Our new series on weekend road trips aims to inspire you for what's to come as we slowly return to travel.
Covid-19 Disclaimer: Make sure to check the status of the states, regions, and establishments in which you’re planning to visit prior to travel. Many regions continue to see high infection rates and deaths, while many states and counties remain under varying stay-at-home orders. Those traveling from areas with high rates of Covid-19 should consider avoiding travel for now in order to reduce spread.
Otherworldly rock landscapes meet spiritual seekers in Sedona, a new-age town amid ancient sandstone formations. Some believe the area is an energy vortex, and you could spend a weekend here just stocking up on crystals, joining ceremonies, and peering into the future. But the desert is an extraordinary playground for non-believers, too, with soaring canyons and steep paths in every direction.
While you’ll find rugged adventure throughout the southwest, Sedona has a luxury side that most other trail towns can’t match, including tranquil spas tailor-made for escapism. An hour-and-a-half away, though, Prescott is waiting to bring you back down earth. Here, it’s all about breezy pine forests and frontier history, plus a beautiful downtown that invites leisurely strolling.
From Albuquerque, take Interstate 40 East (5 hours and 25 minutes, 351 miles). Make a pit stop at the psychedelic wonderland of Petrified Forest National Park, where trees have been fossilized by rainbow-hued minerals. From Phoenix, take Interstate 17 North, following exit 298 to state highway 179 North (2 hours, 116 miles). Pause along the way in the ghost town of Bumble Bee, which was once a stage stop on the historic Prescott.
It would be a shame to spend your first hours in Sedona indoors; fortunately, the teeny Sedona Memories Bakery and Café has your picnic needs covered. Call in an order for a hefty sandwich on house-baked bread—you might want to throw in a cookie—and you’ll be on the road in no time.
The perfect picnic spot is just up the road, at Midgley Bridge Picnic Area, where you’ll have views of Mitten Ridge and the tip of Oak Creek Canyon. If it’s hot, this doubles as a place to cool off. A trail from the parking lot winds down below the bridge to Oak Creek, a 15-minute hike that pays off in a gorgeous place to swim.
Flanked in red rocks and green trees, Oak Creek Canyon is among the most popular hiking spots in Sedona. The trailhead of the West Fork Trail is 8.7 miles north of Midgley Bridge, a justifiably beloved walk that hops back and forth across the West Fork of Oak Creek until the canyon walls close in at the 7.2-mile point. It’s possible to continue a full 14 miles to Woody Mountain Road, but that requires swimming.
Following your hike, head back into town via the Sedona Arts Center, an educational nonprofit with a fine art gallery featuring the work of local artists; it’s also a hub of the First Friday events each month, and a free shuttle departs the arts center for galleries in town.
From there, it’s just a short drive further to your dinner spot, The Hudson, where an outdoor patio has some of the finest sunset views in town. Craft cocktails pair with a vaguely southwestern New American menu whose specialties include prickly pear BBQ baby back ribs and blackened swordfish.
Set an alarm for the pre-dawn hours: It’s worth it to catch sunrise at the remarkable Chapel of the Holy Cross, a modernist landmark built in 1956 onto the side of a 1,000-foot rock wall. If you’d rather come when the church itself is open, visit a little later in the day.
Once the early colors fade, head back into town for a diner breakfast at the appealingly kitschy Coffee Pot Restaurant, known for great huevos rancheros, hefty omelets, and lofty, house-made biscuits. Just north of here is Coffee Pot Rock, a red-rock formation that’s a dead ringer for an old-fashioned percolator.
Rent a pair of wheels from Over the Edge Bikes or Absolute Bikes. Both places have expert staff who can advise on the best trails to start exploring, but one beginner-friendly option is the 2.1-mile Big Park Loop Mountain Bike Trail, which will get you out among the rock formations without the hairy cliffs and technical sections found on other Sedona-area rides; make the ride longer by using the Bell Rock Trail extension.
For something a little more challenging, check out the 13.1-mile West Sedona Tour, a series of linked trails that include slickrock sections, big views, and a few rocky patches that require dexterous moves. A good alternative to exploring on your own are the excellent mountain bike tours from 360 Adventures or Hermosa Tours.
When you’re ready for lunch, go with something light from Local Juicery, which has colorful salads, cold-pressed juice, raw bowls, and eclectic smoothies. It’s a virtuous way to kick off an afternoon at one of Sedona’s many spas: one favorite option is Mii amo, where outdoor pools have views across the rock walls of Boynton Canyon. Services here run from classic massages to quirkier experiences that draw on Sedona’s spiritual side. You can book interactive aura photography, schedule a crystal grotto blessing, or join a certified therapist for past life regression.
If you can tear yourself away from the spa, make a sunset trip to Airport Mesa, one of the main vortex sites around Sedona. Evening light is a major draw here, and it’s fun to join the crowd that shows up in the mesa-top parking lot for the event—decide for yourself whether you’re feeling that vortex energy.
The throng lends a holiday feel to the nearby Mesa Grill, where you can catch the last, lingering rays as you dine by a fire pit on the outdoor patio. Excellent margaritas and Arizona-made craft beers whet the appetite for a menu of pub food spiked with plenty of vegetables.
Stick around after dark. Minimal light pollution and fantastic skies have earned Sedona a Dark Sky Community designation, and some of the most accessible views are from Airport Mesa itself. Just bring a pair of binoculars and a flashlight to find your way around in the dark. For a closer look, join a stargazing outing from Evening Sky Tours, which gets you access to a high-powered telescope.
Check out early, then hit the road to spend your final morning in Prescott, picking up drinks at Creekside Coffee on your way out of town. By the time you get to Prescott, you’ll be ready for a full, cowboy-style breakfast at the Lone Spur Café, whose booths are illuminated by giant antler chandeliers that lend the diner old-West flair.
On weekend mornings, local volunteers lead free walking tours of the town’s fascinating historic district, spilling details of the saloons, statues, and memorials you’ll find there. Otherwise, just download the Prescott Heritage Trail map and find your own way; you can’t miss the Yavapai County Courthouse, which is built in an oddly grand, Neoclassical Revival style.
Next, visit the town’s excellent Sharlot Hall Museum, named for a self-educated frontier woman who worked to preserve Arizona history at the turn of the 20th century. The 4-acre museum includes the 1864 Governor’s Mansion, a transportation building that houses a stagecoach and Hall’s touring car, and exhibits on Native American burden baskets.
Before heading home, make a final lunch stop at The Palace, a saloon that opened in 1877. It’s a local legend. During the 1900 Whiskey Row fire, the saloon went up in flames but patrons carried the beautifully carved bar to safety. Find a spot at that very same bar for a bowl of the house specialty corn chowder or a buffalo burger.
WHERE TO STAY
Accommodations in Sedona lean pricy, with most budget-friendly options limited to motels on the main strip. An appealing alternative is a cabin at The Canyon Wren, on a rustic, quiet property near Oak Creek Canyon. Located on Airport Mesa, Sky Ranch Lodge has gorgeous views of the desert from private patios that it’s worth paying more for.
WHEN TO GO
Spring wildflowers and mild weather from March to May make this a popular time to visit, because temperatures spike in the summer months. Things cool back down in September, October, and November, with lots of sun and great hiking conditions. Winter highs are in the 50s and 60s, but uncrowded trails and lower prices mean it’s still worth the trip.