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Complete Guide To Hiking West Fork Trail In Sedona AZ

Complete Guide To Hiking West Fork Trail In Sedona AZ

West Fork Trail is a fantastic Sedona hike in Oak Creek featuring 13 river crossings, a subway tunnel climax and a fraction of the crowds found on Sedona’s most popular hikes closer to town.

Is it worth taking time from your Sedona itinerary to include a lesser known hike in a hard to reach area?

West Fork of Oak Creek Trail is best hiked on the way into or out of Sedona because it is over 10 miles north of the small desert city. If you have 3 days or more available to plan your Sedona trip and prefer to stay clear of the biggest crowds, add West Fork to your hiking wishlist.

In this guide we will cover:

  • Where to park for West Fork Trailhead
  • Fees you must pay to park
  • Complete hiking walkthrough
  • Photos of the trail

Let’s hike West Fork Trail in Sedona Arizona!

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Hiking Statistics + Trail Description

  • Trail Distance: 6.6 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain: 500 feet
  • Hike Difficulty: Easy / Moderate
  • Time Required: 3-4 hours

West Fork Trail is an easy to moderately difficult hike. The maintained path is mostly flat and undulating as it passes through a stunning landscape in Coconino National Forest.

A total of 13 river crossings require the use of stepping stones and there is a small chance you will get your feet wet. The scenery is best enjoyed by looking up at towering red rocks flanking Oak Creek river.

Have you heard of The Subway Cave in Sedona? Or Zion National Park’s Subway Hike? Both climax at spectacular and exceptionally photogenic tunnel-like geological formations.

Well, West Fork Trail also ends at a subway tunnel-like formation, not to the same scale, but still incredibly beautiful.

Shallow river running through a creek on West Fork Trail in Sedona Arizona
Shallow water flowing through Oak Creek on the West Fork Trail

Standard Hike Or Wilderness Hike?

West Fork Trail goes far beyond the standard 3.3 miles one way (6.6 miles roundtrip) that 99% of hikers will take on. The adventurous hiker may want to consider continuing beyond the subway tunnel.

In total, you can hike West Fork Trail 14 miles one way for a total of 28 miles round trip into Red Rock Wilderness through Oak Creek.

This should only be attempted by experienced hikers who are comfortable with a little bouldering, scrambling and even swimming.

You would also need to have plenty of time on your Sedona itinerary to attempt the longer version as it would take one long day or even 2 days to complete.

If you’re looking for adventure, instead of hiking the longer version of West Fork Trail, hike to the 7 best caves in Sedona instead.

Where To Park For Hiking West Fork Trail

Parking lot for West Fork Trail in Sedona Arizona pay station
Entrance station and parking lot for West Fork Trail

West Fork Trail has its own dedicated parking lot around 10 miles north of Sedona on AZ-89A. This is the major road in and out of Sedona from Flagstaff and Grand Canyon South Rim.

Set your Google Maps or Apple Maps to “West Fork Oak Creek Trailhead” or “Call of the Canyon Picnic Site”. Both are in the same lot and require entrance fees to access the parking area.

There are no alternative parking areas and despite being quieter compared to the major trails in town, it is all relative and West Fork of Oak Creek is still a popular hiking area.

Here’s what you can do to give yourself the best chance of getting a parking space:

  • Arrive early or late in the day (open 8am – dusk)
  • Hike on a weekday and avoid weekends
  • Visit Sedona during off season (Summer and Winter)

Do You Need A Pass To Hike West Fork Trail In Sedona?

No, you do not need a typical pass to hike West Fork Trail but you do have to pay entry fees. We will get to the costs after a little background because West Fork is in a gray area.

Sedona is like a theme park for hikers and it is one of our favorite places in the US to visit. But there are a handful of frustrations for locals and visitors alike. Namely, getting parked at trailheads, congestion and parking passes.

Are you planning to hike other trails before or after West Fork Trail? See this list of places in Sedona requiring a pass to be displayed in your vehicle for the duration of your hike.

The two main passes you can use in Sedona are the Red Rock Pass and America the Beautiful interagency annual pass.

