An ancient Sinaguan ruin overlooks
the lush panorama of Loy Canyon.
© Larry Lindahl
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Editor's Note click to expand
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Loy Canyon TrailDepending on who you’re with, this just might be the most perfect hike in Arizona.
By Leah Duran
Sedona's Loy Canyon Trail borrows its name from the Samuel Loy family, who used this 5-mile path during the 1880s to transport cattle. These days, you won't see cattle, but you might spot deer darting between the junipers and roadrunners scuttling across the entrance to the trailhead, a red-dirt road that mirrors the burnished ruby sandstone cliffs. The mild, meandering ascent to the top is well-rewarded by fantastic views of the Red Rock/Secret Mountain Wilderness.
The first half-mile follows the edge of Hancock Ranch, bordered on the left by barbed wire and gnarled juniper posts. The copper bark of nearby manzanita mimics the rust coloring of this historic fence. Follow the path as it dips gently and crosses into velvet sand that glints golden. You might think you're at the beach, save for the canyon walls rising out of the tree cover to the left. Water's influence in this arid area takes the form of dry, rocky creek beds that crisscross the first few miles of the trail.
After 20 minutes, you'll see a gigantic ponderosa pine, a sure sign that the sun-dappled path is gradually climbing to higher elevations. Crunch through pine cones to Alligator Alley, where the colorful purple-blue berries of alligator juniper trees litter the ground. To the left, just past a stone wall, plum-hued prickly pears grow out of a fallen log. Did the tree make a noise when it fell? Birds claim the only sound, as this route is mostly vacant even on a Saturday. Pause to listen to their songs and shake the sand out of your shoes.
Pass next through a 6-foot-high manzanita grove, followed by an open area. Here, lizards scamper across mint-green lichen amid a graveyard of disintegrated white rocks and dead tree limbs. The standing remnants of wood — sculptures of history — are as impressive as their healthy neighbors. Sweet scents of fresh pine needles permeate the trail as the scenery moves from cactuses to stands of tall, thin pines interspaced by fluffy grasses.
Enjoy this cool, breezy pathway before it ends abruptly in steep switchbacks at about the 4-mile mark. You can start complaining, but you might want to save your breath, because the trail climbs 1,000 feet in the next mile. The forested zigzag bursts into exposed sandstone steps. A quick, 10-minute ascent reveals green robes covering red-rock peaks that stretch to the cerulean sky.
As you continue up the outcrop, be wary of prickly overgrowth and stray barbed wire. Squeeze carefully though the narrow pass until you reach a shady saddle between two trails: Loy Canyon and Secret Mountain. This is the two-and-a-half-hour mark, and a possible turnaround point. But you've made it this far, so why not push up the last ridge? Look for the wooden sign for Loy Canyon and continue several hundred yards to a clearing of ponderosas surrounded by a carpet of soft needles.
The hike may not end with the typical panoramic view, but it does offer the perfect place for a picnic — or a relaxing nap — before climbing back down. The entrance sign to Hancock Ranch near the beginning of the hike encourages visitors to "Walk in Beauty." Take a hike on Loy Canyon Trail, and you'll do just that.
Trail Guideclick to expand
Length: 10 miles round-trip
Elevation: 4,720 to 6,400 feet
Directions: From Sedona, go south on State Route 89A for 5 miles to Forest Road 525. Turn north (right) on FR 525 and continue 9.3 miles to the trailhead.
Information: 928-282-4119 or www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino
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