West Fork is one of my favorite trails to hike in the Autumn, as it’s one of the rare places you can see red fall foliage in Arizona. Most of the fall colors in the area tend to be golden yellow (Cottonwoods being the predominant deciduous tree in the Verde Valley’s riparian areas, and aspens in Flagstaff’s alpine elevations). West Fork is full of delicate maples that turn technicolor shades of scarlet, orange and hot pink. Generally, mid-to-late October is the best time to catch the red maples at their peak.
Towering red and cream-colored sandstone walls, beautiful stream, sheltered from sun and wind.
The canyon’s mouth begins at the ruins of the old Mayhew Lodge, where Zane Gray stayed while writing “Call of the Canyon.” Burnt down by a transient in the 1980s, foundations of the historic lodge remain, and are fun photo ops. Also there: an old chicken coop structure, a cave used for smoking meat and an orchard of ancient apple trees.
There are many water crossings as the trail zigs back and forth through this small stream. Some are slippery, over wet rocks or logs, some more difficult than others. There are a few best navigated with a walking stick or assistance from pals. I've seen people fall many times. Best to wear waterproof shoes/boots, and something with aggressive tread.
The trail is also often overwhelmed with visitors, and when it’s crowded it takes some of the fun out of the hike. It can be more like walking in heavy downtown traffic—with large families, many pets—I’ve even seen people attempting to push strollers through (not a good idea). Waiting for groups to at stream crossings can be frustrating, for both those attempting to cross as well (nervous from all of the eyes on them) as those waiting.
While autumn is my favorite time, summer is also fun, as the West Fork is shady and there are lots of places to take a tiny dip and cool off. Winter is cold in West Fork and the shade is full of snow and packed ice, making it extra slippery and difficult to hike.
Best advice year-round: Get there early, before 9:00am, if you plan to find a parking spot. Weekends can be crazy. The lot fills early and there is really no roadside parking along Highway 89A through Oak Creek Canyon. People wait in line to get into the parking lot once the “FULL” sign appears.
Trail is sandy and though it is all uphill on the way out, the grade is gradual and good for most folks. Pets are allowed, on leash. My dogs like the trail. I saw a woman walking a goat (!) there once.
West Fork is one of Oak Creek Canyon’s gems. I’d definitely recommend visit it while in Sedona area.
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