Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Best Hike for Fall Colors: West Fork at Oak Creek, Sedona
A few miles north of Uptown Sedona lies the national treasure of Oak Creek Canyon. A short walk through an ancient orchard and you're in a forested canyon with a year-round, meandering creek.
I like to hike West Fork once a season, as the eroded canyon walls change from crystal walls, iced by winter storms--to tumbling banks of wild flowers in spring--and now the canyon is a riot of color w as the trees turn glorious shades of red and blazing yellow.
My ritual visit begins with a stop on the way up the canyon for Garlands cider, pressed from the tiny, special apples that manage to burst out of knarled trees each summer. My travelling companions like like shopping and jewelry often abandon me in the market to explore the authentic treasures in Garlands jewelry shop next door. Happy to spend a quiet moment in the garden behind the market, I wait patiently for them to finish exploring.
Garland's Lodge is closed in the winter and eating there requires a reservation. But the Market is open year-round.
89 A is a windy road and parking can be a challenge. The best times to find a spot in the parking lot at the lower end of the creek is during the week. I would never attempt it on a weekend, though the drive to Flagstaff is worth the trip even if you don't stop for a hike. With a $7 dollar charge for parking, it helps to have a Red Rock pass. Parking at most Sedona trailheads is free if you have a pass dangling from your rear view mirror.
One reason the hike is a good on is it has something for everyone. The start of the trail is flat and offers easy access to European settlements in the orchard to more ancient ruins in the canyon. For a longer, more challenging hike one can continue into the canyon--running the creek,hopping the stones or simly hiking up the gentle grade for a half-day hike.
The creek is full of watercress, trout, and waterfowl. Birds you may spot this season include golden eagles, red tail hawks, canyon wrens, Steller jays, mountain titmouse.
It is possible to hike the entire 14 miles to the dirt roads in the Coconino National Forest, which may involve swimming across some deep pools. I've gone about 12 miles to the first side canyon which took me about five hours round trip and is a good summer hike.
Whatever length hike I take, I time it to be back at my car by 4:30 so I can hit Garlands Market again on the way home for a bowl of the world's best beef stew and a chunck of homemade cornbread. Unless you're vegan, there's no better way to end the day.
Sedona hiking maps available here.