With a population just north of 10,000, Sedona has a reputation that far outweighs its size. It is, after all, one of the most beautiful small towns in the United States. Plus, there are enough things to do in Sedona, that you’ll want to push back the visit to the nearby Grand Canyon to spend extra days enjoying its scenery.
The town’s innumerable hiking trails bring you to stunning vistas and iconic destinations like Cathedral Rock. Forget traditional museums. Those visiting Sedona will have museums without walls with Mother Nature leading the exhibition. The town is surrounded by incredible scenery punctuated by vortex sites and rock formations that will have you scratching your head. Plus, after a big day of exploring, you can kick back at the many local wineries before enjoying the iconic desert sunset.
One of the many things that I love about Sedona is that it has the perfect mixture of outdoor adventure, interesting history, and iconic landscapes. All of which are spread out throughout the region so it is a good idea to understand how the area is laid out so you can plan the best itinerary and get the most out of your time in Sedona.
A Quick Look at Sedona
Before we explore the top things to do, let’s get our bearings.
Uptown Sedona lies north of the major intersection of Highway 89A and 179, also known as the Y. This part of town is more built up with a number of local attractions including the Sedona Visitor Center, Sedona Heritage Museum, and several galleries. With its central location, you’ll have everything within a few minutes’ drive.
On Highway 89A it feels a little more rural; however, you’ll still have the full range of amenities including hotels and restaurants. From West Sedona, you’ll have a short drive to Cottonwood while being close to the red rocks.
The Village of Oak Creek is a popular alternative to Sedona and has several cheaper mid-range hotels plus the Sedona Golf Resort. Further west is Cottonwood found along the Verde Valley with Camp Verde to the south. There’s an excellent choice of campgrounds and RV parks along this corridor (see below for details). You’ll have a further drive to the sights in Sedona but will be near a number of great wineries along the Verde Valley Wine Trail.
Related Article: Sedona’s Red Rock Energy
Now that you have some idea of the layout of Sedona, let’s dive right into my recommended experiences and activities in and around Sedona.
My Recommended Sedona Experiences
The Sedona Trolley
For first-time visitors, there are few better things to do in Sedona right off the bat than a trip on the Sedona Trolley. The trolley runs two distinct tours, labeled Tour A and Tour B, to keep things simple.
Tour A takes visitors to the south side of town. Along the way, you’ll see the renowned Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village, amazing views, and the Chapel of the Holy Cross.
Tour B takes guests to West Sedona and Fay Canyon with expert narration. Along the way, you’ll be able to see several famous sights such as Thunder Mountain and Chimney Rock. You’ll also enjoy a 15-minute photo stop within the red rock walls of Fay Canyon.
Both tours last around an hour and cost $24 per adult and $16 per child. You can also combine both tours and save.
Oak Creek Canyon
The Grand Canyon may be the most famous gorge in Arizona but Sedona’s Oak Creek Canyon is ready to surprise. It’s here that you’ll find some of the best views in town where the red rocks rise out of the green-yellow valley forming bright beacons.
The drive between Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon is also one for the books. This scenic byway follows State Route 89A all the way to the scenic Oak Creek Vista. In fact, if you’re driving from Flagstaff, take this route on your way to Sedona.
Oak Creek Canyon is packed with exciting things to do. The canyon is where you’ll find the West Fork Trail. You can also head down to the river to fish for trout or camp out underneath the stars.
Red Rock Scenic Byway
The Sedona Trolley may be a great way to get acquainted with the town. But getting your hands on your own set of four wheels is a must for any visit. This will allow you to venture down Sedona’s three scenic byways. These are the Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Road, Red Rock Loop Road, and big down, the Red Rock Scenic Byway, an All-American Road.
All of them are must-do. In fact, you’ll likely experience them anyway as you hit up the best things to do in Sedona. However, you should give yourself enough time to intentionally enjoy the experience from every winding turn through the desert valley to the memorable landmarks along the way.
Highlights of the Red Rock Scenic Byway include Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, and the Coconino National Forest. As its only 8 miles long, you have plenty of time to stop and explore in great detail. Don’t forget to stop at the Chapel of the Holy Cross which is just beyond the terminus of the Byway.
Schnebly Hill Road
Schnebly Hill Road is a steep, twisty, unpaved, and wonderfully scenic route that drops more than 2,000 feet from a wooded mesa into the wonderland of Sedona. Begin the drive off Interstate 17. (You could do the drive the other way—bottom to top—but starting at the top is more dramatic.) The first stretch takes you through a lovely forest of tall ponderosa pines. Once you reach the rim, the vistas are breathtaking.
Sedona Vortex Sites
There are four major vortex sites in Sedona. Each is a part of a powerful phenomenon that is meant to inspire and uplift the spirits of all who stand within its energetic boundaries.
