Things to Do in Sedona
No matter how much time you have in Sedona, you can’t see everything. With clusters of natural wonders in every direction, it’s difficult to pin down a specific list of attractions. But what follows are a few premier highlights. Do these and nothing else and you won’t feel cheated. You’ll be hungry for more but you won’t feel cheated.
The most compelling work of art in town doesn’t hang in a gallery. It rises from the ground and merges elegantly with the surrounding towers of stone. The Chapel of the Holy Cross was designed by sculptor, Marguerite Brunswig Staude and completed in 1957. The chapel perches 200 feet above the valley floor, thrusting upward between two burly pillars of rock. High cliffs of salmon hues form the backdrop. The interior of the chapel is simple and unadorned. A few benches, some tapestries and flickering candles create a serene, meditative oasis, while soft sunlight streams through the floor-to-ceiling window. Come for the sweeping views, or a little quiet contemplation, or both.
If you’ve ever seen a photo of Sedona, chances are you’ve seen Crescent Moon Picnic Area, known locally as Red Rock Crossing. That image of Oak Creek flowing in front of majestic Cathedral Rock is one of the most photographed images in the Southwest. Don’t be surprised to find radiant brides and glowing grooms posing for their wedding portrait on the rocky banks. The shallow stream meanders past the base of Cathedral Rock and through forested groves. On the bank opposite Cathedral you’ll notice dozens of stacked rock totems, looking like a miniature Stonehenge. This is Buddha Beach, considered to be the site of a powerful vortex.
There is no drive to or from Sedona that doesn’t qualify as spectacular. For those who also like a challenge, Schnebly Hill Road makes a twisted ascent through red rock tablelands to the pine forests of the Colorado Plateau with sprawling vistas along the way. The rugged wagon road was scratched from rocky hillsides by Sedona pioneers at the turn of the last century, and it hasn’t changed much in the years since. The first mile is paved but don’t be fooled. The road quickly turns primitive, a lane pockmarked, ledged and veined with rocky fragments. Making a steady climb, views sweep across an expanse of sandstone formations to the wall of Mingus Mountain at the far edge of the Verde Valley. If you don’t have a high clearance vehicle, consider taking a jeep tour.
Sedona is bracketed by two spectacular state parks. Seven miles north of town, in what once was a thriving orchard, stone banks throttle Oak Creek into a slender fast-moving channel creating a natural water ride. Along the route are pools of varying depths, perfect for wading and swimming. Slide Rock State Park is one of the beloved swimming holes in the Southwest. Word of warning: Wear cut-offs or other sturdy shorts. Adults may scrape bottom through the shallows, so it’s not uncommon to stand up at the end of the slide, only to see swatches of your bathing suit continue downstream. If you’re here during a non-swimming time of year, you can wander the old orchards in peace and explore the bony banks of the creek until you find a scenic spot and picnic like there’s no tomorrow.
Red Rock State Park offers a more nuanced but equally satisfying encounter, without having to peel off a wet bathing suit. Southwest of town, the park exists as a bit of wilderness snatched from development and reinvented as living laboratory. The 286-acre nature preserve contains a network of trails, everything from creekside rambles to high dramatic vistas. Staff and volunteers conduct daily activities such as bird watching tours, wildflower walks, moonlight hikes and geology discussions.