Hartwell Canyon & Council of the Elders Rock Art Panel

Hartwell Canyon is the first major canyon west of Palatki, and it presents a special challenge for Sedona area hikers. The canyon is as rugged a wilderness as one will find in Arizona. This is actually my favorite canyon in the area, but it is also the most difficult canyon in Sedona. Access is somewhat restricted by the historic Kittredge Ranch. 
The turn for Kittredge Ranch is shown below. The difficulty level and the restricted access mean that you will most likely have this big canyon all to yourself. No pass is required to park at any of the parking areas shown.
Kittredge Ranch
The ranch was once owned by famous sculptor Robert Kittredge, a friend and  contemporary of the Dadaist painter Max Ernst, who was a frequent visitor to the property.
Kittredge wanted the canyon beyond his property to be forever closed to visitors, so he left his ranch to the Nature Conservancy, which prohibits access to the canyon by going straight up the wash.
While the mouth of Hartwell Canyon is posted with no trespassing signs, the rest of the canyon beyond the ranch lies within the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness Area, and is therefore open to visitation. There are 2 legal routes to get around the private property and into Hartwell.


 I call these 2 routes Upper Hartwell and the Council of Elders. The Taylor Tank route shown on the map below is not recommended. Both of the legal routes have social trails rated as difficult due to the nature of the terrain and the remoteness of this canyon.
Hartwell is essentially divided into two separate worlds: the world below is the canyon floor, featuring rock art panels and cliff dwellings; the world above is a beautiful slickrock ledge with big views and more cliff dwellings. The photo below shows Hartwell Canyon in this context. 
The Council of Elders route accesses the canyon floor. It's the middle blue line on the map below. The Ledge Route accesses the long slickrock ledge visible on the left side of the photo above. The problem for hikers who want to explore both worlds is finding a way to connect them. 

Upper Hartwell (The Ledge Route - Most Difficult)

For this route you will need to find the social trail going toward the largest chute, which is slightly to the left as you are facing the cliffs at the MAIN TRAILHEAD (see GPS tracks). I've called it the main trailhead because the Forest Service has put a larger roadside parking area here. 
The photo below was captured about 100 yards down Forest Road 525, and NOT from the parking area, but is does show the "chute" you need to find. 
Chute for the Ledge Route into Upper Hartwell
Once you get into the chute it's impossible to get out until you reach the top of it. There is thick brush in the chute, as shown in the photo above, so finding the social trail is important. This social trail crosses the dry wash that has been created by the chute, then starts uphill steeply on the left side of this chute.
Near the top of the chute you will come to a place where it appears the only way to continue is to rock climb. It's not particularly difficult for rock climbers, but there is an easier way... it's behind you, over your right shoulder. Follow the ledge and it will zigzag past the blockage (see DETAIL MAP ABOVE), where you can continue to the top with no climbing necessary.
Unless you want to go back the way you came, getting down to the canyon floor from here requires either a rope or a walk of 1.5 miles up the canyon along the ledge.
Walking up canyon, the terrain will channel you to the cliff dwelling shown below. The route down is beyond this cliff dwelling. Go past the dwelling and continue up the canyon on the same ledge. The critical break in the cliffs (at GPS 34.935425 -905031) is difficult to find and will not be visible until you are right on top of it. There is a another cliff dwelling directly below the break.
 Hartwell Canyon cliff dwelling
The hiker below is sitting on the "big ledge" across from this ruin in the photo above. It's under the overhang directly above his head.

Lower Hartwell (Council of Elders Route - Easier)

An easier social route to the canyon floor goes over the rock ridge from the SECONDARY TRAILHEAD (see GPS tracks) at a lower point from the route described above. It takes a more gradual slope to get over the ridge.
The best approach to this route is near the point of cliffs just beyond Kittridge Ranch. The parking area here is just a wide spot in the road, but this is easy walking distance from all the other parking. The key is to find the existing social trail that hugs the cliff as it climbs to a low clearing in the cliffs. From there it crosses over and drops down a drainage on the other side, coming out at the Council of Elders.
Finding your way down the other side to the canyon floor isn't particularly difficult because there is only one way, but there is less of a trail on this side. Expect scrambling and brush. There's less to brush to contend with if you hug the wall on your left as much as possible as going down to the canyon floor.
The photo below was captured from the Taylor Tank Route across the canyon. It shows the Kittredge Ranch and the Council of Elders Route as it drops down to the canyon floor.
Council of Elders Route and Kittredge Ranch
This route brings you to the canyon floor right next to the Council of Elders (shown below). This rock art panel is marked on the map below with a red triangle. While it looks like it might be easy to connect this route to the Ledge Route, there is a cliff between the two that makes this impossible.
Council of Elders rock art panel in Hartwell Canyon
Council of Elders
Shield at Council of Elders
Lower Hartwell (Taylor Tank Route)
While this appears to be the easiest route, I don't recommend it due to the likelihood you will end up trespassing on private property. Located on the right side of Forest Road 525, before it crosses Hartwell Canyon and passes Kittredge Ranch, Taylor Tank is a stock watering hole (see Detail Map below). There is a corral and parking area at Taylor Tank.
The trail passes around the west side of Taylor Tank, proceeds straight for a short distance, then turns sharply uphill to avoid crossing the private property.  If you choose to go this way, you will have stay on the social trail -- as high as possible on the hillside -- on the right side of the canyon.
The tank is shown in the photo below. It's in the bright green Cottonwood Trees just to the right of the road.
 Taylor Tank Parking
While this is the easiest route to the canyon floor, it's also the most likely to get you in arrested for crossing private property, because sticking to the social trail results in a fair amount up and down as the route crosses side drainages. This is frustrating for many hikers since it seems unnecessary, and they're tempted to drop down to the canyon floor.
When the social trail finally does drop down to the canyon floor (shown above), the Council of Elders rock art panel is to the left, and a major side canyon that I call East Hartwell (shown below) is to the right.
Hartwell Canyon East
There are also ruins in East Hartwell (shown below). This alcove is on the left side of East Hartwell, shortly after you turn right off the main canyon. 
If you go into East Hartwell you will probably be tempted to climb up on the big ledge above you. This is the same big ledge that is described above, except it's on the east side of Hartwell -- opposite from the social trails. There is a way down off this ledge that will place you into the main channel of Hartwell Canyon (see GPS tracks).


RATED: EXREME due to the rugged terrain, tricky navigation, thick vegetation and remote location. Do not expect cell service or a rapid emergency response.
2 miles out and back to rock art panel, distance to ruins varies
600 ft one way to upper Hartwell via Ledge Route
400 ft one way to Council of Elders rock art panel
160 ft one way to canyon floor via Taylor Tank Route
2 hours round trip to rock art panel, 4-6 hours to explore the canyon
Sept - May

No. The terrain is much too rugged. You're dog will hate you. Please do not visit archaeological sites with your pet. Be advised there are large predators in this canyon.