The Best Way to Spend 3 Days in Sedona, Arizona
February 28, 2021
Table of Contents
If you are dreaming of a magical place full of red rock hikes, breathtaking views, exciting recreational activities, mystical vortexes and great weather, look no further than Sedona, Arizona. Conveniently located halfway between Phoenix and the Grand Canyon, this town really has it all. You could spend weeks here without seeing everything that the area has to offer, but a long weekend is the perfect amount of time to explore some amazing trails, eat some delicious food and enjoy the beautiful views.
- Sedona is known for its vortexes, swirling centers of energy that may aid in healing, self exploration and meditation. Many get a feeling of upliftment when in a vortex. The four most powerful Sedona vortexes are at the Airport Mesa, Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock and Boynton Canyon.
- Sedona is located within the 1,842,959 acre Coconino National Forest, one of six national forests in Arizona. Coconino is a diverse forest most known for the red rock formations.
- Many western movies were filmed in Sedona throughout the 1900’s. Some popular ones include Starman, Rounders and Johnny Guitar.
The most popular times to visit Sedona are in the spring and fall, when the weather is mild. The summer gets slightly less crowds with the temperature peaking around 97 degrees in August. The winter months are the least visited and you may see snow and ice during this time. The average high in January is 57 degrees.
I visited in late February and the weather was great. It was cold in the early mornings but warmed up during the day. A light jacket and long pants worked well, although I wish I had brought a warmer coat and gloves for early morning hikes.
I recommend staying in central or West Sedona if you can. It was convenient to be centrally located in town. I looked for the most affordable place I could find with decent reviews and ended up at Andante Inn. Andante Inn is essentially a motel but I found it to be clean and a great value for its location.
Other affordable options with great reviews include the Sedona Real Inn and the Sedona Hilltop Inn. The Sedona Real Inn is perfect if you’re traveling with your dog, they have a dog park and they write your pup’s name on a welcome sign when you arrive! The Sedona Hilltop Inn is a renovated motel with amazing views of the surrounding Red Rocks.
If you are looking for a resort, Amara is a great option. This boutique resort has an infinity pool, spa and firepit where you can relax in the evenings with a cocktail in hand.
If you are flying to Sedona, you can fly into either Flagstaff or Phoenix. The Flagstaff airport is 40 minutes away and has flights on American, United and a couple smaller airlines. Depending on where you’re flying from, the Phoenix airport has many more flight options at cheaper prices. It is a two hour drive from Phoenix to Sedona
When you arrive, you’ll want to rent a car. There is little public transportation in Sedona so a car is necessary to get around.
Sedona is a popular destination so it gets very crowded most of the year. Here are some things to expect:
- Parking is difficult at the most popular trails. Arrive at the popular trailheads early (before sunrise) to ensure a parking spot and beat the crowds. For hikes later in the day, be prepared with a backup option in case you cannot find a parking spot, or be prepared to walk a couple extra miles to get to the trail. For hikes like Devil’s Bridge, there is overflow street parking that will add an additional half mile or so to the hike.
- There was always a lot of traffic driving through the town of Sedona as there aren’t many alternative routes to get around. Allow extra time getting places and be prepared for a lot of traffic circles!
- Uber and Lyft operate in Sedona but are not necessarily reliable. If you need a ride, they are worth checking. Sedona Quick Rides is a local car service that you can reserve as well. I had phone service on Verizon at all of the trailheads I visited.
- While I had good service at the parking lots, I lost it on the trails. Download offline Google maps or trail maps using All Trails (if you have the premium version) to make sure you’re hiking in the right direction! Most trails were marked well but on some it is easy to get turned around.
- You will need a Red Rock Pass or another interagency pass, which includes the ‘America the Beautiful’ National Park Pass, for parking at the trailheads in the National Forest. Display your pass in the windshield of your vehicle while you’re on the trails. The Red Rock Pass costs $5 daily, $15 weekly or $20 annually. You can purchase the Red Rock Pass at some of the bigger trailhead parking lots, a number of places in town (full list of vendors here) or online at My Scenic Drives.
