Gorgeous scenery of rock and forest surrounds Sedona on all sides. Approaches to Sedona on AZ 179 or the even more dramatic Schnebly Hill Road (unpaved), both from I-17, inspire awe. The drive along Oak Creek Canyon north of town is one of the most scenic in the state. Back roads branch off from Sedona in many directions, but most of these are rough and require a high-clearance vehicle. Hikers have the most options. Two wilderness areas of pinnacles, mesas, and canyons begin at the edge of town—Munds Mountain Wilderness has 18,150 acres to the southeast and Red Rock/Secret Mountain Wilderness protects 43,950 acres to the northwest. Sedona's famous red rocks belong to the Schnebly Hill Formation, composed of ancient coastal deposits.
Red Rock Passes
Most of this land lies in the Red Rock Ranger District of the Coconino National Forest. To improve and maintain roads and trails, the Forest Service requires visitors to display one of the Golden Passes (or a National Parks pass w/hologram) or to purchase a Red Rock Pass to park anywhere in the forest near Sedona, except at one of the concession-operated day-use areas or campgrounds, which have separate fees. You don't need a pass if you stop and stay close and within sight of your vehicle to admire the scenery. The passes are available at gateway visitor information centers, from vending machines on some back roads, from the Forest Service, and from some local shops and resorts. You can purchase daily ($5), weekly ($15), and annual passes ($20 or $40). The $40 annual pass includes unlimited entries for day use at the concession-operated Grasshopper Point, Banjo Bill, Call of the Canyon, and Crescent Moon areas; Golden Age and Golden Access cardholders get a 50 percent discount on this pass. You can find out more about the passes at www.redrockcountry.org. The two state parks near Sedona have separate admissions and are not part of the Red Rock Pass program.
Rugged canyons, delicate natural arches, and solitude await those who venture into the backcountry, much of which has changed little since prehistoric times. Hiking possibilities are virtually limitless—you can venture out on easy day hikes or chart a weeklong trek. The Red Rock Ranger District has 80–90 trails with plans to double that number. Vehicle break-ins have been a problem at trailheads, so you'll want to remove all valuables.
Spring and autumn offer the most pleasant temperatures, but hiking is possible all year. Summer visitors can avoid 100ºF-plus desert temperatures by starting early or heading for the high country; winter hikers keep to the desert and canyon areas when snow blocks trails in the ponderosa pine forests above.
For information on backcountry travel, contact the Red Rock Ranger District office (8375 Ariz. 179, just south of the Village of Oak Creek or write P.O. Box 20429, Sedona, AZ 86341-0429; tel. 928/203-7500, www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.). Gateway visitor information centers also have regional information. The Coconino Forest map shows back roads and many trails. Also, consult Sedona's Top 10 Hikes by Dennis Andres and Sedona Hikes by Richard and Sherry Mangum.
Cyclists cannot ride in the wilderness areas, but they have many trails to explore elsewhere. The Forest Service offers handouts on places to ride and sells maps. Popular areas include Brins Mesa northwest of town, Little Horse Trail (can be a loop with the Broken Arrow Trail) southeast of town, Mystic Trail (from Little Horse Trailhead, then north), Deadman's Pass Trail in Boynton Canyon, and Bell Rock Pathway off AZ 179 between Sedona and the Village of Oak Creek. Cathedral Bike Loop follows mostly unpaved roads in a 6.5-mile loop via Red Rock Crossing and Red Rock State Park (entry fee required), which has a map handout; note that there's no bridge at Red Rock Crossing, where the creek can be too high to cross during spring runoff. Most Sedona cycling is rated beginner to intermediate.
