Imagine a clear, bubbling creek flowing within a 1,000-foot deep canyon forest of lush ferns, flora, and trees and sculpted, overhanging rock cliffs with walls boasting finely layered red and earth-colored hues framed by a pure blue sky.  Fresh, cool air refreshes your mind, body, and spirit and you feel like a kid again, teetering and hopping over rocks to where the trail continues – until something catches your eye and you can’t shake the feeling that you’ve just spotted Tinkerbelle – or maybe even an elf scurrying behind a tree.  You’re in West Fork, probably the most popular trail in the Coconino National Forest and one of the top hikes in the whole country.

How To Get to West Fork Trail

 From Flagstaff: About 17.5 miles south on Oak Creek Canyon. The “Call of the Canyon” trailhead entrance will be on your right between mileposts 385 and 384.

  • From Sedona: Starting from the roundabout at the “Y” intersection of State Route 89A and State Route 179, go north for about 9.5 miles on 89A toward Flagstaff; the “Call of the Canyon” trailhead entrance will be on your left.

 Things You Should Know 

  • Difficulty: easy, mostly flat terrain along the creek, becoming moderate level around the 2-1/2 mile point.
  • The first 3 miles of the trail, you will be rock and log hopping at 13 creek crossings (and 13 on the way back since this isn’t a loop).
  • After 3 miles, the trail is not maintained and it’s bushwhacking time for hard-core adventurers; in cooler months, hypothermia is an issue because you have to swim to get to the next leg.
  • Elevation: minimal – from about 100 to 200 feet.
  • Hiking time: at 3.2 miles, about 2-3 hours round trip.
  • Hours & fees:  locked gates open at 8 a.m.  Until host arrives at 9 a.m., use self-pay system: $9.00 per vehicle or $2.00 per person walk-in fee.  Closes at 9 p.m. in summer and at dusk in winter.
  • Uses: hiking, dispersed camping about 6 miles from trailhead. Tread lightly on the land and leave it as you found it.
  • Dogs allowed but only on a leash.
  • Restrictions: no mechanized vehicles.
  • Facilities: restrooms and picnic tables only at the trailhead area. No water available.

 Special Tips

  • Take snacks or lunch, and plenty of water, and remember to always pack it out.
  • You’ll never forgive yourself if you don’t bring your camera.
  • If possible, wear shoes or sandals that grip on slippery surfaces.
  • Cover up for poison ivy and oak and bugs along the way.
  • A walking stick will help you navigate creek crossings; or look in back of the small building next to the parking area, where fellow hikers sometimes leave one behind.
  • It’s always cooler here, so except on the hottest days, take a light jacket or extra layer.
  • Fall colors are usually at their peak in mid to late October. 
  • You can park on 89A, though it is difficult to find a spot on the narrow highway, if walk-in fees ($2 p.p.) are cheaper than the $9.00 vehicle fee.

 Geology, Flora, and Fauna

  • Flora: Abundant diversity that includes a carpet of ferns, lupine, horsetail, colorful wildflowers, and ivy along the banks of the creek, intermingled with pine, fir, sycamore, maple, cottonwood, and oak trees.
  • Geology: Originally occupying the western edge of the massive Pangaea continent, these rock walls date as far back as 280 million years ago. They consist of mostly Coconino sandstone, which is predominantly reddish-orange and multi-layered with varied hues that include creamy or earthy tints to create a beautiful kaleidoscope of colors. Much higher up are layers of white Kaibab limestone. Sandstone easily erodes and nature’s hand has sculpted these walls and cliffs into beautiful curves and shapes and many short, tunneled passages.
  • Fauna:  In deeper points of the creek, there are sometimes trout and other fish.  Bird sightings may include the black-chinned sparrow and bridled titmouse to peregrine falcons, hummingbirds, tanagers, towhees, vireos, hawks, and other species.  If you’re camping overnight deep into the canyon, take precautions for bears and other creatures interested in your food.

Take a Break and Meditate

The gurgling creek, the cool, invigorating air, and the overwhelming presence of nature make West Fork a perfect place for meditation. However, due to its popularity, it’s best to come here in the early morning and during a weekday or off-season.  If you venture away from the creek, take care to tread lightly.

History

Pioneers found this area to be perfect for apple and fruit orchards in the 1880s.  After it was sold to the Mayhews in 1925, the area housed a completely self-sufficient hunting and fishing lodge for the rich and famous until 1968, including presidents and movie stars – even Walt Disney!  After the Forest Service bought it, there was an unfortunate fire that burned most of it down. Today, you can see the remains of the lodge and even the old chicken coops.

One of the guests, Zane Grey, wrote Call of the Canyon here at the Mayhew Lodge in the 1920s. Later, it was made into a movie that was shot in Sedona.

Options

There is another 11 miles to the end of West Fork Trail that requires wading, occasional swimming, appropriate supplies, and lots of bushwhacking.  For more information, visit Forest Service website or call 928-203-2900.