Why Sedona?

Sedona has the uncanny ability to seem familiar yet mysterious at the same time

As you look into the wilderness, it may seem vaguely familiar. The familiar part is no surprise. Sedona’s distinctive red-rock landscape and renowned scenery has been featured in nearly 100 films, plus numerous videos and commercials.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop by the Sedona Heritage Museum and you’ll be treated to exhibits that highlight the region’s movie power. Beginning in 1923 with the silent film The Call of the Canyon, based on a novel by Zane Grey, through the golden age of American Westerns in the 1940s and ’50s, Sedona has had a distinguished role in film. During the peak years, virtually every major movie studio and big-name movie star worked there. Streets in a Sedona subdivision are even named after movies made in the area.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The strata that contain the famous Sedona red rock were created when a warm, shallow sea brought vast expanses of sand. When those sand grains became covered with thin coatings of iron oxide, they began taking on that red color we see today.

Cathedral Rock, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most famous views in Sedona revolve around Cathedral Rock. Oak Creek flows past the base of the formation to create a much-photographed image. That scene is most often captured from Crescent Moon Picnic Area, known locally as Red Rock Crossing.

Red Rock Crossing, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Outdoor adventure fills the Sedona area. Hiking and biking trails abound. Whether you take the easy ½-mile Allens Bend Trail, the 5.6-mile Wilson Mountain Trail with a 2,300-foot elevation change, or any of the numerous other trails, you’ll be treated to fabulous scenery and famous landmarks like Submarine Rock or Vultee Arch.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walkthrough the desert in the coolness of the evening when it’s aglow with moonlight to put a fresh spin on exploring Sedona’s terrain. You don’t need to wander alone. Naturalists at Red Rock State Park offer guided interpretive hikes during the full moon. The tour covers two miles and you’ll learn about Sedona’s fascinating geology, history, and plant life.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Long before T.C. and Sedona Schnebly arrived in Red Rock Country, American Indians considered this land to be sacred. Sedona continues to be regarded as a special place because of its vortexes. Described as intersections of natural earth energy, Sedona’s vortexes are said to inspire meditation and healing. They are usually found on or near a rock formation.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spirit seekers or those just curious about the metaphysical world can hike to one of Sedona’s vortex sites. These natural areas are said to radiate energy (considered masculine, feminine or a balance of the two) from the earth, drawing people to meditate, practice yoga, or engage in other spiritual and wellness activities.

Bell Rock, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although all of Sedona is considered to be a vortex, rock shapes called Airport Mesa, Bell Rock, Boynton Canyon, and Cathedral Rock are all sites where the energy is reportedly more intense. Some say that Chapel Rock is the site of a fifth vortex, but less powerful than the others.

Chapel of the Holy Cross, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Appearing to rise out of the red rock formations, the Chapel of the Holy Cross towers in a panorama of buttes, valleys, and sky—all a source of inspiration inviting rest and reflection. An eye-catching architectural wonder, the Chapel is built into a 250-foot-tall twin-pinnacled red rock spur. Both the chapel and its 90-foot concrete cross built into the front façade (it functions as both symbol and structural support) are visible from the Red Rock Scenic Byway (State Route 179). Yet thanks to its modernist design, there are no sky-piercing spires or ornate embellishments detracting from its dizzying position. Peek inside the 1956 chapel for a look at the 33-foot bronze crucifix commissioned by a local artist which was installed in 2018. 

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a unique experience, stop at Slide Rock State Park and cool off. You can slide down the slippery creek bed, cruise down the creek in a tube, or take a dip in the natural swimming pools. Listed on the Travel Channel’s “10 Top Swimming Holes in the United States,” this natural waterpark is 7 miles north of Sedona along 89A in Oak Creek Canyon.

Tlaquepaque, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Nestled on the banks of Oak Creek is Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village, a collection of Spanish-style buildings reminiscent of a Mexican hamlet. Cobblestone walkways meander past splashing fountains, vine-covered walls, and beneath picturesque stone archways. Flower-bedecked courtyards frame a complex of 15 specialty shops, 16 galleries, six jewelry stores, and four clothing stores—plus several restaurants.

Tlaquepaque, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Named after a suburb of Guadalajara, Mexico, Tlaquepaque is pronounced “Tlah-kay-PAH-kay.” This internationally renowned art and shopping destination mimics Old Mexico and is covered by the refreshing shade of giant Arizona sycamore trees along the banks of Oak Creek.

Sedona Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The galleries feature one-of-a-kind art in a range of media and styles, including contemporary and abstract works, American Indian, and classic Southwestern fine art. You can find everything from wildlife bronzes to Navajo rugs, wind sculptures, and traditional ceramics.

Yet, Tlaquepaque has so much more. Musicians and dancers celebrate special fiestas throughout the year, bringing the sights and sounds of Old Mexico to Sedona.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why Sedona? Perhaps the meaning of Tlaquepaque contains the most fitting answer. It means the “best of everything.”

Plan your trip: 

Worth Pondering…

There are only two places in the world

I want to live—Sedona and Paris.

—Max Ernst, Surrealist painter

The Ultimate Guide to Sedona

The most beautiful place on Earth

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.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Uptown Sedona

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.

West Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

West Sedona

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.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Surrounding Towns

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.

Sedona trolley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Oak Creek Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Cathedral Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Cathedral Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Cathedral Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Tlaquepaque © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Related Article: Family-friendly Road Trips Through Arizona: Sedona and the Verde Valley

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.

Jeep Tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jeep Tours

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.

Jeep Tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Bell Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Airport Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Airport Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boynton Canyon

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 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.
Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montezuma Castle

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.

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Montezuma Well © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Distant Drums RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Conclusion

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
Rain Spirit RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Worth Pondering…

There are only two places in the world

I want to live—in Sedona and Paris.

—Max Ernst, Surrealist painter

Family-friendly Road Trips Through Arizona: Sedona and the Verde Valley

To help you plan your family-friendly road trip through Arizona, I’ve put together this list of awesome road trip stops. Keep reading to learn about my favorite spots and campgrounds along the route.