Let’s take a brief look at both.

Hiker standing on top of a smooth curving rock formation above a river
Curving tunnel-like formations flanking the creek

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
  • Grand Annual Red Rock Pass – $40

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 at trailheads throughout Sedona.

Hiker crossing Oak Creek river using stepping stones on a cloudy day in december
Using stones to cross Oak Creek

West Fork Of Oak Creek Fees

West Fork Trail is among a very small collection of privately owned areas within the Sedona area, which means they have different entry requirements to almost all other hikes in the region.

You must pay $11 per vehicle to park in the West Fork Trailhead parking lot. This covers up to 5 people in one vehicle for one day.

The only discounted exception is the Access Interagency Pass for people with disabilities who can receive 50% off the $11 fee, for an entry cost of $5.50.

No Red Rock Pass works for West Fork Trail, with the exception of the Grand Annual Red Rock Pass which costs $40 for 12 months.

Tip: Are you planning to visit Crescent Moon Picnic Area to see Cathedral Rock from the river crossing? This parking area has the exact same fees set up at West Fork Trailhead.

Map Of The West Fork Trail In Sedona

Map of the West Fork Trail hike in Sedona AZ with parking lot and trail markings
Map of West Fork Trail hike in Sedona

The map above shows exactly what you can expect when hiking West Fork Trail in Sedona, Arizona. It is a straight forward hike with no alternative routes or parking areas to consider.

Map key:

  • Red Line – Call of the Canyon Trail
  • Green Line – West Fork Trail
  • Gray Line – Unmaintained Trail

Hiking Apps

Do you use any of the best hiking apps for offline maps?

We always download offline maps onto our premium Gaia GPS app so we can keep track of our location on hiking trails. All Trails has a similar app but we have found Gaia to be excellent for navigation.

We used our offline maps to hike West Fork Trail as far as the subway tunnel ending, so we could track our time, distance and elevation profiles.

If you are interested in tracking your own hikes, you can sign up to Gaia GPS premium with our exclusive 20% discount link.

West Fork Trail Walkthrough

Let’s get into the West Fork Trail hiking walkthrough, including photos for every step so you know exactly what to expect.

Pay And Park

Information board at the start of a hike
Information board at the beginning of the hike

Arrive early morning or late afternoon for best hiking conditions with fewer crowds on the trail. You will pay a person in a kiosk to gain access to the parking lot. We paid by credit card.

There are toilets and picnic tables for use within the parking area.

Cross The Bridge

Bridge crossing Oak Creek river with information sign
Bridge crossing Oak Creek

Leave the parking lot via the far back side after entering to join Call of the Canyon Trail, a narrow paved and accessible path.

This path leads to an attractive bridge crossing Oak Creek. Turn left and follow the riverside until reaching a series of old ruins that can be explored quickly.

Call of the Canyon Trail transitions into West Fork Trail and joins Oak Creek. This is where you will begin the hike proper.

Multiple River Crossings

Hiker crossing Oak Creek river on West Fork Trail in Sedona Arizona in Winter
One of 13 river crossings using stones to keep dry

Thirteen river crossings await hikers over the next 3 miles. The scenery is wonderful and you may encounter wildlife along your hike.

Use the stepping stones and larger rocks to help with river crossings. Heavy rainfall or snowmelt can cause water levels to rise slightly but mostly the water levels will be very shallow.

Towering Cliffs

Huge natural arch eroded from a towering rock wall face
Huge natural arch eroded from a towering rock face

Don’t forget to look up throughout your hike. Enormous towering red rock cliffs appear at intervals during the upstream walk.

Look for picturesque arches in the cliff faces and look for smooth semi-subway tunnels forged into the lower rock faces next to Oak Creek.

Subway Tunnel

Subway tunnel bending to the right with still water on a calm day in winter
Subway tunnel at the end of West Fork maintained trail

You will know you have reached the very end of West Fork Trail when you arrive at a point in which the water suddenly becomes deeper. The water here is not passable without submerging shin deep.

