Phoenix to Sedona Road Trip Guide [Southwest road trip part three]
This Phoenix to Sedona road trip guide is an extension of my three-part Southwest Road Trip series, each with an independent video. If you missed the previous two parts (or episodes), click the following link: Southwest Road Trip in a Cruise America RV for first-timers.
Most people will drive from Phoenix to Sedona straight up (and back) I-17, however in this article I am going to share a much better Sedona road trip option that will highlight many interesting destinations along the way. So, if you have the time, definitely consider this Phoenix to Sedona road trip route.
Phoenix to Sedona Road Trip Vehicle
For this road trip, Toyota loaned us a 2020 Tundra TRD 4×4. In our previous two Southwest Road Trip stories and videos we explored the region in a Cruise America RV, but on this trip we had the flexibility to go places the RV simply could not. The Tundra is a wonderfully capable vehicle for exploring off-road, and we certainly took advantage! For example, we explored Oak Creek Canyon along the rugged and scenic Schnebly Hill road.
The only downside to the Tundra was the fuel efficiency, which was about 13.1mpg combined for the trip which included a fair amount of highway driving. Thankful gas prices were pretty reasonable during this period. Other than that, the Tundra TRD is one the the most exciting trucks I’ve driven in a long while. Every time I started the truck up, and heard the throaty throttle, I had a grin on my face.
Head out Wickenburg Way
From Phoenix, take US-60 or Carefree Hwy (74) Northwest toward Wickenburg. US-60 takes you through several cities, from Peoria to Surprise, however there is nothing very exciting to see. Hwy 74 on the other hand, meanders thorough some subtle mountains, while winding roads and wide open spaces showcase a forest of cacti.
Wickenburg is a true western town, where the spurs have a job to do, and hats are not accessories. The town is full of character, where spirits remain wild and the souls are Western through and through. With fewer and fewer areas to enjoy a true western experience, there is one place that has flourished for well over a century, and that’s Wickenburg, where cowboys roam and artists reign!
If you have time in Wickenburg, here are a few things not to miss:
- Self-walking tour of downtown – Take a stroll and enjoy the various sculptures with audio narration and historic buildings.
- Old Rail Depot – This is home to the Chamber of Commerce, which is located inside the old Santa Fe train depot. Next door is an old locomotive and box car to check out.
- Vulture City – This is a fantastic experience, but is a bit outside of Wickenburg. Vulture city was an abandoned gold mine and settlement left over from the mid-1800s. For the past few years it has been undergoing an extensive restoration effort. This mine was owned by Henry Wickenburg for which the nearby city is named. Visitors can walk through the old ghost town and see mining remnants, restored buildings and other artifacts.
- Desert Caballeros Western Museum has an impressive collection of Western artifacts and Southwestern art right in the heart of town.
- Hassayampa River Preserve is a lush riparian area where the normally underground river rises above ground. There are many trails and great places to enjoy a picnic to experience the diverse vegetation and wildlife.
- Flying E Dude Ranch – If you have a few days to spare, you may want to stay at the Flying E Dude Ranch for a cowboy experience you won’t soon forget.
Drive up Yarnell Hill
Due north of Wickenburg, along Hwy 89, is Yarnell. About halfway up this steep 2700’ mountain grade with hairpin turns, is the Hotshot Memorial State Park, a wonderful hike that celebrates a tragic incident that occurred back in 2013, when 19 hotshot firefighters lost their lives fighting the Yarnell Hill fire.
Yarnell itself is a cute and cool respite where a desert breeze meets the mountain air. This small town has a couple of antique shops, art galleries and coffee shops. I recommend stopping at Shearer Paradise Coffee Shop and take some photos of the old gas station across the street.
Continuing North on Hwy 89 you’ll go through Peeples Valley, a tranquil area with wide-open cattle ranches and horse stables.
As you continue north you’ll also get a sense of the increase in elevation. As you near Prescott, the landscape changes into a forest of ponderosa pine trees. In the outskirts of Prescott is Goldwater Lake, a nice place for fishing, hiking and relaxing.