|The Slide Fire of May-June 2014 has burned much of Oak Creek Canyon, especially areas west of AZ 89A. Fortunately no structures were lost, but recreation areas here and the highway are subject to temporary closures. Check first with the Red Rock District, tel. 928/203-7500, www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino or Slide Rock State Park (928/282-3034) before coming out. Expect a very different canyon than before the fire.|
Take AZ 89A north from Sedona for a beautiful scenic drive past dramatic rock features, dense forests, and the sparkling creek. Picnic areas, hiking trails, and campgrounds along the way invite travelers to stop. Grasshopper Point and Slide Rock State Park offer natural swimming holes in Oak Creek. Secluded lodges and cabins provide accommodations (see "Resorts in Oak Creek Canyon" above). At the head of the canyon, 13 miles from Sedona, the highway climbs 700 feet in 2.3 miles of sharp switchbacks to Oak Creek Vista, a scenic viewpoint overlooking Oak Creek Canyon and Pumphouse Wash. The highway continues on to I-17 and Flagstaff, where you could also start the drive. In autumn (mid-October to mid-November), multicolored leaves add to the rich hues of the sculptured canyon walls.
The beauty of Oak Creek Canyon attracts large crowds on summer weekends, when the highway becomes very crowded, parking can be impossible at popular stops, and campgrounds fill to the brim. Weekdays and off-season travel will be much easier, but if you can come only on a weekend, it's still worth doing. An early start will put you ahead of the pack and score a parking spot.
Wilson Mountain Trail #10
Energetic hikers will enjoy this climb from the bottom of Oak Creek Canyon to the top of Wilson Mountain. A stiff 2,300-foot ascent is followed by a long, level stretch extending to the north edge of the flat-topped mountain. Total trail length is 5.6 miles roundtrip, or 4 miles if you turn around where the trail levels off on the summit plateau.
Two very different trails, Wilson Mountain #10 and North Wilson #123, start from the bottom (elev. 4,600 feet), meet part way up on First Bench, then continue as one trail to the top. Wilson Mountain Trail begins at the north end of Midgley Bridge, 1.3 miles north of Sedona, and switchbacks through Arizona cypress, juniper, pinyon pine, agave, yucca, and other sun-loving plants. Higher up, manzanita, scrub live oak, and other chaparral-zone plants become more common. North Wilson Trail, on the other hand, climbs steeply through a cool canyon filled with tall ponderosa pine and Douglas fir; look for the trailhead on AZ 89A just north of the Encinoso Picnic Area, 4.6 miles north of town.
A stone cairn marks the junction of the trails at First Bench. This large level area dates from long ago, when a piece of Wilson Mountain's summit slid part way down the mountain. More climbing takes you to the rim of Wilson Mountain; keep right where the trail forks and follow the path north to some spectacular viewpoints. From the northernmost overlook, you can see tiny Vultee Arch far below across Sterling Canyon. Beyond, on the horizon, stand the San Francisco Peaks. Small meadows and forests of ponderosa pine and Gambel oak cover the large expanse of Wilson's summit. Carry 2–3 quarts of water.
Wilson Canyon and Mountain get their names from Richard Wilson, a bear hunter who lost a battle with a grizzly in June 1885. Wilson's bear gun was undergoing repairs on the day he spotted grizzly tracks in Oak Creek Canyon, but he set out after the bear anyway, toting a smaller rifle. Nine days later, horsemen found Wilson's badly mauled body up what's now Wilson Canyon. You can hike about 1.5 miles up the canyon from Midgley Bridge. The Huckaby Trail goes down the canyon from Midgley Bridge, crosses Oak Creek, follows an old wagon road through the valley, and connects with lower Schnebly Hill Road.
This natural swimming hole in Oak Creek lies on the right 1.8 miles north of town. A $5 ($7 summer) parking fee is charged at the gate. Bring your own drinking water and perhaps a picnic. Hikers can follow Huckaby Trail downstream to the lower Schnebly Hill Road or go upstream on Allens Bend Trail and connect with Casner Canyon Trail, which climbs to upper Schnebly Hill Road.
Rainbow Trout Farm
Anglers will find the easiest fishing for rainbow trout on the right across Oak Creek, three miles north of Sedona, 928/282-5799. Equipment is available and no license is needed, but you must pay for what you catch; it's open daily.
A marker outlines the history of this spot, 3.5 miles north of town. Oak Creek Visitor Center has regional information. A store and deli has tables in the patio in back. Garland's Indian Jewelry offers a large selection of Native American work.
