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What To Do In Sedona: How To Plan An Awesome 3+ Day Itinerary
Gorgeous red rock vistas. Great weather year-round. An abundance of hiking opportunities. An up-and-coming foodie scene. It’s easy to see how Sedona has become one of the most popular year-round destinations in the U.S. But that intensive popularity can also mean some challenges in planning the perfect Sedona itinerary.
I spent 4-5 days in Sedona last year and had an awesome time, but some things went perfectly and others were a struggle (helloooo restaurant availability!). When figuring out what to do in Sedona, it’s easy to get sucked into viral Instagram influencer posts and lose sight of what you individually would most enjoy.
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So I wanted to provide all the details in one place for you to plan the perfect Sedona itinerary for YOU. Maybe you really want that IG-perfect photo, or maybe the thought of standing in line for an hour to get a photo gives you hives. Either way, I’ve laid out what you should consider when planning your trip.
The post below is lengthy because I wanted to cover everything from things to do in Sedona, how to plan a trip, where to stay, where to eat, what hikes I loved the most (and which I didn’t) and advice such as packing tips and time of year. I also link to deeper posts on many of these topics throughout.
How this post is structured:
- When is the best time of year to visit?
- Where to stay in Sedona
- Packing & clothing considerations
- How to get around
- High-level Sedona itinerary thoughts
- Things to do in Sedona, including…
- The drive between Phoenix & Sedona
- Scenic driving
- Chapel of the Holy Cross
- Hiking in Sedona
- Sunrise & sunset options
- Wineries to visit
- …and more
- Where to eat and drink
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When is the best time to visit Sedona?
Sedona can actually be a great year-round destination, and so the best time to visit really depends on what you’re looking for. Here are some of my thoughts, and I found this post helpful to give even more details and pros and cons.
I visited in spring, and that’s the most popular time to visit—you have generally great weather (but not TOO hot) and good stargazing and hiking conditions. It’s also the most crowded and expensive because of that. Fall offers similar benefits though may be a bit more prone to clouds and rain.
Summer is HOT, so it depends on what you’re wanting to do. If it’s lots of hiking, that may be difficult due to high temperatures and most trails not having shade.
Winter is typically the least crowded and less expensive, and still has generally temperate weather, though you take your chances more on rain, mud (which can be dangerous on the rocky trails), and more clouds for stargazing.
Check out my other detailed posts if you’re planning a trip to Sedona!
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What to pack for Sedona
Obviously, your packing needs will depend somewhat on time of year, but here are some considerations that will work for a lot of the year. I was there in April and it was quite cold in the mornings (low 40s F), but by mid-morning it got quite hot (I got a sunburn by 11a and I *don’t* burn normally), and then in the evening was windy and cool again.
That means that LAYERS are key! I also did not pack enough clothes for the colder weather in the morning and evenings (it got quite windy at night!). Here are some key things that I brought to Sedona (or would make sure I bring next time):
- For hiking, a couple pairs of yoga pants (I swear by Athleta ones) are great because they protect you, keep you a bit warmer, and are super comfy. For hiking in the heat, the yoga pants still work well, but some shorts (I wear the mesh racer run shorts) and a tank top and comfy sports bra are also helpful.
- I brought one thinner fleece jacket (full-zip), plus my trusty Icebreaker thin merino wool gloves (directly here if they’re out of stock on Amazon) and fleece headband.
- For casual stuff like winery visits and shopping, these Athleta pants are cute and versatile, lightweight enough to wear in the heat and be comfortable. And you can do lighter hiking in them and then go straight to a nicer restaurant and look great. I also wore Stitch Fix sundresses a lot.
- As I said above, I’d bring more layers to stay warm in the evenings, like if I sat on a patio at dinner. In particular, a couple cardigans would be a good idea (I’m a huge fan of Loft ones, I have a Torrid one I love, and sadly my favorite from Pea & the Pod has been discontinued).
- Be aware that the red dust and rocks of Sedona will ruin your shoes (from a hiking standpoint), and you need shoes with good grip as the rocks can be slippery.
- Also I recommend these Smartwool super thin no-show socks, which will keep your feet warm when it’s cold (and cool during the day), and I didn’t have as much irritation from the sand and gravel getting in.
- Also sunscreen is absolutely CRITICAL, as Sedona is at a little higher altitude (than where I live), the sun is *really* strong, plus there not a lot of shade to be found. But I hate sunscreens and all the greasiness and breaking out, so I’ve found some awesome face sunscreens for more casual travel, plus 9 more serious sunscreens I swear by for travel.
- A smaller hiking backpack (or a big cross-body purse) is important for hiking, to bring extra sunscreen, plenty of water, etc.
