When you think of Arizona what thoughts are brought to mind? Hot weather? Desert and cactus? Maybe water skiing on Lake Powell? Cue a Matrix meme here: what if I told you, there is a part of Arizona that gets cold and even sees snow? Crazy right? The city of Sedona sits at about 4,000 feet above sea level – more than 3,000 feet higher than Phoenix – and experiences both hot summers and cold winters. The city is famous for its towering red rock formations, created after millions of years of erosion. It’s also known as a hub of spiritual energy, many claim that there are healing vortexes around the city. Because of these two things, Sedona is a haven for both outdoor and natural lifestyle enthusiasts with hundreds of hiking trails, off road jeep tours, plus psychics as well as healthy and exotic restaurants. There is even a new paleo restaurant in town! Or if you’re just looking for a place to relax and do very little while taking in some of the most spectacular views, this is the place. Who needs a beach?
Hiking in Sedona
One of my favorite things about Sedona is that hiking trails are pretty much all over the place. Trails range in length and difficulty, from easy flat loops to the more challenging, like the hike/basically climb to Cathedral Rock. If you’re just trying to work on your fitness, like me and Fergie, may I suggest a hike? Get your cardio while taking in some epic scenery. Here are a few easier hikes to try out:
Fay Canyon – An easy out and back hike totaling about two miles round trip. You stay on the canyon floor for the length of the hike, with minor obstacles like rocks and roots throughout the trail. It ends at an outcropping of big boulders, clearly marked as the end of the trail. Dog friendly!
Red Rock State Park – Entrance fee of $7 per adult (no pets allowed) with six hikes of varying difficulty branching out from the visitor center. The Kisva trail is flat and crosses the creek three times using fun wooden bridges. Check out the House of Apache Fire trail for a great view of the valley and Cathedral Rock from the back, as well as a historic house built in the 1930s. Imagine living in that solitude!
Airport Loop/Airport Mesa – easily found off of Airport Road there are several trail heads that start from this central location. The Airport loop trail circles the Sedona Airport giving you almost 360* views of the Sedona valley.
Jerome Ghost Town
Jerome has always been my favorite place to visit while in Sedona. It’s about 30 minutes out of town on the hill above the city of Clarkdale. It was originally built to house miners working at the copper mine there around the turn of the 20th century. Eventually it was built up and became more of a real town because the mine was doing well. But after the mine gave out, the population dwindled to about 100 people. To save it from being lost to the ages, the remaining residents reached out to the tourism industry. Jerome became a national historic landmark in 1967 and experienced something of a cultural renaissance By bringing artists, restaurants, creating a museum, and a state park the town was revitalized.
Being a history nerd I am totally enthralled by old and historic buildings so, obviously, Jerome is a fave. The town was never that big, so it’s easy to stroll the winding streets checking out the historic buildings in varying stages of disrepair. You can even eat at a restaurant inside an old hospital turned hotel, that may or may not be haunted. (Either way, it’s pretty creepy) Many of the buildings have been restored, but some were so badly damaged they were just left to decompose. One example of this is the former jail, which at one point was a concrete square building, but since it’s basically sinking as well as falling down the mountain it’s walls have broken apart, roof caved in, etc.
Bonus: Gold King Mine and Ghost Town
If you’re visiting Jerome, there’s a bonus ghost town that’s kind of hidden behind it that’s definitely worth checking out. Once the tiny town of Haynes, created when the Haynes Copper Company tried to cash in on the copper stake found in Jerome and inexplicably found gold instead. While the mine operation was short lived, the ghost town that exists today is the playground of Don Robertson who bought the remnants of the mine. Many of the old buildings still stand, and he’s filled it the rest of the land in with tons of old cars,trucks, motorcycles and anything else that has a motor. There’s even a functioning automated gold panning machine. Definitely worth a look at least for the potential photo ops.
Entrance on Perkinsville Road, behind the fire station. Fee $5.
Tuzigoot and Montezuma Castle National Monuments
Just outside Clarkdale, you’ll find Tuzigoot National Monument. Set on a small hill, Tuzigoot is what remains of a large pueblo built by the Sinagua people over a thousand years ago. The walls of the pueblo remain in tact and you can go inside some of the rooms, letting you imagine what it might be like to live there.
The ticket price also covers your admission to Montezuma Castle National Monument, another ancient dwelling site a few minutes away off I-17. If you’ve ever been to Mesa Verde in Colorado, you’ll recognize this style of cliff dwelling. It’s nowhere near the size of MV but still really cool! The ‘apartment’ home was built over many years by an crew of women Sinagua. They built here because this particular cliff overlooked the river that is being fed everyday by the well up stream. You can visit that too, it’s called Montezuma Well.
