Oak Creek's West Fork: Cool scenery for hot hikers
SEDONA, Ariz. - Sedona and Oak Creek offer tons of hiking trails, but the West Fork of Oak Creek may be the crown jewel. The scenic red rocks are always a plus and there is plenty of water along this trail that brings out wildlife and birds - and for cooling off the hikers.
Flagstaff nature photographer Lisa Viotti said this trail offers endless possibilities for adventurous hikers. She's right. This is the south end of the trail. The north end of West Fork begins in Flagstaff. The Sedona side has the red rock and more hikers.
The north end has less hikers, more ferns and brush and appears a bit greener.
Although the Flagstaff side is less traveled, both sides can get some heavy hiking traffic for the first two to four miles. After that, most hikers turn around. On some Flagstaff Hiking Club trips some years back, the entire 14 miles was hiked, and a car shuttle waited at the other end.
The full 14-mile hike often means wading in water that was shoulder deep or higher. Camera buffs are well advised to have a waterproof bag or a flotation device to keep the cameras dry. Hikers will crisscross the stream many times, but for the first several miles, the stream is usually shallow.
Viotti's favorite part of the hike is that at any given moment hikers could go down to the stream to relax.
Viotti recently enjoyed a few miles from the Sedona side noting that the flowers and berries were abundant.
The plant life is so abundant here that most of it has been designated the Oak Creek Research Natural Area. Flowers include columbine, wild grape, lupines and poison ivy. Squirrels, mule deer and snakes are among the visitors.
"The sound of the water was intoxicating," she said. "The air was cool and crisp."
Viotti was cool and crisp because ponderosa pines, Douglas firs, box elders, cottonwoods, velvet ash, Arizona walnut, big tooth maple and Gambel oak dot the area giving lots of shade to hikers. Of course, the 1,000-foot-tall red rock cliffs provide more shade as well as beauty.
The paths start out paved, but there are a few ups and downs along this trek becoming more so as the hike gets deeper in past the four-mile mark.
The elevation begins at 5,400 feet in Sedona and the trail is easy to follow.
Camping is prohibited in the lower six miles of the canyon, but after that hikers can pitch a tent. October is a great time to take this hike because the maples and oaks offer a colorful yellow and pink fall visual extravaganza.
The West Fork of Oak Creek is part of Coconino National Forest.
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