Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
- 1. Photograph Red Rock Country
- 2. Drive the Red Rock Scenic Byway – SR 179
- 3. Visit the Chapel of the Holy Cross
- 4. Reflect at the Amitabha Stupa & Peace Park
- 5. Window Shop at Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village
- 6. Take a Hike
- 7. Make Music in Harmony Park
- 8. Star Gaze in Sedona
- 9. Take the Sedona Cares Pledge
Sedona is a luxury destination, known for fine dining, 5-star resorts, indulgent spas and spectacular scenery. But Sedona is also perfect for those on a budget. Why? Many of the best things to do are totally free, like taking photographs of the sunset at the Airport Mesa vortex, driving the Red Rocks Scenic Byway and hiking trails with drop-dead gorgeous views of surreal red rock formations.
More than 3 million people visit Sedona, Arizona, every year. With good reason. The landscape is one of the most dramatic in the United States and the climate is ideal for outdoor adventures and sightseeing. It’s also one of the most romantic destinations and is a perfect US honeymoon spot. It’s also one of our favorite girls trip locations.
Many of the resorts and tours in Sedona are expensive. For example, a two-hour off-road Pink Jeep Tour of the red rocks costs more than $100 each for adults and children! That kind of price tag doesn’t work for many traveling families. The good news, however, is that many of Sedona’s best things to do are completely free.
So, whether you’re traveling on a budget or want to save some money to splurge on a spa treatment or turquoise earrings, start here to plan your Sedona vacation.
Read More: Things to Do in Jerome AZ, a Wicked Good Ghost Town
1. Photograph Red Rock Country
I think it’s impossible to take a bad photo in Sedona, Arizona. The scenery is that beautiful. In fact, there were a few times during my solo road trip that I thought I might drive right off the road because something appeared in front of me that was just knock-your-socks-off gorgeous!
One of the best free things to do in Sedona is to head out with your camera as sunset approaches. The red rocks really come alive at magic hour, including iconic formations such as Cathedral Rock, Courthouse Butte and Coffee Pot Rock.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Looking to make the most of your travel budget while maximizing the fun? With a wide range of deals on local activities, dining, and experiences, Groupon helps you stretch your budget by offering discounted options near you.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Popular spots, like the Airport Mesa vortex off Airport Road, have small parking lots that fill up quickly. Get there at least an hour before sunset; a picnic will help you pass the time.
2. Drive the Red Rock Scenic Byway – SR 179
Possibly the best free thing to do in Sedona is to take the 7.5-mile scenic drive along State Route 179, also known as the Red Rock Scenic Byway. Even if you’re just passing through, it’s an easy detour off of Interstate 17 for travelers heading to and from Flagstaff, Phoenix, Prescott, and the Grand Canyon.
Sedona’s iconic red rocks get their color from deposits of iron oxide. Their beauty is on full display along the Red Rock Scenic Byway which is broken up by traffic calming roundabouts. There are a number of exits for scenic vistas. I recommend doing the drive twice, in both directions, so you can appreciate the views along both sides of the road. And switch drivers, so everyone gets a chance to gawk. I was traveling solo, so I stopped often to take in the view.
Another popular drive is along Arizona State Route 89A. The Sedona section is uninteresting – it’s the city’s main business drag and traffic is terrible most of the time. But drive south for stunning Verde Valley vistas as you enter and exit Jerome, Arizona. And definitely twist and turn your way through Oak Creek Canyon to the north.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Many popular trailheads in Sedona require a Red Rock Pass for parking, but the ones along SR 179 do not. Win!
3. Visit the Chapel of the Holy Cross
At one of the northern roundabouts on the Red Rock Scenic Byway is a sign for the Chapel of the Holy Cross. You’ll want to take a few minutes to detour for a visit. Designed by Marguerite Brunswig Staude and built in 1956, the Chapel is set into the Sedona canyon walls. It’s an engineered marvel that seems perfectly in tune with the natural setting.
There are several small parking areas along the steep access road. A volunteer in a golf cart was there when I visited to guide guests to parking spots and to shuttle people from their cars to the Chapel. Several tour companies, including Sedona’s popular Pink Jeep Tours, include a stop at the Chapel on their excursions too. No matter your religion, the simple interior of the structure is a quiet place for contemplation and the view of Bell Rock is one of the best. So it’s definitely worth it to make the climb to the top.
Read More: The Best Family Vacations in the Southwest
4. Reflect at the Amitabha Stupa & Peace Park
What’s a Stupa? I’m still not sure I really know, but I’m glad I visited during my trip to Sedona. The 14-acre Amitabha Stupa & Peace Park is located off of SR 89A in downtown Sedona. A meandering trail, lined with trees adorned with prayer flags, leads to the Stupa, a 36-foot tall Buddhist structure. Visitors are invited to walk around the Stupa 3 times in a clockwise direction, while keeping an intention in mind.
