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Round-Trip Distance: Three miles
Published in Sedona Monthly: September 2003 and March 2011
Fay Canyon is one of the most popular hikes in Red Rock Country, so don’t head out on this journey expecting solitude. But it’s a popular hike for good reason: There’s plenty of parking at the trailhead, the route is relatively flat and the scenery along the way is awesome. It’s also a great way to experience a canyon hike without driving two hours north to the mother of all canyons. Steep red rock walls rise up on either side of the trail, the sky is a narrow ribbon of blue far above, and you’ll find yourself constantly alerting your hiking companions to tall spires and pinnacles mixed in with the juniper and pines. After hiking about 0.7 mile, take a side trail on your right and make the short – but steep and rocky – trek to Fay Canyon Arch. Even if you choose not to explore the arch up close, you can still see it from the main trail. The trail eventually meets the remains of a large rockslide. Climb up the boulders and make your way along a slick rock ledge. Look behind you for picture-perfect views that include Courthouse Butte, Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock.
Round-Trip Distance: Five miles
Published in Sedona Monthly: April 2003
The views from the trails along Schnebly Hill Road are some of the finest in all of Red Rock Country, so it’s no wonder more than 60 films were photographed in the area between 1928 and 1973. For the most bang for your buck, we recommend hiking to Mitten Ridge, a large butte that, when viewed from a distance, looks like a thunderbird stretching its wings. Start your hike on the Cowpies Trail, which is about four miles north on Schnebly Hill Road (you’ll need a high-clearance vehicle to drive the road). A half-mile into your hike, the trail splits. Stay straight and make your way toward the base of Mitten Ridge. To your left, you’ll see the unfortunately but appropriately named Cowpies formation, and above you to your right, Merry-Go-Round Rock cheerfully stands. After hiking 1.5 miles, you’ll encounter views that extend across West Sedona and the Verde Valley. Follow the cairns that lead the way up to the ridge’s saddle. From the saddle – our favorite part of the trail – you can look down on Schnebly Hill on one side and Oak Creek Canyon on the other. The saddle is expansive, so plan to spend time wandering around and taking in the different vantage points.
Round-Trip Distance: One mile to three miles depending on your vehicle
Published in Sedona Monthly: July/August 2004
If you have a four-wheel-drive vehicle, take a bumpy and dusty ride along Sedona’s backroads to Robbers Roost, a red butte visible from all over town. There you’ll find a cave with some interesting – though not necessarily Native American – ruins. If you have a high-clearance vehicle, it’s possible to drive to within a half-mile of the butte. Otherwise, you’ll need to park along the road 1.5 miles from your destination. The trail leads you up and around the butte. If you’re afraid of heights – or if you’re not surefooted – this portion of the hike will make you nervous. To get into the cave to examine the ruins, you will need to climb over a retaining wall at the edge of the butte and drop into the ruins. Once inside, you’re treated to a near-perfect circular window in the red rock that frames an awe-inspiring view of Sedona. Local lore says outlaws used the cave’s window to keep a lookout for the sheriff’s posse, thus giving the butte its moniker. And Zane Grey published a novel called Robbers’ Roost in 1932; the movie version of the book was filmed that same year in the area, though no scenes were photographed at the local landmark.
Soldier Pass Arches
Round-Trip Distance: Three miles
Published in Sedona Monthly: September 2008
Many people are familiar with the Soldier Pass Trail, which takes you past local landmarks such as the Devils Kitchen and the Seven Sacred Pools, but we prefer the Soldier Pass Arches hike. It’s a bit more technical than its parent trail, but the reward – three massive arches – is rich. Hike Soldier Pass Trail past the Wilderness Boundary, and after walking 1.3 miles, keep your eyes peeled for a side trail on your right. You won’t see the arches immediately, but the first one comes into view when you reach a red rock shelf. After the shelf, the trail becomes very steep and rocky, so watch your footing. The climb is short, and once you reach the base of the first arch, you feel like you are in a cave. (The arches are actually alcove roofs that have broken away from a mesa.) It takes some scrambling to get to the second and third arches, and we think the first one is best. From this arch, you have bird’s-eye views of the entire area, and even in the summer months, the alcove is cool and inviting.
Round-Trip Distance: Five to six miles depending on your navigational skills
Published in Sedona Monthly: April 2010
Hiking to The Wave, the surreal rock formation on the border of Arizona and Utah, was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We still hear from readers who were inspired by the photos from that hike. You can’t hike to The Wave without a permit, and the trail isn’t an actual signed pathway but rather a series of GPS coordinates and landmarks that you receive along with your permit. (Only 20 people per day are allowed at the site, so getting a permit is no easy feat – visit www.blm.gov/az.) The route leads you through Coyote Buttes North, part of the 280,000-acre Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. You hike past craggy monoliths and strangely colored rock outcroppings, dodge huge jackrabbits and climb sand dunes that leave you breathless before you reach your end destination. And this journey really is about the destination because there’s no place on earth quite like the giant sandstone mixing bowl that is The Wave. We spent hours getting lost in its nooks and crevices, and we dream about the day we can return and do it all over again.
Round-Trip Distance: Six miles
Published in Sedona Monthly: November 2003
Crowds of photographers flock to West Fork Trail in Oak Creek Canyon in autumn to capture the fleeting beauty of the changing leaves, but this trail is memorable no matter what season you hike. In the winter, a fresh blanket of snow gives the canyon a hushed peacefulness, while in the summer the cool creek invites hikers to take a swim. And even at six miles, the hike remains easy for the entire family because there’s little elevation change – it’s nearly flat the entire route – though you will need to cross the creek via rocks and branches numerous times. The trail follows a tributary of Oak Creek. Gambel oaks, cottonwoods and maples provide plenty of shade. Though you won’t see any major red rock formations, you will see red rock cliffs and perhaps even more impressive, sheer canyon walls that stretch up toward the sky. It’s possible to hike the trail for 14 miles one way, topping out on the Mogollon Rim, but that requires wading and swimming. Instead, take it easy on this hike; bring a picnic and some friends. It makes for a very relaxing day, no matter what time of year.