Veronica Samuels

Oh, the road trip from Phoenix to Sedona! Imagine cruising down the highway, the sun setting the sky ablaze with oranges and purples while debating whether the playlist needs more classic rock or indie anthems. 

That’s when you realize this isn’t just any road trip—it’s a quest, a pilgrimage to the heart of Arizona’s soul, and possibly a journey to the nearest gas station because, oops, someone (me) got too caught up in the moment and forgot to refuel.

My first trek from Phoenix to Sedona was supposed to be a straightforward drive.

Instead, the Phoenix to Sedona turned into a road trip odyssey filled with unexpected detours, a pie that nearly brought me to tears (of joy, I assure you), and a realization that my sense of direction was as reliable as a weather forecast in the desert. 

So, as your self-appointed guide and fellow adventurer, I invite you to buckle up and join me on this journey. 

Welcome to the Phoenix to Sedona experience—where every mile is a story!


“Shorter than a Netflix binge but longer than your patience in a DMV line,” I always say.

The trek spans roughly 116 miles, a distance that, in Arizona terms, means you’ll see more changes in the landscape than in a chameleon in a disco. Phoenix to Sedona drive time is around 2 to 3 hours if you are not stopping along teh way.

Phoenix sits at an average elevation of around 1,000 feet (300 meters) above sea level, while Sedona is approximately 4,350 feet (1300 meters) above sea level.

This elevation change brings about a shift in the scenery, with the iconic Saguaro cacti giving way to desert plains and mountains.

Additionally, the temperatures become cooler as you gain elevation, offering a refreshing change from the desert heat.

If you continue driving from Sedona to Flagstaff during the winter season, you may experience a drastic change in weather.

The drive begins with cacti and ends with snow-covered pine forests.

However, it’s worth noting that while Sedona may receive a magical dusting of snow on its red rocks during winter(yes, it does snow in Arizona).


I recommend renting a car as this is the best way to get from Phoenix to Sedona, which means you can also squeeze in a quick and short road trip.

Having your vehicle allows you to see everything this area offers also giving you the flexibility to stay as long as you like at each destination.

Scottsdale to Tombstone
Phoenix to Tucson

I like Discover Cars and believe me, as a frequent traveler regularly renting cars from them, I recommend them for easy and quick online booking.

Thanks to their long list of car rental companies, you can easily compare the car types and prices before picking. They also sometimes offer pick up as well.

Check prices and book your car here at Discover Cars.

If you don’t have a car, I highly recommend this tour from Phoenix to Sedona, perfect for conveniently exploring Tombstone with expert guides.


ROUTE 1 – via I-17 N

This is the most straightforward route, and let me tell you, it’s as easy as finding a Starbucks in downtown Phoenix. 

You’ll start on I-17 N and stay on it until you see the signs welcoming you to Sedona. 

It’s about a 2-hour drive, but with the scenery, it feels like 20 minutes. Well, almost.

ROUTE 2 – via I-17 N and AZ-179 N

For the adventurers, the seekers, the “I took a wrong turn, but let’s call it a scenic detour” crowd. 

For those who like a little variety, this route offers a scenic detour through AZ-179 N, also known as the Red Rock Scenic Byway. 


Now, for the fun part. What’s a road trip without stops at places that make you go, “Wow, I didn’t even know I needed to see that until now”?

Here are my top picks for places to pause and enjoy the journey from Phoenix to Sedona.


  • Driving Distance from Sedona – 102 miles(2 hours)
  • Activities – Fishing, Canoeing, SUP, Picnics, Kayaking, Hiking, Swimming, and Boating

Among the most popular lakes in Sedona is Lake Pleasant, located in the northwest, and it is no surprise.

Besides being close to the central city, Lake Pleasant is a popular getaway among locals and tourists. You should definitely add on your Phoenix to Sedona road trip.

They frequent it here for picnics and a weekend trip, thanks to loads of fun activities with something in store for everyone.

You can enjoy water skiing, boating, jet skiing, scuba diving, camping, fishing, shoreline hiking and more across its massive 116 miles of shoreline and 10,5000 acres area, with a depth of 70 feet and the deepest point going to over 170 feet.

