15+ Sedona Travel Tips For An Amazing Trip
Sedona has, rightfully, become a super popular destination within the U.S. The area’s stunning red rock landscape, hiking options, and (for some) vortexes are drawing in bigger and bigger crowds every month. So in addition to my individual itinerary posts, I wanted to pull together all the best Sedona travel tips I found super helpful on my own trip.
See my other posts about planning a trip to Sedona!
So I made it a point to capture all the Sedona travel tips that I would want to know if I were getting ready to visit. Some of these I found ahead of time through my research (red dirt + tennis shoes) and others I learned the hard way while there (hellooooo reservations!). I know these will help you with planning a trip to Sedona!
RESERVATIONS are life!
I don’t know if this is always the case for Sedona overall, or only a COVID thing. Certainly it’s always the case for the most popular restaurants such as Mariposa. In fact, Elote is one of the most-recommended places and didn’t even used to TAKE reservations.
But in the world as it is now, you need to really plan ahead on your dinner. Lunch you can probably make things work if you don’t want to commit to a resy…though if you want a certain place like Elote you definitely do.
Just for context, I checked both Mariposa and Elote (who never even used to take reservations) reservation options more than 3 weeks ahead and they were fully booked for my entire trip. Mariposa was booked for more than a month *past* my trip. So be warned.
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Don’t get suckered in by FOMO…
Sedona has always been popular, but in the immortal words of Mugatu, it’s “so hot right now“. And so in seeing people’s IG posts and reading blogs, it’s so easy to get sucked into the “must do” hikes or views or whatever and spend your whole trip stressed about logistics, looking for parking, or waiting in line to take a picture.
But the thing is, you are SPOILED for choice in Sedona when it comes to good views and great hiking, so I’m here to tell you not to get caught up in that IG life.
I did end up doing Cathedral Rock on my last morning at sunrise, and it was spectacular (though a bit scary). But I didn’t make to to Devil’s Bridge for the iconic picture, or a few of the others that were on my list.
And that’s totally okay…I did plenty of hiking with beautiful scenery, had one beautiful sunset (and two sunrise) hikes, and found out that the pretty easy and not-crowded Sugarloaf Loop trail is totally awesome.
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But that doesn’t mean the views come easy…
One thing that I found consistently challenging is that Sedona does not give up her charms easily. If you want a really great view, you’re probably going to have to work (hike) for it.
For instance, I drove the Scenic Byway a couple times, but there are no scenic pullouts to stop and snap photos. If you want those pics, you can stop at one of the trailheads and hike in a ways to get them. And that takes time. You have to work for it, and that usually involves going UP.
If you’re not wanting to do long or difficult trails, the two I’d recommend for amazing views would be the aforementioned Sugarloaf Loop (not that long or difficult, and the return on investment is great) and Airport Mesa (especially the Vortex). Both have awesome 360-degree views and would be great at sunrise or sunset.
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Think about time of day if pictures are your goal
From a lighting standpoint, mornings are nice but starting around mid/late morning the light is too harsh (first pic below), all the way through mid/late afternoon. Around then it gets better, and then late afternoon can be solid, and sunset is good (second pic). That doesn’t leave you with a ton of time to get great hiking pics, though.
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If you’re looking to party, Sedona might not be your place
There really isn’t much nightlife, something the locals love (from a couple conversations I had with them). People are really active, lots of hiking and pretty clean living, and most things shut down pretty early. So if partying is your jam, Sedona may not be at the top of your list.
Parts of Sedona are a dead zone, so plan ahead…
In the heart of downtown Sedona you should be okay on cell signal, but there are MANY parts of the area where it is a complete cell dead zone. I recommend taking screenshots of important info, hiking trail directions, maps, and anything else just in case.
And for parts of the drive from Phoenix to Sedona as well as (just mentioned) around the Sedona area, I recommend keeping your Google Maps app going…that way if you lose signal the map app can keep going on memory.
