Boynton Canyon Trail is an incredibly popular hike in Sedona, but most people aren’t here for the hike, they’re here for one of the most photogenic caves in Sedona, the Subway Cave.
Hiking the Boynton Canyon Trail is either going to be a reasonably nice walk, or it is going to be an unforgettable experience.
The nice walk is an out and back hike to the “end of trail” sign. The unforgettable experience combines hiking Boynton Canyon with a climb into the not so secret Subway Cave.
Is the Subway Cave hard to find?
Finding the Subway Cave is easy once you know where to turn off Boynton Canyon Trail. The hard part is getting into the cave. We’re going to show you how to do both and you’ll see why it is one of the most popular things to do in Sedona.
In this guide we will cover:
- Which forest or agency pass you need to display
- Three trail variations you can choose between
- Exactly how to get to and access the Subway Cave
- The best time to hike Boynton Canyon Trail
- Loads of photos so you can see the hike and cave from start to finish
Let’s hike to the awesome Subway Cave on the Boynton Canyon Trail in Sedona Arizona!
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You can hike Boynton Canyon in a handful of different ways, either by itself or including the Subway Cave and Boynton Vortex site.
Let’s take a quick look at trail distance, elevation gain, hike difficulty and time required statistics for three typical hiking options you have on the Boynton Canyon Subway Cave hike in Sedona.
1. Boynton Canyon Trail Only (Without Subway Cave Or Vortex Site)
- Trail Distance: 6.5 miles
- Elevation Gain: 750 feet
- Hike Difficulty: Easy / Moderate
- Time Required: 3 hours
2. Boynton Canyon Trail To Subway Cave Only
- Trail Distance: 5 miles
- Elevation Gain: 600 feet
- Hike Difficulty: Moderate
- Time Required: 3 hours
3. Boynton Canyon Trail, Subway Cave + Vortex Site
- Trail Distance: 7.5 miles
- Elevation Gain: 1,250 feet
- Hike Difficulty: Moderate
- Time Required: 5 hours
Hiking Boynton Canyon Trail
Boynton Canyon Trail is a hugely popular hike on the North side of Sedona in Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness Area. It is flanked by other popular hikes such as Doe Mountain Trail, Fay Canyon Trail and Birthing Cave Trail.
As a standalone hike, Boynton Canyon Trail is not one of Sedona’s most exciting hikes. The trail passes by a residential area and doesn’t have a wow-moment climax like many other hikes in the area, such as the Soldier Pass Trail to Soldier Pass Cave.
With that said, we would still recommend walking to the very end of Boynton Canyon Trail if you have plenty of time on your Sedona itinerary, just so you can say you completed the hike.
How Long Is The Boynton Canyon Hike?
Boynton Canyon Trail is around 6.5 miles out and back from trailhead to the “end of trail” sign marking the compulsory turnaround point. There are no shortcuts or alternative routes to add on or cut off distance.
Is Boynton Canyon Trail Easy?
The Boynton Canyon Trail is relatively easy for most of the hike until a final steep climb near the end which requires large steps up and back down for a prolonged period. This steep section to the climax justifies classifying Boynton Canyon Trail as a moderately difficult hike.
Looking for hiking inspiration? Read our popular guide to the 50 top hikes in the US next!
Subway Cave In Sedona
The Subway Cave is incredibly photogenic and a hugely popular instagram spot in Sedona. Formed in the shape of a tunnel, similar to that of hiking The Subway in Zion National Park, Sedona’s Subway Cave fills with sunlight and glows a spectacular orange color.
We hiked to all of the best secret caves in Sedona, and the Subway Cave was by far the most well known. Luckily, we timed it well (and visited in December which helped!) so we had the cave to ourselves for the full 30 minutes we stayed.
Sedona Tip – There is one other subway tunnel formation you can find in the area. Drive 10 miles north and hike the easy family friendly West Fork Trail to the end. You can wade through this tunnel in good weather.
How Long Is The Subway Cave Hike?
Boynton Canyon Trail direct to the Subway Cave and back is around a 5 mile round trip hike. The spur trail to Subway Cave is only around half a mile round trip.
If you want to include the Subway Cave as an addition to the full Boynton Canyon Trail, including the Boynton Canyon Vortex site, you are looking at closer to 7.5 miles in total.
Hiking into Subway Cave in Sedona is one of the top things to do in Arizona, so make sure you have enough time spare in your itinerary.
Is Hiking To The Subway Cave Easy?
