72 Hours In Sedona? Here’s How To Make The Most Of Your Trip
Normally when I travel I like to plan for plenty of downtime. I don’t need to tour every museum, walk through every shop and see all the attractions. Typically, I like to relish a few significant activities, stay in comfort, and I place a high priority on dining experiences. Taking this approach to my inaugural 3-day, 2-night Sedona sojourn, my early travel notes consisted of one highly-recommended hike and a can’t-miss restaurant - both suggestions from my lovely and trustworthy aunt, who visits Sedona annually.
Well, exactly as I didn’t plan, this trip was the opposite of luxuriating in a comfy Airbnb, leaving only for meals. I might be newly embracing the see-and-do-everything traveler mentality - at least on this trip. At a dinner party the night before I left, I received a handful of what seemed like worthy and intriguing Sedona tips, and from there the suggestions continued en masse, at every stop along the way, from fellow tourists as well as locals. All three days were jam-packed with must-see destinations, restaurants, hikes and more, but I feel like I received a thorough overview of the town and surrounding areas, and am already hyped for my next visit. Chalk it up to the spiritual vortex energy, friendliness of the people I met, sheer scenic beauty everywhere I turned, or the anticipation of arriving at the next great spot, but downtime was nowhere in my vocabulary this trip.
So, if you have Sedona on the brain (and you should!), need a refresher visit, or already have a trip in the works, here’s an expanded itinerary if you desire to see, feel and experience some of the best of Sedona - and surrounding areas - in 72 hours (well, technically it was only 58 hours, but you get the point):
My trip originated in Scottsdale and I was urged to take a mini-detour to the hillside mining town of Jerome before arriving in Sedona (Jerome is about 45 minutes southwest of Sedona). This quirky, tiny little town, founded in 1876, was once a booming copper mining town and is now a thriving tourist and artist hub. Fun fact: it’s known as one of the largest ghost towns in America. While there, I walked the two-street, one-way loop, making my way through funky art galleries, a tiny, corner coffee shop with boisterous baristas, and a store dedicated entirely to salsas and hot sauces (Jerome Ghost Pepper Co.). I love all things pepper spice (the hotter, the better!), so this was an unexpected but very welcome surprise. I tasted through about 10 house-made sauces and salsas, choosing the very best to purchase and pack home. It was a blustery, windy, rainy day, and the ghost energy was ever-present, so my stay was short, but mighty.
Time Well Spent: You can walk the whole town, tour a gallery or two and stop for a snack in about an hour. But, if you want to tour the Mine Museum or go on a Ghost Town Tour, plan to spend more time and book ahead.
One of the most famous landmarks and hikes in Sedona, Cathedral Rock is an imposing and impressive natural sandstone butte and you’ve likely seen it, even if you didn’t know it, as it’s one of the most photographed sites in Arizona. It was about an hour drive from Jerome to the Rock and once there, despite the menacing clouds and impending rain, I trudged up the side of the hill, determined to make it to the top of the hike (which takes you to the base of the Rock). The hike isn’t long (a mile or so out and back), but it’s steep in some areas and expect to climb over large rocks and through a particularly narrow crevasse. This is also one of four vortexes, or energy centers, located in Sedona. The vortexes are essentially centers of subtle energy coming out of the earth, and Sedona is known as one of the areas on the planet with the most saturated vortex energy. Those who are more sensitive may feel the excess energy, which can be overwhelming, but generally in a very positive, uplifting way.
Time Well Spent: You can see the Rock from the parking lot, so this stop can be a few minutes up to a few hours if you plan to hike to the top.
Need To Know: Parking fee is $5 per car; payable by credit/debit card in main parking area. Expect this popular spot to be very busy.
En route to my Airbnb, I stopped at Tlaquepaque, an arts and crafts village designed to look like a traditional Mexican village. Tlaquepaque literally means “the best of everything” and this very well may be true of this particular village. The center is made up of more than 50 specialty shops including art galleries, restaurants, clothing shops and more. Though I did not witness this, it’s not uncommon to see well-known artists working on sculptures or paintings in one of the many courtyards throughout the village - it’s also an events center and even hosts weddings. Spending time at Tlaquepaque is a fantastic way to get a taste of fine Southwestern art and culture in one stop.
Time Well Spent: I’m not a big shopper and didn’t plan to eat a meal here, so an hour was about all I needed to stroll through the galleries and shops. One could easily spend a few hours to half-a-day here.
