Things to do in Sedona, Arizona: Weekend itinerary
Sedona is a surreal desert town in Arizona that gained popularity from its breathtaking landscape and arts community. It’s a spiritual place abounding with hikes, picnic spots, cafes with views, and gemstones.
From Tucson, the four-and-half hour drive to Sedona's gorgeous red rocks and unique views seems inconsequential. I've visited several times and gathered what I believe to be 'the best of the best' for a weekend adventure. There's so much to do, however, that it's easy to spend a week or two in this magical place.
What this post covers
Here's my list of top hikes, outdoor adventures, and half-day activities along with my favorite coffee shops and restaurants in Sedona. It's short and sweet so that you aren't overwhelmed and make the most of your time there.
With hundreds of hiking options around Sedona, it can be hard to narrow down worthy options. This is where I come in: avid hiker and light chaser. ;) My top scenic hikes in Sedona are Airport Loop, Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock, Devil's Bridge, and Soldier's Pass Cave.
1. Airport Loop
We discovered Airport Loop accidentally. En route to brunch at Mesa Grill (a must) to view the airplanes at the local airport and sip on some morning bubbly, we passed the trailhead.
Airport Loop hike details
3.2 miles round trip; easy and child-friendly
Heavily trafficked; panoramic views of Sedona
Parking lot available at trailhead
No shade; narrow, rocky path
If you plan to hike it, avoid the heat of the day. We were frying like little sausages out there darting for tree cover whenever we spotted shade. The views, however, are jaw dropping!
2. Bell Rock
An exciting rock face to climb with awe-inspiring views. There were many children on the trail, having a blast climbing on the rocks... nature's playground.
Bell Rock Pathway out-and-back (up-and-down) hike details
2.2 miles round trip; moderate
Parking available if you get there early enough and/or are prepared to wait
No shade; wide, smooth rock path; decent ascent that requires rock scrambling; mostly sign posted except for the end
On the day we went, we couldn't find parking in the lot so we parked our car up the road and crossed desert terrain that definitely wasn't a trail to get to the actual trailhead. Rather wait for a spot. Laughs.
The trail is marked with cairns (rock stacks). Keep following the cairns (and people) until you get to a wide open space. We climbed across the smooth 'slide' area, made our own trail up the rock face, and climbed up onto a spire right at the end. It's steep and tricky nearing the end but you can choose when you want to turn back.
Along the route, you'll be rewarded with gorgeous views of Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte. The end point is small, not a spot you'd want to hang out at, but take some time to admire the views from higher up and catch your breath before competing with friends to see who gets down the quickest... erm, descending.
Head to my IG account highlight reel of Sedona if you're curious as to what happens if you try and play frisbee on Bell Rock. Did the disk make it out? Laughing at the memory over here.
3. Cathedral Rock
The hike to Cathedral Rock was the most fun that I'd had in a while. Well, since Tanque Verde Falls in Tucson. It's without a doubt my top choice for a sunset hike in Sedona.
Cathedral Rock out-and-back hike details
2.4 miles round trip; moderate/challenging
Bring gloves and a headlamp
Parking available if you get there early enough and/or are prepared to wait
No shade; wide, rocky path; decent ascent that requires rock scrambling
Top choice? Yes, the views along the way and at the end are exquisite. The sun sets in front of you and there are plenty of spots to sit and enjoy it. If you want a laugh from a sunset experience there during quarantine, check out this IG post.
You will be using your hands to haul yourself over rocks––fact. It makes for an epic group activity with lots of laughs.
The hike is short and steep. You'll certainly need hiking shoes (and possibly gloves for your hands). Actually, there were parts on the way down where I was sliding on my... bottom. Be prepared for this. It stands out above the rest because it's challenging (yet entertaining). But not so challenging that you can't make it. I have seen two bridal photo shoots at the top... white dress and all, not joking.
Get your crew, pack some drinks and water in your backpack, throw in a sweater (for the wind), and make sure to leave from the top just after sunset to make it down as the stars start to twinkle.