With its vast landscapes and colorful topography, the American Southwest is one of the best regions in the country to take an old-fashioned road trip—in fact, that’s the only way to see most of it. Arizona, specifically, is home to the only Natural Wonder of the World in the U. S., numerous national parks, picturesque state parks, and 21 American Indian tribes. So, what better way to spend spring break this year than packing up the kids for a family-friendly road trip through Arizona?

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since the possibilities for an Arizona road trip are endless, I’ve organized these family-friendly road trips into four paths. Each of these road trip routes includes a selection of my favorite stops. I’ve traveled along each of these paths—most more than once. There is truly something for every member of the family to be enjoyed in each of these road trips.

Red Rock Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An earlier article highlighted Northern Arizona and the Grand Canyon. Today we drive 115 miles south to Red Rock Country.

Cathedral Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona and the Verde Valley

A family road trip to Arizona turns next-level with a stop in Sedona and a side trip to the ghost mining town of Jerome and Sinagua cliff-side dwellings. Justifiably world-famous for its eye-popping scenery, Sedona and the surrounding Verde Valley have a lot to offer for road-tripping families.

Related Article: Discover Arizona’s Extraordinary Verde Valley

Bell Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The spectacular red rocks

A family that loves to hike will be in paradise here. With over 300 miles of trails spread across red rock country, there’s something for everyone. There are hikes at every difficulty level from easy for families with small kids to strenuous for expert outdoor types. Two of my favorites are Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bell Rock is a 1½-mile round-trip outing with several paths for climbing depending on skill level. It’s a well-maintained trail with plenty of spectacular views, colorful birds, hawks, bunnies, lizards, and butterflies to be spotted.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the most popular hikes in Sedona (for a good reason) is Cathedral Rock Trail. This 1.2-mile round trip is a bit steep in places but there are plenty of opportunities to stop and look around to enjoy the view.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winding through Sedona’s Red Rock Country, Red Rock Scenic Byway (Highway 179) is often called a “museum without walls.” This All-American Road winds through the evergreen-covered Coconino National Forest and past two famous and beautiful vortexes—Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock. Stop at the several scenic pullouts for great views and enjoy the prehistoric Red Rocks with nearby parking (RV friendly). There are all levels of hiking and biking trails.

Related Article: Sedona Is a Must-Stop

Chapel of the Holy Cross © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Chapel of the Holy Cross sits perched on a small red rock plateau below a multi-hued sandstone ridge creating one of the most impressive architectural sites in Sedona. This breathtaking landmark building incorporates a 90-foot cross that dominates the structure and the front face of the chapel is all windows. The Chapel is a short distance off Red Rock Scenic Byway.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is so much more to Sedona than meets the eye. People travel from all across the globe to experience the mysterious cosmic forces that are said to emanate from the red rocks. They come in search of the vortexes. What is a vortex? Sedona vortexes are thought to be swirling centers of energy that are conducive to healing, meditation, and self-exploration. Many people feel inspired, recharged, or uplifted after visiting a vortex.

Sedona from Airport Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although all of Sedona is considered to be a vortex there are specific sites where the energy crackles most intensely. The four best-known Sedona vortexes are found at Airport Mesa, Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, and Boynton Canyon—each radiating its own particular energy.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Jeep tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Off-roading with a Jeep tour

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.

Jeep tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Verde Canyon Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Verde Canyon Railway

Ride in restored, vintage Pullman cars pulled by an FP7 locomotive on a 20-miles scenic ride to the ghost town of Perkinsville and back. You’ll pass through the high desert and 100 years of history as your train takes you through the canyon. Step out onto viewing platforms for plenty of photo ops with informative attendants to point things out and answer questions. Entertainment and food are available inside. By the way, inside is climate controlled. You could spot Ancient Sinagua ruins, bald eagles, and great blue herons as you pass close to canyon walls and riparian areas. It’s a relaxing way to get a sense of the area.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Taking in the Old West in historic Jerome

Just an hour’s drive away from Sedona is the historic copper mining town of Jerome. Once known as “the wickedest town in the West,” it’s now designated a National Historic District by the federal government and attracts visitors as a historic ghost town and artist hub.

Jerome Mine Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kids of all ages will have fun exploring the historic sites and learning about Jerome’s history at the Mine Museum and Douglas Mansion. Stop at nearby Audrey Headframe Park where a glass viewing platform allows visitors to stand—if they dare—over a 1,600-foot-deep mine shaft dating from 1918 and look down into its depths.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can also book a guided tour on Ghost Town Tours’ Spirit Walk. There are numerous allegedly haunted places in Jerome including the House of Joy, a former bordello; the Jerome Grand Hotel; the Old Hospital; and the Old High School complete with creepy basement locker rooms and an abandoned gym.

Montezuma Castle © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montezuma Castle

Finally, stop at Montezuma Castle National Monument. American Indian tribes have lived in Arizona for over a thousand years and the Montezuma Castle National Monument features homes built by the Sinagua built directly into the sides of the cliffs.

Rain Spirit RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stargazing in a designated Dark Sky Community

The perfect way to end a day is with some stargazing. Families from the city or even suburbs don’t get to see the clear night sky very often and Sedona is a designated International Dark Sky Community. With very few streetlights and distance from any big city, Sedona is nationally recognized as one of the best places to stargaze in the U.S. A variety of companies offer evening sky tours in Sedona, some led by former NASA engineers or professional astronomers with powerful telescopes.

Related Article: Flagstaff to Sedona…and Beyond

Distant Drum RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Places to stay along this route

With so much to explore, you may want to book a campground or RV park along the route. 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

Worth Pondering…

There are only two places in the world

I want to live—in Sedona and Paris.

—Max Ernst, Surrealist painter

The Seducing Magic of Sedona: 20 Ways to Fall in Love

Start with scenery that makes your heart leap. Sedona nestles among a geological wonderland. It’s hard not to fall in love with Sedona, Arizona. The magic of the red rocks that tower above the town, the gorgeous hikes, the food, and culture.

