How To Hike to Boynton Canyon & Subway Cave, Sedona, Arizona
Hike the Subway Cave Trail.
The Subway Cave trail is one of the top three hikes to take when visiting Sedona, Arizona.The hike on the Subway Cave Trail is a gorgeous hike, not very strenuous, and after a moderate climb, you arrive at a once in a lifetime spot.
You’ll see the red rocks that Sedona is famous for, and experience one of Sedona’s treasures, the Subway Cave.
Along the way, you will pass through some of Sedona’s vortexes within the Boynton Canyon and can visit the ancient Sinagua (pre-Columbian culture known for their cliff dwellings and petroglyphs) ruins. Don’t miss the hike to the Subway Cave.
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Sedona’s famous Vortexes are places where the earth is alive with energy and has been known to cause people to see swirling colorful lights, experience healing, and can even exacerbate your body aches.
Most people on this trail are in search of the not-so-secret Subway Cave. It’s Instagram fame has made it very popular, and with good reason. Honestly, it is a truly special moment to experience and I highly recommend it if you feel capable of climbing the final incline into the cave. I also encourage you to take the spur trail to the Boynton Canyon Vista AFTER you descend from the Subway Cave.
Here are some specific instructions to follow. My experience was pretty darn perfect and I want you to have as great a time as I did! This entire adventure can be completed before lunch, so you will still have the whole day for relaxing and enjoying the rest that Sedona has to offer!
Know before you go
When To Go
Sedona is gorgeous all year around. However, the summer can be very hot with temperatures in the 90’s during the day. The fall and spring are probably your best bet with temps ranging from 70’s to 80’s. The winter months can get pretty cold, but of course there are fewer people visiting. I visited in November and we had ideal 75° degrees each day, with dips into the 50’s at night.
These are ancient and sacred lands. Please be respectful and follow all the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace!© Plan Ahead and Prepare,Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces, Dispose of Waste Properly, Leave What You Find, Minimize Campfire Impacts, Respect Wildlife, Be Considerate of Other Visitors. And, I would like to add, NO Drones Allowed in National Parks! They are disturbing to both wildlife and people.
The Boynton Canyon Trail to the Subway Cave, and back down to the Boynton Canyon Vista Trail is a 7.5 mile RT hike. It is designated as Moderate Difficulty. Much of it is easy and flat with the difficult stretches as you get closer to the cave and again as you approach the vista. The total ascent is 1100 feet to the cave and 1300 feet to the vista.
Get to the parking lot on Boynton Canyon Road near Boynton Pass Road no later than 6:30 AM – 7:00 AM if you want to be guaranteed a spot. Remember this is a popular hike and becoming more popular all the time. The trailhead is in the main parking lot. It will be obvious. If you don’t get a spot in the lot, then you can park on the side of Boynton Pass Road. You still need to display a Red Rock Pass and will have to add to your hike to get to the trailhead.
Red Rock Pass
The Red Rock Pass program is a conservation tool designed by the U.S. Forest Service to protect, enhance and maintain Sedona’s awe-inspiring red rock lands. A pass is required when recreating on National Forest Land in Red Rock County. The pass is $5 per day or $15 for a week. You are subject to a citation if your car does not display one in the windshield. The passes can be purchased at trailheads via a machine which accepts credit cards. Our VRBO rental provided us with one for the trip which was a super benefit!
There is a toilet facility in the trailhead parking.
Download a trail map before hiking.
Bring plenty of water and snacks.
Wear hiking boots or sneakers with some tread.
Don’t forget the sunscreen!
Dogs are allowed, if you want to bring your furry friend.
Expect to wait for your turn to have your photo taken.
The Boynton Canyon Trail to Subway Cave and Sinagua Ruins
The trail starts off with stellar views of the sandstone cliffs and you will see the Enchantment Resort on your left. If you begin early, you will experience sunrise and amazing light on the rocks. Truly jaw dropping.
You will be hiking on a lot of sandy trails because Sedona was underwater 330 million years ago! The Red Rock geology of the area is fascinating. Did you know that seashells formed a layer of limestone that is called Redwall limestone because iron oxide deposited in the rocks over the millions of years that the water rose and fell?
Stay the course for two miles and pay attention! There is no sign, but at the two mile point is a special Alligator Juniper tree with an outstretched branch telling you to turn Right!
Look at this picture and remember it!
We missed it and continued straight into a forest. Lovely, but the wrong trail. We quickly doubled back, realizing our mistake, and got back on course. The right turn is marked with a log across the trail, which is confusing because it makes one think one should not cross over the log, but one should!
Now you are on the trail to the Subway Cave. This area is a sacred site and marked as such. The signs ask that you please be respectful of the sanctity of the area.
The hike gradually climbs and gets a bit more rocky as you near the cave. It is 0.4 miles from the Alligator Juniper Tree.
The entrance to the cave looks like a slot with a rock slide. This is by far the most challenging part of the hike. Strategize your way up and you should be fine.
I was really happy I had my Keen Hiking Boots for the traction. I have a bad knee and needed a pull from my friend to yank me up at one moment, but I did it!
At the top of the brief climb, you are in the back of the cave looking out at the famous keyhole view. There, you will meet some other happy hikers, some nervous ones, and lots of people willing to help you with your photos.
Walk along the edge of the cave to its mouth for the views of a lifetime! As you turn the corner on the shelf to the right, you can continue to the ancient ruins before descending down the hillside.
If the rock slide is too intimidating to climb, you can vear up on the left side of the cave, where the ruins are, walk along the edge and enter the subway cave from the mouth. This is how people climb down from the ruins, so you essentially are going up the down escalator!
After you rest and eat a snack, head back down the trail. You will have a choice to turn right and continue another mile uphill to the end of the Boynton Canyon Trail for more spectacular views. Or, you can continue back down the way you came, and take the spur trail to the Boynton Vista point. This will add about 30 minutes to your trip. Unless you are really too tired to continue, I really recommend this extra adventure.
The views at the vista point are not only worth it, but the entire vibe up there is so relaxing.
The rock formation at the top is known as the Kachina Woman. She is a spiritual figure of the Hopi Indians who have lived in this part of Arizona for hundreds of years. She guards the vortex of the Boynton Canyon and I’m pretty sure that’s why I felt so tranquil up there!
Enjoy your time with her and then take the hike back down to the parking lot.
Travel safe, hike healthy, and let me know how it was!