Encinoso Picnic Area
Tables with drinking water on the left, 4.6 miles from town, offer a rest from travels. You can stop by year-round; a Red Rock Pass is needed to park.
Turn right down the hillside to the sites beside Oak Creek, 5.6 miles north of town. It's open all year with water and a $16 fee. Sterling Pass Trail #46 begins on the other side of the highway and climbs the west rim.
Sterling Pass Trail #46
A hike to Sterling Pass (elev. 5,960 feet) from Oak Creek Canyon provides fine views; you can continue down the other side to Vultee Arch. Begin from the west side of AZ 89A, 5.6 miles north of Sedona; the trailhead (elev. 4,840 feet) lies a short way south of Slide Rock Lodge and 300 feet north of Manzanita Campground. The trail ascends through a small canyon to the pass, then drops 500 feet into Sterling Canyon to join Vultee Arch Trail; it's 3.3 miles roundtrip to the pass or 5.2 miles roundtrip to Vultee Arch. This approach to the arch avoids the bumpy drive on Forest Road 152.
Slide Rock State Park
Natural chutes and swimming holes at this park in Oak Creek Canyon, 6.4 miles north of Sedona, provide a great way to cool off in summer. Year-round attractions on the 43 acres include a short trail along cliffs above the creek, picnic spots, and an historic apple orchard. On the walk to the swim area, you'll see the orchard, farm machinery, old tourist cabins, packing shed, and farmhouse. Slide Rock Market serves snacks daily, then weekends in winter. You can purchase the park's apples from late August to October. Birds like the area, too, and the park has a checklist. Slide Rock State Park (928/282-3034) is open all year for day use only, $10 per vehicle (up to four people), $1 for each additional passenger and for walk-ins or cyclists. The parking lot fills nearly every day from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and you may have to wait for a spot.
Some people like to wear jeans for sliding down the rock chutes, as the ride can be hard on the seat. Pets and glass containers may not go to the swim area. For safety, Oak Creek water is tested every day and the report is posted; you can also check the Water Quality Hotline (602/542-0202 Phoenix). Occasionally bacteria levels go too high and the swim area may close for the day.
Halfway Picnic Area
Tables lie on a shelf above Oak Creek, 7.3 miles north of town on the left. Open all year; you'll need a Red Rock Pass.
Banjo Bill Picnic Area
Located 7.7 miles north of town on the left, the area has water and a $5 ($7 summer) parking fee; it's closed in winter.
This day-use area lies on a shelf above the creek on the left, 8.4 miles north of town.
A.B. Young Trail #100
This well-graded but strenuous trail climbs out of Oak Creek Canyon to East Pocket Mesa, north of Wilson Mountain. The trail makes more than 30 switchbacks to reach the ponderosa pine-forested rim, a 1,600-foot climb and 3.2-mile roundtrip. From the rim, the trail climbs gently to East Pocket Knob Lookout Tower, another 0.8 mile and 400 feet higher. You'll enjoy excellent views of Oak Creek Canyon on the way up, from the rim, and atop the lookout tower (open during the fire season in summer).
The trailhead (elev. 5,200 feet) lies across Oak Creek behind Bootlegger, just north of Milepost 383 on AZ 89A, 8.4 miles north of Sedona. Wade or hop stones across the creek—though don't cross if it's flooded—to a dirt road paralleling the bank, then look for a sign to the well-used trail climbing the slope. After leaving the woodlands along Oak Creek, the trail ascends through chaparral. Allow 3–4 hours and carry 1–2 quarts of water. Cattle ranchers built this trail in the 1880s to bring herds to pasture. The Civilian Conservation Corps under A.B. Young improved it in the 1930s.
Call of the Canyon Picnic Area and West Fork Trail #108
Sheer canyon walls, luxuriant vegetation, and a beautiful clear stream make a hike along West Fork an exceptionally beautiful experience. This major tributary of Oak Creek inspired Novelist Zane Grey's book Call of the Canyon. A nearly level trail extends about three miles up through the narrow canyon and crosses the stream many times; usually you can hop across on stones. Beyond the three-mile point, the canyon narrows and you'll have to start wading. Carry water and plenty of film. Because of the quantity and diversity of plant and animal species here, the lower six miles of the canyon has been designated a Research Natural Area, and hikers shouldn't build fires or camp here.
