If you have looked up hikes in Arizona, it is possible you have come across or heard of the hidden “subway cave” in Sedona. Located off of the beaten path on the Boynton Canyon trail, this cave is unlike anything many hikers have ever seen before and is nature’s true version of a New York City subway.
If you’re like me, you put this hike at the top of your list the moment you found out the subway cave in Sedona existed. But this cave is referred to as a “hidden” cave for a reason – the location isn’t exactly obvious if you don’t know where to look for it. That’s why I’ve put together this quick guide to finding the subway cave – including tips for hiking the Boynton Canyon trail – so you can experience the “WOW” moment for yourself.
- Fun fact: I actually didn’t learn about this cave until I was on the Bell Rock trail and met a fellow hiker who was telling me about some of the hikes she did on her trip! Abbey, if you’re reading this, this post is dedicated to you!
HIKING ETIQUETTE: LEAVE NO TRACE
Sedona’s beauty is hard to match, and that is largely due to proper hiking etiquette and following the Leave No Trace principles implemented by the city. These guidelines help to keep nature and the outdoors in the most preserved, pristine conditions possible. Before hiking and/or visiting, check out 7 of Sedona’s Leave No Trace principles here.
Hiking Tip: Get a Red Rocks Pass
In order to park at most trails in Sedona, you will need to purchase a Red Rocks Pass (an America the Beautiful Interagency Pass will also suffice). This pass needs to be displayed on the windshield of the vehicle, or it can be purchased online using the vehicle’s corresponding license plate number.
You are able to purchase a pass for 1 day, 1 week, or annually using the link above. Click here for more information about the Red Rocks Pass program.
Where is the Subway Cave in Sedona Located?
As previously mentioned, the subway cave is located on the Boynton Canyon trail. To get to the trailhead, simply type in “Boynton canyon trail” into Google maps and it will take you directly to the parking lot!
The drive to the Boynton Canyon trailhead was one of my favorite drives I took in Sedona. As I approached the start of the trail, I got even more excited not just to find the cave, but for the hike in its entirety. If the drive itself was this pretty, I couldn’t imagine what the actual hike itself would be like (spoiler: I was NOT disappointed! 😍).
Parking at the Boynton Canyon Trailhead
Like many trailhead parking lots in Sedona, this one has a limited number of spaces. It is usually advised to get to the trailhead by 7am at the latest to secure a spot. If you are a hardcore hiker, that is what I suggest you should do. I am a hardcore breakfast person, so I got to the trailhead around 10am, after eating breakfast. *shrugs*
You’re probably wondering if I got a parking spot in the lot, and the answer is…..no. BUT! You are able to park on the road close-by and walk to the trailhead. I did this, and my walk was less than half a mile.
Keep in mind, parking spots will open up throughout the day as hikers get finished their hikes. After talking to a few locals, I learned that 7am, 12pm, and 4pm were good times to be able to potentially secure a parking spot in a lot of the trails.
- You ARE able to purchase a Red Rocks Pass at the Boynton Canyon trailhead if you forgot to get one previously. Remember this pass must be displayed on the dashboard of your car if it wasn’t purchased online.
- There ARE bathrooms at the Boynton Canyon trailhead
What to Bring With You on Your Hike
No matter what trail you hike, it’s smart to carry a backpack and bring a few essentials with you. I brought the following things with me on my hikes in Sedona:
- Plenty of water (~3 large bottles)
- Protein bar (I always pack 2, just in case)
- Cell phone + portable cell phone charger
A lot of people also had hiking poles. I personally do not use these, but I know they are a must for many hikers!
Tips for Hiking Boynton Canyon
Download the AllTrails App
Before going on your hike, make sure you download the AllTrails app. If you have never used AllTrails before, it is basically Google maps except for hiking. You are able to type in the trail you want to go on, and it gives you a guided route that lets you see where you are walking on the trail.
Simply type in the trail you want, and then hit “Navigate.” You’re ready to go!
- AllTrails has a free and a paid version ($35.99/year), but I found the free version to be sufficient for what I needed!
Know Your Detour(s) to Plan Your Hike
The Boynton Canyon hike is a bit long if you plan on hiking the whole thing: about 6.1 miles out and back. I set out on this hike with the intention of finding the subway cave, NOT completing the entire hike.
