OAK CREEK CANYON -- Our unofficial “Foliage-o-Meter” is about to pop in Oak Creek Canyon. Some reds have come out, but the gold and yellows that the canyon is known for are about one week away. That means if you want to see the glorious cottonwoods, willows, oaks, poplars and even maples turn color in Oak Creek Canyon, it’s time to make plans. The next few weeks will be amazing. The colors are still a pale lime-green, but Mother Nature is ready to explode.
Best places to view foliage in Oak Creek Canyon
Oak Creek Vista Overlook has free parking. The top of Oak Creek Canyon will allow leaf-peepers to stretch out and breathe in the cool fresh air and check yellows and golds. Stop in to the Vista parking area for a view of the spell-binding switchbacks, and visit with Native Americans selling jewelry and crafts. Arizona Natural History Association and Forest Service have a seasonal information booth at the Vista. “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,” explains the Forest Service.
Slide Rock State Park is a great place to view foliage as the crowds are decreasing and the chance for show in the upper cliffs can lead to dramatic photos. Park visitations taper off after Labor Day Weekend. Fall temperatures in the 60s and 70s during the day and colder at night really get those leaves changing. Many gold and yellow trees right around the parking lot area. Also some red. Lots of apples in the historic Slide Rock Apple orchard. October to February per vehicle (1-4 adults): $10
West Fork Trail is a wonderful, easy hike where you can dip your toes in the reflection of yellow and gold trees in a lazy flowing river. The forest trail winds along Oak Creek through and small red rock formations carved out by centuries of flowing water in clear pools. Prepare for yellows, golds, oranges as you walk under a canopy or tree cover. This is not a typical wide-open Sedona trail. There is a long wait to get in on weekends in the parking lot. Look for the changing maple trees. Also, see a historic wild apple orchard when you first walk in.
Pulling off on SR89A in Oak Creek Canyon is risky. Be careful to pick a safe spot when parking along the highway. Some are legal parking spots and some are not. There are pull-offs all along the canyon if you don’t want to stop in one of the parking lots with the crowds or they are full. Parking pull-offs can be located along the switchbacks at the top of the canyon all along Oak Creek to West Sedona. This is a way to climb down to a unique river photo or quiet lunch location. Colorful leaves float down the Oak Creek like kayaks.
Lunch at Indian Gardens is a lunch in the leaves. Surround yourself in the colors on their wonderful outdoor patio with a warm cup of their soup of the day; or one of their sandwiches like “Dan the Man,” or the “Mama Mia.” They even have vegetarian, wheat free and dairy free menu items, espresso, latte, cappuccino and roast-their-own coffee. Garland’s Indian Gardens Café & Market was built in 1947, according to its website, and has been a grocery store, gas station, bar, ice cream parlor, antique story and sandwich shop. Leaf Peepers can refuel here.