Planning The Perfect Trip From Sedona To Grand Canyon.
With two of Arizona’s most gorgeous sights just two hours apart, Sedona and the Grand Canyon are perfectly paired for an outdoor lover’s road trip. Both destinations offer some of the best hiking in the United States and the photo opportunities are endless. So if you have five days for a road trip, here’s the itinerary we recommend for Sedona to the Grand Canyon. And if you prefer to reverse course, this can also be done from Grand Canyon to Sedona.
Getting To Sedona, Arizona
All of our recent travels to Arizona have been road trips from our home in Southern California. The drive from Orange County or Los Angeles will take seven to eight hours. However, if you’re coming from another part of the United States, you can fly into Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, rent a car, and be in Sedona in two hours. Phoenix Sky Harbor is a major airport served by many different airlines and we’ve always found it easy to navigate.
Located in the center of Arizona, Sedona is known for the prevalence of massive red-rock formations throughout the city as well as it’s vortexes–swirling centers of energy that are conducive to healing, meditation, and self-exploration. The four best known Sedona vortexes are found at Airport Mesa, Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock and Boynton Canyon. The last one is believed by many to be the strongest.
Almost fifty percent of the town is part of Cocino National Forest, so while Sedona is very popular and has plenty of great resorts, shops, and restaurants, it’s not overly developed. Everywhere you look you’ll see rock formations of all sizes and shapes.
March through May and September through mid-December are the most popular times of year to visit Sedona. This is when the weather is mildest with temperatures rarely topping 80 degrees. Fortunately, due to its elevation of 5,000 feet, Sedona does not experience the extremely high temperatures of many other parts of Arizona.
Day One In Sedona
You can easily spend a week or more in Sedona, so two days won’t cover everything, but it is enough time to see the highlights.
Hiking In Sedona
With over 200 trails covering a distance of 400 miles in the Sedona area–ranging in both length and difficutly–there are plenty of options for hiking.
On our first morning in Sedona we headed to Bell Rock for some hiking. Get here early if you want to snag a parking spot. We arrived at 8 a.m. and grabbed the last spot in the lot. And if you have an America The Beautiful Pass (the annual National Park System pass) put it on your dashboard and skip paying to park.
There are two hiking options at this location; Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte Loop or the Bell Rock Climb. We started on the 3.9 mile loop trail which is fairly easy and has excellent views the entire way. We didn’t complete the full loop, but instead returned to the start and climbed a portion of Bell Rock. As one of the vortexes and most popular trails in the area, expect to see plenty of people. If you come later in the day, or during peak season, this is likely to be a crowded spot.
Verde Canyon Railroad
In the afternoon we headed to Clarkdale–about thirty minutes southeast of Sedona–to experience the Verde Canyon Railroad. We boarded our assigned car, the Sycamore, found our assigned seats and set off on a four hour excursion that took us on a 20-mile journey through 110 years of history.
All guests have assigned seats in a historic railcar. Between these cars are outdoor viewing decks, perfect for watching the surrounding valley, the river below, and occasionally the soaring bald eagles above. A guide is available throughout the ride to point out interesting formations, wildlife, and provide background information on the railroad and region.
Jason and I both enjoyed this train ride. We spent about a third of the time outdoors. Inside we enjoyed an included charcuterie box and a cocktail. Cocktails, soda, beer, and wine can be purchased throughout the journey.
To learn more about our experience, read What To Expect On The Verde Canyon Railroad.
Wine Tasting And Dinner In Cottonwood
After the train ride we decided to grab dinner in Old Town Cottonwood which was just five minutes from the train depot. This charming historic district is lined with shops, restaurants, and wine tasting rooms.
We began with wine tasting at Burning Tree Cellars, a comfortable spot offering tasting flights as well as wines by the glass and bottle. My favorite wine was The Peddler, a blend of viognier, roussanne, and malvasia bianca. On the weekends they also offer live music.