If you only hike to the Subway Cave, you will be hiking along the easy part of Boynton Canyon Trail, avoiding the steep climb near the end. The spur trail leading to the Subway Cave is easy enough but the climb into the cave is on the harder end of moderate.
You will need to climb a steep bank but it is perfectly doable. Once up the bank you have to skirt around a narrow ledge but again, it’s not as bad as it sounds. We’ll get into the details later.
Do You Need A Pass To Hike Boynton Canyon Trail In Sedona?
Yes, you need to display either a Red Rock Pass or America the Beautiful Interagency Pass on your vehicle dashboard for the duration of your hike along Boynton Canyon and the Subway Cave in Sedona.
Red Rock Pass
You can buy a Red Rock Pass at this specific recreation.gov site in advance, or you can buy one at a ticket machine when you arrive in person at either parking lot listed further in this guide.
Red Rock Pass options include:
- 1 Day Red Rock Pass – $5
- 7 Day Red Rock Pass – $15
- Red Rock Annual Pass – $20
If you plan to hike more trails around Sedona over a period of 2 – 7 days, you should buy the 7 day pass because you will need it at many other trailheads in the area.
America The Beautiful Pass
Are you a regular visitor to US National Parks and Monuments?
It’s highly likely you already have an annual National Parks pass, which is also known as America the Beautiful or the Interagency Pass.
Don’t have one yet?
Read our guide on why America the Beautiful national parks pass is one of the best things you can buy if you plan to visit multiple parks in the next year.
Instead of buying a Red Rock Pass you can simply display your America the Beautiful Pass.
For those planning to hike more trails in the area, you will need either a Red Rock Pass (or America the Beautiful Pass) to access this list of places in Sedona.
Where To Park For Hiking The Subway Cave On Boynton Canyon Trail
Boynton Canyon Trail has its own designated parking lot on Boynton Canyon Road. The parking area is small and it fills very quickly year round, but particularly during Spring and Fall when Sedona is busiest.
- Take Dry Creek Road (which transitions into Boynton Pass Road) 4.6 miles from of downtown Sedona
- Turn right onto Boynton Canyon rd and park at the first lot on the right hand side just 0.2 miles away
Parking for hikes in Sedona is renowned for being almost impossible unless you start very early or arrive much later in the day.
Arrive at first light to stand the best chance of getting a parking spot, or visit in Summer or Winter when Sedona is a little less crowded.
How Do You Get To The Boynton Canyon Subway Cave?
To reach the Subway Cave from Boynton Canyon Trail, you need to look out for a huge black and gray burned tree around 2 miles into the hike. This tree marks the exact place you need to turn right.
You will pass by multiple spur trails and wonder if you should turn or not, you do not turn off until you reach the much larger tree which will be to the left side of the hiking trail.
Find the tree, look to the right and you’ll see a wide opening leading to a creek. When we hiked someone had made an arrow shape out of logs. But they may not be there now so don’t look for the arrow, just use the tree.
See the map below for a visual interpretation of the trail (the orange star is where the big burned tree is located).
Map Of The Boynton Canyon Trail And Subway Cave
The map above shows exactly what you can expect when hiking Boynton Canyon to the Subway Cave and vortex site at the vista point.
- Yellow Icon – Parking lot for Boynton Canyon
- Blue Line – Boynton Canyon Trail to End of Trail sign
- Red Line – Short spur trail to Boynton Vortex site
- Orange Star – Turn off for Subway Cave Trail
- Orange Line – Short trail to reach the Subway Cave
Boynton Canyon And Sedona Subway Cave Hiking Walkthrough
Let’s get into the Boynton Canyon and Subway Cave hiking walkthrough.
We will include photos for every step so you can visualize the trails. Use the images during your hike to keep track of where you are in relation to the turn off for accessing the Subway Cave.
Do you use any hiking apps? We always download offline maps onto Gaia GPS so we can track our location on a trail. It worked perfectly for hiking Boynton Canyon to the Subway Cave.
You can sign up to Gaia GPS premium with our exclusive 20% off link.
Park Up And Display Or Buy A Pass
Park at Boynton Canyon Trailhead parking lot. Arrive around first light to guarantee you’ll get a free parking spot.
If you arrive later in the day and can’t get a space, try parking anywhere on the roadside as long as there is a place free. Don’t just abandon your car in a random place, we saw that a few times in Sedona!
Sometimes these parking lots are full and the roadsides are bumper to bumper. You can always try parking at Fay Canyon, or even Doe Mountain a little further away. Both parking lots join to Boynton Canyon via Aerie Trail.
