Your Guide to Hiking, Vortexes and those delicious Prickly Pear Margaritas.
Last fall I spent a long weekend in Sedona on a trip with my best friend from law school. We spent the first day of our trip at the Grand Canyon because I had never visited it (there will be a separate blog post about the Grand Canyon coming soon), so we only really had 36 hours to explore Sedona.
The iron oxide rock formations of Sedona seem like a set for a movie set on the planet Mars, with stunning red rock canyons and buttes carved into the landscape for as far as the eye can see. Sedona boasts amazing outdoor activities like biking, climbing, fishing, hiking and jeep tours for the adventure seeking types, and peaceful spas, shopping and wineries for those seeking something a little more relaxing.
Sedona is a perfect girls weekend, guys trip, couples escape or a Griswold-style family vacation. Honestly, I could spend weeks in Sedona and not run out of things to do, but if you only have a weekend (or even a day) to experience Sedona, I wanted to put together a highlight reel of don’t miss items. Think of this as your “Sedona for Dummies” guide book. For me, I only had 36 hours to explore this gem, so it was all about getting outside and experiencing the views and energy that Mother Nature has to offer.
On getting there: There is an airport in Flagstaff (FLG), which is about a 50 minute drive north of Sedona. We didn’t want to have to mess with connections since we were both flying in from different cities, so we flew direct into Phoenix (PHX), rented a car and drove about 2 hours to Sedona. It is an easy drive on the interstate, and that’s what I would probably do again.
Where we stayed: On this particular trip we stayed at the Kimpton Amara resort. The lobby and common areas were open, clean, with a modern meets nature meets a touch of hipster vibe, using neutral and earthy colors throughout with unexpected pops of color, including the leaves that happened to be turning a brilliant shade of yellow while we were there. Perks of the hotel included a fresh ambiance, awesome views, outdoor fire pits and lounging areas, good breakfast food in the on-site restaurant and central location. Be aware, despite the central location, the entrance is between two shopping centers, past a parking area and down a steep hill, so it can be a bit difficult to find and it is a bit of a hike up and down the hill.
Hiking for the View
I’ll be honest, if you are afraid of heights, this may not be the hike for you, but if you can muster up the courage, the view is worth it.
Cathedral Rock is likely the most famous rock formation in in Sedona, and the ascent can be pretty challenging, in places requiring hikers to climb on all fours to ascend or scoot on your bottom to get down. It is a pretty easy hike from the parking lot up the first gradual ascent around ¼ mile in, and you can get some great photos of the Cathedral Rock formation and surrounding desert landscape.
After this initial ascent, the trail begins so ascend steeply over bald rock faces until hikers reach a “crazy cleft” in the rock face that requires hikers to shimmy up on all fours. (I’ve included a photo of this spot in the photos below.) I would liken this portion more to rock climbing than hiking, but there were kids under the age of 10 doing it, so I eventually got the guts to try.
By the way, did I mention I’m terrified of heights? (I’m #hikerafraidofheights on social media.)
For some reason, I thought we would be at the top of the rock formation after getting to the top of this crazy cleft, but about 2/3 of the trek still remained. I took a breather on the plateau and debated whether I could continue considering my fear of heights. I temporarily gave up and sent my best friend along. (I may have cried at one point because I was so scared.) Eventually, time got the best of me. This was the one thing I wanted to do on our trip, and I was missing out! I was determined to catch up and share this with her. After I got up the next rock face, I yelled up the mountain to tell her to stop if she was on the way down. She heard me and stayed put, and we both got to enjoy the breathtaking view from the top of this trail, where hikers will find themselves between two large spires. (I may have been sitting down clutching the wire fencing around the stone pillar at the top, but I did it.)
So in sum, hikers should be in decent physical condition to try this trail, but it is worth visiting even if you just drive to the parking lot. If you are hiking and are ready to turn back at the “Crazy Cleft”, just know that is the most difficult part and it is much easier for the rest of the hike. Note, the trail is marked with basket cairns, so look for these stone pillars along the way. This location is also a spiritual vortex, but I freely admit I was a little distracted with the heights to pay much attention.
I have included a link to the US Forest Service link with more information about the trail and location here. If you type in Cathedral Rock trailhead into your smart phone, it should automatically map you to this location. There is a small fee for parking at the official lot, but if you continue past the initial parking lot you can also park for free just down the road.
Fay Canyon Trail
After Cathedral Rock, I was looking for something a touch simpler to navigate. The Fay Canyon trail is an easy trail that is just over 2 miles round trip. The groomed trail could be hiked by a family with younger children. As you walk deeper into the canyon, along the trail you can spot the Fay Canyon Arch and lots of desert plants. At the end of the groomed trail, you have an opportunity to climb up the ungroomed portion up the Supai sandstone cliff. This ascent is much shorter and less difficult than that at Cathedral Rock, and the view back through the canyon with Bell Rock in the distance can’t be beat.
I have included a link to the US Forest Service link with more information about the trail and location here. If you type in Fay Canyon trail head into your smart phone, it should automatically map you to this location as well. Parking here is free.
If you have time, check out other hikes like Bell Rock, Broken Arrow, Airport Loop, Summit Trail, and Marg’s draw, which you can find on the trail maps for the Sedona area.
