The Mogollon Rim (pronounced Mug-ee-un) is a 2,000-foot escarpment cutting diagonally across central Arizona and on into New Mexico. At the top of the Mogollon Rim are the ponderosa pine forests of the high mountains, while at the bottom the lowland deserts begin. Of the many canyons cutting down from the rim, Oak Creek Canyon is the most beautiful—and one of the few with a paved road through it. From just outside Flagstaff to Sedona, Ariz. 89A runs through the canyon, winding its way down from the rim and paralleling Oak Creek. Along the way are overlooks, parks, picnic areas, campgrounds, and a variety of lodges and inns. Between the pine forests of the rim top and the desert below, Oak Creek Canyon is forested with sycamores and other deciduous trees; there is no better time to drive scenic Ariz. 89A than between late September and mid-October, when the canyon is ablaze with red and yellow leaves.
From the north, your first stop south of Flagstaff will be the Oak Creek Canyon Vista, which provides a view far down the valley to Sedona and beyond. The overlook is at the edge of the Mogollon Rim, and the road suddenly drops in tight switchbacks just south of here. From this vantage point you can see how one rim of the canyon is lower than the other—Oak Creek Canyon sits on a geologic fault line, and one side of the canyon is moving in a different direction from the other.
Within Oak Creek Canyon you’ll find several hikes of different lengths. By far the most spectacular is the 6-mile round-trip West Fork of Oak Creek Trail, a classic canyon-country hike. At some points, the canyon is no more than 20 feet wide, its steep walls rising more than 200 feet from the creek. You can extend the hike many more miles up the canyon if you want an overnight backpacking trip. The trail head is at the Call of the Canyon Recreation Area, on Ariz. 89A 10 miles north of Sedona; there’s a $9 day-use fee per vehicle.
In the desert, swimming holes are powerful magnets in the hot summer months, and consequently, Slide Rock State Park, 6871 N. Ariz. 89A (www.azstateparks.com; tel. 928/282-3034), 7 miles north of Sedona on the site of an old homestead, is the most popular spot in Oak Creek Canyon in summer, with crowds of families and teenagers drawn by its natural water slide and great little swimming hole. On hot days, it’s jammed with people splashing in the water and sliding over the algae-covered sandstone bottom of Oak Creek. It’s open daily, year-round; entry is $10 per vehicle ($20 in summer). Another popular swimming area is at Grasshopper Point, 2 miles north of Sedona on Ariz. 89A. Admission is $8 per vehicle.
If you get thirsty while driving through the canyon, hold out for Indian Gardens Market, 3951 N. Ariz. 89A (www.indiangardens.com; tel. 928/282-7702), about 4 miles north of Sedona, next to the Oak Creek Visitor Center. Here, in the fall, you can usually buy delicious organic apple juice made from apples grown in the canyon. Another 2 miles down Ariz. 89A, just past Grasshopper Point, stop at the overlook at the north end of Midgely Bridge for one last view down the canyon.
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