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Secret Canyon - Sedona

Summary: The hike travels through a nice red rock canyon in the Sedona Secret Mountain Wilderness and can be done as either an out and back hike from the bottom or as a through hike using a long car shuttle. For either hike you'll need a Red Rock Pass to park, which costs $5 and is available at one of the many kiosks in the area (look for signs).
Directions: Lower Trailhead: From Phoenix take I-17 north, to exit 278 onto Highway 179. Turn left off the exit ramp and drive west into Sedona.  At the 'T' intersection, turn left onto Highway 89A. After a few miles, turn right at the light onto Dry Creek Rd and drive 2 miles to a right turn onto the unpaved Forest Road #152 at the sign for Vultee Arch (quite bumpy).  Drive another 3.4 miles to the signed Secret Canyon parking area on the left hand side.
Upper Trailhead (from Flagstaff): From Phoenix, take I-17 north to Flagstaff. Head west on I-40 to the first exit (Flagstaff Ranch Road, exit 192). Turn left at the bottom of the exit ramp, drive a short distance to a 'T' intersection and turn left. After a couple miles you'll come to a stop sign, turn right onto Woody Mountain Road (Forest Road #231) which becomes a well graded dirt road shortly thereafter. Drive for 13 miles then turn right on FR #538. Another 5.5 miles will bring you to an intersection and sign pointing right for Dorsey Spring Trail (1 mile), Kelsey Spring Trail (2 miles). Turn left and remain on FR #538 until it ends at the Secret Mountain Trailhead.
Upper Trailhead (from Lower Trailhead): If you are already in Sedona spotting a car at the lower trailhead, these directions will cut off some of the driving distance in spotting a vehicle at the upper trailhead. From Sedona drive north through Oak Creek Canyon on Highway 89A. After climbing the switchbacks out of Oak Creek, keep an eye out for FR #535 on the left and zero your odometer (if you hit the bridge over Fry Canyon, you've gone too far). At an intersection at the 5 mile point, stay right on FR #535 (do not go towards Harding Point). At the 5.7 mile point, stay straight (do not go left into the big field), the road becomes rougher at this point and soon enters a big farm field criss-crossed with multiple dirt tracks. Stay straight as you travel through the field and drive past an old corral. At the 8 mile mark, you'll pass FR #535C which enters from the right and after 10.3 miles you'll reach a 'T' junction with FR #231. Turn left on FR #231. Drive for a few miles and turn right onto FR #538. Another 5.5 miles will bring you to an intersection and sign pointing right for Dorsey Spring Trail (1 mile), Kelsey Spring Trail (2 miles). Turn left and remain on FR #538 until it ends at the Secret Mountain Trailhead.
Road Conditions: High Clearance Vehicle
Navigation: Easy
Length: For an out and back hike you can turn around any time you feel like it. The through hike is about 11 miles in length.
Date Hiked: January 2000 and May 2004
Weather Conditions: January: cold and snowy in the canyon.
May: nice in the canyon, hot in the sun
Required Skills: None
Hike Description: Out and back hike from the lower trialhead: A trail exists for the first 5.5 miles of this hike, then you simply follow the canyon up stream.  From the trailhead, follow the trail through a manzanita covered area for 0.6 miles to a junction with the HS Canyon Trail, continue straight on the Secret Canyon Trail.  Eventually you will enter the canyon where the trail follows the stream bed on one side or the other.   After 5.5 miles the trail fades away and you are left to hike up the stream bed.   There is some scrambling and climbing required to get around a few dry falls, there are also some nice narrows the further up you go.  Return the way you came.
Through hike with a car shuttle:
From the Secret Mountain Trailhead, walk east off the ridge down the steep and loose dirt slope down to the bottom of Secret Canyon. Take care on the descent, the leaves and dirt make for unstable footing. Once in the canyon bottom, turn right (south) and begin rock hopping down the dry, rocky streambed. In a few minutes you will come to a few small drop offs in the Coconino sandstone. The author did not find them difficult to descend. After a few short sections of unexceptional narrows, the canyon widens with the only real obstacle being the many downed, dead trees that have fallen across the watercourse. When you reach the red Supai sandstone, some short narrows and pools appear. You can probably keep your feet dry by climbing or jumping from rock to rock. Lower in the Supai a longer section of narrows appears. There is a faint use trail on canyon left (the left side of the canyon when facing down stream) that bypasses this section. Though you may wish to climb down into the narrows since there are some good photo opportunities. Below the narrows vegetation becomes more prominent and you'll be forced to do some bushwhacking. After some thrashing through the brush, look for cairns and use trails which will allow you to bypass the canyon bottom. As you continue down stream the trail becomes more prominent as it travels along a bench on one side of the canyon or the other, allowing you to make good time. Eventually the path winds it's way through the open and sunny oak and juniper bench and all that remains between you and the Secret Canyon Trailhead is a hot and dusty slog. 
Rating (1-5 stars):
There was quite a bit of snow and ice in the canyon when the author and his wife first performed this hike in January.  The cold weather everybody but the helicopters away (you can count on a low fly by approximately once every 20 minutes), otherwise we had the place to ourselves.  As you hike further upstream there are some nice (if short) narrows. The author hiked upstream for 3 3/4 hours & back for a total hike time of 7 1/2 hours. The author returned at a later date and hiked the length of the canyon from the Secret Mountain trailhead at a quick pace in just over 6 hours.
Maps: Bear Tooth Maps: Sedona
Books: 'Canyoneering Arizona', Tyler Williams
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.
Typical view in
the canyon.
View in one of the short
sections of narrows.