Westfork2018-07-18T15:25:19+00:00

WESTFORK

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Westfork

Sedona, AZ

West Fork is one of Sedona’s most popular hiking trails. A 3.3 mile path weaves back and forth across the creek, through the forest, and deep into the West Fork of Sedona’s beautiful Oak Creek Canyon.  Populated by maples, oaks, ponderosa pines, and a variety of native flora and fauna, it is a nature lover’s dream.  Depending on the time of year you might find snow, autumn leaves, spring wildflowers, or plenty of places to wade, sun, and picnic.  The trail can be insanely crowded on beautiful weekends, so either come early, late, or on a weekday.

West Fork Trail - Sedona, Arizona (AZ)
West Fork Trail - Sedona, Arizona (AZ)
West Fork Trail - Sedona, Arizona (AZ)

The trailhead begins at the far end of the parking lot. You’ll pass a grassy field populated by apple trees that bear fruit in the fall, then soon after the rusty trail sign you’ll be in the forest. A beautiful bridge spans a deep chasm over the creek, but if you can’t wait for water, you can go down a number of side trails and put your feet in the creek.

When I first started hiking this trail in 1989 the bridge wasn’t there. During high water, people used to put tree trunks over the rushing waters and you’d have to “tight rope walk” on them to reach the other side. The bridge is much easier!

After the bridge you’ll take a sandy stroll amidst ferns and through an abandoned grove of apple, pear, and plum trees. In the spring you may be lucky to catch a few stands of old lilacs blossoming.

West Fork Trail - Sedona, Arizona (AZ)

Soon you’ll pass the old stone ruins of Meyhew’s Lodge. Stop to read the signs. This area was used as a backdrop for the movie based on Zane Grey’s novel, “Call of the Canyon,” in which he describes this very trail. Past the ruins, the trail turns into the beautifully forested canyon that is literally the west fork of Oak Creek.

Majestic views will soon take your breath away. Look ahead to the red rock canyon walls that rise sharply, hundreds of feet above the creek. Moss grows making a patchwork of red rock and green, and in the winter freezes you may be lucky enough to see gigantic icicles forming here.

West Fork Trail - Sedona, Arizona (AZ)

The trailhead begins at the far end of the parking lot. You’ll pass a grassy field populated by apple trees that bear fruit in the fall, then soon after the rusty trail sign you’ll be in the forest. A beautiful bridge spans a deep chasm over the creek, but if you can’t wait for water, you can go down a number of side trails and put your feet in the creek.

When I first started hiking this trail in 1989 the bridge wasn’t there. During high water, people used to put tree trunks over the rushing waters and you’d have to “tight rope walk” on them to reach the other side. The bridge is much easier!

After the bridge you’ll take a sandy stroll amidst ferns and through an abandoned grove of apple, pear, and plum trees. In the spring you may be lucky to catch a few stands of old lilacs blossoming.

West Fork Trail - Sedona, Arizona (AZ)
West Fork Trail - Sedona, Arizona (AZ)

Soon you’ll pass the old stone ruins of Meyhew’s Lodge. Stop to read the signs. This area was used as a backdrop for the movie based on Zane Grey’s novel, “Call of the Canyon,” in which he describes this very trail. Past the ruins, the trail turns into the beautifully forested canyon that is literally the west fork of Oak Creek.

Majestic views will soon take your breath away. Look ahead to the red rock canyon walls that rise sharply, hundreds of feet above the creek. Moss grows making a patchwork of red rock and green, and in the winter freezes you may be lucky enough to see gigantic icicles forming here.

West Fork Trail - Sedona, Arizona (AZ)

Water levels permitting, you’ll rock hop across the creek many times. There are almost always stones laid in the water to form a natural bridge. Even if you’re not an experienced hiker you should have little difficulty. If you don’t trust your footing, grab a dead branch and use it as a walking stick for balance.

West Fork Trail - Sedona, Arizona (AZ)

Sometimes in late winter or early spring, after the snow melts up north, the runoff renders the creek so high and the current so powerful that it becomes impassable. Ruggedly beautiful this time of year, it is in stark contrast to the usually shallow and gentle stream that you’ll find the rest of the year.

West Fork Trail - Sedona, Arizona (AZ)

The farther you go, the more beautiful the views become. The path is wide black dirt that takes you past ancient ponderosa pines (smell their bark… it reminds you of vanilla!), maples, oaks, ferns, reeds, all manner of wildflowers, and other vegetation. Never far from the creek you will be soothed by the sound of gently flowing water.

