Like many people, I am curiously drawn to the rocky and mysterious landscapes of the southwest US. Places like the Grand Canyon, which needs no introduction, and Havasupai, are impressive and grand in a way I’d never seen anywhere else on earth. On my ever-growing list of places to witness firsthand in this part of the country are many of the usual suspects – Monument Valley, Horseshoe Bend, Zion, Arches, Valley of Fire. Sedona was part of this list, and I was surprised to find just how close it sits to Phoenix (an easy 2-hour drive north).
So, on a recent trip to Arizona to explore Tempe, I decided I also really wanted to squeeze in a quick Sedona road trip to get a dose of its red rock beauty up close.
You probably don’t need another blog post telling you just how magical Sedona is. The rumors are real – it’s spectacular in person. And sure, since it is so close to Phoenix, you could easily visit Sedona in just one day. But I wanted to spend a night in Sedona and take things slow. To maximize time outdoors, what better way than by experiencing Sedona by camper van?
I had been dying to experience #VanLife for the first time, and it was AWESOME. While driving was a bit tricky at first (I normally drive a tiny sedan back home), the tradeoff of being able to ‘camp’ in a proper bed and take our home with us wherever we went was SO worth it. I savored being able to take in the sunset and all the incredible red rock views from a cozy mess of warm blankets and pillows. I loved getting to cook a gigantic, proper breakfast on a propane grill in the early morning. I also liked being able to change clothes whenever I wanted to by just clambering into the back of the van and closing the curtains. SO convenient after a long sweaty hike (and in Sedona, there will be plenty)!
Sold on experiencing Sedona by camper van? Read on for everything you need to know about my experience and how you can recreate it for yourself. And, if you’re not going the camper van route, skip the van stuff and scroll down to my recommendations on how to get the most out of 2 days in Sedona!
A 2-Day Road Trip Guide to Sedona: What to Do, Where to Eat, and Where to Stay
The Best Way to Road Trip to Sedona: By Camper Van!
Camper vans are essentially vans that have been outfitted to provide a place to sleep and some basic living amenities, kind of like what you would expect out of an RV but on a smaller scale. We rented a camper van from Boho Camper Vans in Tempe, Arizona to kick off our road trip. Boho Camper Vans is both a rental shop and a place where you can buy made-to-order camper vans. Their rental vans are named after female rock stars, like Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin, and no two are alike.
We took Blondie on our Sedona trip and I was surprised just how many ‘amenities’ were included in the van. We had a full-size bed, towels, a 25-gallon water tank, an outdoor shower (!!), a fan, a cooler, a propane stove, all the kitchen tools we’d need, and some camping chairs to kick back and relax. Plus, when you rent a camper van, Boho gives you access to a secret map they’ve curated with hundreds of recommendations for camping, hiking, and local spots to check out in the area. With a cooler full of food and a downloaded map, we were ready to hit the road!
ADDRESS: 2121 S Priest Dr, Suite 102, Tempe, AZ 85282
COST: $149/night with a 3-night minimum*
*While we were only in Sedona 1 night, there is so much more to explore in the area. I’ve included recommendations at the end of this article!
Renting a Car (Or Bringing Your Own)
Of course, if you don’t want to rent a camper van, you can always drive to Sedona. If you’re coming from a neighboring state in your own car, great! Or, if you’re flying into Phoenix, you can easily rent a car and be in Sedona in just a few short hours. Sedona is one of the best and easiest road trips from Phoenix, by far!
Getting to Sedona
From the Phoenix / Tempe area, Sedona is about 2 hours away. I’ve been told that there is usually some traffic heading up the I-17 N since Sedona is such a popular destination, but we left at 10 am on a Wednesday and experienced zero traffic or slowdowns. From the I-17, get off at Highway 179 N and follow it through to State Route 89A. This is the main road that cuts through Sedona.
If you have some time, you may want to make some stops along the way. Between Phoenix and Sedona, consider stopping at Montezuma Castle National Monument or Arcosanti for a unique lesson on the history of the area. Or, grab a slice of legendary pie at Rock Springs Cafe and experience and true out-west diner charm and some killer banana cream.