I highly recommend purchasing the ‘America the Beautiful’ Pass if you plan on visiting multiple national parks throughout the year! It is $80 and gets you into all US national parks, national forest, BLM land, national wildlife refuges and more government lands. This pays for itself quickly if you're going to a few national parks (for example, the Grand Canyon is $35 for a week).
Hike Devil’s Bridge and the Birthing Cave, eat and shop at Tlaquepaque Arts, go off-roading on a Pink Jeep Tour, enjoy the sunset at a vortex and eat a comforting Italian dinner.
4.2 Miles, 564 Feet Elevation Gain
Devil’s Bridge is the most famous hike in Sedona, known for its iconic arch that you can walk across like a bridge. The formation was created by years of wind erosion. It’s a great hike to kick off your trip in Sedona, as long as you don’t mind some crowds. This hike is extremely popular so the parking lot fills up quickly and there is usually a long wait to get a photo on the bridge.
I recommend starting the Devil’s Bridge hike before sunrise if you can. (I started around 6:30am). From the parking lot, there are two different routes you can take. You can begin down the dirt high-clearance vehicle road or take the Chuck Wagon Trail. You’ll find the Chuck Wagon Trail behind the bathrooms at the parking lot. The Chuck Wagon Trail is more scenic but adds an additional mile and a half, so most people take the road.
If you take the dirt road, the trail is about 4.2 miles round trip. You will turn off the road at 1.3 miles and a quarter mile after that, begin a steep climb up to the bridge. The steep portion of the hike is a half mile with some rock scrambling. Make sure you wear proper hiking shoes so you’ll have a good grip on the rocks.
When I reached the bridge a little before 7:30am, there was already a long line. It took about 25 minutes to get our turn on the bridge. When you walk across the bridge, it’s wider than it looks from afar. Many people around us were nervous but I felt quite safe. When I left, the line had more than doubled, so make sure to get there as early as possible if you want a photo on the bridge.
While Devil’s Bridge is crowded, the views from the top were incredible. It’s definitely an iconic hike that you should at least do once!
For more details on parking, alternative trail options and more, check out my Sedona hikes post!
2 Miles, 240 Feet Elevation Gain
The Birthing Cave is a round cave nestled into a cliff that visitors can climb into for incredible views. The trail is two miles roundtrip and just a five minute drive from the Devil’s Bridge parking lot. About .6 miles into the trail, there is a log that to the left that you’ll need to step over to get to the cave. After that, it will be less than a half mile until you arrive.
The trail is flat until the very end, when there is a steep climb into the cave. The climb is a little treacherous because there is slippery sand and cacti right on the edge. It is doable but take your time!
From the cave, there are amazing views looking out at the valley and the Red Rocks in the distance. If you’d like to get a photo sitting on the inside of the cave in front of the view, make sure you have shoes with good traction to navigate the edge of the cave walls. To get a photo looking out at the view with the entire cave in frame, you can climb up into a crevice in the back. Bring a wide angle lens if you have one!
This is a short and relatively easy hike that is in close proximity to other popular hikes, making it a good add on. However, it was harder to enjoy and take photos with the amount of the people in the cave, so go early if you want to have it to yourself.
Head back into Sedona and explore the Tlaquepaque Arts and Shopping Village. The outdoor shopping center is designed to look like a traditional Mexican village and has beautiful architecture featuring cobblestone walkways, elegant arches, fountains and intricate colorful tiles. The mall is full of art galleries, boutiques, jewelry and food.
I recommend having lunch at the Secret Garden Cafe, a beautiful restaurant in Tlaquepaque Village. This European-feeling bistro serves a variety of salads, sandwiches, breakfast items and more, all made from scratch daily. Inside, the space is intimate with elegant details like stained glass windows and a bar with wine on tap. Outside, there is a large patio space where you can enjoy the ambiance of Tlaquepaque Village, under umbrellas and among greenery. I had the roasted veggie sandwich and it was delicious.
