5 Reasons to Visit West Fork Trail in Sedona

Why go to the West Fork Trail in Sedona?

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These old ruins are found at the beginning of the trail and show some of the early inhabitants homes.  The apple orchard is nearby and still has apples every fall.  This is a great area to explore and find remnants of the past.  Children love the area and it’s also close to the main branch of Oak Creek.  There is even a small waterfall where the West Fork flows into the main Oak Creek, I love to swim in this area.

#1 History

We do not know much about the Native Americans who inhabited this area. I have searched up and down the canyon walls here for signs of native dwellings or wall art and have found nothing, but with this much water here, I’m sure there were people as well. In the late 1800’s the first settlers arrived and planted the apple orchard you see when you begin the hike. The original homesteader was a man named “Bear” Howard who was a convict from California that not only murdered his neighbor, but also killed every bear in Oak Creek Canyon and sold the meat in Flagstaff! He was a character to say the least.

Years later, famous western writer Zane Grey wrote a novel named “The Call of the Canyon” that became a movie in 1923. The movie was filmed in the canyon, and one of the photographers who worked on the movie later bought land and created the Mayhew Lodge. The lodge was quite famous due to it’s beautiful setting but stopped operation and later caught fire in the 1980’s. The remnants of the lodge are what you see at the confluence of West Fork and Oak Creek.

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#2 West Fork in Summer

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If you’ve spent anytime in Arizona in the summer, you know that shade is at a premium and is necessary for an enjoyable daytime hike. Direct sun in the summer here is brutal, and the forest canopy coupled with the fresh, cool mountain water makes this hike one of my favorites in Sedona during the hotter months.

If you hike up a bit, there are several shallow swimming holes that you can take a dip in, and if you go up and down Oak Creek there are several as well. Another bonus is fresh blackberries! I have found a ton of these in the summer around the confluence with Oak Creek and the Mayhew Lodge ruins. Wild blackberries are very distinct in color and have a sweet/tart taste. Be careful as the branches have plenty of thorns to protect the precious fruit!

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#3 West Fork in Fall

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There’s nothing like seeing the fall color mix with the red sandstone that surrounds this bold and magnificent canyon.

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West Fork is described as one of the best displays of fall foliage in the state of Arizona! This is often the busiest time to visit so I suggest getting there early, plus I feel the lighting is better for photos before noon. You will see numerous shades of the autumn color palette with maples, cottonwood, and oak trees lining the banks.

Not only are the colors on the trees, but some of my best photos come from looking on the ground and in the water as the spent leaves lie in the sun. The fall is often a great time for mushrooms as well, and I’ve seen some really unique ones off of this trail.

#4 West Fork Anytime

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The hike overall can be as short or long as you like: I generally hike until the “Subway” section where the trail ends and wading becomes necessary. This is about 3.3 miles one way but is relatively flat and well maintained although there are 13 shallow stream crossings! Be careful and if you aren’t comfortable with your footing, just get your feet wet! It’s part of the fun of this trail.

It’s also unique that it is out of the desert and surrounded by water. After hiking a lot of the trails in Sedona, I like to visit West Fork for a bit of diversity. There’s also great fishing in Oak Creek near the confluence, although the only fish I’ve seen in West Fork are little minnows. I’ve pulled some real hogs out of Oak Creek in the past!

#5 Photographer’s Playground

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There are tons of great photo oppurtunities at the West Fork Trail.  Each season brings it’s own unique flavor to this area.  In the winter, snow lingers here longer than most places in Sedona while the spring brings and abundance of wildflowers.  Summer brings the wildlife and berries while the fall brings the cornucopia of fall color that is rare in the desert state of Arizona.  Check out some of my favorite Arizona pictures in this gallery.

This is also a great place for family photos, proposals, and more.  In the summer it’s a great place to get some photos in the shade (which is hard to find).  Look at some of the options on my website home page.

The Bad News

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  • This trail can be busy and a parking or walk in fee is required to enter. There is a very nice picnic area, bathrooms, and trash at the trailhead. Be sure to pack out your trash from the trail!
  • It can get cold! The shade in the winter makes this a hike to layer up on.
  • It can be crowded and I see more trash than on other trails. Please do your part and clean up after yourself and others.

But we can make the bad news good news…

If we practice the principles of Leave No Trace and add a little common sense, we can share this magical place with many others for years to come.  Check out our Sedona Leave No Trace principles here: Sedona Leave No Trace

Hope you enjoy your time on the west fork

It’s truly a unique place in Sedona and offers something for everyone in every season.  I love taking photos here of the landscape, wildlife, and foliage and it’s a great place for family photo shoots and surprise proposals.  If you have any questions about this trail, or want to schedule a photo shoot, message me and I’ll get back to you.  Or create your own adventure out there, and maybe I’ll see you on the trail!


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