Oak Creek Canyon, just outside Sedona, is a spectacular and diverse riparian area and the state’s second most popular canyon. Towering vermilion and cream walls rise out of a lush green canopy, creating spectacular beauty, with vistas in every direction.
Unlike the wondrous Grand Canyon, the number-one attraction in Arizona, Oak Creek Canyon is intimate, easily accessible, and enclosed. Highway 89A, the only road through the canyon, is a winding scenic route between Sedona and Flagstaff that has dazzled visitors since 1884.
Once a cattle trail, then a wagon road, and finally a popular drive, this scenic route begins in Red Rock Country and climbs more than 1,900 feet beside bubbling Oak Creek into pine-fir forests more than a mile high.
The 14.5-mile stretch that begins north of Sedona near Midgley Bridge and runs to Oak Creek Vista, was the first state highway designated as a “scenic byway” by the Arizona Department of Transportation on August 24, 1984.
The designated scenic portion of the Sedona-Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Byway ends 14 miles before reaching Flagstaff, but continues to climb gradually toward Flagstaff and the San Francisco Peaks to the north, where 20 miles past the scenic road’s end—as the crow flies—stands Arizona’s highest point, Humphreys Peak, at 12,633 feet.
The Byway has been described by Rand McNally as one of “America’s Top 10 scenic drives”; the road cuts through seven major plant communities created by changes in elevation, temperature, and precipitation.
Starting in Sedona, the road follows the canyon walls north through the lush greenery.
The roadway curves through prickly pear cacti and yuccas scattered among the cottonwood, ash, and white-barked Arizona sycamores along Oak Creek. In higher elevations, the cacti and riparian growth give way to piñon pines, junipers, and oaks.
Oak Creek is spring-fed, and also drains a large portion of the area above the Mogollon Rim. Tall ponderosa pines begin to appear, leading into a forest of Douglas and white fir as well as Gambel oak.
Driving along, we get the impression that nature parted the canyon walls just for the view. But it was the relentless effect of water on a sandstone fault that created the meandering floor of the canyon and continues to supply life-giving moisture to wildlife, trees, bushes, shrubs, and wildflowers.
Take the drive up or down Sedona-Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Byway, along the canyon’s rock-bordered curves and past lush vegetation, abundant wildlife, and stunning views. It’s a day trip not to be missed!
Since Verde Valley was our home base we drove up this scenic route to I-17 and returned to Sedona via Schnebly Hill Road. Alternately, we have driven to Oak Creek Canyon Vista and turned around and drove down the canyon back to Sedona.
The Forest Service maintains an information center at the Oak Creek Canyon Vista located at the top of the canyon, which provides a panoramic view of the upper end of Oak Creek Canyon and picnic tables and restrooms. This scenic overlook is also a popular venue for local Native American artists to sell jewelry and other local crafts.
Travel the Sedona-Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Road and you will discover one of the most beautiful and diverse areas Arizona has to offer.
A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine,
A Loaf of Bread—and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise now!
—Rubaiyat of Omar Khyaam