The West Fork of Oak Creek

4 reasons to hike the West Fork Trail in Sedona

The 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.

Great in the Summer

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!

Great in the Fall

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.

Great anytime!

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!

The Bad News

  • 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.