After leaving the Tucson - and Phoenix area with the great adventures in Chiricahua and Saguaro we were now looking forward to our actual final destination of this trip. I had heard a lot about Sedona as a unique hiking area, and with the prospect of the epic hike to Subway Cave, I had no problem getting Pooneh excited about this long trip as well. We had booked three nights at the Verde Ranch RV Resort, which had sites available a little away from the hustle and bustle of Sedona. And it turned out that this was not a mistake, for a reasonable price the place had everything you could wish for besides full hookups, from extremely clean shower houses to laundry machines and other community facilities.
The next morning we set out on time, and it was to be expected that the parking lots for the top hikes would fill up quickly since this time of year is the best hiking weather here in Sedona. So we just had a quick breakfast in the van and then we were off to Sedona, the famous hiker town about 30 miles from our camp.
With still moderate traffic, we didn't stay long in town, and shortly after passing the first houses on the outskirts of Sedona, we headed straight for our destination of the day, Bell Rock. This iconic rock formation lying in close proximity to the city is the destination of countless visitors. The mountain itself gets its name from its distinctive shape, which makes it look like a bell in the surrounding scenery. Since the area around Bell Rock is dotted with countless hiking opportunities, the crowds are relatively well distributed and one can find many quiet spots with wonderful views.
Although we had left early, the Bell Rock North parking lot and also its overflow was already completely full. From this parking lot, you can reach the formation directly in just under 1 mile of walking, and is therefore very popular with short-stay visitors. But we wanted to do a longer hike near Bell Rock anyway, so it didn't bother us to head for a more distant parking lot. The goal for us was first to walk the somewhat longer Bell Rock Loop and then at the end to dare climb to the rock itself.
At first, we had some trouble finding the right way, and this finally led to the fact that we took a wrong turn and ended up doing a much longer lap of about 8 miles than originally planned. First on hiking trails and finally we ended up on bike trails where we met countless mountain bikers. But boy was it worth the effort as we traversed the entire valley and enjoyed beautiful views of the surrounding rock formations.
At the end of this wonderful round, all that remained was the ascent to Bell Rock itself. Up to now, it has been on flat stretches through the valley and the breathtaking landscape, but now we had to continue steeply uphill over slick rock. Since there was no marked path for the ascent, it was up to us to find a passable pass to get from plateau to plateau with as little climbing effort as possible.
The higher we climbed, the more difficult the trail became, and we soon decided not to go to the summit. We just weren't ready for a more challenging climb. However, we made it to one of the top plateaus just below the summit and enjoyed the views of the surrounding mountains during a long break. Now it became clear why this hike is one of the most popular in Sedona since you get a great view of the area.
For today there was only the descent over the way we had come and a short hike back to the van. On the way through Sedona, we made a quick shopping stop to resupply our groceries and then head back to the RV Park. Tomorrow the next highlight of our stay here in Sedona awaited us.
After a delicious barbecue in front of our van, we had a very restful night with all the efforts of the day. However, we needed a little longer in the morning to get up to speed. For this reason, we left the campground later than planned to head for our destination today. We first got back on Interstate 17 and then continued on State Highway179 towards Sedona. This time we had to cross the city to the west and then turn off towards the Boynton Canyon trailhead.
Arrived at the trailhead parking lot, we were shocked to find that now at about 10 o'clock in the morning there was not a single free space left. And even along the state road, vehicle after vehicle lined up on the shoulder. This says everything about how popular this hike is. So we tried our luck along the road and were happy to have found a slightly wider place for our van at the end of the row of cars. The downside was that it added another half mile along the asphalt to our hike.
The parking situation did not dampen our spirits, however, and we were happy to begin our hike through Boynton Canyon to Subway Cave in bright sunshine. Most people, including us, only knew the cave from the adorable photos in Hikers Magazine and from Instagram posts. Therefore, we were very excited to see what would await us and set off in a good mood. After only a short walk we reached breathtaking landscapes and could not get out of the amazement.
While the canyon was initially still wide and a few houses of a resort could be seen along the way, the rock walls moved closer and closer together the further we got on our way. Although there were many hikers, it was never overcrowded and everyone who approached was in a good mood with a smile on their lips.
We made good progress and enjoyed the ever-changing views along the way. The hike was signposted with a length of 2.5 miles oneway and one noticed that many of the tourists equipped with poor footwear turned back after a short time.
At the latest, after the inconspicuous turnoff from the main trail, the path should then lead steeply uphill, partly through dense bushes, and partly opening up with gigantic views of the valley or massive rock faces. At first, we missed the small turnoff that leads to the (Secret) Subway Cave and followed the trail for some time until we met other hikers who were also looking for the cave. Having corrected the mistake, we climbed up the steep path to Subway Cave, passing Cliff Dwellings built into the rocks.
After this strenuous journey, we finally arrived at the entrance of the cave. As expected, many had the same plan as we did and so we had to wait a bit until we could tackle the last, but very challenging, ascent through the narrow shaft into the cave. With this crowd, we were already afraid that we wouldn't be able to enjoy the view and that it would be difficult to take good photos.
We managed the ascent with initial difficulties to get a hold of the narrow smooth rocks, but then after a few attempts, we did very well. And to our surprise and with a little patience, the crowds decreased over time, so that in the end we had this magical place all to ourselves. Wow was that a feeling standing in this spot just the two of us and having the view over the entire valley. We enjoyed the view so much and didn't start our descent again through the pinhole until more view-seekers climbed up to join us at this epic spot.
The Subway Cave was really the highlight of our long trip to Arizona, and in retrospect, they were worth the long drive and the hardships. Well, after climbing back down through the entrance, we took a long break at the base of the cliff. We had brought homemade sandwiches and some drinks, which we enjoyed while taking in the breathtaking view.
After the rest, the descent and the way back to the van went quickly. The 2.5 miles were managed with light steps and always the landscape in view without much effort. It was now late in the afternoon and there were still numerous hikers coming toward us in order to get to the cave. We wondered what it would be like to spend the sunset up there, without considering that the way back would have to be tackled in the dark.
All that remained for us was the drive through this breathtaking landscape back to the camp, where we let the day end with a magical sunset. Our short stay in Sedona was due to end tomorrow and we wanted to start our journey back to Florida early in the morning.