You can continue the hike further by wading into the water and entering the subway-like tunnel you can see ahead.

The tunnel bends slightly to the right like a fade in golf. It isn’t close to being as striking as The Subway in Zion, but it is still a hugely impressive formation.

Head Back

Hiker walking through forest in Arizona
Walking the flat and easy dirt path back to the trailhead

Grab a snack or a spot of lunch at the end of trail area before turning around to head back the exact same way. You can relax and take it easy knowing exactly what you can expect on the return leg.

If you’re a quick hiker you can probably do West Fork Trail in 2 hours 30 minutes. But most people will take it slow and enjoy the surroundings, which will more likely lead to a hiking time of 3-4 hours.

West Fork Trail Pros And Cons

  • Easy flat hike suitable for all levels
  • Quieter than hikes in town
  • Peaceful and attractive scenery with wildlife
  • Pay for parking individually
  • Long way out of Sedona vs other popular hikes
  • Not the most exhilarating hike in Sedona

Best Time To Hike West Fork Trail

Season

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 in Sedona.

No matter which season you visit, try to avoid weekends and holidays.

Time Of Day

The best time of day to hike West Fork Trail is early morning or late afternoon for quieter and cooler conditions.

However, most of the hike is covered by forest which helps with avoiding the sun if you do hike during the hotter parts of the day.

Hiker looking up at enormous tree perspective photo
Perspective photo to show enormous size of trees on trail

What To Pack For Hiking West Fork Trail

  • Footwear – Footwear with good grips and traction will help with navigating the several river crossings along Oak Creek.
  • Water – You’ll be out hiking for anywhere between 2-3 hours on the West Fork Trail, which means you’ll need to carry 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. Most of the West Fork Trail is shaded by trees but the sun will still break through in periods.
  • Winter – Early starts and late finishes can be cold in Sedona during Winter. We hiked West Fork Trail in December and had to wear long pants with light coats throughout our walk.

Sedona Arizona Visitor Summary

West Fork Trail FAQ’s

Let’s take a look at some of the most asked questions about hiking West Fork Trail in Sedona, Arizona.

How Difficult Is West Fork Trail In Sedona?

West Fork Trail is a relatively easy and flat hike suitable for all levels including families. It is a relaxing, slow paced path with plenty to see along the way.

Is West Fork Trail Dog Friendly?

Yes West Fork 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 Oak Creek.

Just be sure to pick up after your pooch, none of us want to have a surprise on the trail!

Hiker walking across a log to cross a river in arizona
Walking over a log to cross Oak Creek

Is West Fork Trail Worth It?

West Fork Trail is a hugely popular and revered hike in Sedona, almost to a cult classic level. It offers a wonderful escape from the chaotic hikes closer to town but it does require more effort to reach.

Here’s who we think should include West Fork Trail on a visit to Sedona:

  • Anyone visiting Sedona for a second or third time who has already hike the major hikes like Devils Bridge Trail and Cathedral Rock Trail.
  • Those who will be driving into or out of Sedona on AZ-89 via Flagstaff or Grand Canyon.
  • Anyone looking for quieter trails to hike in Sedona.

Our personal opinion is that West Fork of Oak Creek is an excellent hike but there are more exciting hikes for first time visitors to get stuck into closer to town.

We also found it frustrating having to pay an individual parking fee of $11 to hike West Fork 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.
  • Bell Rock – Hike the Bell Rock Courthouse Butte Loop Trail for stunning Sedona views, a fun slick rock climb and our hidden loop half way up the formation.
  • Boynton Canyon – Exactly how to find the famous Subway Cave on Boynton Canyon Trail, the most photographed cave in Sedona.
  • 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 – Go off trail for an amazing adventure hike in Sedona, find and climb into the impressive Keyhole Cave for stunning views.
More From The Southwest

We hope this hiking guide for the fun West Fork Trail helps with planning your visit to Sedona, Arizona!

Please let us know if you have any questions about hiking West Fork Trail or your visit to Sedona in the comments below.

Happy Hiking,

Mark and Kristen

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