This Sedona, Arizona Road Trip Is Just as Magical as Everyone Says It Is

See Sedona's breathtaking beauty firsthand and learn why the most photographed spot in Sedona has an ancient secret.

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When our family wants to escape the unbearable summer heat of Phoenix, we head north to Sedona. At 4,500 feet above sea level, the area has a climate that is milder, and the seasons are more apparent. But no matter the time of year, I promise that after visiting Sedona you’ll leave with a sense of tranquility and inner harmony.

Surrounded by 1.8 million acres of national forest, Sedona is an oasis. Here Arizona’s high desert meets with the waterfalls and forests of Oak Creek Canyon. ­Visitors from all over the world come to see red rocks, buttes, and spires named for the things they resemble, like Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, and Coffee Pot Rock. And the area is sacred to Native Americans as a place of healing and spiritual renewal. Some people believe there are vortices, or whirlpools of subtle energy, in various places around Red Rock Country.

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Though there are many ways to see Sedona, from jeep and helicopter tours to the extraordinary adventure of sailing over the buttes in a hot-air balloon, we like to hoof it. Sedona’s natural beauty is extraordinary from any perspective, but the closer you get to it the deeper your experience will be. So bring some comfortable shoes and a good hat and follow the canyon trails to panoramic vistas.

Arizona highways 179 and 89A wind through the heart of Red Rock Country. Our first stop along Arizona 179 is Bell Rock, so named for its bell shape. Parking is marked at the base of the trail off the scenic byway. Whether you choose to hike to the top or just walk up the lower levels, you will be glad that you stopped. And don’t forget your camera. Bell Rock is a fantastic place to pose with twisted juniper trees growing along the trails.

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As the spirits of the land speak to you, don’t miss the contemporary Chapel of the Holy Cross. A Sedona landmark, the chapel was built on twin pinnacled red rocks that offer scenic vistas of the buttes. The chapel is open to people of all faiths. It is truly a perfect place for spiritual and personal enrichment of the body and the soul. We love taking friends and family from out of town to enjoy the chapel’s architecture and the serenity of the beautiful landscape surrounding it.

The chapel was built in the 1950s by Sedona resident Marguerite Brunswig Staude as a memorial to her late parents. As you move up the spiral walkway to the chapel, look closely to your left. You might see a rock formation called Madonna and Child. Look right, and if you’ve got a rather vivid imagination, you may glimpse an eagle carved naturally into the rock.

At the junction with Highway 89A, head west to a destination that is relatively easy to climb—Airport Mesa. See if you can spot Snoopy lying on his doghouse, nose in the air, taking a nap under the beautiful blue sky. A little farther up Airport Road is a magnificent lookout point offering a panoramic view of the town and some of its famous rock formations, including Coffee Pot Rock (so named for its resemblance to an old percolator). From here, the sun rising and setting over Sedona is spectacular to watch.

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Red Rock Crossing is probably the most photographed spot in Sedona (you’ve most likely seen it in movies or on TV). An easy trail winds along Oak Creek to Cathedral Rock. My 88-year-old dad made the walk with us to a vortex nearby. Prayer rock spires are abundant along the trail. The ancient peoples of the area believed that when a stone is placed on top of another, they carry prayers to the Great Spirit. Believe me, my family and I have built our share of rock towers there.

After all these years Sedona is still full of surprises. My husband, Gary, and I were blessed to wake up one morning at our favorite lodge by the airport to find a blanket of snow on the ground. We walked to a nearby scenic lookout and took some photos of the lovely contrast between the red-orange of the buttes and the white snow. Now this is country Arizona-style! If you wish to go to a place of absolute beauty, if you wish to experience the depth of nature in all its grandeur, travel to Sedona. You won’t be sorry.

Go Shopping in Sedona

Sedona is an art lovers’ destination. You’ll find treasures in nearly every shop in town. Don’t miss the Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village, with its Spanish architecture, vine-covered stucco walls, cobblestone walkways and arched entryways. Learn more at

Stay Cool in Sedona

Even the high desert offers water adventure. Ride down the natural slip-and-slide at Slide Rock State Park. It’s also home to a historic apple orchard. For info:

Take a Gorge-us Drive

You can’t help but slow down on Oak Creek Canyon Drive’s narrow switchbacks and hairpin curves, which pass sheer cliffs and rocky gorges on the way to Flagstaff.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest

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