The social route leading to the summit of Gibraltar is a challenging climb up one of Sedona's highest peaks. At the top the views are expansive to say the least, with blue sky and red rock in all directions.
WARNING: THIS ROUTE IS RATED AS EXTREME. IT SHOULD ONLY BE ATTEMPTED BY HIKERS WITH EXTENSIVE BACKCOUNTRY EXPERIENCE.
Upon reaching the summit of Gibraltar it is possible to follow the ridge all the way to the other end, and come down using the route we call Stairway to Heaven. This traverse across the ridge top would allow you to make a loop back to the Little Horse Parking area using the Llama Trail. All total that would make for a VERY challenging hike of about 8 miles and 2200 feet of elevation gain.
FINDING THE TRAILHEAD
Little Horse Trailhead is located just off Hwy 179, approximately 4 miles south of Uptown Sedona. There is a sign on the highway for this parking area. A Red Rock Pass or America the Beautiful Pass is required to park here. Simply follow the Bell Rock Pathway to the sign marking a left turn on Little Horse. Take Little Horse and follow it until just before it begins to climb toward Chicken Point. Look for a faint social trail branching to the right. This trail leads toward a saddle at the base of Gibraltar.
From the saddle look for a social trail that follows the base of the cliffs. This social trail switches back and forth up the side of Gibraltar. It is fairly easy to follow, but there is one point where it takes a turn that is hidden by brush, and here it is easy to lose. From this turn the trail heads northeast along an easy ledge to the final obstacle - a Class 3 scramble up a diagonal 25 ft break in the cliff.
I would describe this obstacle as not that difficult for those with even basic climbing experience, and it's actually easier coming down. But the move IS somewhat exposed and requires reliance on a boulder that looks sketchy. Be sure to note the location of this break so you can find it again on the way back. Once you break past this spot it is an easy walk up the sloping rock to reach the summit.
NOTE: A high clearance 4x4 is required to park at Chicken Point. It is possible to hike in from the Little Horse parking area without a 4x4. The trail description below assumes Little Horse as a starting point.
4.85 miles roundtrip from Little Horse trailhead
1610 ft roundtrip
4 hours round trip
Sept - May. Hike early in the morning to avoid the summer heat.
Note that the GPS track for this route is approximate. Also note that CalTopo has mislabeled the peak next to Gibraltar as "Gibraltar Rock". Other mapping software may also contain this error. The black dot on the map below shows a critical cutback where the social trail disappears through the brush for a moment.
If you can find this cutback the trail quickly reappears and doubles back along a contour line to the crux of the route, which is an exposed level four scramble to get past a 20 ft wall. Rock climbers will not find this move difficult, but even experienced hikers who are afraid of heights will probably decline.
If you decide to give it a try, be advised there is a rock at the most critical point of this scramble that you will have to rely upon and it looks unstable to us. You'll have to come back the same way of course, but climbing down this particular section is easier than going up. Once you get beyond the scramble it's an easy hike (300 ft elevation gain) to reach the summit.