West Fork Trail in Sedona during early morning light.

West Fork Trail in Sedona – A Guide to the Best Hike in Oak Creek Canyon

Dan Turner

The beautiful West Fork Trail in Sedona is one of the top hikes in Oak Creek Canyon. 

With spectacular red rock scenery, creek crossings, pools, and waterfalls, this moderately challenging 9.5-mile roundtrip hike is a can’t-miss experience when visiting Sedona. Here’s everything you need to know to make the most of your scenic West Fork Trail hike.

Preparation

Before you embark on your hiking adventure, it’s essential to prepare adequately. Here are some tips:

  • Timing: The trail is open from 9 am to 7 pm, so plan your day accordingly. It’s recommended to arrive early, as the parking lot fills up quickly.
  • Parking: A parking fee of $9 -$11 per vehicle at the trailhead.
  • Attire: The trail includes 13 stream crossings, so wearing waterproof or water-friendly shoes is recommended.
  • Supplies: Bring water, snacks, sunscreen, and a hat. A hiking pole or walking stick can also be helpful, especially for stream crossings.
  • Navigation: There are markers on the trail every 0.5 miles, but some might be hard to spot. You’ll know it’s time to turn around after you’ve made all 13 river crossings and finally descend to a small pebble beach.

Trail Description

Hiking the West Fork Trail in Sedona.

The West Fork Trail is an easy to moderately difficult hike, approximately 6.6 to 7 miles roundtrip, with an elevation gain of 820 feet. It is a relatively flat hike suitable for all hikers, including families and beginners.

The trail follows the west fork of Oak Creek through a narrow canyon with soaring rock walls. The trail crosses the creek 13 times over rocks and logs as it weaves in and out of the shallow canyon. Cool pools and small waterfalls make for great swimming holes along the way. After about 3 miles, the maintained trail ends, but hikers can continue scrambling over boulders up the creek bed.

Trail Stats

  • Length: 9.5 miles roundtrip
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Elevation gain: 820 feet over a long distance
  • Time needed: 3-5 hours

How to Get There

The West Fork Trailhead is about 11 miles north of Sedona on Highway 89A. Look for the Call of the Canyon picnic area; the parking lot entrance comes shortly after on the left. Parking fees apply. The trail starts on the west side of the highway, across from the parking area.

Scenery

Stunning canyon walls are seen when you're hiking the West Fork Trail in Sedona.Hiking the West Fork Trail provides stunning views of the red rocks reaching up to the sky, greenery decorating the Creekside, and areas surrounded by dense pine trees, providing shade over the trail. The trail offers picturesque spots along the creek, making it a peaceful and attractive scenery with wildlife.

Trail Features

The trail includes 13 stream crossings, possibly requiring water shoes for the watery last quarter mile. The trailhead parking fills up early and is closed by 9 am most days. The trail is semi-shaded by trees and towering canyon walls, making it the perfect Sedona hike to beat the heat.

Best Time to Hike

The best time to hike the West Fork Trail is in spring or fall when the weather is mild. However, the trail is open year-round and offers a unique experience each season. In the fall, the trail is lovely, with vibrant fall colors.

Wildlife Spotting Opportunities

Collared Lizard near Sedona AZ.

 

Keep your eyes peeled for abundant wildlife along the West Fork Trail in Sedona. As you meander through the stunning red rock canyons, you’ll have the opportunity to spot various creatures that call this place home. The trail is a haven for birdwatchers, with vibrant species such as hummingbirds, eagles, and herons soaring above you. Listen closely for the gentle rustle of wings and the melodious songs that fill the air.

As you go along the trail, you may also glimpse elusive mammals. Deer gracefully leap through the underbrush, their ears flicking as they navigate the terrain. Squirrels scurry up trees, their fluffy tails serving as a reminder of their agile nature. And if you’re lucky, you might even spot a bobcat stealthily prowling through the forest, its piercing gaze fixed on its prey.

Keep an eye out for reptiles as well. Lizards bask on sun-warmed rocks, their colorful scales shimmering in the sunlight. Like the harmless garter snake, snakes may slither across your path, reminding you to tread carefully. And remember to look down into the crystal-clear waters of Oak Creek, where you might see fish darting beneath the surface.

With each step you take, the wildlife of the West Fork Trail invites you to become a part of their world. So please slow down, breathe in the fresh air, and embrace the sense of belonging that comes from sharing this beautiful landscape with the creatures that inhabit it.

What gear should I bring for hiking the West Fork Trail?

