The Ultimate Guide on How to Find the Secret Subway Cave with Maps (2021)
April 5th, 2020
HISTORY OF THE SUBWAY CAVE
My name is Ed Preston. I've been a wanderer, an anthropologist and a professional tour guide for over 40 years. The Subway has been making massive waves on social media platforms after I released the first chapter of my book "The Wanderer's Guide to Sedona," in which I've been mapping out all of the hidden trails I've found while hiking in the area.
My first visit to the Boynton Canyon Subway was back in 2014. The discovery came after 20 years of hunting for ruins in the Secret Mountain Wilderness Area, and the Subway is just one of hundreds of cliff dwellings that I've stumbled across during my wandering here.
Looking at maps of Boynton Canyon, I realized there was a side canyon on the right that seemed almost certain to hold cliff dwellings, so I made plans to hike the area with three friends who shared my passion of seeking the undiscovered. None of us had hiked this side canyon before, despite the fact that we all had decades of experience.
We started early before sunrise one Saturday morning to see what we could find, and were generously rewarded for our curiosity. Veering off of the well-traveled Boynton Canyon Trail to the mouth of the side canyon we quickly located a small footpath heading through the brush and followed it, scanning the walls for alcoves above that might hold ruins. We soon spotted our first ruin on the left and started working our way up toward it. There was a deeper alcove to right of the ruin that looked completely inaccessible until we got up close. This is the Subway, and the stone ramp leading up to it was so perfect that it looked hand carved, a near-perfect entrance, leading you to the back of the cave. Once atop the ramp, we turned to behold the picturesque tunneled rock walls of the Subway.
KEEP IT A SECRET?
Back then it didn’t have a name (as far as we knew) so we called it the Boynton Subway. None of us had even seen a photo of it before, and the forest service sign that is near the entrance today hadn't been posted yet, though we definitely weren't the first people to find it in modern times. Over the years I took a few local friends there and slowly I began to see more and more images of it posted on social media, where it was always referred to as the “Secret” Cave.
In the fall of 2020 I joined a hiking group on Facebook and immediately started a controversy when I agreed to tell members of the group where this "Secret" Cave was. I was even banned for posting the coordinates. There was a small but vocal group that didn’t want anyone but locals to know. That seemed elitist to me since the site is on public land. People were routinely posting photos of it to proclaim themselves as special, and then refusing to tell others where it was. If you want to keep a place secret, then why post pictures of it? Worse yet, the "locals only" philosophy has traditionally excluded entire groups -- like people of color and military veterans. They pay taxes too. My goal as a professional guide has always been to help others have the best experience possible, and I've always believed that the fastest way to improve mental health is to get people out of cities and into nature.
It was in that hiking group that I referred to it using the name we had given it back in 2014 -- the Boynton Subway. It was the first time that name had been used in a public forum. A week later I led a group of 10 hikers from the Facebook group to visit the site and the name stuck.
It was in that hiking group that I referred to it using the name we had given it back in 2014 -- the Boynton Subway.
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 SUBWAY CAVE
TOTAL DISTANCE: 5.4 miles round trip
ELEVATION GAIN: 490 feet
DIFFICULTY: Easy to moderate
TERRAIN: Packed dirt, rocks, sandstone, sand.
SUBWAY TRAILHEAD GPS: 34.927861 -111.86188
GPS FOR SUBWAY: 34.932779 -111.863006
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.
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 intersecrtion 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
The main parking lot is on Boynton Pass Road, west of the intersection with Boynton Canyon Road. Note: a Red Rock Pass is required for this parking lot. If the lot is full, you can park on the side of the road by the intersection, where no parking pass is required. Parking on the road will add about 100 yards to the hike. Be sure to arrive early if you want to beat the heat and the crowds - the photo below was taken at 9 am on a weekday!
FINDING THE TRAIL
You'll start your adventure on Boynton Canyon Trail. You can access this main trailhead from the parking lot. The trail will be packed dirt, with solid footing and large rocks. The Boynton Canyon Trail is open, airy and has excellent views of the canyon. The Enchantment Resort will be to your right. About a mile into the hike, you will come to the end of the Enchantment Resort and the trail will transition to a sandy, shrubby trail.
Want to track your hike using GPS?
Download the GPX file and follow along on your phone directly to the Subway!
The main landmark you’re looking for is a large Alligator Juniper with a broken dead branch. The branch used to be long and pointing towards the social trail leading to the Subway Cave, but someone has since broken off the branch, most likely some locals trying to keep the Subway a secret. The tree will be on the left side of the system trail. The social trail on the right will be marked with sticks laid across it.
The trail to the Subway Cave is located 2 miles into the Boynton Canyon Trail.
The GPS Coordinates for this location are 34.927861 -111.86188.
The social trail to the Subway is directly across from the tree on the right and heading north. The trail starts out on the right bank of a side wash and weaves its way through thick Manzanita and Catsclaw. There are many braided trails throughout this area, so you can always refer back to your map, or download our GPX coordinates to follow along with accuracy.
Take a right at this broken tree continuing through a rocky, wooded area.
Eventually you’ll come to a small forest service sign announcing that the ruins in this area are protected by law. You’re almost there!
The trail climbs onto a small ledge and forks. Take the left fork and the Subway will be directly in front of you.
From below this crack looks inaccessible at first, but once you get up to it you’ll find that there’s an easy ramp that will take you right up. When you reach the top and turn around, you’re there!
The Subway itself faces almost due east, so the sunburst photo above is captured just after sunrise.
Around the corner is a small bit of Native American rock art (shown in the photo above), a petroglyph of a spiral stylistically formed into the shape of a turtle. These two symbols have specific meanings in the Pueblo cultures of Arizona and New Mexico. The turtle is a clan symbol and the spiral is a migration symbol.
Across the canyon from the Subway is another ruin that’s built under an arch. It’s easily visible from the Subway, but it looks like a cave instead of an arch. This one is reached by returning to where the trail forked on that little ledge and turning left to proceed around the point and across the canyon.
The Subway is a very special place and we are all excited to experience this discovery. This has recently become a very popular destination in Sedona. Please respect others having their photo taken and speak kindly with words of encouragement to one another. Inquire about each other’s journeys while you wait! Make some friends!
LEAVE NO TRACE
Please pack out what you bring in! This also includes leaving archeological artifacts as you found them and refraining from defacing the ruins.
WEAR GRIPPY SHOES
The best hiking shoes have Vibram soles; these soles provide excellent grip on the sandstone.
MAPS TO THE SUBWAY CAVE
Below are some maps to the Subway Cave. If you're interested in what else Boynton Canyon and Sedona has to offer, you can download The Wanderer's Guide to Sedona, which includes all the hidden trails and best photo spots in Sedona!
Written by AP Schlosser and Ed Preston
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