One Day in Sedona: A Day Trip From Phoenix

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by Michael Rozenblit

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There are some destinations that just plain surprise you. Having spent some time in Phoenix prior to enjoying one day in Sedona and becoming accustomed to dry deserts and sprawling cacti, I couldn’t have imagined how much the scenery would change in just a short two-hour drive north from Arizona’s largest city.

Sedona is an outdoor lover’s paradise with amazing landscapes as far as the eye can see. In fact, if you love the outdoors, then only spending one day here would seem like blasphemy. There is so much spectacular countryside that you could easily add a week’s worth of hikes to your time in Sedona and not run out of things to do.

However, if you are short on time or simply stopping here on the way to Las Vegas and just want to get a taste for this town then a Sedona day trip from Phoenix or Scottsdale can give you the perfect introduction to the city and likely result in your yearning for a return visit in no time!

Planning a Sedona Day Trip from Phoenix

With a lack of public transport options available from Phoenix to Sedona, the two main options for transport are either having your own vehicle or taking a guided tour.

By Car

If you’re going to tackle a day trip to Sedona from Phoenix or Scottsdale and want to make the most of your time in the city then it’s imperative to get an early start!

The trip from Phoenix to Sedona by car is 2 hours along the I-17 highway and as a lot of the hikes can get quite busy, I recommend trying to leave at the crack of dawn to be able to enjoy some of the scenery to yourself.

If you’re not from Arizona and intend to rent a car to explore Sedona and the rest of the state, then I suggest browsing to find deals. The platform aggregates prices from major car hire brands so you can get a good price!

If you’d rather not worry about finding accommodation and are embarking on a longer road trip, you can also hire an RV or motorhome from Outdoorsy – there are a huge selection of options in Arizona!

If you’re thinking of spending more than one day in Sedona, then you can afford to be a bit more leisurely in the morning. You also have the option of taking a detour along the 87 highway which is a far more spectacular drive compared to the main highway.

One of the highlights of this drive is stopping at Tonto Natural Bridge which is believed to be one of the largest natural stone arches in the world.

Depending on how jam-packed your time in Sedona is, you can either have a quick stop here for a glance at the bridge from one of the lookout points or go on one of the longer hikes in the area.

Other worthwhile stops include Montezuma Castle, Chapel of the Holy Cross and Agua Fria National Monument just to mention a few.

Tonto Natural Bridge
Tonto Natural Bridge

By Guided Tour

If you want to sit back and be guided through the wonders of Sedona then there are a number of organised tours that you can take.

This organised tour from Phoenix is a good option for people who prefer to spend most of their day in the town of Sedona. Alternatively, this Sedona Red Rock Tour is ideal if you want to have more free time to explore for yourself and also see some Native American ruins.

There are also a number of organised tours that combine Sedona with nearby attractions. For example, you can take this tour that combines Sedona with a visit to the mining town of Jerome. This tour option combines a visit to Sedona with wine tasting in the Verde Valley.

Finally, if you’re really short on time when exploring America’s Southwest, you can take this organised tour that combines both Sedona and the Grand Canyon in one action-packed day. While it isn’t ideal if you want to really explore both places, it does give you an introduction to both places!

How to Spend One Day in Sedona

If you’re planning a Sedona day trip but are unsure whether that’s enough days to spend in Sedona then don’t fear! You can easily see the highlights of Sedona in one day.

However, if you have the luxury of spending 2 or 3 days in Sedona then you’ll be able to enjoy some more great hikes in the region as well as taking some day trips from Sedona. Places like the Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend are all viable options.

Morning: Go for a hike

Once you arrive in Sedona from Scottsdale or Phoenix, then make sure you waste no time and head straight to a hiking trail!

One of the most popular hikes for travellers wanting to experience Sedona in a day is to tackle the Devil’s Bridge Trail. This trail is approximately a 2.1 one-way/4.2-mile round trip hike from the car park at the trailhead. 

The trail is fairly flat for the first two-thirds of the hike before becoming slightly uphill in order to get to the main viewpoint. The hike’s path is well defined and aside from some loose rocks, shouldn’t cause any problems for people with a moderate level of fitness.

