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Woods Canyon - Sedona, AZ

Guide 15 Triplogs  1 Active Topic
  4.6 of 5 
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Canyons are inherently risky. Flash floods occur without notice on sunny days. Technical skills & surrounding topography knowledge required yet does not eliminate risk.
HAZ reminds you to respect the ruins. Please read the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 & Ruins Etiquette
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Difficulty 5 of 5
Route Finding 3 of 5
Distance One Way 14 miles
Trailhead Elevation 6,360 feet
Elevation Gain -2,485 feet
Avg Time One Way 9 - 12 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 18.14
Interest Off-Trail Hiking, Ruins, Seasonal Waterfall & Seasonal Creek
Backpack Possible - Not Popular
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32  2010-09-05
Woods Canyon - Upper
69  2010-05-17
Woods Canyon - Upper
10  2007-06-23 joebartels
21  2004-04-20 Lizard
17  2003-06-21 pfredricks
10  2003-06-21 arizonaheat
30  2003-06-21 joebartels
Author joebartels
author avatar Guides 242
Routes 836
Photos 12,083
Trips 4,883 map ( 24,926 miles )
Age 51 Male Gender
Location Phoenix, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   May, Jun, Sep, Oct → 5 AM
Seasons   Spring to Autumn
Sun  5:32am - 7:33pm
Official Route
1 Alternative
Historic Fire Perimetersacres
🔥 2018 Bristow Fire3.9k
🔥 2006 La Barranca Fire7.6 mi*
🔥 View All over Official Route 🔥
*perimeter length in miles

I call it my own
by joebartels

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Woods Canyon spans over 20 miles from end to end. According to USGS topographical maps, it originates somewhere between Fair & Gash Mountain or possibly Brollier Park. The most exciting part is where it rips into mother earth near 1-17 then heads down towards the Village of Oak Creek. In planning a full canyon hike, it's critical to know the facts. What you see isn't what you get. As mentioned, this canyon becomes noticeable at I-17, just after mile marker 316. A bridge spans what looks to be the origins. This isn't the whole story. Woods Canyon has a 6-7 mile head before even crossing I-17. With maps, I estimate 50-60 square miles of land drains into Woods Canyon before crossing I-17. The point being there's enough landmass to create a serious catastrophe in the narrows. I could have just forewarned, but I wanted you to know firsthand what the warning is all about. If you sprain an ankle in the wrong place and time on this hike, you are dead.

This is part of a 3 set series. See the table down below text.

On the table, I've noted my rating for each hike. Upper Woods is without a doubt the attraction. You may ask why even consider a full canyon excursion. For starters, you conquer what few have ever accomplished. It's the logical way to see the Indian ruins. Tag on the fact it's not much easier by just doing the upper as an out-n-back.

See Woods Canyon (Upper) for the beginning of this hike.

I pick up at the scramble & the Supai pool that requires a jump. Since there may be unseen boulders just below the surface, jumping isn't wise. Keep in mind a flood may wash boulders in the pool. Therefore forget it when somebody reports it's okay. Choose wisely and scramble the left bank. A sketchy use-trail leads the way through desert vegetation.

Soon you're back down on the canyon floor. I don't believe others share my enthusiasm, but the next 0.8 mile is my favorite! Welcome to the motherload of quality curvaceous Grade-A Sedona-Supai Red-Rock. The "cow pies" of Mitten Ridge are bigger, but they don't hold strength when it comes to curves!

Nothing compares to the waves before the scramble but you won't be disappointed! The sandstone floor loses direction. It's blobbed like slow-melting swiss cheese. Followed shortly by the coconino dunes, a thin layer of Coconino capping the Supai! This leads to a slight crescent pool that's been fighting a curve in the canyon for millions of years. The canyon is winning by a ledge! As noted the pool digs deeper and away from the wall. Swimming would be an honor in this beauty, but it is possible to skirt the edge.

Further down comes a site that is rarely seen. The Sinaguan Indian ruins of Woods Canyon! Spectacular is an understatement for these 800-year-old dwellings. The ruins themselves are small. The setting is a Supai dream right down to the dryfall adjacent left.

