Even if you only have a few hours or a day in Sedona, it’s well worth a detour!
Sedona is a breathtaking desert town and is one of the best day trips from Phoenix. Located right in the middle between Phoenix and Grand Canyon South Rim, it’s also a perfect place to spend your day when driving from Phoenix to Flagstaff, Tusayan, or to Grand Canyon Village.
In this article, our writer Jen shares her personal experience traveling from Phoenix to Sedona as a day trip, including a perfect Sedona one day itinerary, the best things to do in Sedona, places to see on the way from Phoenix to Sedona, as well as practical information for your first visit. Find out!
TIP: You can easily adapt this Sedona day trip itinerary if you are traveling from Flagstaff, Grand Canyon, other areas nearby, or even from Las Vegas. Below, you’ll find the map indicating all the places of interest that should help you plan your day in Sedona, no matter where you’re driving from.
Sedona Day Trip – OVERVIEW
Why Visit Sedona
With so many well-known U.S. canyons and rock formations, it may be hard to see what’s so special about Sedona and what makes it stand out from the crowd… But it is special and it is well worth a visit!
Known for its stunning landscapes and towering red rock formations, as well as spiritual healing, Sedona is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful and serene places in America.
Sedona Tours from Phoenix
While you can easily visit Sedona from Phoenix with your own (rental) car following our suggestions below, many people prefer to just take an organized Sedona tour and enjoy the day without having to worry about any practicalities.
If you are looking for a good Sedona tour from Phoenix, take a look at the very best small-group tours below:
- Full-Day Sedona Tour.
- Sedona and Wine Tasting Tour.
- Sedona and Grand Canyon Tour – a good option for those who are really short on time and want to see as much as possible in a day.
What to Do in Sedona
Driving into Sedona, you will be in awe of the majestic rock formations that tower over the entire countryside. Their deep golden red-orange color is something that you’ve probably only seen in photographs, for it is so entirely unique that you will find yourself wondering how in the world they got to be that color.
Original to this area, the red rocks of Sedona draw millions of tourists each year to experience their unsurpassed natural beauty and tranquility.
The most popular things to do on these red rocks include hiking, exploring, rock climbing, mountain biking, taking pictures, meditating, trying to feel the energy of the vortex, and watching the sunset. The red rocks of Sedona have hundreds of trails to explore, all with spectacular views in one way or another.
Below is a list of the main sights of Sedona that are worth checking out on your day trip to Sedona.
Bell Rock is one of the first identifiable rocks you will see when driving into Sedona. As its name suggests, it is shaped like a gigantic bell. Bell Rock can be viewed from one of the numerous pull-offs on Hwy 179 or experienced up close via one of its hiking and mountain biking trails.
Bell Rock Pathway and Courthouse Butte Loop are short trails and provide easy hiking for visitors who simply want to take their time and enjoy the excellent views.
For those who want a more strenuous hike, Bell Rock Trail starts out moderately at the base and rises in difficulty as it takes you up the face of the rock.
Cathedral Rock stands alone atop its very own hill. This epic cluster of red rocks resembles a cathedral with two praying hands at the center. Cathedral Rock can be seen anywhere along Hwy 179 or experienced up close via one of its hiking, biking, or horseback riding trails.
Baldwin Trail and Templeton Trail are short easy trails with excellent views. For those who want a more strenuous hike, Cathedral Rock Trail crosses over a bare red rock shelf and then climbs a steep section that takes you up the face of the rock.
Additional information: Both Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock are known as prominent vortex sites in Sedona. They have been attributed to possessing physical, emotional, and spiritual healing properties, thus attracting visitors looking to channel this positive energy.
Planning tips for Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock: Trails are open year-round. For any visit lasting longer than 15 minutes, a Red Rock Pass is required for each visitor and it can be used more than once. These 5 USD day passes can be purchased at the Red Rock Ranger District (located just before you enter Sedona coming in from I-17), or at the self-serve kiosk located at each trailhead.
