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A Traveler's Guide to Exploring Flagstaff and Sedona, Arizona

35.1983° N, 111.6513° W

Golden hour in Sedona, Arizona



Located far out in the northern Arizona mountains are two of the coolest and most exciting towns around. Flagstaff - or "Flag" as the locals call it - and Sedona are not only drop dead beautiful, but are also full of numerous outdoor adventures, a rich culture and a whole lot of energy (especially the spiritual kind).

If you are looking for a fun destination for a long weekend away or if you are just looking to explore some other amazing areas in Northern Arizona that aren't Grand Canyon National Park, then we cannot recommend these two Arizona towns enough.

Below you will find our ultimate travel guide for both Flagstaff and Sedona, Arizona, which includes everything you need to know about visiting both adventurous towns, like the best time to visit, where to stay and what to explore while visiting.


The cute mountain town of Flagstaff lies near the southwestern edge of the massive Colorado Plateau and within the San Francisco volcanic field. The town is also located along the western side of the largest contiguous ponderosa pine forest in the whole continental United States.

In the 1920s local Flagstaff businessmen began lobbying for Route 66 to pass through the city (which it did). This helped turn the local industry from lumber to tourism, which then helped develop downtown Flagstaff. Another important thing to happen in Flagstaff was the discovery of Pluto in the 1930s at the nearby Lowell Observatory (which you can learn more about in their daily tours).


ELEVATION: 6,910 feet / 2,106 meters


By far Sedona's main tourist attraction is its wide array of red sandstone formations that often appear to glow in amazing orange and red shades when illuminated by both the rising or setting sun. The monolithic red rocks form a popular backdrop for many outdoor activities that range from various spiritual pursuits to hiking and mountain biking.

The first white settler to the area was John J. Thompson, who moved to the Oak Creek Canyon in 1876. At the time, the area was well known for its peach and apple orchards. Around the turn of the century, the Sedona post office was established. At the time 55 residents - mostly ranchers and farmers - called the area home. Interestingly, it took until the mid-1950s for the first telephone directory to arrive in town. It would then take another ten years for the whole town to get electricity.

More recently, Sedona has become famous for two things: as a spiritual center and global power spot and as the home for the only McDonald's without golden arches (they are instead turquoise).


ELEVATION: 4,350 feet / 1,330 meters

\\ How to Get to Flagstaff and Sedona

Both towns are located in Northern Arizona - an area of the state that is known for its rocky, volcanic mountains and pine forests. While the two towns are somewhat remote, they are also centrally located to many larger cities and outdoor adventures. Below are the standard driving times from a few of the closest major metropolises as well as from some of the most exciting nearby adventure destinations (hello Grand Canyon National Park!).



2 hours and 45 min to Flagstaff via Interstate 17

2.5 hours to Sedona via Interstate 17 and Highway 179


4 hours to Flagstaff via Interstate 40, Highway 93 and Interstate 11

4.5 to Sedona via Interstate 40, Highway 93, Interstate 11 and Highway 89A


4 hours and 45 min to Flagstaff via Interstate 40

5 hours and 20 min to Sedona via Interstate 40 and Highway 89A


Grand Canyon National Park

This beautiful national park is roughly 1 hour and 45 minutes from the edge of Flagstaff and 2.5 hours from Sedona. To reach the Grand Canyon from either town, you will need to head north out on Highway 180 and 64.

❔ GOOD TO KNOW: if you are hoping to head to Grand Canyon National Park's North Rim, then you will have to first head out Highway 89 towards Bitter Springs, Arizona (just south of Page). Then drive out on Highway 89A and Road 67 until you reach the rim and the various trails located there. From Flagstaff, it is roughly 4 hours to the North Rim and from Sedona, it is roughly 4 hours and 35 minutes.

Nearby National Monuments

Located quite a bit closer to both towns are three amazing nationally protected areas: Sunset Crater National Monument, Wupatki National Monument and Walnut Canyon National Monument. From Flagstaff it is around 30 minutes to the monument entrances and from Sedona it is just over an hour.

| Sunset Crater National Monument is a great spot to head to to learn more about the areas volcanic history, go for a hike, and explore some interesting lava flows.

| Wupatki National Monument is another fantastic place to do a bit of exploring - especially if you are looking to learn more about the ancestral Native American tribes that used to call this part of Northern Arizona home.

| Walnut Creek National Monument is the third national monument within a short drive of both Flagstaff and Sedona. This federally protected area is also home to many archeological wonders, including 25 cliff dwellings.

