An Essential Guide to Sedona Arizona for First Time Visitors

 Nature is the main attraction in Sedona, Arizona. If that sounds like your kind of town, you’ll love Sedona. Sedona’s gorgeous setting is home to stunning hiking and mountain biking trails. If you’ve never been to Sedona this is your Start Here – An essential guide for Sedona’s first-time visitors. We live in Phoenix, but the Sedona area is my favorite area to explore in the state. I usually drive up once a month to spend the day or the weekend here. This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy. Come see for yourself why USA Today voted Sedona, Arizona as one of the most beautiful places in America. Welcome to Sedona Arizona For a small town there is so much to do here and if you’ve never been here it is helpful to orientate yourself. Sedona, Arizona Overview There are so many cool places to explore in Arizona, however, Sedona is my favorite area to explore. The stunning array of red sandstone formations entice thousands of visitors each year. Sedona is in the northern part of the Verde Valley. The red rocks appear to glow in brilliant orange and red when illuminated by the rising or setting sun. They form a breathtaking backdrop for everything from spiritual pursuits to outdoor adventures. Sedona has a population of around 10,000 residents, however on average the town sees almost as many visitors each day. Where is Sedona & How to get to There? Sedona is in north central Arizona. From Phoenix there are two ways to get to Sedona. The quickest route via Interstate 17 to 179 and the scenic route is 89A. The quickest route is also very scenic once you exit from the interstate onto 179. This stretch of road is called the Red Rock Scenic Byway. Sedona Traffic If you love the outdoors it is hard not to love Sedona. The surrounding area is beautiful as well. The most frustrating part of visiting Sedona is to deal with, well all the visitors. The town is so popular now, the traffic is terrible and it is more difficult to find parking. Sedona’s popularity has increased traffic drastically over the last decade. For a little town it can have some serious traffic jams. It tends to back up at the “Y” intersection. During holidays and peak season expect to sit in traffic. It can be backed up for miles from the airport through uptown. How to Navigate Sedona: Lay of the Land Welcome to Red Rock Country Soon after you exit from the Interstate you will find yourself on 179, the Red Rock Scenic Byway. This road will take you to Oak Creek Village which is about 7.5 miles from Sedona. Most people will refer to Oak Creek Village as Sedona, however it is Oak Creek Village that will be the first to welcome you to Red Rock Country. “Y” Intersection: The “Y” intersection in Sedona is a roundabout where 179 meets 89A. This intersection is often referenced when giving directions in Sedona. Oak Creek is south of the “Y”, the airport is west of the “Y” and uptown is east of the “Y.” If it is your first time visiting Sedona we highly recommend stopping at the Red Rock Ranger Visitor Center. The friendly staff here can provide maps and help you plan your visit. You can also purchase your Red Rock passes here. Oak Creek Village Just 20 minutes from Interstate 17, Oak Creek Village is where you will get your first glimpse of the beautiful red rocks. Oak Creek has three golf courses and several hotels and resorts. You’ll have plenty of restaurants to choose from along this route. If you want to taste some local wines stop by the Decanter Tasting Room. In the same shopping center there are several restaurants and Rocky Road Ice Cream. The Bourbon Pecan is pretty good. In this shopping village there are also charging stations for Tesla. From Oak Creek Village to the main “Y” intersection in Sedona you will drive through eight roundabouts. Driving north to Sedona you’ll see Bell Rock, Courthouse Butte, Chapel of the Holy Cross and Tlaquepaque Sedona shopping village. What is a Red Rock Pass and Do I Need One? A Red Rock Pass is a Sedona parking pass and it is very likely you may need one. There are 18 recreational fee sites in Sedona that require a Red Rock pass. In addition there are concessionaire sites and state parks where your Red Rock pass can’t be used. These sites will require a fee to visit. America the Beautiful passes can be used in lieu of a Red Rock pass. You can purchase a daily, weekly, and annual Red Rock passes to include all 18 recreational fee sites. As of 2024, you can no longer purchase a grand annual pass. Even if you purchase a Red Rock pass or American the Beautiful pass, you will have an additional fee at Call of the Canyon, Grasshopper Point, and Crescent Moon. You can purchase Red Rock Passes at the Sedona Chamber of Commerce or Oak Creek visitor center. Alternatively you can purchase a pass online or at a kiosk at some of the trailheads (credit cards only). How to Get Around Sedona You can get around Sedona by car, bicycle, by foot. On Thursday through Sunday you can park and ride the Sedona Shuttle to some popular hiking trails. You can download the Sedona Shuttle map here. You can also take a tour on a Sedona Trolley or an offroad jeep tour. Parking in Sedona Parking is hard to find in a lot of the popular areas in Sedona and lately that seems like everywhere. If you have