- Minimum time needed at each site: 5 minutes to 1 hour
Chapel of the Holy Cross
One of the most popular destinations in Sedona, the Chapel of the Holy Cross, is a Roman Catholic chapel built directly into the red rocks. The amazing architecture and phenomenal views from both inside and outside of the chapel draw generations of visitors here year after year.
Visits to the chapel are free of charge. You can admire the chapel from an adjacent vista, or visit inside. Either way, parking is tight here and the crowds may make you feel rushed throughout your visit, so be mindful to take your time.
The internationally renowned Tlaquepaque (pronounced T-la-keh-pah-keh), is Sedona’s fabulous Arts & Crafts Village. This outdoor Mexican-style market was originally conceived as an artists’ community. Nowadays it’s home to numerous art shops and galleries, restaurants; and stores.
With its cobblestone streets, huge shade trees, and romantic setting, many people choose to spend some quiet time here instead of Uptown Sedona which is extremely busy with tourists.
Tip: Zaguan Restaurante & Galeria, Casa Fuerte, TlaquePasta Restaurant and several others all get 4-5 star reviews as excellent dining options. This is a good place to have lunch or dinner when visiting Sedona.
However, if this is your first time in the area and you have time for just one tour in Sedona, my top recommendation is to take one of the popular Jeep Tours. With different trails and various lengths of time to choose from, 4×4 tours take riders on off-road sightseeing adventures in open-air jeeps.
There is nothing like experiencing the red rocks in this way as many of the trails are only accessible with local 4×4 tours. This is a truly fun and memorable experience for the whole family.
TIP: Jeep tours are the most popular tours in Sedona, so it’s best to book in advance. You can find various highly-rated jeep tours and book them here. Check it out!
With the best unobstructed views in all of Sedona, visiting Airport Mesa is another must-do during your day trip. Airport Mesa is a short and easy drive 5 minutes uphill, with the Sedona airport located at the top.
Not only will you get amazing 360-degree views from this vantage point, but Airport Mesa is also a great spot for short roadside hikes, experiencing vortex energy, and watching the sunset.
More Things to Do in Sedona
If you are planning a longer stay in the area, you should know that there is so much more to see and do in Sedona! Below is a short overview of other great places of interest nearby.
If you have more time in Sedona, make sure to also visit Slide Rock State Park (one of America’s best swimming holes), Red Rock State Park, and Oak Creek Canyon. Also, explore the Red Rock Scenic Byway (Hwy 179) for even more scenic views and great experiences.
If you like hiking, don’t miss the beautiful Devil’s Bridge Trail. If you start from the Devil’s Bridge parking area, it takes just 2 miles round trip.
LEARN MORE: Best Things to Do in Sedona
Driving from Phoenix to Sedona – Best Stops Along the Way
It’s not only Sedona that is worth visiting. There is a lot to see on the way there as well. Take a look at some of the best stops when driving between Phoenix and Sedona.
Black Canyon City
Upon departing from Phoenix, you will come across Black Canyon City which is located approximately 46 miles north on Interstate 17. This small desert town with picturesque “Old West” buildings and fascinating history makes for a fun pit stop on your way to Sedona.
Black Canyon City was a stage stop on the Phoenix to Prescott line in the 1800s. It was also a military stopover during Arizona’s territorial days. It is home to the original (still standing) home of Jack Swilling, the founder of Phoenix.
If you’d like to spend more time here, consider a hike on the historic Black Canyon Trail, a former sheep-herding path. In addition, tour the interesting exhibits and learn more about the history of the area at the Black Canyon City Visitor’s Center.
- Distance from Phoenix: 46 miles
- Minimum time needed: 15-30 minutes
Good to know: If you feel like your Sedona day trip is getting too packed with activities, this is one stop you can easily skip because the other areas are much more impressive. However, this is a good place to stop for breakfast or a cup of coffee along the way. We chose Nora Jean’s Koffee Kitchen and it didn’t disappoint.
