Sedona lies in the northern Verde Valley region of Arizona surrounded the 1.8 million acres of unspoiled Coconino National Forest. This popular vacation destination is best known for its striking red sandstone formations which rise from the desert floor. The colors of the towering red-rock buttes and canyon walls change hourly and are best illuminated by the rising and setting sun.
Sedona’s mild climate and stunning scenery make this a great location for your next weekend getaway or family travel adventure. This town has something for everyone—history, culture, great food, art galleries, spas and tourist attractions. However, if you long for outdoor adventures like we do, you’ll find endless options for recreational activities in Sedona, too—all within close proximity of town! In fact, there are so many amazing things to do in Sedona, it’s hard to decide what to fit into your visit.
We’ve visited Sedona twice in the past few years, in July 2016 and February 2018, on two different road trips trip through the southwest. Even in the heat of the summer, we fell in love with this place. So, we didn’t hesitate to add a day in Sedona to our trip last winter to tackle a couple longer hikes with our three kids. I think we’d all agree that it is one of our favorite non-national park destinations!
If you are considering a trip to the southwest, don’t miss this gem in the Arizona desert! We put together a list of what to do in Sedona as well as some tips on planning your trip.
Sedona began as a rural ranching community. After the motion picture industry drew attention to the beauty of this farming town, it was transformed into a world-famous travel destination visited by millions of tourists every year. Sedona is a fairly small town with just over 10,000 residents, and the total area of the city is just over 19 miles. However, despite its small size, the red-rock landscapes and national forest which surround the town provide numerous opportunities for outdoor exploration. There are over 300 miles of trails for your hiking and biking pleasure! You should plan to spend 2-3 days in town to fully enjoy the scenery and see what this magical little town has to offer!
While in the area, our recommendations for must-do things in Sedona, Arizona include:
- Drive Red Rock Scenic Highway. The Red Rock Scenic Byway is one of the most scenic drives in in the US and is not to be missed! This winding 7.5-mile drive along SR 179 shows off Sedona’s iconic red rocks and is a great introduction to the area for visitors whether arriving from the south (via Phoenix) or the north (via Flagstaff). If you’re just passing through town, the drive takes only 20 minutes. However, you should allow several hours to take in all the sights, hiking trails and activities along the byway.
- Go Hiking in Sedona. The best way to enjoy the beautiful scenery Sedona has to offer is to get out on the trails! Known for its mild climate, Sedona weather allows for hiking year-round. Many of the best Sedona hiking trails are located a short distance from the center of town. Sedona hikes range widely in length and difficulty; and, there over 100 hikes from which to choose in the area! Although some of the easier more accessible trails can be very crowded, other Sedona hikes offer solitude in the wilderness areas surrounding town. Since you are in the desert, be prepared before heading out on any hike and bring plenty of water. We think these are some of the best hikes in Sedona!
- The Cathedral Rock Trail is a moderate to strenuous 1.5-mile roundtrip hike to one of the most photographed spots in Arizona. Although it is fairly short, it is a bit of a climb to get to the top. You’ll need to use your hands to scramble up some of the steep sections. Enjoy magnificent views all along the trail. You’ll know you’re at the top when you see the “End of Trail” sign. Enjoy a snack and take in the views from the top before retracing your steps back to the parking area. NOTE: Parking just off Back of Beyond Road is limited so arrive early or late in the day to enjoy sunset. This Cathedral Rock hike is exposed and offers little shade so wear sunscreen!
- Devil’s Bridge is another wildly popular trail in Sedona. The Devil’s Bridge hike is an easy to moderate 4-mile roundtrip hike from the Devil’s Bridge parking area at the end of the paved portion of Dry Creek Road. If you have a 4X4 vehicle with high clearance, you can drive directly to the trailhead via Dry Creek Road and hike a mile out to the bridge (2 miles roundtrip). The 4-mile hike starts out easy along the dirt road before turning off onto the actual Devil’s Bridge trail. An uphill climb and a natural rock staircase lead to amazing views and the largest natural sandstone arch in the Sedona area. If you’re brave AND careful, you can walk out onto the top of the bridge. It is not uncommon to have to wait in line for a photo at this popular spot. We hiked early in the morning to avoid the crowds and had the bridge to ourselves before another family arrived and offered to take a family photo. NOTE: Due to the popularity of this hike (and limited parking), plan to arrive early in the morning or later in the evening to enjoy the golden hour before sunset. This is a “No Drone Zone”, so please leave your drones at home.