Related Article: Sedona Is One Huge Psychic Vortex (Supposedly)
Sedona, as a whole, is thought to be entirely within a vortex. But the four major sites hold the key to its power. The four vortices are found at Airport Mesa, Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, and Boynton Canyon.
Each offers a different type of power. They’re either masculine, such as the Airport Vortex, feminine like at Cathedral Rock with the Boynton Canyon Vortex being a balance of both. Interestingly, the Bell Rock Vortex is a mix of all three.
Cathedral Rock Trail
In a town with many photography hot spots, the fact that Cathedral Rock may be the most popular says something. You’ll spot the rock formation as you explore Sedona but you can’t beat getting an up-close view of the amazing site.
Although it’s only a single mile-long loop, the Cathedral Rock Trail will get your heart pumping. Starting at the Cathedral Rock Trailhead, the steep incline grows ever more challenging as you go. Bring along sturdy shoes and try to avoid climbing soon after rain.
The initial trek to the viewpoint will be over in the blink of an eye, so make sure to take time to admire the towering red rock formations along the way. Eventually, the trail stops in a saddle, providing one of the most spectacular vistas in the Grand Canyon State.
Look along the valley floor to see a vibrant mix of orange, reds, and lush greens flowing into the distance until they reach the horizon and the bright blue sky above.
Tlaquepaque Arts And Crafts Village
Hiking and four-wheel-driving aren’t the only things to do in Sedona. The town, which is synonymous with outdoor pursuits, also has a firm grasp on a creative one. One of the best examples of Sedona’s thriving art community can be found at the Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village. Housed within a series of Spanish colonial buildings, the village is a labyrinth of shops and art galleries connected by cobblestone streets.
Arrive early (it opens at 10 am) to explore before it becomes too crowded. You’ll then have a front-row seat for some of the most memorable window shopping as you peruse eclectic boutiques and watch master craftsmen and women ply their trade.
It’s a living breathing village with many of the art galleries having artists in residence which means there is a consistent evolution of art on display. Plus, like any good village, you’ll have several delightful restaurants to enjoy before continuing your exploration.
Chapel of the Holy Cross
The architectural tree of Frank Lloyd Wright can be seen throughout the United States. Sedona is no different. One of the best things to do in Sedona is to pay a visit to the Chapel of the Holy Cross. Now, you may not have envisioned placing a chapel on the itinerary but you’ll be glad you made that choice.
The mesmerizing Roman Catholic chapel was designed by Marguerite Brunswid Satude. The creation ascends out of the red rocks, perfectly balancing nature with man-made beauty. When the sun splashes against the vast stained windows of the Chapel of the Holy Cross and oxidized rock formations, it creates a memorable sight for all who witness. But the best view is within.
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Travelers can wander into the church to find the enormous crucifix placed upon the towering glass windows. From there, a stunning viewpoint awaits where you can gaze over the rolling hills, Sedona, and the scenic byways that connect the two.
Walking at a slow pace is the best way to take in the intricate details of the local landscape. But as we all know, hiking is tiring. But when the legs give out, that doesn’t mean the adventures have to end. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
Sedona’s rocky geography lends itself perfectly to off-roading and many families will find the famous Pink Jeep Tours and other providers in town offer a great way to see as much of the local scenery as possible. Jeeps wind up impossibly steep rock faces and through narrow gullies, perching on top of gigantic boulders or slabs of rock for more terrific photo ops.
The terrain in places is so precarious that riders sometimes feel like they might fall right out of the Jeep. But not to worry, everyone is securely strapped in. It makes great fun for the kids who may feel like they’re on a roller coaster.
Bell Rock Trail
Standing ominously above Highway 179 (Red Rock Scenic Byway), Bell Rock is a dramatic sight. The noticeably bell-shaped rock formation is clear from the road creating yet another memorable sight to admire.
There are multiple ways to get close to the gigantic Bell Rock. You can even begin to scramble up its side and bag the summit. There are also mountain bike trails to use. The number of trails means you can make it up as you go along, choosing to go left and right as you explore the beautiful landscape.
But the main loop trail that circumnavigates the iconic sight is one of the best things to do in Sedona. You can begin your hike at two different locations, the South and North lots. The latter being the better place to start as you avoid hiking up the steep side of Bell Rock, turning that section into a downhill stroll.
In addition to Bell Rock, you’ll find Courthouse Butte right behind. It’s another beguiling site to add to your days’ adventures.
Airport Mesa Loop
Some will argue that a sunset over the Pacific Ocean is the best there is. But for me, nothing quite compares to a desert sunset. The dry air, dusty valleys, and clear skies help to create a mesmerizing mix of warm colors splashed across the landscape like paint to canvass. Plus, the oxidized sandstone rock loves to reflect the low-hanging sun creating an ever-changing scenery of light and shade.
