Fay Canyon

An impressive rock formation at the end of Fay Canyon Trl.

Loosen the
vice grip on your brain’s imagination center and the russet stone escarpments embracing
Sedona’s Fay Canyon Trail transform into dragon scales, crouching gremlins and other-worldly

Yuccas line the beginning of Fay Canyon Trail

Of course, rousing this kind of
magical point-of-view needs some help. A willingness to tap into your inner
child, or better yet, hiking with an actual pack of vociferous kids should do the

Yuccas are plentiful in sunny spots on the trail.
Is it a steamboat or castle? Ask a kid.

approached without prejudice, expectation or mind-muddling electronic devises, whimsical
forms hiding among the trail’s sandstone cliffs seem to pounce from their
precipitous perches.

Sandstone buttes along Fay Canyon Trail.

Letting go of what
we know to be true and logical frees the mind to train a playful lens on Sedona’s
Secret Canyon Wilderness Area.

Oaks, pinion pines and junipers close in on the trail.

It’s the
“wild” in wilderness areas that sets them apart from forests, parks and other
public lands. The 1964 Wilderness Act set a global precedence for protecting
unspoiled lands from development and destruction. Undisturbed lands benefit
wildlife habitat, watersheds and offer opportunities for responsible recreational
use. You can’t drive a motorized vehicle, fly a drone, build a structure or
even ride a bike in these special places.
Of Arizona’s 90 protected areas, Sedona’s Red Rock Secret Canyon
Wilderness is one of the most attainable and imagination-stoking destinations
in the state. It’s a satisfying trip for
expert backpackers and casual day-trippers alike. Seldom-seen sections (Bear Sign and Secret
Canyon Trails) of the a 43,950-acre wilderness are reached by hiking miles into
remote back country, while milder excursions are just a few steps from paved
roads and plush resorts. Whether you
enter this enchanted zone through a groomed front door or a rickety back gate, you’ll
soon understand how the simple act of walking a primal path is as much a
privilege as it is a wonder behold.

Russet cliffs weathered into fantastic forms.
The trail is in Red Rock Secret Canyon Wilderness.

front-door favorite, the Fay Canyon trailhead on Boynton Pass Road is outfitted
with a restroom and plenty of parking. Just
yards from a heavily-travelled byway, the effortless out-and-back trail immediately
enters the wilderness, passing through sandy drainages and sunny fields dotted with
yucca and twisted manzanita shrubs. As the path narrows, the animated cliffs
close in revealing an outdoor art gallery of nature-sculpted shapes. Weathered
pinnacles resemble golf tees, hammers, dancers and birds. If you’re hiking with
or near kids (a given on this family-friendly trail), listen to some of the
names they assign to the rocks. Sponge Bob, Bart Simpson, Pokemon.

A primitive side trails leads to Fay Canyon Arch.

A half-mile in, a faint path on the right
leads to an emerging natural arch. Barely visible from the trail, the true
scale of the overhang isn’t apparent until you’re standing beneath it. The
optional, quarter-mile diversion requires scrambling on loose rock with some minor
exposure but pays off with fly-over vistas and interesting nooks to explore.

Washes and tangled roots near the end of the trail.

Forests of oak, cypress and pinion pines thicken
as the root-and-vine-tangled route dives deeper into the canyon culminating at
a boulder-choked wash below a magnificent red rock formation. The sculptural
piece de resistance, which stands several stories high, has no name. But its imposing
presence and place in the landscape bumps creative thinking into over drive. Is it a shark fin? An anvil? An alien landing
platform? Who can say? The whole point of this excursion is to let your imagination
roam wild. If you’re stuck for a name, just follow the kids.

There's easy access to Fay Canyon Trail.
What will you see in Fay Canyon's red rocks?

1.2 miles one-way


4500- 4800 feet


From the State Route 179/89A traffic circle in Sedona, veer
left and go 3.2 miles on SR 89A to Dry Creek Road (Forest Road 152C). Turn
right and continue 4.5 miles on Dry Creek Road to the Boynton Canyon Road intersection,
turn left and go 0.5-mile to the trailhead.