Get your camera ready for this one, and don't forget your swim suit, hiking shoes, and fishing pole. Just south of Flagstaff, State Rt. 89A descends a breathtaking series of switchbacks into a scenic, smaller cousin of the Grand Canyon. Known for colorful rocks and unique formations, Oak Creek Canyon is famous the world around for its spectacular scenery.
Before you drive into the canyon you'll want to stop at Oak Creek Canyon Vista.Here you can get a bird's eye view of what awaits you down the road and, at the same time, shop for Native American jewelry and other craft items from the local Native American artists who set up displays along the pathways.
This photograph was taken by Connie Birkland, Red Rock Ranger District, in January, 2005 from Oak Creek Vista. Click "Photos and Multimedia" in the right column for larger view.
Once you've snaked your way down the switchbacks, U. S. Highway 89A winds a lazy course down the length of Oak Creek Canyon. It's actually possible to enjoy the scenery here without leaving your car, but most people choose to get to know these crimson cliffs and crystal pools on a more personal basis. For that purpose there are plenty of overlooks, picnic areas, swimming holes and hiking trails all along the drive. At Midgely Bridge, there's a vista point with an especially unforgettable backdrop where you'll want to stop and use that wide-angle lens.
As you leave Oak Creek Canyon and continue past Sedona through Red Rock Country, an observer with a sharp eye will recognize familiar shapes among the natural sculptures that form the horizon. Keep an eye out for Steam Boat Rock, Courthouse Butte, Bell Rock and more.
You can continue down this scenic route to Interstate 17 and then back to Flagstaff, or you may want to turn around and do it all over again. Another way to complete the loop is to return to I-17 via Schnebly Hill Road rather than Rt 179. The vistas along this rocky but rewarding forest backroad are as good, if not better, than any along the rest of the drive.
Attractions: Picnicking, Waterplay, Hiking, Fishing, Wildlife watching, Photography
Road Condition: All roads are paved and plowed but can become slippery after a winter storm.
Driving Time: 2.5 hours or all day.
Photos & Multimedia
This drive takes you all the way around Arizona's highest mountain, winding through a land of pine forests and aspen groves, open prairies and rustic homesteads. Anytime is a good time to enjoy this drive, although the roads are closed through much of the winter (you might want to ski or snowmobile it then).
In the spring, wildflowers follow the retreating snow up the mountain. They color the meadows and decorate the forests reaching a climax just as summer comes to a close. Autumn then turns the mountain to gold, filling forest roads and trails with visitors come to enjoy the colorful display.
There are a number of places along this route where you can stop to take a hike, enjoy a lunch or even set up a primitive camp. That way you can take more than one day to do this drive or combine it with one or more of the other scenic drives in the vicinity of the San Francisco Peaks.
One of the most striking geologic features in Arizona is the Mogollon Rim. This steep escarpment, measured in thousands of feet and hundreds of miles, begins just across the border in New Mexico and stretches diagonally two thirds of the way across Arizona. As such, it forms the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau and stands as one of the most impressive overlooks in the Grand Canyon State.
That precipitous drop-off is the star of this scenic drive, part of which traces the rim's edge across the Coconino. In so doing, it follows another feature of interest, the General Crook Trail which the famous Indian fighter blazed to his stronghold at Fort Apache.
When you're not on the rim, you'll still find much to see along this drive, as it winds through a forest well populated with wildlife and gives you a taste of canyon country in scenic East Clear Creek and Barbershop canyons.
The photo above was taken in early April, 2004 on the bridge at FR95 and East Clear Creek. Please click right column "Photos & Multimedia" for a larger view.
Attractions: Panoramic views off the Mogollon Rim, Photography, Wildlife watching, Fall colors, Hiking, Mountain biking
Road Condition: FH 3 and AZ 87 are paved. All Forest Roads are gravelled and suitable for sedans. Forest Roads are closed in winter.
Driving Time: 4 hours (154 miles) from Flagstaff, 2 hours (54 miles) from Clints Well.
Photos & Multimedia