Sedona, Arizona is a hiker’s paradise. Located on the southwestern edge of the Colorado Plateau in central Arizona, Sedona is famous for its red rock formations and eclectic culture.
We’ve driven through this part of Arizona before. Back in 2012, we stopped in Sedona for a night on the way back from southern Colorado. While we drove past the recreation areas along Arizona Highway 89A on the way to the Wyndham, we did not have time to stop and explore. So I was happy to find that Sedona would provide a good rest point on the way up to Moab, Utah on our 2022 national parks adventure.
Once again we stayed at the Wyndham Sedona. This time though, we were able to spend two nights at the resort, and so had time to explore parts of the Coconino National Forest, which covers over 1.8 million acres in Arizona. It is one of the oldest national forests, established in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt, and it is one of the most diverse in terms of geologic formations. Within the national forest are lava tubes, cinder cones, desert, pine forests, and the red rock cliffs surrounding Sedona. Encompassing parts of both Flagstaff and Sedona, it is indeed an adventurer’s paradise.
After a restful night following a 10-hour day on the road, including a stop in Scottsdale for a family visit, we started our only full day in Sedona slowly. I allowed for Sami to sleep, which did mean that we likely wouldn’t be getting to Slide Rock, as the state park’s lot fills up early and then it’s a long wait for a parking spot. But this did not put a damper on any sense of adventure. There is so much to do in Sedona- both outdoors and uptown in the various art galleries- that we would be able to find something fun for the family.
And indeed we did. On the advice of the concierge, we first headed to Grasshopper Point. This swimming hole is within the Coconino National Forest Red Rock Ranger District and is formed by the cool Oak Creek flowing through red rock cliffs. There is a pleasant picnic area and fee-based parking, however this lot also filled quickly. Fortunately for us, there was plenty of parking along AZ-89A, and with Michael’s mad parking skills (he can parallel park the Sedona in a spot two inches smaller than it, practically), we were able to fairly quickly start our morning’s adventure.
The trail to the creek was well-labeled. We started midway Allen’s Bend Trail, which took us down to the parking lot, at the base of Oak Creek Canyon. The canyon is beautifully shaded and felt cooler than the 100 degrees in Sedona’s city limits. After finding a nice spot for our things, we promptly hit the water.
Like many of the folks at Grasshopper Point, the red cliffs provided some nice spots to jump off into the water. The creek is pretty deep in points, and so there is clearance to get safely into the water. As I am a big chicken after injuring myself jumping into pools while hiking the Narrows in Zion, I stuck with the lower cliff, and imposed that rule on my family as well. The cliff was still a good 9-10 feet above the water at least, so it was definitely terrifying looking down. After videoing Michael and Sami make their jumps, and some questioning of my life choices, I took the plunge. Literally.
The water was cold and refreshing on a warm day, and the creek at that point was indeed deep enough for me to be submerged without touching the bottom. Bad thing was that I did get water up my nose, and I think I lost my turquoise bracelet which I had forgotten to take off. But it was still a fun experience, and of course, the kid wanted to do it again before leaving Grasshopper Point. Please note that the forest service strongly discourages cliff-jumping from any height for personal safety. There are points where the creek is shallower and there are rocks that are hidden below the water. We did see a number of young people jumping and even doing flips off the higher cliffs 10 and even 20 feet above where we were jumping, much to the chagrin of my fellow parents. Fortunately no one got hurt at least while we were there, but I can see why the U.S.F.S. would discourage this practice. Our jumps from the lower levels were risky enough.
After our morning adventure, we headed back to the resort for lunch and the obligatory timeshare presentation. This gave Sami a chance to relax between activities, and Michael and I received a gift certificate to a local steakhouse. We were fortunate that this particular owner meeting was low-key and chill, and the folks at Sedona were not high pressure at all. They also kept it short, and I felt were very respectful of our time. This has not been the case on some sessions, as many timeshare owners can attest to, but I was glad that this particular one didn’t take away from our vacation. And we were able to dine at a restaurant that we probably would not have if not for the gift certificate- Steakhouse89.
Named for the highway on which it it located, Steakhouse89 was definitely on the higher end of where we would go to celebrate a special occasion. The ambiance was quite elegant, and there was live music. There was a good selection of steak dishes, as well as lamb, pork, and chicken, along with seafood specials and one vegetarian favorite, the tofu enchilada. I was more interested in my expensive steakhouse favorite- some good mac n cheese and a cocktail. So while Michael and Sami enjoyed their rack of lamb and tenderloin tips burger, respectively, I was happy with my $13 mac n cheese and a triple chocolate martini. The food was good, though I personally wouldn’t normally pay $64 for a rack of lamb, but this was a special treat. And the chocolate martini was something that I would write home about.
Our Sedona adventure was not over yet. In honor of National Get Outdoors Day, and just because, we took a sunset hike after dinner. We changed into our hiking clothes and headed about two miles north to the Chimney Rock and the Thunder Mountain Trail. Again, the trails were very clearly marked, thanks to the National Forest Service, and between that and AllTrails, it was almost impossible to get lost.
We started from the parking area to the Andante Trail, and headed in a counterclockwise loop. After a tenth of a mile, we were at the junction with the Thunder Mountain Trail and continued on it for 0.6 mile before coming to the Chimney Pass Trail. We took this trail up, and this is where we hit more of the 400 feet of elevation gain. From the pass, we came to the scramble up to Chimney Rock. It was only about tenth of a mile, but it was rocky with loose red sand. The challenge was not getting up, but as always, getting down, after taking some spectacular sunset views.
From what we called the peak, we scrambled down, and hiked back to the loop. By then the sun was going down quickly, and it was time to head out. Fortunately it was a quick half-mile back to the Andante parking area, with enough light for us to enjoy the views of the red rocks and the valley below. We arrived back at the resort in time to join Sami at the pool for family movie night and some popcorn, thus ending a relaxed day of adventure in beautiful red rock country.
Some things to consider:
Sedona can definitely be a vacation on its own or as a side-adventure on a stop over. There is plenty to do in terms of recreation, as well as shopping and art. There are also several tour companies including Pink Jeep Tours, which several friends and family have recommended. I suggest checking out visitor guides or other blog posts for more ideas in planning your Sedona adventure.
Many of the places within the national forest are pack in pack out. Please remember to follow Leave No Trace principles and take out everything you bring in, including dog waste. These places in red rock country are extraordinarily scenic; let’s help keep it that way for generations to come.
Again, the U.S. Forest Service does not recommend cliff jumping at Oak Creek. Yes it can be fun, but there are potential dangers.
Be sure to come prepared with sun protection and plenty of water. Sedona is in that transition area of Arizona, so it is cooler than Phoenix, but hotter than Flagstaff, and it is warm in the summer. Overheating and dehydration can happen quickly. Even on our sunset hike, I noticed I was drinking more water than even on strenuous peak hikes back in California. I advise to bring more water than you think you might need, and know your limits.
There is no shortage of family fun to be had in Sedona, Arizona. Just pick a happy trail and go. Like our last trek through, my only regret is not having more time here in this picturesque town. But for us, more adventures await.
On to Moab!