\\ Where to Stay in Flagstaff and Sedona

There are many options when it comes to finding a place to stay the night in both Flagstaff and Sedona. From uber-lux all-inclusive resorts, to cute mountain cabins, you can find something for every type of style and budget.


In Flagstaff

| High Country Motor Lodge: this funky, mid-century style lodge is centrally located near Flagstaff's bustling downtown. The lodge has a pool, gym, free parking and is pet friendly. | BOOK YOUR STAY

| Little America Hotel: this hotel is actually located on the grounds of the Little America Travel Center. The hotel comes with a seasonal pool, gym, wi-fi, and free parking. | BOOK YOUR STAY

| Basecamp at Snowbowl: for something a bit more outdoorsy, consider booking a night at one of the Basecamp at Snowbowl's cute cabins. Located north of Flagstaff, this adventure-focused lodging option is within easy distance of many hiking and biking trails and, in the winter, skiing at the namesake Arizona Snowbowl ski resort. | BOOK YOUR STAY

In Sedona

While Flagstaff has many of the standard run-of-the-mill hotel and motel options (with of course a couple of fun spots thrown in), Sedona definitely focuses more on upscale lodging options. In truth, many of the top places to stay in Sedona are actually all-inclusive, wellness focused resorts - including one of the most famous, the Enchantment Resort.

| Enchantment Resort: this upscale resort sits on 70-acres of beautiful desert terrain near Boynton Canyon on the outskirts of Sedona. Many of the rooms at this resort come with patios with views of the glowing red rocks and access to pools, spas and other wellness amenities. | BOOK YOUR STAY

| L'Auberge de Sedona: for an even more upscale and luxurious stay in Sedona, consider booking a night at the very fancy, very beautiful L'Auberge Resort. Located on the banks of Oak Creek, this resort includes numerous types of cabins, a couple of restaurants and many wellness-focused amenities. | BOOK YOUR STAY


If you are looking for a bit more privacy or if you want something a bit more homey, then maybe an Airbnb is the way to go. Below are a few of the coolest Airbnb's in both towns.

In Flagstaff

| Quaint Downtown Loft/Studio: relatively small but very pet friendly, this loft is a short 10-minute walk to downtown. | BOOK HERE

| Cute Remodeled Cottage Near Downtown: this modern farmhouse is close to downtown and numerous urban trails. | BOOK HERE

| Large Home on the Edge of Town: if you need a bit more space to spread out, then this 6 bedroom house that is right next to trails might be perfect. Plus, it has a hot tub! | BOOK HERE

In Sedona

| Amazing Apartment Near Trails With a Spa: this one bedroom studio apartment includes tons of spa amenities (including saunas and a salt water pool), fantastic views of the red rocks and is close to trails and downtown. | BOOK HERE

| Cute Cabin Minutes from Downtown: this small and cozy space comes with great views of the area and easy access to town and the great outdoors. | BOOK HERE

| Creekside Home Near Sedona: this slightly more remote home comes with 2 bedrooms and amazing private creek access. | BOOK HERE

White van in the forest near Flagstaff, Arizona


If you are looking vanlife in either Flagstaff or Sedona, then you are in luck for both towns have many great boondocking sites available.

Near Flagstaff, the best spots to camp are either up in the Fort Valley area (north of town) or on the many forest roads off of Highway 89A (the road between Flagstaff and Sedona). In our opinion, the national forest area off of Highway 89A was a bit more natural and offered more spread out camping sites. But, the Fort Valley area was very close to some awesome mountain biking trails (see more on this below).

Unfortunately, in Sedona, there were not as many free camping options. In truth, really the only legal spots were west of town off of either Loy Butte Road or Deer Pass Road. But with that being said, Sedona did offer quite a few other vanlifer-centric services, including free water fill-ups at ChocolaTree Organic Marketplace, strong wi-fi at the Sedona Public Library and free recycling at the town recycling center.

