Trip Report: Secret Canyon, Sedona AZ

Even if you have not lived in Arizona chances are you have heard of Sedona and the breathtaking red sandstone rocks. The area is completely unique due to hematite (iron-oxide, aka rust) staining the normally white sandstone. It is difficult to explain, and I have never seen a photograph that can truly capture the way the morning and evening sun causes the hematite stained rocks to glow in brilliant colors of red and orange. There are many places around Sedona to experience the red rock up close and personal, however it is heavily populated by tourists. If you would like to get away from the over populated trails and groomed “parks”, Secret Canyon is the place to go. The road to reach the trail head is about 4 miles long and even in dry conditions it is almost necessary to have four wheel drive. This added “challenge” keeps the minivan driving disposable camera toting visitors away. Although the trip could be done in a day, spending the evening in the canyon to witness the sunset and sunrise is the only way to go.

Day 1

We got a pretty slow start this morning as Fall Gal learned a valuable lesson; drinking the night before your 430am wake up call is probably not the smartest of ideas! We had a 2.5 hour drive ahead of us as we somewhat crawled our way to the truck. Wicked Witch is joining us for her very first overnight so although early, her energy was high and she was ready to roll. The drive up was pretty smooth sailing, as we came into the Village of Oak Creek we made a stop at the Red Rock Information Center in order to pick up our Red Rock Pass (this is a pass required for any vehicle that will be left untended near trail heads, the current fees & regulations can be found here). The staff was very knowledgeable of the area and the current water conditions of the trail we were headed to. They also have maps and other normal items you expect to find in a visitor center. From here it was a short trip into Sedona and to the turn off for for Forest Road 152. Because of the amount of unprepared tourists that visit this area the rangers have made it very known that the road ahead is hazardous and a high clearance vehicle is necessary. Lucky for us, my 4×4 Tacoma can take on anything this road has to give. Generally speaking these signs are over stated and usually exaggerated, this one is NOT. If you plan on making it all the way to the trail head make sure you have a vehicle that can handle it. The side of the road along the way was littered with cars and minivans that could not continue. At the trail head there is a small parking area enough for 5 or 6 vehicles but it appeared to be sufficient. Melman was ready to roll, our gear was packed and we began our 5 mile hike. The trail immediately crosses a creek bed that, if flowing, could prove to start your trip with wet feet. The first 1.8 miles of the trail sit in a high desert area with little to zero protection from exposure and even in early April proves to be hot, there were several spots along the way with pools of standing water, but nothing was flowing. Once you pass the David Miller Trail Junction, you descend to the canyon floor where the high desert is quickly morphed into a Ponderosa pine forest. The canopy blocks the sun and invites a much cooler temperature. There is almost a definitive line where your feet will step from red sandy desert floor to leaf covered damp canyon dirt. There are several creek crossing locations, but they are narrow and rocky. Unfortunately the water had stopped flowing about 2 weeks before we got there, but you could see several spots along the way that would make for some stunning waterfalls. We found an amazing little spot to stop and take a snack break where the sand stone cliffs created an overhang along side a creek. This could be a great spot to camp if you are looking for a shorter hike. From the point the trail begins to climb slightly and there are a few parts with short 30-100 foot sections that rise steeply, reminding your legs that you are in fact carrying a heavy load. There are a couple areas past the 4 mile mark where some fallen trees block the path, but with a little scrambling we quickly found our way around. We found a perfect spot for camp with a 1500 foot sheer wall overlooking us. After camp was set, we explored the area around us. Wicked Witch and Fall Gal took a break on a giant fallen tree and I discovered a small patch of snow tucked in a small shaded area. After a snowball or two was tossed around, the snow became a place to get our flask of whiskey and wine nice and chilled! The rest of the day was just relaxing and lounging around camp with the exception of the out of control bumble bees. I have never seen a bumble bee act so aggressive, but these things were making their presence known. Kamikaze dive bombs and flybys; one of them actually stung Fall Gal. A small camp fire, some great food, and cold whiskey made for a fun night at camp.

Day 2

The temperature had dropped to somewhere around 35 degrees if I had to guess (I need to get a small thermometer for my pack). I layered up and slipped out of the tent at 4:30, got the fire going, made myself some tea, and sat back to watch the sunrise. This was one of the most beautiful ones I have ever seen. Eventually Melman made Wicked Witch get up and Fall Gal quickly followed. After tea and some breakfast we packed up camp and were ready to roll by 7:30 or so. Even though this was an out and back hike our surroundings were considerably different under the rising sun. The colors were more vibrant and the smell of the warming spring time forest gives you that feeling of being surrounded by fresh air. As we crossed into the high desert we were slammed with sun and higher temperatures. We took a break in a nice camping area right at the David Miller Trail Junction and then hit the final 1.8 miles at a quick pace, beating the afternoon heat that was sure to come. The trail changes frequently from sections of red dirt to sand and then to smoothed small stones. We passed the sign in log, celebrated our completion and began our trek back to reality. Our drive came to a quick pause when the highway was shut down due to a vehicle fire. After about 20 minutes, we were debating unpacking our gear and taking a nap; traffic slowly started to move. It turns out it was a semi truck full of potatoes that had caught fire. Baked potatoes anyone?! The entire drive home was filled with thoughts of turning around and going back, as none of us wanted to face the following Monday and getting back to the grind of day to day life.

Watch our slideshow with more pictures here, and be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel!

A time lapse of setting up camp

You can check out some 360 degree panoramic views of Secret Canyon by clicking the links below:


7 thoughts on “Trip Report: Secret Canyon, Sedona AZ

  1. Enjoyed the TR and pics, time lapse, pano, etc. The colors and textures of that area are amazing. Will we read a few words from WWW? It would be interesting to get her perspective.

  2. hi – trying to plan a few december days in sedona, backpacking/no car/camping/hiking and want a few days of challenging and beautiful hikes – do you have a campsite you recommend that has access to a bunch of great trailheads, or a route?

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