Sandy Canyon is located about 15 minutes outside of Flagstaff (which is approximately 25 minutes north of where we stayed in Munds Park), and is a great day hike. The hike is officially called the Sandy Canyon Trail, but most refer to it simply as, Sandy Canyon. Located inside the Coconino National Forest, it’s tucked back off the touristy, beaten path. Sandy Canyon could easily be overlooked or missed if you didn’t know it was there. When you pull into the parking lot, you would never imagine that such beauty awaited you in a short, 3-mile in and out hike. The trail starts out down a rocky path, down through the woods, but quickly opens up into a flat, semi-rocky path (that eventually becomes very easy). It then stays this way for most of the trail, all the way to the caves.
The distance to the caves and back is approximately 3 miles; however, you can keep going for longer if you choose to. The Arizona Trail comes right through this area, which is a humongous trail that stretches from Mexico to Utah. There are also numerous “splinter” trails that branch off in various directions. I can’t tell you where they lead, but they’re there. Dogs are allowed on this trail but must always remain on a leash.
As for the location, there is no exact address. The USDA website states, “Just south of Flagstaff near Lower Lake Mary on paved forest roads. Drive Southeast out of Flagstaff 5.5 miles on Lake Mary Road (Forest Highway 3). Follow the signs for Sandys Canyon Trailhead to the north (left from Flagstaff). Follow Forest Road 9478Y for ¼ mile to the parking area.”. We were taken to the canyon by my friend’s sister and husband, and they already knew how to get there.
There are two caves near each other (I’m sure there’s a plethora of caves scattered throughout the forest) and the first cave you come upon is at the base of a giant, protruding rock. While not very deep or protective, it would make a decent shelter to stop and eat lunch at or to take refuge from a rainstorm.
The second cave, which is further past the first cave and on a part of the trail that becomes single-file and rocky again, is much deeper, creepier, and exactly where I’d want to be if I were lost and needed shelter for the night. This cave would have been primo real estate back in the day. It has a private walkway, foyer/living room, long hallway, master bedroom with cathedral ceiling, and even a small nook that could be a closet tucked away in the very back. It would be the optimal place to avoid predators or the elements.
Like too many places in Mother Nature, people can’t just leave it the F alone and must LeAvE ThEiR mArK with graffiti and other scrawlings, but nonetheless, the place is still very cool and a worthy destination to hike for well over a 5k.
Overall, Sandy Canyon is a fantastic, easy, and enjoyable daytime hike near Munds Park and Flagstaff. It’s perfect for people of all ages and abilities, although the beginning part might prove challenging for some people. However, once you make it down that initial rocky portion of the trail, it’s smooth sailing from there, on a wide-open path. We visited at the end of May and the weather was perfect. Don’t pass this wonderful hike up!