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Julie and I visited Sedona, Arizona in early December, 2021. Our goal was to enjoy day hikes amid red rock formations.
Did we find it? We found it in spades! This place is alluring. It blew us away.
It is no secret that I love national parks. Sedona holds its own against any of our national parks. She is bursting at the seams with beauty!
We will give you suggestions for easy hikes, breathtaking views, and food on a budget.
And, we will share our experiences with vortexes.
Sedona is Butteful
There is no doubt about it. Sedona is beautiful.
If you can think of a landform, Sedona most likely has it. She has buttes, mesas, plateaus, arches, cliffs, canyons, yada yada…. I could go on, but you get the point.
If you are looking for red rock formations and gorgeous vistas, Sedona has you covered.
Something for Everyone
Sedona is not just for daredevils. You can take easy hikes or casual drives complete with a picnic lunch against a picturesque backdrop.
Everyone is welcome in this red rock paradise.
Sedona dwellers love their rock formations. In fact, they love them so much that they give them all names.
You will hear names like Bell Rock, Snoopy Rock, Two Sisters and Coffee Pot. These are just a few.
Once you encounter the beauty of this place, you will see red and respect the rocks too.
Lightning and Tomatoes
No, Sedona is not Radiator Springs. However, it is certainly reminiscent of the fictional town featured in the Disney/Pixar film, Cars.
With all the red rocks and dirt roads, I felt myself slipping back in time with my kids watching this movie and eating buttered popcorn. Unfortunately, we did not see Lightning McQueen or Tow Mater.
Beautiful Scenery, Lack of Greenery
In autumn, Julie and I took on the role of leaf peepers in Vermont where the rolling mountains were oozing with bold Kelly green color giving way to a fall bouquet.
In Arizona, there are far fewer trees and plants. The sparse trees have muted shades of green as if they are embarrassed to display their full color.
This allows the massive, rugged rock formations to stand out on the vistas, proudly showing off their red hues.
When I think of layers, some of my favorite foods quickly spring to mind such as lasagna and layer cake. Layers in food are a party for your mouth. In nature, they are a feast for your eyes.
When the sun hits the landscapes, Sedona displays her stripes with distinct varying colors and textures.
It is amazing to think God has slowly crafted these works of art for millions of years. I could just sit for hours staring at these masterpieces.
Case of the Missing Saguaro
Scooby-Doo and the gang solved the mystery of the Jaguaro but can they crack the case of the missing saguaro? Saguaro, where are you? Apparently, not in Sedona.
Saguaros are the iconic, large cacti that symbolize the American west. They can be found in southern Arizona, but not in Sedona.
If you make the drive from Phoenix, saguaros simply disappear about a half hour or so north of the city.
You have probably heard of El Nino. But, have you heard of Coconino? No, it is not another weather phenomenon. It is a national forest in Arizona.
The spectacular red rock formations are the main attraction in Sedona. However, don’t sleep on Coconino National Forest. Actually, you should sleep there. They have wonderful campgrounds with the most trees you will find in the area.
The forest is beautiful in its own right. I encourage you to take a little time to enjoy this part of the scenery as well. Just do not expect the bold shades of green like that of the northern states.
What is a Vortex?
Sedona has many heavenly places to gaze upon with appreciation. There are a few that hold a special place on the pedestal.
These places are called vortexes and are believed to have spiritual energy. It is common to see someone sitting in the lotus position, deep in meditative reflection as if a Jedi feeling the force flow all around her.
The big four vortexes are Boynton Canyon, Airport Mesa, Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock.
Are Vortexes Real?
Julie and I spent considerable time at Airport Mesa and Bell Rock.
Bell Rock is one of the most stunning places I have ever seen. I felt completely at peace here.
Chapel of the Holy Cross is a house of worship that is considered by many to be a spiritual vortex. Julie was yet again moved to tears.
Prior to visiting Sedona, we had not heard about vortexes. We had no preconceived notions.
All I know is that these places are so beautiful that they can give you a feeling of serenity or stir your emotions. Perhaps that is spiritual energy…
I encourage you to visit the vortexes so you can decide for yourself.
