Julie United States 11 Comments

Boynton Canyon is one of Sedona’s top hikes. This is a relatively easy hike, as you walk on a mostly flat trail that is sheltered from the sun. The trail ends at the back of the canyon, where a short climb takes you up to a viewpoint, offering sweeping views of Boynton Canyon.

Along the trail, there are two detours you can take, to make this hike even more memorable. Near the start of the hike, take the short detour on the Boynton Vista Trail for stunning views over the Enchantment Resort and the red rocks of Sedona.

There is also a “secret cave” and Sinagua ruins you can visit. This cave, often referred to as the Subway Cave or the Boynton cave, is no longer a secret. Most of the people we met on the Boynton Canyon trail were hiking this trail with the sole purpose of visiting the Subway Cave.

Boynton Canyon is also the location of one of the four major Sedona vortexes. I read conflicting information about the exact location of this vortex. Vortex Hunters state the vortex is located on the Boynton Vista Trail. Jamie Elder, author of Sedona’s Best Vortex Guidebook, states that many vortexes are located throughout Boynton Canyon. She states that you could spend an entire day exploring offshoots from the main trail to experience these vortexes. 

In this post, learn how to hike Boynton Canyon and add on the Boynton Vista Trail and Subway Cave.

Hiking Stats

Boynton Canyon

Distance: 6.3 miles
Total Ascent: 800 feet
Difficulty: Easy
Length of Time: 2.5 to 4 hours

Boynton Canyon + the Subway Cave

Distance: 7.1 miles
Total Ascent: 1,100 feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Length of Time: 4 to 6 hours

Boynton Canyon + the Subway Cave + Boynton Canyon Vista Trail

Distance: 7.5 miles
Total Ascent: 1,300 feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Length of Time: 4.5 to 6.5 hours

More Information:

When to Go: All year. The best time is the spring and fall, when temperatures are mild, but expect big crowds. During the summer, expect very hot temperatures but lower crowds. In the winter, temperatures can get below freezing but crowds are also lower.
Location: West Sedona
Red Rock Pass: You will need to purchase a Red Rock Pass to do this hike. The pass costs $5 per day or $15 for one week. The pass can be purchased at the fee machine at the trailhead (credit cards only). If you have an America the Beautiful Pass, you can use this rather than purchasing a Red Rock Pass.

Boynton Trail and Cave Map

How to Hike Boynton Canyon

Getting to the Trailhead

The main parking lot for this hike is located on Boynton Canyon Road, near the intersection with Boynton Pass Road. This lot can hold about 25 vehicles and in the busier months, it is typically filled by 7:30 am. There is a pit toilet in this parking lot.

Overflow parking is located on Boynton Pass Road, west of the intersection with Boynton Canyon Road. There is no parking lot here. You will simply park on the side of the road. If you park here, you still need to display a Red Rock Pass in your vehicle. Depending on how far up the road you park, it is about a 0.25 mile walk, or longer, to the trailhead.

Here is a photo of the parking area on Boynton Pass Road midday in April.

Boynton Canyon Overflow Parking

The trailhead is located in the main parking lot and it easy to find. Just look for the large trail sign. Before starting down the trail, you can take a photo of the map with your phone and refer back to it if necessary.

On the Trail

The hike starts off flat and fast. It doesn’t take long until you reach the first trail junction. Stay to the left to stay on the Boynton Canyon Trail (this is marked with a trail junction sign).

Boynton Vista Trail

0.3 miles into the hike you will arrive at the junction for the Boynton Vista Trail.

The Boynton Vista Trail is 0.4 miles round trip. It’s a moderate to strenuous hike up onto the red rocks but it is worth it. The views over the Enchantment Resort and the crimson mountains of Sedona are gorgeous. You also get a great view through Boynton Canyon, where you will be heading next.

This detour takes 30 to 45 minutes.

Vista Sign

Boynton Vista Trail

Boynton Vista Spire

Boynton Vista View

PRO TRAVEL TIP: You can do this spur trail at the beginning or the end of the hike. We saved it for the end of the hike. Since we started very early in the morning, Boynton Canyon was still shaded. Midday, when the sun is higher in the sky, is a better time for photography.

