Sedona, AZ: West Clear Creek

Rock-hop and wade your way down a wild sandstone corridor.
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Rock-hop and wade your way down a wild sandstone corridor.

You’ll get wet on this hike through a rugged gorge cut in Coconino sandstone, but that’s the point (and the payoff when Arizona temps soar). The 9.4-miler is also a great intro to non-technical canyoneering. But don’t let the distance deceive you: Numerous creek crossings and a bit of bushwhacking make this point-to-point a rough haul.

At the left side of the parking area at the end of FR 142E, locate an unsigned trail that descends steeply north to West Clear Creek. When you reach the mellow trickle in .3 mile, drop gear on a sandy bench in this 125-foot wide section of the canyon, grab dayhike essentials, and head upstream (east). In 100 yards, wander into a side canyon on your right that boasts a 200-foot pour-off (usually dry). A Sinagua Indian petroglyph panel lies less than two miles farther up the main canyon on a prominent use path on the north side, between cairns for the Tramway and Maxwell Trails.

After admiring the art, retrieve your pack and head downstream. Dense stands of alder and willow make travel tricky, as do slippery, algae-covered rocks; to speed progress, look for sporadic stretches of trail. Water levels vary throughout the canyon, from ankle-deep to 10 feet. A little more than a mile from where you entered the canyon, a 40-foot rock spire on the north side is your cue to start scanning upper banks for trails to fire rings among the ponderosa pines.

Next day, point your feet downstream. As the canyon widens, vegetation grows thicker. Avoid the densest stuff by veering right toward a faint, mile-long path. Look for your exit up Calloway Butte Trail #33, marked by a large sandstone cairn on your left (west) and a switchbacking path ascending from water level, 4.7 miles from where you entered the canyon. Climb the unmaintained trail up 550 feet to the canyon rim. Crest the canyon lip and head to your car.

Gear up: Canyon Outfitters, 2701 West State Route 89A, Sedona, AZ. (928) 282-5293

Maps: USGS quads Calloway Butte, Buckhorn Mountain, and Walker Mountain ($8 each, store.usgs.gov)

Season: May/June and late August through October (July through September has higher risk of flash floods)

-Mapped by Todd Martin, author of Arizona Technical Canyoneering

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 15.2

Waypoints

WCC001

Location: 34.545745, -111.433548

At the left side of the parking area at the end of FR 142E, find an unsigned trail that descends steeply north to West Clear Creek.

WCC002

Location: 34.549726, -111.434708

Reach the canyon bottom in .3 mile, drop gear on a sandy bench in this 125-foot wide section of the canyon, and head east upstream.

WCC003

Location: 34.54943, -111.433768

After 100 yards you'll reach a side canyon on your right that boasts a 200-foot waterfall (usually dry). Backtrack to WWC003 and continue hiking east.

WCC004

Location: 34.555063, -111.422417

Pass the Tramway Trail on the left (north side of the canyon). Watch for Sinagua Indian petroglyph panels.

WCC005

Location: 34.555487, -111.410143

After admiring the art, retrieve your pack and head back west where Maxwell Trail enters the canyon.

WCC006

Location: 34.556102, -111.439515

Just over a mile from where you entered the canyon, a 40-foot rock spire on the north side is your cue to start scanning upper banks for trails to fire rings among the ponderosa pines.

WCC007

Location: 34.557046, -111.44291

The trail constantly crisscrosses West Clear Creek. Don't bother trying to keep your feet dry, even through the relatively open reaches in the canyons upper section.

WCC008

Location: 34.55998, -111.457935

Pass Wilbur Canyon on your left (south). Continue following West Clear Creek Canyon.

WCC009

Location: 34.559958, -111.475589

Look for your exit up Calloway Butte Trail #33 (7), marked by a large sandstone cairn to your west and a switchbacking path ascending from water level. Climb the unmaintained trail up 550 feet to the canyon rim.

WCC010

Location: 34.555662, -111.476268

Crest the canyon lip and head to your car.