You travel to Sedona, that artsy and free-spirited enclave two hours outside Phoenix, for the beautiful red-rock canyons and the adventure that comes with them, the spiritual nature of its vortices of earth energy, and to browse through shops filled with Southwestern arts and crafts.
Surrounded by towering spires and hulking monoliths of fiery-red rock, the evergreen-studded community of Sedona, which sits at an elevation of 4,500 feet, has few peers when it comes to natural beauty. It’s also a comparatively young town, having incorporated in 1988, about 80 years after it was settled by a few enterprising and hearty pioneers. More recently, Sedona has developed into a full-fledged upscale vacation getaway with an especially keen following among hikers and mountain bikers, New Agers, artists, lesbians and gays. Sedona’s growth has been intense in recent years, marked by debates concerning where and how to develop the town while preserving its character and appeal. The population is nearly 11,000 and continues to rise steadily.
Sedona is made up of three neighborhoods, which are loosely separated by the “Y” intersection of Highways 179 and 89A. The area west of 89A is West Sedona; it’s the least touristy of the three but has some good restaurants. The area off 89A east and north of the intersection is Uptown, the first part of the town developed and now a tightly settled clutch of hotels, lodges, restaurants, and both elegant (fine art, fashion) and cheesy (T-shirts, trinkets) stores. South of the intersection, Highway 179 winds for several miles past trailheads for several great hikes to Oak Creek, with its shopping centers, upscale housing developments and resorts.
The busiest but most pleasant times to visit are spring and fall, when days are abundant with sunshine but not excessively hot (typically in the 80s and 90s with bone-dry humidity). Summer sees temperatures climb into the low 100s, and winter, although less popular, is pleasantly cool and crisp and occasionally sees a dusting of snow.
The New Age following has developed in part from the belief that Sedona contains some of the Earth’s most significant vortices, or centers of natural energy. The town is surrounded by the Coconino National Forest, through which miles of rugged trails lead to the hundreds of red rock formations, and many of these hikes can get you close to actual vortices. Plenty of skeptics question the powers of these supposed energy centers, but it’s said that if you visit such a spot and close your eyes, you can often feel invigorated, renewed, or even a tad dizzy. If nothing else, it’s hard not to be blown away by the incredible view, especially from the highest points around town.
Trailheads for hiking, mountain biking, and rock-climbing lie all around town. Just buy a Red Rock Pass from any of the visitor centers (which are well-signed from the road) and display it on your dashboard or rearview mirror; the pass entitles you to park at any lot in Coconino Forest. Many of these trails are long and strenuous, and only experienced hikers with appropriate gear should attempt them. But even novice hikers can at least scamper along some of the shorter and easier routes. At the very least, be sure to drive up the road to Sedona’s small municipal airport, which sits high on a mesa above town, affording exceptional views of the mountains; there’s also a network of short and easy hikes off this road. Other highlights for hiking and exploring include Boynton Canyon, Red Rocks State Park and Bell Rock.
Another way to appreciate Sedona’s beauty, and also learn quite a lot about the geology, Native American history, and vortices, is to book one of the dozens of tours offered here. These range from off-road backcountry drives in Jeeps or Hummers to personalized guided hikes to hot-air balloon and helicopter rides that get you exhilaratingly close to some of the steepest and highest rock formations. Tours are also available to the Grand Canyon, a little more than two hours north by car.
Sedona offers everything from AAA four-diamond hotels and resorts to cabins and cottages on the creek. Check out our Sedona Lodging List.