The Overlook is the best place for easy to moderate traditional climbing near Flagstaff and Sedona for plenty of reasons. Located halfway between Flagstaff and Sedona, it is an easy drive from either city. The rim of Oak Creek Canyon is an eye-popping vantage point. And there is a just a short walk from the parking lot through the trees to the top of the cliff. To access the climbs, walk south about 100 yards from the main parking lot and look for obvious climber trails along the rim.
Even without these perks, the climbing itself is great enough to attract traditional climbers from all over northern Arizona. A range of routes from 5.5 to 5.10 provide diverse moves on blocks, ramps, corners, and splitters that are sure to develop and perfect technique. The columnar basalt is of various textures and offers plentiful placements. Though generally good quality, watch out for loose chunks in the blocky sections. The crag is perfect for those who are looking to learn or improve traditional climbing skills, and the more experienced can pick out 5.11 variations of a few familiar routes. One caveat is that there are no bolted anchors here. Routes must be finished by topping out and building tree anchors. A 60-meter rope will easily reach back to the ground on most routes, but stay in the habit of keeping your ends tied. Access is by rappelling in or by following the short trail that bends around the north end of the cliff, which is the way to go if you bring your dog. Climbing can be good all year, as the southeast-facing crag gets morning sun and afternoon shade.
The climbs can get crowded on a nice day, but the real crowds at the Overlook come for the scenery only. Next to the parking area is a large viewing platform and a few short walking trails. This is a popular stop for travelers between Flagstaff and Sedona. Near the parking area you can also peruse an outdoor Native American crafts market run by local artisans. The Overlook is open seven days a week, but only from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Outside of these hours, the gate to the parking lot is closed, and your car could get locked in if you stay too late. There is, however, a small dirt lot across the highway that serves as an alternate parking lot for climbers. Leave your car here if you plan on climbing a full day.
When you visit the Overlook, take time to appreciate the panorama before you. The climbs rise directly over ephemeral Pumphouse Wash, which forms the east fork of Oak Creek in the main canyon descending to the south. From the viewing platform you can study a perfect cross section of geologic history, as seven distinct rock layers are exposed. Most of these extend all the way to the Grand Canyon and can also be seen in the walls there. Oak Creek also reveals the light red Schnebly Hill sandstone, which exists only in the Sedona region. The basaltic rocks on which you climb are the youngest layer here and are the hardened remnants of massive lava flows from the San Francisco Volcanic Field, within which sits modern-day Flagstaff. As you climb the rocks, pause to contemplate their dramatic formation and enduring place in time.