The Mogollon Rim (pronounced Mug-ee-un by the locals) 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 that has a paved road down through it). Ariz. 89A runs through the canyon from just outside Flagstaff to Sedona, 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.
Approaching Oak Creek Canyon from the north, your first stop after traveling south from 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. You may notice that one rim of the canyon is lower than the other. This is because Oak Creek Canyon is on a geologic fault line; one side of the canyon is moving in a different direction from the other.
Although the top of the Mogollon Rim is a ponderosa pine forest and the bottom a desert, Oak Creek Canyon supports a forest of 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.
In the desert, swimming holes are powerful magnets during the hot summer months, and consequently, Slide Rock State Park, 6871 N. Ariz. 89A (tel. 928/282-3034; www.azstateparks.com), 7 miles north of Sedona on the site of an old homestead, is the most popular spot in Oak Creek Canyon during the summer. What pulls in the crowds of families and teenagers is the park's natural water slide and great little swimming hole. On hot days, the park is jammed with people splashing in the water and sliding over the algae-covered sandstone bottom of Oak Creek. Open daily, year-round; admission is $10 per vehicle ($20 during the summer). There's another popular swimming area at Grasshopper Point, several miles closer to Sedona. Admission is $8 per vehicle.
Within Oak Creek Canyon, several hikes of different lengths are possible. By far the most spectacular and popular is the 6-mile round-trip up the West Fork of Oak Creek. This is a classic canyon-country hike with steep canyon walls rising from the creek. At some points, the canyon is no more than 20 feet wide, with walls rising up more than 200 feet. You can also extend the hike many more miles up the canyon for an overnight backpacking trip. The trail head for the West Fork of Oak Creek hike is 9 1/2 miles up Oak Creek Canyon from Sedona at the Call of the Canyon Recreation Area, which charges a $9 day-use fee per vehicle.
Stop by the Sedona Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center for a free map of area hikes. The Coconino National Forest's Red Rock District, 8375 Ariz. 179 (tel. 928/203-2900; www.redrockcountry.org), just south of the Village of Oak Creek, is an even better source of hiking information. It's open daily from 8am to 5pm.
If you get thirsty while driving through the canyon, hold out for Garlands Indian Gardens Market, 3951 N. Ariz. 89A (tel. 928/282-7702), about 4 miles north of Sedona. Here, in the fall, you can usually buy delicious organic apple juice made from apples grown in the canyon. For one last view down the canyon, stop at Midgely Bridge (watch for the parked cars and small parking area at the north end of the bridge).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.