SEDONA SCENIC VIEWS & BEST PLACES
Bell Rock (Jingle Bell Rock)
Bell Rock is one of the more iconic and beautiful rock formations in Sedona.
I recommend visiting this spiritual vortex in December. Her deep, rich red color, massive size and distinctive bell shape will have you feeling the Christmas spirit.
Maybe if your timing is right, you will also be blessed with soft, white snowflakes. Although we were there in December, we had temperatures in the 60s.
Courthouse Butte (Court is in Session)
Right next to Bell Rock is another formation called Courthouse Butte. There is a path that loops both formations and goes between them. This was one of my favorite hikes. The formations are beautiful and the hike is so peaceful.
Warning! You will find yourself stopping a lot. This will not be to rest, but to take pictures. The beauty is alluring and you will want to capture it.
Airport Mesa (Now Boarding)
Airport Mesa is a vortex with breathtaking views in all directions. You can take multiple hikes from this area. You really cannot go wrong here. All the hikes reward you with splendid views.
Chapel of the Holy Cross (Closer to Heaven)
Chapel of the Holy Cross is a house of worship that is surrounded by many well-known rock formations. This place is buzzing with spiritual energy.
HIKING IN SEDONA – GENERAL GUIDANCE
Caught Red Handed
If you do any hiking at all in Sedona, you will get caught red handed.
Many of the trails require minor rock scrambling to ascend to higher viewpoints. The dusty red clay will leave its mark on your palms, shoes and clothes.
Be prepared to wash your hands and do laundry when your adventures are done. The views and memories will be worth it.
Watch Your Altitude, Young Man
Have you ever been scolded as a child for your bad attitude? I know I have. Yes mom, I deserved it. I still love you.
We should mind our altitude as much as our attitude.
The first time I went to Utah, I experienced altitude sickness. I did not properly hydrate. Within a couple hours, I had a severe headache and nausea. I learned my lesson the hard way.
Sedona, Arizona sits at 4,350 feet above sea level. This may affect you more than you think. Drink lots of water and listen to your body.
Give Her Options
To this day, I can still hear my daughter’s soccer coach shouting, “Give her options!”
In soccer, players need options on where to pass the ball. In hiking, you need clothing options in the form of light layers. These will be your best friend.
Temperatures can change drastically between sunrise and sunset. You need the ability to quickly add or shed layers as needed. So, I now jokingly shout to Julie as we fill our daypack, “Give her options!”
Rocky Road and Find Feet
Bear with me here. I have just one more soccer reference. This will be the last one for this post. I promise.
Our kids’ soccer coaches were fond of yelling, “Find feet!” Pass to an open teammate is good advice. For our purposes, this phrase brings up two key points.
First, wear hiking shoes or hiking boots.
You need something with good support and traction. This applies even on the easy trails. The red dust can cause a slippery effect on shoes with little traction.
Second, watch your step.
Many of the trails have a rocky terrain. It is important to be fully aware of your surroundings and to secure your footing. Otherwise, you could fall into a cactus or worse yet, off a mountain.
The problem with watching your every step is that you miss the gorgeous vista. Be sure to pause every few yards and enjoy the view. It is breathtaking.
When you get home, you can find your feet on a comfy couch while enjoying some well-earned rocky road ice cream.
EASY HIKES IN SEDONA
Sedona Airport Loop Trail
Airport Mesa offers multiple hikes in one location. All of them are great.
The Summit Trail is a short up and back hike with a steep incline. Although steep, it is not difficult as there are steps and guide ropes. The top offers wonderful vistas in all directions.
The Airport Loop Trail is about 3.2 miles long and is rated as easy to moderate.
The terrain is rocky in spots and is lined with cacti in many areas. There are a few spots where the trail is close to a ledge. Just “find feet” and you will be fine.
The views during most of this hike are splendid, making the hike well worth the effort.
The Sedona View Trail is a 1.2 mile round trip hike where you can see some of the best known rock formations in the area. This is an easy walk where you will see cacti and junipers along the way. There is a bench seat near the top offering the chance to rest and enjoy the moment.
Brewer Trail is a 1.5 mile round trip hike that is rated as moderate. In full disclosure, we did not take this trail. As you can see, there are many hiking options all from this one location.
