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West Fork Trail Overview

This Arizona gem is a trail for all seasons.  I have hiked it in winter, spring, summer and autumn, and each time makes me want to come back.  Just north of Sedona, the West Fork of Oak Creek boasts the same red rocks and striking sandstone that has made Sedona world-renowned.  In spring and summer, the canyon is bursting with greenery—and people, as this is the most popular time to go.  Try fall to see the changing leaves or catch winter’s quiet, snowy solitude with unique contrast of white snow and ice against the red rocks.

While fit hikers could conquer the trail in just a couple of hours, you can easily spend all day gazing up at the canyon walls and admiring the lush foliage. This hike is perfect for a casual day trip or for a glimpse of Arizona for out-of-towners. Or combine it with an overnight in Sedona and check out the popular Slide Rock State Park too. For more adventurous types, you can continue up the canyon through the creek after the developed trail ends.

Forest fires swept through Oak Creek Canyon in 2014.  They traveled quickly through West Fork, singeing only the understory. If you have never been up the West Fork Trail and I hadn’t just told you a fire recently occurred, you probably would not have noticed.  That being said, the forest service will close the trail during peak fire season.  After late June, check the Coconino National Forest Website to see if it’s open.

Logistics

The most popular route for hiking Oak Creek Canyon is from the West Fork Trailhead off of AZ Route 89A, about 17.5 miles south from Flagstaff or 9.5 miles north of Sedona. The pin on the below map marks the trailhead parking lot location. Be sure to arrive early in the day, otherwise you may be waiting in line for a parking spot. For everyone’s safety, do NOT park on the highway and walk in. This road has some nasty blind corners and—unless you are Jack Bauer or Chuck Norris—car beats human every time.

From the parking lot, the trail meanders through an old orchard and then takes to the forest beneath the canyon walls. You will walk parallel to the creek for most of the hike, crossing the water several times over well-placed rocks. The worn path ends after about 3 miles and hikers can continue to wade in the stream. It is possible to traverse the entire canyon.  If you decide to travel the 14 miles to the end be prepared for frequent wading and even some swimming.

I have never done it, but some choose to start from the top of the canyon and hike down. I have often seen weekend warriors take their boy scout troops on this route. While their dedication is admirable, I have also observed that look of almost-despair on their faces: What the heck were we thinking camping out last night and hiking down the canyon with all these boys? Well, at least they were hiking DOWN the canyon and not up.

Gear and Gadgets

The Day Trip Gear Guide should cover everything you might want to bring along for a day outing on the West Fork of Oak Creek Canyon! If venturing beyond the developed first three miles of the trail, be sure to bring water shoes; my Tevas work great, but you might have something else that fits your fancy!

Butterflies in Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona, Arizona

Butterflies Frolic Amongst Flowers in Oak Creek Canyon

Further Reading

Leave No Trace Principles

Outdoors and Wilderness First Aid

Coconino National Forest Website

About The Author

Jeremy Meek is a native Arizonan with a passion for adventure and discovery of unique experiences. Whether exploring Arizona or setting out on an adventure abroad, Jeremy is constantly scouting truly great adventures and experiences.

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