Between Sedona proper and its more laid-back neighboring village of Oak Creek (my favorite place to stay and explore), you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to hiking trails, mountain biking trails, off-road trails, restaurants, and shops. The biggest challenge is trying to decide which adventures to fit in. Use this guide for an action packed 36hrs in Sedona. We cover the best trails, places to eat, and other don’t miss local gems.
What’s so special about Sedona?
Sedona, is home to the only turquoise Mcdonald's arches, mysterious energy vortexes, and perhaps the most jaw-dropping red rock landscapes on the planet. Sedona has a mystical quality about it that draws people from all over the world to come and experience it in a myriad of different ways. Located at around 4,500 feet of elevation and nestled at the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau, Sedona is blessed with some truly fascinating geology (and hence a gorgeous and epic landscape).
Historically the Verde valley area in which Sedona lies was inhabited by the Sinagua and a great add-on to your trip would be to visit one of the nearby preserved Sinaguan sites of Tuzigoot or Montezuma’s Castle. Following the Sinaguan presence came the Yavapai and Apache peoples; next came the Spanish followed eventually by the presence of homesteaders and settlers including Theodore Carlton Schnebly and his wife Sedona Miller Schnebly of whom the town was named after. The City of Sedona offers an incredibly thorough history of the area here if you’d like to learn more.
A few Sedona Hiking Tips
All of the trails mentioned require you to either pay at each trailhead parking area or invest in the Sedona Red Rock Pass (the profits of which go right back into natural resource protection and the local outdoor recreation system). You can snag these for day, week, or annual use online or at each parking area.
Another key thing to be aware of is the new Sedona Shuttle System which I personally haven’t had experience with but could be a great option if you’d rather not deal with the crowded parking situation that occurs at popular trailheads. Check the shuttle website for maps, schedules, and more details.
Why Take My Advice
I’ve visited Sedona on multiple occasions, some for personal adventure trips and others while leading guided tours and no matter the occasion Sedona is enchanting every time. My suggestions are a mix of fan favorites and personal tips with most of the hikes listed being on the lower scale of exertion in length and elevation. In Sedona the options for trails with incredible scenery are limitless and with the decent amount of traffic and plentiful beloved (I kid) roundabouts you may want to opt for trailheads that are within close reach of your trip accommodations. Honestly Sedona is pure magic and no matter where you find yourself wandering about you’re almost 100% guaranteed to be surrounded by scenery that will take your breath away. Best tip for your trip is to resist packing to much in so you can simply relax, slow down, and truly soak up all of the restoring red rock splendor.
How to Spend 36 hours in Sedona
For me, Sedona is usually hit enroute to or from the Phoenix area when traveling from my homebase of Hurricane, UT. Given the choice, I love taking the route down through the gorgeous Oak Creek Canyon when traveling south from Flagstaff. It’s a dramatic winding route that cascades down in elevation plopping you down into a land of crystal clear streams, red rock cliffs, and if you time it right glowing gold cottonwoods in the fall season. The other reason I’m fond of this route? It places my favorite eatery Indian Gardens Cafe & Market: right on the way. Heads up though they’re currently only open Thurs-Mon with varying hours. I’m a fan of both their lunch and breakfast but their morning options have my heart! The dreamy lemon poppy seed french toast, the greens and grains bowl with cashew cheese… yup 110% worth a morning pit stop and bonus they also have a gorgeous outdoor dining area and a nifty lil shop section to browse.
Indian Garden Sedona. Photo credit Molly Joyce.
Now to stretch the legs and get some movement going with a relatively mellow adventure. If it’s a weekday and early enough to get a parking space (pay $11 at the lot to park or use the Red Rock Pass if you have one) you could hit up the mega popular (for good reason) West Fork trail. At around 6 miles roundtrip this show stopper of a trail is perfect on a warm day due to its multiple stream crossings and plentiful shady vegetation. If you happen to be a bit of a bird nerd like me you’ll especially enjoy this hike!
When I visit Sedona I tend to go pretty low key for most meals but for one dinner I”ll splurge a little bit and my pick for a solid “treat yo self” meal would be the Mesa Grill. I love when the weather allows for outdoor seating but even if that's not an option the wrap-around windows bring the outdoors in no matter where you’re seated. They’ve got a great happy hour til 5:30pm and their calamari and blackened salmon are the kind of plates that you just have to slow down and really savor. Bonus: they frequently have live music playing that really up levels the atmosphere to something truly special.