Surrounded by 1.8 million acres of national forest land and buttressed by four wilderness areas and two state parks, this is a landscape built for adventure. Set amid beautiful red rock mountains, buttes, and canyons, Sedona is one of Arizona’s most beautiful destinations. The scenery here is nothing less than stunning with unbelievable views from every street corner and hiking trail. Also known as a spiritual center, particularly for its energy vortexes, the city has a unique vibe and attracts visitors with a diverse set of interests.

Attractions range from the spectacular natural areas and scenic drives to Native American ruins, architecture, galleries, and sacred sites. Many of the best things to do in Sedona are free including hiking, mountain biking, or stargazing. The city is a designated Dark Sky Community.

Cathedral Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Cathedral Rock

Cathedral Rock is the most photographed attraction in Sedona and one of the city’s most impressive sites. You can see the rock from Highway 179 as you drive from Oak Creek Village into Sedona or from the backside at several locations. The most classic view of Cathedral Rock is from Red Rock Crossing and Crescent Moon Recreation Area. If you feel an urge to climb this amazing rock formation, a hiking trail leads up to the saddle where you’re treated to incredible views to the east and west. It’s also the location of an energy vortex.

Uptown Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Uptown Sedona

Uptown Sedona is the old town where you’ll find boutiques, tourist shops, galleries, cafes, and restaurants. This area runs along with Highway 89A beginning where Highway 179 ends. If you are heading up Oak Creek Canyon towards Flagstaff you will pass right through Uptown Sedona.

Establishments here include everything from jewelry and craft stores to crystal sellers and casual restaurants to fine dining. This is also where Jeep tours start. Parking can be at a premium here especially on weekends but there is a parking garage where you can usually find a spot.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Red Rock Scenic Byway

The Red Rock Scenic Byway is a stunning drive along Highway 179 running from south of the Village of Oak Creek to Sedona. Along with numerous natural attractions, hiking and biking trails and pullouts allow you to stop and appreciate the sights. Near the north end is the Tlaquepaque arts and crafts village. Some of the most popular sights along this route are Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock, and a short distance off the road is the Chapel of the Holy Cross.

Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive

Stunning Oak Creek Canyon is upstream from Sedona on the road to Flagstaff. Rock formations, cliff walls, and forests line scenic Highway 89A as it follows Oak Creek before climbing up the canyon along a dramatic stretch of twisting road with switchbacks. The sharp corners and steep hills make this a road you will want to drive during daylight. One of the main attractions along this route particularly from spring ’til fall is Slide Rock State Park. You’ll also find hiking trails off this drive. One of the most spectacular hikes is the West Fork Trail.

Hiking trail near Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Hiking Trails

One of the best ways to explore the natural beauty around Sedona is to lace up your hiking boots and hit the trails. Many of the hikes are less than three miles and can easily be done in just a couple of hours but they offer access to some of the most amazing views in the area. Longer and more challenging hikes can also be found around Sedona leading to mountain tops and up canyons. Some of the most popular hikes are to Devil’s Bridge, Cathedral Rock, and Bell Rock.

Jeep tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Jeep Tours

Jeep tours are one of the most popular activities in Sedona. They allow you to enjoy areas you wouldn’t see without an off-road vehicle. These tours are in open-air Jeeps which are an iconic sight in Sedona. Be prepared for a bumpy ride. The drivers are knowledgeable and keen to share the local history and geology of the area.

Chapel of the Holy Cross © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Chapel of the Holy Cross

The Chapel of the Holy Cross sits perched on a small red rock plateau below a multi-hued sandstone ridge creating one of the most impressive architectural sites in Sedona. It was built in 1956 by Marguerite Brunswig Staude, a student of famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. This breathtaking landmark building incorporates a 90-foot cross that dominates the structure and the front face of the chapel is all windows. The modern appearance with sharp lines and angles contrasts with the rounded red rocks. The Chapel is a short distance off Highway 179.

Mountain biking trail near Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Mountain Biking Trails

If you’re a mountain biker you probably already know Sedona is the place to be. And, if you’re new to mountain biking, Sedona will definitely spoil you. The Bell Rock Area Trails include 16 miles of beginner-friendly riding between Courthouse Butte and Little Horse Trail. Once you’re comfortable on the Bell Rock trails head to Long Canyon, a straightforward cruise with flowing turns in upper Dry Creek. You can also link Long Canyon with Deadmans Pass, a relatively flat ride with a few short, rocky climbs.

9. Climbing

Sedona is an incredibly beautiful place to climb that happens to have some fairly soft rock. There are sport routes all the way up to seriously tough aid routes. Many of the newer routes feature liberal use of bolts where necessary.

10. Vortexes

Cathedral Rock is considered to be a vortex © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is so much more to Sedona than meets the eye. People travel from all across the globe to experience the mysterious cosmic forces that are said to emanate from the red rocks. They come in search of the vortexes. What is a vortex? Sedona vortexes (the proper grammatical form ‘vortices’ is rarely used) are thought to be swirling centers of energy that are conducive to healing, meditation, and self-exploration. These are places where the earth seems especially alive with energy. Many people feel inspired, recharged, or uplifted after visiting a vortex. Although all of Sedona is considered to be a vortex there are specific sites where the energy crackles most intensely. The four best-known Sedona vortexes are found at Airport Mesa, Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, and Boynton Canyon—each radiating its own particular energy.

Bell Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Bell Rock

One of the key natural sites around Sedona is the aptly named, Bell Rock. This bell-shaped formation is west of Oak Creek Village along the Red Rock Scenic Byway. Easily accessible this is a popular stop. You can park and have a quick look, walk up to it, do a short and easy hike along the side of the bell, and scramble up the rock a short distance. Behind Bell Rock is Courthouse Butte, another famous sight and hike.

12. Boynton Canyon

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. 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.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Day Trip to the Grand Canyon

From Sedona, it’s just a 2.5-hour drive to one of the most famous and awe-inspiring sights in America. The drive from Sedona takes you up through the beautiful Oak Creek Canyon to Flagstaff. From here, you can do a loop driving through Williams or up Highway 180 past Humphreys Peak to the Grand Canyon. Spend the day seeing the sights along the rim of the canyon or take a scenic flight over and into the canyon. Or alternately, ride the rails from Williams. The historic Grand Canyon Railway departs daily to the Grand Canyon.

