Just south of Flagstaff, State Rt. 89A descends a breathtaking series of switchbacks into a scenic, smaller cousin of the Grand Canyon. Known for colorful rocks and unique formations, Oak Creek Canyon is famous the world around for its spectacular scenery.
Before you drive into the canyon you'll want to stop at Oak Creek Canyon Vista. Here you can get a bird's eye view of what awaits you down the road and, at the same time, shop for Native American jewelry and other craft items from the local Native American artists who set up displays along the pathways.
Once you've snaked your way down the switchbacks, U. S. Highway 89A winds a lazy course down the length of Oak Creek Canyon. It's actually possible to enjoy the scenery here without leaving your car, but most people choose to get to know these crimson cliffs and crystal pools on a more personal basis. For that purpose there are plenty of overlooks, picnic areas, swimming holes and hiking trails all along the drive. At Midgely Bridge, there's a vista point with an especially unforgettable backdrop where you'll want to stop and use that wide-angle lens.
As you leave Oak Creek Canyon and continue past Sedona through Red Rock Country, an observer with a sharp eye will recognize familiar shapes among the natural sculptures that form the horizon. Keep an eye out for Steam Boat Rock, Courthouse Butte, Bell Rock and more.
You can continue down this scenic route to Interstate 17 and then back to Flagstaff, or you may want to turn around and do it all over again. Another way to complete the loop is to return to I-17 via Schnebly Hill Road rather than Rt 179. The vistas along this rocky but rewarding forest backroad are as good, if not better, than any along the rest of the drive.