Look. Sedona is gorgeous. It’s actually steal-your-breath-away magically beautiful. And there are all sort of visitors to the region. You’ve got the grammers in their floppy hats taking pictures off cliffs, and the woo woo gypsies in paisley pants getting their aura photographed for $35. It’s fucking glorious.
But. There are a lot of people who visit Sedona. The hikes are congested, the restaurants are bustling. And if you are like me and you fucking hate looking at anyone else’s face while you hike, you may find yourself somewhat disappointed. When Pate and I went to Sedona for a weekend this November, I consulted my good friend Jena who used to live there and gave me some tips for a more private and special trip...
Hike the back way to Cathedral Rock
There are a few different trailheads to access Cathedral Rock. Do not go to the Cathedral Rock trailhead! It’s packed, and the hike has the same view the whole way up. Instead, take Verde Valley Road all the way down. It’ll turn into a dirt road but you do NOT need 4WD. From there, the signposts are clear.
In November, we hiked through some fall foliage and passed by a stream where we later washed our dusty ass hands. We slowly made our way up and around the mountain until we joined with the main trail.
When we turned the bend and saw (more like heard) the hundreds of people hiking, we were so thankful to have had such a peaceful walk up on a route far less traveled. I’m not sure Cathedral Rock would have been worth it if I had started at the main trailhead. I also say this because there were a lot of what I would call inconsiderate hikers: people with loud ass drones (which are not permitted), and others with speakers attached to their backpacks playing shitty ass mumble rap (at least put on J. Cole, bruh). Trust me on the back way.
Hike Devil’s Bridge at Sunrise. And by sunrise I mean in the dark.
I asked Jena if she had any recommendations on Devil’s Bridge and she said, “you know, I hiked it once. I don’t need to hike it again.” Literally, DAMN JENA. Apparently, the hike is so crowded and people just line up to take pictures on the bridge. That sucks balls. But Instagram got the better of us and Pate and I really wanted to do this hike. We woke up at 5am, to begin hiking at 6am, for a 7am sunrise. Now, I don’t advocate for hiking in the dark. There are fucking bears in Sedona. That said, we knew that if we got lost, the sun would rise soon enough. We had this USB charged flashlight to guide us, and the trail was fucking easy. We didn’t have a 4WD so couldn’t start at the Devil’s Bridge trailhead. Instead, we started at the Mescal Trailhead, and hiked the Chuckwagon trail to Devil’s Bridge.
We navigated fine in the dark, and by the time it got to the rock scramble at the top, the morning light was already coming through. We enjoyed a bottle of champagne at the top, all alone, watching the sky change colors before our eyes.
The next people to arrive didn’t come for another half hour. Hiking in the dark for the fucking win.
Keep it residential
Okay, I know the views from some of the fancy ass hotels are enticing. But here’s the truth: while in Sedona, you will be spending all your time hiking, eating, and shopping for crystals. The view from the hotel balcony is NOT the only beautiful view you will come across in Sedona. You really only need a place with a comfy bed and strong water pressure (because the red rock dust is a bitch to get out). I personally find hotels to be a waste of my hard earned money. If you DO choose to stay in a hotel, make sure it’s not one that is on or just off of Highway 89A. Then, you’ll be surrounded by people who wear crocks with socks.
Jena recommended staying in Uptown, but Pate and I found this lovely AirBnB in West Sedona. We had a near perfect experience where the room came with a mini fridge and coffee maker, and the house was super close to Whole Foods so we could stock up on sandwich items for our hikes. This house was also close to several local hikes (as in we walked to the trailhead) which were particularly beautiful at sunset.
Hide away at T’laquapaque
T’laquapaque is a charming outdoor shopping center, with goods far beyond my price limit. If you’ve got cash to spend and you want to buy some nice gifts for friends and family, go for it. If you want to simply browse the shops or check out the musicians busking in the courtyard, also a solid option.
Skip the sunset at Airport Mesa
Everyone goes to Airport Mesa to check out the sunset. It may offer amazing views but straight up, I’m not trying to hear Janet next to me crying about missing her boyfriend while I’m watching Goddess do her nature magic, you feel me? I’d recommend heading over to Creekside Cafe, grabbing a coffee or a hibiscus tea and checking out the sunset from inside or out.
*They have movie theatre seats outside so you can literally just relax with the view*
Remember that the trick to sunsets is to view them backwards - you don’t want to watch the sun going down so much as the way the light is cast on the mountains across the way.
A few more things to note:
1. Definitely get hiking boots if you plan on hiking in Sedona (I swear by my Asolos - they've been going strong for seven years now). While trail runners with a good grip will work, the rocks can be slippery and you won't be upset at additional ankle support.
2. As much as we love beer, the one and only brewery in Sedona, Oak Creek Brewing Co, was a total let down. The beers were as unremarkable as they come (and a few were just straight up flat). They did, however, have free popcorn and peanuts which was nice! I’d suggest checking out the wine made in Sedona over the beer, though!
3. You should definitely go to Cowboy Club for lunch or dinner, even though it looks like a place your 60-year-old dad with transition lenses would like. I highly recommend getting the sample platter of cactus fries (fuck me amazing!), rattlesnake sausage (surprisingly gamey!), buffalo skewers (with a raspberry sauce oooh fancy!) and flatbread (‘twas a fluffy flatbread, but delicious!). And don't forget the prickly pear margarita. Because those are delicious.
Summertime is high season in Arizona. I guess this is because students are out of school, but Lawd Jesus it’s just unbearably hot and stupidly crowded. Try planning your trip for October or November. The weather is excellent (cool but you’ll still get a tan!) and the crowds have calmed immensely.