Soaring cliffs, vividly colored buttes and the beautiful stream that shaped them make Oak Creek Canyon one of the most popular scenic destinations in Arizona. The area has something to offer visitors during every season, but autumn in Oak Creek Canyon is especially appealing.
Oak Creek Canyon and Sedona, its principal community, are south of Flagstaff along U.S. Highway 89A, the route to many state parks, national monuments and much more. The drive from Las Vegas to Flagstaff takes less than five hours, following U.S. Highway 93 to Kingman, Ariz., then Interstate 40 to Flagstaff. To reach the turnoff for Oak Creek Canyon, drive east through Flagstaff to exit 195 and merge onto Interstate 17 heading south toward Phoenix. Drive a little more than 2½ miles to exit 337 to reach U.S. 89A into Oak Creek Canyon. Sedona is 27 miles from the exit.
In the first 14 miles, the highway drops 1,000 feet from the plateau around Flagstaff to the canyon bottom in a series of switchbacks. The route reveals stunning calendar scenes around every bend. Be sure to pull over to take in the view at Vista Point.
Part of Coconino National Forest, Oak Creek Canyon offers picnicking at six sites, three campgrounds, hiking and equestrian trails, off-highway vehicle routes and acres of fishable waters with trout, bass and catfish. Anglers need Arizona fishing licenses with trout stamps. Parts of Oak Creek are catch-and-release preserves.
Visitors wishing to camp in the area find access to forest service campgrounds along U.S. 89A on the way to Sedona. Situated in the tall pines about a mile apart, Pine Flat Campground and Cave Springs Campground offer more than 130 sites, open from spring until snowfall. Located along the creek, Manzanita Campground remains open all year, but it is the smallest campground and does not accommodate large recreational vehicles. A number of sites at each campground may be reserved by calling 877-444-6777 or online at recreation.gov. Campsites available without reservations fill up quickly on weekends and holidays. Arrive early or plan a midweek visit for best site selection. Overnight fees are $18, or $9 for federal recreation pass holders.
Beautiful Slide Rock State Park, seven miles north of Sedona, is a popular day-use area that attracts a quarter of a million visitors annually. Located on Oak Creek, the park invites warm-season visitors to enjoy the water along half a mile of the stream. The swimming area features thrilling rides down an 80-foot natural slide where the water runs over a slick section of sandstone. The park includes an apple orchard that has been producing since 1912, a 1907 ranch homestead listed on the National Register of Historic Places and three hiking trails of varying lengths and difficulties with connection to Coconino National Forest trails.
Slide Rock State Park is open year-round from 8 a.m. to dusk, except Christmas Day. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, visitors pay $20 per vehicle to enter. The fee is $10 the rest of the year. On Sept. 21, the park will host its annual Fall Festival, a celebration of everything about apples.
Sedona promotes many activities and facilities that keep visitors coming back. Many visitors enjoy browsing in its art galleries and boutique shops. Riding free transportation through town saves shoe leather. The town offers a wide range of eateries from fast food to fine dining. Accommodations include modest motels and exclusive resorts.
Just south of Sedona, turn off U.S. 89A to visit lovely Red Rock State Park. This day-use area on a loop road preserves a riparian area along Oak Creek on the site of a former ranch. The region was home to ancient native people before frontier settlers arrived. Facilities, exhibits, programs and hikes aim to familiarize visitors with the area’s plants, animals and history. This state park is open daily from 8 a.m. to dusk. Entrance fees are $10 per vehicle and $3 for hikers and bikers.
Margo Bartlett Pesek’s Trip of the Week column appears on Sundays.