So you plan to do some hiking in Sedona, and want to know where some of the best canyons are? Lucky for you, there is no shortage of canyon trails in this hiking mecca, but in order to make the most of your experience, you will want to consider which canyons you choose, and make sure that you plan accordingly. I’m here to tell you why you should be hiking the Fay Canyon Trail in Sedona!
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Guide to the Fay Canyon Trail in Sedona
If you have checked out any famous Instagrams from Sedona recently, you are bound to see some of the big name hikes and iconic snapshots from famous trails, like the Devil’s Bridge or Cathedral Rock, and while those spots may look irresistible, I’m writing to tell you why you should check out the Fay Canyon hike as an underrated alternative!
First off, all you have to do is Google to see the same trail recommendations pop up for Sedona. Yes, getting your picture taken on the Devil’s Bridge is stunning. But here is what they don’t tell you. You may have to wait in line for an hour to take that picture. Good luck trying to wrangle children for that amount of time if you brought them along! That hour long wait – that may come on top of the time it takes you just to find a parking spot. If you are trying to reach the Devil’s Bridge on a peak weekend, just count on having to take the shuttle. If all this sounds a little overwhelming, and you are thinking to yourself “surely there are some other underrated gems in Sedona”, then you and I share the same approach to Sedona hiking! Which brings me to the Fay Canyon Trail!
The Fay Canyon Trail has everything you are looking for in Sedona! Dazzling red rock, panoramic views, scenic hiking amongst towering cliffs, and epic spots for that unforgettable snapshot! Plus, it is a great family friendly hike for adults and kids alike due to the shorter distance and ease of terrain. But it is not too easy – there are some optional parts that will challenge those up for it! And if that’s not enough, here is why I recommend the Fay Canyon hike if you are in Sedona – there are less people, less congestion, and you stand a much better chance of actually snagging a parking spot upon arrival. To put it in context, just a few months back, I snagged a parking spot upon arrival, mid-morning, on a weekend during spring break! If that got your attention, and it should, then continue reading up on this unicorn of hikes in Sedona!
Quick Facts on the Fay Canyon Trail in Sedona
Here are a few general facts about the Fay Canyon hike:
Location: The Fay Canyon Trail is located in Sedona, Arizona, in Coconino National Forest, and the trailhead is located off of Boynton Pass Road.
***If you are using Google Maps, all of the following will show up on the map if you plug them in:
- “Fay Canyon Trail Parking”
- “Fay Canyon Trailhead”
- “Fay Canyon”
The Fay Canyon Trail in Sedona, Arizona
Length: 2.3 miles out and back roundtrip
Elevation: 4,500 feet
Elevation Gain: 193 feet
Rating: Moderate – mostly due to the climb up to the arch
Parking: there is a parking lot directly across from the trailhead, plus ample street parking available. Worst case – you can take the free shuttle. You can get more information on accessing the free shuttle HERE.
Facilities: there is a bathroom in the parking lot across from the trailhead. On peak weekends, expect longer lines.
Dog Friendly: Yes – dogs must be leashed
Estimated Time to Hike: 1 hour – give or take depending on how long you spend on the arch
Best Time to Hike: the Fay Canyon Trail can be hiked year round, but the ideal times are spring and fall, due to the temperature extremes you can expect in summer and winter. In spring especially, the emerging greenery clashes in a stunning way against the red rock canyon walls!
Kid Friendly: Yes – except for the final ascent or the side trail to the Fay Canyon Arch. While the views are stunning on both, you may want to leave young children at the bottom.
Full Trail Report on Hiking Fay Canyon
This trail report will cover everything you should expect when hiking the Fay Canyon Trail.
Fay Canyon Trailhead
The trailhead for Fay Canyon is located on Boynton Pass Road in Sedona, Arizona. This road is also the access point to many other local, popular hikes in the area, so expect a decent amount of traffic. You will find the trailhead immediately across from the parking lot and bathroom facilities. This means that if you park in the parking lot, you will need to walk across the road to find the trailhead and start of the hike. As an additional note, “Fay Canyon Trailhead” will show up if you plug it into Google Maps.
The Fay Canyon Hike
The Fay Canyon Trail almost immediately delves into shady foliage from the onset, a surprising twist for a canyon hike! In fact, most of this hike will be spent underneath peaceful forest canopy. The first “landmark” you should pass is the sign for the “Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness in Coconino National Forest”. Along the way, you will catch glimpses of the red rock canyon walls peaking through the trees, as they envelop and converge around you. This hike is also a great way to witness the native cacti and shrubbery that exists in this ecosystem. The Fay Canyon Trail is consistently flat and well maintained, with only some minor patches of rockiness as the trail does cross some old, dry creek beds. Because it is a canyon floor hike, expect some standard “sandy-ness” along the path. There is only 193 feet of elevation gain, mostly coming at the end of the trail.
Fay Canyon Arch Trail
About halfway into the hike in (about 0.5 miles in), there is a tiny spur trail off to the right that goes to the Fay Canyon Arch. Here are a few quick facts on this side trail, referred to as the Fay Canyon Arch Trail:
Length: 0.2 miles
There is no sign for the spur trail to Fay Canyon Arch, just a small path that resembles a deer path, so you will have to keep your eyes peeled. Remember, if you are heading in on the main trail, the spur trail to Fay Canyon Arch will be on the right hand side. It also helps to have GPS or a downloaded map from a hiking app like AllTrails, to keep track of your mileage. If you go further than .5 miles into the hike, you have gone too far and need to backtrack to find the spur trail for the Fay Canyon Arch Trail. This little side hike and surprise arch with its impressive 130 foot width is a great addition to hiking Fay Canyon, but just know that there is a bit of scrambling involved, so best for adults and older children.
