The Best Things To Do In Sedona (with Local Tips)
There are a lot of activities to do in Sedona Arizona, but when you only have 24 hours in Sedona you have to narrow it down. While there are plenty of spas in Sedona and Arizona as a whole, from the time when Tuberculosis had no treatment and the spas and dry climate helped - I decided to forgo these and tackle the indigenous culture and outdoor activities.
To be honest, Sedona wasn't really on my radar until my friend Bree convinced me to visit her in Phoenix and basically begged me to go on a 24-hour road trip with her. That was FAR too little time to spend while in Sedona. So while I was there I picked up a TON of handouts from the visitors center, and pretty much talked to every local I could about all of the best things to do here.
My biggest tips for visiting are to NOT go on a holiday weekend, or any weekend to do any of the hikes. Go do the hikes during the week and do your spa, spiritual stuff, ruins and weekend wine vineyard tours. I definitely plan on going back, but after compiling all of the things I was able to see, all the information I picked up from locals, and things that are still on my to do list when I revisit - here are all the BEST things to do in Sedona for my Culture Trekkers consideration.
Quick Facts About Sedona
Location of Sedona: It is located about 2 hours north of Phoenix, and Flagstaff Arizona is a mere 45 minutes North of Sedona. A road trip from Phoenix to Flagstaff is a MUST if you are traveling North at all.
Transportation in Sedona: I would highly recommend a bike as parking seems to be a common issue not matter where you go. The roads are narrow near a lot of the hiking trails and there are some trails that require a pass but sometimes the pay system isn't working (see video). If you have a camper van, just don't even try parking in the designated parking areas near the hikes, unpack your bikes and just bike in and lock your bike to a pole or a tree. There is a sightseeing trolley available from the center of town.
When To Visit: The best time to visit Sedona is in the Spring and Fall. The elevation is about 3200 feet higher than Phoenix so you are going to have cooler temperatures (snows in winter), and summer gets beastly hot.
Best Things To Do in Sedona: Hiking, Spa days, Dary Sky City (which means incredible galaxy shot opportunities), spiritual awakening at the vortices, and of course shopping and FOOD!
What To Eat in Sedona: Whenever you see something with Prickly Pear on it, GET IT! It is a subtle fruity flavor that is delicious! My mouth is watering even thinking about it. This is a real hippie town so they have plenty of gluten free and vegan options on the menu. Dog friendly restaurants are hard to find here BUT they do exist - so I encourage all my dog parents to go support them :)
Staying Healthy and Safe in Sedona: Bring pliers if you are planning on hiking so IF, heaven forbid, you fall - you call pull out all the cactus needles without making your fingers bleed. Make sure to wear sunscreen, bring a hat, bring plenty of water, and stay on the trails with closed toe shoes (I prefer Keens).
Festivals In Sedona: International Film Festival & Workshop, 4th of July Wet Fest, Red Rock Rumble 5-mile trail run, Sedona Wagfest & Fair, Sedona Health & Nutrition Conference, Historical Red Rock Loop and Round-up, Runsedona, Fall arts & crafts show, Sedona Photofest, The festival of lights, Veterans Day Tribute, Vegfest, Mural Marigold project, Slide Rock Fall Fest, The Magical Christmas Journey, Sedona Tree Lighting & Santa visit.
Unique Tidbits About Sedona: Sedona was only the 8th city to be designated a Dark Sky City. They are VERY conservative about their land and preserving the natural beauty. A lot of the homes and buildings are the same colors as the surrounding rocks and plants. Even McDonald's classic Golden arches were turned a muted teal green to help with light pollution and blend into the surrounding area. I believe this is the only McDonalds in the country that has the green/teal arches (there may be another one in Spain - but the point is, it is extremely rare for a big brand like this to change their classic color branding).
Cathedral Rock is located in the Coconino National Forest and is one of the most photographed areas in Arizona. The trail to get to the overlook is incredibly popular and well worth the effort to get there.