West Fork Trail - Sedona, Arizona (AZ)

A little over one mile into the trail you can rest in a natural jacuzzi spot during the summer, or walk farther and take a dip in one of the deeper areas of the creek. At about one and one half miles you reach one of my favorite spots, an area on the creek with large flat rocks on the side (perfect for picnics) and a water flow that is so shallow during the summer that you can lay on the rock bottom of the creek and let the water flow all around you. Pure bliss!

Hike back farther and the trail becomes a little narrower as you walk through reeds and then climb up along a ledge in the forest above the creek. Just a little farther and the trail descends to the official “end” where you’ll join other hikers in admiring a narrow slot canyon.

Here you must either stop and turn around, or go hiking through the water as the red rock walls of the canyon curve overhead. In the summer this is a magical journey as long as you go slow and watch your footing on the slippery rocks that line the creek bottom.

West Fork Trail - Sedona, Arizona (AZ)
West Fork Trail - Sedona, Arizona (AZ)

After the slot canyon, you’ll wade for about 100 yards and then find yourself emerging in canyon areas where you must alternately walk alongside the creek and then through it. I have only gone back about another mile, but I hear you can go back about six if you are willing to swim and float your pack in some areas. If you do, start early. Any trails beyond the slot canyon are simply there due to wildlife and intrepid hikers. They are not maintained.

I go to West Fork whenever I’m in need a refill. Its breathtaking beauty and vibrant energy invigorate me. I have been here in the summer with friends, on a lazy Sunday when we picked blackberries near the onset of the trail then ignored the path and hiked through the water. How awesome to feel the creek rushing around your ankles, or while lying on the flat rock bottom of the creek, flowing through your hair. We’ve hiked way back, deep into the canyon where few venture, enjoyed many picnic lunches and blissful naps in the sun with only the sounds of the rushing water, the wind rushing through the top of the ponderosa, and the cheerful birdsong.

West Fork Trail - Sedona, Arizona (AZ)

West Fork offers a kaleidoscope of natural wonders that change with the seasons…

West Fork Trail - Sedona, Arizona (AZ)
West Fork Trail - Sedona, Arizona (AZ)

Winter is usually dry, somewhat barren, and incredibly peaceful in the forest. A few birds still sing. The damp rocks take on a deep red hue, and if the nights are freezing there can be icicles several feet tall hanging off the cliff sides. Ice forms on the creek too, but as always use common sense and test it before attempting to walk on it. Your feet will thank you!

I’ve been here in March, wearing shorts, only to discover that there was eight inches of snow and slush on the trail while the new apple blossoms were in bloom and the flowers thrust green shoots upward to catch the precious rays of sunlight.

Spring may start with a chill, but soon new life is evident everywhere you look…

West Fork Trail - Sedona, Arizona (AZ)
West Fork Trail - Sedona, Arizona (AZ)

The birds return. Thousands of ferns begin to  burst from forest floor and unfurl their summery fronds, and a profusion of wildflowers appear everywhere.  Apple blossoms, lilacs, violets, and many more species that I can’t even name delight you with pinks, purples, yellows, reds, violets, and oranges.  Bees begin to hum and the trees start to bud.  After the late winter floods, the creek settles back into a babbling brook, easily crossable.

In the Summer, West Fork is a hiker’s paradise. Lush greenery lines the path and if, like me, you’re allergic to poison oak, best to avoid wandering in the woods, as it abounds in this verdant canyon.  Even though the trail is shaded, it can get hot in the afternoon, so bring plenty of water.

West Fork Trail - Sedona, Arizona (AZ)
West Fork Trail - Sedona, Arizona (AZ)

The creek will tempt you to wade, soak, or swim so dress appropriately.  Crowds of people from Phoenix travel up here to avoid the heat, so start early or later to avoid long lines waiting to get a parking spot. Alternately , you can park up the hill and walk back. You won’t regret it. This is a Summer dream!

In the autumn nearly every photographer in the Southwest descends upon West Fork, and for good reason…

West Fork Trail - Sedona, Arizona (AZ)
West Fork Trail - Sedona, Arizona (AZ)
West Fork Trail - Sedona, Arizona (AZ)

The trees burst into a palette of flaming autumn color – golds, reds, browns, mix with the green. Sunlight peeks over the canyon walls early in the morning offering amazing photographs.   Bring your camera, water, and wear layers. Mornings can be very cold but within a few hours you’ll be in short sleeves.

West Fork Trail - Sedona, Arizona (AZ)

Funny how a hike can be like a best friend, always changing and creating more to be discovered. How fortunate I feel to know a trail so intimately. Even after two decades of hiking here, there are still new delights to be discovered.

If you can only take one hike while you are in Sedona, start early and do this one. Red rock canyons, flowing water, gorgeous scenery and a gentle trail combine to make this an all-time favorite that you will want to return to again and again.