Lakes in Sedona AZ

Although it is an artificial reservoir, Lake Pleasant Regional Park is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful lakes in Arizona on a mountain, surrounded by stunning views of desert canyons.

This lake, open 365 days a year, has two marinas – Pleasant Harbor Marina on the southeast side and Scorpion Bay Marina on the west side, and two separate boat launching ramps, Scorpion Bay and Pleasant Harbour.

✅Join this Beautiful Boat Cruise in Lake Pleasant Arizona, a 2-hour tour highly recommended for exploring the lake in the comfort of a boat with a local expert.😍

You can enjoy fishing channel catfish, bluegill, white crappie, and striped bass.

The lake is also home to bobcats, herons, and bald eagles.

Lake Pleasant also has some pretty hiking trails, with the popular one being the 3-mile out-and-back Yavupai Point Trail, rewarding you with incredible views of Lake Pleasant. 

Lakes in Sedona AZ

Especially if you are here in the spring, try adding this hike for splendid views of colourful wildflowers and beautiful lake views.

You can rent boats, paddle boards and kayaks at the marinas, but I highly recommend you reserve them online as the lake is pretty crowded during holidays and the weekends.


Located in Central Arizona, about 40 miles north of Phoenix is one of the best offbeat Arizona National monuments. 

Agua Fria is a 70,000-acre monument with elevations in the landscape varying from 2000 to 4600 feet, comprising a high elevation desert with grassy mesas, and prominent and deep canyons along the Agua Fria River, flowing through saguaro-covered cliffs, which are the main attractions.

things to see between Phoenix and Sedona

a wide variation in wildlife and vegetation, including the famous saguaro cactus forests at lower altitudes, and ancient Indian relics, giving rich insights into the former inhabitants of this site.

You can also explore the stone masonry remains of Pueblo la Plata, a prehistoric site and many old mines.

Due to its remote location and rugged landscapes, most attractions can only be reached by high-clearance vehicles or hiking.


Another offbeat small town in Arizona is located in Yavapai County.

Arcosanti is a unique experimental town under development since 1970, and one of the best Instagram-worthy towns.

Arcosanti is all about arcology, urban planning, art and design, focusing on urban architectural implementation without impacting the environment.


The chapel is a work of art, with a massive cross that dominates the structure and large windows that frame the surrounding landscape.

It is worth making a quick stop for splendid views driving from Phoenix to Sedona.

Sedona in January

This Roman Catholic chapel was built from 1954 to 1956 in the red rock buttes of Sedona, Arizona, within the Coconino National Forest.

It is known for its brilliant architecture and engineering accomplishments in constructing the buttes, with windows framing buttes and rock outcroppings.


  • The nearest city – Sedona
  • Famous for – Historic cliff dwelling
  • Best time to visit – 
  • Facilities – Visitor Center, museum, restrooms
  • Managed by – National Park Service
  • Entry – Covered by the ticket to Sun Crater monument

Imagine building a house on a cliff face without modern tools or Amazon deliveries.

The Sinagua people did just that, and let me tell you, their version of “cliffhanger” beats any reality TV show.

It’s a short detour off I-17, and it’s like stepping back in time, worth adding to your itinerary driving from Phoenix to Sedona.

It is one of the best Arizona National Monuments if you are on a quest to explore the state’s best cliff dwellings or want to know the rich and ancient history of the Native Americans inhabiting the vast expanse of landscapes in the Grand Canyon state.

Castle National Monument is home to one of the most impressive and important archaeological sites in the States. 

Arizona national monuments

It is considered one of the largest and the best-preserved cliff dwellings in North America, the remains of an ancient settlement over 900 years old.

Located in Camp Verde town in the Verde Valley 25 miles south of Sedona, it was established in 1906 to preserve Indigenous American culture. 

Although not related to the famous Aztec emperor, this compact structure is the most spectacular among all the national monuments in Arizona.

It comprises a 5-floor structure carved into a cliff 1,500 feet high above the ground in an alcove in the limestone cliffs bordering Beaver Creek, a tributary of the Verde River. 

