Bell Trail a wilderness wonder<br>Take a dip in Beaver Creek

You can be as hot or as cool as you like.

That says a lot for the Bell Trail through the Wet Beaver Creek Wilderness Area. Maintained by the Coconino National Forest, the trail borders the cool stream before the hot climb up the south wall of Wet Beaver Creek Canyon.

With some of the finest swimming holes and fishing spots around, Wet Beaver Creek is so inviting that most people stay near it and hike only the first three miles of the Bell Trail. Once the trail parts ways with the creek, it presents much more of a challenge to the casual hiker.

Here's a hint: Bring water and dress light.

Unless you're intent only on a family outing at the creek, avoid Bell Trail in the heat of the day. The entire trail is 11 miles and takes an average of six hours to hike. That is a fine day in the outdoors during cooler months. Summer in the desert canyon always carries a risk factor.

Bell Trail #13 has a fine trailhead near the Beaver Creek Ranger Station turnoff. From the parking lot, the trail is benched several feet above the creekbed. One major detour trail and several minor paths along the way lead down to the shady banks.

The area is well established for picnics, cookouts and taking a dip under the boughs of cottonwoods and sycamores. The banks offer a cool respite and a place to simply sit and enjoy the rippling of Wet Beaver Creek.

Pseudo-outdoors people who have no intention of hiking don't have to go far to throw out a fishing line to the trout. Hikers and horseback riders coming back from hours of hoofing it on the hot trail can use the popular creek for a quick cool-down.

For those intent on seeing all that the Bell Trail has to offer, fill that canteen and pack a light lunch.

As the trail enters the Wet Beaver Creek Wilderness Area, hikers can veer left onto Apache Maid Trail. This is far less developed than most of the Bell Trail and more strenuous exercise.

But the Bell is no walk in the park if you are not prepared. Past the junction with Apache Maid Trail, the Bell Trail carries hikers into the narrow wilderness, across the creek and up the south wall of the canyon.

Expect to get your feet wet, if not more parts of your body, if you temporarily leave the trail to explore the canyon reaches. Coldwater pools often require more than just wading. After rainy days, you should be ready to swim if the water is particularly deep. This area, too, is popular with swimmers and anglers.

Back on the trail, you will climb out of the wilderness and onto the high plateau. Here, the trail is less developed and not well marked, and the atmosphere is much more solitary. Also, the only water at hand will be your own.

The grassy plain affords a panoramic view that stretches to the San Francisco Peaks. Enjoy being on this remote section of the Colorado Plateau. Listen for the songbirds that flock to the wilderness area. Try not to step on sunbathing lizards. Check out the Red Rocks through your binoculars.

Because of the fiery-hot temperatures, the plateau is even less visited in summer than during the rest of the year. And during the rest of the year, it is still quite remote. The plateau makes up almost half of the entire Bell Trail.

At the end of 11 miles, you will reach the other trailhead at Forest Road 24.

The Bell Trail was created for hiking and horseback riding. No motorized vehicles are allowed. For outdoors people, there is no better access to Wet Beaver Creek Canyon.

If You Go...

What: Bell Trail #13

Where: Coconino National Forest's Wet Beaver Creek Wilderness

When: Open all year.

Who: Hikers and horseback riders

Length: 11 miles, takes about six hours to hike.

What to bring: Plenty of water and sunscreen

How to get there: Take Interstate 17 to the Arizona 179 interchange. Drive east about 1.5 miles to the turnoff to the Beaver Creek Ranger Station. Drive north a quarter of a mile to the parking lot. Also near the ranger station is the popular Beaver Creek Campground, which charges $8 per night.

More information: Call the Sedona Ranger District at 282-4119 or visit www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino/canyons/bell_tr.html.

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