Even if you choose not to participate in the ritual, take a moment to sit in one of the chairs located around the Stupa. It’s a wonderful opportunity, during a busy vacation, to reflect for a moment on the beauty surrounding the park. Several people told me that the park attracts wildlife, especially near dusk. If you time it right, maybe you’ll run into a flock of Arizona Mountain bluebirds or one of the local wild pigs, called javelinas. I couldn’t believe it when one crossed in front of me!
5. Window Shop at Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village
Strolling through the Spanish-style courtyards in the Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village is a pleasant way to spend a Sedona afternoon. Featuring many galleries, shops and restaurants, Tlaquepaque (pronounced Tuh-lah-kee-pah-kee) also has a full calendar of activities making it a popular destination for both residents and visitors, whether they’re in town for a day trip or longer.
The drawback? The price tags can be staggering and I was disappointed to discover that some of the goods I was interested in were not made in the area. Finding locally made souvenirs is important to me. So, while I enjoyed seeing Tlaquepaque (and eating an amazing shrimp chimichanga at Mexican restaurant El Rincon), I was glad I also stopped at the Sedona Arts Center in Uptown Sedona. Featuring the work of local artists, the gallery has a wide range of items for sale. Even better, the Center is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit, so you don’t have to pay sales tax. I was able to find some gorgeous beaded and bronze earrings for my daughters that didn’t break the bank!
SheBuysTravel Tip: Many of Sedona’s art galleries participate in First Fridays, a program sponsored by the Sedona Gallery Association. Free treats range from tiny bites to live music.
6. Take a Hike
Hiking is what people do in Sedona and I’m sure it has something to do with the super year-round weather and amazing landscape. At home in New York, I have to make an effort to locate trailheads. But not in Sedona. Trailheads are everywhere, even in many housing developments. And you don’t need to commit hours to a hike; I found that a 10-minute walk can easily get you from a parking lot to an amazing view. For example, if you’re heading north on SR 89A, take a left onto Soldier’s Pass and follow it to the trailhead. Within minutes, you’re standing at the edge of the Devil’s Kitchen Sinkhole – just be careful!
Hiking is an activity for all ages. If you’re traveling with little ones, make a pit stop at Sunset Park. Besides a wonderful playground and splash park, it features the very cute Lollipop Trail, a 1/10th of a mile loop. So even the tiniest hiker can say they hiked Sedona!
I do suggest you consult with Sedona residents to get advice about skills-appropriate hiking. My sister and I wanted to do the famous Devil’s Bridge hike. There are two approaches to the trail that lead to the very steep climb to the bridge. Based on our age and hiking skills (intermediate – we are fairly nimble monkeys but…), the Enchantment Resort concierge gently steered us to the lesser of the two arduous entrances.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Remember, the Arizona sun is strong. Water, sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat help to protect. And don’t forget water; the air in Sedona is very dry and it is amazingly easy to get dehydrated. Here’s our list of the best sunscreens for babies and kids.
7. Make Music in Harmony Park
The Sedona Visitor’s Center is located off of SR 89A in Uptown Sedona. It is staffed with friendly folks who can help you decide what to do during your stay. Check out area maps and pick up brochures for local attractions, like the Sedona Trolley. Don’t forget to take a copy of the Visitor’s Guide newspaper – it has current event information and a handy trail map.
A collection of grand chime instruments called the Free Notes Harmony Park is located in a courtyard outside the Visitor’s Center. If you’re traveling with little ones, they’ll appreciate the opportunity to let loose and bang a gong. Heck. I’m a grown-up (sort of) and I got a kick out of it.
8. Star Gaze in Sedona
It gets dark in Sedona at night. I mean, really dark. When I checked into the Enchantment Resort in Sedona’s Boynton Canyon, I was handed a flashlight to light the paths leading to and from my room.
What all of that darkness means is that visitors are in for a real treat after the sun goes down. As an officially designated Dark Sky Community, Sedona’s night sky is a carpet of stars. Even if you know nothing about astronomy, you’ll still be able to pick out famous constellations like Orion. Want more detail? Download an astronomy app like Star Walk or SkyView.
Drive out into the country. Turn off your car. Let your eyes become accustomed to the darkness. Then, sit back and watch nature’s star show.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Want to know where the locals go for stargazing, hiking, biking and more? Sedona Secret 7, published by the city’s Chamber of Commerce, features off-the-beaten-path spots you’ll want to check out. Tag your photos #SedonaSecret7 for a chance to be featured on the site.
9. Take the Sedona Cares Pledge
Sedona is unique and marvelous. To preserve its beauty for generations to come, the Sedona Chamber of Commerce is asking visitors to take the Sedona Cares pledge. Based on a respect for the land and other visitors, the 9 action items are simple, thoughtful ways to show your appreciation for a destination many think is the “Most Beautiful Place on Earth.”