View of Sedona from Airport Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Airport Mesa

Airport Mesa is a tabletop mountain in Sedona looking out over the entire area. The airport is located on a flat field on the top of the mesa thus the name. Many people come here to hike, look out from the viewpoint which is also the location of an energy vortex, or enjoy a meal at the Mesa Grill where you can watch the planes take off and land. Views here extend out over Uptown Sedona towards Coffee Pot Rock and Soldier Pass. For something a little more adventurous, you can also do the Airport Mesa Loop Trail, a 3.5-mile hiking trail that runs along the edge and around the mesa.

Red Rock Crossing © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Red Rock Crossing & Crescent Moon Recreation Area

If you are familiar with the classic site of Cathedral Rock reflecting in the calm waters of Oak Creek, this scene is the view from Red Rock Crossing and Crescent Moon Recreation Area. This is a pleasant place to enjoy the creek on a hot day. You can wade in the creek, enjoy a picnic, or simply relax and appreciate the scenery. This is an incredibly popular location with photographers who come here in the late afternoon when the sun is lighting up Cathedral Rock.

Tlaquepaque © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village

An unforgettable Sedona experience must include spending time at internationally renowned Tlaquepaque (pronounced T-la-keh-pah-keh), Arts & Crafts Village. Nestled beneath the shade of the sycamores on the banks of beautiful Oak Creek in Sedona, Tlaquepaque is the most distinctive Sedona shopping experience to be found in the Southwest. Authentically fashioned after a traditional Mexican village, Tlaquepaque, meaning the “best of everything,” has been a Sedona landmark since the 1970’s. Originally conceived as an artist community, Tlaquepaque is a perfect setting to witness gifted Sedona artisans absorbed in their work. Shoppers can see artists at work although most of what you will find is interesting retail establishments many of which showcase glass, ceramics, sculptures, weavings, paintings, decorative arts, photography, jewelry, and decor.

House of Apache Fire at Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. 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.

Pillsbury tasting room in Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

18. 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.

Schnebly Hill Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

19. 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.

Coconino National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20. Coconino National Forest

Just outside Sedona, you’ll find the largest ponderosa forest in the world in Coconino National Forest. But that’s not all this area has to offer. From mountains and canyons to rivers and red rocks, this is the perfect place for some outdoor exploration, whether you prefer hiking, biking, or horseback riding.

Where to Camp in Sedona

Campgrounds and RV parks in the Sedona area offer a wide range of amenities in a variety of settings.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Cottonwood

Distance to Sedona: 20 miles

Dead Horse Ranch State Park is located in Cottonwood and within the Verde River Valley corridor. The spacious campgrounds give quick access to most of the park features like trails, playground, lakes, and the Verde River. Over 100 spacious camp sites are scattered throughout the park. The campground consists of four loops; most campsites are RV accessible with hookups. Many of the pull through sites can accommodate RVs up to 65 feet in length.

Rain Spirit RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rain Spirit RV Resort, Clarkdale, Arizona

Distance to Sedona: 22 miles

Overlooking Tuzigoot National Monument and Verde River, Rain Spirit RV Resort is a new park with 63 full-service sites including 30/50-amp electric service, cable TV, and the Internet. Amenities include private restroom/showers, fitness room, laundry facilities, recreation room, library lounge, pool and spa, and dog run. This 5-star resort is a great home base from which to explore the historic town of Jerome, Sedona Red Rock Country, Old Town Cottonwood, and book an excursion on the Verde Valley Railway.

Distant Drums RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Distant Drums RV Resort, Camp Verde, Arizona

Distance to Sedona: 24 miles

Distant Drum RV Resort is conveniently located along I-17 (Exit 289) across the Interstate from Castle Cliff Casino. The interior roads and sites are paved and the park is well maintained but many sites are not level. The park features 157 spacious RV sites with concrete pads. Each site comes with full hookups, including 30/50 amp electrical service, cable TV, and Wi-Fi throughout the park. All brand new amenities include an events center, lending library, heated pool and Jacuzzi, laundry facilities, exercise room, spacious dog run, and country store.

Birding at Verde Valley Camping Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Verde Valley RV & Camping Resort

Distance to Sedona: 25 miles

Situated on the scenic Verde River, Verde Valley RV Camping offers 300 acres of picturesque beauty. A Thousand Trails membership park, Verde Valley RV is now open to the public through Encore RV Resorts.

Worth Pondering…

There are only two places in the world

I want to live—Sedona and Paris.

—Max Ernst, Surrealist painter

The Ultimate Guide to Arizona State Parks

Lakeside retreats! Historical gems! Secluded campsites!

From hiking and backpacking to birding and wildlife watching, this compendium of facts, figures, and travel tips about 14 Arizona’s state parks will inspire your RV adventures for months to come. The other 20 parks are on our bucket list. Founded in 1953, Arizona State Parks and Trails have evolved into an important part of the state outdoor recreation.

Arizona State Parks Dashboard

Fast Facts

Oldest State Park: Tubac Presidio State Historic Park, founded in 1958

Newest State Park: Rockin’ River State Park (due late 2021)

Closest to Downtown Phoenix: Lost Dutchman State Park (41 miles)

Closest to Downtown Tucson: Catalina State Park (15 miles)

Largest State Park: Oracle State Park (4,000 acres)

Smallest State Park: Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park (12,000 square feet)

Annual Visitors: 3.2 Million (2019)

Parks Pass

Arizona State Parks sells two annual passes to help you save money and time. The Standard pass ($75/year) allows day-use access for you and up to three adults at all parks except for Lake Havasu, Cattail Cove, Buckskin Mountain, and River Island. The Premium pass ($200/year) allows day-use access at all parks for you and up to three adults. 

