Fay Canyon was another one of my often-planned but repeatedly-skipped hikes, and boy, was I missing out. This is certainly one of the most satisfying easy hikes in the Sedona area, thanks to a couple of great features: one you’ll find along the side of the trail (hopefully), and the other at the end.
The Fay Canyon trailhead is located along the paved portion of Forest Road 152C. Coming from West Sedona, take Dry Creek Road north, and whenever the road dead-ends, take a left. You will arrive at the large parking area shortly after the second left turn.
Fay Canyon Trail begins on the north side of FR152C, across the street from the parking area. While the start of the trail passes through some low brush…
… you almost immediately enter into the Red Rock/Secret Mountain wilderness area, and the trees get a bit higher.
This means for most of the way in, there aren’t many good views. The canyon walls are far away on your left, and just slightly closer on your right, but you’re never right up against them. Because of that, it’s hard to get a great picture of any red rock without a tangle of tree branches obscuring the view.
As I made my way in, I was starting to think this trail wasn’t going to be very impressive. It was an easy hike, but I wasn’t finding anything exciting. I spent much of the time scouring the canyon walls on the right hand side, hoping to spot the obscure Fay Canyon Arch, which blends in almost perfectly with the rest of the cliffs. I didn’t see it on the way in, which was adding to my disappointment (so were the cloudy skies, but thankfully, the blue returned the next day).
After trudging down the path through the trees for a while, this distinctive rock appeared up ahead. I had no idea at the time, but I was arriving at the end of the official trail.
This rock pillar was much more than just an interesting formation along the trail. It also provided a great perch for views in three different directions. No, I wasn’t able to climb up to the top of the rock, but I was able to scramble up the slope, to the base of the column.
It didn’t take long before I was finally up above all those trees. Looking back to the south, the view was outstanding. The canyon framed Courthouse Butte and Bell Rock perfectly. Plus, I had a new perspective on how far I had just walked — down the middle of the valley, in the middle of all those trees.
At the “dividing rock”, which is what I’ll call the column until someone tells me its real name, the canyon splits, forming a giant letter Y. Once you’ve scrambled up the hill, to the base of the “dividing rock”, you can continue a short distance into the canyon on the left-hand side. Proceed with care, since you’ll be walking across what’s essentially a long balcony, with no railing. The sloping slickrock is covered with loose gravel, too, which means the further you stay from the edge, the better.
As you go further back on the “balcony”, you continue to have a great view south, towards the mouth of Fay Canyon.
You can also add a few stones to the fortress that someone started building, underneath a rock overhang.
After exploring the cliffside for a while, I headed back down to the main trail, at the point where it (more or less) officially ends. I’m fairly certain that somewhere there’s a trail that leads through the bottom of the left canyon, but I didn’t search for it. Instead…
… I decided to venture a little further into the canyon on the right side of the split. Starting off, the trail is very obvious and easy to follow. You don’t have to go far, though, before it starts to narrow and become more difficult. Once again, you’re plunged into the middle of a heavily wooded area, so there aren’t many rewarding views along the way.
I went as far as I could, up the right side canyon, but the trail eventually became such a tangled mess, I couldn’t go any further (at least, without a serious scramble through some thorns and cactus). I did find one nice clearing, from which I took the picture above. As you can see, it definitely looks like I had gone about as far up the canyon as possible.
On the way out of the canyon, I was more determined than ever to spot the elusive arch. I knew it was on the right side as you walk into the canyon, so on the way out, I scoured the walls on the left-hand side. Amazingly, this time, I spotted it.
The arch is almost perfectly camouflaged. In the picture above, you’re looking directly at the arch. Can you see it? Look right at the middle of the picture — there’s one spot that’s a bit brighter than it should be. That’s the spot where sunlight squeezes in, between the arch and the wall behind it.
There is a trail that leads up to the arch, but it is equally difficult to find. If you’re lucky, there will be some rock cairns at the point where the trail splits off. Apparently, the piles of rock get knocked down quite a bit (one person I met on the trail suspected that local folks didn’t want tourists taking the side trail, so they remove the cairns). If you don’t see the cairns, then watch for a rough side trail to split off — it will immediately dip down to the bottom of a dry wash, then up the other side.
This side trail is quite rough, and has lots of loose rock, making it easy to slip and fall. It was so easy, I decided to give it a try! Thankfully, bruises can heal, while camera equipment cannot — and I kept the camera safe. (I would have brought along my hiking stick, if someone hadn’t stolen it at Jenny Lake in Wyoming.)
Once you’ve made the climb up to the arch (which is no small task — it’s about halfway up the canyon wall), there are several ways to view it. You’ll first come upon a deep overhang, which should provide some welcome shade on hot, sunny days (something I would know nothing about on this day).
You’ll definitely want to climb all the way up to, and under the arch itself. From underneath, you can look out on the surrounding mountains.
You can also take a break in your own secret hiding place: the narrow passage in between the arch and the rock wall. This is a really neat, and beautiful, spot.
I was hoping there would be some way to climb a bit further, and end up on top of the arch, but it looked impossible (or at least, very dangerous). The ledge that could provide passage up to the top of the arch becomes too narrow and slanted. Even if I could have made it to the top, a lot of cactus were in the way up there. So, I decided to enjoy the view behind and underneath the arch, and feel good about spotting a feature that a lot of visitors never see, even though they’re staring directly at it.
Note: This page was first published in 2008.