8 things to do on your first visit to Sedona, Arizona

Hiking in Sedona
Hiking in Sedona

Sedona is one of the most beautiful and unique places on Earth. This city, located about two hours north of Phoenix, is best known for its stunning landscapes of red rocks, sweeping ponderosa pine forests, and water carved canyons. While Sedona isn’t a secret, it’s still worth a visit especially for the outdoor enthusiasts and adventurers. Hiking, fishing, camping, Jeep trails, world-class dining, shopping, craft breweries. Sedona has it all.

If this is your first visit to Sedona, you really can’t go wrong with what you choose to add to your itinerary. Whether you visit for a day or a month, you are bound to discover something new to explore whether it is a new trail to hike or a hidden swimming hole. The list below includes some of my favorite activities in Sedona and will hopefully give you a better understanding of this city like no matter. No matter what you choose to do, make sure to bring your camera along. You will be using it a lot.

Here is a list of 8 of things to do in Sedona if this is your first visit.

1 – Hike to Devil’s Bridge

Standing above Devil's Bridge
Standing above Devil’s Bridge

You probably have seen the photos. People standing on top of a tall, narrow stone arch with only red rocks and forests in the distance. This is Devil’s Bridge, one of the most popular sights in Sedona. If you only have time for one hike in Sedona, then this is it.

If you want to reach Devil’s Bridge, you will need to hike. Depending on where you start, the hike to Devil’s Bridge will vary in distance from 1.6 miles to 5.8 miles roundtrip. Most hikers use Dry Creek Road (Forest Road 152). Other than a few steep, rocky steps near Devil’s Bridge, the trail is quite easy, especially for novice hikers.

As this is one of the most popular trails in Sedona, the trail can get extremely busy. When I say busy, I mean busy. Its not surprising to see hundreds of people walking along the trail by 10:00AM. Also, when you do reach Devil’s Bridge, you can expect a wait. So, if you want to beat the crowds, go as early as possible.

You can find more information about hiking to Devil’s Bridge here.

Getting Here
Park at the Dry Creek Vista Trailhead Parking Lot (GPS: 34.890147, -111.820569)

2 – Slide and Swim at Slide Rock State Park

Oak Creek running through Slide Rock State Park
Oak Creek running through Slide Rock State Park

Located just north of downtown Sedona is Slide Rock State Park, one of the most popular recreation spots in town. No visit to Sedona is complete without a visit to this park located in Oak Creek Canyon.

The main reason for visiting Slide Rock State Park is to swim in the cool waters of Oak Creek, a popular activity on hot summer days. While the swimming area extends for about 1/2 mile along Oak Creek, most visitors focus their attention on Slide Rock. Slide Rock, for which the park is named after, is an 80-foot long natural rock slide covered in slippery algae. You can’t leave the park without sliding down the slide. It’s fun for both children and adults. Other than swimming, visitors to Slide Rock State Park can have a picnic, hike along trails with views of red rocks, fish for trout, and simply relax.

Just as with Devil’s Bridge, Slide Rock State Park can get extremely busy on warm days, even midweek. If you want to beat the crowds, go early.

Getting Here
6871 AZ-89A, Sedona, AZ 86336 (GPS: 34.943229, -111.753074)
Parking is $20 per vehicle

3 – Traverse Teacup Trail to Coffee Pot Rock

Towering Coffee Pot Rock
Towering Coffee Pot Rock

Located in the hills of western Sedona is Coffee Pot Rock, a towering red rock which resembles a percolator coffee pot. A quick hike along Teacup Trail will bring you to Coffee Pot Rock. From the top, you will be rewarded with sweeping panoramic views of Sedona below.

There are two reasons why hiking Teacup Trail to Coffee Pot Rock should be on anyone’s list of must do things in Sedona. First, the trail can be done quickly when you don’t want to spend all day hiking. Second, while popular, this trail isn’t as busy as Devil’s Bridge Trail or West Fork Trail.

On paper, this trail measures in at 2.9 miles roundtrip with the trail beginning at the Sugar Loaf Trailhead Parking Lot. Sugarloaf Trail also begins here. Depending on which way you go and how far you hike, you could end up hiking less than or more than 2.9 miles. There are a lot of trails in this area, so you might want to use a map or get lost and explore. Either way you will have a great time with great views.

Getting Here
Park at the Sugar Loaf Trailhead Parking Lot (GPS: 34.874362, -111.796445)

4 – Eat breakfast at the Coffee Pot Restaurant

If you are looking for breakfast in Sedona that won’t break the bank, then look no further than the Coffee Pot Restaurant, named after nearby Coffee Pot Rock. This institution of Sedona, which has been operating for over 30 years, is well known for their menu featuring 101 different omelettes. Not a fan of omelettes? No problem. Their extensive menu also features breakfast items including eggs, waffles and pancakes, lunch items including burgers and sandwiches, and authentic Mexican dishes. There is something for everyone on the menu.