If you can get in, the best dining spot in Cottonwood is definitely Nic’s Italian Steak & Crab House. The food and cocktails are excellent and the dimly lit decor is perfect for a romantic meal.
Day Two In Sedona
After a terrifc first day in Sedona, we were eager to get early up and see more of this beautiful region!
If you’re sensitive to altitude like I am, I recommend saving any challenging hikes for day two so you’ve had a day to acclimate. While most people don’t think 5,000 feet is very high, I did notice I was breathing hard during our fairly easy hike of day one.
Devil’s Bridge–Among The Best Sedona Hikes
The Devil’s Bridge hike was a non-negotiable on my Sedona itinerary. If you’re not familiar with Devil’s Bridge, it’s the largest sandstone arch in Arizona at 54 feet tall and 45 feet wide. I’ve seen photos of hikers on the bridge and knew I had to go. Like Bell Rock the day before, arrive early, really early. We pulled into the parking space as the sun was rising and there were several cars already parked.
There are a few ways to hike to Devil’s Bridge, so let me clarify the route we chose for the hike. After reading other blog posts, I learned that the more scenic route for this hike is to start at the Mescal/Chuckwagon Trailhead. This 4.2 mile round-trip route is mostly easy but offers non-stop views of large red-rock formations throughout the area. It was so beautiful that we had to keep stopping for photos. Along the way we saw hot air balloons rising in the distance and a family of deer grazing.
No matter which route you choose, the final stretch is seriously steep and rocky. It’s more like rock scrambling than hiking at this point. Be sure to have good hiking shoes or boots–this is definitely not the place for flimsy tennis shoes or sandals. We like to use hiking poles which were quite helpful on the way back down.
When we finally reached the top we were met with a line of twenty people waiting for their pictures on the bridge. Did I really want to wait in this line for my picture? And after seeing the bridge in person for the first time, I felt a bit scared to walk on it. But I set aside my concerns, we waited in line, and were so happy with the photos. It was all worth it.
As we returned to our car we passed many more hikers that had arrived later in the morning. Again, if you want your photo on the bridge, and don’t want to wait for hours, arrive at sunrise. In my opinion Devil’s Bridge is the best hiking in Sedona.
Arizona Wineries–A Relaxing Afternoon at Alcantara Vineyards
You probably don’t think of wine when visiting Arizona, but it turns out that this state is home to 120 wineries, many of them based outside Sedona in the Verde Valley. After a few trips to Arizona I’ve had the chance to try about a dozen wines from the state, and I have to say they are pretty good.
To celebrate hiking to Devil’s Bridge we decided to visit Alcantara Vineyards. This family-owned and sustainable winery has such a relaxed and low-key vibe. We ordered a glass of wine and a pizza and sat outside listening to live music. There are five resident cats that make periodic appearances. After our lunch we discovered they sell wine popsicles which contain about a half glass of wine each. We had to try one and are happy to say they are tasty.
Where To Stay In Sedona
Most hotels in Sedona are pricey, so coming off season like we did is probably the best way to save money. We selected Hyatt Residence Club Sedona and would happily return. This large resort offers standard rooms or one-bedroom suites which we chose. The rooms are large and comfortable and have a fully stocked kitchen. Our room also had a large balcony with views of several red-rock formations–truly a beautiful view in the morning as the sun rose. The resort is also within walking distance of many of Sedona’s shops and restaurants.
Day Three–Traveling From Sedona To Grand Canyon
On day three head to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. Since it’s just a two hour drive you could spend the morning in Sedona, or arrive early in the Grand Canyon. Personally we decided to head out early and do a little exploration of the canyon before checking in to our hotel. If you have the America The Beautiful Pass, you won’t have to pay to enter the park.
About The Grand Canyon
One of the world’s natural seven wonders, the Grand Canyon is 277 miles long and averages 4,000 feet deep. It’s located in the Northwest corner of Arizona. In total, the canyon encompasses 1,218,375 acres.
