Sometimes a state park is full of so much natural beauty and offers so many best experiences that we think it should really be a national park. One of them is located in the Oak Creek Canyon in the Coconino National Forest in Sedona, Arizona. We have been to Slide Rock State Park five times and will definitely be back. In fact, it was once again on Travel Channel’s “10 Best Swimming Holes in America” ââlist because of its “Ultimate Water Slide.”
But there are several other best experiences you can have at the park besides swimming and sliding. You can learn about the history of the area, pick apples with your kids, hike among the red rocks and take instagrammable photos, and observe wildlife and fish at your leisure. Whenever family and friends visit us we make an effort to take them there and are lucky it is only two hours from our home in Mesa. On our last visit in late June, however, it was closed by the US Forest Service due to the extreme risk of wildfires at the time.
1. Immerse yourself in history
The park was originally a historic 43-acre apple farm owned by Frank L. Pendley, who arrived in the canyon in 1907 and acquired the land under the Homestead Act of 1910. It later became known as the name of Pendley Homestead. The unique irrigation system he established is still used by the park today. This is the reason why his farm has succeeded while others have failed.
When the Canyon Road (it’s the shortcut – 45 minutes to Flagstaff) was opened in 1914 and paved in 1938, tourism to the area flourished. Because his farm was one of the largest plots of land in Oak Creek Canyon, Pendley built rustic cabins to meet the needs of those who wanted to stay for vacations. Some of the historic cabins are still available today, including various agricultural implements that were in use at the time.
Her son continued to operate and manage the property until 1982 when the family decided it was time to sell it. Arizona Governor Babbitt had a vision and created the Arizona Parklands Foundation which would buy private property and donate it to the state. In 1985, four Arizona banks loaned $ 3.6 million to the foundation. However, when donations were not received, the state legislature passed Bill 2391 which provided for a state park acquisition and development fund. He bought not only the Pendley Homestead, but five other properties that also became state parks. Slide Rock State Park officially opened to the public in October 1987.
2. Apple picking
That’s why today visitors can still enjoy the fruits of Pendley’s labor, literally and figuratively. During one of our visits, nearly 300 apple trees were filled, several falling to the ground. Yes, you can pick apples for free, come just at harvest time. Pendley planted his first apple orchard in 1912, pioneering early agricultural development that became a model for the state at the time. Fruit was the main cash crop on the Pendley family farm, but he was also able to grow a variety of market garden crops and even raise livestock.
If you go in the winter, the freezing temperatures will have knocked off the leaves of the deciduous trees and pruning may have started. The beginning of spring brings flowers and bud growth. Apple blossoms are small, white with pink highlights and a wonderful fragrance. It’s a good time to go to the park. After the bees cross pollinate, the pretty petals fall off and the fruits start to take shape. As the fruit grows, thinning removes excess apples to improve the size and quality of what is left on the tree.
During the long hot summer days in Arizona, fruit trees need to be watered and electric pumps are used to bring water from the stream. The fruits continue to ripen and the branches are so heavily loaded that it may be necessary to support them with wood. Picking usually begins in late August or early September, which is also the best time to cool off in the stream. In addition to spring, this time is also another good time to go to the park. We have been all four seasons but loved our tours in early spring and late summer.
3. Swimming and sliding
But it’s the clear, rushing stream that offers the best experiences available in the park, especially if you’re looking for a place to cool off during the hot summer months. The Slide Rock area, open for swimming, is 800 yards long and the slide area is 80 feet long and 2.5 to 4 feet wide, going downstream with a seven percent drop. The algae that accumulates on the rocks make the ride slippery. The stream descends from the upper areas, grazes many red rocks in its path, and settles into a calmer flow below. This allows you to glide along the entire length in the greatest abandon and pleasure.
There are a few pools where many children and adults wade and swim. In several places you can sit and let the small falls massage your back. One section is deep enough that I saw teenagers jumping into the water from the rock ledge above. However, there is no lifeguard on duty, so you do so at your own risk.
4. Hiking and photography
For those who enjoy hiking, there are three short trails in the park. There are also several nearby Coconino National Forest hiking trails for those who want more. But the whole area, including all the trails, is kind of a compact park. In other words, you will leave with everything you brought. Glass containers are also strictly prohibited. As you walk through the entire park, you will naturally take the first two trails. But don’t forget to make the third very scenic.
The Pendley Homestead Trail is an easy, quarter-mile trail. This paved and flat trail is suitable for all visitors. It runs through part of the historic Pendley Farm with parts of the original apple orchards, the Pendley Homestead, tourist huts, the apple packing barn, various farm implements that have been used, a new orchard of semi-dwarf apple trees, and spectacular views.
The Slide Rock Route is a 0.3 mile trail with a moderate degree of difficulty and is, in fact, the primary access to the Slide Rock swimming area. It starts near the apple picking barn and you turn right towards the steps down to the stream. Then it crosses by a small footbridge. During periods of heavy runoff, the walkway will not be there and visitors will simply have to stay on the west side.
After crossing the footbridge, you will continue north along pretty sandstone tablets. In the summer, swimmers take up a large portion of this route, so you may need to hike some. There is a historic rock cabin on the east side of the creek which was used with a canal and waterwheel to generate electricity for the entire property. From the ledge in front of this hut, many start jumping into the cove. When you see the eight foot wall, you can turn around. But you can also decide to negotiate the wall and explore more areas upstream.
The nature trail at the top of the cliffs is a quarter mile trail that starts near the apple barn after the steps to the creek and leads into the forest above the west side of the swimming area. So, it offers the most picturesque views and is the best not only for those who want to hike, but also for those who want memorable photos.
5. Wildlife observation and trout fishing
This nature trail will also provide lucky visitors with wildlife viewing opportunities. White-tailed deer, javelins, coyotes and black bears have all been sighted in the park. There is also a wide variety of bird species, some small mammals, and various small reptiles. Such sightings make the park not only for water recreation.
And fly fishing for trout can be experienced upstream. The Arizona Game and Fish Department supplies the creek seasonally with populations of wild brown and rainbow trout. Trophy fish of both species have been regularly caught in this part of Oak Creek. However, fishing is not allowed in the swimming area. You have to take a short hike upstream into “vast ponds, dug banks, and soft guns” that trout love. Moreover, the trout look upstream for their next meal. Approaching from downstream, you will arrive unexpectedly. Cast beyond where the trout are hiding – catching and releasing is recommended, however.
With all of the photos included here, you can now see why this is one of our favorite parks and consider it worthy of a national park. There are a variety of things to do that turn into the best experiences. And you can enjoy it all against a backdrop of the outstanding natural beauty of the blazing red rocks.