Turn left 10 miles north of Sedona, between Mileposts 384 and 385, for the picnic area and trailhead parking, which costs $9 per vehicle (up to 5 people) or $2.00 per person walk-in, bicycle, or bus; or you can get in with the Big Three Pass or the Grand Annual Red Rock Pass. Try to arrive early, as there's often a wait for parking by midday. The tables are in an old apple orchard planted by the Thomas family who homesteaded here in the 1880s; bring your own water. After crossing Oak Creek on a bridge, you'll pass the ruins of Mayhews Lodge, built in the early 1900s and burned in 1980, before turning up West Fork.
Although most visitors come for a leisurely day hike, strong hikers can travel the entire 14-mile length of West Fork in one day. It helps to get an early start and arrange a car shuttle. Those making the full trip should start at the upstream trailhead, where Forest Road 231 (Woody Mountain Road) crosses West Fork. Woody Mountain Road begins as a turnoff from W. Route 66 in Flagstaff. From the upper trailhead, the first six miles is usually dry, followed by a series of deep pools that may require swimming. Avoid hiking in the canyon after heavy rains or if storms threaten. The rough terrain, fallen trees, and deep pools make backpacking difficult, so most people do the trip as a long day hike.
From the picnic area you can also hike Thomas Point Trail #142 up the east rim of Oak Creek Canyon. This strenuous trail climbs 900 feet with fine views in two miles roundtrip. At the top, follow cairns left to Thomas Point and a panorama of the San Francisco Peaks and upper Oak Creek Canyon.
Cave Springs Forest Campground, 11.1 miles up the canyon and to the left, may be the prettiest of the Oak Creek campgrounds. The sites lie in the forest well away from the highway. You can look inside the small cave, where a spring supplies the campground's water. The season runs April 15–Oct. 31 and there's a $16 fee. Campers have a store and coin showers. Some sites can be reserved at 877/444-6777 or www.recreation.gov.
Pineflat Campground is 12.1 miles from Sedona on both sides of the highway. Ponderosa pines, Douglas fir, oaks, and sycamores provide shade. The season runs April 1–Nov. 15 with water and a $16 fee. You can also reserve some sites at 877/444-6777; www.recreation.gov.
Hikers can get a workout and some views on the climb to the east rim on Cookstove Trail #143. It's 1.5 miles roundtrip and a 1,000-foot climb. The trailhead is on the east side of the highway just north of the campground.
Oak Creek Vista and North Gateway Visitor Center
On your right at the top of the climb out of Oak Creek Canyon, this overlook (elev. 6,419 feet) has splendid views down the length of the canyon. Pumphouse Wash lies directly below. A little visitor center, sponsored by the Arizona Natural History Association, is open daily except winter, weather permitting, with recreation information on the Coconino National Forest and sales of books and maps. Native Americans display jewelry and other crafts for sale nearby. Oak Creek Vista is 15.3 miles north of Sedona and 12 miles south of Flagstaff. Parking here is free and you don't need a Red Rock Pass.
Griffith Spring Trail
If you feel like a short ramble under the ponderosa pines between Oak Creek Vista and Flagstaff, this one-mile loop trail will give you a chance to stretch your legs. It's on the east side of AZ 89A between Mileposts 396 and 397, 2.5 miles south of the Coconino County Fairgrounds turnoff. From the trailhead, which has a picnic table and an outhouse, follow the gravel path down a gentle slope to the loop, which passes a small canyon.
Schnebly Hill Road
You'll enjoy some of the best views in the area along this bumpy back road that descends the Mogollon Rim east of town. It's the most spectacular approach to Sedona, but is too rocky for cars—high clearance vehicles are needed. If you'd rather have someone else do the driving, sign up for a tour with one of the companies in Uptown Sedona.
