"What the heck? You want to take me to Sedona in the Arizona desert? What kind of vacation is that?"
That was my wife’s initial reaction when I suggested a trip to Sedona, Arizona. I quickly clarified that Sedona, nestled in the heart of the desert, offers much more than just barren landscapes and sand.
Eagerly, we packed our bags and embarked on an unforgettable road trip. The journey began through familiar Californian landscapes, adorned with palm trees and windmills. As we ventured into Arizona, the scenery transformed dramatically into stark rock formations and sparse vegetation. Our desert experience was further heightened by a fierce sandstorm we encountered along the way.
After traversing hundreds of miles and making numerous pit-stops, we finally arrived in a lush, verdant valley. Here, imposing red rocks soared like cathedrals against deep canyon walls, creating a breathtaking contrast.
Sedona, perched at an elevation of 4500 feet (1.37 km), offers a cooler climate than the typical Arizona desert. This valley has been a cradle of life, attracting prehistoric peoples and natives since 11,500 BC.
Interesting Facts: The canyon walls of Sedona display nine layers of stone, each from different geological periods, spanning hundreds of millions of years, showcasing a rich and diverse geological history.
Today, Sedona is a bustling tourist town and a sought-after retirement community, boasting an array of resorts, shops, and restaurants. Its tranquil scenery, stunning red rocks, and verdant landscapes continue to draw visitors from across the globe.
Where to stay
As a well-established tourist destination, Sedona offers accommodations to suit every preference and budget. From cozy hotel rooms to luxurious resorts and spas, and even secluded retreats, there's something for everyone.
For those who wish to immerse themselves in nature, camping under the stars is a free and enchanting option in Sedona. Don't worry if you didn't bring camping gear; tents are available for rent through Airbnb. Find your perfect stay in Sedona here.
What to do
The mystical side
Local mystics attribute these occurrences to the magnetic vortices believed to run through Sedona, lending it a unique, otherworldly significance. Numerous tour operators offer excursions in search of Bigfoot or extraterrestrial beings. While overnight stays in the National Forest are prohibited, these tours last until dusk, just before the night reveals its secrets.Read about our Vortex tour here.
Interesting Facts: Sedona’s vortexes are renowned for attracting spiritual seekers and new age enthusiasts, making it a hotspot for those in pursuit of mystical experiences and enlightenment.
Sedona's low light pollution and ideal weather conditions make it an exceptional destination for stargazing. Just a short distance from the town, the skies open up for a spectacular celestial show. For an even more immersive experience, find a spot behind one of Sedona's iconic red rock formations, where the darkness intensifies the brilliance of the starlit sky.
For more stargazing tips, visit the Sedona Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau.
Tip: Bring a red flashlight or headlamp for your stargazing adventures. The red light minimizes light pollution and helps you navigate trails without disrupting your night vision or the natural ambiance.
Seeking the best spots for stargazing, I consulted a ranger at the Sedona visitor center in uptown. She recommended several prime locations:
Thunder Mountain: Located in the Coconino National Forest, north of Highway 89a. Take Dry Creek Road to Thunder Mountain Road, travel about .6 miles, then turn left into the trailhead. A brief hike leads you behind the red rocks, offering total darkness and an unobstructed view of the stars.
Sugar Loaf Summit: Also in the Coconino National Forest and accessible via Coffee Pot Drive off Highway 89a. The trailhead is on Buena Vista Drive. A short hike from here takes you to one of Sedona's best spots for stargazing.
Astronomy clubs: Joining an event with local astronomy clubs is another fantastic way to experience Sedona's starry nights. Check out Astronomers of the Verde Valley for more information and event schedules. The Sirius Lookers is another great option.
Don't miss our experience with Sedona Stargazing on their night sky tour. Read about it here.
Stroll around town
This area, where Sedona originally developed, is home to many buildings listed on the registry of historic buildings.
The Visitor’s Center, located at the corner of 89a and Forest Road, is a great starting point for exploring the town.
Tip: Most parking in uptown is free, especially along the side streets. On Hwy 89a, you'll find metered parking spots with a 3-hour limit.
