There are a number of reasons why West Fork is the most popular trail of the Coconino National Forest. You'll know some of them once you've strolled beside the pleasant little stream that ripples along the canyon floor and looked up, way up, at the dizzying cliffs that tower above it.
As for the trail itself, it's an easy stroll, but you do have to cross the stream in a number of places. Usually, that involves negotiating a few strategically placed stepping stones or taking a couple of steps in shallow water.
The trail is marked for the first three miles; however, many hikers continue beyond that. Eventually the pathway ends and you will be forced to hike in the stream bed as you continue into the Secret Mountain/Red Rocks Wilderness. The farth er you go the more wading and boulder hopping.
Our hikes are generally at a pace conducive to social banter of interest to heathens, although your host is also interested in the local geology and wildlife. We will settle on a time limit to allow for efficient transportation and dinner coordination at the campsites…. maybe 3-4 hours.
The Trailhead of the West Fork Trail is at The Call of the Canyon Day-Use Area. This is set in a clearing next to a grassy meadow which in summer is filled with wildflowers of every color and frequented by humming birds and large butterflies.
A path crosses Oak Creek and follows it downstream for a short distance, through an abandoned apple orchard, passing by the site of the ruins of the Mayhew Lodge with overgrown remnants of fireplaces, stone floors, and even the swimming pool. See below for historical discussion of the orchard and the resort.
The official trail starts just beyond, near the West Fork confluence. The canyon is hundreds of feet deep and moderately narrow from the start, wooded, overgrown and shaded with many fallen trees and old logs, often lying in the stream way. The path crosses the creek many times and is occasionally difficult to follow; in places there are paths at both sides.
Occasionally the creek has pools 3-4 feet deep which harbor trout and other fish although usually the water (in summer) is only a few inches deep. The stream flows gently, and the hike is very pleasant and relaxing - only occasional sunlight reaches the canyon floor so the trip is ideal for the hot summer months.
The trail is nearly always level and close to the stream, until near the 3 mile point where it climbs steeply above across a wooded hillside then drops down to a stony area in mid-river, a point which marks the end of the official path. Ahead lies a 150 ft. long tunnel-like channel with sheer cliffs at either side and water about 1 foot deep.
Wildlife is quite abundant. Typical sights are butterflies, colorful birds, squirrels, lizards and snakes.
The official website:
See photos from my previous visit at
Distance : 6.4 miles or timed
Time : 3-5 hrs. TBD at time of hike.
Difficulty : easy
Trail : forest paths and stream crossings
Elevation: 5260 ft.
change : 250 ft.
Parking : paved parking lot near trailhead
Tailhead GPS: N 34 59.436’ W 111° 44.588’
Entry fees : $9 per vehicle (up to 5 people), walk-in is $2 per person. In lieu of this fee, the Big
Three Pass is accepted here.
Dogs : OK leashed
Always carry and drink plenty of water!
Sunscreen and insect repellant is advised.
Supportive footwear is also advisable.
Water shoes may be especially useful on this hike due to creek crossings.
Have light rain gear available.
(Scattered afternoon thunderstorms are common at high altitudes July – September.)
SAFETY FIRST… we have no medical provisions . . . and be alert for “poison ivy”.
How to find us: Meet at the campsite (#30 or #31). We’ll leave the campground together about 1 pm and take as few cars as possible to the official car park beside the trailhead, at the Call O' The Canyon day use area, on the west side of AZ 89A between mileposts 384 and 385. This is about 2 miles south of our campsites at Pine Flat Campground. The trailhead is on the west side of the parking area!…. If lost or late, my cell is [masked].
To get to the campsites: From the 101 & I-17, take I-17 north about 83 miles to exit 298 for AZ-179 north to Sedona. Follow AZ-179 north about 15 miles through several traffic circles and turn right at the traffic circle for US Highway 89A. Then drive north about 12 miles north from Sedona. The campground will be just off the paved highway to the west. Destination GPS: N-35° 0' 45.0354", W-111° 44' 18.8514" . . . we have campsites #30 & #31.
Google says this campground is about 2 hr. from the intersection of the 101 and I-17.
Following the hike … we will return to our campsites for a group potluck barbecue over the grills at camp.
Later will be a chance to experience the once-a-year Perseid Meteor Shower which will peak the nights of August 12 & 13. With good conditions we could see up to 60 shooting stars per hour, or more.
