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Sandy’s Canyon and Walnut Canyon Hike

One of the great things about being back in Arizona are all of the wonderful outdoor activities it has to offer, and I can stay dry while doing them.

About three miles south of Flagstaff, down Lake Mary Road, is the Sandy’s Canyon trailhead at the back of Canyon Vista Campgrounds that leads to the Arizona Trail and into Walnut Canyon. If you look on a map, the campground exit is just north of Upper Lake Mary. So, when driving south down Lake Mary Rd and you hit Lake Mary, you’ve gone too far. It’s approximately a two-hour and twenty-five minute drive, give or take.

My good friend, Chris, and my trusty companion, Mr. Eko, left for this trailhead from Phoenix very early in the morning so as to hike while it was still cool. Any physical activity in Arizona past 10am is surely a miserable experience. Our only saving grace past the 10am point was that we were near Flagstaff, a higher, cooler elevation, which made this god-awful heat bearable.

This was definitely just a day hike. We only packed light snacks and some extra water (other than the Camelbacks) for the dog. It was nothing vigorous. No steep inclines. Just a well-traveled trail to follow, flat through the canyon. And the best part, the whole reason we picked this trail, is that it was rated as an off-leash trail. Mr. Eko could run freely and explore to his big, friendly heart’s content.

He had a few run-ins with a couple of dogs on the trail, and stood his ground and barked at an old couple, but that’s just because he’s been overly defensive since he was taken from the only family and home he’s ever known, and I’m the only one left he really knows. So when he came into contact with an old couple who immediately backed away from him and held up their staffs in defense, naturally, he barked at them. Or, he smelled death on them. Because they were old. The point is, it’s an off-leash trail and people would not be bringing their dogs out there if they were not safe.

The trail starts at the top of these canyons. If you continue straight you will go to a cliff face that is popular with rock climbers. If you veer left, you will follow the crest of the canyon for a few hundred feet that offers a beautiful view of what looks like a boulder graveyard. The trail then leads down into the canyon.

A little over a mile from the bottom, there is a fork in the trails and a large cave (or rock overhang) at the base of a canyon wall. From here, the trail left continues on with the Arizona Trail that leads back to Flagstaff. The trail that leads right goes deeper into Walnut Canyon where the canyons are narrower and the brush thicker.

About a half mile into the Walnut Canyon trail from that point at the cave, there is another cave that can be easily missed if you’re not paying attention. From eye level, there’s a lot of brush covering the entrance to this other cave, but there’s a worn trail leading up to it. This cave is much narrower and deeper. Not to worry. It was completely safe. It’s about 100 yards in length and there is room to stand. There are only a couple of points where we had to take off our packs and crawl on our hands and knees to get through. It was also very dark. Luckily, Chris had a flashlight. Mr. Eko got through with no problems. The exit to the cave is very small and it is almost as if there are steps leading out. You will end up on the same trail. It’s just a cool way to get off the beaten path.

We followed the Walnut Canyon trail for another mile before we decided to turn around. If we had kept following it, we would have ended up at the Walnut Canyon National Monument. And after seeing some of the photos, I wish we had kept going. That will have to be for next time.

After our dehydrating hike, we drove into old Flagstaff for a bite to eat. We found a little place called NiMarco’s Pizza, and it was great, because they allowed dogs to sit out on the patio with their owners. Read my Yelp review HERE!

6 thoughts on “Sandy’s Canyon and Walnut Canyon Hike

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