your heart set on seeing a particular spot get there early and/or have a couple other places in mind if you can’t find parking for your top choice. Many of the hiking trailhead parking lots are small. Even if there is a large parking lot if it is a popular area parking can be difficult. For example, in the summer it is not uncommon for Slide Rock Park’s parking lot to be full within 30 minutes of opening. If you’re looking to explore uptown Sedona there are some metered spots on the main street and several free parking lots a couple blocks from the main drag. Top Things to See and do in Sedona Arizona Visit Oak Creek Canyon Oak Creek Canyon Scenic drive is located just north of Sedona. From uptown Sedona follow State Route 89A north alongside Oak Creek towards Flagstaff. Sedona & Oak Creek Swimming Holes Thanks to Oak Creek, Sedona has some nice swimming holes to cool off in. These are very popular in the summer, so you’ll need to get there early to park. Oak Creek Canyon is one of the most scenic areas in Arizona. Check out our post on 5 Fantastic Adventures to Have in Oak Creek Canyon to see all of the beautiful sites to see. Sedona Arizona Hikes Sedona has amazing hikes. Some of the more popular hiking trails include: Cathedral Rock Trail, Bell Rock Trail, and Boynton Canyon Trail. If you are looking for a short trail along the water, Allen’s Bend trail is a beautiful hike. A popular and one of the best fall trails in Arizona, is the West Fork trail. See Sedona’s natural arch on a hike to Devil’s Bridge. Hike Soldier’s Pass to see the Devil’s Kitchen and the 7 Sacred Pools. Check out some of Sedona’s hikes with the best views. See the Chapel of the Holy Cross. One of the most photographed spots in Sedona is the Chapel of the Holy Cross .  A student of Frank Lloyd Wright’s built the Catholic chapel into a mesa. The church has a stunning view. The Chapel of the Holy Cross is a Roman Catholic Chapel in Sedona. The chapel is 250 feet high and was designed by Marguerite Brunswig Staude, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright.  Built into the buttes of Sedona’s famous red rock, it has a commanding presence. You can tour the church and admire the incredible views of the two nuns rock formation, Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, and Courthouse Butte. It is free to walk around the grounds and visit the church. There is a gift shop at the bottom of the stairs. Parking is limited here. There are a few parking spots off the main road if the parking lot is full. Just take a short hike up to the top. The tour is self guided and the views alone are worth a stop. How to Get to Chapel of the Holy Cross Chapel of the Holy Cross is just off of Highway 179A. If coming from Phoenix take Highway 179 north for 12 miles. Turn right at the Chapel Hill roundabout. If coming from uptown Sedona you’ll take Highway 179 south for about 3 miles and turn left at the Chapel Hill roundabout. The chapel will be .5 mile on your left. Visit a Vortex Vortexes are created from spiritual energy. They are believed to be subtle energy centers where your spiritual and psychic powers are enhanced. Many believe spiritual vortexes are concentrated in the Sedona area. Visit one of the following spots below to see if you can feel the energy of a vortex Shopping in Sedona Arizona Sedona has three main shopping areas. South and east of the “Y” roundabout is very walkable between shops. West of the “Y” roundabout is the least crowded and you’ll want a car. Ready to start shopping in Sedona? Check out our post on Where to Find Cool Sedona Shops You’ll Want to Visit. Yummy Places to Eat in Sedona A nice spot to eat in Sedona is the Oak Creek Brewery. They have great view of the red rocks on the outside patio. We also love 89 Agave Catina in uptown Sedona. They have delicious Mexican food and nice area to eat outdoors and people watch. If you’re looking for a sweet treat Black Cow Cafe and the Sedona Fudge Company has some great choices. Jeep Tours Looking for adventure in Sedona?  See the red rocks on a guided Jeep tour.  There are several tours available. The oldest jeep tour company in Sedona is the Pink Jeep Tour. They are the only jeep tour for the Broken Arrow Trail. Alternatively, you can drive some of the same routes with your high clearance vehicle. One of our favorites off -roading drives is Schnebly Hill. The views from this area are outstanding. Camping in Sedona Most campgrounds in Sedona will require advanced reservations. If you want to stay on a weekend it is very common to reserve a camping spot 6+ months prior. Planning ahead is worth it to stay at these beautiful camp sites. Our favorite campgrounds in Arizona includes several campgrounds in Sedona. Where to Stay in Sedona Sedona has lodging for every type of travel. Choose from hotels, resorts and cabins. See Ancient Cliff Dwellings & Petroglyphs There are several ancient Native American ruins, cliff dwellings and places to see petroglyphs in and around Sedona. One of the best spots in Sedona is at the Palataki Heritage Site and the Honanki Heritage Site. Check out our post on Everything You Need to Know to Visit Palataki & Honanki Heritage Sites. Another great short hike near Sedona is to see petroglyphs is at the Crane Petroglyph Heritage Site (formerly the historic V Bar V Ranch).