The drive is about 12 miles one way and is closed in winter. Take I-17 Exit 320 for the descent. To climb out from Sedona, turn off AZ 179 at the sign a half mile south of the Y. Allow plenty of time for the many curves and views. At about the halfway point, Schnebly Hill Vista features a spectacular panorama. The Red Rock Ranger District Office in Sedona (928/203-7500) can advise on road conditions.
Bell Rock Pathway
This 3.7-mile (one-way) trail passes along the base of Bell Rock; elevation change is 200 feet. Both trailheads lie just east of AZ 179. The north trailhead, also used to reach Little Horse Trail, is near Milepost 310, just south of the Back O'Beyond/Indian Cliffs junction. The south trailhead is just north of the Village of Oak Creek. Courthouse Butte Loop begins 0.6 mile in from the south trailhead and goes around this butte in six miles; elevation gain is 400 feet.
Crescent Moon Ranch/Red Rock Crossing
Photographers and moviemakers have long admired this spot for its beautiful view of Cathedral Rock reflected in the waters of Oak Creek. Visitors also enjoy a swim in the creek or a picnic. Buildings and a working waterwheel of Crescent Moon Ranch add some history. Open daily with a $5 ($7 summer) parking fee. From the Y in Sedona, head west 4.2 miles on AZ 89A, turn left 1.8 miles on Upper Red Rock Loop Road, then left 0.9 mile on Chavez Ranch Road.
Red Rock State Park
Nature lovers come to walk the trails and picnic beside Oak Creek southwest of Sedona (928/282-6907, http://azstateparks.com, $6/vehicle up to 4 persons, $1 each additional person or cyclist). Birdwatching is good, with 150 species identified; ask for a list. Drop in at the visitor center to see exhibits on the diverse plants and wildlife; staff answer questions, tell of upcoming events, and sell books. You can join nature walks, bird walks, moonlight walks (April–Oct.), and First Sunday programs; call ahead or check the website for times. Seven short hiking trails wind through lush riparian areas or up into the surrounding pinyon pine-juniper plant community. All of the trails interconnect with many loop possibilities. Smoke Trail, the shortest, follows the shore of Oak Creek in a 0.4-mile roundtrip from the visitor center. Eagles Nest Trail crosses the creek to a scenic viewpoint in a 1.9-mile loop with a climb of 300 feet; the trail takes its name from a Disney movie filmed here. The House of Apache Fire atop a ridge has distinctive architecture and stonework patterned after Hopi pueblos; construction started in 1947 and never really finished, though the house served as a retreat center in the early 1970s. You can hike up to the house and read about its history. Mountain bikers can ride the 6.5-mile Cathedral Bike Loop from the park on mostly unpaved roads, some closed to motorists; there's a ford at Red Rock Crossing. A handout available at the park shows the way.
To protect the fragile riparian area, no swimming, wading, or pets are allowed; some areas may be closed to protect wildlife. From the Y in Sedona, head west 5.5 miles on AZ 89A, turn left (south) three miles on Lower Red Rock Loop Road, then turn right 0.8 mile into the park to the visitor center. You can also drive via Upper Red Rock Loop Road—two miles of pavement followed by 1.2 miles of bumpy dirt road.
Page Springs Hatchery
Meet the trout on a self-guided tour, open 7 a.m.–3:45 p.m. daily. They hatch at Sterling Springs, near the head of Oak Creek Canyon, then come here when they're three inches long. After a stay of 8–9 months, the trout reach a length of 8–10 inches and are ready to be released. A show pond contains large specimens. Warm-water fish, including threatened and endangered species, live in separate pools. The visitor center (928/634-4805) has exhibits on native fish of Oak Creek, sport fish, and fisheries management. Page Springs North Wildlife Viewing Area offers a short nature walk and birding from the parking area. From the Y in Sedona, head southwest 11 miles on AZ 89A to between Mileposts 362 and 363, then turn left 3.2 miles on Page Springs Road/Yavapai County 50.
Nearby Bubbling Ponds Hatchery raises native and exotic warm-water species, but the hatchery is not well signed and it's difficult to see the fish because either they are too small or the water is too murky. Birders wander through the Bubbling Ponds Wildlife Viewing Area; parking is just off Page Springs Road/Yavapai County 50, 0.8 mile past the Lo Lo Mai turnoff and 0.7 mile before Page Springs Fish Hatchery.
