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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Black Canyon Trail, AZ, Hike and Mountain Bike

I live in a beautiful valley in Central Arizona, called the Verde Valley. The Verde Valley has the Sedona area that people come to see from all over the world. But in my area there are many other things that often get over looked. I live in the town of Cottonwood it is south of Sedona and just south of me is a mountain ridge that reaches heights of over 8000 ft. elevation. On the side of this mountain ridge is a trail that climbs up a drainage called Black Canyon. This trail is designated by the Forest service as Black Canyon Trail #114. Most people just hike up and down the trail and many people descend the trail on mountain bikes, but few go off trail and see the hidden secret. Down hidden in the drainage of Black Canyon is a beautiful waterfall. Being in the desert southwest I think it usually only runs in the winter when there is snow on the top of the mountain. This waterfall is a bit difficult to get to so it keeps the masses away. It is pretty much an all day in and out hike, with some steep climbs and some off trail scrambling, but the hike has many rewards, like great views of the Verde Valley and seclusion from all the tourists that swarm the Sedona trails. This area is wild and has deer, elk, mountain lions, bear, and lots of javalinas.
You start the hike at a parking area at the end of Ogden Ranch Road. If there is any snow on the mountains then the waterfall will be flowing. The trailhead elevation is around 4200 feet. From there you take a ATV track west for about 50 yards and then look for a trail leading down into a drainage on your left. Take this trail and it will take you down into the drainage and across and then starts to climb the other side.
This trail will get somewhat steep and rocky at times as it navigates up and over or around a few ridge lines and drainages to take you southwest and into the Black Canyon drainage. Along here you will have some fine views of the Verde Valley.
Once you turn the corner into the Black Canyon drainage the trail will level out as it traverses the south side of a ridge. This is what the drainage looks like that you will be heading into as seen from the trail above.
Along this area of trail you look for a ridge below you that sticks out south into the drainage with a saddle on it with a fire ring made of rocks. At this point you go off trail down to the saddle and then drop down the steep ridge on the west side of the saddle to find your way down into the bottom of the drainage. You will see a small drainage coming in from the north to the major one. You need to cross this above the intersection of the two drainages. This is a photo of the side drainage that comes in from the north
You cannot cross below the intersection because the drainages drop off into a slot that cannot be crossed. Once past this side drainage you then follow the main drainage upstream. It is a bit of a scramble.
If there is water flowing then the waterfall will be flowing too. You have to find your way around several small cascades and some rock pinnacles along the way that I found to be interesting.
Finally the drainage will turn to the right around a corner and the water fall will come into view. It is a pretty tall waterfall but I'm not very good at guessing heights (maybe 70 feet tall?) Many people also mountain bike down this trail. If you are going to do that you would need a car shuttle. Many people start at the top of the mountain and decent Coleman Trail or Gaddes Canyon Trail and then hook up with Black Canyon Trail as it drops off of Allen Springs Road (FR 413) at 6400 ft. elevation. The top part of the Black Canyon trail is in pine forest and runs along a small stream for part of the way. It it is a total of 7 miles from the bottom at Ogden Ranch road up to the top at Allen Springs Road. The bottom part of the trail is high desert type vegetation and there is more than a 2000 foot elevation climb along this trail.
If you are going to try the downhill mountain bike ride I would suggest you take the Gaddes Canyon Trail over the Coleman Trail. The Coleman trail is for hard core technical riders only. All of this is for advanced riders but Coleman is really very rocky, steep, and overgrown. Gaddes Canyon Trail is around a 2.5 mile drop down to Allen Springs Road. If you combine that with Black Canyon you have close to a 10 mile downhill trip. The Gaddes canyon Trail starts at around 7700 ft elevation so you will descend close to 3500 feet on this downhill trip. When you go down Gaddes Canyon and reach the Allen Springs Road (FR 413) you head left or east on Allen Springs road and the Black Canyon Trail will be on the right after more than a mile. Beware that the brush is overgrown in many places on these trails and you will need protection to not end up all cut and scratched up.
To get to the trail heads: For the bottom trailhead of Black Canyon Trail #114, turn off Highway 260 between mileposts 209 – 210 (south) onto the dirt Ogdon Ranch Road (ok for passenger cars). Follow this road 4.3 miles to the parking lot at the end.
To get to the Gaddes Canyon Trail, from highway 89A you take Forest Service road 104 around 2 and 1/4 miles to road 104B. Turn right and the trail will be on your left just a tenth of a mile before you reach the lookout.

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