Distance: 7.4 miles roundtrip (11.8 km)
Elevation: 4,523 - 5,395 feet (1380 - 1645 m)
Difficulty: Moderately Easy
Time of Year: Year Round (avoid heat of midday in summer and watch for ice in winter)
In the month of October, thousands of tourists flock to West Fork Oak Creek Canyon to admire the spectacular beauty of the best fall colors in Arizona tucked amongst towering orange and yellow cliffs. I have written about it grandeur here. But, honestly, we just can not take the crowds anymore. The parking lot is full by 10am, it costs $9 to park, and if you can't get it the cars line the highway for a half-mile. But, there is an alternative location that not only offers spectacular fall colors, but more ecological variety, and far fewer crowds. It is Long Canyon.
|Early on the trail is through typical pinyon-juniper|
You can reach Long Canyon by driving on Hwy 89A through West Sedona and then turning north onto Dry Creek Blvd. Continue on this paved road until it ends near Boynton Canyon Road. At the T-junction, turn right and follow the road for about 1 mile. The junction is signed for Long Canyon, but not the trailhead. Be looking for a dirt parking area on the left. There is a sign at the trailhead indicating it is the correct trail.
|As the trail enters a canopy of live oaks and occasional Ponderosa pines|
The trail begins by following an old dirt road parallel to the paved road. At 0.9 miles you come to a trail junction with Deadman's Pass Trail. Stay right. The trail will skirt the edge of a golf course as it enters the Secret Mountain Wilderness. The first 1.5 miles of the trail is through open pinyon-juniper habitat with abundant manzanita and Arizona cypress. There is not much evidence of a canyon. But, as you continue further, the red rock cliffs begin to close in and the forest canopy thickens.
|Eventually you enter a forest of Gambel oaks and Douglas firs|
Eventually the forest composition begins to change. First you will notice a few small ash and live oaks. Then you will start to notice some Ponderosa pines along the dry creek bed. Before you know it, you will enter stands of majestic Gambel oaks and Douglas firs inexplicably make their appearance. If you are there in October, what was somewhat monotonous blue-green hues will start to become dominated by yellows and orange-browns.
|Some interesting creatures to see along the trail|
Eventually the trail will reach a junction of two drainages that feed the main creek bed. The trail follows the drainage to the left, which is where the really spectacular beauty comes in. Canyon maples become common in this steep narrow canyon and in October that means spectacular red and orange hues highlight against the dark green Douglas fir needles and reddish bark of old Ponderosa pines.
|Canyon maple (also known as Big-toothed maple) in full fall foliage|
The trail will continue following the creek bed, with views up through the canopy to the cliff walls above. The trail will steepen, but the grade is not too bad. I'd only be concerned if the creek were flowing, which seems unlikely outside of monsoon season or during a snow melt off.
|Beautiful fall colors in Long Canyon|
Once you reach the end of the trail near the back of the canyon, you will return the way you came back to the parking area. A great hike offering a variety of views and ecosystems without the massive crowds that can inundate many of the other Sedona area trails.