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How to get to Sedona
Most people will fly into Phoenix, but you could also fly into Flagstaff (typically a bit more expensive, both for flights and rental cars). You absolutely need a car in Sedona, to get around, explore the gorgeous landscapes, etc.
One note, the rental car shuttle situation in Phoenix is a garbage dumpster fire, so it can take some time to get your car. I didn’t have issues on returning and making my flight, however.
The drive from Phoenix to Sedona takes about 2 to 2.5 hours, an easy highway cruise. There are some great places to stop along the way (I’ll highlight some below), and be warned that there is no cell signal for much of the drive AND long stretches without a gas station, so plan ahead.
How to plan your itinerary
I have a much deeper post on Sedona trip planning tips, covering topics from photography to FOMO, clothing choices to altitude. So I won’t go into all of that here, I recommend you check it out! But I’ll highlight a few of the most critical things to keep in mind as you plan your trip.
First, Sedona is expensive! Hotels in particular are significantly more costly than many other U.S. destinations I’ve visited, so you’ll need to work hard to find good deals.
It’s also popular…if there’s a particular restaurant, winery tasting, tour, or something else you want to do, I’d strongly recommend making reservations ahead of time. That’s especially true since COVID, and I had trouble getting reservations at some of the most popular restaurants even a few weeks ahead of time.
Don’t get suckered in by FOMO…Sedona is one of those Pinterest-famous destinations and it’s easy to get caught up in all the gorgeous pics, “must-do” hikes, and more. But there is SO much
Unless you’re visiting in winter, you’ll want to get out early for any outdoor activities, because it gets really hot by midday…mid-afternoon is a good time to take a siesta, lay by the pool, or go sip some wine somewhere. Your best lighting for photos will follow this pattern, with early morning, late afternoon, and sunset being best.
PRO TIP: Arizona does not do Daylight Savings Time, so if it’s DST where you are coming from, take that into account on your timings.
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Where to stay in Sedona
Let’s get this out of the way at the start—Sedona is EXPENSIVE! Granted, I was visiting during one of the peak times (April) but also during COVID so overall visitors were lighter. And to me, hotel costs were at least twice as much as I’d expect. So basically you’re paying high-end hotel prices for a fairly simple motel room. Just good to know going in.
On the luxury end: I stayed at Enchantment Resort (the first few photos below), and I’ve written a deep review post about the experience. There’s no question that the location and red rock views surrounding the resort are amazing. The restaurant was great too. However, the actual resort rooms, service, etc. definitely wasn’t “luxury” relative to the price tag. So pros and cons.
Next time I would still splurge a bit but try Amara instead, or go really high-end and do L’Auberge (which looks amazing, but I wanted a more traditional red rocks view on my first visit; you can see TripAdvisor reviews).
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Midrange: For my last couple nights I stayed at Arabella. The rooms were pretty basic, though you can tell they’ve tried to “zhuszh” them up a bit (it’s a “motel” setup where you drive up to your door on the outside).
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. You can read more reviews on TripAdvisor.
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What to do on a Sedona itinerary
Rather than providing an actual structured itinerary, I’ll share individual things to do in Sedona because it would be very difficult to plan ahead for weather, clear skies, how busy trails are, and every other eventuality. So this is a “choose your own adventure” itinerary!
Enjoy the drive to (or from) Phoenix
There are some great stops on the 2.5 hour drive from the Phoenix airport to Sedona, so it’s worth taking your time and enjoying. First, there’s Montezuma Castle National Monument, dedicated to preserving Native American culture.
The name is a misnomer (early settlers thought it was a castle), but despite that the five-story, 20-room high-rise apartment carved into the limestone cliff are a wonderful example of ancient cliff dwellings. As far as we know, these were built by the cliff-dwelling Sinagua people, a hunter-gatherer pre-Colombian Native American tribe.
Right off the highway at the turn-off to the monument, I happened upon a Navajo frybread stand. I love these impromptu finds while traveling! I devoured a hot, puffy piece of fried dough sprinkled with cinnamon-sugar, which fueled me up for my last stop.
Alcantara Vineyards is a lovely little oasis, and in a slightly different area than most of the Sedona-area wineries. I sipped a flight of wine and had a snack, enjoying the backyard vibe and doing some people watching. There’s also a brewery or two around here if that’s more your style. Then it’s on to Sedona!
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Go for a scenic drive
Any direction you go within or around Sedona, you’ll have a scenic drive. So sometimes it’s worth just getting into the car and heading out to see what you find. Also, the drive out toward Boynton Canyon (first pic below), where Enchantment Resort is located, is stunning—make sure you get out there!
There is an official Red Rock Scenic Byway coming out of Sedona, though, and you definitely should drive it at least once. It’s not super long so you can do it a couple times depending on what you want to do. The byway stretches highway 179 south from Sedona to the village of Oak Creek (it’s how you’d get to the wineries too).