As mentioned, this trail gets extremely busy during the day so it’s best to tackle it first thing in the morning. The car park at the trailhead does usually get full however there is overflow parking on the main road. There are no entry fees for this hike and it’s a great way to see the red rocks of Sedona for people that aren’t huge hikers.

Devil's Bridge
Devil’s Bridge

If you want to experience an alternative hike then it’s worth considering the West Fork Trail. The trail itself isn’t too difficult as the elevation doesn’t increase much throughout the hike and it is only 7.2 miles long.

The difficulty with this trail is that there are 13 creek crossings that you need to contend with! In the summer these crossings are fairly straightforward for the experienced hiker however as the trailhead is at a higher elevation than the main town, it gets extremely slippery and icy during the winter months in Sedona.

The tall canyon walls and peaceful woods make this trail an absolute delight to walk through but I highly recommend taking trekking poles with you, particularly in the slippery winter months. There is a $10 entrance fee per vehicle for up to 5 people to get to the trailhead.

River crossing on the West Fork Trail in sedona
River crossing on the West Fork Trail

If you didn’t pack a sandwich for your hike, then chances are you will be ravenous by the time you have finished your morning hike and made it back to central Sedona.

Luckily, there are plenty of affordable Mexican eateries that provide fantastic value for the calorie-burning hiker! If you have to narrow it down to only one, then you can’t go wrong with visiting Tortas de Fuego which has two locations in Sedona and serves many traditional Mexican dishes along with enough vegetarian options for your non-meat-eating friends.

Afternoon: Experience and Shop in Central Sedona

Apart from the amazing hiking and scenery, the other thing that makes Sedona famous is the new age and spiritual lifestyle and its accompanying shops that make the town and its residents unique.

You’ll notice plenty of new age shops as you drive through Sedona offering things like past life readings, healing crystals and other spiritual services.

If you aren’t as spiritual as some of the residents in Sedona, then there are still a number of craft and boutique shops that are worth exploring which make great unique gifts for family and friends.

I recommend stopping at Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village to find the best of these shops in one handy location. As the name suggests, there are a number of unique art galleries to explore as well as jewellery shops and other artisan stores.

We particularly enjoyed our stop at Spirits & Spice which stocks a number of unique spices, oils, spirits and vinegars which you can sample until you find the perfect flavour!

Once you’ve got your fill of artisan shops, head over to The Chai Spot which is located in the same complex and serves delicious masala chai that will transport you to the streets of New Delhi! They also have some coffees and teas as well as an outdoor balcony to enjoy your beverage.

Delicious chais in sedona
Delicious chai!

Evening: Watch the sunset at Airport Mesa Viewpoint

There is no better way to end your Sedona day trip than in exactly the same way as you started – back amongst the spectacular nature!

The best place to catch the sunset is to head to Airport Mesa Viewpoint. It is a short five-minute walk up from the car park to the main viewpoint where you can enjoy a 360-degree panorama of Sedona!

Unlike many other sunset spots around the world, the highlight of this viewpoint is seeing the changing colours of the rocks rather than the actual sun itself!

Parking is extremely limited at the viewpoint so it’s best to aim to get there about 30 to 45 minutes before sunset so you can claim your spot. Many cars that couldn’t find a spot would park alongside the road, however, there are ‘No Parking’ signs so do so at your own risk.

Further down the road, there is another sunset viewpoint known as Sedona Airport Outlook. We found that the view here isn’t as good as the Airport Mesa Viewpoint, plus you have to pay to park your car here. There are, however, a much larger number of spots so it’s an alternative choice if you can’t stop at our recommended viewpoint.

If you still have time in the evening and want to see a unique side of Sedona, this nighttime stargazing & UFO tour is worth considering.

Sunset from Airport Mesa Viewpoint
Sunset from Airport Mesa Viewpoint

Have More Time?

Whether you’re an outdoor lover or simply have the luxury of enjoying a more leisurely trip then there are plenty of options for travellers spending a few days in the town.