From Tlaquepaque, I settled into my nearby Airbnb, changed out of my hiking clothes and headed to Mariposa, a highly-recommended restaurant, if not for the grub, then absolutely for the stunning views of Sedona’s red rocks. However, dark clouds had overtaken the sky and the rain was pounding so I did not anticipate seeing views - I went solely for the food. Despite the weather, the restaurant was bustling, but being a party of one, I slipped into one of the remaining few seats at the bar. Though known as a steak and seafood restaurant, I opted for the tapas menu so I could try a few things and started with the fried avocado (seriously?!?). Yes, it was as good as it sounded. Next was the Atun Ceviche, a fantastic blend of citrus, sweet, tart and salty. Absolutely full at this point but wanting to sample one more thing, I ordered the Funghi Sublime Flatbread, an explosion of flavors that included a mushroom medley, caramelized onions, roasted garlic, chevre, gorgonzola and truffle oil. All of those things on their own are delicious, and when combined, are a bit of a tastebud overwhelm, but in a good way. Half of the flatbread made for a delicious, savory breakfast the next day.
Time Well Spent: If you’re a quick eater and don’t care about the views, you can be in and out in under an hour, but for an experience, plan to be here for two hours.
Need To Know: Make a reservation! If you’re more than a party of one, I highly recommend making a reservation for lunch or dinner. Valet parking is the only option, so be sure to have a few dollars handy to tip the valet.
I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon and figured, I’m close enough, why not make the 2-plus hour journey north from Sedona and see this monstrous canyon for myself? I only had one thing on my GC to-do list: hike the South Kaibab Trail - which drops you into the canyon. After I parked, I hopped on the Kaibab Rim shuttle bus - one of four free shuttle buses that run through the park on 10-15 minute intervals (highly recommend!) to get to the trailhead. I made my way 1.5 miles down steep switchbacks, avoiding packs of mules (however, unable to avoid the accompanying animal smells) to Cedar Ridge, a wonderfully flat area with breathtaking views in every direction. I swapped photo-taking sessions with a few different groups and asked for recommendations for the rest of my day. I was told to ride the red shuttle bus in its entire route, which stops at 9 different viewpoints along the South Rim.
Getting off at a few different stops along the way, I was constantly in awe. I got it - I haven’t visited many national parks, but there’s a reason they’re protected and funded and visited by hundreds of thousands of people every year. I’m also not particularly interested in the science behind these freak-of-nature geological masterpieces, but it absolutely does not matter - the grandeur is unmatched. If you are someone who thinks you’re in control of your life and your place in the world, take a little visit to the GC, you’ll be supremely humbled.
It’s true that I went to the GC in search of a somewhat burly into-the-canyon hike, but never fear, you can witness the greatness of the Canyon without having to hike. The shuttle buses are the easiest and quickest way to see South Rim highlights and they drop of you off very near the rim for easy viewing. Another fun way to see varying views is by walking the Rim Trail (much of it is shaded, flat and paved), which basically runs from the Visitor’s Center out to Hermit’s Rest viewpoint.
Time Well Spent: I was in the park about 6 hours and felt like I saw and did everything I wanted to do. You could easily spend more or less time, depending on your level of interest. There are lodges and campsite in the park as well, so many people spend multiple days exploring.
Need To Know: Cost is $35 for a day pass (one car) payable any way. The earlier you arrive, the less wait time at the entrance gates. Use the shuttles!
After my day at the Canyon, I busted back to Sedona and was starving by the time I arrived. Javelina Cantina came recommended by a part-time local I met at Mariposa. All I wanted was a big basket of salty chips and salsa and a steaming hot plate of enchiladas. Javelina delivered. It wasn’t the best Mexican food I’ve ever eaten, but it was plenty good enough, and filled me up (and then some). It was quick in and out and the restaurant was lively, clean and full of people.
Admittedly, I’m not a big breakfast eater. I definitely prefer lunch and dinner but knew that my day full of hiking would require some morning sustenance. I also typically prefer savory over sweet for breakfast. Pump House Station was another recommendation from a local and their menu had avocado toast; I was sold. And Nutella crêpes are a must-have as well. It’s located in the Tlaquepaque village and has a crowd and kid-friendly menu but I absolutely ordered the avo toast, which came topped with tomatoes, arugula and a fried egg. The vibe is super casual with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. Bonus points for having snacks and to-go items if you’re on the run.
Need To Know: Check the website for hours; they’re a little funky.
This was the only hike on my list when I landed in Sedona, and I’m so glad I listened to my aunt. Located about 25 miles out of town through the beautiful Oak Creek Canyon, the 7-mile West Fork Trail crisscrosses over a creek (13 times, to be exact) through towering rock cliffs with abundant nature all around. It’s a great hike for a warmer day because most of the trail is shaded by tall trees. Don’t expect to end up at a tall peak with 360-degree views; this hike is all about savoring the journey.