- Combine the Soldier Pass Trail with Brin’s Mesa Trail to make a 5-mile loop through the Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness. Soldier Pass can be done on its own as a 4.5 mile out-and-back hike, but I highly recommend the loop. This was my favorite trail in the Sedona area! This moderate trail offers a diverse hiking experience with numerous viewpoints and notable spots such as Devils’ Sinkhole and Seven Sacred Pools. Heading clockwise, follow Soldier Pass to Brin’s Mesa to Cibola Pass to Jordan Trail. Most of the trail is moderate except for a steep section as you near the pass. The panoramic views from Brin’s Mesa are worth the climb! NOTE: Limited parking is available (14 spaces) and the parking lot is gated and locked from 6 PM to 8 AM. An alternate parking area is accessible from the top of Jordan Road in Uptown Sedona.
- The West Fork Trail at Oak Creek Canyon is an easy to moderate ~6-mile out-and-back hike. This trail was a perfect for a hot summer day since it is one of the few Sedona hikes with water. This trail includes 13 creek crossings which kept our three kids engaged on this long hike (about 3 hours to complete). We recommend wearing shoes that can get wet like waterproof hiking shoes or Keens. This trail also offers relief from the hot desert sun with ample shade beneath trees and next to tall canyon walls. NOTE: The trailhead is located in the Oak Creek Canyon ~11 miles north of the city center of Sedona. Parking is $10/day and is limited so plan to arrive early (before 9 am).
- Other hikes to consider:
- Bell Rock Pathway Trail: easy, 3.6-mile out-and-back (great views of Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte)
- Doe Mountain Trail: moderate, 1.4-mile out-and-back (can extend hike and travel beyond top of mesa to cairns on other side for best views)
- Boynton Canyon Trail: moderate, ~6-mile out-and-back (forest to desert landscape, box canyon)
- Bear Mountain Trail: strenuous, 4.6-mile out-and-back (views of Doe Mountain)
- Visit Slide Rock State Park. This nearby state park is home to a natural waterslide and spectacular swimming holes. It is the perfect place to escape the summer heat of the Arizona desert. Even in the summer, the water cascading down Oak Creek Canyon is chilly! We visited late one afternoon after hiking. We all took turns enjoying the natural waterslide and playing in the deeper pools before drying off on the red rock cliffs.
- If you’re planning to visit Slide Rock State Park in the summer, be sure to arrive early in the morning (it opens at 8 am) or late in the afternoon. The park is most crowded late morning to midafternoon. On a hot summer day, it isn’t uncommon to see a long line of cars waiting to get into the park. Be sure to bring your swimsuit, towel, sunscreen, water and a snack or picnic lunch. A pair of quick drying shorts are a good idea to wear over bikini bottoms since sliding down the rocks can damage swimsuits.
See the Slide Rock State Park website for more information on park hours and fees, seasonal closures and amenities.
- Splurge on a Pink Jeep Tour. Another popular way to take in Sedona’s beautiful landscape is by jeep! We thoroughly enjoyed our Pink Jeep Broken Arrow Tour. This tour is Sedona’s only tour to feature four wheeling action on top of the red rocks; and, Pink Jeep Tours are the only guide company permitted to use this trail. Our jeep was driven by a knowledgeable and friendly guide who had our kids giggling and smiling ear to ear within the first couple minutes. This rugged off-road adventure was an educational and memorable experience for the whole family. There are a variety of other tours and companies from which to choose.
- Experience Sunset in Sedona. There are two viewing areas on Airport Road that are popular spots from which to view sunset. The first is a small parking area about ½ way up the road on the left with space for 10-15 cars (this parking area requires a Red Rock Pass). It is about a 10-minute (short but steep) hike from the parking area to the viewing area. If this parking area is full, follow the road to Airport Mesa at the top. There is a small fee for parking at the airport. Either way, expect a crowd and be sure to arrive early.