In 2 hours, you’ll see city transform into saguaro-lined hilltops, rolling desert bush suddenly give way to towering red rocks. By the time you reach State Route 89A, you will be rewarded with insane, jaw-dropping panoramas as some of Sedona’s most iconic vistas begin to come into view. Don’t plan on speeding through this part of the trip to get to your destination – the drive in itself is worth your time, attention, and appreciation at just how diverse and majestic Arizona’s varied landscapes really are.
Things to Do in Sedona in 2 Days
By the time we arrived in Sedona, it was a little past 1 pm. We stopped by the Visitor’s Center for the latest information on trails and parking lots, and we picked up a couple of maps. If you’re planning on staying in Sedona more than 1 night, you might want to pick up a Red Rock Pass here, which will allow you to visit multiple trailheads throughout Sedona without having to pay to park each time.
Sedona Visitor’s Center
331 Forest Rd, Sedona, AZ 86336
Here is what we did in order to maximize our 2 days in Sedona, packing in a little bit of adventure, eats, and sight-seeing along the way!
DAY ONE: Tlaquepaque, Sedona Airport Scenic Lookout, Stargazing
Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village
Tlaquepaque Arts & Shopping Village is a Sedona landmark and has been for decades. Modeled after a Mexican village and with a name that literally translates to the ‘best of everything,’ Tlaquepaque truly feels like an old-world village, where you can find fine art, shops, and restaurants tucked between vine-covered walls, archways, and fountains. This was our first priority when arriving in Sedona because we were starving and wanted to grab lunch. We were torn between Secret Garden Cafe (salads and sandwiches) and Oak Creek Brewery & Grill, but ultimately chose Oak Creek because of a recommendation from a friend. Did not disappoint!
Sedona Airport Overlook
I was skeptical about why visiting Sedona Airport is a ‘must-do.’ Why would anyone need to go to an airport that only really caters to private flights? But we decided to head to the Sedona Airport Overlook after our late lunch and were rewarded with a stunning view of Sedona at sunset that ultimately served as a great introduction to the area. Aim to go around 45 minutes to 1 hour prior to sunset in order to get parking, as it can get pretty crowded. Parking costs just $3.
Airport Mesa is regarded as one of Sedona’s vortexes – rock formations or specific geographic areas where people have reported feeling a wave of spiritual or inspirational energy. You may or may not believe in vortexes, but the legend of their existence is part of what makes Sedona so special.
Stargazing in Sedona
Sedona is actually one of only a handful of certified dark sky communities in the world. The city itself even made a commitment to reduce light pollution by enforcing special lighting and light fixtures throughout the community, and the result is a visual feast that transforms the sky after dark. You can take a stargazing tour, or you can visit one of Sedona’s many trailheads or observation areas to park your car and admire.
This was without a doubt one of the most special experiences I had in the camper van. You can just prop open the back doors and lay tucked in bed with your face up to the stars! If you’re camping in or near Sedona like I did, odds are your campsite will be a prime place for enjoying one of the coolest views around.
DAY TWO: Go Hiking, Visit a Chapel, And Admire the Scenery
Popular Hiking in Sedona
After an early morning wake-up call and some breakfast in the camper van, you’ll want to hit the road early to make it to the trails. Because hiking is easily one of the most well-loved things to do in Sedona, popular trailheads will fill up quickly and parking can be tricky (especially for a camper van). Also, depending on what time of year you’re in Sedona, it can get incredibly hot by midday, so definitely get a head-start in the morning if you can.
Some trails are accessible for free, some can be accessed with a Red Rock Pass, and some can be visited with a day pass. You can pick whatever pass you need up at the kiosks available in most required parking lots, and if you’re just hiking for the day you can expect a visit to cost you around $5.
Some Highly Recommended Trails to Check Out:
Doe Mountain Trail (1.5 miles)
Devil’s Bridge Trail (4.2 miles)
West Fork Trail (7.2 miles)
Cathedral Rock Trail (1.2 miles) This is the one we did, and it’s also another famous vortex! This hike is quick – maybe 30 – 45 minutes to the top depending on your fitness level, and a steep but doable ascent – but you are rewarded with insane, 360-degree views while also being surrounded by towering red rock columns on either side of the trail’s end. A strange but memorable bonus? Some guys hiked up to the summit a few moments before us while lugging a guitar with them. At first, I thought they were stupid. But then, THEN they started playing, and singing, and they were SO good I would bet money they were famous in whatever part of the world they were from. Imagine taking in this view with a melodic guitar serenading you in the background to top it all off! Moral of the story – if you see anyone hiking in Sedona with an instrument… follow them…?
