January 2023
Hiking Yavapai
Stan Bindell

Copper Mountain vs. Bell Trail

The Copper Mountain segment of the Black Canyon National Recreation Trail and Bell Trail in Sedona are two Yavapai County hikes that provide a beautiful contrast in style.

The Copper Mountain segment, which begins at the Big Bug Trailhead in Mayer, goes up in elevation from 4,020 feet to 4,014 feet, but while it has no big hills, it goes through many ups and downs.

Copper Mountain views are more open and sunny.

The Bell Trail, east of Sedona, climbs from 3,849 feet to 4,115 feet, but has some much larger inclines as you go through the red rocks.

Bell Trail offers more shade and water.

The Copper Mountain segment is open range, so there’s no chance of falling off a ledge. On some parts of the Bell Trail you’re right near the edge. Bell Trail also has more scree, so you have to pay more attention to your footing.

Copper Mountain has virtually no shade, so it’s a great winter hike on a sunny day. Bell Trail doesn’t have much shade, but there are good spots to discover.

These hikes have three things in common. First, great mountain views: from Copper Mountain you can see Pine Mountain, the Bradshaw range and other peaks, while Bell Trail is surrounded by red-rock cliffs.

Second, during recent hikes on both we found a plethora of birds. From the Big Bug Trailhead you soon enter a tunnel. This hike was led by Mare Czinar, who writes a hiking column for The Arizona Republic, who pointed out that cliff swallows love these tunnels.

On the Bell Trail there were more birds than usual, with robins, some types of bluebirds and other birds flittering and singing. Aside from the birds, the only wildlife we saw on the Copper Mountain segment were cattle. The Bell Trail is known for great wildlife, including elk, deer, brown bear, mountain lion, bobcat, skunk, coyote, javelina, bullfrog, reptiles and rattlesnakes.

Bell Trail

Third, as Robin Sewell would say, both hikes are right off an Arizona Highway. To get to the Big Bug Trailhead from Prescott, drive 30 miles south on Highway 69 and turn right four-tenths of a mile after milepost 267. You’ll see the trailhead sign right after that turn. To get to the Bell Trailhead, go to I-17 and get off at the Sedona exit (298). Go two miles, turn left and it’s just another quarter mile to the parking lot.

Copper Mountain is popular among mountain bikers, while Bell Trail is more popular for hikers, but many bring their dogs.

Copper Mountain

The biggest difference is that Bell Trail is part of the Wet Beaver Wilderness and has plenty of streamside views, making it popular for swimmers and divers in summer. Copper Mountain offers no water.

The Black Canyon National Recreation Trail is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. This is what the agency’s website says about the trail:

“The 80-mile Black Canyon Trail provides mountain bikers with a long-range backcountry trail-riding opportunity. This historic National Recreation Trail is of national significance, following a route used since the times of prehistoric Native American travelers and traders. This trail provides a challenging ride experience, characterized by rough, unstable soils and rocks, with various trail grades and numerous elevation changes within a harsh desert climate. The trail meanders through the Sonoran Desert landscape, including saguaro forests and rugged canyons. The trail is recommended for use from November through April. At other times of the year, the trail is seldom used. The difficulty level is intermediate.”

Of course, the trail is open to hikers too. Just don’t plan on doing the 80 miles in one day!

Stan Bindell is always looking for a good hike. If you have one, contact him at thebluesmagician@gmail. com