This is a 1.5 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail with 652 feet in elevation gain. Very limited parking is available, and must be paid for at the electronic kiosk, but the kiosk may or may not be working - soooo bring some cash to pay as well (usually small $1 bills does the trick because there is no change).
When we visited around 9am there was bumper to bumper traffic, the two parking lots that are available were completely full and it was hard to get in or get out. After doing some research it looks like you have to get to the trail well before the sun rises (4:30am-5am), because by 6am the lots are both full. Let me know in the comments below if anyone has tried the parking here for Sunset. There is always the option of headlamps for the way down but do that at your own risk.
I wouldn't recommend hiking this trail during the heat of the day though, it is completely exposed, and the red rock absorbs the heat of the sun and reflects it back onto you. So whatever the temperature is reading on your phone, add 10 degrees Fahrenheit to that and that will be how hot it feels.
There are pit toilets available at the trailhead (bring hand sanitizer), and dogs are allowed on the trail if they are on a leash (please pick up and pack out your pets doo-doo).
Secret Slick Rock Trail
If you simply want to photograph Cathedral Rock, I suggest going to Secret Slick Rock Trail. It is a 0.7 mile loop that is pretty much flat the whole way, until you get to the very last part of the trail and you have to descend about 8-10 feet over low profile sandstone natural steps.
The area is wide open, enough for everyone to take turns getting their pictures. This is also where I recommend getting those classic galaxy shots and starry night shots of Cathedral Rock. It is a recognizable profile of the mountain, and because the city is designated as a dark sky city - you don't get too much light pollution.
Because of the orientation of this mountain (South side) and the trail (North side) it allows you to get picturesque photos of this area no matter what time of day you are wanting to come. I think this is why so many people enjoy the area, and why so many people feel it has vortex like powers (scroll down to see more on Vortexes in Sedona).
Also located in the Coconino National Forest is the Devil's Bridge Trail. This is a 3.9 mile trail from the start of the trail/parking lot with 521 feet of elevation gain. There is minimal parking that like Cathedral Rock fills up VERY quickly with narrow roads close to the trail head. There are also no restrooms available here, and very little privacy and highly discouraged to do your business in the bushes so just keep that in mind as you head over here.
The parking lots on weekends tend to fill up by 6am so arrive before sunrise and you should get fairly lucky with parking. If you decide to hike during the week the parking seems to also be fairly abundant. Just know that hiking this trail in the afternoon you will be in full sun exposure.
If you head back out to the main road that approaches the hike, there is some non-shaded areas to park and then you can hike in to the start of the OHV road that leads to the trailhead.
If you decide to tackle the OHV road, be sure have an aggressive 4x4 Vehicle with ultra-high clearance. Air down your tires, and have someone skilled in tackling the drop-offs, ledges, and technical steps along the road.
The Pink Jeep Tours seem to tackle both the Devil's Bridge Trail as well as the Broken Arrow Trail. I have not personally used this tour company. Please understand this is merely a suggestion for those who want to utilize a tour company at their own risk.
Once you get to the actual trailhead, the hike is fairly easy with natural steps that lead up to the stone arch. The first 1.5 miles are an easy rating, and then the last 0.25 miles is where the moderate rating for this hike comes in with some steep steps and scrambling.
The bridge at the top is a lot wider than it looks in pictures, but you will likely have to wait in line 15-20 minutes at non-peak hours; and 1 hour or more for the peak hours. Please be kind, patient, and helpful to others when taking photos. Don't ruin your vacation and someone else's by getting impatient or being rude. Soak in the beauty around you while you wait, and just enjoy the journey :)
Just south of the Native American Yavapai county in the Munds Mountain Wilderness is the beautiful, iconic, and spiritually powerful Bell Rock Hike. The trail itself is 1.1 miles long heavily trafficked out and back trail with 380 feet in elevation gain. There is a fee in the parking area, so make sure to small bills and a credit card to pay. It is best to start the hike from the Courthouse Vista (Northern Bell Rock side) parking lot.
Dogs are allowed on this trail but be sure to keep them on a leash. There are a few areas once you get to the top that are steeper, a bit slippery, and require some rock scrambling which is why it is rated as moderate on AllTrails.
