Writer Amanda Christmann
Valley trails are fantastic, but when the summer heat stops us in our tracks, sometimes the best option is to take a hike for a cooler trail. Whether you’re looking for a great workout or to simply to take in spectacular views while breathing in the outdoors, Sedona is the place to be.
With temperatures, on average, 10 to 15 degrees cooler than Phoenix year-round, there’s nothing like beating the heat in one of the most beautiful places in the country. It may be only an hour’s drive away, but Sedona can feel like an entirely different planet than anywhere else on Earth.
Each year, according to the U.S. Forest Service, about 3 million hikers, mountain bikers, bird watchers and sightseers visit the Red Rock Ranger District of the Coconino National Forest. Seemingly hundreds of trails criss-cross the breathtaking red rock terrain.
An endless array of canyons and cliffs offer climbs, crevasses, hidden grasslands and gently rolling waterways to explore. About 1,400 plant species and 200 types of birds thrive here, along with antelope, black bears, mule deer, gray foxes and more.
With so many hikes to choose from, the most difficult task is choosing one to begin.
One shady hike perfect for beginners, or for anyone whose hiking boots are not yet broken in, is the Fay Canyon Trail. Named after rancher Alvin Fay, who founded one of the state’s first territorial counties in the 1860s, this 2.3-mile out-and-back trail is ideal for sunny days because of the unexpected shade provided by manzanitas and junipers.
Flat and breezy, it runs along the red-dust canyon floor, framed by rocky outcrops. Along the way, if you look closely, you’ll be rewarded with a changing terrain—from yuccas and prickly pear, to an ancient-looking forest of alligator juniper, then to towering oaks at the end. Also at the end is a rock formation that provides an easy climb and an unbeatable view of the entire canyon.
About halfway down the main trail is a short, steep side trail that leads to the Fay Canyon Arch. Marked by cairns, it can be tricky to find, but a treat once you do. This natural arch is a stunning natural wonder, spanning approximately 90 feet about 15 feet above the canyon floor.
Alongside the arch is something much more contemporary: 20th-century rock wall ruins. Though not as dynamic as many of the ruins hidden in area canyons, they still spark the imagination and mark something a little unusual for city dwellers.
Beyond the arch is an old Jeep track trail that winds through a beautiful small, hidden canyon. The trail eventually narrows to a footpath before dead-ending at a red Supai sandstone cliff with much more ancient ruins.
Like most of the trails in the Red Rock Ranger District, a Red Rock Pass is required to park at or near the trailhead. Fees collected from these passes, which can be purchased at The Sedona Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau Visitor Center, go toward the recreation and visitors’ services as well as the preservation of local natural resources.
Be sure to also spend some time at Sedona’s signature art galleries, shops and restaurants. After all, once you’ve escaped the heat, you just may not want to leave until fall!