4. Devil's Bridge
"Popular and well-trafficked" seems an understatement for Devil's Bridge. It is one of the MOST POPULAR hikes in Sedona (the world?).
Devil's Bridge out-and-back hike details
2 miles round trip; easy and child-friendly
Can be reached on foot or by 4x4
Roadside parking available
No shade; wide, sandy path; slight ascent along a narrow, rocky path near the end
When we made it to the bridge, one weekend morning in autumn, we waited almost an hour in line to get a photo on said bridge. *gasp* Did I get roped into taking photos of other couples as well? Most certainly.
Then why recommend it? It's so gosh-darn beautiful and easy to get to. Go early or right before sunset, on a weekday, if possible... that's my advice.
5. Soldier's Pass Cave
I'm going to let you in on a little secret. We don't hike the whole Soldier's Pass trail, we hike to Soldier's Pass Cave when we visit. And, since I'm not one to withhold secret discoveries, I'm willing to share the location. *ooh ahh*
Soldier's Pass Cave out-and-back hike details
3.4 miles round trip; easy/moderate
Child-friendly but be cautious once you reach the cave
Sweet landmarks along route with rewarding cave to end the trail
No shade; sandy, rocky path; ascent along a narrow, rocky path near the end
First off, parking is a nightmare. But stay strong.
There is a tiny lot at the trailhead that fills up quickly and the gate closes at 6 p.m. If you're hiking for sunset in summer, you'll need to make another plan. Roadside parking perhaps? Think again. For almost a mile in all directions from the trailhead, there are aggressive NO PARKING signs. So, off the bat, add an extra mile from your parking spot to the trailhead. If you're taking an Uber/Lyft, you won't need to... congrats.
Getting to the cave
Thereafter, an awe-inspiring journey awaits. Start along the Soldier's Pass trail. You'll reach Devil's Kitchen—an enormous, active sinkhole that collapsed most recently in 1995. There are no ropes around it; don't fall in. After the sinkhole, continue along Soldier's Pass trail for another mile to reach the Seven Sacred Pools—depending on the season, the pools/holes will either be filled with water, frozen, or empty but are a sweet landmark on the trail.
The trail off-shoot to the cave is easily missed. Be on the lookout!
The cave turnoff
Less than a mile after the pools, you'll walk through a forest. Keep a lookout for a smaller trail to the right. The trail entrance is marked by a pile of logs that appear to close off the route—THIS is the cave trail.
Here are the exact coordinates for the turnoff: 34°53'51.5050"N, 111°47'16.2277"W.
Step over the logs—they're always there—and pass the National Forest Wilderness sign that hangs on a tree at the entrance. You'll soon come to a flat plateau—cross it and scramble up a sandy path, less that half a mile from the initial turnoff, to the cave.
The cave trail is well used, although it's not officially marked on the map, so it's unlikely that you'll get lost. The cave itself is fairly dark—take a headlamp if you'll feel more comfortable. The cave is shallow with an opening at the front and the top. Explore as your heart desires.
Take the time you need, be respectful of others in the space, and try to be out before it gets dark!
General hiking tips
In summer, hike around sunset and sunrise (avoid the heat of the day) and make sure to take a headlamp. For other seasons, check the weather before you begin.
In the desert, the terrain and elements are harsh—always bring enough water, sunscreen, wear protective clothing (hat, sunglasses, long socks or long pants), and wear the right shoes (ones with grip). Remember not to veer too far off the path and keep your eyes peeled for rattlesnakes.
Sedona's rocky, sandy ground is good for more than hiking. Enter the off-roaders—I'm assuming there's a (Facebook) group. Perhaps they have merchandise as well? Anyway, in a rugged town that is likened to Mars, there are outdoor adventures to be had.
