View of Oak Creek Canyon from Oak Creek Vista
Oak Creek Canyon is a gorge carved into the edge of the Mogollon Rim of the Colorado Plateau along the Oak Creek Fault. Tectonic forces shifting the land to either side of the fault and subsequent erosion by Oak Creek have created a spectacular canyon where the geologic history of this area is an open book.
The Canyon is approximately 12 miles long. Oak Creek flows year-round along the bottom of the Canyon, providing water for plants and wildlife, as well as fishing and swimming opportunities. Oak Creek continues on through Sedona, Arizona, meeting up with the Verde River southeast of Cottonwood, Arizona.
The depth of the Canyon ranges from 800 to 2000 feet, with trails providing access from the Canyon’s bottom up to the 6500-foot eastern rim and 7200-foot western rim. Some of these trails follow historic routes early Oak Creek Canyon settlers used to access the top of the plateau in the days before the road was built. Trails on the west side of the Canyon head into Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness.
The Creation of Oak Creek Canyon
View of the eastern, lava-capped cliffs of Oak Creek Canyon.
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Approximately 65 million years ago, during a period of great mountain building, movement along Oak Creek Fault caused the east side of what is now Oak Creek Canyon to shift upwards approximately 600 feet. The exposed top rock layers eroded away until the eastern and western sides of the fault were level once again.
A few more millions of years passed, and a canyon had formed. Streams carrying gravel, then lava, flowed into the canyon from the north. In the past six million years, the fault became active again and the modern Oak Creek Canyon was carved along it. This time, the fault caused the eastern rim of the Canyon to drop around 700 feet lower than the western rim.
One of the best places to get the big picture view of the Canyon’s fascinating geologic history is Oak Creek Vista. The Vista provides a view from the top of the Canyon, where the eastern drop is easily seen.
Learn more about the geology of Oak Creek Canyon (U.S. Forest Service).
Enjoying the Canyon
Oak Creek Canyon offers hiking, picnicking, camping, fishing, swimming, and endless vistas of colorful, soaring cliffs. The following resources will help you get the most from your visit:
Recreation Guide (PDF 9 MB) Recreation Maps Red Rock Pass Red Rock Ranger District Recreation Gateway to Red Rock Recreation [sedonaredrocktrails.org]
This park & campground is part of Slide Rock State Park in Oak Creek Canyon, which is in Sedona, AZ. My friend & I stayed at the Slide Rock Lodge down the road & we ate our meals here before & after hiking the Oak Creek in the Canyon. We took some great photos of the structures along the top ridge & saw what looked like an ancient Native American settlement.
It was a beautiful day & a wicked awesome river hike! This hiking trip was actually in May 2007 but I remember it like it was yesterday. It made a huge impression on me, especially since we hiked the Virgin River & Orderville Canyon in Zion National Park the next day.
I will upload photos later.
Great campsite! It’s great to be inside a canyon, provides early shade for the entire campsite before the sun is truly down. Has a general store for just in case things.
If you’re looking for an intense, gorgeous, canyoning trip, there’s no better place! The canyon itself is beautiful and presents multiple places to camp or you can just explore the freezing cold pools and repel down the drop offs! guide required