Backpacking the West Fork Oak Creek - Coconino NF in Sedona, AZ

Dates: 10/16/12 - 10/17/12

Miles: 12

Elevation Change: ~730'

Trail Type: Out and back

Trailhead: Google Maps

Trip Report:

UPDATE2013 trip report

Trail map of the West Fork by americansouthwest.net
Trail map of the West Fork by americansouthwest.net

Deemed the most popular trail in the Coconino National Forest, we headed to Sedona to see the colorful autumn trees that are so rarely seen in CA. We tried to time it right to see the trees at their peak of color. No matter how warm it is at the trailhead, be sure to bring layers because it can get cold, especially if you are wading through the water! I'd also suggest bringing drybags for valuables if you do decide to backpack. October is the best month to see all of the colors, and be prepared for crowds if going on a weekend (we went on a weekday and were surprised to see so many people).

We drove to Sedona on a windy rode from Havasupai, and since we got here early we decided to set up camp before heading out to explore Sedona. We reserved this spot ahead of time for $27 through Recreation.gov and from the map this seemed like the most isolated and closest to Oak Creek. We headed into town to have a nice civilized dinner and to charge our cameras and phones.

Camp spot #11 at Manzanita Campground
Camp spot #11 at Manzanita Campground

We parked our cars at the Call of the Canyon Recreational Area where they charge parking. Be sure to tell them you are going to be there overnight.

The trail starts out paved, and then becomes dirt and sandy and soft at some points, but it soon descends into the canyon.

Crossing the bridge
Crossing the bridge
Not too many colorful trees yet
Not too many colorful trees yet
Passing the TH sign
Passing the TH sign

Inside the canyon, temperatures dropped and it was much colder in the shade of the tall rock walls.

Once inside the canyon, the trees were much more vibrant
Once inside the canyon, the trees were much more vibrant

The further in we went, the more colorful trees we saw. Everywhere we looked was a burst of red, oranges, and yellows. To someone who never really saw fall colors growing up, this was amazing to see.

Look at the contrast of how differently colored the trees are
Look at the contrast of how differently colored the trees are
Walking through this forest of color was amazing
Walking through this forest of color was amazing

The trail was quite crowded, and lots of people brought their dogs along. Many day hikers had fancy cameras and tripods, but we were the only backpackers we saw all weekend. There were lots of creek crossings that were quite easy with the well placed rocks.

Having a snack by the creak
Having a snack by the creak
Looking over the creek from a ledge
Looking over the creek from a ledge

After about 3.2 miles of leisurely hiking, we reached the water's edge. It is about 14 miles one way from one canyon to another, but we were only planning on going in till we reached the allowable camping area. We had a snack while changing into our "water shoes", which for me were my old running shoes and for Kyle, his sandals. All of the other day hikers having lunch there stared in amazement as we waded into the water.

The water was ice cold, and I had to put all of my other layers just to keep warm. If you stayed closer to the undercut red rocks, the water is much shallower there and you don't have to get as wet.

Where most hikers turned around
Where most hikers turned around

Once we reached the 6 mile mark, there was a small sign allowing camping beyond this point. We looked around the area for a suitable camp spot, and settled for a small patch of ground and leaves quite close to the creek. We were exhausted and cold, and we couldn't find a suitable camp spot up on the ledge.

Where we set up camp by the creek for the night
Where we set up camp by the creek for the night

We decided to continue exploring the creek after setting up camp so Kyle could take some pictures.

Steep canyon walls and warm colored trees make for a great photo
Steep canyon walls and warm colored trees make for a great photo

Some of these larger bodies of water were tricky to navigate through, I was worried that I would slip off the slanted underwater ledges on the side into the main deep water.

A giant panorama of the still water.. can you spot me?
A giant panorama of the still water.. can you spot me?

Still wearing our "water shoes", the shallow creek sections were fun to aimlessly walk through

The curving river that we waded up
The curving river that we waded up

After returning to camp and finally changing into dry clothes, we hung up our wet clothes to dry and made dinner. I was frigid from trying to warm back up after drying off. We could barely see the stars from under the trees and tall canyon walls, but we were able to sleep with the sound of a bubbling creek beside us.

The next morning we woke up, packed up, and put on some wet socks/shoes (ick.) to hike back out.

The last portion of wading on our way out!
The last portion of wading on our way out!
The tops of these trees were touched by the morning sun, but also because of their change of color
The tops of these trees were touched by the morning sun, but also because of their change of color
On the hike back out we were able to change into dry boots
On the hike back out we were able to change into dry boots
Enjoying the last of the red trees before leaving
Enjoying the last of the red trees before leaving

All in all, it was great to do a backpacking trip since we weren't concerned with getting to our destination before sun down.  We were able to stop a lot and take pictures, and there sure are plenty of opportunities for that along this trail. The elevation change was slight, but if I were to do it again I would definitely invest in some water hiking shoes.

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