How to Find The Kachina Tree Cave In Boynton Canyon, Sedona, AZ
May 29th, 2020
A perfect spot for photographers and hikers alike
Almost every photographer who has researched Sedona before visiting wants to know "where is the tree?" The question might seem a bit odd to those who are unfamiliar, but it always refers to the Kachina Tree Cave. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked! This has been such a well kept secret that even locals who have lived in the area all their life wouldn’t be able to tell you.
Tucked away high in the cliffs of Boynton Canyon, the Tree Cave is actually more of an arch than a cave. Despite the misnomer it’s difficult to imagine a more photogenic spot. The area immediately surrounding the Kachina Tree is dotted with many small alcoves, boasting at least three cliff dwellings. The views of Boynton Canyon below will leave you breathless, or maybe it was just the steep climb to get up here.
What is a Kachina?
Kachina is a Hopi word meaning “spirit father.” Kachina spirits are central to Hopi religion and the masked ceremonies that take place, where they represent the spiritual essence of things in the real world. These spirits are believed to visit the Hopi villages during the first half of the year. Kachinas are understood as having human-like relationships, such as having uncles, sisters, and grandmothers, as well as marrying and having children. Kachinas are also depicted in small, heavily ornamented carved-wood dolls, which are traditionally made by Hopi men and presented to girls; the boys receive bows and arrows instead. These wooden dolls are used to teach the girls about the identities of the kachinas and the symbolism of their regalia. Boys will learn these things during their initiation into the Kachina dances.
Why is it called the Kachina Tree?
The tree is actually an Emory Oak Tree. The tree was named because of the way it bends forward to reach the sunlight, which resembles the way some Kachinas bend during the dances. You'll find many cliff dwellings in Boynton Canyon left behind by the Sinagua, one of several ancient cultures that combined to form the modern Hopi.
Finding the Route
My own discovery of the Kachina Tree came after almost 40 years of hiking in Boynton Canyon. It was on a solo hike, and I had set out that day specifically to look for the most famous tree in Sedona, so I could include it in my guidebook. This was the only time I ever went looking for it, and no one had told me where to look, but there was no luck involved with my finding it that day. It was a simple process of elimination: I had already hiked every other side trail in the Canyon and there was only one ridge left that I had never explored -- because it was too close to the parking area!
The route does require some trail finding and following skills. You exit the Boynton Canyon Trail to left just beyond the Enchantment resort and venture up a dry wash into the canyon walls. The photo below (captured from the Boynton Canyon trail) provides a good orientation of the landmarks described below.
You'll know you're on the right path when you find a Forest Service sign (shown in the photo below). This is less than 100 yards after you take a left off the Boynton Canyon system trail, and BEFORE you start uphill. This is the first landmark you need to find. It announces that there are archaeological sites in the area and provides some rules for visiting them. Follow the wash through a cluster of manzanita, then exit the wash to the right to get on open rock at the base of the canyon wall. Following this route will allow you to evade the thick, thorny brush in this part of the canyon.
You exit the wash just below the second landmark -- a rock spire on your right (shown in the photo below). Above that spire is a large alcove that offers a framed view similar to the Subway (shown in the following photo). The spire and the crack are side trips for those seeking the Kachina Tree. The route to the tree stays in the same drainage you started out in, and hugs the canyon wall on the right side of that dry wash.
Such artifacts have absolutely no value unless they are left in place for others to wonder over. They seem like magical connections to the past here, but that magic will disappear instantly at your house.
When you reach this ruin you're a little over halfway there! The Kachina Tree is on the next ledge directly above you. But you DO have to get around the "cliff" part of the cliff dwelling.
Want Detailed Maps? Download the Complete Hiking Guide to Sedona's Social Trails!
The hike to reach the tree takes about 45 minutes one-way from the parking area. It's steep, so sit and rest if you need to. Enjoy a quiet moment on the sandstone slope, taking in a beautiful view of the canyon.
The first time I visited, I arrived around 2 pm, and the light was not suitable for capturing the tree at its best. I’ve since been back several times. The classic photo of the tree illuminated by sunlight, shown at the top of this page, happens in the morning sometime between 9 am and 11 am, though it varies a little with the seasons. To capture the photo I used a Samsung Galaxy 10 and stepped back from the tree to shoot through the arch.
Once you’ve captured the classic image, take some time to walk along the ledges on either side of the arch for spectacular views of Boynton Canyon (shown in the photos below).
Return to the drainage you used to come up and hike the rest of the way to the top of that drainage for a peak into what I call Bypass Canyon. If you drop down onto the ledge immediately to your right, you can follow "Bypass Canyon" to a saddle above the Boynton Canyon trail. The 360 view from this saddle (a small part of which is shown below) is one of my Top 10 favorite views in Sedona!
From the saddle it is possible to drop down to the system trail and return to the parking area, completing a round trip hike of approximately 4.5 miles. You could also turn right and drop down to the system trail again. This route is shorter and will take you past a ledge with cliff dwellings that I call "the Women's Village". Expect a lot of brush if you go down this way.
Tag us on Instagram when you find it! We would love to see YOUR photos!
TOTAL DISTANCE: 6.3 miles round trip
ELEVATION GAIN: 800 feet
HIKE TIME: 2.5 - 4 hours
TERRAIN: Packed dirt, rocks, sandstone, sand.
BOYNTON CANYON TRAIL to THE KACHINA TREE
TOTAL DISTANCE: 2.7 miles round trip
ELEVATION GAIN: 350 feet
DIFFICULTY: Easy to moderate
ESTIMATED HIKE TIME: 2-3 hours roundtrip from parking area.
TERRAIN: Packed dirt, rocks, sandstone, sand.
SOCIAL TRAILHEAD GPS: 34.92069, -111.85611
GPS FOR KACHINA TREE: 34.919889 -111.859556
BEST TIME TO GO
During the springtime or fall, first thing in the morning or late afternoon after the heat of the day has cooled off in the summer. This area can be muddy or icy in the winter
LOCATION: West Sedona, in Boynton Pass
PET FRIENDLY: No. Please do not visit ruins with your pet.
PARKING PASS: Required for parking at the trailhead. The Red Rock Pass is $5 per day or $15 for one week. The pass can be purchased at the machine at the trailhead (credit card only). If you have an America the Beautiful Pass, you can use this as well. There is also free overflow parking along the roadside near the intersection of Boynton Canyon Rd and Boynton Pass Rd.
NEARBY HIKES: Fay Canyon, Deadman's Pass, Long Canyon, Bear Mountain, Doe Mountain, Airie Trail, The Cockscomb
Written by Ed Preston and AP Schlosser