For an exploration of the red sandstone canyon on the south side of Sedona along 89A, plan a trip to Red Rock State Park. Access is off Lower Red Rock Loop Road. The drive there is scenic. So much so that around every bend is another dramatic view.
The 286-acre nature preserve along Oak Creek was opened as a state park in 1991. Before it became an Arizona State Park – it was for many years a ranch, called Smoke Trail Ranch. As its name indicates, the park’s most impressive features are the hills of red sandstone, which delight the eyes with their dramatic shapes and configuration. If the park looks somewhat like the Great Valley in “The Land Before Time” that is not a coincidence since this breathtakingly real setting helped to inspire the fictional “real” one.
Begin at the Miller Visitors Center; it offers an interpretive film, informative exhibits, a gift shop, and restrooms. It is a great way to learn more about the Verde Valley and the region’s Native American culture. Near the visitor center, you will find the butterfly garden and the hummingbird garden.
From the visitors center, you can take advantage of the regularly scheduled daily nature walks (10 a.m.), geology hikes, archaeology hikes, and bird walks (Wednesday and Saturday morning). You can even take a moonlight hike.
Or hike at your own pace. The five-mile trail system is family friendly and easy to follow using the maps you can obtain in the visitors center. Enjoy the sights and scents of the junipers, the soothing waters of Oak Creek, and the stunning beauty of the red rocks. For those interested in a longer hike, you can follow a former wagon trail, the 15-mile Lime Kiln Trail, to Dead Horse Ranch State Park.
Along the way, you will have great views of Cathedral Rock, Warriors Rock, and Three Sisters. Include a visit to the Apache Fire House.
Wildlife can often be seen in the park, including coyotes, bobcats, Mule deer, and javelin. There are many species of birds. Do keep a sharp eye out; one can also encounter blacktail rattlesnakes, tarantulas, and lizards.
The park is opened 8-5 daily with the last entry at 4:30 p.m. There is a $7 admission fee for adults, $4 for children. When to go? The early mornings are best for wildlife sightings, the late afternoons are best for the light on the red rocks. Why not take a picnic and enjoy the whole day!