Due to its popularity with both locals and tourists, you can expect a wait on weekends up to an hour. With affordable prices, big portions, and hearty dishes, the wait is definitely worth it especially in a city as expensive as Sedona. If the weather isn’t too bad, be sure to ask for a table on their beautiful shaded redwood patio which features a peaceful water fountain.

You can read my full review of the Coffee Pot Restaurant here.

Getting Here
2050 W State Rte 89A, Sedona, AZ 86336 (GPS: 34.864277, -111.796670)

5 – Crescent Moon Picnic Site

Cathedral Rock viewed from Crescent Moon Picnic Site
Cathedral Rock viewed from Crescent Moon Picnic Site

Photographers flock to Crescent Moon Picnic Site for the chance to photograph the towering Cathedral Rock, one of the most famous rock formations in Sedona. If you come at just the right hour when the light is just right, you can get a photo of Cathedral Rock reflected in the waters of Oak Creek. If you come at any other time, the view is just as great.

Not a photographer? No problem. There are plenty of activities at Crescent Moon Picnic Site to keep you busy including swimming, hiking, fishing, or having a picnic. Swimming in Oak Creek at the picnic site is popular, so come early in the morning or midweek if you can. If you explore some of the trails parallel to Oak Creek, away from the parking lot area, you can find less busy swimming holes.

Getting Here
333 Red Rock Crossing Rd, Sedona, AZ 86336 (GPS: 34.826526, -111.808698)
Parking is $11 per vehicle or $2.00 for walk-in

6 – Hike Bell Rock

Bell Rock
Bell Rock

One of the most recognizable rock formations in all of Sedona is Bell Rock, located just south of downtown. If you are driving between Phoenix and Sedona on SR 179, you can’t miss this dome-like landmark which soars into the sky.

There are a number of trails surrounding Bell Rock. If this is your first time, I recommend starting at the Courthouse Vista Parking Lot on the north side of Bell Rock. From here, you can hike up Bell Rock. The trail starts off easy and becomes more steep and difficult as you make your way up. Go as far as you feel comfortable with.

If you aren’t planning on hiking, you can still get a great view of Bell Rock from the parking lot.

Getting Here
Park at the Courthouse Vista Parking Lot (GPS: 34.805857, -111.766497)
Parking is $5

7 – Marvel at Chapel of the Holy Cross

The iconic Chapel of the Holy Cross
The iconic Chapel of the Holy Cross

Located a few miles south of downtown Sedona is the Chapel of the Holy Cross, one of the most iconic structures in Sedona. This Roman Catholic chapel is best known for its stunning location built right into Sedona’s red rocks.

The Chapel of the Holy Cross was commissioned by a local rancher and sculptor known as Marguerite Brunswig Staude. Staude was inspired to build a church after she witnessed the construction of the Empire State Building in New York City. After failing to build a church in Budapest, Hungary during World War II, Staude decided to build the church in Arizona.

With the help of architects Richard Hein and August K. Strotz, construction on the Chapel of the Holy Cross was completed in 1956 after 18 months of construction. The highlight of the chapel is the 90 foot iron cross located on the southwestern wall.

In 2007, the chapel became one of the Seven Man-Made Wonders of Arizona.

Getting Here
780 Chapel Rd, Sedona, AZ 86336 (GPS: 34.832011, -111.766771)

8 – Sunset at Airport Scenic Lookout/Airport Mesa Vortex

View at Airport Scenic Lookout
View at Airport Scenic Lookout

One of the best places to watch sunset in Sedona is at the Airport Scenic Lookout. As the name implies, this lookout is located on a hill adjacent to Sedona Airport. What makes this lookout so great is that no hiking is required. You can park at the lot across the road and walk over to the lookout without breaking a sweat. From here, you will be rewarded with 180-degree panoramic views of Sedona below. The view of the sun setting across Sedona’s red rocks is stunning. Due to its location and ease of access, it’s not surprising that the Airport Scenic Lookout is often crowded at sunset. The view will still be amazing but you will have to share the experience with many people.

While this isn’t a secret, there is an even better location for watching sunset nearby if you don’t mind a quick hike along Sedona View Trail. The trail, which begins at the parking lot, follows Airport Rd. After 0.6 miles one-way, you will arrive at Airport Mesa Vortex. From here, climb to the top of the rounded rock where you will be rewarded with stunning 360-degree views of Sedona. If you are wondering, vortexes are intense centers of energy popular for those looking to meditate or self-healing. The are four vortexes in Sedona each with its own energy. The vortexes are located here at Airport Mesa and at Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock, and Boynton Canyon.

Getting Here
Park at the large Upper Parking Vista lot at the top of Airport Rd (GPS: 34.852906, -111.789366)
Parking is $3 per vehicle

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