A Phoenix to Sedona drive is one of the most unlikely, lesser-discussed road trips in the US. Unlike many of the US’ mammoth road trips, this Sedona road trip can easily be tackled in a day. And the route splits Arizona in two – heading north up to central Arizona and passing some of the best places to visit in Arizona as you go. Only just over two hours in length, the Phoenix to Sedona drive covers 117 miles. It whisks you from one of Arizona’s most iconic big cities into the heart of red rock country. The drive incorporates red rocks galore and tons of hiking trails. There are cultural attractions, too, like Montezuma Castle National Monument.
In this guide, we’ll cover everything worth knowing about the Phoenix to Sedona drive – which is actually a lot. There’s an ultimate itinerary coming up, plus answers to some common FAQs, and even some things to do in Sedona and Phoenix. You can easily squeeze these things in before and after your day trip of a lifetime. Let’s get started.
Phoenix to Sedona Drive Itinerary
So, you are ready to tackle the Phoenix to Sedona drive. This is easily one of Arizona’s top road trips – and day trips – and we’ve prepared the ultimate itinerary so you don’t miss out on a thing. You’ll be cutting through central Arizona and the dramatic desert landscape. Surrounded by natural beauty, this is the perfect day trip for wildlife, hiking, or animal lovers. We’ll first cover the most direct route, then provide an alternate route if you fancy a detour.
Best Sedona Tours From Phoenix
Below are some of the top tours from Phoenix to Sedona. These are great if you don’t have a car.
Top Activities and Tours:
The easiest way to complete the Phoenix to Sedona drive is to fly into Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. From Phoenix Airport, rent a car, drive to Sedona using this itinerary, and then fly from Sedona Airport. Or, if you really want, you can drive back to Phoenix after spending a few nights in Sedona. If you plan a return trip, this is the perfect time to utilize our alternative route – you get the best of both worlds.
Got your paper and pen ready? Then let’s start. This is the ultimate itinerary to experience the Phoenix to Sedona road trip.
1. Lake Pleasant Regional Park
Lake Pleasant Regional Park is a vast recreational area and one of the first notable attractions you pass as you begin your Phoenix to Sedona drive. Lake Pleasant has over a hundred campsites and RV spots – it is a hugely popular natural getaway for those living in Phoenix. When driving from Phoenix to Sedona, it is best for an early morning refresher, thanks to its wealth of water activities. You could go for a sunrise kayak. Or, if you leave it until 10 am, take a ride on the world’s largest floating waterslide at H2. Whoa!
Pack swimwear and a towel; use Lake Pleasant as the perfect wake-up spot. It is nice to start your day with some activity, and in summer especially, Lake Pleasant has a wonderful atmosphere.
2. Rock Springs Cafe in Black Canyon City
Black Canyon City is a little desert town once used for mining. The old mining town is now a brief stop-off point on the drive from Phoenix to Sedona. However, the unassuming town has one major draw – Rock Springs Cafe. The cafe has an aesthetic trucker vibe, with a faint sign etched in true Southern hospitality style on its walls.
The cafe is full of character with links to the old bootlegging days and over a hundred years of local history. Its special pies are just an added bonus. Rock Springs ships pie all over the US and serve them to visitors on arrival. We suggest stopping by for a quick brunch after your water activities on Lake Pleasant.
3. Badger Springs Trail
Badger Springs Trail is a 1.5 miles hike with a trailhead within the Agua Fria National Monument. Short but sweet, this trail is easy to complete and suitable for hikers of all capabilities so long as they have basic mobility. The trail drops you down along the banks of the Agua Fria River, immersing you in Arizonian wildlife and taking you to some spectacular Perry Mesa petroglyphs hidden inside a canyon.
Badger Springs Trail is perfect for spending an hour or so stretching your legs. The trail is relatively busy but not packed, so it is a nice opportunity to see some petroglyphs without straining your neck to peer over crowds.
4. Agua Fria National Monument
Now that you’ve officially entered the central region of Agua Fria National Monument, you can genuinely appreciate the 71,000 acres of protected natural space. Badger Springs Trail is a great way to start your time in the national monument – especially with its history, wildlife, and Agua Fria River access.
However, after this, we’d suggest spending a little extra time in the area with binoculars, just taking a break from driving and enjoying the views. You can spot coyotes, mountain lions, mule deer, and even antelope if you are lucky.
You can detour to the Pueblo La Plata site at this point if you want as well. Visiting Pueblo La Plata involves a 40-minute drive through a remote desert landscape to see an ancient Native American Settlement.
5. Montezuma Castle National Monument
Speaking of Native American history, Montezuma Castle is one of the best things to do in Arizona. The 20-story cliff dwelling is a remarkable early settlement cut into limestone rock. This ancient stone pueblo is one of the US’ most revered historical attractions. You can take a ranger-led tour of Montezuma Castle or visit independently. It is just a short walk from the parking area along a paved track – taking under 10 minutes to complete. While you can’t enter Montezuma Castle, you can get fabulous views from just outside.
