Sedona became quite popular nowadays. However, the area has so many amazing places to explore; you can spend months and months there.
My recommendations for hikes there (all are on the easy side, remember that hiking in Arizona should take time, season and weather in consideration)
- Fay Canyon Trail (and arch) – a very easy canyon trail that features a natural arch. See the hike description on AllTrails. And a brief description in my old blog post.
- Robbers Roost Trail – an easy trail that could be shortened if you have 4×4. The best part of the path is the cave at the end of it. There is no shade at all; you will be walking on a high desert, so be prepared. See trail description on AllTrails.
- Birthing Cave – this hike became more popular during recently; you probably saw the huge panorama of the wide opening of this cave. The cave is HUGE, with smooth walls that make more challenging and not very safe to walk – so make sure to have appropriate shoes. If you plan to shoot the cave, sunrise is fantastic here. Bring your widest lens, or be prepared to stitch multiple shots to get all cave in one picture. Find the route on AllTrails.
- Devil’s Bridge – the most popular hike in my list. Though I didn’t include other very popular hikes here, this one I still believe is a must. It’s long, very popular, with limited shade, and a lot of rocks. Be there very early. See the hike description on AllTrails and read about my experience here.
- Cathedral Rock. So this is mostly not a hike but mostly a series of short trails that lead to stunning views of Cathedral Rock.
- Baldwin Trail towards Red Rock Crossing. Red Rock Crossing follows Oak Creek and is a great place to find a shade and cool of the water together with amazing views of Cathedral Creek. Trailhead on Google Maps
- Crescent Moon Picnic Site. We spent hours here; the place has one of the best views over Cathedral Rock. It’s a home of the famous photo where Cathedral Rock reflected in the water of the creek. We visited in December, and the water level was high, so we could not get the same shot; however, we had a lot to see and explore there. The location on Google Maps is here.
- Last but not least, Secret Slickrock. The short trail leads you to a high Plato that has a terrific view of Cathedral Rock. During the winter season, there could be snow; during the wet periods, there could be mud or puddles (which are quite photogenic).
On the last morning at Sedona, I hiked for sunrise town views at Sugarloaf Loop Trail. Honestly, I cannot recommend this trail. If you have limited time, spend it somewhere else. The route could be though a great place to stretch the legs. On the morning that I’ve hiked there, I met a family of wild pigs.
Petrified Forest National Park
Somehow, this is the least known park in Arizona. However, it’s a nice place to explore. The park is open only for day exploration (also, check their site for opening/closures information).
We started from the southern entrance, from Rainbow Forest Museum, that gave us an understanding of the area and its history. You can begin your park exploration from here. Giant Logs trails are right behind the museum. However, we drove a bit further and hiked the Long Logs area to Agate House.
From there, Petrified Forest Rd leads to the Painted Desert area of the park. There are multiple viewpoints along the way that add more to the exciting past of this region. Our next stop was at Blue Mesa.
Blue Mesa is accessed via a short loop road and has a short mile-long trail that circles badlands. Though badlands itself are an exciting place to explore, if you look closer to their surface, you can find fossilized remains of plants and animals.
After leaving Blue Mesa, don’t forget to stop at Old Route 66 that features the remains of an old car. From there, the road slowly returns to I-40, passing several viewpoints overlooking Painted Desert. If you want to stretch your legs, there is a trail that starts at Painted Desert Inn, leading towards Painted Desert Rim.
Other places to consider
If Petrified Forest National Park is closed or is not an option, explore nearby Little Painted Desert Park.
Saguaro National Park
And now, let’s drive south towards Tucson and Saguaro National Park. Park is one of those that is very close to the city but still has a lot to offer if you’re searching wilderness and solitude. The park consists of two parts: Saguaro West and Saguaro East.
My feelings are that Saguaro West is more popular that Saguaro East. Though the only road that is in the park is unpaved, we saw many cars and people. We visited in December and got in the rain.
Signal Hill is one of the places that you must visit if you’re in the area. The short hike leads to you on top of the hill through different types of cacti, but mostly saguaros. The trail ends near the rock with native drawings. The background of the mountains and surrounding saguaros made the place very picturesque.
