Sedona’s 200-plus trails offer dramatic views and doses of adventure or escape, whether you’re seeking out the elusive subway cave off Boynton Canyon Trail, hiking to the devil’s sinkhole on Soldier Pass Trail or walking to prehistoric cave dwellings on the Palatki Ruins Trail. But Red Rock Crossing has the trifecta: a shady swimming hole, head-on views of 5000ft Cathedral Rock and energy emanating from one of Sedona’s four vortexes.
The area and trail itself are naturally named for the iconic buttes rising up amid the junipers and pines. And although maps show the dotted line for Red Rock Crossing Trail leading through Oak Creek, the namesake “crossing” no longer exists – unless you’re willing to get your feet wet. A flood washed out the bridge in 1978. Despite rumblings in the 1990s to rebuild a vehicle crossing to connect the communities on either side of the creek, resistance from residents curbed the plans.
Two of the easiest ways to visit both banks of this scenic spot on Oak Creek are via the Crescent Moon Picnic Area (north side) and the actual Red Rock Crossing Trail (south side). Each side has its benefits and beauty. Plus fording the low-water “crossing” of Oak Creek is relatively easy, enabling you to get a full 360-degree experience.
Crescent Moon Picnic Area
For archetypal panoramas of Oak Creek flowing in the foreground, backdropped Cathedral Rock’s shoulders muscling into flawless blue skies, head to the Crescent Moon Picnic Area. Run by the US Forest Service, the day-use site is seven miles southwest of downtown Sedona. (Nearby is Crescent Moon Ranch, an old homestead built by ranchers, which the Forest Service has opened to the public for overnight stays.) There’s a parking lot and accessible amenities such as picnic tables, toilets, drinking water, an expansive grassy area and a cement walkway suitable for wheelchairs and strollers.
It’s a short distance down the paved path to get to the edge of Oak Creek with its classic tableau spread out before you. To find your own patch of paradise, look for the unpaved Buddha Beach Trail that starts just past the water wheel and continues for about two miles along the creek’s shoreline. Nature is unspoiled here; there aren’t any amenities once you leave the picnic area. But you can spread out a blanket, cast your fishing line into the clear water or find a deep spot in Oak Creek for a swim.
Because of its proximity to Cathedral Rock, a vortex site, many people believe that the point of Red Rock Crossing closest to the monolith also has energy flowing from the earth. Don’t plan to cross the creek? Then the best place to feel vortex vibes is at Buddha Beach. It’s easy to find: just look for the cairns. These piles of round rocks stacked by people at the creekside are said to symbolize Buddha’s round belly. They also act as markers since the water here is quite shallow; just watch out for slippery rocks if you attempt to wade across.
Red Rock Crossing Trail
For an easy hike (or slightly technical bike ride) to Red Rock Crossing Trail on the south side of Oak Creek, make your way to Baldwin Trail in the Village of Oak Creek. You need to do a little wayfinding, but the route is well signposted. Cathedral Rock looms large just moments after you step onto the rocky trail twisting among prickly pear cactuses and mesquite trees. In half a mile, the path meets up to Crescent Moon and Templeton trails. Take the latter, which turns into a sandy stretch that quickly leads to Oak Creek and the bonafide Red Rock Crossing Trail. Chill by the water (it’s deep enough for a dip) mesmerized by electric blue damsel flies flitting amid the wildflowers and micro-waterfalls. Then continue to the right for about 10 minutes to reach the curve in Oak Creek across from Buddha Beach. Look for the twisted trunk and limbs of a large tree, a hallmark of vortex vibes.
Hiking and biking
To explore more on the north side without jockeying for parking (or paying), hike the Secret Slick Rock and Pyramid Mountain trailheads (the latter hooks up to Scorpion and Schuerman Mountain trails) off Chavez Ranch Road. Make a left turn off Upper Red Rock Road and follow the roadside signs. These trails range from short to ambitious; you can even hike all the way to Red Rock State Park.
On the south side, Red Rock Crossing Trail connects to Cathedral Rock Trail, an ambitious 1.5-mile hike/scramble (gaining almost 750ft in elevation) to the base of its spires and the saddles between the sheer rock faces. Keep in mind that you’ll eventually need to backtrack or arrange for a pickup at the Cathedral Rock trailhead off Back O Beyond Road (another hiking option to access Oak Creek).
A simpler plan is to return to bike-friendly Baldwin Trail and continue the rest of the 2.1-mile loop to the parking lot. The undulating trail is stunner, with wide-open vistas of the ever-present Cathedral Rock and other unnamed peaks as constant companions. There’s a slight downside though: the trail is almost completely exposed to the elements. If you are hiking when it’s hot, consider tackling this trail counterclockwise, then make your way to Oak Creek for a well-deserved dunk in the water.
Plan your visit
Crescent Moon Picnic Area is located seven miles from downtown Sedona. Drive south on state route 89A, then turn west onto Red Rock Crossing Road and follow the signs for 1.5 miles. The parking lot fills up quickly, especially on weekends. Some roadside parking is available if you’re lucky. Driving is the easiest way to get here; there’s no public transportation.
The picnic area is open daily from 8am to 8pm from Memorial Day to Labor Day and 8am to dusk the rest of the year. The Red Rock Grand Annual Pass is accepted. Otherwise, parking fees are $11 per vehicle (for up to five people); extra passengers and walk-in visitors are $2 each. Bring cash or a check; credit cards are not accepted.
To get to the Baldwin Trailhead, turn west off state route 179 (Red Rock Scenic Byway) onto Verde Valley School Road and follow the signs for five miles to the parking lot. The last mile of the road is unpaved, but it’s suitable for all vehicles. The Cathedral Rock trailhead can be reached off Back O Beyond Road; turn west off state route 179 and drive 0.7 miles to the parking lot. A Red Rock Pass ($5 per day, $15 per week or $20 annually) is required to park at either trailhead. You can purchase one at the trailheads, online, by phone (928-203-2900 or 928-203-2923) or at a number of locations in Sedona.