I’d like a View Please, but Hold the Hike
Sunrise at Airport Mesa
We were on east coast time, so getting up early didn’t cause us much heartburn. We asked folks at the hotel for the best spot to watch the sunrise, and they said hands down the Airport Mesa. We left the hotel 15 minutes before sunrise, and turned from Route 89A to Airport Road. As the road bends right going up the hill we saw a spot for parking, but it was full, so we kept driving until we reached a large parking lot by the airport where we stopped. We walked over to the lookout and drank our steaming coffee in the cold twilight, watching pastel colors begin to paint the sky, as the cool tones of the rocky mountains in the distance slowly transition to glowing red hues. Driving back to the hotel, we saw an open parking space at the bend in the road and pulled in. This was the trail head for several trails, including the Airport Loop and Summit Trail. There was a tall stone formation directly above where we were standing that appeared to be unmarked. We walked about ¼ mile around a small trail and used a rope to pull ourselves to the top of the spire just as the sunshine seemed to explode over the canyons below. I would call this more of a lookout than a hike so I included it in this section, but you need to be able to keep your footing about you when walking to the top.
Rachel’s Knoll at Seven Canyons
We struck up a conversation with a woman on the cliff at the end of top of Fay’s Canyon trail, who told us that one of her favorite places to go for a great view without the hike was at Rachel’s Knoll. This lookout is within the Seven Canyons development located at 625 Golf Club Way, Sedona, Arizona 86336, just over 3 miles from Route 89A. When you drive up to the gate, tell the guard you are there to visit Rachel’s Knoll and they will charge you a $3 admission fee and give you directions. Follow the road straight back through the community and it will bear left up a hill. At the top of that road you will find Rachel’s Knoll. You literally stumble out of your car into this panoramic daydream. Visiting hours are from 9-4 each day.
Chapel of the Holy Cross
This Catholic chapel was constructed right into the dramatic Sedona redrock formations, with completion of construction taking place in 1956., rising 70 feet out of a 1,000-foot cliff. This location said to be the site of a Sedona vortex as well. Admission and parking are free. There is a small uphill walk on a paved road to the chapel; however, handicapped parking is available next to the chapel, and golf carts are available to shuttle folks up and down the road. The views from the chapel and adjacent overlook are amazing, and gave us a chance to look back at Cathedral Rock from across the desert. The chapel itself is simple yet moving, letting the setting speak for itself. This is a must see for everyone who visits. Chapel of the Holy Cross is located at 780 Chapel Rd. Sedona, AZ 86336. There’s also a small gift shop inside.
OK, no hiking at all. Sitting. Sitting and eating. And drinking. Make reservations ahead of time if you can because this place fills up. Ask for a table on the screened in outdoor patio about ½ hour before sunset. You can watch the colors on the mountains slowly change again until it it all fades into darkness and a star filled sky. I’ve included a link here if you are interested in checking out the menu. We didn’t make reservations in time, so we stopped at Mariposa on our way back from our day of hiking in our workout gear and asked to be seated at the bar. We got in just before dinner seating started, so by the time we got done with our first round of drinks we could order dinner. Same great view, great food, no wait. The Mariposa Grill is located at 700 AZ-89A, Sedona, AZ 86336, right on Route 89A.
Feel the Energy
The first documented prehistoric human presence in area dates back around 9,000 BC, with the Yavapai and Apache tribes settling in the Verde Valley between 1300 and 1450 AD. Today, this town of just over 10,000 people is known to be both a spiritual and metaphysical mecca, boasting attractions like Chapel of the Holy Cross and the famous energy vortexes, as well as the outdoorsy activities like biking, fishing, climbing and hiking.
First, a what? A vortex? What the heck is a vortex?
A vortex is a naturally occurring focused energy field that are thought to enhance prayer, contemplation, and meditation for people of all faiths. Some people report feeling a slight tingling to the skin, a vibration, or other similar sensation. There are four major vortexes of energy in Sedona, including Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, Airport Mesa and Boynton Canyon. I would say that I felt an energy throughout Sedona during my visit. If this is something that is interesting to you, contact your hotel or go on line to book a spiritual or vortex tour. You will find shops and exploration centers for these spiritual pursuits around Sedona, and stones and crystals can be found everywhere in the local gift shops.
Whether you want to call it a vortex or just an awesome place for a vacation, I will say that I spent my time in Sedona feeling inspired, calmed and invigorated. You can visit the Official Sedona visitors website for more information about votexes and where to find them.
Food and Shopping (Yes please!)
Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village
On our last morning in Sedona we explored the Tlaquepaque artisan’s shopping village before leaving town. This outdoor shopping area consists of cozy pathways and courtyards, where you can explore the specialty shops offering jewelry, clothing, décor, paintings and other fine art, and home décor. Local musicians often play live music there too. (I feel in love with a jewelry shop there myself.) It is located at 336 State Route 179, Sedona, 86336, with free parking. Click here to read more about the artisans and the shops.
Indian Gardens Café and Market
If want a great drive with some beautiful scenery, head north from Sedona on Route 89A toward Flagstaff, where you will drive through a beautify canyon and valley. The road eventually climbs up a mountain, where you can catch a great view from a lookout point above. (We first drove this route on our way to the Grand Canyon.) Just a few miles north of downtown Sedona, you will find the historic Indian Gardens Cafe and Market. This is a great place for breakfast, where you can sit inside the rustic market or in the cute outdoor seating area in the rear of the market, where each of the tables have their own woven blankets you can cozy up with. The address is 3951 N. State Route 89A, Sedona, Arizona 86336, and I’ve included a link here if you want to check out the menu.
Prickly Pear Margarita
We ate prickly pear cheesecake, drank prickly pear cocktails, and even found prickly pear candy and lip balm. Prickly pear is everywhere. Why? Because it is delicious! Someone told us to seek this cocktail out before we left for our trip, so it was on out list. Add it to yours. Our favorite was at the Cowboy Club in downtown Sedona near our hotel.
If you visit Sedona, please shoot me a note to let me know how you liked it at Kristy@proseccoandpalmtrees.com or through the Contact page of the blog, I would love to hear from you!
I tried not to overwhelm the post above with too many photos, but have included a few more favorites below as well.