Gates Pass Trail
Technically, it’s not on the land of a national park; however, the trail is nice, long, and features mountain views and a canyon surrounded by cacti.
On the day we visited the west side of the park, there were a lot of tourists at the trailheads; Gates Pass, however, had way less parked cars. The only issue with the hike was the heavy rain that caught us midway.
Saguaro East is way bigger than the west part of the park. It features more longer trails though most of them have views over nearby towns.
There we drove unpaved Mica View Road, which leads to a picnic area through some very high saguaros.
We did a part of Tanque Verde Ridge Trail (like several miles and then back) to stretch our legs and explore the area on foot. The trail is popular, the parking lot was almost full, and we saw a lot of people on the trail. However, it has some of the best views we saw in the area.
For the sunset, we hiked nearby Freeman Homestead Trail. The parking for it has less space, but it was almost empty at the end of the day. The trail mostly leveled but passes very impressive saguaros.
Mission San Xavier del Bac
Though this region has a lot of stunning historical churches and missions, if you have only a bit of time, try to visit Mission San Xavier del Bac. It’s still an active catholic church (be aware of the time of the mass when visiting) with impressive architecture and interior decoration.
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Organ Pipes is one of the places I looked forward to visiting. There are stunning hikes in the very remote region of Arizona. However, the weather thought differently. The park is near the Mexican border and could have some closures depending on the conditions and time of the day. The park mostly popular in Spring when cacti start to bloom.
When there, take all 37 miles Puerto Blanco Drive. The road is mostly unpaved but in good condition. There are a bunch of viewpoints with short (or not) trails and informational stands. The road passes close to old mines, springs, historical sites, and a tree-lined oasis.
The weather in the park most of the days is sunny, but the one day we visited, the rain was so heavy we could barely see what is in front of us.
The one trail I wanted to take was Arch Canyon Trail. It’s said that the round trip to the arch viewpoint is only 2.6 miles, but the road is mostly one-lane, unpaved and bumpy. However, on the day of our visit, it was closed.
Under the heavy rain, we drove into Scottsdale. Locals told us it’s rare weather in this region. The plan was to explore Superstition Mountain the next day. However, the following day it still rained. However, we decided to make a try and drove to the Three Sisters.
Three Sisters is popular among photographers place. People visit it for a colorful sunset or sunrise photos; the site is also fantastic in Spring when everything blooms. However, that wasn’t a case for us. Clouds were heavy and low, and a few dry creeks that road crossed were full and high. After crossing two of them, the third felt very unsafe, and we returned. Felt strange to see so much water and waterfalls around us.
On the next day, we returned to the same place and had a short hike to the viewpoint. I could not find the trail description to it anywhere but found this supposed location on Google Maps.
My main goal was to photograph the vista, but in the way back when clouds cleared, we saw that distant eastern ridges where covered under the snow. What weather!
Driving around Superstition
On the previous day, when we had no luck with the rain, we decided to explore the surrounding roads. The clouds covered the top, but the views where fantastic.
Lost Dutchman State Park
The rain stopped, and we decided to try our luck at Lost Dutchman State Park. At another time, I would love to hike there – but we had only a half an hour before the sunset, and it felt super cold. However, the parking near the trailhead has one of the best views of the mountain.
Goldfield Ghost town and Lost Dutchman Museum
On our last day, we visited two very touristic places: Lost Dutchman Museum, that has several old buildings and expositions, and a museum, and Goldfield Ghost Town, which is a reconstructed 1890s town that features several cafes, museums. The place is exciting but very crowded on the weekends.
Info and map
- We visited before the COVID, so we didn’t face any restrictions or closures. Please check websites or ranger stations on info about closures before the visit.
- Petrified Forest National Park is closed on Christmas day.
- Most of the hikes in Sedona requires permits.
- Be aware of summer heat and rainstorms. Don’t hike in the extreme heat and bring a lot of water. Don’t cross creeks during the heavy rain.