A local’s guide to some of the lesser-known but incredible sights to see in Northern Arizona.
Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona, AZ
This week we continue our look at unique Grand Canyon area attractions and why you should consider adding them to your travel itinerary.
If you’re looking for an Oak Creek experience that doesn’t draw quite the same crowds as Slide Rock, check out Grasshopper Point about 10 minutes down the road. This classic watering hole features striking red rock cliffs and pools for a perfect day of water play and picnicking.
Fortunately, Grasshopper Point has its own parking lot. Passes accepted are the Grand Annual Red Rock Pass and the Big Three Red Rock Pass. Or you can simply pay the daily rate at the gate: $12 per vehicle of up to 5 people, $3 per extra person or those walking or bicycling in.
Things to Do
Collared lizard on the Red Rocks of Sedona, AZ
You’ll have access to bathroom facilities and picnic tables, and because of the point’s location, a perfect balance of sun and shade. Fishing is popular in this area as is photography and wildlife watching. Families will enjoy observing lizards sunning and doing “pushups” on the sunbaked rocks, and hikers love following Allen’s Bend which connects to Casner Canyon Trail if you go north and Huckaby Trail if you go south. All three offer opportunities to explore the red rocks and meander down to the creek.
Cliff Jumping: Yay or Nay?
The red rock cliffs at Grasshopper Point naturally tempt adventurous visitors to jump into the inviting pool below. Options for cliff jumping can be from as high as 20-35 feet. The US Forest Service discourages cliff jumping because of hidden rocks and variable water levels. Does this stop people from doing it? Absolutely not! But recognize that if you do, you do so at your own risk. There are no lifeguards present and it can be difficult to assess safe jumping heights.
Know Before You Go
There’s no beach at Grasshopper Point, just rocks, so come prepared with sturdy water shoes, and keep in mind that pets, glass containers and camping are all prohibited in the area. Grasshopper Point is a favorite local hangout spot, especially for teenagers and college students. So while summer is ideal for sunning and cooling off in the water, it’s also the busiest season. To avoid crowds, come on a weekday and avoid holidays and Spring Break.
There are plenty of quirky, historic towns throughout Arizona that offer a great window into the pioneering spirit of early Wild West settlements. But Jerome might just be the perfect blend of history and quirk. Nestled, or, rather, perched (sometimes precariously), on the side of a mountain overlooking the Verde Valley, it’s a tiny but unique community built from the original booming copper town it began as in the early 1900s.
A great place to start is the Jerome State Historic Park. This mansion-turned-museum offers incredible views of the Verde Valley and provides a history of Jerome and its mining operations. Audrey Headframe Park nearby teaches visitors more about the mining process and allows them to look down a mine shaft.
A visit to the Gold King Mine and Ghost Town is a fun activity for the whole family, offering a glimpse of what it would have been like to live in a mining settlement. There are old buildings to walk through, animals to feed, an active blacksmith’s workshop and lots of old equipment and vehicles to wander through.
Once nicknamed the “Wickedest Town in the West,” Jerome has a colorful history on display. Several outfits offer historic tours of downtown Jerome, highlighting sites like the Sliding Jail, a building that’s now a good 200 feet from where it originally stood as it has been slowly sliding down the mountain, and the Bordello, a restaurant that once was a brothel. And if ghost stories are your thing, Jerome has plenty to share in the way of haunted properties, old cemeteries, and ghost walks and tours.
One of the main reasons to visit Jerome is the one-of-a-kind vibe, a creative energy mixed with mystery and sprinkled with old town charm that can best be experienced in the downtown area. It has an almost European feel to its eclectic architecture and the winding narrow streets that climb up the steep mountainside. You’ll find no shortage of shops offering clothing, copper creations, jewelry, rocks and gems, home décor, unique treats, artwork and more, and there’s even a playground stair-stepped into the hillside if you need a place for young ones to play out some energy before heading into one of said unique shops.
Christmas in Jerome
If you visit the weekend after Thanksgiving, there will definitely be a crowd, but it’s worth it to see the town come alive with the Christmas spirit. Santa makes an appearance at The Old Firehouse and hands out candy and beautiful collector copper coins to the children who visit him, and the streets fill with carolers, luminaries, and live music in preparation for the tree lighting. Just make sure you get there earlier in the day to find parking!
Especially during a busy weekend or holiday, make reservations for meals ahead of time. Some of the more popular restaurants like The Clinkscale are booked days in advance, and you might find yourself facing long wait times or even unable to eat at your first-choice establishment.
Parking: some of it’s free, some of it’s not. There is street parking along the rows of shops, but it fills up quickly and can be tricky to get in and out of with the busy through traffic. If you’re willing to drive up Perkinsville Road a bit you can park in a large lot there for free and either walk or take a shuttle to the downtown area if it’s Friday–Sunday or a holiday.