Through Boynton Canyon

The first mile through Boynton Canyon is beautiful. To your right, massive sandstone cliffs tower overhead. To your left is the Enchantment Resort. At times, the trail opens up even more and you will have a wonderful view down Boynton Canyon.

There will be a few short ups and downs on this part of the trail but it is nothing too strenuous.

Boynton Canyon

Boynton Canyon Trail

 

About a mile into the hike, you pass the far end of the Enchantment Resort. Now you are hiking on a sandy trail through short, shrubby trees.

Boynton Canyon Trail Photo

The Subway Cave

The trail to the Subway Cave is located at the 2 mile point (if you already hiked the Boynton Vista Trail, the trail to the cave will be located 2.4 miles into the hike).

There is no sign marking the trail to the cave. However, there is a very distinctive tree. As you approach the 2 mile mark, keep an eye out for a large Alligator Juniper tree. This tree will be on the left side of the trail. The spur trail to the Subway Cave starts just across the trail from the tree, on the right hand side of the trail.

Here is a photo of the tree and the trail. Study it. Memorize it. Screenshot this image on your phone so you know what to look for.

Alligator Juniper

Once you get to the tree, take the trail to the right. This trail is narrower than the main Boynton Canyon Trail, but it is easy to follow. It heads through the forest and gradually climbs up to the red cliffs. This trail is 0.4 miles, one-way, to get to the Subway Cave.

Note: If you miss the turn off for the spur trail, you know you have gone too far if you find yourself surrounded by tall pine trees. Just beyond the Alligator Juniper, the forest makes a noticeable change from short, shrubby trees to a forest filled with pine trees. It looks and smells much different from the first two miles of the hike.

As you hike to the cave, you will pass this sign posted by the National Forest Service. Take a moment to read it. You will be visiting a sacred site with ancient ruins. Respect the area, leave everything as you found it, and do not disturb the ruins or sit or stand on the rock walls.

Trail Sign

In the Subway Cave

From the ground, the Subway Cave looks like a narrow slit in the sandstone walls.

Boynton Cave Entrance

Entrance into the cave.

 

Cliffs at Boynton Canyon

Looking up at the ruins on the cliffs. You can walk to the ruins from the Subway Cave.

To get up into the cave, you will walk/rock scramble up the sandstone incline, which almost resembles a sliding board (and it might feel that way on the way back down). This is the trickiest part of the hike.

Path into Cave

 

The incline ends at the back of the cave. Once you turn around, this is your view.

Subway Cave Sedona

Most likely, you will be sharing this visit with many more people, unless you are doing this very early in the day or during the off season. We spent about an hour here, waiting for our turn for photos and exploring the Sinagua ruins.

If you have a fear of heights, you might not want to venture farther than the back of the cave. To walk out to the end of the cave, and to continue to the ruins, you will be walking on a narrow ledge with a drop-off on one side.

Subway Cave

Subway Cave View

 

To see the ruins, walk out onto the ledge on the right side, continue around the bend, and the trail continues along the canyon wall. There are a lot of great photo spots here. Just remember, do not disturb the rock walls.

Best Sedona Hikes

Boynton Cave View

As you walk around the ledge on the outside of the cave, this is the view of the canyon and the ruins on the opposite cliff.

 

Sedona Hike

Another Cave

Sinagua Ruins

Subway Cave Cliffs

Looking back at the mouth of the Subway Cave.

 

Boynton Cave Hike

There are several caves on the cliffs which make great photo spots.

To exit the Subway Cave, you will hike down the incline at the mouth of the cave.

To Boynton Canyon Overlook

Once back on the Boynton Canyon Trail, turn right to continue the hike to the end of Boynton Canyon. From here, it is just over one mile to get to the end of the trail.

The trail slowly and steadily continues its climb to the back of the canyon. This final mile is all uphill, with the last half-mile being the steepest.

For this part of the hike you will walk through the forest. At first you hike through a forest filled with ponderosa pine trees. It feels cooler here and smells wonderful. As you get higher, the ponderosa pine trees fade away and are replaced with maple and oak trees.

The final half-mile is the most strenuous of the hike, as you hike up to the final viewpoint. There will be short sections where you will hike up a steep, rocky trail and do a few stair climbs.

Rocky Trail

The rocky trail near the end of the canyon.

