Reflections From Hiking Bear Mountain

March 03, 2023

By Kelley Malek

Great rocks, great places to sit, and great views of a blue winter sky. The Westerners enjoy hot chocolate and cookies on a recent trip up the flanks of Bear Mountain.

Bear Mountain:  sometimes I eagerly anticipate hiking it, sometimes I have a sense of dread, and sometimes I sort of feel both ways at the same time.  It’s about 2.6 miles and 1800 feet up to the top, with not a whole lot of flat or down on the way up.  There are scrambles and big steps and seemingly endless slabs of slanted rock.  Then you turn around and take the same route back again, which is easier in a cardio sense but the footing is tricky and the constant downhill can take a toll on the knees.  And yet...  Those views!  The sense of triumph when you make it up those steep inclines!  It’s so worth the effort.

The Drovers group of the Sedona Westerners hiking club recently hiked on Bear Mountain.  As we were happily tromping along on a day both sunny and crisp, I was remembering moments from other hikes on this iconic trail.  I realized that over time the mountain has reinforced almost every hiking “do” or “don’t” that the Westerners advocate.  For just a few examples:

DON’T hike without adequate water.  Last summer I encountered a hiker on a very hot day who had just reached Bear’s first bench after over an hour of hiking and had already drunk most of her water.  She wanted to go all the way to the top, which was still almost 2 miles away, but I discouraged her.  I also decided to carry an extra bottle or 2 of water on hot days in case I run into someone in that predicament again.

DON’T climb a mountain when the weather is questionable without thinking long and hard about it.  In the winter you might encounter ice and snow at high elevations even when the trail is OK down lower, and in the summer the heat is downright dangerous.  During monsoon season, lightning storms can pop up unexpectedly.  A fellow hiker and I set off up the mountain during last year’s active monsoon season.  It looked like a clear day, but as we reached the second bench and got a first good look to the west, a huge gray cloud loomed and a clap of thunder boomed.  We skedaddled back down the trail very quickly.

DON’T get discouraged.  Bear Mountain is notorious for multiple false summits.  So many people are dismayed to reach what they thought would be the peak, only to see the trail keep going on and on.  I personally get discouraged when I’m passed by folks running up the mountain.  But go at your own pace, and take breaks as needed on a challenging trail.  Hiking isn’t meant to be a chore. 

DO “leave no trace.”  Unfortunately, some hikers on this beautiful mountain have felt the need to leave their mark scratched into the rocks or written in permanent ink on the white trail markers.

DO stop to enjoy the views.  It’s tempting to put your head down and try to power up the slopes.  If you do, you’ll miss fantastic views of Doe Mountain, Fay Canyon, Jerome, and more.  A hiking buddy is known to stop perfect strangers on Bear and insist on taking their picture for them because, as she says, it’s irresistible when the views are so stunning.

DO have a good time.  On this Westerners hike, we hauled up camping stoves, water, cookies and all of the fixings for hot chocolate, even marshmallows.  Everyone enjoyed sipping a hot beverage on a chilly day while we appreciated the unbeatable views. 

We packed up our party supplies and started back towards the trailhead, stopping on the way to watch two people rappel down a narrow canyon.  I do enjoy reliving past hikes on Bear Mountain, but there’s always something new to discover.  Bear may exhilarate or it may intimidate, but it definitely will awe you and it never disappoints.

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