Capitol Butte via Lizard Head Trail is a 2.8 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Sedona, Arizona that features beautiful wild flowers and is rated as difficult. The trail is primarily used for hiking and is accessible year-round.

Length2.8 miElevation gain1,774 ftRoute typeOut & back
HikingViewsWildflowersWildlifeRockyScrambleNo dogs
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Hike up Sedona's most prominant landmark! Capitol 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 Capitol 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 Capitol 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 Capitol 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.

Wear stout hiking shoes, bring food and water, and a map and gps unit.

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Reviews (70)
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Rachel Lee
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarApril 11, 2021
HikingRockyScramble

Fun & scrambly. Not too many others on the trail. :)

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Edward Pluchar
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarApril 11, 2021
HikingGreat!RockyScramble

Fabulous trail, lots of scrambling and a lot of climbing if you go off trail a bit. (Carefully) We started out too late or would have made a reasonably timed summit - trail was hard to keep track of at times, but lots of cairns around. I plan to come back and get to summit, do additional climbing.

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meg SA
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarApril 2, 2021
HikingNo shadeOff trailRockyScramble

Went up for sunrise today - totally awesome, but seriously people pack out your damn toilet paper!!! If you look at a map it’s easy to cut about a mile off of the RT distance everyone else keeps quoting - we clocked in 3.2 miles RT. The Devils Bridge lot fills by 6am and people will line up along the road, adding to your mileage. Overall, it reminded me of a lot of the walk-offs for climbs at Red Rock but with those Sedona vibes. It should be noted this is definitely not a hike - it’s a scramble (meaning it’s steep enough where you’ll be using your hands to climb, it’ll be exposed, and a slip or fall can for sure cause serious injury or worse). Only class 3 at most. More sustained than I thought it would be after lizard head. The rock is loose enough to keep your head in check (watch where you step and yell rock if you let one fly even if you don’t think anyone is around) and has all the fun surprises such as sand over exposed slab, plenty of cactus, and a lot of deceiving gullies that will try to sucker you to sheer cliff faces on your way down. Bring a gps. But as an alpinist, climber, and a desert scramble nerd it was a good, mellow time to a pretty summit perch. Took us 2 hr 15 mins RT.

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Eric Maughan
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarMarch 31, 2021
HikingGreat!

Beautiful hike. Cairns were pretty easy to follow, no real issues. As others have said, round trip distance is 4.2 miles, not 2.8. Amazing views, no one else around, great hike

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adam arlia
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Hiking

mega aweome, so much fun. views were so amazing.

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Joe Yoakum
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Nick Hibma
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HikingGreat!RockyScramble

Difficult hike. Biggest risks are losing the trail and lose rocks in precarious places. Finding our way down was more difficult than going up. Epic views and a few risky situations we had a good time. Definitely see how this hike could get dangerous pretty quick.

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Shawn Pray
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Andrew Langlois
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Andrew Langlois
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Robert Davis
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HikingIcy

First off I thought the trail was really cool. That being said, the milage is definitely not 2.8 miles round trip, it’s one way. I tend to enjoy hard things but this one is definitely not for newbies, lots of route finding needed for upper section and it’s technical and exposed. The views are top notch though so it’s worth the hard work.

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Katie Zoller
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Tracy Berrian
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Michael Ponder
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Hiking

Tough. Lots of scree. Poorly marked trail. Technically challenging. Most of the time felt like I was either going to fall on my ass or fall off the mountain. Pretty up there though!

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Mindy Monette
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Brian Czerwin
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Hiking

Unbelievably beautiful views. A steep ascent and trail that is sometimes difficult to follow make this a difficult hike

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Kevin B
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray StarGray StarOctober 3, 2020
Hiking

This was a decent short hike to a high point with a good 360 degree view of the area. Despite many of the comments saying otherwise, I would not call this trail sketchy at all, there are no dangerous/exposed sections, and the trail is pretty clear and well marked with cairns. If you have a couple hours to kill in Sedona try to fit this one in!

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Taylor Burnett
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarOctober 2, 2020

hard hike is definitely worth the views. definitely not a hike for someone who is not used to incline and small trails on the edge of a cliff. the trail is also not listed on maps. parked at devils bridge parking and took lizard trail. trails are not marked once you get to capitol butte trail. I would advise having the all trails map, got off trail and on another one. had to turn around and get back to the one we wanted.

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Russell Arnold
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Hiking

Lots of work to get to the top. Beautiful 360 views once you get there. Best advice that I read before going up was if you face a situation you consider overly technical, you're off the trail. Make sure you have access to the map to help you out. Have to pay attention going down, lots of scree, and with being tired from going up, a tough combo. As another reviewer mentioned, gloves and long pants recommended. I think my recording stopped at some point going down, my GPS watch had the total travel at 3.2mi, starting at Lizard Head Trail off of Dry Creek Rd. Probably 3.5 hrs of moving time.

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Steve Strine
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray StarGray StarGray StarGray StarGray StarGray StarJuly 20, 2020
Hiking

PLEASE respect the fact that this is the only trail left in SED that is not overrun by weekend warrior idiots...but, MORE IMPORTANT, respect this MTN and the damage it can inflict upon the inexperienced and casual unprepared. ALSO, please do NOT put your route on social media...it may be wrong and misleading. There is a defined route, but already there are many misleading ones. Best done with someone who has been there.

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Courtney Johnson
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HikingOff trailOver grownRockyScramble

This hike will challenge your coordination and is not for beginners. The scrambles become more difficult as you get closer to the summit and seemed more like bouldering to me. There were no others on the trail and I went on a Sunday so make sure you bring a friend or you’ll be on your own. I did have cell service so I used this app to stay on track. The false summit would be a great stopping point for the average hiker. Very lovely! I would recommend long pants. I wore shorts and got cut up. It was also VERY windy which is scary with how slippery this hike is. I wanted a challenging hike and this was great, I was bummed I couldn’t do the final scramble to the summit but it’s important to leave your ego at home if you don’t have the developed skills. Don’t climb up anything you can’t climb back down from.

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