Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive
Oak Creek Canyon is a breathtaking experience rated a Top 5 Most Scenic Drive by Rand McNally. It is a continuous Kodak Moment, so get your camera, a wide angle lens preferred. We've presented trip as a "loop" excursion beginning from Sedona AZ up the Canyon to Flagstaff, Arizona with a return trip back to Sedona via Interstate 17. However, you have the option of descending back down to Sedona when you reach the Oak Creek Canyon Vista Overlook. Doing this scenic drive both up and down the canyon magnifies the visual experience. See the Oak Creek Loop Map below.
The early stretch of Highway 89A out of Flagstaff is a fairly level drive through a lush Ponderosa Pine forest. Be alert for the herds of elk that frequently cross the highway. As you near the edge of the rim before descending into Oak Creek Canyon, you’ll enjoy the stop at Oak Creek Canyon Vista where you’ll get a bird’s eye view of what you’ll experience. Native American Indians often occupy stands here selling Indian crafts and jewelry.
Initially you’ll snake quickly down switchbacks into the canyon that hug the edges of cliffs. Observe the speed limits as you encounter some sharp hair-pin curves. If you’re the unlucky one that gets to drive, you’ll likely miss some spectacular canyon views as you keep your eye on the road. It’s a relatively short drive, so you might consider driving back up the canyon, let someone else drive and go back down again.
As you descend, the winding steep road turns into a gentle decline along Oak Creek through thick natural foliage and forested trees. The lush greenery is visually startling against the crimson red mountain cliffs. The colors are magnified during the fall months when the trees turn to autumn shades. The contrast of evergreen pines, and the golden leaves of oak trees against red rock monoliths is a visual feast.
Along the way down to Sedona and red rock country, you’ll pass several places to stop and absorb the gorgeous sights. If you have the time, stop for a picnic, stroll along the shimmering Oak Creek where you’ll often see native trout, or enjoy a mellowing hike of serene tranquility. You’ll come upon the famous Slide Rock where a natural and slippery water-chute glides you down the creek.
If you’re fortunate enough to take this scenic drive after a rain, you may get a glimpse of spontaneous waterfalls cascading over the redrock cliffs. Or a double-rainbow that appears to bless the area with spectacular beauty. The entire area is dotted with cottages, cabins, lodging and vacation homes along the creekside or deeply secluded into the canyon forest. If you plan to spend a night or two, vacation rentals are available. You’ll also find several cozy bed and breakfast inns located in Oak Creek Canyon and Sedona.
Many claim the hike into the West Fork of Oak Creek is among the most refreshing hikes in the country. The West Fork is located in the Secret Mountain Wilderness which is an unspoiled natural treasure of greenery, wildflowers and colorful mountains. The first few miles of hiking trail is easy walking for all ages but progressively becomes more rugged for the serious backpacker. You may even come across some apple orchards where the sweet aroma of ripe apples permeate the fresh air. The Secret Mountain wilderness area is home to sacred vortexes long considered a spiritual place by Native Americans where metaphysical energy emanating from inner-earth has healing powers. Read more about the Sedona Vortex experience.
As Oak Creek levels into Sedona, you’ll recognize the redrock monoliths you’ve seen in postcards and travel destination magazines like Arizona Highways. They are Mother Nature Sculptures that landmark the horizons of Sedona. The area offers an endless array of attractions that makes Sedona and Oak Creek the second most popular attraction right behind the Grand Canyon. Over 4 million people visit Sedona every year from all around the world. If you plan to stay you’ll find quality lodging and accommodations including hotels and motels as well as luxury resorts, spas and golf resorts.
Continue your journey along the Flagstaff – Oak Creek – Sedona scenic loop through State Route 179 to Interstate 17 north back to Flagstaff or wherever in Arizona may be your next stop. Consider getting to I17 via Schnebley Hill Road which will give you a unique perspective of Sedona and Oak Creek as you climb to the top of the mountain.
The entire scenic loop covers about 88 miles. It’s an easy drive and an experience you’ll never forget. You’ll be back and each time you’ll discover another beauty that you’ll swear wasn’t there before.
Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive Map
West Fork Trail in Oak Creek Canyon Video
Photos Compliments of Valerie Millett
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