Near the visitor’s center, a shopping plaza offers a variety of souvenir shops and excellent dining options. We particularly enjoyed the Wildflower Bread Company, known for its in-house baking and use of fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Their breakfast and lunch menus were a delight!
As you wander further, you'll discover numerous art galleries, hotels, restaurants, and stunning views of the Red Rocks.
Interesting Facts: Sedona enjoys over 300 days of sunshine annually, outshining even Florida in terms of sunny days.
The uptown area is also a hub for tour activities. If you haven't booked your tours yet, you'll find options for every taste and adventure level, including favorites like Red Rock Western Jeep Tours, Pink Jeep Tours, and Red Rock Balloons.
On our recent visit, we embarked on a thrilling 3-hour Scenic Rim adventure with Pink Jeep Tours. Leaving the town via Highway 179, we soon found ourselves on the rugged, bumpy terrain of Schnebly Hill Road, surrounded by Sedona's iconic red rocks.
While Schnebly Hill Road can lead you all the way to Flagstaff, it's advisable only for those with sturdy 4-wheel drive vehicles. The road is challenging, marked by numerous cracks and rocks, offering a true off-road experience.
The jeep steadily climbed from Sedona's elevation of 4300 ft (1.31 km) to the “Mogollon Rim“ at around 6500 ft (1.98 km), offering us a diverse and breathtaking landscape.
En route, we admired the '7 warriors' rock formations standing guard over the valley. Our hike led us to a bluff with a panoramic view of the Verde Valley and Sedona, culminating at the rim with even more dramatic vistas far below.
To truly immerse yourself in the red rock beauty of Sedona, exploring the hiking trails near the town is a must. My personal favorites include Cathedral Rock and Crescent Moon Ranch State Park. For an extensive guide to Sedona's trails, click here.
The shorter .7-mile trail quickly ascends 600 feet, leading to a plateau with breathtaking views. The trail is well-marked and perfect for those looking for a quick hike.
For a more leisurely experience, start at the Cathedral Rock trailhead and follow the Easy Breezy trail. Continue until you reach the HT trail, then turn right. The trail gradually ascends to the Templeton trail, offering diverse perspectives of the rocks.
Interesting Facts: Sedona's stunning landscapes have been the backdrop for over 90 feature films, including classics like Billy the Kid and 3:10 to Yuma.
Following the Templeton trail, you'll reach the top of the plateau, joining other hikers to enjoy the view. The descent via the steep trail back to the trailhead is an exhilarating end to the hike.
Crescent Moon Ranch State Park
Part of the Coconino National Forest and adjacent to Red Rock State Park, Crescent Moon Ranch State Park offers a serene escape. The park features cabins for up to 10 people and is also open for day use.
An easy trail runs along Oak Creek from the parking lot, offering stunning views of Cathedral Rock. The trail is mostly shaded and dotted with benches and relaxation spots.
Straying closer to the creek provides opportunities for better photography, capturing the flowing water against the backdrop of the red rocks.
Visitors can enjoy picnicking, barbecuing, fishing, or swimming in the creek. The park also serves as a starting point for numerous hiking trails in the area.
Soldiers Pass Trail
Highlights include the "Devil's Kitchen sinkhole", "Seven Sacred Pools", natural arches, and a journey through a wash leading up to Brins Mesa. At the top, hikers are rewarded with panoramic views in every direction.
Where to Eat
During our Sedona trips, we indulged in a variety of dining experiences. From restaurants boasting stunning views to those celebrated for their culinary delights. Upscale options like Cress Oak Creek at L'Auberge Sedona offer a luxurious dining experience, while simpler neighborhood eateries like Café Jose provide a cozy atmosphere. Discover more about our favorite dining spots here.
The Grand Canyon
Sedona serves as an excellent base for exploring the Grand Canyon, located just a 2-hour drive away. A day trip to the South Rim offers breathtaking views and an unforgettable experience. Learn more about the Grand Canyon trip here.
Various tour operators in Sedona offer day trips to the Grand Canyon, making it easy to plan this spectacular excursion.
Just a 50-minute drive from Sedona, Flagstaff presents a world of exploration. The journey itself is a highlight, taking you through the scenic Oak Creek Canyon, with its impressive vistas on either side of the road.