The “Finale” of the Fay Canyon Trail
Continuing on, you will hike a little more than another half mile on the Fay Canyon Trail, before approaching the finale – another suspended lookout high up in the canyon walls! To hike up to this “summit” overlook of Fay Canyon involves more scrambling, approximately 5 to 10 minutes each way. Scrambling up does involve some narrow spots and steep steps, so be sure that you are comfortable before setting off. And be sure that you are wearing appropriate footwear with reliable grip, like my favorite HOKA One One Speedgoats. Please no attempting to scramble up to the lookout in flip flops!
***Insider Tip: before scrambling up, you will reach a sign that states “Trail Ends Here”. Note that you will have to continue on past this sign to find the scramble up to the lookout.
The finale atop this lookout plateau is hard to miss, and you will know when you have arrived! Surrounded on 3 sides by canyon walls and cliffs, you will be greeted with expansive canyon views stretching south towards Sedona, and further on towards the horizon! These are the views that Sedona is known for! And the best part? Like I mentioned earlier, the last time I was at Fay Canyon was a weekend during spring break. When I got to the top of the overlook, it was just me, the other members of my hiking group, and one or two other individuals. We were able to take in the views of the canyon completely unrushed, and we got our snapshots in less than a minute! A perfect hiking experience in Sedona! From the epic views, to the fun scrambling aspects, to the arches and overlooks, to the family friendly vibe, to the less crowded and busy atmosphere, and to the easier logistics, this is why I like to call the Fay Canyon Trail a unicorn among Sedona hiking! It has it all!
Returning to the Fay Canyon Trailhead
Because this is an out and back trail, once you descend the overlook and head back, you will be hiking back on the same trail back out towards the trailhead. If you did not do the side trail to the Fay Canyon Arch on the way in, you can always stop and check it out on the way back!
One final note on hiking the Fay Canyon Trail – right before you finish the hike and reach the trailhead, there are a few small clearings that make for ideal, shady, picnic spots. I always enjoy ending a hike with a little picnic, especially if I’m hiking with my husband, son, or other family members! Whether you are hiking Fay Canyon with others or not, it is always helpful to know there are some spots to stop, catch your breath, and possibly have a little snack before finishing the hike and returning back to your car.
What Gear Do You Need to Hike Fay Canyon?
Because this is a short day hike, most of what you need can fit in a small day pack, or a hydration waistbelt. Here’s what you should bring with you:
- Plenty of Water – even though it is a short hike, always have plenty of water with you, especially if you are hiking during the warmer months! You can use a running hydration belt like this one that transports a water bottle, with plenty of room for small personal items too. Or you could opt for a small daypack like my favorite Osprey Daylite that can carry a hydration bladder, like this Platypus water bladder. Or, another one of my go to’s for transporting water is this Camelbak hydration vest, which can also carry a water bladder, or two small water bottles like these.
- Daypack / Waistbelt / Hydration Vest – as mentioned above, one of the main determinants for what you bring on the Fay Canyon Trail should be how you prefer to carry your water. My favorite options are:
All 3 options above have the ability to carry plenty of water, plus there is room for personal items like your phone, small snacks, and keys, etc. If you are planning on doing more hiking than just the Fay Canyon Trail, I would recommend either the Osprey Daylite pack or the Camelbak hydration vest, as there is more rooms for more day hiking essentials that you will need to bring with you for extended day hiking.
- Footwear – I would recommend a good trail runner for this trail. It is mostly flat, but the cushioning and grip of a trail runner will help you when scaling the scrambling and rocky parts. The best trail runner out there are HOKA One One Speedgoats!
- Performance Socks – nothing can derail a fun hike quicker than blisters. I used to be extremely blister prone until I discovered these Hilly Twin Skin socks. The “twin skin” helps to prevent the friction that can lead to blisters.
- Trekking Poles – not absolutely necessary, but can be helpful for certain parts of this trail. These Black Diamond trekking poles have an unbeatable reputation, and I love this particular model because of the cork handles, which prevent slippage from sweat like some other plastic or rubber handled brands.
- Gaiters – another optional hiking item, but one that may come in handy on the Fay Canyon hike, because of the somewhat sandy nature of this canyon floor trail. Gaiters like these Salomons can help to keep the sand out of your socks and shoes, though I did not personally feel that this was an overwhelming problem along the Fay Canyon Trail.
- Snacks – a few of my day hike favorites include trail mix, beef jerky, peanut butter packets, and energy chews. For an extensive list, check out these top day hiking snacks!
So What’s Next After Sedona?
Arizona is simply a stunning state for hiking! It is hard to narrow down my favorites, but if you have time, here’s a few other hikes I would absolutely recommend checking out while you are in the state!
- The Widforss Trail at Grand Canyon North Rim
- A Rim to Rim Hike or Rim to River Hike in Grand Canyon National Park
- Humphreys Peak in Flagstaff
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