Once you’re parked, don’t forget to display your America the Beautiful pass or Red Rock Pass. If you don’t have either, buy a 1 day or 7 day pass at the ticket machine or online at recreation.gov.
Take Boynton Canyon & Deadmans Pass Trail
The hardest part is over, now it’s time for the fun part. Head directly for Boynton Canyon Trail and Deadmans Pass Trail.
You won’t be on this connecting path for long.
Turn Left Onto Boynton Canyon
A right turn here would lead you along Deadmans Pass to join Mescal or Long Canyon trails further East.
You want to take the left turn heading for Boynton Canyon and the Subway Cave.
Enter Red Rock Wilderness
You will be exploring Red Rock Secret Mountain wilderness in the Coconino National Forest during your hike to Boynton Canyon and the Subway Cave.
The first potion of the Boynton Canyon Trail is mostly flat. You will pass by a right turn to “Vista Point” which is the location of Boynton Canyon Vortex.
Either do this first or do this on the way back later. We recommend doing it later so you avoid the Subway Cave being busy later in the morning.
The next part of the trail passes by a residential area. You will gain a little elevation and walk on a narrow dirt path as you flank typical red adobe buildings with smooth lines and rounded edges native to Sedona.
Views Begin To Open Up
The trail undulates with short climbs and dips on stone steps. After a dozen or so turns and bends surrounded by vegetation and enormous cliff walls, you will pass by old ruins with bricked entrances.
Views over intriguingly shaped red rock formations begin to open up and you leave behind the buildings made by man.
Don’t Take Any False Trails
Continue to follow the most obvious and beaten path. At times the trail narrows into a single lane track but it remains clear.
Ignore any potential turn off points in which you might ask “is this where I turn?”. It isn’t. Not yet.
At this particular fork in the path, you stick to the left side on the more beaten trail.
Walk Through Light Forest
When we hiked Boynton Canyon Trail in December 2021, the lightly forested area appeared burned and with no leaves on the trees it made navigation simple.
If you visit in Summer when the trees here are filled with leaves, just keep heading straight on the dirt trail and don’t turn off until you reach a very obvious tree with a thick set trunk.
Find The Subway Cave Turnoff Tree
The photo above shows the huge tree you need to use as the turnoff point for finding the Subway Cave. The tree’s bark looks like the skin of an alligator, it is gray and black as though charred.
Even in Summer, you will notice how much larger this tree trunk is when compared to others in the area.
Important – We took the photo above from the opposite side looking back. As you hike up Boynton Canyon Trail, this tree will be on your left side as you come round the corner.
It is more obvious looking back, so keep looking back to find this tree if you think you’ve gone too far.
Directly next to the tree you will notice this fairly obvious and wide trail with tree branches on the ground. This is the way to Subway Cave and you can see this from the main Boynton Canyon Trail.
It is hard to miss once you know what you’re looking for!
Some hikers before us even left an arrow made out of tree bark and branches. It’s probably not still there, but the point is other hikers will help you out.
If you think you’ve passed the turn off, ask around. Around half the hikers on Boynton Canyon will know about the Subway Cave and the other half won’t know it exists.
Hike Through Vegetation
Now you’re on the short spur trail to the Subway Cave. The trail turns narrow, with loads of shoot offs, tree roots and vegetation.
This is unmaintained and you are in delicate wilderness so it is important to remember about the principles of leave no trace. You should always leave these areas exactly as you found them.
Despite the maze of narrow trails, you can’t go wrong. Keep following the snaking path until you reach a point in which you can look up and see what looks like a cave opening.
It looks that way because it is the Subway Cave opening.
Climb A Steep Bank
You have two choices when it comes to entering the Subway Cave on Boynton Canyon Trail:
- Pictured above – The first is a left turn and climb up a steep bank which may require use of your hands as well as your feet. This is the easiest and safest way in.
- Pictured below – The second is a straight ahead climb through a narrow gap between two canyon walls. But this way is very steep, although it doesn’t look it in the photo below.
The angle of incline is incredibly steep if you take the direct route up slickrock which will be sandy and slippery. We highly advise against trying to enter the Subway Cave this way.
If you do try it, please make sure you are an experienced hiker or climber with exceptionally appropriate footwear!
Walk Around The Curving Ledge
Once you take the safer and more relaxing bank to the left, you will turn right and walk around bushes to reveal a flat ledge.
Walk right around the ledge, taking care not to go near the edge.
At the end of the curving ledge you will come to a left turn. The left turn will take you into Subway Cave but it is a little narrow and the drop is quite significant so you have to be careful.
