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The iconic Red Rocks of Sedona is a very special place for us. It was actually our first trip away together. We came here in January 2017 and that trip ended up being the first of many to come. In fact, Sedona is a place we visit every year in the winter, and we always seem to find new trails and places to explore in the area. In this video/post, we will review our favorite things to do in Sedona and share tips if you’re planning a trip.
Where is Sedona?
Sedona is in Arizona, about a two-hour drive north of Phoenix and less than an hour south of Flagstaff. It’s also a couple of hours south of the Grand Canyon, which makes it an easy stop on a larger road trip. While Sedona isn’t technically a national park, it definitely feels like one. The area offers many interesting hikes and unique travel experiences. It’s a great place for a weekend getaway or as part of a larger trip to the Grand Canyon.
Why visit Sedona?
A lot of you know that we are huge fans of the National Parks and exploring the outdoors. Fiona and I have busy day jobs which means we spend lots of time in offices and glued to laptop screens. One of the best things about getting away on these weekend trips is that we’re forced to fully disconnect from those screens and focus our attention on our present surroundings.
Sedona is known as an energy vortex area. People believe that these vortices have swirling energy or magnetic fields. Many believe that the vortices provide healing energy and mystic powers. I can’t say that I’ve felt any of the energy, but there are trees in near the vortex spots that grow in a spiral. This is often cited as proof of the vortex.
Beautiful red rocks
You’ll often hear Sedona associated with red rocks. The ground has a deep red color due to the hematite or iron oxide. This is essentially rust, which is caused by the high iron content in the area. The high iron content might be connected to the magnetism and mystique in the area. Though even if you’re someone who doesn’t feel it, it makes for a very beautiful and dramatic landscape.
Our favorite things to do in Sedona
There are numerous trails and places to explore, so I’ll only focus on our favorite three hikes. These are what I consider to be the must-see landmarks in Sedona. Also, I’ll include a fourth activity for those that might want something other than hiking.
1. Cathedral Rock:
This is my favorite hike in Sedona. It’s a 1.5-mile roundtrip hike up from the trailhead. The trail itself is well marked but can be strenuous, especially for newer or less agile hikers. There is a section in the middle of the hike where you have to scramble up rocks. We’ve definitely seen people struggle through this area, especially since there is traffic going both up and down the trail through this section.
Once you get to the top, you’ll see some extremely beautiful views of Sedona. It’s an amazing reward after the short but difficult hike. Cathedral Rock is also one of the popular vortex spots where you’ll Juniper trees growing in a spiral.
I recommend doing this hike either early in the morning or at sunset. The parking at this trailhead gets crowded, so it’s worth getting there before or after the main crowds. Another option is to use ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft so you can avoid the parking.
2. Devils Bridge:
This is a popular hike in Sedona. It’s the largest natural sandstone arch in the area. You’ll hike through the Coconino National Forest to get to the arch. Once at Devil’s Bridge, you’ll get some beautiful views of the surrounding red rocks.
The hiking distance varies depending on where you start. The closest trailhead is 1.8 miles roundtrip, though that trailhead gets crowded and parking is scarce. When we did the hike, we took the longer route that was about 4.2 miles roundtrip.
The hike does have a 400-foot increase in elevation to get to Devil’s Bridge. This means that it may be difficult for some inexperienced hikers.
3. Bell Rock:
This is another iconic hike in Sedona and an area considered to be full of energy vortices. Bell Rock is a great place to explore, mostly because it offers trails for all levels. You can hike the flat trails around Bell Rock and the nearby Courthouse Butte, or can even scale Bell Rock itself. This makes it a great landmark to explore with a family. You’ll even spot the twisted trees in the area caused by the energy vortex.
However, I do not suggest climbing to the peak of Bell Rock, which is 4,919 feet. While it is possible, getting down is treacherous!
Other things to do in Sedona
If hiking isn’t your thing, there are other activities in the area. You can take guided jeep tours of the major landmarks. Also, Sedona is an incredible place to stargaze. For those of us from major urban cities, it’s a spectacular experience. The first time I went to Sedona, I was staring at the night sky from my hotel and saw a moving object. At first, I thought it was a UFO. Though it turned out to be a satellite passing overhead.
About two years ago, we signed up for a tour with Sedona Star Gazing. It was a great way to learn more from a professional and view the stars through a telescope. The cost of the tour was $60 per person and was two hours long. Again, you don’t need to take a tour to gaze at the stars. However, if you’re nerdy like me, then it’s worth getting the guided session and access to the telescope.
Lodging in Sedona
Major brand hotels
Sedona has a variety of lodging options, depending on your budget and travel style. If you’re looking to use your points, all the major hotel chains have hotels in the area.
We prefer to stay at a small boutique bed and breakfast in Sedona called The Inn Above Oak Creek. We’ve stayed there on each of our visits. The inn has cozy feeling and rooms include a fireplace and hot tub.