The trail ends at a wide plateau where you have a very nice view back down through Boynton Canyon.

Boynton Canyon View

Boynton Canyon End

To finish the hike, retrace your steps back through Boynton Canyon. Add on the Boynton Vista Trail if you did not do this yet…and if you still have the energy.

Tips to Have the Best Experience

Start the hike early, ideally by 7 am. By starting early, you can get one of the parking spaces in the trailhead parking lot. You will also get ahead of the crowds and hike in the cooler part of the day.

Leave No Trace. Practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace. This includes packing out what you bring to the hiking trail, be considerate of other hikers, and leaving archaeological artifacts as you found them. 

Be prepared to spend at least one hour at the Subway Cave. This has become a popular hiking destination in Sedona, so expect to wait to have your photo taken.

What to Bring on the Hike

Hiking shoes. You can get by with a good pair of walking shoes or running shoes for this hike. However, if you plan to hike to the Subway Cave, I recommend wearing hiking shoes. The extra traction on hiking shoes will make your climb up into the cave and on the cave ledges much easier and safer.

Water and snacks. Bring at least 2 liters of water in the summer.

Sunscreen, hat, and sunglasses. A lot of the trail is shaded, but you will be exposed to the sun at the Boynton Canyon viewpoint (at the end of the trail), on the first mile of the hike, and if you do the optional hike on the Boynton Vista Trail.

Camera. Even a smartphone will do.

If you are new to hiking or are curious about what you should bring on a hike, check out our Hiking Gear Guide. Find out what we carry in our day packs and what we wear on the trails.

More Information about Sedona

BEST OF SEDONA:  15 Epic Things to Do in Sedona
HIKES IN SEDONA:  12 Amazing Hikes in Sedona
SEDONA ITINERARY:  Sedona Itinerary: Best Way to Spend 1 to 6 Days in Sedona
ONE DAY IN SEDONA: How to Spend One Perfect Day in Sedona
WHERE TO STAY: Where to Stay in Sedona: Best Hotels for Your Budget
DEVILS BRIDGE:
How to Hike to Devils Bridge
BEAR MOUNTAIN:  How to Hike Bear Mountain
CATHEDRAL ROCK:  How to Hike the Cathedral Rock Trail
BELL ROCK:  How to Hike the Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte Loop Trail
SOLDIER PASS HIKE:  Complete Guide to the Soldier Pass Trail & Soldier Pass Cave
BIRTHING CAVE:  The Complete Guide to the Birthing Cave Hike
BROKEN ARROW:  How to Drive the Broken Arrow 4WD Trail
4WD ROADS:  Six 4WD Roads in Sedona…and Which Ones are Worth It


If you have any questions about hiking Boynton Canyon or the Subway Cave, let us know in the comment section below.

Read all of our articles about the United States in our United States Travel Guide.

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Sedona Hike Boynton Canyon Subway Cave

 

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Comments 11

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  1. I’m trying to get an idea for the best lighting for photographs. Which way does Subway Cave face – to the West or East? Thanks.

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      Author

      The Subway Cave faces east. I think this would be best midday into the afternoon, when the mountains that you see from the cave are illuminated by the sun. We were here at about 9 am and the sun was shining right through the upper crack, making photography very challenging. Cheers, Julie

      1. Good morning Julie,
        Thanks for replying back so quickly. We leave for Sedona this Friday for a much needed road trip vacation. Your advice on the Boynton Canyon Trail, Subway Cave and best time to take photos is invaluable. You, Tim, Tyler and Kara are fantastic people with an amazing life story! We love reading about your adventures from around the world. Thanks for sharing. AJ

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          I hope you have a great trip to Sedona! Feel free to write back in with any other questions you have. Cheers, Julie

  2. Did you do this hike with your kids, or do you not recommend that? I have a 12 and a 15 year old and am worried it may be too much for them because of the length and because we are going in late August. Such a beautiful hike though! Its number 1 on my list.

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      Author

      Tyler and Kara weren’t with us on this trip. But I think an active 12 and 15 year old should easily be able to handle this hike and I would have taken our kids on this hike at those same ages. It’s a great hike!! Just start very early in the day, because of the heat. If it were me, I would probably start at 6:30 am. Cheers, Julie

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