Time Well Spent: This hike took me about three hours, out and back, but I was moving quickly. Families or people who want to take their time should plan 4-4.5 hours. You can also just do a portion of the trail and you’ll still get all the scenic benefits.
Need To Know: Get here early; this is a popular hike because it’s fairly mellow and the parking lot fills up quickly. It’s $10 (cash or check only) entry.
A must-visit eatery according to my Airbnb host, ChocolaTree is a unique combination of health food market, restaurant, and hippie hangout. I actually went for the water. On the side of the restaurant is a garden hose that pumps Sedona spring water, for free. So, take all your water bottles and jugs and fill em up! And then go inside and buy some chocolate. It’s not cheap, but it’s tasty - and free of most all allergens, which is a big bonus. And if you’re into tasty raw and vegan cuisine, this stop needs to be on the top of your list.
Time Well Spent: You can enjoy a full meal here or grab-and-go.
Need To Know: Take advantage of the free water - it’s worth it! Parking is very limited; I had luck on a side neighborhood street. You can order many of the products at their online store.
This is a hike where the end absolutely justifies the means - my kind of hike. I love getting to the end of a hike and being rewarded, whether with a stunning view, some geological mystery, a cold lake on a hot day - it’s true, I am a hedonistic hiker. The 4.2-mile out-and-back trail leads to Devil’s Bridge, the largest natural sandstone arch located in the Sedona area of the Coconino National Forest, with stunning views of the Red Rocks along the way. The first mile-and-a-half is along a wide, unpaved road (suitable for off-road vehicles) which isn’t that much fun, but things get more interesting once you reach the actual trailhead. Devil’s Bridge is only .7 miles from the trailhead but there are some boulders to climb and steep pitches. Once you get to the bridge, there’s an area where hikers hang out and then there’s the actual bridge, which you can walk out onto. If you’re terribly afraid of heights, this won’t be your jam, but if you can stomach it (it’s actually much scarier to look at the bridge than to be on it), you will get some amazing photos, guaranteed.
Time Well Spent: If you’re a swift hiker, you can be out and back in 2 hours, depending on how long you want to hang out at the bridge.
Need To Know: Parking is extremely limited; it’s highly likely you’ll have to park on the main road and walk up to the unpaved road.
Now, this stop wasn’t on my radar until someone on the Devil’s Bridge hike mentioned it, but I had done two amazing hikes and was leaving that evening to head back to Scottsdale, so wanted to pack in as much as possible (who was I becoming?!?). This is a very unique attraction, and whether you’re spiritual or not, it’s worth a visit for the architectural beauty alone. I won’t go into the Chapel history, but it’s interesting enough that you should read about it on the website. I parked at the bottom of the hill and snagged a ride on the golf cart that runs up and back from the Chapel - well worth it if you can get a seat solely because the driver will give you a 2-minute history lesson on the Chapel and immediate surroundings. The red rock views from the Chapel are breathtaking and I couldn’t help thinking that maybe if I had grown up going to a church like this, I’d still be going… but that’s a story for another day.
Time Well Spent: This can be a quick stop or you can spend time taking photos, meditating in the Chapel, strolling through the gift shop - it’s really up to you.
Need To Know: Try to get a ride on the golf cart if you can. The walk from the lower parking area to the Chapel is quick (so you can always walk back down), but the short info session on the way up is worth the ride.
I have a knack for saving the best for last, and food-wise, I was right on the money. Pisa Lisa was my only restaurant recommendation prior to arriving in Sedona, and it was a goodie. The restaurant isn’t particularly fancy, or in a scenic location (it’s right on AZ-89A), but that almost makes it better. The menu features salads, wood-fired pizzas and gelato, of course. I ordered the kale caesar with magic mushrooms (when I asked what made the mushrooms “magic” the waiter shrugged and said the owner thinks it’s funny) and it was delightful (the mushroom are marinated in olive oil and balsamic vinegar so they were at least unique, if not magical). I also ordered the basic pepperoni pizza. If a pizza restaurant can do pepperoni right, I’m going back. I ate the whole damn pie. And it’s definitely intended to share. But I justified it with my 10-plus miles of hiking that day, and savored every. single. bite.
Well, that concludes my whirlwind Sedona visit and I can truly say I relished every action-packed moment. I accomplished some serious hiking (and exercise!), saw the biggest canyon in the U.S., met cool people, ate fantastic food and took in some of the most incredible nature. It doesn’t get much better than that. Stay put Sedona, I’m coming back for you!
Megan Flynn is a freelance writer, editor and travel lover living in Portland, Oregon