A Pink Jeep Adventure Tour is a popular and iconic thing to do while visiting Sedona. Admittedly, I thought it would be too ‘touristy’ at first but I really enjoyed it. There are several tour options but I went on the most popular Broken Arrow tour. The experience lasted two hours and along the way we made two stops where we could walk around and take photos. One stop is the Submarine Rock, a large rock that truly looks like a submarine emerging out of a forest of green. The second stop is at the Chicken Point Overlook, which has incredible views of the area. From Chicken Point, you can see the infamous ‘White Line,’ a natural white line of rock on the edge of a cliff that experienced bikers ride on. (Watch a biker on the White Line on Youtube!)
The ride in the jeep was very bumpy and I spent a lot of it clutching the handles above my seat. Do not do this if you have back problems! The off-roading adventure includes going around tight turns, down really steep hills and over huge rocks. I also recommend not eating right before if you don’t do well with turbulence. I was also impressed with their Covid safety protocols. Guests are temperature checked upon arrival and groups inside the Jeep were separated with plastic curtains. This experience was a lot of fun and I’d recommend doing it if you have enough time or have never tried off-roading before!
Pink Adventure Tours has been in operation since 1960 and has tours in Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon and the Smoky Mountains in addition to Sedona.
The Airport Mesa Vortex is one of most powerful vortexes and the closest vortex to downtown Sedona. The mesa is a domed orange rock that has an easy climb to the top, even including railings at times. It is a popular place for yoga or meditation. It also has amazing 360 views, with Sedona below and the Red Rocks all around. Parking at the actual vortex is difficult as there are only 9 spots. However, you can park up the hill at the airport for $3 and hike about a half mile down on the Airport View Trail to get to the Vortex.
Right across the street from the airport parking lot, you’ll find the Sedona Airport Scenic Lookout, which has a great view of the sunset and the town. While this is an amazing spot, it was extremely crowded when I went. Be prepared and arrive early to get a spot if you would like to watch the sunset here.
Enjoy comfort food for dinner at Wildflower Cafe, Pisa Lisa or Hideaway House. Wildflower Cafe is an Arizona chain that serves salads, soups and pastas. I had the butternut squash ravioli and it was delicious; full of flavor and perfect after a busy day of hiking. Pisa Lisa is a pizza restaurant with a large menu of pizzas, soups, paninis, cannoli’s and more. Hideaway House offers pizza, pasta and salad and has a large patio with amazing views. Try their cheesy bread and the peach cobbler for dessert. All of these restaurants are great for families.
Do sunrise yoga or a sunrise hike, drink coffee with a view, hike a less trafficked trail, slide down a natural waterslide (weather permitting), eat in a garden, catch an iconic sunset and eat Mexican food.
Connect your body and soul to the Red Rocks with a sunrise yoga class. Aumbase Sedona does sunrise classes at the Airport Vortex where you will enjoy a morning flow with incredible Red Rock views from miles all around.
If yoga isn’t your thing, I recommend doing another hike at sunrise. The Boynton Canyon Trail is another incredible trail and one of the most famous vortexes. It is a 6.1 mile hike during which you’ll find the famous and beautiful ‘Subway Tunnel,’ a slot canyon that looks as if you’re standing on a subway platform. Check All Trails for specific directions to the tunnel, it is easy to get lost.
As of June, 2021, Creekside Coffee is temporarily closed and looking for a new location.
Enjoy a well deserved coffee and breakfast at Creekside Coffee. In addition to delicious coffee, Creekside serves a variety of food, including avocado toast, breakfast sandwiches, pastries and more. The coffee shop has a large deck with outdoor seating and stadium seats overlooking the Red Rocks on one side.
1.5 miles, 492 foot elevation gain
Doe Mountain was the least crowded hike I completed (by far!) and still had incredible views. The trail is just 1.5 miles and ascends up to the large flat top of Doe Mountain. The climb is steep with a few switchbacks but not overly difficult. At the top, there is plenty of space to spread out. The first view that you’ll reach shows the Red Rocks that surround Devil’s Bridge. As you walk further to the southeast, you can see the city of Sedona.
