Sedona is a desert paradise with endless views and trails to explore. Located near the Grand Canyon (about two hours north of Phoenix, Arizona), this mystical world of rocky cathedrals draws a crowd far beyond its modest footprint. Spiritual seekers come for the “energy vortex” to rejuvenate and find inspiration. Families come to show their children the majesty of planet earth. Mongers come to sell their rocks and crystals for deranged prices. There is much to be had in these verdant valleys. There are so many things to do in Sedona. It is one of our absolute favorite places.
We came for the hiking, which is absolutely world class. The town of Sedona is disgracefully overpriced so we avoided it as much as possible. While there are countless spas, palm readers, shops and restaurants, we will not be including these in our review. If dumping your purse on the table and slowly backing away is your idea of a good time, have at it in Sedona. For the rest of us, these are ten things to do that should capture your heart and make lasting memories.
The Soldier Pass Trail is clearly one of the best things to do in Sedona. Some may argue whether it’s the best hike in town, but we think it is, and we would label it a don’t-miss feature. The 4-mile-out-and-back trail is mostly flat and child friendly, and rolls between rocky spires that make incredible viewing along the way. The highlights of the trail are the Soldier’s Arch caves (pictured above). The Solider Arch trail also has two incredible stops along the way, Devil’s Kitchen and the Seven Sacred Pools. Hikers seem to collect in these three places. To read more about the Soldier Pass trail, check out, Hiking in Sedona: A Trail Review.
The Devil’s Bridge is an inordinately popular hike in Sedona. The trailhead parking lot is large and often full. The trail itself isn’t special; it involves walking down a dirt road for a mile. There are certainly better hikes in Sedona. However, the bridge setting is probably the best payoff in the area (that can be easily accessed by the average person). When you come upon the natural bridge, and the glorious valley it overlooks, you will understand why this particular hike is so fashionable.
After kicking along dusty trails for a few days it’s nice to find a river. The water alone makes Red Rock Crossing one of the best things to do in Sedona, but it’s far from the only draw here. This beautiful tableau is one of five vortices (vortexes) in the Sedona area. To learn more, check out Is the Sedona Vortex Real. A few hundred yards from the above photo is a swirling cairn that X marks the spot (supposedly). The river current can be strong, but at this point it is shallow enough for children to play. Cathedral Rock is visible in the distance, and trails lead you there in under two miles.
Bell Rock is a very popular hike and one of the best things to do in Sedona. While steep and tricky to ascend, the sloped “bell” can be scampered to surprising heights, which provide incredible views of the surrounding valley and rock formations. Truly one of the most stunning vistas in the area. This is also one of the five vortices (vortexes), and we found it to have the strongest energy presence. While odd to confess, our quasi-belief in the Sedona Vortex is buttressed by the sensations we experienced around Bell Rock.
The Chapel of the Holy Cross draws a crowd like a crime scene. The crime: Hogging an incredible view. This is a functioning Catholic Church that doubles as a tourist attraction. The church is small, not much larger than what it appears in the above photo. Inside is a large crucified Christ, candles, pews, and a donation box. The exterior of the church is surrounded by a rock wall that acts as a bench for visitors to sit upon and admire the surroundings. This is also a vortex. Everyone ends up here at some time in their trip to Sedona.
The hike up Cathedral Rock is arduous and similar to Bell Rock. It is short but will leave you panting like a dog. The trail has some pinch points where crowds back-up waiting for their turn, so be advised to beat the crowd in the early morning. The view at the top is special and grandly looks out both directions. The payoff at Devil’s Bridge is more personal with a specific feature, but this is a close second place and surely a recommended thing to do in Sedona.
Like the Holy Cross Chapel, the Airport Mesa is tourist magnet in Sedona. If only we could pile up the gawkers in these two places and have the rest of the area to ourselves. There is a humongous parking lot across from the vista that can accommodate hundreds of vehicles, but if you want to sit and enjoy the view you should arrive long before the sun begins to set. If you want to see a sunset in Sedona, the airport mesa is probably the place to do it. The vista looks over the town and some of the most prominent rocky cathedrals. It is as grand a view as you’ll find.
A hour’s drive from Sedona is the very popular town of Jerome. This is an old mining town now considered a ghost town full of stories and shopping opportunities. Tourists flock to this funky little place, so again, beat the crowd. The road on the backside of town that leads toward Prescott is one of the curviest roads you will ever drive, with over 120 turns in a dozen miles. After perusing the shops and taking a couple of tours, be sure to put on some good tunes and tackle the Montecarlo Speedway in Jerome’s backyard. It is definitely one of the best things to do in Sedona (not in Sedona).
Another interesting day trip from Sedona is the Montezuma Castle National Monument 25 miles away. These ancient peoples built their society on the river, and had the ingenuity to place their city in the rock wall. This odd strategy gave them several advantages, such as lower temperatures and a defensible home. The “castle” in the wall show above is not the only structure to investigate in the area. There is a quality visitor center and excellent signage around the park to help tourists understand the importance of the ancient site. Visiting Montezuma Castle also has the advantage of driving along the 179 highway, also known as Red Rock Scenic Byway.
Slide Rock State Park is well summarized in the photo above. The river has some gentle rapids that act as a waterslide for children (and fun-loving adults) to get their ya ya’s out. There is also beautiful hiking in the park. It costs $20 to get in and is very crowded on summer days. Full Disclosure: We’ve never been here. Several years ago we tried to visit, but there was nowhere to park our 31′ motorhome at 09:00 when the park was already packed-out. This year we visited in March when the water was a sultry 47 degrees. One of these days we will legitimize this list and visit Sliding Rock S.P.
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