West Fork Trail in scenic Oak Creek Canyon is possibly the number one Sedona hiking trail in popularity, and certainly her most famous. During most days out of the year, the only fork flowing into Oak Creek is a gentle stream meandering beneath towering ponderosa pine and Douglas fir, and steep red rock and cream colored sandstone canyon walls. The forest is a cooling respite during the heat of summer, a calming wonderland of wildflowers, birds, and butterflies during the spring, and of course, a spectacular pageant of autumnal colors in the fall.
West Fork Trailhead
Approximately 11 miles from Uptown, the West Fork Trail parking lot is on the left. There’s a Call of the Canyon sign post evoking memories of Zane Grey’s famous western of the same name and the time of a different era. Grey is said to have written the novel in one of the historic cabins that eventually evolved into the Mayhew Oak Creek Lodge and the 1923 movie was filmed here.
This is a special fee location that is not part of the Red Rock Pass program and parking is limited, an unfortunate circumstance for many would-be visitors. It’s advisable to plan your trip early or late in the day, and weekdays are better than weekends, especially during the prime months in spring and fall.
There’s a brief walk, part of it paved, to and across the bridge spanning Oak Creek. Not too many years back, the hike began with a scramble down and up the creek’s embankment, and the “new bridge” is a nice enhancement that increases accessibility. After crossing the bridge, a dirt path follows a small, historic orchard of fruit trees, and an introduction to the canyon’s magnificent red rock and sandstone façade.
About a quarter of a mile in are the ruins of what was once Mayhew’s Oak Creek Lodge, known for its celebrity, good food, and generous hospitality. Very little remains: a few crumbling walls and the old fireplace. The chicken coop remains standing, though in a state of disrepair. Above it is a niche in the cliff wall that was used for cold storage; the historic lodge for many years of operation had no plumbing or electricity. (Clark Gable is said to have been especially fond of the place.)
Just past the ruins, the West Fork Trail begins at the Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness sign post and sign-in box. The trail veers to the right as the canyon walls narrow and the scent of pine wafts on the cool mountain breeze. Unlike the upper desert climate found in Sedona and the Verde Valley, Oak Creek Canyon is a wonderous forest, dense with pine and fir.
Creek Crossings On The West Fork Trail
The trail is three miles one way and the first of 13 creek crossings is straight ahead. There’s little elevation change as the trail crosses the gentle turns in the water’s course, in places undercutting the cliffs into stunning grottos and shifting into wide green pools of water. There’s plenty of opportunity to find a ledge or boulder close to the water to enjoy a picnic and contemplate the simple, yet spectacular beauty of Mother Nature.
The wild flowers bring birds, bees, and butterflies, all seasonal visitors to the canyon, and much appreciated by human visitors bringing with them these special interests. High water during flooding season brings with it drift wood mosaics, downed trees, and other debris, somehow fitting into the perfection of a forest hike almost any day of the year. Some guides caution against hiking during winter months when icy conditions may exist, but this hike is accessible most days out of the year and beautiful throughout each season.
Rocks have been positioned across the creek at the wider crossings. Stepping stones can be slippery and loose. The 13 creek crossings deter some area hikers but the beautiful forest setting and riparian habitat is well worth the effort.
The return trip allows time to notice some of the trail’s features other than its spectacular scenery and awesome foliage; in particular the birding opportunities that abound in this rich, riparian environment. People come from all over the world to hike the West Fork Trail just to see the painted redstarts in this locale.