Sedona-Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Road


Looking up Oak Creek Canyon, along the Sedona-Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Road
The view up Oak Creek Canyon, along the Sedona-Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Road
A view in oak Creek Canyon

The Sedona-Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Road is a 14.5-mile route following State Route 89A north out of Sedona and up onto the Mogollon Rim through Oak Creek Canyon. The southern end of the designated scenic road is near Midgely Bridge on the north side of Sedona. The northern end is at Oak Creek Vista, on the edge of the Mogollon Rim. From Oak Creek Vista, the route continues to rise slowly through that final fifteen miles into Flagstaff.

This is an area made famous by Hollywood between the 1920's and 1950's: many of the old Westerns were filmed in different locations along the road but mostly concentrated in the area of what is now Slide Rock State Park. Virtually the entire drive is through Coconino National Forest and for much of it, Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness is just west of the highway right-of-way.

Oak Creek Canyon was eroded into the sandstones of the Mogollon Rim over the last 65 million years. The canyon is deep, narrow and twisted as it traverses great eras of geological history compressed into the rock: what you see here are the same materials that compose the upper six strata of the Grand Canyon. As the elevation changes along the road (4,500' between Sedona and the top of Oak Creek Canyon), you'll also be traveling through seven major plant communities: from upper Sonoran Desert to subalpine conifers and aspens.

In the early days of settlement, the route followed by the Sedona-Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Road was a cattle trail, used to drive cattle to the railroad in Flagstaff. Then it became a wagon road used by settlers arriving in Flagstaff on the train and heading south to Sedona, Cottonwood and Prescott. These days, the road is basically a touristic road and short-cut for the folks from the Sedona area to get to the shopping malls of Flagstaff.

Oak Creek Canyon is a lush riparian corridor. The stream is both spring-fed and a major drainage for the area above the Mogollon Rim. Temperatures and rainfall vary greatly along this 14.5-mile route but that regular flow of water makes for a green oasis supporting many varieties of plants and animals in this otherwise dry countryside. As virtually all the larger animals come to the stream for a drink regularly, you might just see mountain lion, bobcat, mule deer, black bear, javelina and coyote along the way. Among the plant communities represented are cacti, ocotillo, yucca, juniper, Gambel oak, pinion and Ponderosa pine, aspen, oak, cottonwood, willow, sycamore and a multitude of succulents, grasses and wildflowers.

Summer and winter are the wet seasons, spring and fall tend to be dry. It can be 70°F in Sedona and snowing at the top of the canyon. Sedona is high enough and far enough north that it sometimes freezes in winter but summers tend to be in the 100°F range during the day.

A view in Oak Creek Canyon
A view in Oak Creek Canyon

Oak Creek Canyon from the top
Looking around at the top of Oak Creek Canyon
At the top of Oak Creek Canyon