Sunset View from Airport Mesa in Sedona
If you have more time, here are some other things to do in Sedona:
- Go mountain biking.
- Visit Red Rock State Park.
- Book a day of pampering at one of Sedona’s many spas.
- Enjoy a day trip to the Grand Canyon or Petrified Forest National Park.
- Visit the iconic Chapel of the Holy Cross.
- Shop at Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village.
- Tour the Verde Valley Wine Trail.
- Take a guided tour of cliff dwellings at Palatki Heritage Site
- Visit Montezuma Castle National Monument
- Visit a vortex site and experience the energy of Sedona
HOW TO GET TO SEDONA
There are few options for airports near Sedona. The closest major airport is Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport (PHX), which is about a 2-hour drive (119 miles south of Sedona). Flagstaff Pullman Airport (FLG) is the closest small commercial airport to Sedona, about 45 minutes to the north of Sedona. The drive from Flagstaff takes you south through scenic Oak Creek Canyon.
If you intend to make a loop when visiting other national parks, that would expand your options a bit. Another popular option is flying into Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS), which is about a 5-hour drive (278 miles away). Sedona sits just over 100 miles south of the Grand Canyon. The drive between the two takes about 2 hours.
Basic directions on how to get to Sedona can be found here:
- Phoenix, AZ to Sedona (map)
- Flagstaff to Sedona (map)
- Las Vegas, NV to Sedona (map)
- South Rim of the Grand Canyon to Sedona (map)
WHERE TO STAY IN AND AROUND SEDONA
- Lodging in Sedona: There are numerous lodging options in Sedona including luxury hotels and resorts, motels, cabins and vacation rentals. Staying in the summer? We highly recommend booking a hotel with a pool, especially if you are travelling with children. We all enjoyed having a place to relax after a morning of hiking and cool off in the heat of the day. In addition to a pool, the Best Western Plus Arroyo Roble Hotel provided beautiful red rock views from our balcony. And, the stores and restaurants of uptown Sedona were right at our doorstep! If you are traveling to Sedona for the first time (especially with a family) it can be challenging to find just the right place. We highly recommend Emily’s detailed blog on Sedona for first-timers, which includes good places to stay with a family and what else to do in the surrounding area.
- Camping in Sedona: There are 3 major campgrounds along Oak Creek Canyon. Manzanita Campground is the closest campground to Sedona but is small (only 19 sites), located on the side of 89A and only open to tents. Cave Spring Campground is a few miles north and is the largest campground (84 sites) along Oak Creek. It offers some amenities and is quiet since it is located well off the road. However, it is only open seasonally. Campsites are open to tents, trailers and RVs. Pine Flat Campground is about a mile north of Cave Springs. It is also open to tents, trailers and RVs and has 59 sites.
Rancho Sedona RV Park is located just below uptown Sedona. The red rock surroundings, cottonwood trees and its prime location, in walking distance to some Sedona attractions, make this a popular spot for trailer and RV campers.
WHERE TO EAT IN SEDONA
There are a ton of great places to eat in Sedona. In fact, the town is known as being a great destination for foodies in addition to those that love the outdoors.
While we were in Sedona, we typically ate breakfast in the hotel. We ate one meal while out on the hiking trail and ate out for the other meal. Since we are typically tired (and a bit dirty!) after hiking, we chose casual dining options.
There were two restaurants that we enjoyed during our visit:
- Wildflower Bread Company: We loved the wide selection of sandwiches, breads and salads. The ingredients were all super-fresh, and everyone in the family was happy with their meal choice. This place does get crowded, so we recommend eating off-hours.
- Sedona Pizza Company: The wood-fired pizzas at the Sedona Pizza Company were fantastic! We shared salads and two pizzas as a family.
SEDONA WEATHER AND SEASONS
Sedona is a great place to visit year-round! Temperatures in Sedona fluctuate throughout the year, with summer highs in the 90s and winter highs in the 50s (lows can dip below freezing December through February). Spring is considered to be the best time to visit since temperatures are warm but not too hot and desert flowers are in bloom. Fall is also an ideal with frequent blue skies and mild weather. However, with numerous festivals and events during spring and fall, these are also the busiest seasons in Sedona and room rates tend to be high.
