Hiking The West Fork Oak Creek Trail
November 30, 2011
Located just north of Sedona in Oak Creek Canyon. West Fork is the most popular hiking trail in the Coconino National Forest and possibly the most scenic in Arizona. It is a perfect hiking trail in all seasons. As you trek along this nearly level, easy trail you are accompanied by the beauty and serenity of shimmering Oak Creek which meanders along the base of steep canyon walls.
Tall pines, oak trees, aspen and even some apple trees surround the trail. During the spring, migrating songbirds decorate the trees. Summer rewards with a canopy of lush green vegetation and cool refreshing temperatures. When autumn arrives the colorful changes of season create flashes of golden brilliance. Falling leaves of all shapes and colors float in the quiet flowing waters. During the winter, light snow often will dust the canyon walls along the trail.
Early in the hike, the canyon walls rise up hundreds of feet leaving little room for much else besides the stream itself. The trail narrows in these spots forcing hikers to cross the creek several times. Crossing is made easy naturally well-placed stones and fallen logs in the (generally) shallow creek bed.
Those less trusting need not worry, as the stream, during most seasons, is only a few inches deep in crossing spots. During wetter months the creek holds small pools with depths of about 3 feet that are home to a few varieties of small trout. Mile markers are posted about every half-mile making the trail easy to follow.
Although the stunning reds and oranges of the canyon walls remain constant year round, the surrounding scenery changes depending on the season. During the spring and early summer months, the canyon is in full bloom with native wildflowers and hummingbirds. Canyon walls shade the trail throughout most of the day offering hikers a refreshing break from the sun's rays during warm summers.
The only drawback to the West Fork Oak Creek Trail is its popularity. During the summer the trail is particularly crowded, making it more attractive for the novice hiker, in that they may feel more secure having others nearby. Seasoned hikers looking for solitude need not rule out this trail however, as the longer trail option features greater seclusion versus the first the 3 miles of marked trail.
Allow 2-3 hours to complete the 6-mile round-trip hike. For those looking for a more extensive hiking experience, the trail does continue on unmarked for an additional 11 miles into the Secret Mountain Wilderness. This will extend the hike into an excellent all-day walk.
As the end of the marked first 3-mile portion of the hike concludes, the path becomes steep, briefly leading hikers away from the creek, and then redirects them back down into the creek bed. From this point, hikers planning to continue on can expect to get their feet wet. The longer hike rewards with occasional stunning natural waterfalls and deeper pools.
During rainy seasons and snow melt from the higher elevation rims, hikers should be prepared to wade or even swim their way along the trail through pools as deep as 6 feet in some places. Throughout the subsequent 11 miles beyond the 3-mile point, protruding cliffs offer shelter and places to camp and build a fire. During dry periods of low rainfall, camping is sometimes prohibited because of forest fire dangers.
West Fork Trail Photos By Valerie Millett
Valerie Millet has captured the visual essence of West Fork Trail in Oak Creek Canyon. Some places you must visit. This is one of them. Her amazing photos are for your viewing pleasure and may not be used for other purposes without advance permission. Click here to view more photos of her West Fork Trail gallery or visit Valerie's Blog for a treasure of Arizona scenes.
Access To West Fork Oak Creek Trail
The entrance to the trail is next to the day park and picnic area at the "Call O'The Canyon" which is on the west side of Highway 89A in Oak Creek Canyon which is a steep canyon that connects Sedona to the high elevation rim leading to Flagstaff, Arizona. The parking area in half-way between mile markers 385 and 384 on Highway 89A.
During the high tourist seasons in the summer and spring, it can become very difficult to find free parking along 89A. Parking at the Call O' Canyon parking lot is nominally fee-based.
Directions To West Fork Trail
From Phoenix. Take Interstate 17 North from the Phoenix/Scottsdale area. Take Exit 298, just north of Camp Verde to State Route 179 North. Proceed north past the Village of Oak Creek to the "Y" junction with Highway 89A. Turn right onto 89A. Proceed through Uptown Sedona and cross the bridge over Oak Creek that begins the canyon climb. Entrance to the trail parking area will be about 9-10 miles until you reach a wide turn in the road. Turn left into the large parking area.
From Flagstaff. Take Highway 89A from Flagstaff South down Oak Creek Canyon for about 17-18 miles. The Call Of The Canyon parking area is on the west side of 89A between mile markers 385 and 384.
Video of West Fork Trail In Oak Creek Canyon
About The Trail
The Call of the Canyon Day Use is at the West Fork Trailhead. There are 6 picnic table sites and restrooms. Unless you find available parking along 89A, there is a nominal fee to park in the lot facilities. At time of this article, the fee was $9 per vehicle and is subject to change.
The season is all year. Summer is 9 AM to 8 PM. Winter hours are 9 AM to dusk. The gate is generally open at 8 AM. If the host is not available, there is a self-pay system. The Red Rock Pass is not accepted. The trail could be closed during periods of high fire danger.
Mechanized vehicles are not permitted on the trail. Dogs are permitted on leash. The best time to hike is when the trail is less crowded on week days or mornings on weekends. Hiking the standard 6 mile round trip is easy. Extending the hike past that can become moderate.
Wear very comfortable walking or hiking shoes. Bring water, snacks, and your camera. In the summer bring shoes that can get wet since the temptation to hop in the creek pools is overwhelmingly strong!
West Fork Oak Creek Trail Map
For More Information
Red Rock Ranger District