Montezuma Castle National Monument is situated just outside of Camp Verde. It is easily one of the best historical attractions you can add as a stop-off on your journey from Phoenix to Sedona, and you should definitely tick it off.
6. Red Rock Scenic Byway
Many people say that the Red Rock Scenic Byway is a gateway to Sedona. The scenic drive is approximately 7.5 miles long and cuts through some spectacular red rock formations. Since Sedona is famed for its red rocks, it is no wonder this entering road is full of bright, cherry-red rock features.
Driving, it only takes 20 minutes; this byway is on the direct route from Phoenix to Arizona. It is the easiest attraction to combine with this road trip – you won’t have to go out of your way. And in fact, the only way this will take extra time is if you want to stop and take some quick photos.
7. Bell Rock
Bell Rock is a dramatic red rock butte you pass just before entering Sedona. As a final stop-off before entering the city, we recommend stopping and hiking (or mountain biking) up Bell Rock. The trail is only 0.8 miles out and back, but you’ll reach an elevation gain of 203 feet – so be prepared to get slightly out of puff.
This trail is ranked as moderate, and you’ll need to bring some water and sound, sturdy shoes. However, it is one of Sedona’s most iconic hikes, so it is fantastic to complete. The panoramic view you get on this hike makes it all worthwhile.
Alternate Route: Via Verde Valley Wine Trail
Fancy a different drive back to Phoenix? Or would you prefer to skip over the scenic byway and Bell Rock in favor of a good wine tour? Looping up to Old Town Cottonwood is a great alternate route on the Phoenix to Sedona drive. You can incorporate one of the fabulous wine tours on the Verde Valley Wine Trail.
If you detour this way, you can also visit the Verde Canyon Railroad and Tuzigoot National Monument – stunning and engaging attractions. If you have kids you may want to stop at the Africa Wildlife Park, though we don’t recommend visiting institutions like this, this seems to be well run. Use your own judgment. The railroad, in particular, is best for those who don’t want to hike Bell Rock or have compromised mobility.
Since wine tours are a little incompatible with single-day road trips, we suggest stopping overnight in Old Town Cottonwood if you choose this option. Unless you have a designated driver, getting two days out of this alternative Phoenix to Sedona route is best.
What To See and Do in Phoenix
After landing at Phoenix Airport, leave yourself a day or two to settle before heading on your Phoenix to Sedona drive. So how can you keep yourself entertained? What are some of the best things to do in Phoenix? Forget a day trip for at least the first couple of days, as there is just so much to see in this Arizona city. You can visit a shopping village, check out Arizona’s art galleries, or pick any of the attractions below.
Musical Instrument Museum
The Musical Instrument Museum is one of the most unique museums in the US, let alone Arizona or Phoenix. There are over 15,000 artifacts – which is honestly almost unfathomable. Phoenix’s artistic, cultured personality is impossible not to love. And having the Musical Instrument Museum to appreciate improves Phoenix tenfold. Don’t just visit the exhibitions; Phoenix’s Musical Instrument Museum has a 300-seat theater and hosts regular performances. See if one aligns with your visit dates, and stop by the gift shop after.
Frontier Town is super cool. The recreated old west settlement is like a little time capsule and a fantastic place to discover an immersive Western experience in the middle of the city. It isn’t just a Western pop-up attraction, though; it acts as a fully functional shopping center.
Think snapping pictures in front of aesthetic, old west-style scenery while rummaging through shop after shop of bargain buys. If you want to stop by a gift shop or two, just add Frontier Town to your itinerary. Is it a tourist trap? A little bit. But it could still get a smile out of even the grouchiest adults.
The Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix
The Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix is a little solace amid Downtown Phoenix. It is run mainly by volunteers and has a peaceful atmosphere, making it the ideal place to slink away to enjoy a short walk and some green space. The garden has tiny pagodas, endless water features, quaint red bridges, and ceramic wind bells. And once you’ve had a relaxing stroll, there’s a tea garden and tea house where you can grab a traditional beverage to end the experience.
Frank Lloyd Wright Spire
Frank Lloyd Wright Spire doesn’t make many top recommendations regarding things to do in Phoenix. Located in the suburbs in nearby Scottsdale, Frank Lloyd Wright Spire is a remarkable feat of architecture – a 125-foot tall jagged spike of blue that juts out above the boulevard. The spire is an ode to the late architect based on his proposed design as Arizona’s new state capitol in 1957. You can explore from the base of the spire and walk around the park it’s located in.
What To See and Do in Sedona
The Phoenix to Sedona drive might be a day trip, but you can still spend a few days visiting Sedona once you arrive. Our advice: treat your chance to visit Sedona as a short getaway. Spend at least a few days there after driving from Phoenix to Sedona. These are the top selection of all the things to do in Sedona during your stay. Who knows, maybe you’ll plan a Sedona road trip to somewhere special nearby, like the Grand Canyon?
Oak Creek Canyon
Oak Creek Canyon is a stunning red rock gorge and an absolute dream to stop by when you visit Sedona. The canyon is perfect for getting that red rock scenery and features a swimming hole and a natural waterslide. Oak Creek Canyon is less than 10 minutes away from Sedona by car.
