Secret Canyon is just beautiful. If you want a hike that is truly off the beaten path and one where you can be virtually alone, this is it! There is quite a bumpy dirt road en route to the trail head so make sure your car is up for the drive. If you don’t have a four wheel drive, it’ll be a long walk to the trail head. In hot weather, you’ll want to start in the early morning or better yet hike the trail in the Spring or Fall.
The path starts out through a gentle forest and traverses numerous dry washes. You’ll hike past tall grasses, gorgeous wildflowers, a stream bed with a little water and sometimes a lot of tadpoles off to the right. The trail emerges again on a hot dry stretch and to your right you’ll admire the red rock cliffs rising up above the vegetation. To your left you’ll soon see the Secret Canyon that gives this trail its name.
When the trail divides a sign tells you that you can head left into Secret or right onto another trail. Taking the left fork leads you to the upper rim of Secret Canyon where you’ll meander through a cool pine forest. At first the path is high above the stream bed, but it soon dips and at times even crosses it. This becomes a very pretty walk in the woods. I have never gone all the way back.
If you take the right fork you’re on a trail that will take you up a cliffside onto a steep rocky part with majestic views, and then up and over the butte and down a steep trail into a denser forest. You will meander through the vegetation on a narrow dirt path until the trail splits again. I’ve only taken the right fork once. It was quite an adventure thanks to an intrepid friend leading the way. You can read the story below!
The left fork leads way back into the canon amidst ponderosa, manzanita, juniper, cypress, and various other high desert vegetation. I don’t think I’ve ever found the end. This trail always reminds me that life is in the journey.
I’ve seen more wildlife in Secret than in most hikes in the area, probably because the canyon is remote, there is usually some water in the puddles, and the trail rarely busy. There are always doves, often bluebirds, and a variety of smaller feathered friends. I once saw a fox who stared at me with as much curiosity as I had staring back. Yet another time, in late summer, I saw a brown bear making his way through noisily through the forest. That is rare, so I wouldn’t worry!
No matter how far you go into Secret Canyon, or which trail you choose, you’ll be rewarded with impressive views and a peaceful, breathtaking solitude.
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”. Turn left at the “Y” onto West 89A. Take this past most of the town until you see Dry Creek Road. This is just a little way past the Giant Gas Station to the right. Take Dry Creek Road until you see FR 152 (a well-marked dirt road) on the right. Take FR 152 for about 3.3 miles where you will see a Secret Canyon sign to the right and the parking lot pull off on the left. Just across the wash you will find the trailhead marked with a sign saying “Secret Canyon #121.” These days only four wheel drive vehicles are allowed on Dry Creek Road, so if you don’t have one, park at the entrance and walk the 3.3 miles or hope you can hitch a ride with someone who has a jeep!
Things to bring:
Wear comfortable shoes with good support. Sneakers will do, but hiking boots are better. Bring plenty of water, snacks, and your camera. If you plan to hike pretty far back, bring a lunch.
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
August 4, 1999 – Wow wow wow wow wow! I have hiked Secret before but I’ve never seen this side of the canyon! What an incredible hike I had. A new friend decided that he wanted to show me a cave he’d discovered three years ago. Unfortunately he hadn’t been able to find it since, but we decided that two intuitives in the woods would have a pretty good chance of discovering a secret in Secret!
The hike started out very tame. We wandered through the beautiful forests and grasses, and along the low creek bed. The wildflowers were in full bloom, among them: white daisies, yellow little things, red salvia, and even some leftover blue lupine. The day was hot but the views were gorgeous as ever. Secret is never busy. I don’t think I’ve seen more than six cars in the parking lot at most and I rarely have company on the trail.
We hiked back to a spot where the trail splits in two. Normally I take the left fork which goes back into the Secret Canyon! That in itself is a gorgeous hike but today’s adventure is along the right hand fork. David Miller trail, I think? I forgot to write it down. And what a trail this turns out to be! We climbed through the forest then found ourselves spiraling along the side of the cliff on a rocky, uphill segment of trail until we go up and over the butte and then descended into a deep section of thick forest. Old pines rise up to the heavens, grasses and all sorts of other plants are thick down here and, “oh by the way, that’s poison ivy,” my friend tells me. I do a little dance to avoid its nasty little leaves, but to no avail.
The trail forks again and we headed left along Bear Sight Trail. Deeper into the forest we went until the trail dead ended near a wash. At this point we were lost. Well, we know the trail, but forget finding the cave! We tried going up the wash, but it dead ended into a little slot in the canyon. Then we remembered that we are both intuitive. Duh! I feel an energy like a hand on my arm that pulls me toward a steep scramble up the dirt and cliffs across the wash. So, up we go as the loamy earth slides out from under my feet. We reach the plateau and lo and behold the view unfolds before us! Down we go into a magical spot with tall ponderosa pines filtering the sunlight through to the myriad of ferns on the forest floor. This is a little slice of heaven. God knows how we found it or how we’ll get back but who could turn back now? There is a faint trail here but we have no idea where it comes from.
Getting more excited by the minute, my friend hollers that he sees the cave. I am aghast! The three foot hole in the rocks is high up and we have to bushwhack through thick stands of manzanita which grabs at my clothing and worse yet, scratches my skin as we make our way through it. Soon I look like I’ve been in a cat fight and I’m getting steadily more cranky. If that isn’t enough adventure we have to climb several feet up on loose rock! But oh my gosh, what a reward! The cave is a little mouth in the rocks but when you’re in it, you can crawl thirteen feet back into this sandy-bottomed tube and look up to see slits of light shining through. When he came here last time, my friend tells me, there were shards of Indian pottery to admire. Now they’re all gone, lost to the looters or the archaeologists. Nothing remains but the energy. Still we are elated and even though I’m tired from the scratches and the climb, I have to admit this is something I’ve never even dreamt of seeing.
We decide to tempt fate once again and climb even higher for lunch on a ledge. Woah. I’m shaking and dizzy by now. Thank God, I am not scared of heights. We take pictures to prove we are alive, and then we realize that the clouds are starting to appear threatening so we decide to head back. The walk through the ferns and pines is just magical and I am elated to find that the poison oak rash I was sprouting has completely disappeared thanks to some serious affirmations and a little help from my angels as well! The sun starts to sink and the stillness is like smooth balm to my ears. I hear a heavy rustling sound off to the left and when we stop to look we discover that we are less than a hundred yards from a fat brown bear that is nibbling her way through the brush. I am very excited (take my word, ignorance is bliss), but my friend urges me forward. The bear ignores us altogether. I am sure we smell like anything but food at this time! What an awesome, incredible adventure! However, I won’t be going off this trail again!