Details…

Directions:
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 right at the “Y” onto North 89A.

You will go through uptown and then meander along the creek for a total of 10.5 miles until you see a wide turn in the road. The road goes right, but you turn left into a large parking area with restrooms and a Parks & Rec. hut with a forest ranger on duty most of the time. If you don’t already have a pass that includes this site, you’ll be charged an entry fee which is very reasonable considering all the amenities and the huge amount of trail maintainence that the forest service provides each year. The trailhead is near the end of the parking lot.

Difficulty:
Easy. About 3.3 miles.

Things to bring:
Wear very comfortable walking or hiking shoes. Bring water, snacks, and your camera. In the summer I like to bring shoes that can get wet since the temptation to walk in the creek is overwhelmingly strong!

Fees:
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

The “Mad Deer” Story…

Sedona February, 1999: This has got to be one of my craziest hiking stories ever!

I hadn’t been hiking in several months so you can imagine my bliss when, finally, I hiked a little over a mile into West Fork, found my favorite large rock, took off my shoes, and settled down for a nap in the mid-afternoon sun. I had barely drifted off into a dreamy sleep when my quiet was interrupted by the sounds of people yelling and thrashing through the forest. Curious, I opened my eyes and rolled over, but saw no one. Minutes later, three kids and two women came rushing down the trail. “Get up lady,” the little boy shouted at me, “There’s a mad deer chasing us!” You can imagine my thoughts at this point. A mad deer? I sat up calmly as they told me about the wild deer that had been baring its teeth, waving its hooves ,and chasing them. I didn’t quite know what to think.

West Fork Trail - Sedona, Arizona (AZ)

Shortly thereafter a couple came running down the trail, also breathlessly explaining that there was a wild deer coming after them!  It wasn’t long before the pounding of hooves sounded on the trail!  There, in front of me, was the “mad deer,” while behind me stood the women and the kids. Why they stood behind me, I’ll never know!

I was fascinated by the beautiful doe. She certainly looked upset but not harmful. I began to talk to her as she approached me, and not knowing what else to do, offered her some sprouts off my sandwich. She sniffed the sprouts in my hand, turned away and began slurping water out of the creek. Apparently we were going to get along!  I began making deer sounds and sending her energy.  She seemed to calm down.

At this point, I couldn’t resist whipping out my camera and snapping these pictures! By now the frightened people behind me had also settled down, and were staring at both me and the deer in disbelief! I suggested they hike past the deer slowly, taking care not to startle her. They did so and were fifty feet down the trail before the deer popped her head up, looked around and began to bound after them.

The other couple and I decided we’d better help since by this time the kids were throwing sticks, the women were shouting and the deer was really closing in on them. I ran after the deer, making “hoo-ing” sounds like deer do, and sending Reiki energy. She calmed down again when I approached. I talked to her calmly and told her everything was going to be ok. Then, I shouted for the other folks to walk smoothly and quickly ahead. This was beyond real!

West Fork Trail - Sedona, Arizona (AZ)
West Fork Trail - Sedona, Arizona (AZ)

To make a long story short, I ended up hiking three quarters of a mile with a wild deer trotting either just ahead of me or next to me. I was so close I could see every piece of fur on her back, and could have easily touched her. She even brushed up next to me one time, and as we turned a corner in the trail she startled a young couple coming our way.

“Stand still and give me your camera,” I told them. They did so and as the deer sniffed the young woman, I snapped a few more pictures. “Is this normal?” the young guy asked.  “We’ve never been hiking before.” OMG! I could have burst into laughter then and there, but out of respect for his sweet innocence I did not.  “You’ll never see this again,” I reassured him.

This was before the days of digital and I could have kicked myself for not bringing more film! At long last, the doe turned into the forest, grazing peacefully as she wandered up the hillside. To this day I don’t know why she was chasing the women and children, but obviously she wasn’t a threat to anyone who remained calm.

There’s even a humorous finale to this story! I stopped at the ranger hut to let the park ranger know that there was a deer who had been upset by some hikers but appeared to be perfectly reasonable if people remained calm.

The park ranger started laughing.  “Yes, I’ve heard,” she said.  “A woman came running down the trail, breathless to tell me that they were being chased by a mad dear and that some earth lady spoke the deer’s language and calmed it down!” Earth lady?! I guess the language of calm, loving energy is universal. This is one adventure I certainly will never forget!

West Fork Trail - Sedona, Arizona (AZ)

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SEDONA QUICK LINKS:

Please note: The material on these pages is for information and entertainment purposes only. You are solely responsible for how you interpret and use it. Although we strive to keep it up to date, we make no guarantees. Please read our legal disclaimer.

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