Things To See Between Phoenix & Sedona, Arizona: Montezuma Castle National Monument, A Winery, & More
As I was gearing up for my trip to Sedona, my research stumbled on a few things to see between Phoenix and Sedona that sounded really interesting. Because my flight arrived late morning and I couldn’t check into my hotel until late afternoon, I decided to stretch out the drive a bit and explore.
One was historical (Montezuma Castle National Monument) and one indulgent (a winery), so it felt like a good blend. And then I happened upon a little surprise roadside stand that rounded out the roadtrip experience perfectly.
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A few logistics notes for your drive from Phoenix to Sedona
The drive between the Phoenix airport and Sedona is about 2.5 hours, though obviously if you’re making these stops it will take longer.
If you’re traveling from PHX airport to Sedona, you’d actually hit the exit for Alcantara Vineyard *before* Montezuma Castle National Monument, BUT I’d suggest doing the monument (and frybread stop) first, then backtracking a few minutes to the Alcantara Vineyard exit.
That allows you to then take a back way up to Sedona from there without going way backwards to the interstate.
You definitely need a car for these stops. For renting a car, I always search in a few different places and compare both the prices and specific offerings/benefits. My go-to’s are DiscoverCars and RentalCars.com as well.
A couple things to remember on your drive…there are long dead cell spots, so I recommend having your Google Maps available offline, or just make sure you keep the map running (if you lose signal it will keep going).
Also, there are long stretches without gas stations, so make sure you don’t run your tank too low.
See my other posts about planning a trip to Sedona!
Montezuma Castle National Monument
Montezuma Castle was the third National Monument dedicated to preserving Native American culture, established in 1906. It’s a five-story, 20-room high-rise apartment built high up into the towering limestone cliff, and is a wonderful example of ancient cliff dwellings. You can plan your trip at the NPS website.
If you have an annual America the Beautiful national park pass, it will gain you entry into the national monument. Otherwise there is a fee to enter, though there are a handful of fee-free days throughout the year.
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The cliff houses tell an amazing story of survival and even prosperity despite the harsh desert landscape. The name is a misdirect, given by early white settlers who thought it was the former home of the Aztec emperor, Montezuma. However, it’s likely he never came to this area, and in fact these were built by the cliff-dwelling Sinagua people.
They were a hunter-gatherer pre-Colombian Native American tribe who—from the archeological finds—were gifted craftsmen who traded far and wide with other tribes. It’s believed they built Montezuma Castle between the 12th and 14th centuries, and it seems the Sinagua were gone from this area by the mid-15th century.
Montezuma Castle National Monument can be a quick stop (which I did) or you can really take the time to immerse yourself in the site as well as nearby Montezuma Well.
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Stop for some Navajo frybread
I was STARVING at this point, having been traveling for about 12 hours and not eaten all day. As I turned onto the smaller road that led out to Montezuma Castle, I spied a little roadside stand boasting Navajo frybread. YESSSSS.
I stopped on the way there, but he had just started a new batch of dough so I swung by on my way back toward the highway. Mmmmmm hot fried soft dough with honey and cinnamon-sugar! This hit the spot perfectly and I always love getting a taste of local culture. And the guy’s got jokes (see the paper plates) 🙂
This hadn’t shown up in any of my research of things to see between Phoenix and Sedona, but I highly suggest you keep a eye out for this!
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Stop at a winery (or brewery)
In my pre-trip research, I’d seen a few people mention that Alcantara Vineyards was a great option for things to do between Phoenix and Sedona, so I decided to make it a stop on my drive.
As I pulled off the interstate to head toward the vineyard, I also saw a sign for local breweries, so if that’s more up your alley then check out Verde Brewing Company (right off the highway). Or heck, do both!
For me, Alcantara was my goal, and what I didn’t realize was that it was about 15 minutes off the interstate, but it does connect up to Sedona a “back” way (that actually was closer for where I was staying at Enchantment Resort). I didn’t stay for too long since I did want to get to Sedona, but the winery’s grounds are lovely and there’s a great back patio and lawn area.
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I chose to do a “VIP flight” of wine, which included five of their nicest wines for $20. I liked that it was a mixture of reds and whites as well. I just sat and sipped my wine and read my Kindle, enjoying a beautiful day. The winery often does live music, as well as special activities like stand-up paddleboarding and yoga, so check out their schedule.
I hadn’t eaten all day besides the frybread, so I got a cheese plate. It was super basic (for $20 I would have expected something a little nicer), but it still hit the spot and they have hot food that sounded good too. I’d definitely go for a burger next time.
Weird fun fact…that couple there behind my glass in this first pic was actually people I knew from when I was young (and who live in a different part of the country). I kept thinking they looked familiar but didn’t actually realize it was them until a few days later when they posted their pics on social—what a small world!
So whether you do them on your way to or from the airport, these are some of the things to see between Phoenix and Sedona that I’d highly recommend!
Where to stay in Sedona: I stayed at Enchantment Resort which is a major splurge and while the location is amazing, I didn’t feel like the property quite lived up to the price (see deeper review). On the more luxury end, next time I would still splurge a bit but try Amara instead.
If you’re looking for those amazing close-up red rocks views, another consideration would be Sky Ranch Lodge Resort or The Wilde Resort. Both offer the same benefits of views and locations, have great reviews, and come at a more palatable price tag.
I also stayed a couple nights at Arabella and would recommend it as a great mid-range option. It has a nice courtyard and pool, and they plan lots of activities that guests can join in on (happy hours, stargazing, hikes, etc.). It’s also a pet friendly option.
Other unstructured U.S. roadtrip stops you’ll enjoy:
- A Road Trip Exploring California’s Sonoma Coast Area
- Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway: Under-The-Radar South Dakota
- Epic Road Trip Itinerary: A Guide To The Oregon Coast
- An Awesome Long Weekend Itinerary in Portland & Willamette Valley
- Waves and Off-Roading on Maui’s Road to Hana
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