Boynton Canyon is a hike I could take over and over again! The first mile is hot, dry, and wanders through manzanita and scrub brush as you pass the Enchantment Resort to your left. Even though you’re not in the woods yet, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the crimson and orange cliffs to your right.
Snow dusts the red rocks in late winter, while Spring offers a cacophany of blooms. In Autumn enjoy jewel toned red maples and golden oaks. During the hot summer months, although you’re likely to bake on the early exposed part of the trail, the forest offers sweet reprieve from the heat. Boynton is beautiful all year long.
You can take a side trip up to the ruins, just past the resort before the trail goes into the woods. Or, continue on the main trail for a refreshing journey deep into the forest. You’ll enjoy manzanita, ponderosa, scrub oak, and beautiful views along the way, and eventually emerge in a breathtaking box canyon.
As you journey back into the canyon the vegetation becomes thicker and greener, and the temperature drops. The trail parallels a normally dry stream bed and takes you through shady groves of ponderosa pine. Open areas, lush with manzanita, offer stark contrast to the red rock backdrop.
If you’re lucky, and you hike quietly in early morning or late afternoon, you may be rewarded by seeing a pack of mule deer running through the woods. In any case, Boynton is a sweet hike that is long enough to offer plenty of silence, even during the busy tourist seasons.
Just shy of the three mile mark the trail begins a gradual ascent into the back of the box canyon. At the end of the Boynton Canyon trail, turn right and walk slightly upward on the sandstone rock about 100 yards until you reach a large flat area. You’ll be rewarded with a spectacular view of the canyon you just traversed, and some gorgeous photos opportunities. Here you can sit, meditate, explore, or simply enjoy the view.
Boynton Canyon is one of Sedona’s major vortex spots – a place where the earth has very strong energy. I’ve found this hike to be a good one for cleansing mind, body, and soul. Perhaps it’s the red rocks, the baking summer sun, or the vibrancy of nature, but in any case you’ll emerge feeling refreshed and washed clean of negativity.
This area is sacred to the Native Americans. When you walk into its interior you will know why. There are numerous uncharted side trips and places to explore. Let your heart lead you, use common sense, and you will most certainly be rewarded with peaceful energy and gorgeous views at every turn!
THE LOWER RUINS
Just before you pass the end of the Enchantment Resort, you will see a side path off to the right of the main trail. (If you begin to turn right into the forest on the main trail, you’ve gone a little too far).
Across this pathway to the right, there is usually a large log, or a tree trunk that serves as a marker. Hike up this path to the right and you will begin a moderately strenuous, but short climb to the first set of ruins. The trail is narrow and a little hard to spot at times.
These cliff dwellings are a two-room structure, and the room to the right still has the original mud “mortar” in the walls. This place is still sacred to the Native Americans. Treat it with respect, and you’ll be rewarded with deep peace. The acoustics are amazing. You can hear people on the trail far below.
This is a wonderful spot to pray, meditate, to bring a book or a lunch, or simply to take a nap in an undisturbed environment.
THE UPPER RUINS
I am in awe that the Native Americans once lived so high on the cliffsides. While the lower ruins are easily reached via an unmarked trail, the upper ruins that are only accessible if you are crazy enough to climb up steep, dangerous, slippery rock walls, and walk along open slanting faces of the cliffside.
Years ago I was crazy. I followed a woman who knew the way. Later I dragged friends up there who happily remain friends, but after a 6′ man had to stand on my head to climb the last leg of the journey we decided this adventure wasn’t the best idea! I don’t climb up there anymore, as the way seems to have become even more precarious.
Enjoy the few photos I took, in comfort and safety of your own home. Bring a telephoto lens to capture stunning photos from the main trail… without risking your life! The lower ruins are actually much better preserved and so much easier to reach.
From Phoenix, take I-17 north to Hwy 179 (exit 298). Turn left onto 179 and follow it past the Village of Oak Creek to the Sedona (Burger King) “Y.” There will be a big roundabout here with the Hyatt Pinon Pointe on the cliffs directly across from you. West 89A forks off to the left, and 89A is the right fork of the “Y.”
Go around the roundabout and exit onto West 89A. Take this past most of the town until you see Dry Creek Road. This is just a little ways past the Giant Gas Station to the right. Turn right onto Dry Creek Road and take it until it dead-ends.
Turn left here onto Boynton Pass Road. (The signs may point you to the Enchantment Resort.) Take this road until it dead-ends into another road. Turn right here onto Boynton Canyon Road, towards Enchantment. Very soon you will see a parking lot to the right. The trailhead begins here.
Easy to moderate, if you take the main trail. Challenging, if you decide to climb to the lower ruins, and extremely challenging/expert if you go all the way to the upper ruins.
Things to bring:
Wear good hiking shoes. Bring snacks/lunch, plenty of water, and a camera in your backpack. Enjoy!
Check with the US Forest Service for pass and fee information before your trip. A Red Rock Pass is required for parking in most locations.
Notes from the journal
March 26, 1995: What a day! Although I woke up late in Phoenix, Sedona called – specifically Boynton canyon. Gorgeous views, fresh air, the smell of ponderosa and manzanita blooming… What’s not to love about this hike that is sweet, soothing balm for the soul? After a brisk walk in, I am sitting on a rock ledge in the sun as a man carrying a Native American flute wrapped in a protective hide enters the back of the canyon.
He climbs up higher, sits where I had previously been enjoying the view, and begins to play a haunting melody. Notes echo off the canyon walls. Three ravens circle overhead, adding their cries to the impromptu concert in this natural stone amphitheater. The place hums and buzzes with an energy that pulses through my body. I feel so vibrantly alive. Time stands till. There is nothing but now. Even the creatures come to enjoy the moment. A ringtail cat visits. Birds sing, and squirrels chatter in the nearby pines.
On the way out there are thousands of honeybees buzzing around the manzanita bushes that are in bloom. Bees, bees, bees, What a beautiful day to just “be.”
Late 1997: I nearly died today. Well, maybe that’s a bit melodramatic, but the hike to the upper ruins in Boynton brought me face to face with fear of death.
“Follow me,” a wiry young woman commanded. We had just met in the lower ruins and she was telling me that there were more even higher up on the ledges far above us. She was lean, muscular, tan, and had wild, wavy, blond hair. She looked at home in the woods and on the rocks, and had a palpable confidence in her abilities to navigate the cliffside. Who was I to refuse adventure? I followed.
She led me along a cliffside ledge, carefully picking her way through a forest of prickly pear cacti. We climbed a dead tree to another ledge, maneuvered ourselves through a narrow hole in the rocks, and then climbed up even higher along a sheer cliffside. The views were breathtaking. The hike would have left even the bravest breathless. Nonetheless, although my heart was pounding and I was breathing hard, I did OK until we got to the final scramble to the upper ruins.
I stared at the last phase of our journey in disbelief. Where on earth was I to grab hold on the face of a seemingly impossible cliff, that went straight up? I’ve never been trained in climbing. “Hug the rocks,” my new friend told me after scaling the wall like a graceful mountain lion. By this time, I am plastered onto the cliffside with my feet on a three quarter inch niche, and my hands hanging on for dear life, praying out loud. “Dear God help! Hold me rocks!”
I prayed, begged, and shook life a leaf, all the while scrambling up as quickly as I could. In just a few minutes I make it to the top and leaned up against the rock wall to steady myself, catch my breath, and still my wildly beating heart. How incredibly rewarding it is to face such a challenge, but also how terrifying! I swear to myself that I will never do this again, but really, who am I fooling? The place is alive.