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alamo Lake State Park

As far as lakeside parks go, this one in western Arizona has no beach and not much shoreline hiking. But! It’s considered one of the best bass fishing lakes in the country. Anglers: Pack your gear and reserve one of the 15 full-service camping sites ($25/night) or cabins ($65/night) where the front porch makes for an ideal spot to spin yarns about the catch of the day.

Location: From Wenden, take Alamo Road 33 miles north to the park entrance

Fees: $10 per vehicle; $3 per individual/bicycle

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park

Anchoring the rugged Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, this park sprawls through the Coronado National Forest’s wild backcountry. Trails dotted with hikers, bikers, and horseback riders trace the spines of high-elevation ridges and snake through deep canyons. One challenging trek, the Sutherland Trail, navigates the steep slopes to deliver determined hikers to Mt. Lemmon, the highest peak of the Catalinas. Another trail climbs 80 steps up to the stone and adobe ruins of a Hohokam village from 500 A.D. In the 19th century, Francisco Romero built a ranch on the land likely using this same stone to fortify his home from the Apaches.

Location: 11570 N. Oracle Rd., Tucson

Fees: $7 per vehicle; $3 per individual/bicycle

Western scrub jay at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bird Journal

Birding isn’t for everyone, we get it. But more than 170 diverse species inhabit the park, so you’re bound to spot a winged creature worthy of mention, whether you intend to or not. The 1-mile Birding Trail offers an easy loop for ambling. Bonus points for the signage with bird facts.

Notable Flora

The nearby Saguaro National Park boasts a lot (like, millions) of its namesake cactus, but Catalina is home to nearly 5,000 of them. Not too shabby. Throughout the state park, thick clusters of the mighty saguaro jut from the hillsides giving way to glittering city views of Tucson.

Colorado River State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colorado River State Historic Park

Over the years, the buildings at this park have served an oddball assortment of government agencies. Starting in 1864, the U.S. Army used them as a supply depot for forts in the Arizona Territory; later, the Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Customs, and the U.S. Weather Service were all tenants. Today, the buildings maintain exhibits on the rich history of the Colorado River region including a research library open to professionals and curious members of the public.

Location: 201 N. Fourth Ave., Yuma

Fees: $6 per adult; $3 per youth, ages 7-13; children, ages 6 and younger, free

Dead Horse State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Ranch State Park

Attention RV campers: More than 100 spacious sites ($20-$35/night) grace the grounds of this riverfront getaway in the Verde Valley. If you can’t snag a campsite or one of the park’s cabins, drive up for the hiking—nearly a dozen trails wind through the sprawling high desert environs along the Verde River.

Location: 675 Dead Horse Ranch Rd., Cottonwood

Fees: $7 per vehicle; $3 per individual/bicycle

Jerome State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome State Historic Park

This 2.5-acre property shows off the Douglas Mansion with its commanding views of the Verde Valley. James Douglas, owner of the Little Daisy copper mine, built it in 1916 as a hotel for mining investors. Today its luxurious rooms exhibit photographs and artifacts about Jerome’s mining history. But you can only look and browse—no overnighters.

Location: 100 Douglas Rd., Jerome

Fees: $7 per adult; $4 per youth, ages 7-13; children, ages 6 and younger, free

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park

Since the 1840s, many have claimed to know the location of the Peralta family’s lost gold mine in the Superstition Mountains but none of these would-be fortune-seekers became more famous than “the Dutchman” Jacob Waltz. The German prospector purportedly hid caches of the precious metal throughout the Superstition Wilderness. Fact or fiction, Waltz’s windfall gave the park its name. You might not find gold during your visit but other treasures include great hiking and biking trails and 138 RV camping sites (68 with electric and water) with sunset views.

Location: 6109 N. Apache Trail, Apache Junction

Fees: $7-10 per vehicle; $3 per individual/bicycle

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia Lake State Park

South of Sonoita, the blue waters of Patagonia Lake glisten for 265 acres. Unlike the craggy escarpments that border many desert lakes, here it’s all rounded corners and gentle slopes. The surrounding hills ease down to the tall grasses that line the shore. A trail meanders from the beach to Sonoita Creek which formed the lake when it was dammed. And a marina provides boat rentals: canoes, pontoons, rowboats, and paddleboats. In a former life, this land was the home of the Sobaipuri and Papago tribes, both related to the Pima Indians. Today, it’s the home away from home for campers, birders, swimmers, sunbathers, boaters, and anglers.

Location: 400 Patagonia Lake Rd., Patagonia

Fees: $15-20 per vehicle; $3 per individual/bicycle

Where to Stay

You’ll find 105 developed RV campsites and 12 boat-in campsites at Patagonia Lake. Accessible by boat only, each comes with a picnic table and a fire pit and not much else—except for a remote spot with uninterrupted water views.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park

Picacho rises from the desert seemingly out of nowhere, its sharp buttes like lighthouses guiding travelers home. It wasn’t always a sight for road-weary eyes, though. In 1862, Confederate and Union soldiers clashed here in the Battle of Picacho Pass, a fight marked in history as the westernmost battle of the Civil War. These days during the spring, vibrant wildflowers carpet the ground; come winter, the challenging trails that ascend the sunny peaks draw thrill-seeking hikers.

Location: I-10 at Exit 219, Eloy

Fees: $7 per vehicle; $3 per individual/bicycle

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock State Park

Oak Creek runs for nearly 2 miles throughout this 286-acre state park, adorning the sandstone mesas and red boulders with leafy riparian habitats. If we’re judging Sedona hiking hot spots, it doesn’t get much better than the park’s juniper-studded trails and vortex-framed vistas. Red Rock State Park is one of the most ecologically diverse parks in Arizona which is why it makes sense that it serves as an environmental education hub. From the Visitor Center’s interactive exhibits and film presentations to guided nature walks and full moon hikes, programming offers insight into Sedona’s majestic landscape.