There are several top-notch locations to see the sun go down in Sedona including Red Rock Crossing home to the Crescent Moon picnic site. But no spot for golden hour tops Airport Mesa, which you can reach on the Airport Mesa Trail.
The tabletop mountain looks over the entire town. Across the mesa is where you’ll find the local airport, hence the name, plus views further afield towards Thunder Mountain.
To reach the summit views, you’ll need to venture along the 3.5-mile hiking trail that meanders along the edge of the plateau. The openness of the scenery lets you take it all in, leaving an uninhibited spot to watch the falling sun.
Related Article: Flagstaff to Sedona…and Beyond
Boynton Canyon is one of the most scenic of the box canyons that make Sedona Red Rock Country so famous. Boynton Canyon always has been popular for its outstanding scenery. It has become even more so since it developed a reputation as a site of a spiritual energy vortex. Whether or not you follow this belief, you’ll no doubt agree on the beauty found among these towering buttes, crimson cliffs, and natural desert is divine. The 6.1-mile return Boynton Canyon trail will take you beneath towering sandstone walls towards a swath of pine trees.
If you aren’t interested in hiking or vortexes you can simply enjoy some of the best views in Sedona. The upscale Enchantment Resort is a great place for a meal at Tii Gavo and View 180 restaurants with views through the floor-to-ceiling windows.
Red Rock State Park
Red Rock State Park is a 286-acre nature preserve and an environmental education center with stunning scenery. Trails throughout the park wind through manzanita and juniper to reach the banks of Oak Creek. Green meadows are framed by native vegetation and hills of red rock. The creek meanders through the park creating a diverse riparian habitat abounding with plants and wildlife.
One of the park’s more interesting sites is the abandoned House of Apache Fire built in 1947 situated on a hilltop commanding beautiful views. Easy hiking trails provide views out to the red rock countryside and allow for a close-up look at the House of Apache Fire. One of the more impressive views is the Seven Warriors formation, seen from the Bunkhouse Trail.
Verde Valley Wine Country
Many of the old storefronts lining Cottonwood’s Historic Old Town have been repurposed into wine tasting rooms. More than 20 vineyards from the Verde Valley Wine Region grow grapes for commercial wine production. Verde Valley is known for its Rhône-style blends of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. Also, the region has over 100 different varietals growing in the area including Cabernet, Chardonnay, Merlot, Viognier, and Zinfandel. Arizona is known for its unique varietals such as Malvasia Bianca, Viognier, Picpoul Blanc, Tannat, Aglianico, Negroamaro, Tempranillo, and Seyval Blanc.
From there you can venture through the valley named after the surging Verde River, stopping at whatever winery piques your interest.
To get you started, here are some of the top wineries along the trail:
- Page Spring Cellars: Come here for top-notch wines, walking trails, and sheltered patios that offer beautiful views
- Burning Tree Cellars: When the historic settlement of Cottonwood this vineyard slings boutique wines on their spacious outdoor patio.
- Alcantara Vineyard: It’s only appropriate to stop by one winery with views of the Verde River. Plus, they have ample testing on offer.
One hour south of Sedona, the Montezuma Castle National Monument was home to a community of Sinagua people from the 12th to 15th century.
The castle features five stories cut into the limestone cliffs that rise out of Beaver Creek. From your vantage point, you’ll see that the startling creation begins 100 feet off the valley floor.
If the ingenuity and will of the Sinagua community weren’t already clear, it will be once you learn how each of the 20 rooms is held together by clay and mortar.
Sadly, it is no longer possible to explore the inside of Montezuma Castle. However, the striking valley views, interpretive signs, and the invaluable visitor center help to paint the full picture.
Drive 11 miles north to see the Montezuma Well which is part of the national monument. Along with the limestone sinkhole, cliff dwellings, and irrigation channels are characteristic of the prehistoric people who have lived in the area dating back to 11,000 BC. The water in the well which is 386 feet across has high levels of arsenic and other chemicals but it still supports endemic species such as water scorpions, snails, mud turtles, and leeches.
Here are some additional ideas of what to do and see in this magnificent Red Rock Country:
- Devil’s Bridge Trail
- Soldier Pass Trail
- Palatki Heritage Site
- Honanki Cliff Dwellings
- V Bar V Heritage Site
- Slide Rock State Park
- Mountain biking
- Hot-Air Balloon Ride
- Sedona Arts Center
Places to Camp near Sedona
With so much to explore, you may want to book a campground or RV park. Here are some recommendations for places to rest your weary heads:
- Distant Drum RV Resort, Camp Verde
- Verde Ranch RV Resort, Camp Verde
- Verde River RV Resort and Cottages, Camp Verde
- Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Cottonwood
- Verde Valley RV and Camping Resort, Cottonwood
- Rain Spirit RV Resort, Clarkdale
There are only two places in the world
I want to live—in Sedona and Paris.
—Max Ernst, Surrealist painter