Get your camera ready for this one, and don't forget your swim suit, hiking shoes, and fishing pole. Just south of Flagstaff, Arizona State Route 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.
Once you've snaked your way down the switchbacks, SR 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. If you're driving a high clearance vehicle, another way to complete the loop is to return to I-17 via the unpaved, rocky Schnebly Hill Road rather than Route 179. The vistas along this rocky but rewarding backroad are as good, if not better, than any along the rest of the drive. A high clearance vehicle is highly recommended for this route. In winter months, the upper part of Schnebly Hill Road is closed above Schnebly Hill Vista (near the top of the ascent up Bear Wallow Canyon), and the unpaved portion may be completely closed during wet weather conditions. Check Road Status before attempting this alternative route.
Attractions: Picnicking, waterplay, hiking, fishing, wildlife watching, photography
Road Condition: All roads (except alternative route up Schebly Hill Road) are paved and plowed, but may be slippery after a winter storm.
Driving Time: 2.5 hours or all day.
Photo credit: Connie Birkland, Red Rock Ranger District, January, 2005 from Oak Creek Vista.
Photos & Multimedia
At a Glance
||Flagstaff, Sedona, Camp Verde, AZ
||Red Rock District - 928-203-2900
Location: Drive south from Flagstaff on AZ 89A 14 miles to Oak Creek Canyon Vista and then 13 miles more to Sedona. Turn east 11 miles on AZ 179 to I-17 and then 40 miles back to Flagstaff.
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