Location: 4050 Red Rock Loop Rd., Sedona

Fees: $7 per adult; $4 per youth, ages 7-13; children, ages 6 and younger, free

Animal Encounters

When it comes to Arizona wildlife, you’ll see the usual suspects—javelina, mule deer, maybe a coyote—but to meet the cutest, most playful creatures ever, hike the Apache Fire Trail. It leads to Oak Creek where the resident river otters frolic. Cross Kingfisher Bridge to glimpse them below.

Before You Go

Due to the park’s popularity, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind before your visit. Of note: Most of the trails are off-limits to cyclists; there is no swimming or wading in Oak Creek; don’t climb the rocks; and keep your four-legged buddy at home.

Sonoita Creek State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sonoita Creek State Natural Area

The perennial stream of Sonoita Creek feeds this natural area’s bounty of trees: cottonwood and willow, ash and walnut, mesquite and elderberry. Hike 20 miles of remote trails where you’ll likely encounter no one save for the dozens of species of dragonflies and butterflies. You’ll access the natural area by Patagonia Lake State Park.

Location: 400 Lake Patagonia Rd., Patagonia

Fees: $15-20 per vehicle; $3 per individual/bicycle

Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park

Get to know Wyatt Earp. Stand in a reproduction of the gallows where convicted baddies met their demise. And learn all about the other gunfight at the OK Corral. The museum inside the courthouse exhibits interpretive displays on all of this and more including the history of Tombstone and Cochise County.

Location: 223 Toughnut St., Tombstone

Fees: $7 per adult; $2 per youth, ages 7-13; children, ages 6 and younger, free

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park

As part of the expansion of “New Spain” throughout Mexico and the Southwest, the Spanish Empire built Catholic missions along with forts, or presidios, to protect them. At Arizona’s first state park, dedicated in 1958, see the ruins of the oldest Spanish presidio in the state, San Ignacio de Tubac, established in 1752.

Location: 1 Burruel St., Tubac

Fees: $7 adult; $2 per youth, ages 7-13; children, ages 6 and younger, free

Along the Verde River Greenway Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Verde River Greenway State Natural Area

This natural area’s raison d’être is preservation of the Verde River’s delicate riparian ecosystem, so although swimming, fishing, and hiking are allowed, a “light footprint” is encouraged. Connect with the riverside trails from Dead Horse Ranch State Park.

Location: 2011-B Kestrel Rd., Cottonwood

Fees: None

Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park

After 33 years housing hardened criminals, the Yuma Territorial Prison gained new life as Yuma Union High School in 1910. Cellblocks became classrooms and the hospital held assemblies. I’m sure there’s a joke to be made likening school to jail but the truth is the history of this prison is so darn fascinating. Take Pearl Hart, for example. In 1899, she chopped off her hair, donned men’s clothing and, armed with a revolver, robbed a stagecoach bound for Florence. She became a national media sensation for the crime and even though she was sentenced to five years in the all-male Yuma Prison she got out in two thanks to what’s politely been described as “deft use of her feminine wiles.” The prison’s preservation today is impressive; you’ll see the guard tower, original cellblocks, and a museum displaying artifacts and stories of notable convicts. Plus: Great gift shop.

Location: 220 N. Prison Hill Rd., Yuma

Fees: $7 per adult; $4 per youth, ages 7-13; children, ages 6 and younger, free

Worth Pondering…

To my mind these live oak-dotted hills fat with side oats grama, these pine-clad mesas spangled with flowers, these lazy trout streams burbling along under great sycamores and cottonwoods, come near to being the cream of creation.

—Aldo Leopold, 1937

America’s Best State Parks

Check out the best of the best in our list of the most enchanting state parks in America

State parks are giving national parks a run for their money drawing an average of 807 million visitors annually.

Each state has a considerable amount of protected land with state park designation—a whopping 18,694,570 acres, to be exact. With 8,565 parks and 14,672 trails to explore, chances are there’s a local park worthy of a day trip. As a bonus, state parks also offer grandeur, history, and natural beauty.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock State Park, Arizona

Red Rock State Park isn’t your everyday desert landscape. In fact, this 286-acre nature preserve is home to lush green meadows, juniper, Manzanita, and is adorned with miles of striking red rock formations. The park offers 5 miles of interconnected, family-friendly trails that traverse a variety of unique desert habitats.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park Highlights: Take a scenic drive along Arizona State Route 89A which winds its way through Oak Creek Canyon and provides several places to pull over and picnic or snap photos of incredible, colorful rock formations.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park, South Dakota

You might be heading to South Dakota to catch a glimpse of Mount Rushmore but while you’re out exploring the Black Hills there’s another South Dakota gem you’ll want to add to your bucket list. Named one of the World’s Top Ten Wildlife Destination and one of the country’s largest state parks, Custer State Park is 71,000 acres of granite cliffs, rolling plains, and beautiful mountain wilderness.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park Highlights: Drive the Wildlife Loop to see a variety of wildlife including bison, antelope, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and elk. Or, drive along Iron Mountain Road for incredible, panoramic views of the Black Hills and unique vantage points of Mount Rushmore.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

Despite its grisly name, the view from Dead Horse Point remains one of the most scenic vistas in the world. Towering 2,000 feet above the Colorado River, Dead Horse Point is an iconic peninsula of rock sitting on top of incredible vertical sandstone cliffs that was formed by geological activity millions of years ago.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park Highlights: Pack a camera and drive along Dead Horse Point Scenic Byway to experience the park’s deep canyons and ridges via a variety of scenic overlooks, including the most notable overlook: Dead Horse Point Overlook.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mon­a­hans Sandhills State Park, Texas

The wind sculpts sand dunes into peaks and valleys at Mon­a­hans Sandhills State Park offering a Texas-sized sand­box for kids of all ages as well as close-up views of a unique desert environment.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park Highlights: Bring a picnic and spend the day exploring on foot or horse­back. Rent sand disks and surf the dunes. Learn about the park and its natural and cultural history at the Dunagan Vis­i­tors Center. Set up camp and witness spec­tac­ular sun­sets.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park, Alabama

There is something for everyone inside Gulf State Park with two miles of beaches, a spacious campground, and a brand new Lodge and Conference Center. There’s gorgeous white sand, surging surf, seagulls, and a variety of activities, but there is more than sand and surf to sink your toes into. 