Crowds and hotel rates are at their lowest in Sedona during the winter months. We thoroughly enjoyed our winter visit since we were able to hike all day long. If you plan on visiting in the summer, be prepared for extreme heat (unless you hike in the early evening or morning). Many trails are exposed and have little shade unless you head for the Oak Creek Canyon area. Also, be prepared for thunderstorms if you visit during the summer monsoon season.
In our opinion, there really isn’t a bad time to visit Sedona! Just get there!
PARKING IN SEDONA
Uptown Sedona has plenty of free parking. Blue free parking signs will guide you to the lots. Be sure to observe patron-only or employee-only restrictions on some spaces. Metered parking along Main Street in Uptown Sedona is in effect from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week. Parking is free after 6 p.m..
If you want to hike in Red Rock Country, you may need a Red Rock Pass (or American the Beautiful Interagency Pass). Trailhead parking areas that require the pass will be marked and the pass should be displayed in the windshield of the vehicle. A pass is not required to stop to take a photograph or enjoy a scenic vista (~15 minutes or less). See the USDA Forest Service site for more information on the Red Rock Pass Program and pass options.
WHAT TO BRING TO SEDONA
- Water: Water is a necessity in this park, especially in the heat of the summer. Remember to bring plenty of water on hikes and stay hydrated! 1 gallon of water person is recommended in the summertime. The Sedona Chamber of Commerce in Uptown Sedona offers filtered and chilled water at an outdoor fountain/refilling station.
- Sunscreen: Be sure to wear sunscreen and lip balm with SPF if headed out for any hiking or outdoor activities. We have to use sunscreen that is good for sensitive skin, and one we like that doesn’t break the bank is No-Ad SPF 45. Our new favorite sunscreen is Sun Bum SPF 30 Lotion which is hypoallergenic and made with reef friendly and vegan ingredients.
- Hat: We recommend wearing a hat to keep the sun off your face.
- Sunglasses: Protect your eyes your eyes from the sun. Sunglasses can also help keep blowing sand out of your eyes.
- Buff or scarf: Whether to protect your neck/head/face from the sun or blowing sand, a BUFF can come in handy in the desert!
- Layers of clothing: Desert temperatures vary throughout the day, so it is helpful to be prepared with a variety of clothing for cool mornings and evenings plus warmer mid-day temperatures.
- Hiking/running shoes
- Water shoes: We didn’t wear ours, but Keens would have been a great choice for the West Fork Trail hike in Oak Creek Canyon with all its water crossings!
- Trash Bag: Leave no trace and carry-out your trash when trash cans are full or unavailable.
RELATED INFORMATION FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS
- Petrified Forest National Park is located just over 2 hours away from Sedona. If you are heading to Arizona, check out our blog on 8 Reasons Why You’ll Fall in Love with Petrified Forest National Park.
- One of our most favorite hikes in the area is the Cathedral Rock Trail. Be sure to check out our blog for details on this amazing hike, as well as the Devils Bridge Trail or the amazing Slide Rock State Park!
- We’d love to work with you to take one of your photos and turn them into one of our unique, custom, vintage-style travel posters. If you haven’t tried this yet, we guarantee you won’t be disappointed!
OTHER PLACES TO VISIT IN AND AROUND SEDONA
- If you haven’t already clicked through some of the links, make sure to check out the Visit Sedona This site provides great information to help you plan your visit or learn more about the Sedona area.
- Nearby Flagstaff, AZ is a neat college town and Eileen Gunn (from “familiesgotravel”) has a great post on 5 things to do with kids in Flagstaff, AZ. See what she recommends to do with your family!
- Catherine D’Cruz (from “wegowithkids”) gives 5 things to do with kids in the Grand Canyon in her blog. This is a great resource if you have a family who likes to be active but can’t necessarily hike Rim to Rim!
If you have plans to travel through Arizona, do not miss Sedona! You are certain to fall in love with the town and the amazing red rock features that surround Sedona.
If you have been to Sedona and have favorite spots that we didn’t include in this post, please leave a comment or email us directly. We’re also happy to answer any questions that you might have!