Verde Canyon Railroad
The Verde Canyon Railroad in Clarkdale has history with the town of Jerome. The first train into Jerome was United Verde & Pacific Railway, built in 1895. Eventually a new smelter was built on the valley floor and that led to laying new track for the railroad and also created the town of Clarkdale. This new railroad was called Verde Valley Railroad and continued to carry passengers well after the mine closed. It was purchased and reopened in 1990 as a tourist destination traversing the Verde Canyon from it’s depot in Clarkdale out to Perkinsville and back, taking visitors on a “20 mile journey through 100 years of history”.
Each train car has access to an open air car to allow for better viewing of the scenery and wildlife. There is an attendant in each car and someone outside that points out things of interest as they come up. There are a lot of cool things to check out including Native ruins, rock formations, and of course the beauty of the river and red rocks. You might even catch a glimpse of a bald eagle if you are lucky.
Thrifty Travel Tip: Tickets for the train are on the expensive side, even for coach. This was my first time on the Verde Valley Train, but my mom has gone twice before and all three times the tickets were gifts for sitting through a timeshare presentation. Timeshares do this all the time, they are trying to get you to buy into their hotel, and offer an incentive like free tickets to try to get people to go. If you’re interested in what they are offering and have a few hours to kill, this might be a good opportunity to see something you would not normally chip out for.
Grand Canyon National Park
The National Park System is, in my humble opinion, the best thing our country has done for itself and I believe we should take every opportunity to see these beautiful places. Staying in Sedona is a perfect opportunity because the South Rim of the Grand Canyon is only a few hours away making it a really easy day trip.
A permit for your car to enter the park costs $30 and that includes admission for everyone in it. Your National Park Annual Pass also covers the entrance fee and is good for you and 3 other people, not including kids under 16, who are free.
Spending several hours here is not hard. You can take a bus between locations so that you can park your car once and not have to drive everywhere. There are places to eat within the park, but if you choose to be thrifty and bring your own lunch and snacks be sure to take your trash with you or deposit it in one of the provided trash cans. I think I shouldn’t have to say that, but you’d be surprised.
Day Trip to Monument Valley
In the words of critic Keith Phipps, “[Monument Valley’s] five square miles have defined what decades of moviegoers think of when they imagine the American West.” I had to grab this quote because it’s so true. So many movies and TV shows from John Wayne to Forrest Gump to Doctor Who have filmed on this land and it’s become synonymous with the United States to so many. It’s quite a trek from Sedona through a bunch of empty space, but totally worth it. Just be sure to fill up the tank before getting on the highway. Monument Valley lays on the border of Arizona and Utah and inside the Navajo reservation. More of it is actually in Utah, but it’s pretty much contained within a few miles on either side.
As you come up Highway 163 from Kayenta, Arizona you’ll first be greeted by El Capitan on your right. A few miles further along, as you come up to the border you’ll see more formations. Right on the border between the states, turn right and head up to the visitor’s center to get the best and most breathtaking (if you’re not already blown away, you’re about to be) view.
There are Navajo guides who offer tours through the reservation where you can be up close and personal with the formations, as well as see things you can’t from the visitor’s center. The only way to get down on the valley floor (and off the highway) is to be escorted by a member of the tribe.
Wine Tasting in Cornville
There are three wineries just outside of Sedona in the neighboring towns of Cottonwood and Cornville. They specialize in small batch wines in a variety of varietals. There are wine tours you can take, that will drive you between the wineries but since they are all pretty close to each other you could drive yourself around, as long as you drink responsibly.
On our last visit we decided to check out Javelina Leap in Cornville. (Javalina are wild pigs that are native to Sedona – you might see a pack of them running around while you’re here!) The tasting room was small, with a oval shaped standing bar dominating most of it. One of the bartenders will give you a wine list and a glass, you can choose four tastes for $12 or buy wines by the glass. They also have a house made sangria that they mix with one of their wines. I chose the Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Tepranillo, and Syrah and thought they were all very good. In addition to the wines, they also make truffles and cheese from local sources which are available for purchase in the tasting room. Chocolate, cheese and wine? Can’t go wrong.
Other Points of Interest
Slide Rock State Park – Natural water slide in Oak Creek Canyon
Chapel of the Holy Cross – Historic Catholic church built into the rock above Sedona.
Sunset Crater Volcano Monument – Remains of an ancient volcano named for its red hue.
Antelope Canyon – Pinterest and Instagram famous slot canyon. Tours required.
Horseshoe Bend – Picturesque bend in the Colorado River.
Over the many years I have visited Sedona the town has grown, businesses have come and gone, but the feel of it has never waivered. Sedona is the perfect mix of small town chic and natural outdoor beauty. It’s also in a perfect location to be the home base for several day trips in Northern Arizona. With accommodations from camping to five star hotels to holistic resorts, there is something for everyone and every budget.
Have you ever been to Sedona or Northern Arizona? Let me know in the comments what I should add to the list for my next visit!