Hug the wall closely and take a big step inside. The problem you might face is a line to get in if you visit at a busy period. Mostly people will go in for photos and then leave to let others in.
When we hiked Boynton Canyon during our visit to Sedona in December, we were the only people up here for the entire 30 minutes we spent inside the Subway Cave. One of the best reasons to visit Sedona in Winter.
Enter The Subway Cave
Once you’re inside the Subway Cave you will know why it is so popular. We took the photo above from the very back of the cave with a wide angle lens.
The cave looks a bit like a keyhole, but this is not to be confused with the enormous Keyhole Cave, which is also in Sedona.
Spend time taking photos but also appreciate how awesome nature, erosion and geological process are for carving out such great places for us to visit.
We arrived into the cave around 9.00am in December for light reference. Earlier the light would have filled the cave more and by 11am or midday, the light would be significantly reduced.
Don’t Forget The Small Ruin
On the way back out of Subway Cave after you navigate the ledge and arrive at the top of the steep bank, continue straight instead of going down the bank.
You will very quickly reach a small ruin as pictured above. This tiny ruin is like a mini cave with bricked entrance and what appear to be lightly carved petroglyphs inside.
The view from the ruin entrance over Boynton Canyon, Sedona’s red rocks and an endless sea of tree canopies is wonderful.
Don’t touch anything inside or around the ruin, the remains are very delicate.
End Of Boynton Canyon Trail
Back down the same way to Boynton Canyon Trail and take a left turn at the big tree to go back to the trailhead or a right turn to head for the end of trail sign.
Assuming you take the right, you will start out on a gradual incline and enter dense forested area. This very quickly turns into a steeper gradient as more steps seem to just keep on coming.
Steep Climb To The End Of Trail Sign
After you’ve worked up a bit of a sweat, you will reach and even steeper section containing some big step ups on narrow, twisting and irregular stone stairs.
Once you summit the steps you will be welcomed by an “end of trail” sign as photographed above. Going further beyond this point will cause damage to the environment and there is no designated trail of any sort.
The summit view at the end of Boynton Canyon Trail is pictured above. You can look over a long sweeping valley with endless treetops and a huge towering rock formation.
It’s definitely not the most spectacular summit view among the many hikes in Sedona but it’s a good work out getting up here at the end.
Boynton Canyon Vortex Site
Boynton Canyon Vortex is one of the 4 most powerful and famous vortex sites in Sedona. Don’t miss it as you head back toward the trailhead.
Hike until you see the sign for “Vista Point” and take a sweeping gradual incline until you climb the far side of this shallow formation.
Enjoy the stunning views and see if you can feel an energy force.
Boynton Canyon Subway Cave Trail Pros And Cons
- Subway Cave is one of the most photogenic landmarks in Sedona
- Perfect for families with older kids
- Four other popular hikes nearby with connecting trails
- Parking is almost always a problem
- Boynton Canyon Trail climax is nice but not the best in Sedona
- The Subway Cave is often overcrowded
Best Time To Hike The Subway Cave And Boynton Canyon Trail
The ideal to hike Boynton Canyon Trail would be early morning on a weekday in Spring or Fall so you can benefit from perfect hiking and light conditions, but also get a coveted parking spot and enjoy a relatively crowd free hike.
If you visit Sedona in Spring or Fall when it is at peak tourist season, you simply have to be out early at trailheads or you’ll have problems getting parked.
Winter and Summer offer quieter periods in Sedona, which means you have more chance getting parked up without issue. It’s less about temperatures and busy trails, more about finding free parking spots.
No matter which season you visit, try to avoid weekends, holidays and the 10am-3pm rush.
Time Of Day
The best time of day to hike Boynton Canyon is early morning because the Subway Cave is East / Southeast facing, which means the subway tunnel shaped formation floods with light. By late afternoon the sun will have moved so far around to the South that the tunnel will not illuminate and radiate its iconic deep orange color.
Adventurous hikers and photographers might want to try heading into the Subway Cave at night to shoot astrophotography.
This would be better in Summer when the Milky Way stretches across the sky and temperatures are warmer at night.
Maybe you’ll see us in the Subway Cave at night next time we’re in Sedona!
What To Pack For Hiking Boynton Canyon Trail
- Footwear – Footwear with good grips and traction are going to help you climb up steep banks and reduce slipping on sandy rocks accessing the Subway Cave.