Slide Rock Park is a state park located about 30 minutes from Doe Mountain in Oak Creek Canyon. The 43-acre park was originally a homestead and apple orchard, so you can still see cabins, farm equipment and other aspects of the history of the park. The park has a couple very short trails but is most known for its 80 foot natural waterslide. The slide has a nearly perfect decline from top and bottom and is very smooth to slide down. You can only swim during the summer months and the water still may be very cold. I went in February when swimming wasn’t open, but the blue water flowing through the red rocks still made for incredible scenery. It’s a great park to take a walk in any time of year.
Just a few minutes down the road from Slide Rock State Park, Indian Gardens Cafe is the perfect lunch spot. This restaurant and market serves a variety of breakfast food, salads and sandwiches. I had the breakfast burrito and it was filling and delicious. There is also a large and enchanting backyard seating area filled with greenery. Enjoy a cup of coffee or a glass of wine with a delicious midday meal next to a fountain and under the shade of trees. They even have beautiful blankets that you can use while sitting outside if it’s chilly. You can also get take out or purchase drinks and snacks to go.
1.2 Miles, 652 feet elevation gain
Cathedral Rock is another iconic Sedona hike and was my favorite of the whole trip. The parking is difficult here, I got lucky with a spot in the main lot after some patience. There are beautiful views throughout and it has one of the best ‘End View Reveal’ I’ve ever experienced. You ascend up to the top of the trail and are rewarded with a brand new view of the Sedona Valley. When you arrive, you’ll be in between two giant rock faces and have views for miles of the Red Rocks and valley.
The trail itself is difficult. There are several instances of steep rock scrambling. Wear sturdy shoes and bring a buddy if you’re not an experienced hiker. I saw some dogs on the trail but you may want to leave them because of the rock scrambling. This was the hardest hike I did in Sedona but was definitely worth it for incredible views.
Sedona has some incredible Mexican food at Tamaliza and Tortas de Fuego. Tamaliza is known for their tamales and serves incredible mole, guacamole and more. They are a family owned restaurant and also have a whole range of vegetarian options. Tortas de Fuego is another delicious Mexican restaurant that serves tacos, tortas, enchiladas and more at a great value.
Go on a sunrise hike or hot air balloon ride, visit a chapel that blends into the rocks, enjoy a fresh and healthy lunch, go on one last hike or visit a winery and splurge on one last dinner.
4.7 Miles, 830 Elevation Gain
The Soldier’s Pass Trail was another one of my favorite hikes in Sedona. The trail is 4.7 miles and has several points of interest. It’s important to know that the parking lot is very tiny (about 15 parking spots) and is only open from 8am to 6pm. I wanted to start the hike earlier so I parked at the Brins Mesa Trailhead. From this parking lot, take the Cibola Trail, which then connects to the Jordan Trail, which finally connects to the Soldier’s Pass Trail. This adds an additional mile to the trek.
The first thing you’ll see on the Soldier’s Pass is the Devil’s Kitchen Sinkhole, a sinkhole that is 50 feet deep and 150-90 feet wide. The sinkhole was first recorded as collapsing in the 1880’s but more rocks collapsed in 1989 and 1995, enlarging the hole. Experts predict there will be more collapses in the future, so be careful when visiting.
About a ½ mile into the trail, on the left, are the Seven Sacred Pools, which are pools that were carved naturally into the sandstone by a seasonal stream. The pools are an important water source for the wildlife in the area. This is a popular destination for jeeps so be prepared to wait for photos.
The next exciting part of the trail are the caves. To reach them, veer right at the fork 1.7 miles into the trail. Note that there is sometimes a stick across the path and it is helpful to use Google Maps or All Trails as a guide. You can also see a glimpse of the caves in the rock face in the distance, which lets you know you’re on the right path. When you reach the caves, you can climb up into them and explore. The climb into them was very difficult and involved climbing over a giant rock. I made it, but only barely! It was incredible to explore the caves and look out into the canyon from inside.
After visiting the caves and coming back to the fork, the trail continues on for another mile. We turned back in the interest of time but beautiful red rock views continue throughout.