Chapel of the Holy Cross
A tiny but insurmountably impressive structure set atop Sedona’s already-photogenic red rocks, the Chapel of the Holy Cross is another Sedona icon. It was completed in 1956 and has been welcoming visitors and worshipers ever since. You can drive by it for an already stunning view, or you can head up to the chapel’s parking lot to get a look inside. Like all lookout points in Sedona, you can expect some pretty epic views up here, even before heading inside the chapel itself.
Courthouse Vista and Bell Rock
You can hike Bell Rock or you can just park and take in the views from this fairly spacious trailhead. I actually loved this site so much, we ended up stopping here twice.
Red Rock Scenic Byway
If you rushed to get to Sedona the day before, your final hours here before sunset are a great time to enjoy the Red Rock Scenic Byway (SR 179) properly. The drive itself is insane, with rocky giant after rocky giant unfolding in front of you with every turn. If for nothing else, a leisurely drive down SR 179 will quickly prove to you that Sedona is worth returning to (which is the effect it had on me).
Where to Eat and Drink in Sedona
Where to Stay in Sedona
Dead Horse Ranch Campground
There are campgrounds in Sedona proper, but they do tend to book up quickly if you aren’t planning far in advance. If you want a campground not far from the action, I recommend looking into Dead Horse Ranch State Park Campground, which is about 30 minutes outside of Sedona. Dead Horse Ranch is located in Cottonwood, which has a cute Main Street area with some surprisingly amazing dinner spots (Pizzeria Bocce and Merkin Vineyards Tasting Room and Osteria are two places I highly recommend!).
The campground itself has showers, heated bathrooms (with lights!), and mirrors. If you don’t camp often, know that these are all luxuries many campgrounds usually don’t have. Parking here for the night was easy, and we were able to wake up early the next day and be back in Sedona in time for hiking and a full day of adventure.
Other Places to Stay in Sedona
- Amara Resort and Spa
- Southwest Inn at Sedona
- Sky Rock Inn of Sedona
- Search all Sedona, Arizona Hotels
- Search all Sedona, Arizona Airbnbs
Extending Your Road Trip: Where to Go After Sedona
The Grand Canyon: The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is just 125 miles north of Sedona (about 2-4 hours depending on traffic). You’re so close – might as well spend a night or two (at least) at one of the most famous national parks in the entire world!
Petrified Forest National Park: I wanted to make it over to the Petrified Forest National Park after Sedona, but unfortunately didn’t have the time. It’s 144 miles (about 2.5 – 4 hours) east and famous for rainbow petrified wood and petroglyphs.
Flagstaff: Just 30 miles north of Sedona, Flagstaff is a mecca for outdoor lovers. The climate and landscapes in Flagstaff are vastly different from anything you’ll see in Phoenix or Sedona, making for a charming and worthwhile stop.
Jerome: Hailed as the ‘largest ghost town in the world,’ Jerome is a historic mining town-turned artistic community that’s popular with tourists passing by. It’s just 45 minutes outside of Sedona.
Cottonwood & Verde Valley Wine Trail: The Verde Valley Wine Trail is actually in Cottonwood, just 30 minutes outside Sedona and moments from Dead Horse Ranch Campground. You can sample wine from a selection of local Arizona wineries here. We got a taste of Arizona wine when we visited Merkin Vineyards during our one night in Cottonwood, and I would have brought a couple bottles home with me if I wasn’t flying back to California with a carry on.
Scottsdale: If you’re heading back down to Phoenix, consider stopping in Scottsdale. It’s an extremely fun city to explore with good restaurants, bars, and scenery. Check out my guide to Scottsdale here!
Tempe: Another worthwhile place to spend your time near Phoenix is Tempe, where we rented our camper van. It’s just minutes from Scottsdale so you can easily see both. Tempe is a lively college town but also an outdoor lover’s dream, with a lake, tons of bike trails, and even some central hiking trails you can explore without ever needing to leave town. Check out my guide to Tempe here!
Hope this guide helps you plan a fantastic Sedona road trip! Questions about Sedona or camper van travel? Let me know in the comments below!