Located about 15 minutes outside of Flagstaff, Sandy Canyon is a great day hike. Officially called the Sandy Canyon Trail, it’s located inside the Coconino National Forest, tucked back off the typical touristy path. It could easily be overlooked or missed if you didn’t know it was there. When you pull into the parking lot and start down the path, you’d never imagine the beauty awaiting you in a short, 1.5-mile hike (3-miles round-trip). The beginning of the trail is rather rocky and down through the woods, but quickly opens up into a easy, flat, relatively rock-free path. It then stays this way 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. Super cool? The Arizona Trail comes right through this area, which is a ginormous trail that stretches all the way from Mexico to Utah. There are also numerous “splinter” trails that branch off in various directions, so plenty of opportunities to explore. 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 her husband, so they already knew how to get there.
There are also two caves somewhat near each other. The 1st cave can be seen from afar while approaching on the trail and is at the base of a massive, protruding rock. While not very deep or protective, it would make a cool shelter to eat lunch at or perhaps take refuge from a rainstorm.
The 2nd cave is further down and on a part of the trail that becomes single-file and rocky again. It’s much deeper, somewhat creepier, and exactly where I’d want to be if I needed shelter for the night. It has a private walkway, foyer, 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. Sadly, like too many other places in Mother Nature, people can’t just leave it alone and must deface it with graffiti. Nonetheless, the cave is still very cool and a worthy destination to hike to.
Overall, Sandy Canyon is a wonderful, easy, and enjoyable daytime hike near Flagstaff, Munds Park, or Williams. It’s perfect for people of all ages and abilities, although the beginning part could be challenging for some people. However, once you make it down that initial rocky portion of the trail, it’s smooth sailing from there onto a wide-open path. Also, we visited at the end of May and the weather was perfect 🤌🏼. Don’t pass this wonderful hike up!