Here's what else you can do if you aren't hiking or swimming:
Take a jeep tour—Pink Jeeps is popular
Go on an ATV tour with Sedona ATV Adventures
If you're wanting a spectacular view of the rocks from a different perspective, take a scenic hot air balloon ride with Red Rock Balloons
If you have the gear, go mountain biking on the Aerie to Cockscomb Loop trail
Or go off-roading on the Broken Arrow Trail
None of the companies mentioned are sponsored—they are popular and have good reviews, so you can trust them. Many people bring their own off-roading 'toys', so I also included trails to try out if you are one of those people.
Although Sedona offers myriad hikes and off-road rentals, there's more on offer. From natural water slides to wine country, this town likes to show off. If you're looking for a longer activity to entertain yourself and/or your family, I'd recommend Slide Rock State Park, the Verde Valley Wine Trail, and a spot of shopping.
1. Slide Rock State Park
The best family-friendly activity in Sedona is a trip to Slide Rock State Park. To secure a spot, you need to arrive at the gate when the park opens—7 a.m. in summer, 8 a.m. the rest of the year. If you miss the early morning push in summer, swing back after lunch (many people clear out by then).
It costs $30 per car and is half price if you have a MIL ID. You'll need a card or exact cash to pay. Once you're in, you're in, so pack what you need for a day outing.
From the parking lot, you'll pass a picnic and grill area on the grass under the apple trees. If you don't want to lug a cooler to the river, this picnic area is a sweet spot to enjoy your lunch amongst the trees.
From there, you'll pass a couple of restrooms and surreal mountain views that lead to a staircase. Down the stairs, the river awaits.
This is the ultimate summer activity for the whole family.
The rocks radiate a warm orange-red, heating up quickly in summer. There are several trees providing shade but you can bring your own tarp. The flowing river is cold. You'll definitely get a shock when you first enter, but once the outside temperatures climb, you'll want to stay in the refreshing water all day.
Both adults and children will enjoy the natural waterslides created by the slippery rocks in Oak Creek. If you run across the rocks or don't have shoes with grip, you're going to fall—it's dangerous. There are restrooms down by the river as well... you'll spot them behind all the people 'cliff jumping' from the rocks into the river.
Real horror story: our neighbor made the jump and missed the water, shattering his foot on the rocks. Please be careful if jumping.
There are both shallow and slightly deeper areas to swim in. In certain spots, the river cascades over rocks, creating rapids. The current will pull you over them. It's buckets of fun and worth a visit if you're heading to Sedona (we went twice in two days this summer).
If you arrive a little too late and miss a visit to Slide Rock State Park, Oak Creek Canyon and Grasshopper Point also offer beautiful creek views and opportunities to swim—both are popular and roadside parking fills up quickly.
2. Wine down on the Verde Valley Wine Trail
If you're in Sedona to relax, enjoy a spa treatment or go for a drive to 'wine country'.
On a trip with my mom, we slowed things down and went wine tasting along the Verde Valley Wine Trail. The wine trail features twenty five venues spread across Cottonwood, Jerome, Sedona, Clarkdale, and Cornville—please don't try them all at once. ;) We stayed in Sedona.
Go wine tasting along the Verde Valley Wine Trail (and don't miss Page Springs Cellars).
Sedona wineries include DA Ranch, Javalina Loop, Oak Creek Vineyards, and Page Springs Cellars. Here's a map to download if you're curious—numbers 19-22 on the map are specific to Sedona and grouped together, which makes it easy to hit them all.
3. Go shopping
Finally, a little retail therapy. From native American jewelry to antiques and collectables, there's an assortment to peruse.
Brace yourselves for some of the most crowded areas in Sedona: the shopping districts. If you're going to make it out *without losing it*, you're going to need a plan. The main areas to focus on are: Uptown Sedona and Highway 179.
Uptown Sedona is the most-popular place to shop. You'll know by the lack of parking and red line on Google Maps (Route 89A) that never seems to move. There's a reason for that: there's a lot on offer.
The stretch along Main Street offers open air shopping with plentiful dining options. Stop by Pinon Pointe and Sinaqua Plaza for a refresher and to view some fabulous art and Native American jewelry.