As with most of the other trails in Sedona, you need to arrive early for this one to avoid the crowds (around 6-7am). There is very little shade on the way up, so if you decide to attempt this hike in summer try to avoid hiking between 12pm-6pm to avoid the hottest parts of the day.
This area is also believed to be a spiritual vortex to the Native American people. A collection of the Earth's energies that can cause transformation. It is said that the energies are so powerful here that the Juniper trees that line the trail on the way up are unusually twisted from the energy. I will explain more about vortexes in Sedona below.
On the way up you can see the Baby Bell Rock, Chicken Point in the distance and the Submarine Rock formation with sweeping views of the entire valley. You will also see the Western face of the Courthouse Butte, and the small alcove where the Chapel of the Holy Cross sits. Overall it is a gorgeous, heart pumping, gorgeous hike and a fabulous way to get energized and start your morning off right.
I would recommend doing the hike before sunrise, so you can see the sun rise over the valley. Bring a thermos with some of your favorite coffee or beverage and something to sit on and just enjoy being in nature for awhile.
Seven Sacred Pools
This easy trail located near Soldier Pass Trail is a 1.1 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail that has a river along the way that creates seven sacred pools. With only 108 feet of elevation gain, it really is a gorgeous and perfectly beautiful hike for the entire family, including your fur babies.
Just be aware that the trailhead does not open until 8am, and closes at 6pm, so try to plan your hiking here accordingly. If the parking is full, you can try to park at Yavapai Point and hike an extra two miles to the actual parking lot. Because it is such an easy beautiful hike, and doesn't open until 8am there are usually a line of cars first thing in the morning to get into the limited parking area.
If all else fails you can take an Lyft, have them drop you off and then pick you up later if you have cell phone service out here. Yes, that is how bad the parking situation is in Sedona for most of these hikes.
I would also recommend downloading the AllTrails App so that you can download the map for this hike specifically as the trail is not clearly marked.
Also, the height of the summer months the pools can often be small and really dry so the best time to see the actual pools is after a good rain OR in the spring or fall.
Slide Rock State Park
This 43 acre State Park is located inside Oak Creek Canyon and was formerly a massive Apple Farm Homestead that belonged to Frank L Pendely. It was acquired in the 'Homestead Act of 1910. The Native Americans that originally occupied this area were the Hopi, Yavapai, Pueblos, Western Apache, and Hohokam. While the Hohokam are known for the massive irrigation systems they made that still exsist today - Mr. Pendly allegedly built an irrigation system here that is still used today. Hard to tell who built what first, but I thought it was important to acknowledge both.
There are several trails in the area, the Pendley Homestead Trail and Clifftop Nature Trail, Oak Creek Canyon (home to the blue ribbon Trout), and Slide Rock Route. In fact the Slide Rock Route Trail is only 0.3 miles long, rated easy and leads to one of the top 10 sink hole swimming areas in the entire USA. This is also where you find the slippery rocks that lead to the slip and slide like rocks that lend the park its name. Basically you slip down these rocks like a slide.
This park is extremely family friendly and elderly friendly. They even offer programs where your kids can become Junior Rangers, they take an oath or protecting the parks natural environment.
Red Rock State Park
This 286 acre state park has a great environmental education center as well as plenty of trails to explore and beautiful scenery to soak in. There are 10 developed trails here, as well as a classroom, amphitheater, restrooms that are handicap accessible, gift shop, and picnic tables. Basically the ultimate place for a family reunion.
The park is fairly young, only opening to the public in 1991 and is quickly growing in popularity so be sure to visit before it gets too busy.
The trails range from easy to moderate and include: Eagles Nest Trail, Javelina Trail, Bunkhouse Trail, Apache Fire House Trail, and Equestrian View Trail. While I haven't personally been to Red Rock State Park these are the highest rated trails on AllTrails.
While I personally was not able to visit in my short time there, it is a place I truly want to go back and explore more of.
