Tucked into some of the world’s most spectacular landscapes in north-central Arizona is the Village of Oak Creek, a suburb of the town of Sedona. Sedona is frequently called one of the
top vacation destinations in the United States, so it’s no surprise that it’s home to one of the best hikes in the US, among many other things.
I’ve lived in Arizona my entire life, and Sedona – and Oak Creek Canyon, more specifically – has always held a special place in my heart. It’s enchanting just how breathtaking it is, and the world-famous red rocks and cliffs surrounding the town are said to have specific powers and energies. I took a drive to my favorite part of Arizona for a couple of days to check it out, and I think you’ll want to plan your trip ASAP. Oak Creek Canyon is one of the most beautiful places in Arizona, if not the country, and Sedona is no slouch, either.
I drove in from Phoenix, exiting the I-17 North at Highway 179. This road leads you straight through the Village of Oak Creek and into downtown Sedona.
Once in the town of Sedona, you'll take the AZ-89A south, through Oak Creek Canyon toward Flagstaff, for the ultimate Arizona adventure. It doesn't even
feel like Arizona; you might just forget you're still in the desert southwest, having been mystically transported to a place so astonishingly beautiful that folks quite literally come from all over the world to visit. Every single time I end up here, I am home, and I cannot resist doing the drive through the canyon. But first: food.
I paid a visit to the downtown shops in Sedona and as always, they were vibrantly teeming with visitors - though today was a weekday and a lot quieter than usual. Getting one of America's most beautiful small towns to yourself is nice.
I decided to eat lunch at the Cowboy Grille, and every bit of it was delightful.
I had the brisket sandwich with fries; now I'm pretty sure this spot is my new favorite barbecue joint in northern Arizona.
The service was fast, friendly, and kind, like most of the folks you'll meet in Arizona's red rock country. The food was delicious, and I absolutely do not wonder why it's such a beloved little spot in Sedona. 10/10, highly recommend, but come hungry - the portions are nice!
Next, I had to check in to the room I had reserved for the night - an adorable Airbnb in Sedona close to the AZ-89A and central to just about everything I could ever need. It's called the
Harmony House Homestay, and it is indeed harmonious.
It's a remarkably cozy little place that feels like home right away, and the bed is huge, soft, fluffy, and comfortable. It's a quiet little slice of paradise in red rock country, and I loved how close it was to the highway. It would make tomorrow morning's endeavor - a hike on one of the best trails in the United States - much more convenient.
To kill some time before sunset, I went back to downtown Sedona and checked out the rest of the shops.
You'll find clothing stores, lots of places where you can purchase rocks and minerals at excellent prices (we may or may not have bought at least a dozen), fun local touristy stops, Pink Jeep Tours, and so much more. Be sure to visit one of our favorite little shops ever - The Popcorn Emporium.
Fans of homemade fudge will want to check out The Sedona Fudge Company (the smell in there alone is enough to send you to cloud nine), but fans of popcorn will need to stop here.
Here, you'll find so many variations of popcorn that it'll make your head spin. I couldn't decide between the traditional caramel, caramel/chocolate, and a couple of other (ridiculously amazing looking) options; ultimately, I decided to go with the traditional caramel, and I am SO glad I did. To say it was "delicious" is to do it a disservice. It. Was. Amazing.
One thing led to another, and I realized I had eaten the whole bag. Oh well. No regrets. At least now the sun was getting ready to set and it was time to embark upon the hike I'd chosen to finish my day off with.
Little Horse Trail is located within the Coconino National Forest, and you access it via a quick jaunt up Highway 179. It's 3.6 miles from downtown Sedona (and that amazing popcorn) to the trailhead, and the trail is 150% Wild, Wild West.
Despite the day being rainy (read: perfect), the trail was mostly dry, with some damn areas and muddy spots - but nothing too difficult to get past. I was able to hike it wearing the strappy sandals that I usually wear (not recommended for people who don't hike often... you can hurt your toes, but I accept the risk), and I seldomly needed to stop to catch my breath.
Instead, I kept stopping to take in the incredible surroundings. In the near distance, clearly visible from the trail stands Bell Rock - one of Sedona's most easily recognized icons.
As the day's storms dissolved into fluffy, cream-colored clouds, it was nothing short of awe-inspiring to watch the light rapidly fade as sunset matured into the blue hour. Pleasantly, there were no mosquitoes, and the air was nice and cool. It was one of the most spectacular sunsets I had ever seen in the area - and that's saying a lot. Once the sun disappeared below the horizon, I decided to head back to the room and retire for the night. After all, I needed to get up early tomorrow anyway: West Fork Trail was calling my name.
If you want to hike it: Little Horse Trail is 4.3 miles long and rated moderately difficult. There is an elevation gain of just 584 feet, but it can be rapid in some spots. It is intensely beautiful, but don't get so distracted that you forget to stay hydrated - there is little shade during the day and temperatures can get hot, so be aware of your surroundings and enjoy.
The following morning, I woke up at 7 a.m. and got myself a gallon of water. I wore closed-toe shoes this time, and I highly recommend those (or good water shoes) for this trail.