Devil's Bridge Trail #120
From the trailhead (elev. 4,600 feet), a well-graded path climbs steadily through juniper, pinyon pine, Arizona cypress, and manzanita to the base of a long natural arch. You can't see the bridge until you're almost there, but when you arrive, the majestic sweep of the arch and fine views of distant canyons and mountains reward your effort. The 1.8-mile roundtrip hike gains 400 feet in elevation. You can also follow a trail to the top of the arch.
Devil's Bridge lies northwest of Sedona on the other side of a ridge. From the Y in Sedona, head west 3.1 miles on AZ 89A, turn right two miles on paved Dry Creek Road (Forest Road 152C), then turn right and go 1.3 miles on the bumpy dirt Forest Road 152. Cautiously driven cars may be able to negotiate this road in dry weather; check with the Forest Service.
Vultee Arch Trail #22
This hike follows Sterling Canyon upstream to a small natural bridge visible in the sandstone to the north. Though the canyon is dry most of the year, Arizona cypress, sycamore, ponderosa pine, and other trees and plants find it to their liking. From the trailhead (elev. 4,800 feet), you'll climb 400 feet on the 3.2-mile roundtrip trail. Carry water, especially on hot days. The arch and a bronze plaque at the end of the trail commemorate aircraft designer Gerard Vultee and his wife Sylvia, who died when their plane hit East Pocket Mesa during a snowstorm on January 29, 1938. The trailhead for Vultee Arch lies at the end of Forest Road 152; follow the directions for Devil's Bridge Trail, then continue three miles past that turnoff to road's end.
Palatki and Honanki Ruins
Prehistoric Sinagua built these cliff dwellings, the largest pueblos in the Sedona Red Rocks area. Later, these early architects moved on, possibly to Tuzigoot and other sites along the Verde River and Oak Creek. Take great care not to touch the fragile rock art or ruins. For either site, you'll need a Red Rock Pass.
Palatki is Hopi for "Red House." You'll need to call 928/282-3854 for a reservation before coming out; a visitor center/bookshop provides information and drinking water. The two pueblos date to 1150–1300 and once housed 30–50 people. Look on the alcove walls for pictographs that possibly represent clans. Red Cliffs, on a separate trail to the west, contains much more rock art and there's often a volunteer here to explain the different styles and time periods of the artwork. Pictographs and a few petroglyphs at the site have been attributed to the Archaic period (3,000–8,000 years ago), Southern Sinagua (A.D. 900–1300), Yavapai or Apache (1583–1875), and Anglo pioneers.
Honanki (Hopi for "Bear House"), below Loy Butte, is open 9:30 a.m.–4 p.m. daily. The pueblo once had as many as 72 rooms, built between 1130 and 1280. You'll find rock art here too.
From the Y in Sedona, head west 9.2 miles on AZ 89A to a group of mailboxes between Mileposts 364 and 365, turn right (north) five miles on Red Canyon Road, then continue north 1.6 miles on Forest Road 795 to its end at Palatki. The rougher but more scenic route follows AZ 89A west 3.2 miles from the Y, turns right (north) about six miles on Dry Creek Road (Forest Road 152C), which curves west to Forest Road 525, where you turn right, then right again on Forest Road 795 to Palatki. For Honanki, return to the junction of Forest Roads 525 and 795, then follow Forest Road 525 northwest four miles; you may need a high-clearance vehicle for this last stretch. The gateway visitor information centers and the Forest Service office in Sedona (928/203-7500) have a handout on the ruins and sell the Coconino Forest map.
Sycamore Canyon Wilderness
Imagine Oak Creek Canyon without the highway, resorts, and campgrounds. That's Sycamore Canyon, a twisting slash in the earth 21 miles long and as wide as seven miles. As the crow flies, Sycamore Canyon lies about 15 miles west of Oak Creek Canyon. A wilderness designation protects the canyon, so only hikers and horseback riders may descend to its depths. Several trails wind down to Sycamore Creek, mostly from the east side, but not a single road. Motorists can enjoy the sweeping view from Sycamore Point on the west rim, approached from Williams.