You can easily use it as a half-day activity – just pack some swimwear, a towel, and snacks. Photographers should bring a camera too. Alternatively, if you fancy a more active way of reaching the canyon, rent a bike and cycle to Oak Creek Canyon. The canyon is just 30 minutes away by bike, so cycling is a feasible addition to this attraction.
Cathedral Rock Trail
When visiting Sedona, scary hikes are a must. Cathedral Rock trail is as scary as it gets, and this steep hike ascends abruptly to a saddle that lies between two red rock formations. The 1.5-mile round hike is not for the faint-hearted, but definitely, an achievement to get your blood pumping. Technically speaking, Cathedral Rock Trail isn’t demanding of hikers’ skills – it requires mental strength to persevere through the ascent.
You’ve probably seen Cathedral Rock before, but if not, check out a picture now. The sandstone butte is easily one of Arizona’s most famous sights. The jagged series of mounds make up the massive butte, and it is a transfixing sight whether you climb it or not. Moreover, Cathedral Rock is a 12-minute drive from Sedona and beautiful at sunset.
Chapel of the Holy Cross
Chapel of the Holy Cross is an abstract Catholic church dating back to the 1950s. The bizarre-designed church juts up with floor-to-ceiling windows and overlooks the red rocks scattered outside. The towering concrete landmark looks more like a spaceship than anything religious – a real piece of modern architecture. Totally free to enter; it is one of the most popular attractions in Sedona. Tourists love it for its novel contemporary allure. It even has its own online gift shop.
The Grand Canyon is not in Sedona itself. However, it is just a 2-hour drive from Sedona, so the town is a fantastic base for a day trip to the most famous canyon. The canyon is one of the US’ most popular attractions. People flock to the canyon to admire its dramatic scenery, indulge in helicopter rides, and head out on hiking trails.
But, it is far from just a pretty face. Stretching 278 miles, it encompasses 11 associated tribes’ ancestral homelands and boasts the Great Unconformity. The Great Unconformity is a missing layer in the rock pattern. It remains a total mystery to geologists all over the world.
The Grand Canyon is much more feasible as a day trip from Sedona than Phoenix. So make the most of venturing on this Phoenix to Sedona drive and stay in Sedona for a few days, adding on a day trip further north to the Grand Canyon. It is a reasonably direct route, heading up through Flagstaff or Grand Canyon Junction.
Sedona Airport Scenic Lookout
Sedona Airport Scenic Lookout is one of the most beautiful places to admire the views near Sedona. It is a fabulous sunset point when the red rocks are illuminated in stunning shades of red. The viewpoint overlooks western Sedona and sits at the end of the airport road – hence the name.
The vast parking lot is free to enjoy. So pack a picnic, bring some blankets, and settle in for a romantic evening overlooking Sedona. Sedona Airport Scenic Lookout is one of the most romantic things to do in Sedona for sunset and even after dark if you fancy some star gazing.
Phoenix to Sedona Drive: FAQs
The Phoenix to Sedona drive is a bucket list road trip. And this route is a breeze to complete in a day trip – ideal for those who have little time in Arizona. So, what else is there to know? As promised, here are the answers to your most commonly asked questions.
Is Sedona worth the drive from Phoenix?
Definitely, Sedona offers an entirely different insight into Arizona than what Phoenix offers. You’ll experience real ‘red rock country’ and road trip a ridiculously scenic route to get there. Sedona itself is full of hiking trails and culture. It is also a perfect base to enjoy skiing or head to the Grand Canyon.
What is the best scenic route from Phoenix to Sedona?
The best scenic route from Phoenix to Sedona is via the Red Rock Scenic Byway. On this route, you are surrounded by red rocks, and it is gorgeous at sunset. If you want an iconic way to enter Sedona, choose this route.
Is the drive from Phoenix to Sedona easy?
The drive from Phoenix to Sedona is so easy. You stay on the Arizona Veterans Highway for most of the journey, only changing to Highway 179 (the scenic byway) for the last 30 minutes of the drive. It is super simple to navigate.
What is the road like from Phoenix to Sedona?
The road from Phoenix to Sedona is basic and easy to drive. You are purely traveling on highways – starting on the Arizona Veterans Highway and switching to Highway 179. The highways run through desert terrain and are relatively quiet once you’ve exited Phoenix.
The Phoenix to Sedona drive is pretty iconic, that’s for sure. The red rocks of Sedona and the desert landscape you pass on this road trip are irresistible. You’ll have a fabulous time whether you stop by the ancient stone pueblos at Montezuma Castle National Monument or take one of the three hiking trails listed in this guide. The best part is that the Phoenix to Sedona drive is just two hours long – meaning you have all day to fill with exciting attractions and stop-off points.
Looking for more Arizona inspiration? Why not plan to stay in an aesthetic, traditional cabin? These are the best cabins in Arizona if you can tempt yourself to stop driving and stay put for a night. Trust us, you’ll appreciate the beautiful views and warm atmosphere.
Plan Your Next Trip to Arizona With These Resources