Rustlers Enjoy the Solitude of the Long Canyon Trail

April 19, 2024


By Sara Stiffler

The three columns of red rock clustered together are known as The Three Sisters, as seen from the Long Canyon Trail.

Spring was in the air. The Manzanita trees were flowering. And Sedona was in the throes of the Spring Break deluge. Even as we started our hike at 8:45 am, the parking spaces off Long Canyon Road were already filling up. But the Rustlers group of the Sedona Westerners were able to find parking by “the puddle” and we gathered for our 5-mile out-and-back hike up Long Canyon. Led by Deb Hicks, with Jon Petrescu and Tom Peterson taking turns tailgating, we were on our way.

The morning had started out surprisingly cooler than expected, but we were soon glad to be free of our winter coats and gloves for once. The sun was hiding behind the clouds. A cold front was on its way with high winds and the potential for rainfall, but luckily, we were ahead of the storm. The white translucent clouds let patches of pale, blue sky filter through, and we were able to warm up quickly as we hiked.

The Long Canyon Trail is a relatively flat trail, by Sedona standards, with less than 500 feet elevation gain. The path is wide in places, allowing for the hikers to walk side-by-side in conversation, and is lined with straggly brush, cats claw, Manzanitas, cypress trees, and the occasional Ponderosa Pine.  A dry streambed parallels the trail. Sand covers the path in places, a reminder this whole area was once under a sea of water.

We passed the Seven Canyons Golf Club and the turn-off for the Birthing Cave. A number of tourists had missed the junction and were enjoying the beauty of the canyon instead. Soon, the trail began to narrow as the canyon began to wrap around us.

There were numerous ornate red rock formations above us to the north, including the Ice Cream Cone and the Three Sisters, a cluster of three columns of red rock huddled closely together. Above that a cliff of pale sandstone provided a dramatic contrast to the red rocks and the green of the forest below.

Winter storms must have played havoc with several of the trees along the trail. We took our time as we climbed over the trunk of a large, downed tree. Sawed-off branches and limbs were piled nearby, so it was clear the Forest Service was working on removing the tree. As with most of Sedona’s trails, the Long Canyon trail is riddled with rocks and tree roots, which make it necessary to watch your step carefully. There was one large stone off the side of the trail that soon started a conversation. The stone has a crack between two rounded cheeks giving it an entertaining nickname. I’ll let you guess what it is.

As the canyon narrowed and the trail met the streambed we found a nice spot for our snack break – which also served as our turnaround point. The trail itself continued on another mile, but we had reached our halfway point. It was time to head back.

This was one of those hikes where conversations flowed easily among the hikers, and I was able to visit with most of the hikers. One woman shared that this was her first hike with the Westerners and we gave her a warm welcome. We always encourage anyone interested in hiking with a group to consider joining the Sedona Westerners. The Westerners hiking groups offer the opportunity to meet new people and make new friends.  The hiking season runs through May 9th, and we still have about seventeen scheduled hikes left in the season, including a field trip and hike to the Grand Canyon with the Amblers group on April 25, and a couple of hikes in Flagstaff. For more challenging hikes, you can join the Mustangs at Fisher Point or the Dogies at Brins Ridge. The Westerners have hikes for all levels of skill. Check out the remaining schedule at www.sedonawesterners.org. The $30 membership fee includes all of the hikes and even the end-of-season picnic. 

When we passed Seven Canyons again, my mind started to muse on what the seven canyons were. Long Canyon, of course. Boynton Canyon and Fay Canyon are popular hikes nearby. In looking at my trail map at home, I saw there are indeed seven canyons in the Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness (HS, Secret, Bear Sign, and Sterling Canyons make up the rest). But it doesn’t end there. There are about a dozen more named canyons in the area, not the least of which is Oak Creek Canyon. Sedona is a land of canyons to be sure.

As we reached our cars, a chorus of “Great hike,” and “Have a great weekend,” was exchanged among the hikers. The roadway along Long Canyon Road was lined with parked cars. As we passed the Mescal parking lot, I could only imagine how busy the trails to Devil’s Bridge and the Birthing Cave must be. The roadside along Dry Creek Canyon Road was also crowded with cars and hikers setting out for or returning from the trails. In contrast, on our trek there had been long stretches where we hadn’t seen any other hikers, which gave us the feeling that we had the Long Canyon trail (mostly) to ourselves. 

Sedona is truly a hiker’s paradise with such wonderful and scenic options to choose from – many away from the crowds. I am thankful to be a member of the Sedona Westerners and that we get to share these trails together.

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