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park Highlights: Gulf State Park has a multitude of activities to participate in including hiking, biking, fishing, exploring, geocaching, and paddling with beach vendors offering parasailing and kayaking. 

Elephant Butte Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico

The largest and most popular lake in New Mexico, Elephant Butte Lake State Park provides a setting for every imaginable water sport. The campground offers developed sites with electric and water hook-ups for RVs. The mild climate of the area makes this park a popular year-round destination.

Elephant Butte Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park Highlights: If you like camping, fishing, boating, or just being outdoors, Elephant Butte is for you. Elephant Butte Lake can accommodate watercraft of many styles and sizes: kayaks, jet skis, pontoons, sailboats, ski boats, cruisers, and houseboats.

Worth Pondering…

Stuff your eyes with wonder…live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.

—Ray Bradbury

Color Your World at Red Rock State Park

Red Rock State Park is a 286 acre nature preserve and environmental education center with stunning scenery

There is no shortage of locations in Arizona that could form a Red Rock State Park, but the chosen location is in Red Rock Country several miles southwest of Sedona along Oak Creek. Here the year-round stream meanders through a low valley creating a diverse riparian habitat abounding with plants and wildlife. For most of the length of the park the creek is split into two channels, and running parallel to part of it is a third, a drainage ditch built early last century to irrigate a nearby ranch.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heavy rains occasionally cause great floods down the valley. In January of 1993 a combination of several factors produced runoff that reached historically high levels. Heavy, unusually warm rains fell for several days on the deep snowpack in the high country of northern Arizona. Tremendous amounts of debris are washed downstream during these times of high water.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The hillsides 50 feet above the creek are quite different, covered by bushes, cacti, and coarse grass. These hills afford good views of the much higher red rock cliffs to the north and east.

The area is home to Fremont cottonwood, sycamore, velvet ash, and Arizona alder in the riparian areas. The uplands host velvet mesquite, netleaf hackberry, juniper, and a variety of smaller bushes and wildflowers.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock State Park is a 286 acre nature preserve and 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.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park facilities include a visitors center, classroom, theater, gift shop, picnic tables, 10 developed trails, restrooms, group area with Ramada and facilities, and the former home of Jack and Helen Frye, the House of Apache Fire. The restrooms are handicapped accessible. Camping facilities are not available at this park.

House of Apache Fire at Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The House of Apache Fire was built by Jack and Helen Frye. Jack Frye was the president of Trans World Airlines and helped design several planes with Howard Hughes before Frye was killed in a 1959 auto crash. Helen kept the house until her death in 1979, when the house was passed on to the religious group Eckankar. The group sold the land and house to a mining company, which traded the land and house to the state in 1986 for another parcel of land. The state park opened in 1991.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Miller Visitor Center at Red Rock State Park includes an interpretive area, a gift shop, and restrooms. The Junior Ranger and Junior Buddy programs are available for children ages 4-12. There is also a movie theater at the park that shows “The Natural Wonders of Sedona: Timeless Beauty.” The 45-minute video plays on request and covers Sedona’s history and wildlife and takes you on a flying tour of the red rocks providing you with some phenomenal aerial scenes.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many educational opportunities are available in the Miller Visitor Center including hands-on exhibits based on a biotic communities theme. Panels bring to life the variety of habitats found within the park. Information is also available on the early human inhabitants of the area as well as roving displays showing a wide selection of the park’s wildlife.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The main activity is hiking. Nine trails form a network of routes, mostly on the south side of Oak Creek. All are well marked, with signs and trail maps at each junction. The 5-mile network consists of interconnecting loops, which lead you to vistas of red rock or along the lush greenery of Oak Creek.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Eagle’s Nest Loop and the Apache Fire Loop are joined together by the Coyote Ridge Trail. Eagle’s Nest is the highest point in the park with an elevation gain of 300 feet. These three major loops are connected along the riparian corridor by the Kisva Trail, which also leads up to the short loop of the Yavapai Ridge Trail. The Javelina Trail takes you into the pinyon/juniper woodlands and back to the other loops.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock State Park is reached by a 7 mile loop road off US 89A, the middle part of which is unpaved though fine for all vehicles. Only the western entrance is signposted. The road curves around the south side of Scheurman Mountain, passing through bushy, red, rocky land that shelters a few houses, nestled in clearings in the trees or on top of small hills.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the park a short road leads past two picnic areas to the main parking lot and visitor facilities.

Worth Pondering…

There are only two places in the world

I want to live—Sedona and Paris.

—Max Ernst, Surrealist painter

Sedona Is a Must-Stop

The most beautiful place on Earth

If you delight in gazing at towering red rocks or driving through rugged canyons, then go to Sedona.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you admire exquisite art, or are captivated by amazing architecture, then go to Sedona.

If you want to see ancient cliff dwellings, hear tales of Hollywood cowboys, or thrill to outdoor adventures, then (you guessed it) go to Sedona.