💬 INSIDER TIP: we tend to find many of our free campsites on either the iOverlander or FreeRoam apps. Both are free to use and come with lots of helpful information; including, where to find free water, recycling centers and showers.

\\ When to Visit Flagstaff and Sedona

While the two towns are only a short 29 miles away from each other, because of their sharp difference in elevation (over 2,000 feet), the two towns experience pretty different seasons and weather. This is important to keep in mind if you are planning to visit both spots during your trip, for while it can be scorching in Sedona, you might actually need a light jacket up in Flagstaff.


Due to Flagstaff's higher elevation, the city can be quite a bit cooler in the winter (the average winter low is 14° F in January). The city also gets over 80 inches of snow a year - which is great if you are planning to visit and ski at the nearby resort Arizona Snowbowl. In our opinion, the best time to visit the city - especially if you are looking to hike and mountain bike - is between June and August. During the summer, Flagstaff’s average high temperature is around 82° F.


Sedona has a nice temperate and semi-arid climate. In the summer (June - August) you can expect hot sunny days (many over 90° F), and in the winter you can expect the average high to be in the mid-50s. Due to this temperature swing, the best time to visit Sedona is going to be during the shoulder seasons: April to May and September to October.

❔ GOOD TO KNOW: while Sedona is still nice during the summer, the town does get incredibly busy. Within one year, the otherwise small town sees over 3 million visitors - most of which come between June and August.

Sunny day on a hiking trail in Sedona, Arizona

\\ How Many Days Do You Need to Visit Flagstaff and Sedona?

We believe that you need at least 3 days to explore both Sedona and Flagstaff - though of course, we always think slowing down and spending more time in one spot is better overall. You can read our 4 day travel itinerary for Flagstaff and Sedona at the end of this guide (or jump there now).

\\ The Top 6 Things to Do in Flagstaff and Sedona

There are a ton of things to do in both Flagstaff and Sedona, from the highly adventurous to the deeply cultural. Below are six of the best things to do in either town.


If there was one thing we were really itching to do in the Flagstaff and Sedona area it was mountain biking. We had heard for years about the amazing red rock scenery and beautiful and exciting mountain bike trail system. So you can imagine our excitement when we finally got the chance to check the trails out for ourselves. And let us tell you - we were not disappointed!

Below are a few of the best mountain bike trails in both Flagstaff and Sedona.


In Flagstaff

Schultz Pass Loop | 11.5 miles total, rated as a blue; this trail is very pretty and green - especially during the spring. But be aware that part of the trail can be a bit rocky, especially near the top.

Hart Prairie Loop | 15.2 miles, rated as a blue; this scenic trail has lots of beautiful forested scenery to explore.

Campbell Mesa | 10.2 miles, rated between a green and blue; this is a very good beginner trail to head out on, especially if you are worried about really steep sections (there are none). Plus, you get to ride through a really pretty forest.

In Sedona

West Sedona Tour | 13.1, rated as a blue; this is one of the most popular rides in the whole Sedona area. You can expect beautiful canyon views and a great intro into what makes mountain biking in Sedona so fun.

Two Fence - Outer Limits Loop | 14.7, rated between a blue and black; this rather long ride is another great intro trail to what makes Sedona so special. This ride is great for people looking to push their fitness and take in the beautiful red rocks around town.

Chuckwagon - Mescal - Long Canyon | 9.1 miles, rated between a blue and black; this was one of our favorite rides in the Sedona area - mostly because it combined a lot of great stuff into one easy to follow loop. This included some fun slickrock riding, fast sandy sections and a bit of a rocky challenge, especially on the Chuckwagon section.

'Round the Peaks

For a serious mountain bike adventure, consider taking on the 50.4 mile 'Round the Peaks Loop. This ride circumnavigates the tall peaks that tower over Flagstaff; including Mount Humphreys - the tallest mountain in all of Arizona. This ride is considered a black and it is a mix of fun, flowy singletrack and fire roads.

To start the ride, park at the Schultz Creek Trailhead and then start riding up the Schultz Creek Trail.


If you want to explore the hundreds of miles of trails that criss cross the Flagstaff and Sedona area, but you don't have a mountain bike, then definitely consider just exploring them on your own two feet. Below are some of the best hiking trails in both Flagstaff and Sedona.