Sunday morning we’ll top off the weekend with a hike at Secret Canyon. This is a secluded trail deep into the Sedona red rocks and will be a fitting conclusion for the weekend. However, following that hike, if hikers want even more we may stop for a quick hike at Devils’ Bridge, Fay Canyon, Doe mesa, or the Coffee Pot Trail… all very short trips. Or there will be time to get back to camp for a shower before we must vacate the sites at 2 pm. And even then we could slip in another hike if we choose.
In the early 1880's, one of the pioneers traveling up Oak Creek Canyon noticed a rather level area on either side of the creek where the soil was deep and the temperature just right to grow apples and other fruit. The first pioneer to plant fruit trees at West Fork was C.S. (Bear) Howard. He sold his rights to John L.V. Thomas and his son and they expanded the orchard and also grew vegetables and other cash crops to sell to the lumberjacks in Flagstaff. The land was sold to the Mayhews in 1925.
Carl Mayhew expanded the original cabin and turned it into a hunting and fishing lodge – and a remote “getaway” for early Hollywood stars and other notables, including President Hoover, Clark Gable, Susan Hayward, Cesar Romero, Jimmy Stewart, Walt Disney, and Maureen O'Hara. During that time, the lodge was nearly self-sufficient with fruits from the orchard, fish from the creek, vegetables from plots planted near the orchard, and meat and eggs from chickens housed in a coop still seen today at the foot of the cliff near the remains of the lodge.
The mystic beauty of the area inspired novelist Zane Grey to write Call of the Canyon here in the early 1920's. He reportedly stayed at the Mayhew Lodge during part of his sojourn here, as well as in a smaller cabin north of the orchard. The novel later inspired Sedona's first movie by the same name.
The U. S. Forest Service acquired the property in 1969 as an historic site, only to have the lodge burn down in 1980.
Over time, the orchards at West Fork became known as the "Mayhew Orchard" on the west side of the creek, and the "Call of the Canyon Orchard" on the east side. Through the last half of the twentieth century, the ancient trees suffered increasing neglect, injury and decline. The irrigation ditch, which can still be seen slightly upslope from the Mayhew Orchard, slowly filled in with debris, fallen trees, and duff. Insects, woodpeckers, and flycatchers drilled thousands of holes in the bark, some in neat little rows. Storm damage, drought, and bears climbing to reach the fruit contributed to increasing numbers of dead and broken branches, where disease could find easy entry. In the last decades of the 1900’s, the gnarled old trees were largely abandoned.
In 2002, the Friends of the Forest created the Orchard Committee to begin caring for the trees. Initial work revolved around heavy pruning of dead and diseased limbs, suckers, and crossed branches. As the work progressed, the orchard crew began slowly reducing the height of the trees, so that visitors (both human and animal) could reach the apples more easily, without climbing or damaging the trees. Some of the trees were easily thirty feet high at the outset. All visitors are welcome to pick the apples in the fall. To facilitate this and reduce damage to the trees, the Friends purchased several “apple-pickers” on poles that visitors can check out at the entry booth.
The colorful eroded walls of the canyon record environmental conditions on the far western edge of the Pangea supercontinent 280-270 million years ago.
The Kaibab limestone on top is the youngest rock unit on the southern Colorado Plateau and caps the Mogollon Rim in the Sedona area (wherever basalt is absent). It was deposited in an open marine setting that became shallower and more restricted towards the east.
The Toroweap formation underlies the Kaibab. We saw this combination at Walnut Canyon National Park.
A green line often indicates this Toroweap layering above the Coconino Sandstone below. The golden buff-colored Coconino sandstone is pure quartz deposited in a migrating windblown sand dune environment.
The lowermost rock deposits are the Sycamore Pass member of the Schnebly Hill Formation. The Schnebly Hill Formation records depositions at the margins of the Pedregosa Sea when it encroached from the southeast of Sedona. Briefly marine deposits were laid down (the narrow white layer, known as the Fort Apache Member, we saw at Chicken Point). Above that layer, as the Sea regressed, red, cross-stratified and ripple-laminated, sandstones were laid down from wind-blown deposits about 280 million years ago.
Above it all are the youngest rocks exposed in the canyon - a series of basalt lava flows about 6 million years old form the east rim of the canyon.