Want something a bit more low key? Picazzo’s Healthy Italian Kitchen would be a great choice. They’re budget friendly, offer vegan options, the pizza is on point and their happy hour specials ( especially the Brie) are awesome.
In the mood for some community vibes? Then head up to Airport Mesa for one of the best sunset views around. Just be aware that you’ll be sharing it with a good number of other folks but sometimes that’s not the worst situation. You can also head up early to stroll around the Airport Mesa Loop Trail and its uplifting, masculine energy Airport Mesa Vortex. If you decide to treat yourself to a 5 star meal at the Mesa Grill you’ll already have a parking spot (a free one to boot) and a front row seat to that world famous Sedona sunset magic.
There honestly aren’t any bad hikes in Sedona for sunrise so I tend to go hike the ones that would end up being super crowded if I hiked them later in the day which makes Cathedral Rock a great choice. There are several different trails and entry points to this gorgeous spot but my favorite is via Oak Creek on the Baldwin trail with its low key shady creekside entry section. At around 3.7 miles round trip you have the option of opting for the more scrambly last section taking you up onto Cathedral Rock or you could simply enjoy the views from down lower on the hike. Either way be sure to take time to dip your feet in the creek on the way back, just keep an eye out for those crayfish!
Baldwin to Cathedral Rock Trail
Post-hike it’s time for my favorite meal of the day, breakfast! You’ve got several really solid options, however if you plan on taking me up on my midday suggestion then it makes sense to head on over to The Secret Garden Cafe located right at the entrance to Tlaquepaque. They open at 8am and most likely there will be people there waiting for the doors to unlock so the earlier you can arrive the better. Not only do I love this place for the sweet european café style vibe but the service has always been excellent and their peppered bacon, garden omelet and pancakes are absolutely amazing. Be aware that they promptly switch over to lunch at 11am!
It’s the perfect time of day to stroll around Sedona and perhaps pick up some trinkets (in my case that means crystals or art). Personally I skip the main tourist drag area and instead head over to Tlaquepaque for a nice shady wander. I really enjoy this spot for it’s mix of eateries and boutiques along with its eye-candy architecture and lush garden setting. Whether you’re in the market for chakra tuning stones, handmade sculptures, or even psychic readings (right across the street at Center for the New Age) you’ll easily be able to fill an afternoon exploring the area.
Wraps at ChocolaTreee. Photo credit ChocolaTree.
If you’re ready for a bit of an early meal I’d head over to ChocolaTree Organic Eatery: (open until 4 in the summer). I’m in love with their entire homemade organic menu but my favorites are the green goddess salad and both the coconut dahl and mushroom fantasy soups. The real reason to make a stop here though is their handmade artisan raw chocolates! If you'd rather wait to hit dinner a bit later then Tamaliza: which stays open until 7pm would be another great choice. They’re known for their gourmet made from scratch jumbo sized tamales with the chicken mole option being my top pick (but I can never say no to quality mole).
For a post meal stroll I’d drive over to Bell Rock and follow the relatively short 1.8 mile loop trail that encircles beautiful Bell Rock. You’ll need to pay to park here (unless you’re staying in nearby Oak Creek and simply walk up like I tend to do). From the trailhead take the trail counterclockwise if you’re in the mood for a bit of elevation or go clockwise for a more chill downhill stroll. You can also add a bit of scrambling fun into the mix if you’d like to climb up onto Bell Rock itself. Alternatively you could make this a longer hike by doing the entire 4 mile Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte Loop using the same trailhead.
If you didn’t do the full Bell Rock/Courthouse loop last night then that would make for a perfect early morning hike! If you’re looking for a different option I’d suggest either the less strenuous 2.3 mile Fay Canyon hike or go hit up the iconic (and mega crowded later in the day ) 3.9 mile Devil’s Bridge Hike.
Headed North? Go swing by Indian Gardens for round two or try something new at The Pumphouse (the chef’s croissant with bacon and breakfast taters is a splendid option) or you could try one of the 101 omelet options (or my favorite buckwheat pancakes) at the mega popular Coffee Pot Restaurant. If you’re going south try the Red Rock Cafe in Oak Creek for their mega veggie scramble, 3lb cinnamon roll, or the drool worthy banana blueberry walnut french toast but don’t blame me if you need a nap after that one.
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