The inhabitants were the Sinagua people that existed here between 650 and 1425AD.

This cliffside complex was built around AD700 by the Sinagua people and abandoned in 1485 after a long drought. 

A short pathway lined with sycamores and catclaw mimosa trees leads to the limestone cliff, which is a stunning and sophisticated example of Sinaguan architecture comprising 20 rooms in multiple stories reached by ladders, and also includes Montezuma Well, a flooded limestone sinkhole a few miles east.


Made out of stone-and-mortar masonry, it is an example of exquisite engineering skills and ingenuity, whether it is the placement of rooms to take shelter from the scorching sun or its elevated location that provided protection from Beaver Creek’s annual flooding and to keep an eye on approaching visitors.

While you can’t enter the building during a visit to protect its delicate features, today, you can access Montezuma Castle by a paved third-of-a-mile trail leading to a viewing point below the ruins.

The route has shade, thanks to large trees and passes beneath the cliff dwellings and then loops back to the visitor centre.

Phoenix to Sedona distance
distance between Phoenix and Sedona

You can learn about the pre-Columbian site at its museum to imagine life in this unforgiving desert landscape.

Along the way to the viewing point, there are informative exhibits about the region and its inhabitants. 

After touring this stunning castle, drive 11 miles north to see the Montezuma Well, also part of the national monument. 

An unusual spring-fed travertine pool in the middle of the arid desert, it is a unique geological feature that once provided water for Sinaguan communities. 

After arriving at the trailhead, take the short hike to the lookout to see down into the deep waters below.

The water in the well today, which is about 400 feet deep, has high levels of arsenic and other chemicals.

Continuing along the trail will lead to an ancient but still functioning canal system, along with a large shaded area. Here, you can see smaller dwellings and the remains of an irrigation system.


Taking the alternative route? Make sure to stop at Bell Rock. It’s not just a rock; it’s an experience.

Bell Rock is one of Sedona’s most iconic landmarks and is easily accessible from the alternative route via Hwy 179.

Sedona has long been regarded as a place both sacred and powerful, and people come from around the world to meditate and experience the mysterious cosmic forces within the area.

These vortexes, or powerful energy fields, are used for healing, meditation, accessing psychic abilities, and spiritual and self-exploration.

The energy here is said to be powerful, and the hiking trails offer views that will make your heart soar.

This massive rock formation is not only a sight to behold. Still, it is also one of Sedona’s famed vortex sites, places thought to be swirling centres of energy conducive to healing, meditation, and self-exploration.

Due to its more accessible trail and gorgeous formations, the Bell Rock Loop Trail is a popular spot among locals and visitors.

phoenix to Sedona drive
is the drive from Phoenix to Sedona scary?

Although it is a short trail, the uphill climbing will make it a 30-minute journey to get to the base section of Bell Rock from the parking area.

A vast viewing platform offers splendid views of the sunrise in Sedona. 

For more adventure, you can climb further to reach the upper portions of the rock. 

Also, check out Courthouse Butte in the early morning sunlight.


If you’re taking Route 1, you can’t miss Slide Rock State Park.

No list of Sedona swimming holes is complete without mentioning the crown jewel of Sedona swimming holes – Slide Rock.

This Sedona Pool, Slide Rock, located in Slide Rock State Park, is one of the best swimming holes in Arizona for a quick relaxing getaway you can add as a side trip.

Slide Rock is a series of beautiful short cascades cut into the sandstone at Slide Rock State Park.

It is only about 15 minutes away from Sedona, just six miles north of Oak Creek Canyon and is named for its waterslide-like rock formations that surround Oak Creek’s calm waters.

I still remember my first trip to Slide Rock. It was unplanned detour inspired by a local’s recommendation at a gas station. “You can’t miss the natural water slides,” he said, with a wink. He wasn’t wrong.

Sliding down those slick, algae-covered rocks was like being a kid again—except the water was colder than I expected, sending a shiver up my spine that I can still recall.

This stretches for about 80 feet and comprises many cascades of various sizes and shapes, ideal for sliding, as the name suggests.

