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Oak Creek Canyon
West Fork of Oak Creek

Oak Creek Canyon is a 12 mile (20 km) long river gorge located along the Mogollon Rim in northern Arizona located between the cities of Flagstaff and Sedona. The canyon is often described as a smaller cousin of the Grand Canyon because of its scenic beauty. State Route 89A enters the canyon on its north end via a series of hairpin turns before traversing the bottom of the canyon for about 13 miles (20.8 kilometers) until the highway enters the town of Sedona. The Oak Creek Canyon-Sedona area is the second most popular tourist destination in Arizona, second only to the Grand Canyon.



Oak Creek Canyon is about 12 miles (19.2 km) long and ranges in width from 0.8 to 2.5 miles (1.3 to 4 km). The depth of the canyon ranges from 800-2,000 feet (240 to 600 meters). However, due to the faulting that played a major role in the formation of Oak Creek Canyon, the west rim of the canyon is 700 feet (210 meters) higher than the east rim. The average elevation of the west rim is 7,200 feet (2,160 meters) while the east rim elevation is 6,500 feet (1,950 m)

Oak Creek, a tributary of the Verde River, flows along the bottom of the canyon and is one of the few perennial streams in the high desert region of northern Arizona. Oak Creek is largely responsible for carving the modern Oak Creek Canyon although movement along the Oak Creek Fault, a 30 mile (48 km) long north-south normal fault line, is thought to have played a role as well.

Below Sedona, Oak Creek enters more open country. It meanders past the communities of Page Springs and Cornville, Arizona, and reaches its confluence with the Verde River about 6 miles (10 km) southeast of Cottonwood, Arizona [1].

In June 2006, the southern portion of the canyon, near Slide Rock State Park, was affected by a 4,300 acre (17.4 square km) wildfire known as the "Brins Fire".[2]


Geologic evidence suggests the formation of an ancestral Oak Creek Canyon along the Oak Creek Fault about eight to ten million years ago.[3] The ancestral Oak Creek Canyon was then filled in by gravel deposits and a series of lava flows between six and eight mya during the Miocene epoch.[3] About this time, the Oak Creek Fault became active again and the modern Oak Creek Canyon began to develop along the fault zone as a result of the erosional action of Oak Creek.[4] The normal, down-to-the-east motion of the Oak Creek Fault during the most recent faulting period resulted in the west rim of the canyon being about 700 feet (210 meters) higher than the east rim.

The spectacularly eroded walls of the canyon are formed mostly of Paleozoic sedimentary rocks. Exposures of the Kaibab Limestone (the geologic formation found at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon) and the Toroweap Formation are found at the northern end of the canyon but not in the southern. The more predominant rock units exposed in the cliffs of southern Oak Creek Canyon are the buff to white colored, frequently cross-bedded Permian Coconino Sandstone and the red sandstones of the Permian Schnebly Hill Formation. Unlike all the other formations exposed in Oak Creek Canyon, the Schnebly Hill Formation is not exposed at the Grand Canyon. The youngest rocks exposed in the canyon are a series of basalt lava flows that form the east rim of the canyon. The youngest of these flows is an estimated 6 million years old.[3]


Fishing in Oak Creek, Cathedral Rock in background, 1959.

Oak Creek Canyon is located within the Coconino National Forest. Portions of the canyon have been designated federal wilderness areas as part of the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness. The United States Forest Service operates several campgrounds, picnic areas, and recreation areas within the canyon. Slide Rock State Park, home to a natural water slide along Oak Creek, is also located within Oak Creek Canyon. Other recreational activities in the canyon include swimming and fishing in Oak Creek. There are 49 fishable miles along the creek where rainbow trout, brown trout, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, catfish (channel) and catfish (flathead) can all be found. Hiking the many trails that lead into side canyons or up to the rim of the canyon is also a great activity for the area. The trail leading the first 3 miles (4.8 km) up the West Fork of Oak Creek, a 14 mile (22.4 km) long narrow side canyon, is the most popular trail in the Coconino National Forest.[5] Find out more about the work being done to preserve Oak Creek Canyon and its watershed: Oak Creek Canyon information.


  1. ^ TopoQuest - USGS Cornville (AZ) Topo Map
  2. ^ "Brins Fire-June 2006". U.S. Forest Service, Coconino National Forest. Retrieved 2006-11-09.  
  3. ^ a b c Ranney, Wayne D.R. (May 1998). "Geologic Road Log for U.S. Route 89A through Oak Creek Canyon". Geologic Excursions in Northern and Central Arizona. Department of Geology, Northern Arizona University. pp. 177–179.  
  4. ^ Lucchitta, Ivo (2001). Hiking Arizona's Geology. Mountaineers Books. pp. 97–99. ISBN 0-89886-730-4.  
  5. ^ "West Fork of Oak Creek Trail". U.S. Forest Service, Coconino National Forest. Retrieved 2006-11-09.  

External links

Coordinates: 34°54′45″N 111°43′37″W / 34.9125°N 111.72694°W / 34.9125; -111.72694

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