When hiking the West Fork Trail in Sedona, Arizona, it’s essential to bring the right gear to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable experience. Here’s a list of recommended gear for your hike:

  1. Waterproof or water-friendly shoes: The trail includes 13 stream crossings, so it’s essential to wear shoes that can handle getting wet, such as hiking boots, Chacos, or Tevas.
  2. Quick-drying clothes: Opt for clothing that dries quickly and won’t keep you damp and cold.
  3. Extra socks: Bring extra socks in case your feet get wet, especially if you’re hiking during colder months.
  4. Sun protection: Bring sunscreen and a hat to protect yourself from the sun.
  5. Water and snacks: Stay hydrated and energized by bringing enough water and snacks for your hike.
  6. Hiking pole or walking stick: A hiking pole or walking stick can be helpful for added stability, especially during stream crossings.
  7. Navigation: Although markers are on the trail every 0.5 miles, some might be hard to spot. Be prepared with a map or GPS device to help with navigation.
  8. Backpack: Bring a backpack to carry your gear, water, snacks, and any extra clothing.
  9. First aid kit: It’s always a good idea to have a basic kit on hand in case of minor injuries.
  10. Insect repellent: Bug spray may be necessary to keep insects at bay, depending on the season.

Remember to practice Leave No Trace principles and respect the trail and its surroundings. Enjoy your hike!

What type of backpack should I bring for hiking the West Fork Trail?

The type of backpack you should bring depends on the nature of your hike. If you’re planning a day hike, a daypack with a capacity of around 20-30 liters should suffice. This should be enough to carry your water, snacks, extra clothing, and other essentials.

However, if you plan to backpack and camp overnight, you’ll need a larger backpack, typically around 50-70 liters. This will allow you to carry additional gear such as a sleeping bag, tent, cooking equipment, and more food and water.

Regardless of the type of hike, your backpack should have the following features:

  1. Waterproof or water-resistant material: Given the numerous stream crossings and the possibility of swimming in certain sections of the trail, it’s crucial to have a backpack to protect your gear from getting wet.
  2. Comfortable fit: Look for a backpack with adjustable shoulder straps, a sternum strap, and a hip belt to distribute the weight evenly and reduce strain on your shoulders and back.
  3. Multiple compartments: Having different compartments can help you organize your gear and make it easier to access items quickly when needed.
  4. Hydration compatibility: If you plan to drink a lot of water during your hike, consider a backpack with a built-in hydration reservoir or a pocket that can fit a water bladder.

Pack your backpack correctly, with heavier items closer to your back and centered in the pack to maintain balance. Always check the weather forecast before your hike and pack accordingly.

Is camping overnight allowed on West Fork Trail Sedona?

Overnight camping is allowed on the West Fork Trail in Sedona, Arizona, but only after hiking at least 6 miles beyond the trailhead. The maintained portion of the trail lasts for 3.25 miles, so you must hike an additional 2.75 miles beyond this point before you can set up camp.

There will be signs indicating when you are allowed to start camping. Once you have passed the 6-mile mark, you can camp anywhere you like. Campfires are prohibited in the West Fork, but backpacking stoves or propane stoves are allowed. It’s advisable to contact visitor services at 928.203.2900 to review your itinerary in advance.

What are the rules for camping on West Fork Trail?

When camping on the West Fork Trail in Sedona, Arizona, there are several rules and regulations you need to follow:

  1. Camping Location: Overnight camping is only allowed 6 miles beyond the trailhead. The maintained portion of the trail lasts for 3.25 miles, so you must hike an additional 2.75 miles beyond this point before you can set up camp. There will be signs indicating when you are allowed to start camping.
  2. Campfires: Campfires are prohibited in the West Fork, but backpacking stoves or propane stoves are allowed.
  3. Permits and Fees: No permits are needed for camping, but there are fees for parking at the trailhead. It’s advisable to contact visitor services at 928.203.2900 to review your itinerary in advance.
  4. Leave No Trace: As with all outdoor activities, following Leave No Trace principles is important. This includes packing out all trash, minimizing campfire impacts, respecting wildlife, and being considerate of other visitors.
  5. Parking: Overnight parking is not allowed at the West Fork trailhead, also known as the Call of the Canyon Picnic Site. If you plan to leave your vehicle overnight, park in one of the pullouts along the highway about a half-mile north of the parking lot.
  6. Trail Etiquette: Be mindful of social trails that emanate from the main trail, especially near the creek. The creek provides definitive guidance, so losing your way is nearly impossible.

Remember, these rules are in place to protect the environment and ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for all visitors. Always check the latest information before your trip, as regulations and conditions can change.

With its breathtaking red rock scenery, serene creek crossings, and hidden pools and waterfalls, West Fork Trail is a feast for the senses.

Nearing the end of the hike at West Fork Trail in Sedona.

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