Visitors to central Arizona can view the impressive scenery in Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon and also see the world’s largest natural travertine bridge. That’s what we did on a trip that began at Sedona and took us north into Oak Creek Canyon.
Just seven miles north of Sedona is one of the coolest parks in Arizona—Slide Rock State Park. A natural rock waterslide nestled in the streambed of Oak Creek is a magnet for swimmers and sunbathers. But you don’t have to slide down that slick water chute if you don’t want to; you can also just wade in the creek and cool off.
The park also offers fishing, a picnic area, nature trails and a volleyball court. A market provides sandwiches, snacks and picnic supplies.
The park was originally an apple orchard, the 43-acre Pendley Homestead that was planted in 1912. The Pendley House was built in 1927 and is one of the few homesteads left in Oak Creek Canyon.
The park has a large parking area that accommodates all sizes of vehicles. The day use fee is $8 for a vehicle with up to four people. The fee is separate from the Red Rock Pass, which is required for parking in the national forest in Red Rock Country. (See sidebar.)
Oak Creek Canyon can be viewed on a 17-mile scenic drive. We began our journey heading north from Sedona along Highway 89A. We pulled over and enjoyed the impressive sights whenever we found a space large enough to accommodate our RV. Most scenic overlooks and pullouts are large enough for most RVs. But be aware that some scenic pullouts require the Red Rock Pass.
The U.S. Forest Service has six campgrounds in Oak Creek Canyon with a total of more than 170 campsites. Most campgrounds operate on a first-come, first-served basis, charging from $12 to $16 per night for one vehicle and $5 to $7 for a second vehicle. No hookups or showers are available.
While some campgrounds don’t allow any RVs, most do but have size restrictions. Cave Springs is the biggest campground in the area with 80 camping sites. RVs and trailer up to 36 feet are allowed here. It is open from April 15 to October 31. Summer weekends fill up early. Go mid-week or early in the week to avoid disappointment.
Oak Creek is regularly stocked with trout during the summer months. A fishing license is required. If the trout elude your fishing line in the stream, you can also try your luck for a small fee at the Rainbow Trout Farm in Oak Creek Canyon.
After we left Sedona, we took an out-of-the-way route home on State Route 87, heading towards Payson. About 10 miles northwest of Payson we came across Tonto Natural Bridge State Park.
After an exhilarating roller coaster ride down the steep, winding road to the park, we arrived at the park entrance. My husband remarked to the forest ranger what a wild ride it was. “Yes it is,” the ranger replied. “Just this morning we had a visitor that didn’t know how to downshift and he rode his brakes down. When he lost his brakes, he crashed into the entrance gate.”
Use low gear and caution driving down to this park. Try not to brake unless it’s necessary. You’ll need those brakes to stop at the park’s entrance gate at the bottom of the hill.
Tonto Natural Bridge State Park features the world’s largest natural travertine bridge, which is about 183 feet high and 400 feet wide. Over time calcium carbonate deposits created the bridge. Visitors can stand on top of the bridge or hike down to the creek bottom under the bridge to enjoy its natural wonder.
Non-hikers can enjoy several scenic spots at the parking lot level, which is also wheelchair accessible. Athletic visitors can walk a short scenic trail to a waterfall or hike down to the observation deck to view the bridge up close. Allow plenty of time to hike down to the creek bottom, because the trail is steep, strenuous and rough. Plus, the trail involves very steep steps going down and coming back up that are hard on your knees.
We went down to the observation deck and enjoyed the view of the bridge. But I went down and came up those steps faster than I should have. Although I didn’t feel any pain until that evening, I sprained one knee that took months to heal. Take those steps slowly and rest if needed.
This park also has a large parking area for RVs. And, there is a delightful picnic area with shaded ramadas. While we sat on a picnic bench, a large herd of javelinas with babies wandered into the grassy area, looking for food. Be aware that these wild boars are dangerous. They will charge and bite, especially when young are present.
The park charges $6 per vehicle for day-use only. If you need a place to camp, there are numerous recreational opportunities in nearby Tonto National Forest, with rivers, streams and lakes to enjoy. Picnicking and camping sites are available, and fishing is allowed at many areas. Visit www.pr.state.az.us for more information on both parks.
RED ROCK PASS
The Red Rock Pass is necessary for vehicle parking in the national forest in Red Rock Country. It costs $5 per vehicle for a daily pass, $15 for a weekly pass, $20 for an annual pass, and $40 for a grand annual pass. The Red Rock Pass allows vehicle access to all US Forest Service land except the campgrounds and daily fee areas. Passes are available at the Sedona Oak Creek Chamber of Commerce, visitor centers and other locations. If you don’t display a valid pass, you could receive a citation. Visit www.redrockcounty.org for more information.
Evalyn Neuhaus is a travel writer who lives in Elgin, Arizona.