Broken Arrow Jeep Tour
There are two options to experience this very popular Broken Arrow trail. You can hike this 3.6 mile out and back trail, or you can take a Jeep tour and put your driving skills to the extreme test! To hike this trail it is a dog-friendly trail as well as mountain biking friendly with beautiful views and only on 400 feet of elevation gain. Parking is very limited so make sure you arrive earlier than 9am to get a parking spot. Take plenty of water, wear sunscreen and have fun.
If, however, you prefer the challenge of driving the trail and putting your vehicle to the test, then here are a few things you should know.
You don't need a permit to be on the trail, but if you plan on attempting it with your own vehicle - please have the experience to back up your attempts. You will need an aggressively adept SUV with high clearance and 4x4 capabilities in order to get down the ledges, and Devil's staircase.
It is a one way trail system, so make sure you are following the crowd of cars the correct way. You will go over a series of ledges, be able to explore slick rock and several other hikes along the way. Chicken point is probably the best place to get photos of your car with the red rocks in the background.
While many people in Arizona would deny it is the hardest Jeep trail, they will definitely agree it is the most technical. So for those braver than I with risking their vehicles on these trails, here is a good resource to help you navigate this trail.
It is said among spiritual guides as well as Native Americans that Sedona is full of sacred places. One of these places is called the Sedona Vortex. It is said to be a central place where the centers of electromagnetic earth energy can be felt by humans and cause a great transformation of not just your body, but also your mind.
While some people who visit may feel it is a bit too hippie-dippie to believe in such things, I like to thing "why not". What if coming to a place like this does actually transform you and amplify what you are trying to manifest into your life.
I feel like so often I have a laundry list of things to go and see, and do, and experience and taste while on vacation that sometimes I need to take a vacation from my vacation. So having a place and a space like this where you can go and sit, relax, meditate and take in the beautiful surroundings may be JUST what your body and mind needs.
So for those with an open mind, there are several spots to choose from:
- Bell Rock and Airport Mesa have a more masculine energy to them imbuing strength and confidence in the visitor
- Cathedral Rock and Chapel of the Holy Cross and Schenebly Hill have a more feminine energy to them, that infuses the energies of compassion, love and healing to them.
- Boynton Canyon is considered to posses both masculine and feminine energies to it
Some even say that the energy coming out of the Bell Rock Vortex is so strong that the juniper trees there have a unique twist to them. So I suggest getting up before the sun rises, making the hike to the top of Bell rock in peace, and watching the sun rise over the horizon while having a yoga session or quiet time of meditation.
Chapel of the Holy Cross
This Roman Catholic church designed by sculptor Marguerite Brunswig Staude a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. Building this church between the Redrocks is quite beautiful to see even if you aren't religious. Walking inside and seeing the light streaming in may be worthwhile to some. They still hold mass here, for those who would like to attend.
If you aren't religious, there are several very peaceful trails that wind their way around the area. Parking is quite limited, but I did see a 'Sedona Sightseeing Trolley' that was bringing people back and forth between the major tourist attractions.
Tuzigoot National Monument
Just 32 minutes west of Sedona Arizona is a Native American historical site called Tuzigoot National Monument. Tuzigoot in Apache means "crooked waters" because of the nearby river that flows through the area that can be seen from the top of the structure.
It used to be a mount of dirt, and was only discovered and excavated recently, between 1876 and 1953 because of white settlement of the area who planned on mining the area for chalcopyrite, copper and the malachite. Between 1876 and 1953 the mine produced more than $375 million in copper which supplied many homes with modern day plumbing and other resources.
Tuzigoot covers over 42 acres, and has 110 rooms include a second story and third story structure rising 120 feet above the Verde Valley.
The pit like dwelling pueblo was an ancient village that housed hundreds of families. Built by the Sinagua people around 1000 CE who were traders with a wide network of communities they would trade their agricultural produce with. It wasn't until the 1400's that they ended up leaving this area for reasons that are unknown to Archeologists - but there are a few that speculate that food sources, conflicts, water, or disease could have contributed.
