Here’s some good news for travelers visiting Arizona — a trip to Phoenix can easily include a visit to Sedona, so there’s no need to choose between these two amazing destinations. Sedona is less than a two-hour drive north of the capital, with the bonus of being not too far out of the way if you’re road tripping to the Grand Canyon, making it the perfect place for a day trip. Sedona is an adventurer’s playground, full of hiking and biking trails, outdoor excursions, and incredible views of northern Arizona’s jaw-dropping red rocks. To optimize your time outdoors soaking in all of the natural beauty this town has to offer, consider these trip ideas.
If you’re coming from Phoenix, head up I-17 North toward Flagstaff and get off at Highway 179 North. Follow it through the Village of Oak Creek and into red rock country to State Route 89A, which is the main road through Sedona. The best practice is to either leave Phoenix early in the morning and head straight to the trailhead or camp overnight in Red Rock State Park, Slick Rock State Park, or in dispersed camping spots outside of town. Trails and activities tend to fill up, so the earlier you’re up and active, the better.
Take a hike
There are over 300 miles of hiking and biking trails to explore around Sedona. While some are accessible for free, others are in National Forest areas where you’ll need a Red Rock Pass. Day or week passes can be purchased throughout Sedona at the visitor’s center, ranger stations, and trailhead parking lots. Each parking lot that requires the pass will specifically state that a permit is needed. You can also stop by the visitor’s center for trail maps and information on which trails need permits and which don’t. As with all outdoor activities in Arizona, bring plenty of water with you, wear sunscreen, and pick up your trash.
West Fork Trail
If you’re not an experienced hiker but still want to see some of the best scenery Sedona has to offer, try the West Fork Trail. It’s just over six miles round trip, mostly flat with 13 stream crossings that involve stepping from rock to rock or across logs. The trail is semi-shaded by trees, which makes for a perfect mix of forest and red rock scenery, and it ends at a large pool of water. Come early to beat the crowds as this is a very popular hike with a small parking lot. It’s also a great place to see the leaves turn colors in fall — which is pretty rare in Arizona. You will need a special parking pass for this trail, $10 per car, and it’s cash only.
Fay Canyon Trail
Another great beginner hike is Fay Canyon Trail in West Sedona. It’s another in-and-out trail, but only 1.2 miles each way instead of the three on West Fork and offers pretty flat hiking through a canyon with shade after the first half-mile. It’s a great trail for kids and leashed dogs, and for a little more adventure, scramble up the rocks at the “end of the trail” sign for a great view of Bell Rock off in the distance. But even without the last bit, the hike is beautiful and great for those looking to break into hiking easily and slowly.
Doe Mountain Trail
Doe Mountain Trail in West Sedona is the place to head for a firm, though quick, challenge. This trail has steep switchbacks up a mesa for the first two-thirds of the hike, then plateaus on top of the mesa for incredible views of the city. It’s less than a mile to the top for the view, with an option to do an additional 1.3-mile loop around the mesa’s edge. You may start wondering what you got yourself into with the steep 400-foot elevation gain in the beginning, but it’s worth the effort to see the views at the top. Just be prepared to sweat — the trail is steep in parts with some minor boulder climbing. A Red Rock Pass is required to park and use the trail.
Devil’s Bridge Trail
Not that we encourage selfie sticks on the trail, but Devil’s Bridge is about the best spot for a photo in all of northern Arizona. The bridge itself is the largest natural sandstone arch in Sedona, accessed by a 4.2-mile trek out and back that’s heavily trafficked by hikers, bikers, and some motorized vehicles. The first part of the trail runs along a wide dirt road also used by jeeps and off-highway vehicles, but then you’ll split off into a hiking trail with much less traffic. This is a fairly intermediate hike, though there’s hardly any shade so bring plenty of water and a sun hat. You’ll be rewarded at the end with incredible views of the arch and even the chance to step out onto the natural bridge if you dare. As with the other near-town trails, start early as it gets busy. You may have to wait in line to take photos on the arch and there are no safety railings so watch your step — it’s a long way down.
Ride the trails
Mountain biking is another popular activity with trails for every ability easily accessed from the town. Sedona offers the benefit of year-round trail access, though spring is when the scene goes off for the annual Sedona Mountain Bike Festival. Rentals and guided tours are available from Over the Edge, which is also the best spot to pick up a trail map, check conditions, and ask for trail recommendations. Several places around town, including Sedona Mountain Bike Academy, also offer classes and workshops for beginners. The stakes are a little higher on a bike than hiking, so be very conscious of choosing a trail that fits your ability level.