Sycamore Canyon Wilderness is under the jurisdiction of the Coconino, Kaibab, and Prescott National Forests. The gateway visitor information centers and the Forest Service office in Sedona (928/203-7500) are your best sources of information for trail conditions, trailhead access, and water sources.
Heading southeast of Sedona, you'll eventually leave the famous Red Rock Country, but not the spectacular scenery. The pine-forested Mogollon Rim and its narrow canyons harbor many beautiful spots. The gateway visitor information centers and the Forest Service office in Sedona (928/203-7500) can tell you about recreation in this area.
V-Bar-V Ranch Petroglyph Site
Thirteen panels hold more than one thousand petroglyphs near Beaver Creek. Archaeologists think that the Sinagua created them during the end of their stay in the region. A volunteer at the site will point out and explain some of the symbols on the cliff face. You can visit only 9:30 a.m.–4 p.m. Fri.–Mon.; gates close at 3:30 p.m.
Bring a Red Rock Pass to get in. From Sedona, head south 15 miles on AZ 179 to the I-17 overpass (Exit 298) and continue straight on paved Forest Road 618 another 2.4 miles; turn right at the sign just past the Beaver Creek bridge. An easy one-third-mile walk takes you to the rock art.
Wet Beaver Creek Wilderness
Sycamore, cottonwood, ash, alder, Arizona walnut, and wildflowers grow along the pretty creek here. Yet, a short way from the water, the prickly pear cactus, agave, Utah juniper, and pinyon pine of the high desert take over. You might see mule or white-tailed deer, ringtail cat, coyote, javelina, Gambel's quail, red-tailed hawk, bald eagle, and great blue heron. Keep an eye out for rattlesnakes and poison ivy. Verde trout, some brown and rainbow, and suckers live in the creek, though most people find fishing conditions poor. Hikers enjoy trails along the lower creek, climbs to the Mogollon Rim, and difficult routes through the upper canyons. The many swimming holes in Wet Beaver Creek offer cool comfort in summer. Hiking in the lower canyon can be pleasant year-round.
To reach the 6,700-acre wilderness, take I-17 Sedona Exit 298, turn southeast two miles on Forest Road 618, then turn left a quarter mile at the sign to Bell Trail #13. Elevations range from 3,820 feet at the trailhead to 6,500 feet atop the Mogollon Rim. The first two miles of trail follow an old jeep road into the canyon, where the way narrows to a footpath. Apache Maid Trail #15 begins at this point, climbing steeply out of the canyon to the north, then continuing at a moderate grade to Forest Road 620 near Apache Maid Mountain. This route is 9.5 miles one way and gains 2,380 feet in elevation. The Bell Trail continues upstream another mile past pretty pools to Bell Crossing, where it crosses the creek and climbs out to the east to Roundup Basin and Forest Road 214 near Five Mile Pass; you'll cover 10.8 miles one way and gain 2,450 feet in elevation.
The Crack, a deep pool 150 feet upstream from Bell Crossing, makes a good turnaround point for a leisurely day hike. Please don't camp here, as the area gets heavy use. Adventurous hikers can continue upstream if they're willing to swim through many deep pools of cold, clear water; bring some flotation devices, especially if toting a camera or pack. Experienced hikers can also enter the upper canyon via Waldroup, Jacks, or Brady canyons. These routes involve some brush and descents on small cliff faces. Beaver Creek and unpalatable stock tanks are the only sources of water, so it's best to bring your own. Topo maps are a must for off-trail travel and the sometimes-faint trails on the Mogollon Rim.
Fossil Springs Wilderness
Springs southeast of Camp Verde gush forth more than a million gallons of heavily mineralized water per hour at a constant 72ºF, supporting a lush riparian environment. Swimming holes offer a cooling plunge in summer. The 11,550-acre wilderness protects the scenic beauty and abundant wildlife of Fossil Creek and some of its tributaries. Objects in the water may get a coating of calcium, hence the name Fossil Springs. Today the springs gush forth near the creekbed, but you can see ancient deposits of travertine on the cliffs above. Elevations range from 4,250 feet at the springs to 6,800 feet on the Mogollon Rim. Three trails lead to Fossil Springs, and you could arrange a car shuttle to avoid retracing your steps.