West Fork Trail
is nestled in beautiful Oak Creek Canyon, between Sedona and Flagstaff. It routinely makes "top ten" lists of the best hikes in the United States just about everywhere and is often in the top three best hikes in Arizona lists you'll find across the web (and this site) as well. There are many good reasons for this, but I suspect the primary one is because it's so intensely beautiful that you'll likely find yourself breathless along the way - but not because the trail is making you sweat.
No, you'll find yourself trying to catch your breath here, thanks to the otherworldly beauty of the trail and the surrounding gorge .
It absolutely, 150% does not feel like Arizona, though the deep red color of the rocks in the ever-present background serves as a reminder that you are, indeed, still in State 48. West Fork Trail is astonishing in every way, and if there were ever some sort of zombie apocalypse, I think I'd try and convince my husband that it's the perfect place to live until everything, you know, chills.
But I digress.
West Fork Trail begins with the cliffsides jutting above you on all sides; the trail is soft and sandy, and despite the rain the day before, it was perfectly dry this morning.
The trail opens to the public at 8 a.m., and you will
absolutely have to arrive early if you hope to get in. The parking lot has limited space, and there is no waiting - when the lot is full, you will be turned away (unless you're already parked in it, obviously). I arrived at 7:30 on a Tuesday morning during the typical height of the busy season - early August, just before school began again.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was the second person in line for West Fork, and as I began the 6.5-mile hike into the wilderness, I took several moments to absorb the peace and quiet.
I needed to be well into the hike before the parking lot began to fill up if I wanted to keep it as tranquil as it was, so I did my best to keep a brisk pace (though, of course, I had to stop for pictures several times).
The millions of years of geological history visible in the canyon is amazing to behold, and West Fork Trail offers a front-row view of it in all its splendor. There are 13 creek crossings, so you must be ready for those. With the good grip of the shoes I'd chosen for today's hike, I had no problem hopping across rocks or traversing fallen trees to cross Oak Creek. Small children may need assistance, and this trail is inappropriate for folks with ADA accessibility needs.
It is astonishing, though, and anyone who wants to see Arizona at its most beautiful is going to want to find a way to do this hike.
It was 150% worth getting up earlier than usual to arrive early. The amazing variety of plant life you'll find yourself immersed in along the way is like something out of a science fiction novel (or maybe a far-away tropical forest), and you might just spot deer, squirrels, woodpeckers, cardinals, bluebirds, and lots of other critters, too.
Remember what I said about the zombie apocalypse? One of my reasons for that is that you'll discover all kinds of edible plants, fruit, and berries along the trail - everything from wild apples (pictured below) to raspberries and blackberries and pears, and more.
There was (and still is) an orchard in the gorge; today, there are several, and you'll pass through it early in the hike. While driving AZ-89A, you'll see numerous signs for fresh apple cider and juice - you can rest assured that it was made with the apples grown in Oak Creek Canyon.
I noticed an influx of other hikers after 10:30 a.m., once it hadn't rained yet (the morning was overcast, which I think attributed to the quieter-than-average morning), but by then, I was already on my way back.
The hike took just over three hours to do, out and back, and I found it pretty easy even despite having asthma, which can occasionally make hiking more challenging. The air out here is so amazingly clean and crisp - you'll never want to leave. I never do. If I can ever find a way to buy a home down here, I absolutely will. It is home to my soul.
After I conquered West Fork Trail, I decided to explore more of Oak Creek Canyon and the Village of Oak Creek.
There are numerous shops, galleries, restaurants, and Native American markets along the AZ-89A through the canyon; there are upscale dining establishments, like The Table at Junipine Resort, and I absolutely adore the boutique inns and hotels that pepper the highway at various points throughout the drive.
I also made sure to stop at the shops here, much as I had in downtown Sedona the day before.
If you feel like you need a snack (or coffee), I definitely recommend stopping at Don Hoel's Bakery and Cafe, which has some of the most delicious homemade cookies I've ever had, and some aromatic, fresh coffee, too. I also browsed Don Hoel's Indian shop and the other small mom-and-pop stops the Canyon has to offer.
It was an excellent way to kill the rest of the afternoon, and by the time evening came, and I went back to my room in Sedona, I was exhausted - lots of excitement in one day (and a long hike) will do that, I suppose.
Sedona, Arizona – as well as the adjacent Village of Oak Creek and Oak Creek Canyon – is easily one of the top destinations in the United States. Skip the Grand Canyon and do Sedona instead – you won’t regret it, especially when you see the awe-inspiring amazingness that is Oak Creek Canyon.
To discover more incredible boots-on-the-ground adventures across America from our team of local travel experts, check out all of the articles in
OnlyInYourState’s Everyday Explorers series. What destinations would you like to see featured next on OnlyInYourState’s Everyday Explorers? Tell us where we should go on our nominations page. Address: Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona 86336, USA Address: Arizona 89A, AZ-89A, Sedona, AZ, USA Address: Village of Oak Creek, AZ 86351, USA Address: Sedona, AZ 86336, USA