In Flagstaff

Humphreys Peak | 10.7 miles, rated as hard; this challenging trail takes hikers up to the top of the highest point in all of Arizona. Humphreys Peak, which stands at 12,633 feet / 3,852 meters tall, towers over the town of Flagstaff. The peak is actually the highest of the dormant volcanic peaks that are known as the San Francisco Peaks. The hiking trail is quite popular so be prepared to meet other hikers along the way. Also, dogs are allowed, just on a leash.

Sunset Trail | 8.3 miles, rated as moderate; this is not a very popular trail, so expect a bit of solitude while hiking. Also, because most of the hike is along a ridge, do not expect a lot of shade (aka bring plenty of water and proper sun protection). Dogs are welcome and do not need to be on a leash.

❔ GOOD TO KNOW: the Sunset Trail is an out-and-back trail. At the end, you do have the option to continue hiking up to the top of Elden Mountain, which sits at 9,298 feet / 2834 meters tall.

Fatmans Loop Trail | 2.4 mile loop, rated as moderate; this rather short loop trail is a very popular hike in the Flagstaff area. Along the trail you can expect ample wildlife viewing opportunities as well as great vistas of the surrounding area.

In Sedona

Devils Bridge Trail | 3.9 miles out and back, rated as moderate; this is often ranked as the best trail to do in the Sedona area and after hiking it ourselves we totally see why. The trail is quite straightforward, not too challenging and the views from the top (plus the bridge itself) are beautiful. In our opinion, this is a great trail to do at the end of the day, for the view of the sunset from the top is spectacular!

💬 INSIDER TIP: because this trail is so well-known, you can expect it to be VERY busy! Especially, if you do it on a weekend or during the summer (the busiest season in Sedona). We suggest getting to the trail really early in the morning or later at night (around dusk is good). Also, unless you absolutely need to drive to the trailhead, consider riding the free Sedona Shuttle.

Seven Sacred Pools via Soldier Pass | 5 mile loop, rated as moderate; this is another pretty popular hike in the Sedona area. While it is a bit longer than the Devils Bridge Trail, you can still expect a worthy payoff for your effort. Along the way, you will get nice 360° views of the surrounding desert landscape and also get to explore a cave.

❔ GOOD TO KNOW: there is no parking at the trailhead Thursday - Sunday, therefore you will need to take the Sedona Shuttle (see above). Similarly, while the trail is great year-round, if you want to see the seven pools actually full of water, we suggest hiking the loop in the springtime.

Boynton Canyon Trail | 6.1 mile out and back, rated as moderately challenging; if you are looking for a red-rock canyon focused hike in the Sedona area, then this roughly 6-mile trail might be for you. Located a bit further out of town, this hike takes you through some stunning desert scenery and near some energy centers and vortexes.

Two people on a natural red rock bridge in Arizona


Red Rock State Park

This state park is home to a beautiful 5-mile trail network that consists of interconnecting loops that lead you along the lush greenery of Oak Creek and the famed red rocks of Sedona, including views of Cathedral Rock and the Seven Warriors. While exploring, you also have a high chance of seeing wildlife like mule deer, javelinas, coyotes, skunks, and birds.

➳ You can learn more about Red Rock State Park here.

COST: $7 for adults, $4 for kids

HOURS: the park is open from 8 AM to 5 PM between Labor Day and Memorial Day (September to the end of May) and from 8 AM to 6:30 PM the rest of the year. The park Visitor Center is open 9 AM to 4:30 PM between Labor Day and Memorial Day (September to the end of May) and 9 AM to 6 PM the rest of the year.

Slide Rock State Park

The Slide Rock State Park area of the beautiful Oak Creek Canyon is actually one of the most popular tourist locations in the entire state of Arizona. This area is a scenic wonderland featuring towering sandstone bluffs, a multitude of plants and animals and of course the water of Oak Creek.

The famous Slide Rock is 80 feet long and around 4 feet wide. And thanks to the slick algae on the rocks, people can slide all the way down into a refreshing pool below. Side Rock State Park is such a popular and fun swimming spot that it was named one of the top 10 swimming holes in the whole USA.

➳ You can learn more about Slide Rock State Park here.

