshoots will quickly attach to your skin. If so, remove very carefully.