Pro Tip: Arrive early. The lower parking lot is free but only has several spots. It fills up quickly. There is an upper parking lot. The cost is $3.
Bell Rock Loop
Bell Rock Loop is one of my favorite hikes. There are multiple trails here giving you options to go around both Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte or between them and going around one or the other.
We hiked between the two and around Bell Rock. This can be accomplished by taking Bell Rock Pathway Trail, the Rector Connector and the Courthouse Butte Trail.
This hike is about 2 miles long and is mostly level with signage to guide your journey. The scenery is gorgeous the entire time. This is such a peaceful and enjoyable hike.
The outer loop around both formations is about 4 miles and is considered moderate rather than easy.
These trails can be found just off Highway 179. Note that parking is limited and fills up quickly.
Baldwin Trail is a relatively easy 2 to 3 mile loop. It has a minor elevation gain, plenty of trees and a view of Cathedral Rock.
Parking is available at the end of Verde Valley School Road and is pretty well-marked. It is nearly 5 miles from Highway 179 in Oak Creek Village. Note that the parking area is about a half-mile from the trailhead.
Fay Canyon Trail
Fay Canyon Trail is a 2.4 mile round trip hike. It is relatively flat with a short climb at the end.
This is a nice hike but does not provide views on par with the others.
Parking and the trailhead can be found just off Boynton Pass Road.
BEST PLACES TO EAT IN SEDONA ON A BUDGET
Berry Divine (Divine Intervention)
If you are looking for a place to rest and enjoy a delicious snack, look no further than Berry Divine Acai Bowls. After a long morning hike, this was a treat for Julie and I.
Berry Divine offers many flavorful options. Portion sizes are quite generous. Julie had the Sedona which features strawberries and bananas. I had the Red Rock which was bursting with raspberry and goji berry flavors.
This was such a refreshing and tasty reward after our morning adventures. When we go back to Sedona, we will definitely need another divine intervention.
Wildflower Bread Company (Grow Like a Wildflower)
If you are looking for a healthy meal with a view, I recommend Wildflower Bread Company. This place reminds me of an upscale Panera with a view.
There are plenty of tasty options from breakfast to dinner. Wildflower has indoor and outdoor seating with a view of the red rocks that will make for a memorable dining experience.
I had the Wildflower Joe and Julie had the BLT. Both were fantastic. We then shared a piece of rich and satisfying carrot cake.
The Chai Spot (Mai Chai)
Looking for a place to sit back with a comforting cup of tea? Be sure to check out The Chai Spot.
This eclectic little tea shop is a refreshing change of pace with their friendly staff, quick service and delicious drinks.
They have a nice outdoor upper deck with a decent view and a relaxing vibe.
I tried their coconut rose chai. The creamy coconut milk and slight floral essence blend nicely with the chai spices. It is soul soothing.
DIRECTIONS TO SEDONA
From the South
Sedona is about 2 hours north of Phoenix. Take Interstate 17 North to Arizona Highway 179 North. The view driving into Sedona is gorgeous.
Arizona Highway 179 has been dubbed the Red Rock Scenic Byway. The name is appropriate.
From the North
Sedona is about 45 minutes south of Flagstaff. Take Arizona 89A south. The drive offers fantastic views.
Flagstaff to Sedona (Curve Your Enthusiasm)
The drive from Flagstaff to Sedona is breathtaking. The bigger than life red rock formations dominate the sky and command your attention.
Do not let that distract you though. Please note that there is a very curvy section of road for about two or three miles on your way to Sedona. It is not for the faint of heart.
On one side you will become personally acquainted with the mountain faces. You can practically stroke their cheeks as you drive by. On the other side is a steep cliff that plummets to a massive canyon below. Observe the speed limit and you will be fine.
PLAN YOUR SEDONA ADVENTURE
We hope you are inspired to plan your own Sedona adventure. To get started, click on the interactive map and any of the information links in the post.
If you have questions, please let us know.
Plan your trip and live your best life now. It feels good to be lost in the right direction.
About the author
We are Scott and Julie at Miles with McConkey. After nearly 30 years, we took a leap of faith out of the corporate world to enjoy a life of travel and adventure. We hope to inspire you to find ways to travel more and enjoy life now.