You may be thinking of doing an "upper out-n-back" to the ruins. It's possible. It's also possible you'll cramp up so hard on the return you'll never see the next day of your life.

Another bend, another perk, dang Woods packs a punch! Imagine a 300 ft slab of crisp jewelers-cut Coconino Sandstone that'll give Long Canyon a run for its money. Dreams come true in Woods!

If you've made it this far, you're more or less committed to the "full canyon offering" for a day hike. Now for the bad news, the perks, for the most part, are behind you. Next come miles and miles of mini boulders. I'm serious, OVER five miles of mini boulder hopping. You'll swear it never ends. Red Rock Beach, as mentioned in "Woods Canyon (Lower)", is your focus and goal for the next few hours of your life. Once there, you can't miss the trail leading you out of the canyon and home. But we aren't there yet!

Push hard for a couple of hours, and it'll pass quickly. Think about the calves of steel you'll be flaunting next week! Hope arrives with the Supai Freeway. Keep an eye out for Sinaguan Semis with faulty brakes. You may want to stop at the Red Rock Lounge. However, I'd push on past another stretch of boulders which are simply large stones at this point. Better known as ankle busters since your body outweighs the rock. Pass up Red Palette Beach too. Then take a breather at the etched slab. Here you'll find pools deeper & clearer than the previous. It's a great spot to cool off and water up. Tackle another good size stretch of ultra-mini boulders. Keep an eye out on the right bank for cairns. If you're lucky, you'll catch a 1.5-mile trail that high banks the right/west side to Red Rock Beach. The trail goes up at a reasonable slant. Suppose you miss the trail, scratch out 5 miles of boulders and write in 6.5 miles. Not to mention the canyon gets densely populated with sycamores to slow things up. From Red Rock Beach, it's only 3.4 miles home. By the way, don't get excited about Red Rock Beach itself; it's popular from the lower end only because it's the first appearance of ledged Supai.

See Woods Canyon (Lower) for the remainder of this hike.

For the record, we started this hike in 43-degree weather in late June. The first pool was 59 degrees. I believe the second usually runs 5-8 degrees cooler, but I didn't check this time. I wouldn't recommend bringing a dog in as there's very little solid ground. Camping options are plentiful throughout, but it simply isn't wise. According to statistics, a big storm hits this area nearly every three years. These are freak storms folks, not forecasted.

Thanks to Pfredricks, ArizonaHeat & CactusCat for a memorable trek! For now, I rejoice in post-AZventure adrenaline. I imagine in 40-50 years, I'll barely be able to squeak out a trek from the lower trailhead to Red Rock Beach. Guarantee this; the legend will only grow. I'll be babbling about the first time we ran from countless bears and wrestled cougars on route.

RatedHike DescriptionPoint to point describedOne-Way mileage
5Woods Canyon (Upper)Upper trailhead to 1st scramble3.25 miles
4 Woods Canyon1st scramble to Red Rock Beach7.00 miles
3Woods Canyon Trail #93Red Rock Beach to lower trailhead (in reverse)3.40 miles

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your canyon trip to support this local community.

2003-06-23 joebartels
  • wilderness related
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.

Permit $$
Red Rock Pass - may or may not be required. Go to Red Rock Pass then check "When is a Red Rock Pass Required?". If you have questions contact the Coconino forest service.

Map Drive
Info is below 'Directions to trail'

To Upper Woods Canyon (arbitrary/unofficial) Trailhead
From Phoenix head north on I-17. Take off on exit 315. Go under the highway west and pick up FR#80. Go right (north) on FR#80 and follow to it's end. (at the one fork, stay right)

The road is best suited for high clearance vehicles. When it gets muddy 4x4 is a must and at times not even negotiable. The area is closed to vehicular travel from Dec 15th to Apr 1st as it's a designated "Quiet Area".

From PHX (I-10 & AZ-51) 125 mi - about 2 hours 1 min
From TUC (Jct 1-10 & Grant) 230 mi - about 3 hours 38 mins
From FLG (Jct I-17 & I-40) 27.2 mi - about 31 mins
(Trailhead is generic)
90+° 8am - 6pm kills
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