Woods Canyon

Photo: A hiker pauses along Sedona’s Woods Canyon Trail, which runs amid red mesas and sycamore-lined riparian areas.
Red Rock Ranger District
By Robert Stieve

Unless you’re a Tarahumara Indian, extreme trail running is usually ill-advised. Unlike the reclusive super athletes of Mexico’s Copper Canyons, the average hiker is in no condition to tackle rugged terrain at breakneck speeds. With the proper training, maybe, but otherwise, you’d be better off blasting your kneecaps with a Louisville Slugger. That said, there are always exceptions, like the Woods Canyon Trail near Sedona.

This well-graded and easy-to-follow trail begins at the south end of the ranger station parking lot on State Route 179. After a few minutes, you’ll come to a log that serves as a connecting point to the other side of Dry Beaver Creek, which may or may not have water in it. Despite the moisture level of the creek, the landscape will likely include Here­fords, whose orange-red hides match the red dirt of the initial stretch of trail. A few minutes later, you’ll come to a gate, beyond which is an old Jeep road. By the time you’ve closed the gate, the sounds of State Route 179 will have disappeared and the striking mesas ahead will be grabbing your attention, along with the wide-open trail — Tarahumara or not, it’s on this stretch that you’ll really feel like running.

About 20 minutes later (less time if you decide to run), after having crossed a few small washes, you’ll come to a trail register and a larger wash that’s home to some beautiful Arizona sycamores and other riparian species. As always, use plenty of caution when entering wash areas, especially on cloudy days.

Moving along, the trail hugs the wash for a few hundred yards before passing through a cattle gate and a barbed-wire fence. Up ahead you’ll see an intersection. The Horse Mesa and Hot Loop trails go left, and the Woods Canyon Trail veers to the right. Five minutes later you’ll cross into the Munds Mountain Wilderness Area and catch your first glimpse of red rocks. Unlike some of the more famous trails to the north, this trail isn’t dominated by the picturesque geology that epitomizes Sedona. Instead, the highlight is a beautiful riparian area and plenty of solitude. There’s not a lot of traffic on this route, but there’s no good reason for that. It’s a gorgeous trail, especially after about an hour, when the ponderosas and the hardwoods start showing up.

As beautiful as the trees are, the best part of the trail actually begins about a quarter-mile farther, where Rattlesnake Canyon merges with Woods Canyon. At this point, the trail dips into the enormous, boulder-strewn wash of Beaver Creek. Your best photos of the day will be taken from atop one of the Frigidaire-sized rocks in this area. Although the scenery is spectacular, keeping tabs on the trail can be a little tricky. Stay left along the wash and you’ll see the trail within a few minutes.

The rest of the route climbs gradually for about 20 minutes and eventually gets to a point where the hike’s most prominent red rocks come into view. The rocks mark the end of this hike. At this point, you’ll have trekked a little more than 4 miles, with 4 more to go on the way back. For the average hiker, that’s a decent day hike. However, if you’re feeling adventurous and you have plenty of time, you can extend the hike by boulder-hopping through Woods Canyon all the way to Interstate 17. Although it’s not as challenging as running for hundreds of miles in the Copper Canyons of Mexico, it will elevate your stature beyond that of an average hiker. Be careful, though. You’re not a Tarahumara.

Trail Guide

Length: 8.5 miles round-trip
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation: 3,905 to 4,165 feet
Directions: From Sedona, drive south on State Route 179 for approximately 8.5 miles to the Sedona Ranger Station. The trailhead is at the south end of the parking lot.
Vehicle Requirements: None
Dogs Allowed: Yes (on a leash)
Horses Allowed: Yes
USGS Maps: Munds Mountain, Sedona
Information: Red Rock Ranger District, 928-282-4119 or www.fs.usda.gov/coconino