Agua Fria National Monument
Continuing on 21 miles north via Interstate 17 is Agua Fria National Monument. This expansive 71,000-acre national monument has more than 450 distinct Native American structures and multi-room pueblos. It also features numerous petroglyphs scattered around the ruins.
The monument itself encompasses multiple hiking trails, the canyon of the Agua Fria River, two mesas, and miles upon miles of desert and open grasslands. A visit here requires deeper exploration because as Agua Fria is located somewhat off the beaten path and its features are not always clearly identified.
Though not the most accessible pit stop on the way from Phoenix to Sedona, Agua Fria National Monument is a fascinating place. If you enjoy learning about archeology, Native American history, and visiting less populated historic attractions, you should definitely consider visiting.
Practical information: Paved road turns to dirt when traveling here so a 4-wheel vehicle or truck is recommended as the drive can get quite rough. Due to the remoteness of the area, make sure that you have good maps and stick to the marked trails. Also due to its lack of amenities, bring plenty of your own water along.
Planning tip: There is no infrastructure or physical statue here to be on the lookout for. Agua Fria is free to visit and is open year-round, 24 hours a day.
- Distance from Phoenix: 67 miles
- Minimum time needed: 1 hour
Montezuma Castle National Monument
The most popular stop and a ‘must-see’ on the road trip from Phoenix to Sedona is Montezuma’s Castle National Monument. Unlike Agua Fria National Monument, Montezuma’s Castle is easily accessible.
This National Monument protects the physical structure of a large cliff dwelling that was built and used by the Sinagua. The primary structure of the cliff dwelling is a five-story building that has twenty rooms, making it more like an apartment than a castle. However, it’s just as intricate and magnificent.
It is a fun experience to walk the 0.3-mile paved trail around the monument, peering up into the limestone cliff to envision what life was like when ‘the castle’ was inhabited in 1100 A.D.
Montezuma’s Castle is a beautiful, extremely well-preserved cliff dwelling, making this an enjoyable attraction for all ages. Along with admiring history while here, the landscapes surrounding the monument consist of natural vegetation and a freshwater stream.
Practical information: Access to the interior of the ruins has not been allowed since 1951 due to concerns about visitor safety and potential damage to the dwelling.
Planning tip: The park’s Visitor Center and Park Store are open from 8 AM to 5 PM every day of the year, except for Christmas and New Year’s Day. Fees for visiting Montezuma’s Castle National Monument are somewhat steep at 10 USD per adult for a 7-day pass. Children aged 15 and under are free.
- Distance from Phoenix: 94 miles
- Minimum time needed: 30-45 minutes
Phoenix to Sedona – 1 Day Itinerary
Following the suggestions above, I created a sample 1 day itinerary for a Sedona day trip from Phoenix. This itinerary assumes that you are departing from Phoenix and are able to enjoy exploring Sedona for 1 full day.
Good to know: Since Sedona is located just as far from Phoenix as it is from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, you can also end your day in Flagstaff or the Grand Canyon area, instead of returning back to Phoenix.
TIP: If you want a more relaxing day in the Sedona area, then only visit the sights in Sedona and maybe stop at Montezuma Castle, skipping the Black Hill City and the Agus Fria NM. This will give you more time to explore the most impressive sights without having to rush.
Here’s what your day trip to Sedona could look like:
- Start your day with an early departure from Phoenix (7- 8 AM).
- Drive 46 miles then stop for breakfast and coffee at Nora Jean’s Koffee Kitchen in Black Hill City – a hidden gem when traveling from Phoenix to Sedona. Between eating and driving around town, count to spend 1 hour here.
- Consider either walking a part of the Black Canyon Trail or driving 21 miles north to spend time exploring Agua Fria National Monument. Either way, plan an extra 1 hour or more to do so.
- Continue traveling 25 miles north on I-17 and stop to tour the grounds of Montezuma’s Castle National Monument. Count on spending 45 minutes here.
