Traveler Tales: Coconino National Forest

Exploring our Nation's National Forests
Renee Tilby's Jayco travel trailer being driven down the road in coconino national forest

Nestled around the northern Arizona towns of Flagstaff and Sedona, and next door to The Grand Canyon and Phoenix, Coconino National Forest is a treasure trove of outdoor experiences. Countless miles of hiking, mountain biking, ATVing, and even horse trails transport the enthusiastic adventurer into a wonderland of towering red rock formations, powerful vortex locations, and through the worlds largest ponderosa pine forest. Coconino National Forest has become one of our favorite RV destinations and never disappoints.

Activities in Coconino


Coconino National Forest is a hikers mecca, offering a plethora of hiking trails for all skill levels.

Some of our favorite family-friendly trails are Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock, Soldiers Pass, and Boynton Canyon. Soldiers Pass is a 3-in-one, passing Devil's Kitchen sinkhole, The 7 Sacred Pools, and ending in a hidden cave! It’s well worth the 4 mile round trip hike. 

There is a reason that Cathedral hike is one of the most popular hikes in the national forest, and is especially incredible to do as a sunrise or sunset hike. Watching the sun create a watercolor masterpiece in-between the towering spires of this iconic red rock formation is unmatched. The multiple rock scrambles to get to the top make this hike a huge hit with active kids and this hike is a must-do for our family any time we are in the area. 

Renee Tilby's children on a hike in coconino national forest

Scenic Drives

Hiking isn’t the only way to enjoy Coconino National Forest and for those seeking a more leisurely exploration, Coconino National Forest offers many incredible scenic drives. The Red Rock Scenic Byway, also known as Highway 179, winds through Sedona's famed red rock formations, and was the perfect way for us to enjoy the red rock vistas while resting between hikes and mountain biking. This route winds past many of the area's most iconic features, such as Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, and the Chapel of the Holy Cross perched high on a hillside.

With its breathtaking mix of lush forest and stark red rock, Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive (Highway 89A) delivers a picturesque drive through towering cliffs and lush vegetation and offers a nice contrast to the harsher, hotter terrain below. The scenic drive takes you past Slide Rock State Park and Pine Flat Campground, where we had the opportunity of camping during our stay in Coconino National Forest.

Mountain Biking

Mountain biking doesn’t get much better than Coconino National Forest. With thousands of miles of single track for various skill levels, our family of budding mountain bikers was on cloud nine riding through this national forest. We particularly enjoyed the Bell Rock trails, as it provided choices that met all of our needs; more technical sections for the more advanced riders, a good selection of less adventurous trails, and hiking trails close by for those who were finished with the pedals and wanted to climb and explore.

Renee Tilby's husband and children mountain biking in coconino national forest

Energy Vortexes

Coconino National Forest is said to contain 8 energy vortex centers. These areas of concentrated earth energy reportedly emanate strong and transformative power and there is much evidence that the area has been considered sacred for thousands of years.  The vortex locations include some of the most breathtaking areas of Coconino National Forest and present a perfect opportunity for meditation and connection with nature, even if your vortex belief is low.   Many visitors feel a sense of serenity and spiritual connectedness while exploring these areas and a general air of peace and respect is typically maintained by vortex site visitors. Some notable vortex sites include Cathedral Rock, Airport Mesa, Bell Rock, and Red Rock Crossing, each offering its own distinct energy and ambiance.

State Parks

In addition to the natural wonders within Coconino National Forest, the region is blessed with several magnificent state parks. One such gem is Slide Rock State Park, located in Oak Creek Canyon. We spent most of a day sliding down natural water slides, swimming in the creek, and exploring the park's stunning red rock formations. Another noteworthy state park is Dead Horse Ranch State Park, offering a serene escape with its lush riparian areas, fishing lagoons, and picturesque hiking trails.

Camping Opportunities in Coconino 

Coconino National Forest isn’t only an adventure seekers paradise, it is also an idyllic setting for camping enthusiasts. Numerous campgrounds are nestled within and nearby the forest, providing a large variety of camping experiences. 

If boondocking is your jam, then Coconino National Forest has a comprehensive list of designated free camping areas. The national forest also runs 18 developed campgrounds, including Dairy Springs Campground, located near Mormon Lake, that offers a tranquil atmosphere and the opportunity to witness the region's abundant wildlife. Cave Springs Campground, situated along Oak Creek, provides a peaceful retreat, with its soothing sounds of running water and shaded campsites.  Pine Flat Campground, where we had the pleasure of staying, is tucked against Oak Creek, lush forest, and towering red rock cliffs. Pine Flat Campground also boasts a fresh water spring, and as its neighbor we created a daily habit of walking to Oak Creek Springs every morning for our fill of artisan water.  

Renee Tilby's Jayco travel trailer at a campsite in coconino national forest

With its breathtaking natural beauty and diverse range of outdoor activities, Coconino National Forest is one of our favorite RV destinations. Offering an adventure for all preferences, and close to the amenities of civilization, Coconino fills the need for the wild and the desire for comforts. Pack up the RV, it's time to explore what Arizona has to offer!

Travel Trailers

Travel trailers are the most popular type of non-motorized RV. No doubt you’ve seen one pulled down the highway hitched to a car or pickup. Travel trailers come in all sizes including tiny jellybean-shaped models with a chuckwagon kitchen in the rear to the massive house-on-wheels with picture windows and a sliding glass patio door.

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