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…which causes battery suck
And guess what no cell signal causes your phone to do?? Search constantly! Thereby draining your battery faster (as do all the photos you’re taking of the stunning scenery)…I strongly recommend bringing a backup battery with you and keeping it charged up (this one is my fave). It was a real life saver for my phone on numerous occasions.
LAYERS! It was chillier than I’d expected
Okay, let’s talk packing and clothing for a few minutes. I was visiting in late April and definitely knew the evenings would be chilly, but I definitely did not pack enough cold weather clothes! In particular I underestimated how windy it was most evenings (such as dining on a patio), which meant it was extra chilly.
Now, that’s not to say the days were cold…as long as the sun was out, it got quite hot and I wished I’d brought my comfy walking sandals for some easier hikes (vs. only tennis shoes). But because of the wind, when it got overcast I ended up feeling pretty chilly in sundresses and kept my cardigan with me when visiting wineries.
I only had one fairly thin fleece and it did okay for early morning hikes, though I wished I’d had one just a bit heavier. I thankfully brought my fleece headband and thin merino wool gloves. Overall I wished I had more layers (especially in active wear) so I could peel them off as it warmed up in the morning. A second pair of tennis shoes wouldn’t have been bad either, but I packed light.
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Expect to ruin your hiking or tennis shoes
Speaking of tennis shoes, you should go in *assuming* you will ruin your shoes. Okay, “ruin” may be a bit strong, but if they’re brand new and have ANY white or light colors, they will never be the same. The red rocks and red dirt in Sedona DO NOT PLAY.
So if you’re planning a trip to Sedona, I recommend bringing shoes that you won’t be sad about getting roughed up, stained, and absolutely saturated with red dust, whether those are tennis shoes (with a really good grip!) or hiking boots.
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Hydrate hydrate hydrate!!!
I mean, desert DUH, right?? I am a huge hydration person and tried to drink enough water but there were a few times after hiking that I got SO dehydrated and all the water in the world wasn’t enough to make me feel better. That’s where coconut water comes in clutch in helping replace those electrolytes.
Keep plenty of water with you while hiking, stash some in your car, and pick up a couple coconut waters at the grocery store just in case. The humidity levels are exceptionally low, and combined with the altitude and sun that will get you.
Related…altitude + sun = bad
For someone like me who lives much closer to sea level, Sedona’s slightly higher altitude (like 4,300 feet), super low humidity, and strong sun can cause you to burn much faster than you might be used to. Bring plenty of sunscreen and reapply it frequently! There are some of my favorite regular sunscreens, and some Korean ones for my face that I love.
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Sedona has about 87 roundabouts
For the love of all things holy, know how to drive on a roundabout. You’ll hit one like every 10 feet, it feels like, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the multi-lane ones during peak traffic times.
If it’s not something you do much, it’s worth brushing up on roundabout rules and etiquette before visiting to make sure you don’t become a traffic issue or cause a wreck.
People want to engage and chat
It was interesting, the Sedona locals really seem to be very open and friendly, at least in some places. I frequented Creekside Coffee every morning (which has a lovely kind of chill boho vibe) and there were locals who came in just to grab some coffee and chat before heading on their way for the day.
I even got sucked into a 3-hour conversation with two locals and two tourists one morning, which is…SO not like me. But if you’re open to engaging, you’ll find people looking to connect even just for a minute.
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Tips for getting to & from Sedona
Woof, that rental car shuttle sitch…
Lastly, a couple final thoughts on getting from Phoenix to Sedona. I think they’re in the process of building a tram, but for now you have to take a shuttle from the baggage claim area to the rental car center. And guys it is INEFFICIENT.
The bus system is confusing and backs up so you have to wait, and the center is not close, so make sure you plan for plenty of time when returning the car before your flight.
Don’t wait too long to get gas
Also, there are not many gas stations on the route between Sedona and Phoenix and a looooong stretch without one. So make sure you’re not cutting it too close on your return trip.
I did accidentally, and was really sweating when my car told me I was at 8 miles left on my tank. Thankfully I found one just in time! Lesson learned.
So there you have it…a hodgepodge of Sedona travel tips to help you plan the smoothest and most fun trip possible!
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