Capital Butte - Up and Over is a 4.4 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Sedona, AZ that features beautiful wild flowers and is rated as moderate. The trail is primarily used for hiking, walking, nature trips, and birding and is accessible year-round.
Hike up Sedona's most prominant landmark! Capital Butte (aka Thunder Mountain or Grayback) is one of the most eye-catching landmarks in Sedona. Believe it or not, there are two main and several obscure trails that climb up this monolith. Once on top, you will be rewarded with a stunning 360 degree view, including all of Sedona and the San Francisco Peaks to the north. The hike can be done as a shuttle, or as an up and back from Lizardhead. The route is very steep with an elevation gain of about 1700 feet. This guide assumes that you've downloaded the accompanying GPS track; I've provided some step by step directions but it is very easy to get off-route and the GPS track will be especially useful to those unfamiliar with the area. WARNING: This hike involves a significant amount of scrambling over rocks and scree, sometimes near steep and high cliffs. As such this trail is not recommended for those who are petrified of heights! This is not an established or maintained trail and solid route finding skills are a must. If you desire a wide, obvious trail, this hike is not for you. Someone dies on Capital Butte every 3 or 4 years, usually as a result of getting off-route and / or coming down in the dark. Allow plenty of time and do not attempt this hike if you are uncomfortable in a wilderness setting far from the main trail. Begin this shuttle hike by leaving a vehicle at the top of Sunshine Lane in West Sedona. Then drive over to the junction of Dry Creek and Vultee Arch Roads. The trail takes off from the payment station and heads up towards Lizardhead Rock. There are a few junctions along the way (first right down, then left up), after which the trail climbs steeply up the north side of Lizardhead Ridge. Once you gain the ridge, you can take a short walk to the west and get out on the very end of Lizardhead - the view is well worth the effort. The trail continues ascending the south side of Lizardhead Ridge, then turns gradually northwards to the saddle between Lizardhead and Capital Butte itself. As the climb steepens be sure to pay attention to the route, noting cairns along the way. It is easy to get off route here and there are a couple spots with exposure and scrambling over rock steps and ledges. The trails works up leftwards, then up right into a small gully, finally working back left again to the end of the steep section, which completes with a steep gully / chimney. Once above the gully, follow the ridge for an easy few minutes to the summit. The northeast rock on top has a small jar where you can write your name. After enjoying the summit, you can turn around and go down the way you came up. If you left a car at the top of Sunshine Lane, you can use continue your hike via the East Gully route. To descend, follow the trail due south from the western summit rock. The route winds on down, first to the left, then to right through a notch between Capital Butte and a 25 ft. high stubby pillar. For an interesting side trip, skirt the pillar to the down to the right and visit "The Front Porch". Descend below the notch, being careful to stay on the route. There are several places where it is possible to get off route here, keep looking for the occasional cairn and the footprints of those who have passed before. A short enclosed chimney is soon encountered - easy scrambling but requires careful attention to handholds. Continue below the chimney until the trail reaches a narrow ridge that separates Capital Butte from a large detached block. Descend the gully to the left of the large block. From here to the wash the trail is loose yet pretty easy to follow. Upon reaching the wash continue while keeping a lookout for a couple steps up to the right near the bottom of the wash. If you miss the steps, stay in the wash until it crosses a well developed trail, then go right. Follow the trails downward until you reach the top of Sunshine Lane and your vehicle.