Next, head to Pump House Station Urban Eatery and Market (you'll need coffee or a drink, promise), before you shop at Tlaquepaque Arts & Shopping Village—pronounced Talah-keh-pah-keh—they're both located in the same courtyard on Highway 179. You'll find art galleries, shops, and restaurants with a free parking lot steps away.
Hillside Sedona, another premier shopping and dining destination, is located on the same road, minutes away.
Favorite coffee spots
Wake me up when the coffee is ready.
^^Pretty much my philosophy if I'm heading out early. ;) To get your caffeine boost in Sedona, try Creekside Coffee, Pump House Station Urban Eatery and Market, and Indian Gardens Cafe & Market.
Creekside Coffee, located on the second story of a tiny strip mall just off the main drag, gives you the option to sip on the patio in movie theatre-style flip seats with up-close views of the glowing red rocks. Drink options include quirky specialties such as the Butter Beer or Baklava Lattes in addition to a regular coffee menu with tea offerings. You'll be back.
Just down the street, the staff at Pump House Station Urban Eatery and Market eagerly awaits. Again, highly recommend patio seating if you can get it—you're greeted by lush grass and enormous Arizona Sycamores that wave in the breeze. While you're there, try the crepes and take in the restaurant's art and decor... so cool and unusual!
Indian Gardens Cafe & Market is a few miles north of Sedona in Oak Creek Canyon. The restaurant-deli sits directly across from Oak Creek, which draws a crowd, has beautiful patio dining with Mexican blankets when temperatures drop, and is a welcome stop to and from Slide Rock State Park or en route to Flagstaff.
For views, mimosa flights, and ample parking, head to Mesa Grill Sedona at the airport. They offer stellar brunch, lunch, cocktails, and non-alcoholic beverages. (And if you want the cherry on top, go on a helicopter ride to see spectacular views from the air.)
First prize for dinner would be to dine at Elote Cafe. You must be there when the doors open to get a reservation. In fact, try and get there early. While you wait for a table, get one of their famous margaritas and hang out on the patio. Pro tip: check their days and hours of operation in advance—you won't want to miss this experience.
Pisa Lisa has that leopard crust on a wood-fired pizza that makes you drool when it approaches the table. The service is good and they serve gelato. Need I say more?
Although I didn't visit Mariposa Latin Inspired Grill while I was there, locals have mentioned that the South American-inspired, fine-dining establishment should make your list. There you go.
When to visit
Visit in spring or autumn when the temperatures are cooler. If going in summer, the start or end of the season is best.
Where to stay
From the luxurious resort life to dispersed camping, you can have your pick. Here's what I'd recommended regardless of budget.
Three-star hotels and resorts
Arabella Hotel Sedona not only has trail access from the hotel parking lot, but they're also situated adjacent to our best restaurant discovery in Sedona: Elote Cafe. While we waited for our table at Elote, we ordered and sipped margaritas from our patio overlooking the pool and fading sun.
Another find just southeast of Sedona is Poco Diablo Resort. With a spa, tennis court, restaurant, and golf course on the property, you're all set. One autumn afternoon, after a lengthly hike, I gravitated towards the resort pool to relax—yes, please.
Sedona Summit Resort by Diamond Resorts offers rooms with a kitchenette and has outdoor grilling facilities. If you're going on a trip in a group or for a longer stay and would like the chance to cook, this is it. The games room and pool makes for an afternoon or evening well spent. It is also located near restaurant Pisa Lisa. *wink*
With regards to camping, Oak Creek Canyon is beautiful. I'd recommend the Manzanita, Pine Flat, Cave Springs or Chavez Crossing Group Campground (Chavez is a little closer to central Sedona).
If you're interested in safe wild camping options with incredible views, let me know in the comments and I'll contact you will the exact coordinates—we discovered some gems. Most of the dispersed camping locations are on Sedona's west side.
That's it... that's all you need to have an amazing time in Sedona. You can probably stretch the aforementioned ideas into a week if you wanted to but I'm happy to send you off for a weekend knowing that you're prepared for epic experiences.
Have fun and tag me in your adventures on IG: @k_severino.
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