Due to the deposition of algae on the rocks, Slide Rock forms a nature water slide, allowing fun for adults and kids.

best swimming holes in Arizona
Sedona creek

Since there are many swimming pools with different depths, it is the best option if you travel with kids or prefer to wade in shallow waters.

You can also enjoy swimming at the many holes along Oak Creek surrounding Slide Rock for about half a mile.

To reach Slide Rock, you have to only do the easy walk for about 0.3 miles from the trail.

You will start the hike at the historic apple-packing barn in Slide Rock State Park, home to hundreds of apples in the orchards along the creek, another attraction worth stopping by.

You will pass through old cabins and historical buildings before descending steps leading to the banks of Oak Creek, crossing a small bridge. 

There are a few shady spots along this stretch of the creek, perfect for picnics or camping during the day, but these get filled quickly during spring and summer.

However, there’s still room to spread out and relax on red rock benches and many places to enjoy the water beside the creek.

Parking: Slide Rock State Park has a much larger parking lot worth accommodating about 100 vehicles, but it is occupied fully, usually during busy days.

There is a fee of $10-$30 per vehicle of up to 4 people. Alternatively, check for spaces along State Route 89A if you want to avoid parking here.


Tlaquepaque Arts & Shopping Village is a re-creation of a traditional Mexican village. I highly recommend stopping by driving from Phoenix to Sedona.

Located on the banks of beautiful Oak Creek, Tlaquepaque is a year-round top attraction in the city, but it is known for its signature event during Christmas in Sedona.

Tlaquepaque is a delight for the senses, with cobblestone pathways, magnificent sycamore trees, and many galleries, boutiques, and restaurants.

This 50+ years old tradition is anticipated by locals and tourists alike as Tlaquepaque transforms into an even more enchanting winter wonderland.

Christmas lights in Arizona

The Tlaquepaque arts and shopping district has been the central attraction during Christmas in Sedona as the area comes alive with over 6000 luminaries. 

These luminaries are icons for holidays in the Southwest, traditional paper-bag lanterns with candles set in sand. 

Check out the arts and crafts village with shops where you can taste hot chocolates and Christmas cookies and shop for antiques.

The festivities begin after Thanksgiving, as the village basks in thousands of lights and kicks off the season with a Tree Lighting on Dec. 6. 

Once the tree lights up, the festivities will begin with a visit from Santa, live music and other entertainment.

Sedona in December

The Tlaquepaque Arts & Craft Village is one of Sedona’s most well-loved areas for its many boutiques and shops selling regional and hand-crafted goods. 

Listen to choirs, and get your kids to meet Santa after the parade.

Opening hours – 11 AM to 7 PM


Your next stop will be the Village of Oak Creek, but the segment of the byway between the Village of Oak Creek and Sedona is a divided highway, so if you have time, we recommend driving both as they offer spectacular views and additional stops on your road trip from Phoenix to Sedona.

The Village of Oak Creek is one of the little hamlets that lies cradled by the red rock formations.

This quiet and small residential community was established by ranch settlers and farmers in the late 1800s. 

how long is the Sedona scenic drive

It is one of the best places for dining, biking, golf, and spending overnight or more if you wish to access any of the dozens of trails.

Continuing south through the Village of Oak Creek, Castle Rock dominates the landscape on your right and Bell Rock on your left. 

You can also see Wild Horse Mesa, Court House Butte and House Mountain in the distant background. This route is one of the famous filming locations.


Sure, driving is great, but have you ever arrived in Sedona by helicopter, feeling like a celebrity avoiding the paparazzi?

For the more adventurous, guided tours can provide insights into the area’s history, geology, and folklore, making the journey as enriching as the destination.

Here are the day tours I recommend that cover various aspects of Sedona.

✅Sedona Red Rock Explorer from Flagstaff🤩 -Explore the mystical ‘energies’ of the city of Sedona during this sightseeing day trip from Flagstaff. 

Pass through the scenic Oak Creek Canyon before spending a few hours learning about the town’s supposed ‘vortex’ sites. 

You’ll have the afternoon to explore the numerous art galleries and lunch options at your own pace. 

Read more about Sedona Red Rock Explorer from Flagstaff to book here.