It’s a gorgeous drive, where you’d want to stop every mile to take photos, though that’s harder than it sounds—there are no real viewpoints or easy pullouts for awesome views. There are also many hiking trails along the way, though the parking lots fill up on weekends during high season.
Plan a half day if you’re wanting to stop at the Chapel of the Holy Cross (more on that below), maybe do a hike or two. If you just drive it straight through it’s only like 15-20 minutes, so the amount of time is totally up to you.
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Visit the Chapel of the Holy Cross
The Chapel of the Holy Cross is one of the first possible stops along the scenic byway route, and definitely needs to be on your itinerary. It was designed by a student of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, sculptor Marguerite Brunswig Staude.
Staude was an Arizona native, and ended up building a church that looks like it’s naturally rising right out of Sedona’s red rocks—it’s both visually arresting but also manages to blend into the surroundings naturally.
The church was completed in 1956 and has been an icon of the area ever since. You don’t need to spend lots of time here, but it’s worth seeing. You also get great views from the chapel, and it’s supposed to be a great place for stargazing as well (consider sunrise as well).
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Hiking in Sedona
The amazing landscapes and hikes are one of the biggest draws to Sedona, and you are truly spoiled for choice. As I mention in my tips for Sedona, one of the biggest traps you can fall into is focusing solely on the “Instagram famous” hikes like Devil’s Bridge and Cathedral Rock, without 1) planning ahead, and 2) considering the many other options.
The red rocks that rise up around Sedona offer year-round hiking opportunities, with everything from a super easy walk to near-vertical scrambling. There are also SO many under-the-radar options that provide almost identical experiences with a fraction of the crowds.
I have a deeper post on hiking options in Sedona, so make sure to check that out for lots more details on each hike, tips, and more. I’ll share topline info below on a few of the most famous/popular hikes as well as some more under-the-radar ones (and a couple I don’t think were worth my time).
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We’ll start with a couple super popular and iconic hikes, including Cathedral Rock and the Airport Mesa/Vortex. The challenge with the really popular trails (particularly Cathedral Rock and Devil’s Bridge) is that the trails will typically be very crowded, parking can be a nightmare, and you’ll often have to wait in line to get that magical photo you imagine.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t do them, just that you need to be aware of that and plan ahead. Time of day makes a big difference…for instance I decided to do Cathedral Rock at sunrise. There were no crowds and parking wasn’t an issue, plus the views were magnificent (it was a little nerve wracking at times though).
Conversely, the ultra popular Airport Mesa and Vortex at sunset is crowded, yes, but still totally doable. While the trailhead parking lot is only like 10 spots, there’s a giant parking lot at the top of the hill (by the airport) and you can hike down. (I’ve also heard this hike is gorgeous for sunrise, and far less crowded.)
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And then there are many hikes that are not intensely popular (and crowded) and also quite easy to do.
First off is Sugarloaf Loop Trail, which was a total surprise—not crowded at all, an easy walk, and absolutely stunning 360-degree views! Check out my deeper post on why I think Sugarloaf Loop Trail is maybe the most underrated hike in Sedona (second pic below, for reference).
Another favorite that I discovered was Kachina Woman, which is just a little ways along the much larger Boynton Canyon Trail. I did this at sunrise (well, just a bit past sunrise as it took longer than I thought from the hotel). I was staying at Enchantment Resort so hiked from there, but if you hiked from the trailhead it would only take maybe 15 minutes.
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But there were some hikes in Sedona that I would skip next time, they just didn’t “do it” for me.
I tried the famous “7 Sacred Pools” and “Devil’s Sinkhole” hikes (which are close to each other) and…guys, I don’t get it. Granted, it took me WAY longer to find them than I’d hoped, so the mid-morning light didn’t do them any favors. But honestly I truly don’t understand the hype (a few pics below).
I hiked to them along the Soldier’s Pass / Cibola Pass / Jordan Road trailhead…honestly I don’t know other than I parked at Jordan Road trailhead. Following the signs was super confusing and I hiked way further than I should have (and didn’t have water), had trouble figuring out where I was going, and the scenery was lackluster. These hikes are a skip to me.
Similarly, the “official” Fay Canyon hike is nothing to write home about (though has shade a lot). However, if you go past the “end of trail” sign like most people and scramble up the rocks, there’s an AWESOME view—that’s where I took the selfie at the beginning of this hiking section. I can’t *officially* recommend that you go past the sign though 🙂
And large swaths of Boynton Canyon were pretty but nothing special compared to other hikes I did in Sedona. However, there are specific places you can get to, like the Subway Cave and Kachina Woman, that are totally worth it. I just wouldn’t go out of my way to hike Boynton Canyon Trail overall.
