Arizona / Hiking trails / small town favorites

Your Perfect 24-hour Itinerary Traveling from Scottsdale to Sedona

When asked: Scottsdale or Sedona? I say why not both?

From Scottsdale to Sedona is 125 miles and is roughly a two-hour drive time. So, a day trip to Sedona is a perfect add-on to your Scottsdale vacation. I have visited Sedona several times and every time I go, I fall more and more in love. It’s one of my favorite small town stops.

Nestled amidst some of the most dramatic red rock formations in the American Southwest, Sedona provides an otherworldly backdrop for outdoor adventures and metaphysical pursuits. This small city has become a hugely popular destination for hikers, mountain bikers, artists, spiritual seekers, and anyone who finds joy and rejuvenation in natural wonders.

Scottsdale to Sedona
Beautiful red rock formations fill the landscape around Sedona.

With its otherworldly geological landscape, vibrant arts community, and vortex of new-age energy, Sedona is a must-visit destination in Arizona. Seriously, though it isn’t just its distinct red rock landscape that turns everyone into photographers, it’s also home to unique geomagnetic points that create a swirling energy center that pulls from the earth’s surface. Many believe these energies provide heightened intuitiveness, balance, healing, and inspiration. I am one of those people.

A powerful energy that pulled me in instantly on my first visit. I had planned on staying one night but as soon as I drove along the Red Rock Scenic Byway, I immediately changed my plans and booked two more nights in Sedona. While most visitors wish they could linger for weeks, including me, it’s possible to experience many of Sedona’s top highlights in just one day. Here’s how to make the most of 24 hours in this red-headed beauty of the Southwest.

Morning: Explore the Red Rocks of Sedona

As you travel north from Scottsdale to Sedona along HWY 179, the road turns into the Red Rock Scenic Byway that winds through the Village of Oak Creek. This is where you begin your awe-inspiring trip to the distinctive red rocky geological formations that make Sedona a headliner. 

sedona red rock scenic byway
Scenic viewpoint from Red Rock Scenic Byway.

With over 300 miles of hiking trails winding through Sedona’s red rock country, strapping on your hiking boots is a must. First stop in at the Red Rock Ranger District visitor center to get your bearings, score hiking trail maps, and learn about the area’s history before hitting the trails. And honestly, this is one of the best scenic viewpoints along the byway.

hiking in sedona
Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte hike.

Then it’s time to hit one of Sedona’s most iconic hiking trails. Some of the most popular hikes include Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, and Courthouse Butte Loop. You can combine the Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte Loop into one for a moderate 3.5-mile hike. I did all three within three days, but Bell Rock is short and sweet with beautiful views. It’s a great one to start with.

Another VERY popular hike (one I did not do because there were so many people) is Devil’s Bridge Trail in West Sedona. It’s an iconic spot to take photos and take in the views.

Bell Rock trail sedona
Hiking Bell Rock Trail in Sedona.

Vortex Hikes and Meditations

Experience some of Sedona’s powerful energy vortexes with a hike to Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock, and Boynton Canyon. Airport Mesa is another vortex center you’ll want to check out. All are believed to offer powerful vortex energy flow conducive to meditation, self-exploration, and healing. You can do self-guided vortex hikes and meditations, or local vortex guides offer informative and customized experiences.

Red Rock Scenic Drives

If you’d rather stay in your vehicle, Sedona offers several breathtaking scenic drives among the sandstone marvels. The Red Rock Loop Road (US 89A) provides panoramic views and pull-offs for short walks right from your car. You can also drive up Schnebly Hill Road and Soldier Pass Trail, a rugged 4×4 route into the Coconino National Forest that gets you deep into the heart of Sedona’s red rock country.

Afternoon: Art, lunch and coffee

downtown Sedona
Take in the views in downtown Sedona.

After working up an appetite, head into the heart of Sedona and stop for a tasty lunch at one of Sedona’s gems like the Twisted Fork, The Hudson, or Café Elote which fuses Southwestern flavors with Italian fare. Opt for a patio with red rock views.

shopping in Sedona
Tlaquepaque Arts and Shopping Village.

If you’ve never been, you have to check out downtown Sedona at least once. It’s a bit touristy but it’s fun to dip in and out of crystal shops and art galleries. My preferred place to linger a bit longer is in the Tlaquepaque Arts & Shopping Village. Wind your way through cobblestone paths, secretive grottos, and ornate fountains – reminiscent of an old Mexican Village. My favorite place to grab a coffee and do a little shopping is the Chai Spot.

Chai spot in Sedona
Outside the Chai Spot in Sedona.

You can also experience Sedona’s creative spirit by browsing the numerous art galleries clustered in Uptown Sedona and other districts around town. From classic Southwestern landscapes to funky sculptures, you’ll find beautiful handmade pieces in every medium and price range.

Finish off your afternoon with a water-to-wine tour with Verde Adventures. Located in the Verde Valley near Sedona, this quaint little town houses some of Arizona’s top wineries, vineyards, and farms. With Verde Adventures you can float the Verde River that runs through the valley – one of Arizona’s last free-flowing rivers. Kayak in one of their inflatable kayaks as you soak up the beautiful scenery and wade through a few rapids – just enough to keep you on your toes!

Scottsdale to Sedona day trips
Kayaking the Verde River with Verde Adventures.

Then, pair your adventure with a wine tasting afterward with their neighbors; Alcantara Winery. When you book with Verde Adventures, you receive a $20 wine-tasting voucher, just enough to sample their four-wine flight. Add some snacks and take in the scenic vineyard views from their back patio. This was my favorite excursion we did when traveling from Scottsdale to Sedona.

alcantara winery, scottsdale to sedona
Wine tasting at Alcantara Winery in Cottonwood, AZ.

Evening: Dinner & Red Rock Sunset

As your day in Sedona winds down, you could head back to Scottsdale from Cottonwood down HWY 260, or drive back to Sedona and relax over a memorable dinner at one of the town’s top eateries. Elote Cafe and Cress on Oak Creek both offer fine Southwestern cuisine, while Dahl & DiLuca serves up homemade Italian specialties in a romantic setting.  

Finally, end your day by watching the sun slip below the horizon, setting Sedona’s red rocks ablaze in brilliant shades of orange and red. Two of the best sunset viewpoints are the parking areas for the Airport Mesa Vortex or Cathedral Rock Trail. Grab a bottle of wine and toast to an unforgettable day in one of America’s most spectacularly scenic desert destinations.

*all photos are taken by me and are subject to copyright.

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