Drive a hair north of Oak Creek Canyon where you’ll leave the Red Rock Ranger District and the lush, diverse surroundings found next to the spring-fed river flowing south. The changes as you crawl your way out of the canyon on that long, winding road are unbelievable. As your elevation and spirits rise, the trees become more homogenous and rocky walls become steeper. Say goodbye to the river swept sanctuary below and enter the WILD.
As soon as you make it around the final bend, pine trees will consume your view, endlessly in every direction. Unlike the pine forests of Texas, you can see straight through the forest, as meadows run between the trees, no sign of brush in sight. The green, green scenery up here is refreshing, especially after spending a long time in the desert. The first stop is to your right – Oak Creek Vista. Go have a look at the canyon below – what a sight! If you happen to be there after a rain, you may be lucky enough to see miniature clouds of fog moving through the gorge below.
One of the greatest perks of being in the Coconino is that once outside the Red Rock Ranger District, you’re able to pull off of the road and camp virtually anywhere you please. If you have been looking for free camping near to Sedona, you have hit the jackpot. As you drive from Oak Creek Vista you will see a forest road pop up on your left, titled FR535. This leads to the area known locally as “End of The World” where you can catch beautiful sunrises and sunsets, however, until you reach the top there is limited viable camping as the sites are all on a slope. Thus, unless you have a high clearance vehicle and a love for small, steep roads, this will probably not be your cup of tea. Not to worry, though, there are plenty more sites in store. The next forest service road you will come by is FR537 – this one is perhaps one of my favourite areas to camp at – providing a few areas for dispersed camping (still free, but restricted to designated campsites). The road is graded gravel, so it’s very easy to access. If there are no available spots there (such as on the 4th of July weekend) then perhaps travel further up the road and enter onto FR533. This is not a very popular spot to camp for two reasons – the road is very bumpy, and you have to open a gate to enter it (guessing that most people think it is off limits due to the gate). However, if you need a place to camp last minute on a holiday, this was a lifesaver of a spot.