If you’re brand new to mountain biking, check out Bell Rock Pathway and Deadman’s Pass Trail, both accessed easily from town. Bell Rock Pathway loop is one of the easiest — and flattest — trails in Sedona and is perfect for beginners to learn the basics. You get the amazing views without the difficulty. Deadman’s Pass Trail has multiple riding surfaces including dirt roads, wide dirt trails, and single track riding. It’s a great trail for beginners to practice upping their skills to intermediate.
Chuckwagon Trail is a great option for intermediate riders. This blue square-rated trail typically has some hiking traffic in the beginning but becomes quieter as you get further out. It’s a mix of dirt, slickrock, and rocky patches that give you plenty of terrain options without being too extreme.
Mescal Trail is another blue square-rated trail with epic scenery and some challenging spots for intermediate bikers to hone their skills. A mix of red dirt trail and slickrock, this ride can be done as an in-and-out option or you can combine it with other trails such as Chuckwagon for a longer loop. Less experienced riders may have to walk some parts, but there are several alternate lines along this trail to keep advanced riders interested.
For expert riders, Hiline and Hangover are two of the most challenging trails in the area. Double black diamond portions, slickrock, cliff edge riding, and steep technical riding make for a solid workout while providing epic red rock views. These two rides are definitely not recommended for beginners.
Chill in the Jeep
Hiking and biking are two of the most popular ways to experience Sedona’s outdoors. Not everything has to be such hard work, though. There’s always the option to be guided through the landscape on four wheels instead of two. Several Sedona companies offer jeep tour excursions, like the iconic Pink Adventure Tours that will take you into the backcountry to see some of the area’s most recognizable locations. Its trips last anywhere from two hours to all day, and it has recently expanded offerings to include additional Arizona icons such as Antelope Canyon and the Grand Canyon. Other companies such as A Day in the West will combine jeep tours with other activities such as horseback riding, wine tasting, and helicopter tours.
Play in the water
If you’re heading to Sedona in the summer, head to the water to cool off after your time on the trail. The most well-known area in Sedona to enjoy the creek that carves through northern AZ, as locals call it, is Slide Rock State Park in Oak Creek Canyon. Originally an apple farm, visitors now flock here to escape the heat by jumping into the river and being pushed by the current down the naturally created waterslides. Fees to enter the park are between $10 to $20 per car depending on the time of the year. Get there early as parking is limited and it’s a very popular spot. You can bring chairs and picnic blankets to make a day of it, and there are restroom facilities on site. Insider tip: It doesn’t look like it, but the water is cold and the sandstone rocks are pretty slippery, so water shoes are recommended.
If you want to get on the water near Sedona but feel like avoiding the crowds at Slide Rock, head a few miles south to the Verde River with a kayak tour from companies such as Sedona Adventure Tours. Many companies offer kayaking, paddle boarding, and tubing tours down the Verde with multiple trip options throughout the day. These can last up to several hours while you float downstream, enjoying the arm work out and the quiet sounds of nature. Afterward, it’s a quick drive back up to Sedona to continue your day, or an easy drive back to I-17 South to head down to Phoenix.
Where to eat in Sedona
There are plenty of delicious options throughout Sedona to fuel your outdoor adventures from sunup to sundown. Start the day at Red Rock Cafe in the Village of Oak Creek, fueling up with a plate of eggs, French toast, or Mexican-inspired breakfast dishes. After a morning of adventuring, stop for lunch at Chocolatree. Vegans and non-vegans alike will enjoy the organic gluten-free menu and delicious meals made from scratch. It also has an organic chocolatier with enough decadent choices to make any sweet tooth happy.
For something more substantial, or perhaps beer and a burger, the Open Range Grill & Tavern serves sandwiches, burgers, and BBQ; pours local brews on tap; and provides giant windows overlooking Sedona’s landscape. End the day relaxing at Creekside Sedona, an American bistro along the Oak Creek where you can watch the water from the shaded patio. Or get one last selfie with panoramic views of the red rock mesas from The Hudson’s outdoor patio while enjoying a cocktail.