Go for More Hikes

There are so many hikes to choose from in Sedona that you will have no problem filling in any number of additional days on your Sedona trip!

A great place to start if you’re unsure which hiking trail to choose from is the All Trails website. They have detailed descriptions of hundreds of hikes in Sedona as well as offering advice on the level of difficulty and allowing recent hikers to leave their own feedback on the trail.

If you want to explore more of your spiritual side while in Sedona, then hiking to Cathedral Rock or Bell Rock offers you the chance to see more of Sedona’s famous vortexes.

These spots are known as being some of the most spiritual in all of Sedona and don’t be surprised to see people meditating or doing yoga at these locations. Even if you don’t have a spiritual bone in your body, then these hikes are still spectacular to enjoy!

Beautiful hiking in Sedona
Plenty of beautiful hikes in Sedona

Take a Jeep Tour

If your muscles don’t recover quickly enough to allow you to go hiking on back-to-back days then why not consider an alternative mode of transport?

Jeep tours in Sedona offer travellers an opportunity to sit back and go off-roading through the amazing scenery and see a number of fantastic viewpoints in a few hours. You will also be able to learn more about the local history and geological makeup from your guide.

Jeep tours in Sedona aren’t necessarily a good option if you’re travelling on a budget but can be a great experience if you’re travelling with young children who need a break from all that hiking!

A good option for Jeep tours in Sedona is this jeep tour to Mogollon Rim. It is family-friendly, lasts two to three hours and includes a professional local guide.

Go Wine Tasting

If you’ve seen enough red rocks on your first day then consider spending part of your second day enjoying some wine in nearby Verde Valley.

This organised tour from Sedona visits four of the best wineries in the Verde Valley where you get to taste a range of unique wines as well as enjoy a small lunch.

Go on a Day Trip

There are a number of great day trips from Sedona that are a great addition to your itinerary! The most famous and arguably spectacular option is to take a day trip to the Grand Canyon.

The Sedona to Grand Canyon drive will take approximately 2 hours each way and allow you to have plenty of time for a short walk along the rim, lunch at one of the lodges and then take in some of the beautiful viewpoints before heading back to Sedona in the evening.

You also have the option of stopping in the college town of Flagstaff for dinner or even to spend the night if you don’t feel like driving all the way back to Sedona!

If you don’t feel like driving to the Grand Canyon from Sedona then there are also a number of organised day tours available. Both this full-day tour and this full-day tour include accommodation transfers, several stops at lookouts on the South Rim and lunch.

If you’ve already seen the Grand Canyon, then you can also take a trip to Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend – some more of Arizona’s spectacular natural sites. This organised tour includes transfers lunch and a professional guide.

Alternatively, there are plenty of other state parks that are well worth a visit such as Slide Rock State Park where you can enjoy their famous natural water slide or Tonto Natural Bridge on the way back to Phoenix.

The spectacular Grand Canyon
The spectacular Grand Canyon

Where to Stay in Sedona

Sedona Village Lodge – A fantastic option if you’re looking for a basic room while visiting Sedona. It is located close to the city centre and the start of many trails. 

Private Vacation Rental – There are a number of places available to rent in Sedona such as this peaceful cottage close to all the major attractions of the town.

Sky Ranch Lodge – A great mid-range option that is perfect for couples on a weekend away in Sedona. The lodge is centrally located and has a number of different rooms to choose from! 

Casa Sedona Inn – A luxury option that offers large spacious rustic rooms with all the expected amenities. There is a restaurant on-site and an outdoor hot tub for guests to enjoy.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels in Sedona

Spectacular Canyon Walls in Sedona
Spectacular Canyon Walls in Sedona

Spending 1 day in Sedona is a fantastic option if you’re looking for a day trip from Phoenix or Scottsdale and gives travellers the perfect introduction to this amazing town.

Are you planning to visit Sedona? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments below! 

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Michael is a co-founder and writer for The World Was Here First. Both solo and with his partner, Maggie, he has travelled to over 50 countries across the globe and has a particular affinity for the Balkans and Eastern Europe. He’s lived in numerous countries worldwide but currently resides in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia. Read more about Michael

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