In the heart of Prescott is the former capitol building, well before Arizona was a state in the mid to later 1800s. That’s right, during two separate occasions, Prescott was the capital of the Arizona Territory, before it move to Phoenix and Arizona became a state, which was on Valentine’s Day 1912.
This focal point of town hosts a lot of activities, from art and music festivals to holiday activities. Prescott also celebrates the world’s longest running rodeo in early July.
Just outside of the city center is a bit of an unearthly looking area of giant granite boulders surrounded by water. Watson Lake is a fun place to do a bit of sailing, kayaking or hiking.
North of Prescott, en route to Jerome, you’ll pass through the Mingus Mountain range, which is another forested area hosting a couple of lakes and other recreational opportunities. The peak of this mountain soars to over 7800’, so if you’re coming from the desert in the summer, you will welcome the cooler temperatures.
Jostling through Jerome
Dropping down the other side of Mingus Mountain you’ll drive right into the mile high community of Jerome. This is yet another old mining town that was eventually abandoned. In the early 1970s vagrants, vagabonds and a few artists started inhabiting the vacant buildings. By the late 80s, tourists began showing up. Today, it is a full fledged hip and eclectic artists’ community full of galleries and wine bars.
It doesn’t take long to peruse town, but it’s a lot of fun to stay a night or two to soak up the history and ghostly encounters. While in Jerome, don’t miss:
- The world famous Nellie Bly Kaleidoscopes – largest dealer of kaleidoscopes in the world, featuring nearly 100 kaleidoscope artists.
- Merkin Vineyards Tasting Room – a wine bar owned by Maynard James Keenan, lead singer for the band Tool.
- Gold King Mine & Ghost Town – this place is a cornucopia of interesting cars and artifacts from yesteryear.
- Jerome State Park is where you can learn all about the mining history of Jerome.
Coming off Cleopatra Hill (the perch where Jerome rests) is the areas of Cottonwood and Clarksdale. This is an up-and-coming part of the state, which is full of cool wine bars, restaurants, shops and museums. I have yet to stay the night in this area to fully immerse myself, but from what I’ve seen, I would recommend spending more than just a couple of hours. Here are some of the highlights not to miss:
- Verde Valley Railway – a heritage railroad running between Clarksdale and Perkinsville in central Arizona.
- Tuzigoot National Monument – A three story pueblo ruin on the summit of a limestone and sandstone ridge just east of Clarksdale.
- Verde River – Great place for canoeing, picnicking, fishing, or just wading in the cool water. You can also get a glimpse of blue heron, black hawks, coyotes, and mule deer.
- Wineries and wine bars – nearly a dozen small boutique wineries can be found.
- Out of Africa – a carefully executed human/animal relationship is nurtured with wild animals from all over the world.
From Cottonwood, along Hwy 89a it is less than 20 miles to Sedona, which is where we made our home base for the next few days as we explored the area.
We stayed at a fantastic boutique hotel right in the heart of Sedona, nestled within the arts and shopping area of Tlaquepaque, called El Portal. This 12-room inn is built using authentic adobe methods and is wonderfully decorated in an Arts & Crafts style. Each of the rooms is uniquely decorated and the expansive courtyard is a relaxing place to congregate with fellow guests.
After getting settled into our digs for the next few days we were off to explore. Here are some of the things we did in Sedona that we think you should not miss:
- Hiking – There are endless places to hike in Sedona, but some of our favorites include: Cathedral Rock, Boynton Canyon, Courthouse Butte Loop, Bell Rock and Devil’s Bridge. Additional hikes/exploring highlighted below.
- Off-Roading – If you have a 4×4 like we did on this trip, driving up Schnebly Hill is a lot of fun. There are some creek access points, hiking trails and some fantastic views. If you don’t have an off-road vehicle, consider renting one, or, leave it to the professionals and take a Jeep Tour with one of the several operators in town.
