Oak Creek & Baldwin Trail
Sedona owes a lot to Oak Creek. Not only did it carve the magnificent canyon north of town, and provides the water for the natural slides at Slide Rock State Park, it also provides some of the best postcard-perfect scenery in the area. Oak Creek's glassy surface often allows a stunning reflection of nearby Cathedral Rock. At least, that's what you would see if you visited the creek's north side, at Red Rock Crossing State Park. That view comes with a price -- there's an admission fee for the park. Thankfully, if you're willing to give up that iconic Sedona image, the south side of the creek is absolutely free.
To reach the south side of Oak Creek Canyon and the trailhead for Baldwin Trail: from Sedona, take Rte. 179 south to the Village of Oak Creek. Turn left at Verde Valley School Road (just one of the endless series of roundabouts), and follow the road until it ends. Just before the dead end, there's a trailhead on the left. This is the closest place to park to the creek, although the creek is still about 2/10 of a mile away.
From the end of the road, it's fairly easy to walk right down to the edge of the water, and even wade in, if you want.
There's a large area of flat rocks near the water's edge, and chances are, plenty of people will be hanging out here. Just across the water is the small island where hundreds of cairns have been left by visitors who are overwhelmed with the spiritual energy in the area.
You will have a nice view of Cathedral Rock from this side of the creek, but you won't have that reflection.
To see Oak Creek's slightly more beautiful side, check out my visit to Red Rock Crossing.
About halfway in between the end of the road and the parking area, you'll find the trailhead for Baldwin Trail. This isn't one of Sedona's most popular hikes, and it's also not one of the most well-marked. As you can see, there is a metal sign at the start of the path, but there isn't a nice topographical map that shows you where you're headed. I had read about the trail the previous night, and thought I remembered enough to safely hike the Baldwin Trail, and end up where I started. Once I started hiking, though, I had my doubts.
Baldwin Trail is near Oak Creek, but the water is always out of sight. Not long after the trail begins, it drops down a slope cut into the hillside, taking you down to creek-level.
There are only two prominent features along this trail: Cathedral Rock (above) and another small red-rock chimney (pictured below). Cathedral Rock is visible at least 75% of the time, and you will get to see it from plenty of different angles. There's also a chance to break away from the main trail and hike over to the trail that climbs Cathedral Rock (on the opposite side from where this picture was taken).
If you don't take the side trail (Templeton) that leads around to Cathedral Rock, you'll pass through this flat area (above) along an old jeep road, then turn right, heading up and over a small pass.
Baldwin Trail is a loop, although for a while I began to doubt that I was going to end up where I started. The trail makes a wide circle around this hill, the one with the chimney at the top. That chimney is the only thing that's especially striking or scenic about the entire hill, so you'll probably spend most of your time admiring Cathedral Rock instead.
After a slight elevation gain, you have a nice view of the valley which you just passed through. Cathedral Rock dips out of sight for a short while at this point, then re-emerges as you climb.
At this point, the trailhead is on the opposite side of the chimney hill. You've still got a way to go, though, since the second half of the trail takes its time, and does some winding.
I thought I would be looking at this hoodoo forever. Just after I took this picture, the trail switches back a couple of times and loses some elevation, so it feels like you're making no progress towards the end.
I don't want to make the trail sound unpleasant. But, it was about this point that I began to worry. Clouds were moving in, and I had heard that towns to the north of Sedona were being hit by storms and strong winds. Meanwhile, I was on an unfamiliar trail, and I didn't know how much longer I had to hike. If I had known that the trail was, indeed, a loop, and the end wasn't terribly far away, I could have enjoyed it much more.
Cathedral Rock looks much different at this point on the trail. I took this picture near the southern end of the loop, just before the path turned north again. Beyond this point, the only view is of a few houses, and a dirt road in the distance.
Eventually I reached a fork in the trail. It was marked with just one sign, that said "Trail" and pointed in the direction from which I had just come. A sign that said "Trailhead" would have been reassuring. Instead, I turned right, just because it felt right to continue the clockwise route around the chimney-topped hill. The path soon met up with some power lines. Sure, they weren't the least bit scenic, but they did provide me with a little more confidence that I was on the way to somewhere. As it turns out, the power lines run directly over the parking area.
I've read that Baldwin Trail is 1.6 miles, and 2.4 miles round-trip. I'd be more inclined to believe the second number, since it felt like a long trail (but in reality, I was only hiking for about 80 minutes). Either way, it's not a difficult trail, and it's relatively scenic. update below
This was my last stop in the Sedona area. After leaving here, I headed north to Flagstaff, Williams, and the Grand Canyon.
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