COST: it costs $20 per vehicle Monday - Thursday between Memorial Day and Labor Day and $30 per vehicle Friday -Sunday between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Otherwise, it costs between $20 to $10 per vehicle depending on the month.

HOURS: the state park is open from 8 AM to 6 PM most of the year, except between December and January when it is open from 9 Am to 5 PM.


Is there anything better than jumping in a beautiful refreshing creek after a sweaty day of adventuring? We think not. And luckily, Sedona is home to the amazing Oak Creek, which offers plenty of swimming areas (and even a fun cliff jumping spot) to cool down in.

In our opinion, one of the best spots to jump in Oak Creek is the Grasshopper Point Swimming and Picnic Area which is located along Highway 89A (the road between Flagstaff and Sedona). From the picnic area parking lot, you can walk all along the creek until you find the right swimming spot for you. From downtown Sedona, it is approximately a 7 minute drive the picnic area.

COST: $9 per vehicle to enter the picnic area, or $2 per person if you walk or bike up. Credit cards are not accepted.

HOURS: the picnic area is open from 9 AM to dusk.

💬 INSIDER TIP: if you can't find parking in the small parking lot at the picnic area, or if you don't want to pay the $9 entrance fee, then consider parking nearby and walking in via the Midgely Bridge Trail.

Clear creek river in northern Arizona


In the wonderful words of the Visit Sedona travel website, "Beneath the endless beauty beats a healing heart. Sedona has long been regarded as a place both sacred and powerful. It is a cathedral without walls. It is Stonehenge not yet assembled."

In truth, while Sedona is now regarded as an outdoor adventurers playground, at its core Sedona has always been a spiritual center. And nothing is a more visual representation of this than the numerous vortexes that are dotted around the town.

But what is a vortex? Great question. Again, in the words of the Sedona travel board, a vortex is "thought to be swirling centers of energy that are conducive to healing, meditation and self-exploration. These are places where the earth seems especially alive with energy. Many people feel inspired, recharged or uplifted after visiting a vortex."

We mean even if you wouldn't consider yourself very spiritual, any place that might make you feel a bit more uplifted can't be that bad.

Some of the best vortexes to visit near Sedona are at Airport Mesa, Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock and Boynton Canyon. You can find the exact location of each of these four vortexes (as well as the other ones near Sedona) either via Google Maps or by reading the town's vortex handout (here).


While we believe the nature and natural landscape are what make Flagstaff and Sedona so amazing, we understand that many travelers will want to get a taste for the town's services and downtowns especially.

Flagstaff has a very cute downtown with many restaurants, cafes and breweries within a short walking distance of each other. We recommend stopping in at at least one of the local haunts to get a taste of the town's culture. Some of the highest rated places are the Red Curry Vegan Kitchen, the Dark Sky Brewing Company and the Firecreek Coffee Company.

We also suggest spending a bit of time checking out the numerous historical points associated with the town's location along the famous Route 66.

In Sedona, you can expect a pretty different vibe than Flagstaff. This includes many more spiritual and tour-centric businesses, gift shops and American-style restaurants. That is not to say that downtown Sedona isn't nice - it is very cute and a lot of fun. Just be prepared for a more touristy atmosphere than neighboring Flagstaff.




While you can definitely base yourself in either town, we actually suggest getting a spot in Sedona instead of Flagstaff. This is because, in our opinion, Sedona is a bit more central to many of the best trails and adventures - including swimming holes, state parks and even a cool ghost town.

Below is a basic 4 day travel itinerary that outlines the best things to do in Flagstaff and Sedona.

\\ Day 1


On your first day in Sedona, we suggest heading out to get a lay of the land via your own two feet. There are many hiking trails a short distance from town (and some even start in town). You can check out our recommended hiking trails above.


After working up a sweat out on the trails, plan to cool down in the nice calming waters of Oak Creek. One of the best places to swim is at Grasshopper Point Swimming & Picnic Area near Sedona - though you can also swim along the creek as it winds its way through town.

Once you get your fill of the water, head back to town for either a bit of RnR or a nice easy walk around downtown Sedona (there are plenty of ice cream and treat shops if you need a bit of a sugar high). Or if you want to do a bit more exploring, you could instead head a bit out of town towards the famous Chapel of the Holy Cross. This stunning church was built in the 1950s and today is an emblem of the Sedona landscape.