- Chapel of the Holy Cross – This has become an iconic Sedona Landmark and is certainly worth a stop. More than half a century after its construction, the Chapel of the Holy Cross continues to be a place of wonder, spiritual renewal, and sublime vistas for all to witness.
- Sunset – One of the best places to watch the sunset cast its amber glow over Sedona is at the Airport lookout.
- Slide Rock State Park – This is one of the most popular places in Sedona and can get quite busy, especially during the summer months. It’s known for the natural flume that is carved out of the red rock where people swim and slide down. There are also acres of picnic areas, a vintage orchard and old farming equipment and artifacts to peruse.
- Red Rock State Park has nearly 300 acres of hiking trails that meander through a nature preserve along the banks of Oak Creek, which creates a diverse riparian habitat abounding with plants and wildlife. The hiking trails wind through manzanita and juniper trees while green meadows are framed by native vegetation.
- Art Galleries – Of course, one of the main attractions in Sedona is its rich art scene with dozens of world-class art galleries to see.
- Dead Horse Ranch State Park – 20 acres of lagoons and a network of trails make it popular with anglers, picnickers, birders, hikers and bikers.
- Palatki and Honanki Heritage Sites – the Honanki Heritage Site is a cliff dwelling and rock art site located in the Coconino National Forest, about 15 miles west of Sedona, Arizona
Worthwhile Stops Back to Phoenix
After spending several lovely days in Sedona we made our way back to Phoenix, heading down the stunning Hwy 179 through Oak Creek Village before reaching I-17 South. As you make your way back to Phoenix here are a few stops worth making.
- Montezuma Castle -one of Arizona’s most coveted cliff dwellings.
- Fort Verde State Historic Park – small park that attempts to preserve parts of the Apache Wars- era fort as it appeared in the 1880s.
- Clear Creek Vineyard
As you continue south on I-17, check out:
- Arcosanti – If you’re into architecture, be sure to stop by Arcosanti for a look at what future housing may look like.
- Rest Stop – If you need to use the bathroom, Sunset Point is one of the best rest stops in the State.
- Off-roading – If you have a 4×4 like our Toyota Tundra, just past Sunset Point is the turn off for Bumble Bee, which is a fantastic area to go off-roading and test out your skills. You can also work your way down to Bumble Bee Creek.
If you have any questions about doing a Phoenix to Sedona road trip, please leave a comment below, I’m happy to answer any questions. If you’ve been to Sedona or central Arizona, let me know some of your favorite things to see and do.
What is the best time of year to visit Sedona?
With mild 4-season weather, anytime of year is a good time to visit Sedona. However, if you want to avoid the crowds and still have nice weather, early November is the best time to visit.
What is there to do in Sedona?
Sedona has something for everyone! Amazing hiking and biking trails. Lots of parts and open space. Off-roading and 4x4 tours. Great lodging, restaurants and shopping. High-end art galleries. Historic sites. Sedona is an outdoor playground.
What is the weather like in Sedona?
Winter – Average Daily High/Low = 60/34 Spring – Average Daily High/Low = 76/45 Summer – Average Daily High/Low = 95/73 Fall – Average Daily High/Low = 74/48
How long does it take to get to Sedona from Phoenix?
Sedona is approximately 115 miles (the shortest route) and will take nearly 2 hours with no stops. The more scenic route (up 89/89a) as illustrated in this article is 252 miles and could take you all day with the various stops.
What is the closest airport to Sedona?
There is a small regional airport right in Sedona, however most people would fly into Phoenix Sky Harbor and drive 1.5 hours north to Sedona.
Is Sedona expensive to visit?
Sedona is a popular tourist area and one of the most expensive places to visit in Arizona. Expect to spent at least $200/night for a modest hotel. Luxury Inns/Hotels will likely run well over $350/night. Food prices vary a lot, a good meals can be found for an average price.
What is the population of Sedona?
What is the elevation of Sedona?