You should be prepared for high winds while hiking Soldier’s Pass. Since the trail is in the valley between two mountains, there are frequent, heavy gusts of wind. The wind was intense when I visited in February and I would have been much more comfortable with gloves and a scarf. Despite the wind, Soldier’s Pass was one of my favorite hikes of the trip and I definitely recommend getting there early to beat the crowds!
Riding a hot air balloon over the red rocks of Sedona is an incredible activity that is on my bucket list! There are two companies permitted to fly hot air balloons in the National forest: Red Rock Balloons and Northern Light Balloons. Both companies only fly at sunrise and the rides last about an hour. At this writing, Red Rock Balloons costs $225 per person and North Lights Balloons, which has been around longer, costs $250 per person. The views from above the Red Rocks would absolutely be worth waking up early for.
The Chapel of the Holy Cross is a Roman Catholic Church built into the red rock buttes. It’s shape and color mimics that of the rocks surrounding it, making it look as if it was carved out of stone. It’s a beautiful piece of architecture to observe while you’re visiting Sedona. The church was designed in the 1950s by Marguerite Brunswig Staude, a student of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. While inside, you can gaze through the huge glass windows and gaze over the Verde Valley.
Parking is a bit difficult here depending on what time you arrive (notice a theme?). There is parking right next to the church but I got a spot down the road and had to walk about 10 minutes. It is free to enter and you can purchase items in their gift shop if you would like.
ChocolaTree is an adorable vegetarian and organic restaurant in Sedona. All of their food is made with fresh ingredients and there are many vegan options. They also are generous in giving back to the earth through a Mother Earth Restoration Fund. The restaurant has a beautiful outdoor patio full of greenery that feels like a peaceful oasis. There is lots of greenery, local art and great energy at this restaurant. I tried the Avocado Herb Sandwich and the Sedona 2012 corn enchilada and both were fantastic. The avocado herb sandwich was super fresh and the enchilada was packed with flavor with a good bit of spice to it. The restaurant also has a marketplace where you can purchase chocolate, beauty products and jewelry to take home.
1.1 Miles, 380 feet Elevation Gain
If you are up for one more hike, Bell Rock is a great option. The trail is 1.1 miles and one of the most powerful vortexes in Sedona. The hike is flat until you take a steep rock scramble to the base of Bell Rock. You can then hike around the rock and experience beautiful views of the red rocks surrounding you. If you don’t have time for the hike, it is worth seeing the rock from the parking lot or by driving by it on Red Rock Scenic Byway.
Bell Rock was one of the most popular spots for western films. You’ll see it in Johnny Guitar, The Quick and the Dead and the Last Wagon among others.
My itinerary has mostly focused on outdoor activities, but Sedona and the surrounding areas are also known for their wineries. The high altitude and volcanic soil makes the region ideal for growing Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet and Chardonnay. I visited Page Springs Cellars, located 25 minutes outside of Sedona. The winery is on a huge property with a flowing stream and a variety indoor and outdoor seating. I enjoyed a glass of the house red and a cheese board on the deck that overlooks the river. In addition to eating and drinking, you can also tour the winery, take a yoga class, get a massage or partake in a game of giant chess.
If you’d like to splurge on your final meal, make a reservation at Mariposa or Elote Cafe. Mariposa is a latin-inspired restaurant that serves a large menu or all organic items. There are floor to ceiling windows inside and a large deck outside, making you feel like you’re in the middle of the mountains as you enjoy a delicious and high end meal.
Elote Cafe is a Mexican restaurant known for incredible food such as the fried goat cheese ball appetizer and a cocktail menu with the finest tequilas. It is one of the best restaurants in Sedona (rated ‘Traveler’s Choice 2020’ on Tripadvisor); they even sell a cookbook so that you can try their recipes at home!
One thing I loved about Sedona was the amount of vegetarian options everywhere! Even these high end restaurants have delicious vegetarian entrees, which is not always the case.
If you are looking for more details on the hikes in Sedona, check out my detailed post on six incredible hikes in Sedona. I cover parking options, fees, restrooms and more!
I highly recommend you make Sedona your next Southwest destination! If you have any questions, feel free to send me an email or a DM on Instagram.
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