Sedona’s West Fork of Oak Creek is one of the top-rated trails in Arizona for its lush, riparian environment, and generally regarded as Sedona’s best hike.
West Fork Trail Guide
MAP: Sedona Trails
PERMITS: There is a parking fee ($10, cash or check only) for this hike. The gate is open from 8am through dusk. $2 per person if you walk in. More details down the page.
DESIGNATION: Coconino National Forest
BEST SEASONS: year-round, though winter can be icy and summer is crowded
HIKING DISTANCE: 3.2 miles one-way
ELEVATION: trailhead 5,325ft – gradual gain up the creek
ACCESS: paved roads to trailhead
TERRAIN: crowded trail requires about 10 shallow stream crossings, though it’s sometimes possible to rock-hop to keep your feet dry.
DIRECTIONS: Trailhead is at the Call of the Canyon Picnic Site (link to Google Maps). From Flagstaff travel south on Route 89A for 18 miles to the trail. Or from uptown Sedona, travel north on 89A for 11 miles (9 miles from Midgley Bridge). Parking is located between mileposts 384 and 385.
GUIDEBOOK: Sedona Hiking
Fees and Parking Concerns
The Call of the Canyon Picnic Area marks the official parking and trailhead for the West Fork Trail. Hours of operation are only from 8am until dusk, year-round, 7 days a week.
There’s a fee of $10 to park here at the trailhead, payable on site to a concessions employee via cash or check only. Credit cards are not accepted. Red Rock Passes are accepted, but only the “Grand Annual” pass. If you somehow manage to walk in to the site (or bike), it’s still $2 per person.
For most of the year (spring break, summer, and foliage season) the parking lot fills up by 9:30am. Please do not try to create your own free parking space in the area!
Highway 89A through Oak Creek Canyon is narrow and winding. Foot traffic and illegal parking through here on a busy day is an accident waiting to happen! It can be a zoo out there!
Please have a Plan B… an alternate hike in mind, and don’t contribute to the problem of overcrowding along the highway. This is a popular trail.
Much of Oak Creek’s West Fork is located in the Red Rock – Secret Canyon Wilderness of Coconino National Forest.
Please be a good steward of the outdoors! This generally means not to be a jerk, and to follow Leave No Trace principles. Here’s a few basic reminders:
- Please no pooping in the canyon! Restrooms are at the trailhead.
- Pack it in, Pack it out. Yes, this means toilet paper too.
- Leave natural features alone – don’t pick flowers, and certainly don’t carve your name anywhere!
- Don’t stack rocks. Stream crossings are already well marked, so elaborate rock-stacking is basically a form of vandalism.
- Keep your voice low, and use headphones if you must listen to music.
Campfires are prohibited, and camping in general is restricted until you’re 6 miles up the creek from the trailhead.
Are dogs allowed?
Yes, you may bring your dog on this hike, but consider that this is a busy trail. Your dog will be meeting and greeting a fair amount of people, so you’re required to use a leash. There’s a $5000 fine for letting your dog off leash!
Also please pick up its poop. Nobody wants to step in that. Loads of dog poop don’t belong in this setting. Imagine if nobody picked up after their pet in this canyon!
West Fork Trail Map
Here’s a map that shows the West Fork Trail and other trails in Oak Creek and Sedona, courtesy of the US Forest Service. It’s quite horrible for on-trail navigation, but gives you a quick glance at where the trail lies in proximity to other attractions in the area.
For the best detailed, classic paper map of the hiking trails in the area, check out this Sedona Trails map.
Sedona’s Best Hike – USFS Trail #108
Many qualities come together in the West Fork for this to be widely regarded as Sedona’s best hike.
You have a red rock canyon that’s hundreds of feet deep, for unique Arizona scenery. Its flowing creek is rarely more than ankle-deep, so the water is pleasant and gives wonderful contrast to the surrounding, sun-blasted desert. Shady trees and canyon walls keep things relatively cool, even in summer.
Navigation is simple even for a casual visitor, but still inspires a sense of wildness.
And finally, it’s rating as “easy” makes this hike appropriate for all ages and abilities.
The Forest Service may close the trail if the weather has been especially dry, creating an extreme risk of wildfire. This most often occurs in June.
The greater area was affected by 2014’s Slide Fire, but the West Fork was thankfully spared.
Early in the hike you’ll encounter the stone foundations of the historic Mayhew Lodge, situated sensibly at the confluence of the West Fork and main canyon. The lodge operated from the 1920s until the 1960s, and was originally the site of a pioneer’s cabin in the 1870s. More about the site’s history can be found here.
The name “Call of the Canyon” Picnic Area refers to a Zane Grey novel of the same name, rooted in the author’s personal explorations of Oak Creek Canyon.
The trail simply follows the canyon upstream for 3.2 miles, with roughly 10 minor stream crossings. Eventually you’ll come to a prominent sign marking the end of the maintained trail. You’ll probably get your feet wet, so it’s a good idea to have a spare set of socks and footwear in your vehicle.
Shortly after the “end of trail” sign, you’ll see how the canyon narrows and it’s necessary to go through deeper water to continue upstream. It’s possible to go up the canyon for 11 more miles (one way), but this is a challenging hike where you can expect to get very wet.
Top – Down Canyoneering
Intrepid explorers can canyoneer the full length of the West Fork from the bottom-up or top-down, a total length of 14 miles. A car spot and a higher level of planning is necessary for this trip.
Ropes are not required, but you will find it necessary to swim several pools of deep water. The water is very cold year-round (with the exception of the hottest summer days), so neoprene clothing is recommended.
Basic canyoneering precautions are necessary, like flash flood awareness, telling someone where you’re going, etc.
Driving Directions for canyoneers: The upper end of the canyon is accessed via Forest Road 231 – Woody Mountain Road. A high clearance vehicle is necessary. West of Flagstaff, you’ll leave Interstate 40 at exit 192. Drive south and then east on Kiltie Lane, turning right on Woody Mountain Road. Reset your odometer and drive 18 miles to the trailhead where the road crosses Oak Creek.
Camping is prohibited in the lower 6 miles of the West Fork.
When is the Best Fall Color?
All of the photos on this page are from October 17, 2012. Generally, the foliage in Oak Creek Canyon peaks from mid to late October.
My Trip Notes and Photos
In 2012 I went on a casual hike up the West Fork and turned around at the the end of the maintained trail. It was late on an October afternoon, and we didn’t get back to the trailhead until dusk.
In addition to the fall colors and expected charms of the area, the most exciting event was spotting an owl near the end of the hike!
Enjoy the photos!