Sedona is a must-stop.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although American Indians lived in the region as far back as 1100, European settlers didn’t arrive until 1876. Drawn by the abundance of water and fertile soil, pioneers began farming crops and planting orchards on the banks of Oak Creek. The community continued to grow, and by the turn of the century, about 15 homesteading families worked the land. These early settlers of Sedona called their town Upper Oak Creek.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the turn of the 20th century, T.C. Schnebly built a large two-story home that served as general store and hotel near Oak Creek. He also organized the first post office. When it came time to name the community, his original suggestions of Oak Creek Crossing and Schnebly’s Station were rejected by the Postmaster General as being too long—they would not fit on a postmark.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So, T.C.’s brother suggested naming the town after T.C’s wife, Sedona. Postal officials approved the name, and in 1902, T.C. began running the post office from the back of his home. Today Sedona is home to approximately 10,000 people and covers 19 scenic square miles.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona’s beauty makes it an alluring destination. As early as 1895, anthropologist/archaeologist Jesse Walter Fewkes predicted that the area would become extremely popular among tourists. Today, 4.5 million travelers come each year to enjoy mild winter weather and gorgeous scenery; to shop amid its famous galleries and varied shops; or for the vortexes.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Even if you’re not an adherent of the New Age movement, plan on visiting at least one of Sedona’s famous vortexes. They’re at some of the most gorgeous spots around town. Vortexes (the proper grammatical form “vortices” is rarely used here) are thought to be swirling centers of energy that are conducive to spiritual healing, meditation, and self-exploration. Believers identify four primary vortexes: Boynton Canyon, Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock, and Airport Mesa.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To truly appreciate the legacy of Sedona’s early pioneers, spend time outside reveling in the same heart-freeing beauty they experienced. Hike the trails they carved from this wilderness. Over a century later—even as Sedona has grown into a world-class destination filled with art galleries, resorts, spas, and restaurants—you can still walk the same pathways the earliest residents walked. That’s part of the magic of this landscape, how closely connected it is to wild country.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona is located at the mouth of a rugged canyon, surrounded by the 1.8-million-acre Coconino National Forest. A 2,000-foot-high escarpment known as the Mogollon Rim towers over town. The cliffs are made of ancient deposits of soft limestone, mudstone, and sandstone, which easily erode. Formations such as “Steamboat” and “Snoopy” can be seen while wandering Sedona’s main street.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you’re ready to see more, head to Red Rock State Park, a 286-acre nature preserve and environmental education center with stunning scenery. Gorgeous views include lush greenery along meandering Oak Creek, while the rugged red rocks call adventurers to explore.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nine trails form a network of routes. All are well marked, with signs and trail maps at each junction. The 5-mile network consists of interconnecting loops, which lead you to vistas of red rock or along the lush greenery of Oak Creek.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Eagle’s Nest Loop and the Apache Fire Loop are joined together by the Coyote Ridge Trail. Eagle’s Nest is the highest point in the park with an elevation gain of 300 feet. These three major loops are connected along the riparian corridor by the Kisva Trail, which also leads up to the short loop of the Yavapai Ridge Trail. The Javelina Trail takes you into the pinyon/juniper woodlands and back to the other loops.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s best to leave your RV parked at a campground and take your towed vehicle when you visit Sedona because parking is very limited.

Worth Pondering…

There are only two places in the world

I want to live—Sedona and Paris.

—Max Ernst, Surrealist painter

Winter Hiking in Arizona State Parks

Arizona State Parks offers an amazing variety of hiking trails that range from easy to difficult and encompass a wide array of terrain.

Arizona has incredible surroundings waiting to be explored.

Arizona State Parks offers an amazing variety of hiking trails that range from easy to difficult and encompass a wide array of terrain.

Pay attention and be observant of your surroundings. Watching your feet can prevent an unfortunate encounter with a rattlesnake or other poisonous wildlife.

Look no further than Sedona’s Red Rock country for one of the best hikes in Arizona. Eagle’s Nest Trail at Red Rock State Park (photo above) supplies panoramic views of the colorful rocks and craggy formations. After hiking through the lush vegetation surrounding Oak Creek, follow the trail up to views only previously imagined.

Eagle’s Nest trail is only one of several options available at Red Rock State Park. The park offers hikes for every skill level, whether you’re going for a relaxed stroll or looking to break a sweat. Numerous bird species call Red Rock State Park home, pick up a current bird ID list at the park store; you’ll be amazed by the number of species that use the park. Be sure to take tons of scenic photos while at this epic destination, the park lends itself very well to creative shots.

Just up the road at Slide Rock State Park, trails lead into Oak Creek Canyon (above photo) and along the creek itself. Best known for its iconic natural water slide, this scenic hiking destination is bound to leave a lasting impression while creating lifetime memories. Birds and wildlife are common along Oak Creek.

The forested mountain views are accentuated by the gentle rumble of Oak Creek and add to the overall experience of this beautifully unique destination. Look up in awe of the jagged formations created by a combination of time and weather as you amble through this small, yet extremely beautiful park in the pines.

Southeast of Sedona, in the Verde River Valley near Cottonwood, Dead Horse Ranch State Park (photo above) offers a multi-use trail system for visitors to enjoy.

Choose between the higher desert scenery of the Lime Kiln trail, which follows a historic route between Sedona and Cottonwood, or the more densely vegetated Verde River Greenway trail. The trails within the Verde River Valley and along the Verde River itself, give hikers the chance of experiencing many of the birds and wildlife that call Dead Horse Ranch home. Deer, javelina, raccoons, and otters hang out in the thick riverside vegetation year-round. 

Lost Dutchman State Park (photo above) always offers an incredible adventure, like the Full Moon Hike every month to see the starry night sky over the Superstition Mountains. Walk an easy loop around the mountain or wind through Siphon Draw to see all Lost Dutchman has to offer. There’s a path for every view, timeframe, and difficulty level, so pick a trail and take a hike.

Picacho Peak (photo above) and the classic beauty of true Sonoran Desert landscapes is available for your enjoyment. Dive in to the Hunter Trail for a strenuous two mile hike up the rocks, twisting up the iconic mountain, or take a stroll up Calloway Trail for a less strenuous hike to a scenic overlook as you appreciate the scenery of the Sonoran Desert. 

Catalina State Park (photo below) just outside of Tucson is a well-known, incredibly beautiful and diverse natural area that creates a feeling of remoteness, despite the close proximity to Tucson’s metropolitan center. Hike any of Catalina’s various trails for differing levels of difficulty, from short hikes to an all-day adventure, on foot, on a bike, or by horseback.

You never know what you’ll run into at Catalina, from gorgeous Mexican gold poppies, to desert tortoises, to various desert creepy crawlers. Catalina’s landscapes are always showing off and waiting to be explored.

Remember, when you’re enjoying Arizona’s hiking trails to bring plenty of water and snacks, and be aware of the temperature. Arizona hiking destinations offer views of the desert and experiences you won’t find anywhere else. All you need to do is pick a trail and lace up your shoes.

Worth Pondering…

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.

—Edward Abbey