- Keep in mind, finding the subway cave will take you off the beaten path a ways, and that doesn’t even include the time you will spend once you get up in the cave (I probably spent a good half-hour to an hour inside the cave, either taking pictures, talking to other hikers, or just taking it all in!) So, if you do this hike later in the day, be mindful of time and when the sun is setting.
- If you decided to see the subway cave AND finish the hike, you’re looking at closer to 7-7.5 miles total.
Detour Option: Boynton Vista Trail & The Vortex Site
The subway cave isn’t the only detour you can make on this hike! Boynton Canyon has a well-known Vortex site close to the start of the trail. The path to get to it is called the Boynton Vista trail.
To get to the Vortex site, when you get to the start of the trail, simply go straight at the sign that says “Vista” instead of going left to hike Boynton Canyon (see photo in the next section).
- Taking this detour will take you roughly an extra 30 minutes. I decided to check out this detour at the end of my hike, after visiting the subway cave and walking back!
Hiking Boynton Canyon and Finding the Subway Cave
At the Trailhead
Once you arrive at the trailhead, follow the path until you reach the sign that distinguishes the Boynton Canyon trail from the Boynton Vista trail. Here, you will follow the path to the Boynton Canyon trail towards the left.
During the Hike (Before the Subway Cave)
The trail through Boynton Canyon starts out as a wide path with sand. There is a lot of space, and it is relatively easy to walk through.
Once you get so far, the path narrows and starts to get rocky. From that point on, the trail remained this way throughout the majority of the hike. Sometimes, when passing a group of hikers, I had to stand off to the side to let them pass because the path was so narrow!
I don’t think I can adequately put into words how beautiful this hike is. The red rocks that are surrounding you just look absolutely unreal. I took so many photos, but don’t think any of them really do it justice. There were so many times that I just stopped and stared at the scenery around me.
- Another thing I really liked about this hike was that you were able to find shade! Throughout the trail, there were enough trees in certain areas that you were able to get out of the sun for a few minutes if you needed to.
Finding the Subway Cave
If you didn’t know the subway cave existed, you would never pay much attention to the concealed, ambiguous path right off the main trail. In order to find the subway cave, I will give you two main tips that you can use when hiking Boynton Canyon to ensure you don’t miss the turn:
- Tip #1 – On the AllTrails app, keep an eye on your distance. The spot where you need to turn off will be roughly at the 2 mile mark. You will see a dotted line off towards the right with “Cave” and a photo icon on your app. (I have seen on other sites where some people have said it is closer to 2.4 miles. For me, I hit it right at the 2.06 mile mark.)
- Tip #2 – Right near the 2 mile mark, there will be a large alligator tree (appropriately named because of its bark that resembles alligator skin). This tree will be larger than a lot of the other trees you see on your hike, and it is what the majority of the hikers who know about the cave watch for to know when to turn off. The location of this tree should be consistent with your AllTrails map. Here, you need to turn RIGHT.
Once you turn RIGHT at the alligator tree, you will follow a narrow, windy, rocky path up towards the cave. You will likely encounter other hikers, especially once you get closer to the cave entrance. I kept an eye on my AllTrails app to make sure I was still headed in the right direction. You will know you have reached the subway cave once you see a narrow opening in between 2 large walls of rock (pictured below in the next section).
- Hiking Tip: Even though the alligator tree is definitely large, in my opinion, it didn’t stand out enough amongst everything else on the hike that I would have been SURE it was where I was supposed to turn off if I didn’t have the AllTrails app.
Getting Into The Subway Cave
The hardest part about seeing the subway cave is climbing up into the cave itself. There are 2 different ways to get up inside the cave: you can climb up a steep pile of rocks in between the opening of the cave, or you can go off to the left and climb up the back side of the cave, which is the easier route.
I decided to climb up the steep pile of rocks because I like to live on the edge (actually, I just like to challenge myself. Or is that the same thing? Whatever.)
- Below is a close-up photo of what climbing up the rocks looked like. As you can see, the sides are narrow and there’s not a lot of places to grip onto, which makes getting up this way difficult
I will admit, climbing up these rocks is the only time during this hike that I felt afraid. After some trial and error, I eventually made it all the way up, but damn. In other words, go to the left and climb up and enter from the back side instead. You will likely see a lot of hikers climbing down this way, which will help you figure out the best way to get up.
Once you get up into the subway cave, you will be able to walk around and get some epic views of Sedona and the red rocks. The following photo, taken standing on the edge of the subway cave, will help show why I loved this hike so much!