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Sunrise & sunset options
Because Sedona sits in a kind of ring of gorgeous red rock outcroppings, you can get an amazing sunrise AND sunset in many directions. The key is planning ahead, and also making sure you don’t strand yourself somewhere dangerous (in terms of falling, hiking, etc.) in the dark.
My favorite sunset was definitely from the Airport Vortex…while I couldn’t feel the vortex, the beautiful golden sunset gave me all the good vibes I needed. Right up the hill you can get a similar view without hiking at the Sedona Airport Scenic Overlook.
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Visit the nearby wineries
I’ll be honest…”wine” was not the first thing that comes to mind when I’m planning a trip to Arizona. But I found myself absolutely charmed by the pretty, chill smattering of wineries near Sedona.
I mentioned Alcantara Vineyards at the top, as it’s a little more out of the way and makes a good stop between Phoenix and Sedona (though can be easily visited on a day trip as well). Besides that, I found four other great wineries all clustered together, about 20 minutes from Sedona.
Across the board I found the winery visits here to be more of a DIY tasting experience. There wasn’t really someone there to give you lots of details about the wine, what made it special, tasting notes, etc. I tended to get more of a “this is our ____ wine, here’s your pour, enjoy!” kind of thing. I was there on a weekend so it was fairly busy, and that may have made a difference.
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Hands down, D.A. Ranch Lodge & Estate Vineyards was my favorite of the Sedona wineries, with its fun and welcoming atmosphere (felt like hanging at a friend’s house), sprawling grounds, and music to keep me company. Javelina Leap, while smaller, gave off a similar vibe of just hanging in someone’s backyard, and had a great blues musician to boot.
Oak Creek Vineyards & Winery had great “build your own flight” options and some snacks (I was feeling peckish by this point), while Page Spring Cellars had a lot going for it but my lack of planning made it harder to enjoy. It was absolutely SLAMMED when I got there, so I would have had to wait over an hour to do a tasting. Instead I opted for a by-the-glass at the snack stand window (still a solid wait).
To that point, a planning word to the wise, the wineries all get VERY busy on weekends (at least during peak season), so it’s not a bad idea to actually book a tasting ahead of time at somewhere like Page Spring.
And, if you’re worried about driving yourself and drinking, there are a few winery tour companies in the area who can take care of that (and reserving spots). I share a few options in my deeper post about Sedona winery visits.
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Relax…soak in the local shops
I’m not a big shopper myself, but if you are then Sedona’s got some fun options. The main street of Sedona (which you’ll see referred to as both Uptown and Downtown Sedona) is full of art galleries, restaurants, and souvenir and crystal shops.
You should also check out Tlaquepaque Village, which is a crazy busy and crowded area but supposed to be the must-visit for art galleries and restaurants.
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Where to eat & drink in Sedona
I’ll start by saying that I wasn’t able to try many of the restaurants I wanted (such as Mariposa and Elote), as they didn’t have reservations available. To that point as I mentioned at the outset…RESERVATIONS!
Sedona is known for an up-and-coming foodie scene focused on interesting Southwest cuisine, using locally-sourced ingredients. I’ve written a much deeper post on where to eat and drink in Sedona, and at the end I provide a list of restaurants I wanted to try (to help you plan your own trip).
I enjoyed drinks and appetizers at Tii Gavo, breakfast at Salt Rock (though would have loved dinner and cocktails here), and casual meals at Dellepiane, The Pump House, and Creekside Bistro were all delicious. A bit further afield (down by the wineries), Up the Creek Bistro was a total winner as well!
I did make a point of trying different coffee shops and bakeries each morning, and got a nice little routine either pre- or post-hike. Or both, NO JUDGING.
I definitely recommend Layla’s, which had awesome pastries and interesting coffee drinks (plus a small but cool looking sandwich menu). My favorite coffee shop in Sedona closed a few months later (Creekside Coffee), but I *can* recommend the incredibly quickly and hippie Synergy.
The one fancy meal I’ll shout-out was at Che Ah Chi, at the Enchantment Resort where I was staying. The views of the red rocks are beautiful (though the direction the patio faces is away from the sunset), and the menu is really interesting.
The cocktails and menu were quite interesting (buttered popcorn puree!), though the execution of some dishes was a little more hit and miss. The lemon goat cheese panna cotta was a total winner!
Hopefully this in-depth guide on what to do in Sedona has been helpful for planning your own desert adventure! Hit me up in the comments with any questions you might have.
Other U.S. trip itineraries focused on natural beauty:
- A Jam-Packed Itinerary For California’s Sonoma County
- An Amazing Southern Utah Roadtrip: Zion & Bryce Canyon National Parks
- Epic Road Trip Itinerary: A Guide To The Oregon Coast
- How To Plan A Western South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary
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