✅Self-Guided Audio Driving Tour of Sedona🤩 – If you want to see the highlights of Sedona without the annoyance of traveling in a group tour, this Sedona Self-Guided Audio Driving Tour from Flagstaff is a great solution. 

Hear stories to enhance your trip, as well as step-by-step directions. Check out more here to book.


Here are some of my recommendations for top tours that you should join while in Sedona for a fabulous experience!

Sedona Stargazing Tour(5/5 400+ reviews🤩) Led by professional astronomers, the tour includes an introduction to the solar system using a high-powered laser pointer.

Use specialized telescopes to see close-up views of planets, galaxies, star clusters, and nebula. Read more here.

Sedona Helicopter Tour: Wild West Tour(5/5 200+ reviews🤩) Experience the magical red rock landscape of Sedona from the air during this helicopter tour of the greater Sedona area.

Along the way, take in spectacular desert views of canyons, rivers and the windswept rock formations. Check out more here.

Sedona Vortex Tour by Jeep(5/5 1000+ reviews🤩) – With more than a thousand reviews, this is the best jeep tour that covers the best of Sedona Vortexes. Check out more here.

Sedona Outback Trail Jeep Adventure – A top-rated 2-hour tour; check out more details here.

Private Gambler Trail: Rugged 4×4 Hummer Tour in Sedona – Recommended if you are looking for a private tour. Check details here.

You can also rent a Polaris RZR 4-Seat for an entire day – I highly recommend this if you are in a group or a family. Saves money and time. Find more details here

Take this helicopter tour🤩 to admire the stunning landscapes of Arizona from above as you fly over Sedona’s famous red rock formations, including cliff dwellings, mesas and buttes.



A Sunset Chateau – This bed and breakfast features an outdoor pool and hot tub, A fully equipped kitchenette and stunning mountain views from select rooms. 

Hiking is possible in the nearby area. A Sunset Chateau is highly loved by families and couples. Check out rooms and the latest prices here.

Junipine Resort – Offering apartments with a full kitchen and a living room with a fireplace, this resort boasts rustic elegance.

Close to the creek and many attractions, it is one of the best places to indulge. 

Check out rooms and the latest prices here.

Enchantment Resort – If you want a luxurious experience, check out Enchantment Resort, known for its spectacular vistas of Boynton Canyon. 

Enjoy luxurious delicacies and outdoor activities, besides enjoying the comforts of suites and villas with private balconies. Check out rooms and the latest prices here.

what to do in Sedona in November

Adobe Village Villa with Private Patio – Sunset Villa – Boasting air-conditioned accommodation with a patio, Adobe Village Villa with Private Patio – Sunset villa offers access to a balcony and free private parking.

It is one of my favorite recommendations for its rich exteriors and comfortable villas. Check out rooms and the latest prices here.

Sky Ranch Lodge – Sky Ranch Lodge provides spacious accommodation with a seasonal outdoor swimming pool, free private parking, a garden and a bar. Check out rooms and the latest prices here.

Sedona in November weather

El Portal Sedona Hotel – El Portal Sedona Hotel is 20 20-minute drive from Red Rock State Park.

You can also enjoy a spa bath, which is also featured in some rooms. Check out rooms and the latest prices here.

Matterhorn Inn – Matterhorn Inn provides excellent accommodation with an outdoor swimming pool and free WiFi throughout the property.

The 4-star hotel has mountain views. Check here for the latest prices and deals.

If you are looking for a B&B, I recommend Whispering Creek Bed & Breakfastwhich features accommodation with free WiFi, barbecue facilities, a shared lounge and free private parking.

They have excellent reviews and great prices. Click here for more details. 


So, whether you’re cruising down the 89A, taking the alternative route, or letting someone else drive, the journey from Flagstaff to Sedona is more than just a trip.

It’s an adventure through the heart of Arizona, filled with natural wonders, cultural treasures, and moments.

From the exhilarating natural water slides at Slide Rock State Park to the peaceful reflection at the Chapel of the Holy Cross, there’s something for everyone from Flagstaff to Sedona.

So, pack your bags, grab your camera, and get ready for an adventure that you’ll remember for a long time.


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