Their culture here was similar to those of the Hohokam culture. They farmed corn, beans, squash and cotton using complex and intricate irrigation systems (some of which an elephant could walk through). They depended on the rains to water their crops. They hunted rabbits, deer, antelope, rabbit, bear, muskrat and duck. They even mined a small salt deposit and were quite a sophisticated society, not the 'indians' that have often been depicted in history books.
As you near the top, you discover there is a room that has been reconstructed with a ladder that allows you to access the roof, just as you would have been able to in the Sinagua time. It really is a spectacular place to visit and see and feel the surrounding area.
You can also visit Wupatki National Monument and take a hike down the beautiful Walnut Canyon while your there.
This is a fascinating part of the Sinagua and Hohokam agricultural history. While you can't get into this limestone well (with the leeches and water louse who would want to), if you look close you can still see some of the limestone lined irrigation systems they would use this well for, for their crops. You can also see the small houses built into the cliff side that date from about 1050 CE. On the south side, the houses there date from 1125-1400 CE. it is estimated that around 100-150 people lived here.
I love seeing the desert dwellings and learning about how the people here survived, how they lived, the culture, and the plants they used as medicines. Human beings are so resourceful and it is fascinating to observe the will to survive throughout history and how our species always seems to find a way to make things work to the best of our abilities.
If you take the nature walk around the area, they actually have some signs set up right near the plants the people of this area would use for daily life. There are plants used for allergy symptoms, for perfumes, for sweet teas and treats, and for infection poultices. You can bring your dogs on the trails here, and they even get a Dog Ranger certificate at the end if they are good doogies and their owners are responsible :)
This five story structure, built by Southern Sinagua farmers is a 20 room cliff dwelling that is 100 feet above the valley. Early Americans assumed it was an Aztec like structure, which is where it got its name from, but was actually built between 1100-1300 CE.
The guide told me that they allowed people to go inside in the 1950's, but it is now badly deteriorated and currently undergoing restorative protections after vandals had destroyed parts of the inside of the structure. This is why it is important to leave NO MARK or morsel when exploring ancient places, it ruins it for the rest of us unfortunately.
There was also some heavy damage from carpenter bees that had bored holes into the original plaster, so if you notice there are two different colors of the castle, this is the reason why.
It is hard to put into words just how big and impressive this is when you are standing underneath it. To have a community build their homes high above the ground still amazes me every time I see something like this.
They built the structure so high above the ground to protect the community from the flooding that would occur in the summer months with Beaver Creek. They ancient builders used limestone (just like you would find in medieval castles mortar) to build the walls. Large Sycamore beams were used to frame the roofs and then would put thatch over the beams.
When you enter the park, there is a gift shop area you pay to explore the area where restrooms are available. It was very peaceful while I was there as I went just as the cusp of their closing and was able to contemplate what life would have been like for the Sinagua. How did they keep warm? Where did the source their food? How did they prevent scurvy? What were their traditions? Some of these questions have been answered, but this is why Archeology is so important - to understand the practices of the past, to have a better future.
To see some of the artifacts found in the area, visit the Southwest Virtual Museum.
Be sure to also visit the V-Bar-V Heritage site, and the Fort Verde State Historic park nearby to learn how the valley has changed over the millenia into what it is today.
Tlaquepaque Arts and Shopping Village
Pronounced Ta-la-ka-pa-kee, and located along the banks of the Oak Creek this gorgeous little shopping area is a unique experience all on its own. While many of the shops I felt were significantly out of my price range - I appreciated the variety and cultural influences in all of the art work featured in the stores.
I did end up finding a gorgeous hand made mug with a feather and dreamcatcher painted on it. Even though I have more coffee mugs than I really know what to do with, including a dragon mug I picked up from Prague - hey - we all collect something while traveling right?
This area has been a landmark and popular area to visit since the 1970's. Abe Miller, a successful businessman from Nevada, built the area after the fashion of the mood of Old Mexico a place he loved to visit. He called it Tlaquepaque, which means "the best of everything" in the Aztec language. There is also a city named Tlaquepaque outside of Guadalajara Mexico where he drew much of his inspiration from.