To get to the Chapel, head out on Highway 179 until you reach Chapel Road. Turn left there and keep driving until the road ends at the chapel.

❔ GOOD TO KNOW: if you want to instead combine visiting the chapel with hiking in the area, then consider stopping by in the morning and heading out on one of the many trails that start right behind the chapel.


End your first day in Sedona grabbing dinner somewhere in town. A couple of popular restaurants are Creekside American Bistro and the Hideaway House.

Wide view of red rocks in Sedona, Arizona

\\ Day 2


Just like on Day 1, try to get up nice and early to beat both the crowds and the heat. We suggest spending the morning of your second day in Sedona doing a bike ride on one of the numerous mountain bike trails. We personally loved the Mescal Trail, but we have also heard great things about the West Sedona Tour trail.


Once done riding, head out to Slide Rock State Park - located roughly 7 miles from downtown Sedona - for another refreshing dip and the opportunity to learn a bit more about the area's history.

Then grab some lunch in town and plan to relax and decompress for a couple of hours (the Sedona heat does start to get to you after a while).


If you have the energy, try to head out around dusk to check out one of the towns many vortexes. One of the easiest ones to reach is the Airport Mesa Vortex, which is just a short drive and hike from downtown.

\\ Day 3


Spend your third morning in Sedona nice and slow. We recommend grabbing some delicious donuts and coffee at Sedonuts (we visited three times while in town), and then packing up and driving up to Flagstaff for the day.

The drive between Sedona and Flagstaff is absolutely beautiful and should definitely not be rushed. If you have the time, consider stopping off at one of the many trails along the way - including the Wilson Canyon Trail or at the North Wilson Mountain Trail. Overall, the drive should take around an hour total.


Once you arrive in Flagstaff, park downtown and walk around for a bit, maybe grab a cup of coffee at one of the many cafes scattered around town.

Then drive just a bit away from town towards the famous Lowell Observatory - aka the place where they discovered the planet Pluto. This is a great spot to explore especially if you are into astronomy. It costs $25 for adults and $16 for children to enter the observatory. This general admission ticket is good for all day (you can come and go as you like). The Lowell Observatory is open from 10 AM until 11 PM except on Tuesdays (it's only open until 5 PM).

If you have the time after visiting the observatory, consider checking out one of the many hikes in and around Flagstaff. While we have outlined three of the best above, there are a lot of options depending on your fitness level and time requirements. You can find a full list of hikes in Flagstaff here.


End your day in Flagstaff by grabbing dinner and maybe a drink at one of the many restaurants or breweries downtown.

Once done hanging out, either make the one hour drive back down to Sedona or head to your lodging accommodation for the night (see our recommended spots above).

\\ Day 4


Spend your last morning in Flagstaff or Sedona outside on one of the many trails. In either town you can find many shorter trails that are great for those vibrant sunrise colors.


After getting your heart rate up out on the trails, head into town for one last meal and maybe a coffee (or two). Once finished with breakfast, start packing up your vehicle and begin to make your way out of town.

While you can simply just drive back to where you live, if you don't want the adventure to end quite yet, there are luckily a couple of interesting spots nearby that are definitely worth stopping at. This includes checking out the ghost town of Jerome (roughly 45 minutes from Sedona on Highway 89A), the cute old towns of Clarkdale and Cottonwood (36 minutes from Sedona, also on Highway 89A), Petrified Forest National Park (almost two hours from Flagstaff on Interstate 40) and the somewhat famous town of Winslow (as in the town from the Eagle's song "Take it Easy"), which is around an hour from Flagstaff.

💬 INSIDER TIP: we ended up spending an evening in Cottonwood and really fell in love with the quaint downtown and historic homes. Plus, the area is known for their wineries and vineyards as well as some pretty delicious restaurants.


In our opinion, Flagstaff and Sedona are some of the prettiest and adventurous towns in the American Southwest. While we knew about the two towns' reputations before stopping off on our road trip, we weren't fully prepared to fall in love with the area so quickly. Seriously, if you are looking for a beautiful and exciting weekend destination, then we cannot recommend these two towns enough.

If you have any questions about Flagstaff or Sedona, then please leave us a comment below or reach out to us directly.



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