Cathedral Rock Sedona

Things to Do in Sedona in a Day

Surrounded by hundreds of red rock formations, and home to a great number of art-filled boutiques, Sedona is known as one of the most beautiful small towns in the US. It certainly is a beautiful in a gorgeous setting, though it comes with a price: it is overrun by tourists.

But this charming town of Arizona is still a great day trip destination from Phoenix, especially in the summer. We don’t visit often any more, but we still bring all our out-of-town visitors here, to show off the beauty of our state. And we still go up occasionally and enjoy hiking some of the trails in the red rock country, that became our favorites over the years.

Though it’s harder and harder to find solitude in this busy place, we learned that we might still enjoy times and places where we don’t have to fight hundreds of others for a tiny spot around the gorgeous red rocks. We just have to time our trip right. To beat the crowds, we try to go in the middle of the week, on a Tuesday or Wednesday. And we need to leave Phoenix early.

Directions from Phoenix: Drive north on I-17 and to exit 298 to State Highway AZ-179 N towards Sedona. Turn left onto AZ-179 N and follow it to the Village of Oak Creek. Just passed the town, stop at the trailhead to Bell Rock.

Stop at Bell Rock

A popular landmark in the red rock country around Sedona, Bell Rock is worth a stop, even though you’ll find it most likely crowded. Still, if the weather is nice enough, take a short hike around its base, or hike up on the rock. Both trails are easy enough to enjoy without much of a workout, but make sure to carry water and wear a hat and sunscreen, since you won’t have much shade.

Bell Rock - Sedona
Bell Rock – View from the trail

Or, if it’s too hot to hike, stop and enjoy the view of the rock formation. Remember, if you hike, you need to pay a fee for the Red Rock Pass, but if you buy it, it is good for all the hiking spots in and around Sedona. Or, use you National Park Pass, if you got it (another reason to carry one).

Things to do: sightseeing, hiking

Next: Keep driving on AZ-179 towards Sedona. At the fourth traffic circle on AZ-179 take the first exit onto Chapel Rd. to visit the Chapel of the Holy Cross.

Visit the Chapel of the Holy Cross

Completed in 1956, the Chapel is built right into the red rock, and seems to be growing right out of it. Though of Catholic denomination, the Chapel is an architectural work of art, and as such, it has a universal appeal, and open to visitors.

Things to do: Visit an architectural work of art, a chapel built into the rock.

Next: Get back on the AZ-179 and drive about 3 miles then stop at the Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village.

Walk around in the Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village

For a typical Sedona arts and crafts experience, stop at Tlaquepaque and look through the arts and crafts displayed here. Even if you don’t plan on shopping there, you’ll enjoy the traditional Mexican architecture of this Sedona landmark.

Things to do: window-shop (or shop) at an arts and crafts show.

Next: Get back on AZ-179, and at the second traffic circle take the third exit to AZ-89A (turning left). Drive about 1 mile and turn left onto the Airport Road.

Drive up to the Sedona Airport Scenic Lookout

Though not much else to do here, you drove up here for the view of Sedona’s Red Rock Country. Park and take the loop trail and enjoy some of the best views of the town and the rocks below.

Things to do: Sightseeing, hiking

Next: Get back towards AZ-89A, and turn left on AZ-89A S. Drive 3.6 miles, then turn left onto Red Rock Loop Rd. Drive 3 miles then turn right to Red Rock State Park.

Spend Time in the Red Rock State Park

Cathedral Rock Sedona
View of Cathedral Rock from the Red Rock State Park.

One of the highlights of a Sedona trip, the Red Rock State Park offers shaded trails, swimming in Oak Creek, picnic areas and exhibits at the Visitor Center. You can spend a half day here, enjoying the outdoors in the natural setting of Sedona’s red rock country and lush vegetation.

Best trails in the park: A 5-mile trail system comprises a few interconnecting loops; you can hike one or all, depending on how you feel and how much time you have. The combination of Eagle’s Nest Loop, Apache Fire Loop and Coyote Ridge Trails offers one of the best experiences for family-friendly hiking.

Stop at the Visitor Center to pick up a brochure, a map of the trail and learn about the environment around Sedona from the exhibits.

Things to do: hiking, swimming, wildlife viewing.

Next: Get back on the Red Rock Loop Road and drive either way, back the way you came or the other way to complete the loop, getting back to AZ-89A. Drive towards the town of Sedona. At the second traffic circle take the second exit to AZ-89A N, and drive into town.

Walk through Downtown Sedona

Find a parking spot in town, then take your time walking through Sedona proper. Visit art galleries, walk through souvenir shops, stop for ice cream or a coffee, or have lunch in one of the restaurants here. You can spend an hour or five here, and you won’t be bored.

Overwhelmed, maybe. Or, if you really dislike the touristy parts of towns, skip it altogether. Instead, find a trail to hike the red rock country.

Things to do: sightseeing, shopping, dining

Next: Head out of town towards Oak Creek Canyon on AZ-89A N. Stop at the Midgley Bridge

Stop at Midgley Bridge

Midgley Bridge, built into the rocks on the sides of Oak Creek, is spectacular, worth a stop for its view. If you have time, and it’s not too hot, take a hike. A few longer, though not strenuous trails start here, some in better shape than others. The downside is, none of them are shaded, but they go through some beautiful vistas. But your best bet is to just hike down on the Midgley Bridge Vista.

Midgley bridge Sedona - Oak Creek
The Midgley bridge – view from the trailhead

Things to do: sightseeing, hiking

Next: Keep driving on AZ-89A towards Oak Creek Canyon. You are driving now on the Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive towards Flagstaff, one of the most beautiful winding roads in the country.

Drive through Oak Creek Canyon

If you still have time before sunset, drive through Oak Creek Canyon and enjoy the shaded areas. You can even opt to dine here in one of the resorts. Then drive all the way up to the top of the canyon to Oak Creek Vista, for some gorgeous views.

Oak Creek Vista view Credit: U.S. Forest Service Coconino National Forest.
View from Oak Creek Vista

Return to Phoenix

Since this was just a day trip, it is time to return to Phoenix. However, you can use this trip as a stop, part of a longer trip, through Northern Arizona, and include Montezuma Castle, Sunset Crater and Wupatki, among other sites.

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