He wanted to create a space where artisans could feature their work, a village where all the best of everything could be put out on display for everyone to enjoy. Be sure to check out the chapel, it Abe's favorite building with paintings lined with a gold leaf frame - it is a very common place for locals to have their weddings now.
The structures were never sketched out, Abe directed different sections of where the basic bulidings and columns should be - but allowed the workers a lot of artistic freedom when building this area - it gives the place a lot of charm. I could easily wear a quinceanera dress here and feel like I fit right into the surroundings. The only rule the construction workers had here, was they could not touch the Sycamore grove, and so many of the buildings and structures were moved and some even merged with the rooflines and even one straight up through an art gallery.
While parking is very limited, it is a worthwhile stop - especially to grab a treat at the Secret Garden Cafe. The cafe is female owned, with delicious delights like hummus dip with mint, prickly pear margaritas, burgers, pizzas, salads, and my favorite part....a menu for your DOG with seating outside!
Be sure to check out their events page as there are often spiritual, musical and Mexico inspired festivals that are held here.
The 8th Dark Sky City: Sedona
Sedona is the 8th city to be designated a dark sky community, even with a population of 10,322 (as of 2019) it still has very little light pollution. While you can view stars here year round, I would suggest avoiding star gazing between July to late August as this is when the monsoon season starts in Arizona - which means lots of floods and cloud cover.
Some of the best places to go stargazing in Sedona are at Cathedral Rock, Two Trees Observing area, Jordan Trailhead Observing Area, Secret Slick Rock Trail, Merry-Go-Round rock along Schnebly Hill Road, Turkey Creek Trailhead, Baldwin Trail, and Centennial Hill Trail.
Be sure to use Stellarium to plan your galaxy position and coordinates, and then use star walk to pin point the galaxy position and when it rises. Bring your camera, a red flashlight, a tripod with a wired shutter, a chair, some hot chocolate, a blanket and some ghost stories. You'll get some fabulous galaxy shots of the sky.
For those who are new to taking galaxy shots, I suggest setting your ISO to 1600, your F-stop to as low as you can, and time no longer than 15 seconds unless you want to have trails behind the stars.
Have fun and let me know in the comments any other fab places you find for star gazing and astrophotography.
Other Tidbits About Sedona
If you didn't hear me the 1000 times I mentioned it before, I will say it again. PARKING IS A PROBLEM plan out your trip and hikes accordingly around this. Use the scenic trolley provided so you can avoid the fees and headache. Some areas do not allow the Lyft to drop you off, so be aware of that.
I would give yourself at least a week or longer to visit, but there is a cut off of 14 days visiting or camping without needing to setup a permanent home.
There are several tours and activities I didn't mention as I didn't personally go and visit them one of them being the Mystic Tours with Rahelio. I found his flyer in the visitors center, but he is a Native American local that provides nature tours, Shaman teachings, drumming songs and ceremonies, medicine wheel and vortex empowerment sessions, and sweat lodge ceremonies. I like supporting Native American and indigenous tourism so please give him a call and let me know how it was! His contact info is 928-593-9178, or visit rahelio.com or send an email to email@example.com.
You also have the Gold King Mine Ghost town tour (928-634-0053), Sedona Air Tours (928-204-5939), Sedona Vineyard Tours (928-821-5199), or the Verde River Trips for Class 1 and 2 white water rafting (877-673-3661).
I sincerely hope this travel guide to Sedona was helpful for you, that you have a wonderful trip and you join the Culture Trekking Community. Til our next adventure, happy travels and happy trail hunting friends.
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My name is Janiel, a leader in the travel industry with over 20+ years of experience with international travel. I specialize in solo female travel, cultural connections, sustainable adventures, food and history to help make your travel experiences fun, meaningful, and delicious. My experience in travel, and my personal story have allowed me to get published in Fodor's Travel, Atlas Obscura, Metro.co.uk, Trip Advisor, and multiple Podcast interviews. You can find me on pretty much every social media channel YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, TikTok. To read more about me and my story click here. If you are a brand and would like to work with me, click here.