Scenic Viewpoint west of Jerome, AZ
Don’t forget to take pictures! From its vantage point on the mountainside, Jerome offers incredible views of the Verde Valley. And if you drive a short while west out of town on 89A there’s a great little scenic viewpoint to stop at before continuing up the mountain.
Red Mountain Hike
Sunset Crater near Flagstaff, AZ gets a lot of attention as a volcanic eruption site, and rightfully so: it’s fascinating and definitely worth a visit. But a lesser-known volcanic site offers a unique hiking experience for the whole family that doesn’t cost a thing.
Twenty-five miles northwest of Flagstaff in the Coconino National Forest you’ll find Red Mountain Trail No. 159 off of Highway 180 on the way to the Grand Canyon. From the trailhead it takes about 30 minutes to hike to the main attraction: a natural amphitheater carved into the side of a volcanic cone.
The first stretch is rather unremarkable as you hike on mostly flat terrain on a gentle rise that takes you through a pinyon-juniper forest area. At about ¾ of a mile, you drop down into a dry wash that gradually becomes flanked with towering Ponderosa Pine trees, lava formations and unique vegetation. A ladder will take you up about 6 feet and acts as a sort of gateway; those first steps into the amphitheater are sure to elicit oohs and ahhs from even the youngest hikers.
Inside the Red Mountain Amphitheater
As part of the San Francisco Volcanic Field, USGS surveys suggest that Red Mountain formed from eruptions about 740,000 years ago. Because of the shape and location of the amphitheater, it’s easy to think it was the center of the eruption. But the vent that blew is actually located on the back side of the cone; the theater was formed after the actual eruption. Geologists still don’t know exactly how—could have been water erosion, steam explosions that occurred post eruption, or some combination of the two. Along the way and in the amphitheater you’ll have the pleasure of seeing erosional pillars (aka hoodoos) and beautiful color variations in rock formations.
Once in the heart of the amphitheater you’ll find plenty of rocks on which to rest or picnic, large trees for a shady break from the heat, and plenty of rock formations and crevices to explore. And at about 3 miles roundtrip, the hike back won’t take you long. Just be sure to bring plenty of water!
B-24 Wreckage Site on Humphreys Peak
With this next entry on our list we use the word “attraction” loosely, as it’s really a memorial and also a destination that should only be attempted by prepared hikers. But if you’re a World War II or aviation buff and an avid adventurer, this might just be the most meaningful Northern Arizona attraction off the beaten path.
Thousands hike Mt. Humphreys, the tallest peak in the San Francisco Peaks range, every year. With a summit of 12,633 feet, climbing the peak will put you at the tallest point in Arizona, a prime spot for breathtaking panoramic views and reflective solitude. But if you’re not afraid to leave the trail, you just might find a piece of relatively untouched history.
The San Francisco Peaks, Arizona
On September 15, 1944, a B-24 Liberator Bomber on a training mission heading from Bakersfield, CA to Kirtland Field, NM went off course and crashed near the top of Humphreys Peak, killing all 8 members of its crew. Poor weather conditions likely led to location miscalculations, causing the accident.
This is one of five military plane crashes that occurred on the San Francisco Peaks between 1941 and 1944, but it’s the most documented and has the most visible wreckage remaining with part of a wing, a propeller and some of the landing gear still intact.
There is a stone memorial marker off of Humphreys Trail with the names of those who were killed in the crash: Warren Crowther, Ray Shipley, Clyce McClevey, Charles McDonald, Patrick Pertuset, James Hartzog, John Franke and Hugh Brown.
Finding the Wreckage
Head up to the Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort and you’ll find a parking lot for the Humphreys Peak Trail on the left as you first come in. You’ll hike through a beautiful meadow and up through the Kachina Peaks Wilderness, climbing over switchbacks shaded by quaking aspens for just under 3 miles. At the 7th switchback you’ll continue heading north off the trail to follow some cairns that have been left by other hikers.
Make sure you use GPS and have offline maps that don’t rely on cell service (AllTrails has a good one). Once you leave Humphreys Trail you’ll only have to hike about half a mile straight north to get to the wreckage, but there is no trail, and the terrain is extremely rocky and sometimes unstable, so it might take you longer than you think.
Go between June and October, check the weather forecast before you go, and bring plenty of water and sturdy hiking shoes. Do your research, know your limits, and be aware of the signs of altitude sickness (the wreckage is at about 11,000 feet).
We share this information with a hope that any who do visit will do so with respect and reverence for what occurred at the site. Use caution in making your way to the wreckage and remember that all materials from the wreck are government property and are not to be removed from the premises. Visit, explore, but leave no trace of your visit.
Need a Place to Stay?
Don’t forget Backland as a hidden gem of a glamping resort. We’re no more than 2 hours from any of these fantastic Grand Canyon area attractions and we’d love to have you stay with us.