While the park has three entrances; two at the South Rim and one at the North Rim, most people will enter the South Gate of the South Rim. And while this part of the park can definitely get crowded, don’t let that deter you. Outside the village and a few other popular spots, there is plenty of uncrowded beauty to be explored if you venture onto the trails.
Explore Grand Canyon Village
A great way to start a trip to Grand Canyon National Park is in the village. Here you’ll find the historic El Tovar Hotel which opened in 1905. Spend a few minutes exploring the hotel or maybe grab a meal in the stately dining room. Then head across the cul-de-sac to Hopi House. Also built in 1905, this multi-story stone building is shaped like a Hopi pueblo. It was designed by architect, Mary Coulter, who is responsible for several historic buildings in the park. It houses Native American arts including jewelry, baskets, and textiles.
Lookout Studio, built in 1914, was also designed by Mary Coulter, and is perched on the edge of the South Rim. Head inside to browse the gift shop or enjoy the outdoor overlooks that are opened during good weather.
Throughout the village you’ll find restaurants, cafes, and gift shops. If it’s a hot day, I recommend getting some ice cream at the Bright Angel Fountain.
Day Four In Grand Canyon
While Grand Canyon National Park hosts almost six million visitors a year, most people do the exact same thing–view the canyon from above during the middle of the day from one of the popular overlooks. And while there’s nothing wrong with this–the views are epic– I’d encourage you to try something different.
Hiking Bright Angel Trail
On day one, get up early (I know, I say this frequently, but for good reason) and head to the Bright Angel Trailhead in the Grand Canyon Village. First, early birds won’t have any problem finding parking. Second, this is the most popular trail in the park and gets crowded. And finally, depending on the time of year, this path will get hot, so an early start promises cooler temperatures.
Bright Angel descends into the canyon for twelve miles with a 3,080 foot change in elevation. Park rangers do not recommend doing the whole trail as a day hike since it is tough to traverse all 24 miles in a day. Instead, it’s recommended to turn around at one of the rest houses or any other place you choose. We opted to hike to the first rest house at mile 1.5. Here we enjoyed a snack and then began our ascent.
Don’t plan to hike this trail if you’re not in shape. We did only a portion of this trail, but our Apple watches informed us we’d climbed the equivalent of 81 flights of stairs. It was a great workout and I’m glad we did it, but it was hot and slow going on the way back up.
Day Five in Grand Canyon
For the final day of your trip I recommend getting up early, really early. Make the most of your last day and see the Grand Canyon in ways many people don’t. Not only will it make for good memories, but also epic photos.
See A Grand Canyon Sunrise
It was my goal to see a sunrise in the Grand Canyon and I’m so grateful that Jason was up for it. On the day we visited, getting there for sunrise meant waking up around 5 a.m. with 33 degree temperatures outside. We filled a thermos with coffee, grabbed the blanket off the bed and drove to Mather Point in the dark. There were just a few people there before us, and we all waited quietly to see the sun slowly rise as the sky began to turn orange and yellow.
Hike The Grand Canyon Rim Trail
After our hike along the Bright Angel Trail we were looking for something much easier today, so we opted for the Rim Trail. Stretching from the South Kaibab trailhead west to Hermits Rest, this 13 mile trail is mostly paved. The middle portion runs through the village, so it can get crowded. There are dozens of scenic outlooks on this path along with interpretive signage about the geology of the canyon. We hiked about five miles of this trail, and definitely recommend it for anyone seeking a leisurely walk.
Where To Stay in Grand Canyon
While there is plenty of lodging in the national park, it books far in advance, and I thought it was very pricey for the quality of accommodations. We opted to stay in the nearby town of Tusayan which is full of nice hotels and restaurants. We selected the Best Western Premier Grand Canyon Squire Inn. This large property features a restaurant, two pools, and is walking distance to several restaurants. It’s not a luxury hotel, but for future visits to the Grand Canyon, I’d likely stay here again.
Want a detailed itinerary? Read How To See The Grand Canyon In Two Days.