TIP: While it may not be the most lucrative redemption option, you can use Chase Travel Portal to book most independent hotels and inns at a flat rate point redemption. Also, if you prefer independent hotels, it may be worthwhile to get a flat-rate travel card (like the Capital One Venture) that offers more flexibility for redemption. Learn more about Captial One.
Getting around Sedona
You will want a car to explore the area. While some might prefer an SUV, you shouldn’t need one. Most of the roads are paved and accessible and don’t require additional traction or height. The only catch is in the winter. If you think you’ll experience icy or snowy weather, it might be worth getting a vehicle with all-wheel-drive. Though it’s uncommon for Sedona to get a lot of snow.
TIP: Check to see whether your credit card offers primary car rental insurance. If so, you can opt-out of the expensive insurance offered by the rental car companies.
Dining in Sedona
There are plenty of dining options in the area. Though be aware that most restaurants close by 9 PM. We made the mistake of trying to find a restaurant after 8 pm on our last trip. Multiple restaurants said that they couldn’t seat us and that the kitchen was closing soon. The local Chipotle ended up saving the day!
If you’re going to be in the area, I highly suggest making reservations in advance or planning to get an early meal. For example, one restaurant that seems to be extremely popular is the Elote Cafe. We’ve not had the chance to eat there since it’s always busy. They don’t take reservations, so it’s first come first served starting at 5 pm.
TIP: If you’re unable to get a reservation at a restaurant, consider asking your credit card’s concierge service for help.
Additional tips and considerations for visiting Sedona
If you’re planning a trip to Sedona, here are a few things to keep in mind.
1. Fly into Phoenix:
While Flagstaff is the nearest airport to Sedona, there aren’t many flights and airlines that land there. This means that flights to Flagstaff can be pricey. We recommend flying into Phoenix to get a cheaper flight. It’s about a two-hour drive north to Sedona, but is very scenic drive.
2. Stop at the Hike House:
The Hike House is a great place to get additional information about hikes and weather conditions. There are experts on hand who can give you advice and additional information on the area. They also have a great selection of hiking supplies and a coffee shop to grab last-minute refreshments before hitting the trails.
3. Get equipped with the right gear:
Having a comfortable pack, durable hiking shoes, and the right clothing materials (like merino wool and stretch fabrics) always makes hiking a more enjoyable experience. Also, I recommend insulated reusable water bottles that keep water cold even in extreme temperatures.
If you’re planning a trip in the winter, it’s worth packing some ice and snow cleats. These are a lifesaver when having to walk through slippery areas, or if you happen to be in a snowstorm.
4. Pack hand sanitizer and hand wipes:
This is a tip that we often share when traveling, especially to more remote locations. Most of the bathrooms do not have running water, so bringing hand wipes and sanitizer can help you feel clean and comfortable.
5. Use Google Maps to find trailheads and attractions:
Some of the trailheads can be tricky to locate. We tried several navigation apps but found Google Maps to have the most comprehensive and up-to-date information. Also, you can download maps offline before your trip in case you have spotty coverage in the area.
6. Bring a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and lots of water:
There isn’t much overhead vegetation or shade on a lot of the hikes, so you’ll want to be extra careful with your sun exposure. Pack plenty of water when hiking on the trails too. The general rule for how much water to consume is one liter (32 ounces) of water for every two hours of hiking.
Also, if you’re wearing sunglasses with brown lenses, you may find it disorienting. Since the soil is red and brown lenses tend to add more contrast to your vision, it can make the environment glow red. If you have a pair of grey or more neutral colored lenses, I recommend using them instead.
7. Consider visiting during the off-season:
Sedona tends to get very busy in the summer months. However, I think it’s a great place to visit during late Fall or winter. You’ll not only skip the hot weather but also all the crowded parking lots and trails.
8. Don’t take unnecessary risks:
You’ll see a lot of people taking selfies along the edges of cliffs. While I’m not opposed to taking pictures, I don’t recommend dangling your feet along the edges or letting yourself get distracted. The wind at higher elevations is unpredictable, and it’s easy to get distracted or startled when on the trails. Devils Bridge offers some amazing photo opportunities but is a good example of an area where you need to exercise extra caution.
9. Stop by Whole Foods for supplies or a quick meal:
I encourage you to visit the local restaurants and cafes for meals. However, there are times when you need a quick bite to eat or some supplies for the trails. I highly recommend the Whole Foods in the area. Like most other Whole Foods, they have a hot food bar. However, this one also has a bar. It’s a great place to get a cheap and quick meal in between hikes or activities.
10. Leave no trace:
You want to make sure you that protect yourself and the trails when exploring. This means:
- Avoid damaging or altering the environment
- Following safety precautions
- Avoid feeding any wildlife
- Disposing of any trash or waste
Also, a big pet peeve is seeing people hiking while playing loud music. It’s not only inconsiderate to other hikers, but the sounds can often echo through the area affecting the wildlife. Don’t be that person!
Have you been to Sedona? If so, what is your favorite hike or activity?
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