Beginning in 1909, a dam and flume below the springs fed the Childs hydro-electricity plant. The system expanded with the addition of the Irving hydro station nearby on the Verde River in 1916. These historic generating stations originally supplied Jerome's mines, then Phoenix with much of their electrical needs. Environmental groups recently forced the plants to shut down, so that Fossil Creek can once again return to the canyon bottom. Some parts of the Irving station and flume will be preserved, but most of the structures will be removed.
You can descend Fossil Springs Trail #18 from the east rim, dropping 1,280 feet in four miles on a former wagon road; when you reach the creekbed, turn left a short way to the springs. Loose rock makes hiking a challenge, but you'll enjoy fine views most of the way. The trailhead is 4.8 miles west from Strawberry via Fossil Springs Road (Forest Road 708). You'll pass the Strawberry Schoolhouse in 1.5 miles, then run out of pavement at the edge of Strawberry; look for the signed trailhead on the right.
A hike on Flume Road Trail #154 from the Irving Trailhead offers the easiest way in. The trail crosses the creek, climbs steeply 0.5 mile to the Flume Road, then follows the road upcanyon 3.5 miles to the springs; elevation gain is 440 feet. Both hikers and bicyclists can follow the road, but cyclists must park before the wilderness boundary, just before the springs. Note that the Flume Road Trail may be closed for periods over the next several years during dismantling of the flume; check first with the Red Rock Ranger District (928/203-7500). The Irving Trailhead is at the bottom of a long descent on Fossil Springs Road, 9.7 miles from Strawberry. Alternatively, you can drive from Camp Verde by heading east seven miles on AZ 260, then turning right 16.5 miles on Fossil Springs Road; this remote scenic drive winds through beautiful desert hills but is too rough for cars.
Mail Trail #84 descends from the north rim, dropping 1,300 feet in 3.1 miles; trailhead is 13 miles east on AZ 260 from the West Clear Creek bridge, then right on Forest Road 9247B to Mail Trail Tank #2 (high-clearance vehicle needed).
Verde Hot Springs
Two pools, one warm and one hot, lie on the west bank of the Verde River in the Tonto National Forest. They attract hot-springs enthusiasts willing to make the drive and hike to this remote spot. A resort once operated here, but only the baths and piles of rubble remain; yellow stains on the cliffs above the river mark past thermal activity. Visitors irregularly clean the baths at this clothing-optional site, so it's best to use caution before jumping in.
You can approach the trailhead on unpaved Fossil Springs Road (Forest Road 708) either from Camp Verde or from Strawberry, north of Payson. This road may be passable by cautiously driven cars, though high-clearance vehicles do best. From Camp Verde, take AZ 260 east seven miles, turn right 14 miles on Fossil Springs Road, then right 6.5 miles to the Verde River. From AZ 87 in Strawberry, you can head west 12.5 miles on Fossil Springs Road, then turn left 6.5 miles at the sign for the Verde River. On the last 6.5 miles, you'll climb high into the hills, pass a turnoff for Stehr's Lake and a scenic 4WD route to Ike's Backbone, then descend to Childs Dispersed Recreation Area on the riverbank at road's end; the last quarter mile may be too rough for cars.
There's an outhouse and primitive camping at this heavily used site. Lovers of solitude will do better to camp elsewhere. A five-day stay limit applies. Because it's a family area, no nudity is permitted here. A one-mile trail heads upriver past the Childs Power Plant site and climbs to a road that goes upriver. When the road descends to river level, look for a place to ford the Verde River, then follow the trail downriver a few hundred yards to the hot springs. Don't count on finding signs for the last part of the hike. All of these roads in the Fossil Creek and Verde River areas lead through magnificent scenery, worthwhile drives even if you don't come for the hot springs.
On to Camp Verde and Vicinity