- Water – Even if you just go to the Subway Cave it is going to be a 3 hour hike, which means you’ll need to take water. Summer months require more water and even electrolyte drinks.
- Sun protection – Sunglasses, sun hats, long layers and sunscreen are vital if you are visiting Sedona in Summer. Mot of the Boynton Canyon Trail is shaded by trees but there are exposed sections.
5 Tips For Hiking Boynton Canyon And Subway Cave Trail
- Try parking at Fay Canyon trailhead and walking Aerie Trail if Boynton lot is full
- Don’t turn off Boynton Canyon Trail until you reach the big burnt tree
- Take the steep bank climb, not the even steeper rock climb for cave access
- Get into the cave early to mid morning for the best light
- Use one of the best hiking apps like Gaia GPS offline maps for navigation
Sedona Arizona Visitor Summary
How to get around – Sedona is small but you’ll need a car to access the best hikes to the north and south of town. If you want to get to the hard to reach places, you should hire a jeep.
When to visit – Spring and Fall are the best seasons to visit Sedona, but they come with a higher price tag and more crowds. Winter is a fantastic time to avoid both.
Where to stay in – Accommodation is expensive in Sedona, but there are plenty of very high quality places to stay including Matterhorn Inn, Lantern Light Inn, Arabella Hotel, Whispering Creek B&B and The Suites at Sedona.
Popular things to do – Sedona is one of the best places to hike in the US, but it is also a wonderful place to get off-road in a jeep, shoot stunning photography, visit historic sites and drink wine.
Boynton Canyon Trail FAQ’s
Let’s take a look at some of the most asked questions about hiking Boynton Canyon to the Subway Cave in Sedona.
Is Boynton Canyon Trail Easy?
Boynton Canyon Trail is easy and relatively flat until a steep climb up stone steps at the very end to reach a viewpoint. The Subway Cave spur trail is also reasonably easy but there is a steep scramble and ledge walk to access the cave.
How Do You Get To Boynton Canyon Vortex?
Boynton Canyon vortex site is just half a mile hike from Boynton Canyon trailhead parking lot. Follow the Boynton Canyon Trail until reaching a sign for “Vista Point” splitting to the right. Climb a short hill to reach Boynton Canyon Vortex site.
Is Boynton Canyon Dog Friendly?
Yes Boynton Canyon Trail is a dog friendly hike in Sedona. Dogs must be kept on a short leash at all times but they are permitted to explore all areas around Boynton Canyon, including the vortex site and Subway Cave.
Just be sure to pick up after your pooch, none of us want to have a surprise on the trail!
Is Boynton Canyon Trail Worth It?
Boynton Canyon Trail is definitely worth including on your Sedona itinerary. If you have plenty of time available, hike the full trail with the Subway Cave and vortex site. If you’re short on time, hike straight to the Subway Cave and back instead to see the best part of the trail.
More From Sedona
- Cathedral Rock – Sedona is filled with amazing hikes but Cathedral Rock Trail is one of the most iconic. If you’re short on time, this is the adventure hike for you.
- Devils Bridge – Exactly how to hike Devils Bridge Trail at sunrise to beat the crowds at Sedona’s most well known viewpoint.
- Bell Rock – One of Sedona’s 4 main vortex sites, the Bell Rock Courthouse Butte Loop Trail features a climb, a hidden loop and stunning views from the south side of town.
- Birthing Cave – The easiest cave to reach in Sedona is Birthing Cave on Long Canyon Trail, ending with amazing views and a crowd free climax.
- Soldier Pass – Hike to Devils Kitchen and Seven Sacred Pools before climbing into Soldier Pass Cave on the family friendly Solider Pass Trail in Sedona.
- Keyhole Cave – Fun off-trail hike leading to the impressive Keyhole Cave, Sedona’s biggest and hardest to access cave.
- Hideout Cave – Hike Robbers Roost Trail to Hideout Cave in the far northwest of Sedona for the quietest and most secluded cave in town.
More From The Southwest
- Zion National Park – Zion is an adventure playground for adults, find the very best hikes in Zion and choose between 5 ways you can spend a one day in Zion itinerary.
- Grand Canyon – Just 2 hours from Sedona is the incredible Grand Canyon South Rim, create your wishlist from the best hikes at Grand Canyon South Rim.
We hope this guide on hiking to the awesome Subway Cave on the Boynton Canyon Trail helps with planning your visit to Sedona, Arizona!
Please let us know if you have any questions about how to find the Subway Cave, hiking Boynton Canyon Trail or your visit to Sedona in the comments below.
Mark and Kristen
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