- Drive to Sedona and grab lunch at either local favorite, Red Rock Cafe or The Hudson. The Hudson is a fabulous restaurant with an outdoor patio perched on a hillside overlooking the scenic red rocks.
- Spend the afternoon viewing (and hiking at your leisure) Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock, and Chapel of the Holy Cross.
- Take a 2-hour 4×4 tour. There are multiple departures throughout the day and it is easy to find the time that suits you best.
- Spend the evening walking around the Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village and dine at one of its restaurants or microbrewery.
- Park along Airport Mesa to watch an unforgettable evening sunset against the red rocks. Alternatively, head back to Cathedral Rock – it’s also stunning at sunset.
- Depart back to Phoenix (2-hour drive) or continue to Flagstaff (45-min drive) or further in the direction of the Grand Canyon.
Where to Stay
Phoenix: If you are visiting Sedona as a day trip from Phoenix, then you can find the best deals for Phoenix accommodation here. If you are looking for more tips for visiting the city and its surroundings, be sure to also check our Phoenix Metropolitan Area travel guide and itinerary.
Sedona: If you rather have a more relaxing vacation, you may want to spend a night or even a few in Sedona. Here you can find the best deals for Sedona accommodation.
TIP: Using the map below, you can compare hotels and short-term rental accommodations in Sedona. Simply insert your travel dates and group size, and you’ll see the best deals for your stay. Check it out!
Near Grand Canyon: You can check availability for hotels in Tusayan or Valle hotels, but it’s quite limited. The most popular places to stay that are great for both Sedona and the Grand Canyon are the bigger towns such as Williams and Flagstaff.
Practical Info for Visiting Sedona from Phoenix
Getting there: Located a short 115 miles from Phoenix, the drive to Sedona is simple and will take just under 2 hours. Weekday traffic should not be a problem as long as you get out of Phoenix by 3 PM. After that, rush hour traffic could cause a slowdown and add as much as an hour to the trip.
Driving directions: From Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, take Interstate 17 North to Highway 179 (Exit 298) into Sedona.
Planning tip: The longest stretch between gas stations on I-17 is about 25 miles. This is worth remembering considering that you’re driving through the desert and could find yourself in quite a predicament should you get stranded. In other words, fill up with gasoline before leaving.
The best time to visit Sedona is during the spring months of April to May when temperatures range from the 70s to the low 80s and the area is in full bloom. Sedona is also a popular spring break destination. Crowds do become quite heavy during this time, however, so you may also want to consider visiting during the fall months of September to November when there are fewer tourists. Summer months can get really hot in this area.
Map: To help you plan your Sedona day trip, we created a map indicating all the places that are worth visiting and are described further in this article.
How to use this map: Use your computer mouse (or fingers) to zoom in or out. Click on the icons to get more information about each place. Click the arrow on the top left corner for the index. Click the star next to the map’s title to add it to your Google Maps account. To view the saved map on your smartphone or PC, open Google Maps, click the menu and go to ‘Your Places’/’Maps’. If you want to print the map or see it in a bigger window, click on ‘View larger map’ in the top right corner.
If you enjoyed this article and are looking for more inspiration for the most beautiful nature destinations in the United States, check out our other guides as well.
READ ALSO: How to See the Best of Grand Canyon in 1 Day
More Travel Tips for Utah & Arizona:
- Best Places to Visit in Arizona
- Grand Canyon – Antelope Canyon Itinerary
- Zion & Bryce Canyon Itinerary
- Best Hikes in Zion National Park
- Best Things to Do in Arches National Park
- What to Do at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon
- Mesa Arch in Canyonlands NP
- Things to Do in Moab
National Parks Travel Inspiration:
- Best National Parks in September
- Where to Go in October
- Where to Travel in November
- Best National Parks to Visit in December
- Best National Parks to Visit with Kids
- Beautiful Lesser-known National Parks
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