Cattle, Ho! Along Woods Canyon

February 09, 2024

By Art Hicks

An unexpected cattle drive surprised the Amblers hiking group on the Woods Canyon trail.

During the first week of January, the Amblers group of the Sedona Westerners Hiking Club took a trip to Woods Canyon.  The Amblers have a number of hikes each season that aren't break-neck speed, and don't have too many sketchy ledges and chutes so Woods Canyon, an in-and-out hike with a moderate overall incline, is an Amblers favorite. The trailhead is located just off the generously sized Red Rock District Ranger Station parking lot on Hwy 179, so there's virtually never a problem securing parking for that hike, year-round.  

The length of the hike basically depends on when folks want to turn back. Our plan was to hike about 2.5 miles in, and then retrace our steps back to the parking lot. The day of this hike was cool, but not unpleasant, and sleeves were rolled up with outer layers shed relatively early. 

While we have frequently seen animal droppings along the trail, it is rare to see any wildlife – let alone cattle - near the trail. There are, however, three cattle gates that we have to maneuver on the trail. The first is at the trailhead. On this January hike there were a large quantity of droppings just inside that first gate - hinting of further encounters to come.

The Woods Canyon trail has several creek crossings, with the first being soon after the first cattle gate. Water flowed through the creek, but fortunately there were plenty of exposed rocks to allow for a smooth crossing. The subsequent washes were largely dry, though full of rocks to negotiate.  

About a half mile past the second cattle gate, we saw a few cows off in the brush that clearly wanted to keep a low profile around the hikers.  We continued on. Then someone called out, “Cows Coming,” much to our amusement. Actual cows! 

We were confronted with a group of cows being herded by two or more cowboys and a cattle dog of some sort. The brush there was dense, and the cows chose to be near the trail, but surrounded by brush, so we couldn't get a good look or count. One of the cowboys yelled out to us, “Keep going and stay away from the cows.”  We did as instructed.

After that bovine adventure, we moved along to the final cattle gate, which is a sketchy barbed wire gadget that usually needs at least two of us to get it open and then closed again. We made sure to close it behind us.

From that point on we were back to standard Amblers hiking, with no further large ranch animals. People had resumed their hiking chats and there was much scenery to enjoy, and plants to check out. Our lunch spot was on the side of the big wash, but there was not visible water at that time, just boulders. There weren't a lot of other animals to be directly observed along that trail during winter, although there were a fair number of birds about. We also spotted fresh coyote and javelina droppings, so they were around, but minding their own business. 

There were very few other hikers out that day, but we did encounter two trail maintenance workers on their way out along the trail, and as always, we thanked them for their good work. On our way back to the parking, we opened and closed the three cattle gates with care – knowing full well why they're needed for the Woods Canyon trail. The hike clocked in at 5.2 miles with a 250-foot cumulative gain, which is fine for an Ambler hike.

The Sedona Westerners have hikes every week from September to May for just about every ability. The cost to join is only $30 a year, and all are welcome… even short-term visitors to the region. Our website,, has all the hikes listed, our history, and a handy signup link. We invite you to start your adventures in the Red Rocks with us today.

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