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What better way to learn about the real Sedona, Arizona than from those who live here! Here at Lanning Gallery we’ve been positioned in the heart of the Gallery District since 1986 and have watched Sedona grow up around us. On our down time all of Sedona becomes our playground and we love to clue visitors in on our favorite hikes, our favorite restaurants, and myriad other Sedona adventures. Where is the best spot to watch the sun go down on our majestic red rocks? We’ll let you know! Read on for a true insider’s guide to beautiful and exciting Sedona, Arizona.
Must drive routes:
If your GPS from the Phoenix airport tries to send you off exit #287 - don’t do it! Stay on I-17 until you reach the Sedona exit #298. Turn left (west). This will take you up SR179 through the Village of Oak Creek [“VOC” to locals] and into Sedona. Depending on where you are staying in Sedona, this could add a few minutes to your drive – but it is well worth it. This stretch of road takes you past the red rock monoliths of Bell Rock, Courthouse Butte and Cathedral Rock. A terrific and iconic welcome to Sedona! [As you get into Sedona you’ll drive right through the Gallery District and see Lanning Gallery in the adobe-style “Hozho” building on the right, just past Highland Rd., at 431 SR 179. Stop in!]
If big trees and shade are what you want, drive out past the north end of Sedona (through “uptown” as it’s called here) on 89A and keep driving. This drive through Oak Creek Canyon sends you climbing 2400 feet in altitude within a half hour. There are hairpin turns which afford terrific views for passengers while drivers stay busy minding the road. The waters of Oak Creek keep you company to one side. This is the non-interstate way to reach Flagstaff. And, even if you have no reason to visit Flagstaff (though there are many!) this drive is worth your time. AND, this is the route to the south rim of the Grand Canyon a mere 2 hours away! [See below for a favorite hiking pit-stop – it’s in Oak Creek Canyon.]
Our favorite hikes: (Don’t tell anyone … )
From long, challenging and incredibly scenic to an easy stroll with terrific views, Sedona offers all options. Here are a few we particularly like.
First of all, a beautiful spot: The adventurous choose to climb UP Cathedral Rock (see below) but those who’d like a quintessentially gorgeous red rock destination use the base of Cathedral Rock as a starting point and follow Templeton Trail. This is an easy walk through high-desert ocotillos to cottonwood and sycamore trees at the banks of Oak Creek (which ribbons its way through much of our area). You’ll arrive at Red Rock Crossing on a wide area of red rocks just across the creek from Crescent Moon Recreational Area. This gorgeous red rock location is one of the most photographed areas in Sedona!
A popular scramble up red rocks: Cathedral Rock looms large in Sedona and beckons climbers who don’t mind a tough climb (a 700’ gain up to the saddle – “You’ll be using your hands!” notes Lanning Gallery Director Isabelle Cozart). The trailhead is off Back O’ Beyond Rd. off SR 179 between Sedona and VOC (park here for Templeton Trail too). Cathedral Rock is a climb up smooth surfaces of steep red rock that rewards you with views of Wilson Mountain, Bear Mountain and more. It’s about 1.5 miles and 45 minutes each way.
Another hard/easy/scenic option: Bell Rock (across the street and down some from Cathedral Rock – closer to VOC) offers short hikes over red rock surfaces or a network of trails through high-desert brush including the longer trail that circles Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte next to it. (Keep an eye out for the cairn markers that will guide you.) For the more adventurous, there are a lot of ways to climb UP Bell Rock just know that to go higher than the end of the trails is quite dangerous (think occasional helicopter rescues).
A moderate hike with gorgeous 360˚ views: From the Jordan Rd. trailhead in Uptown follow clear signs for Brin’s Mesa Trail and continue hiking on the loop that connects this trail to Soldier’s Pass Trail then hike Cibola trail to return to the parking lot. (Soldier’s Pass has its own parking lot should you wish to start there but it’s a smaller lot and you’ll compete for space.) This is a pretty, pretty trail through high chaparral with views out to Cathedral Rock and Airport Mesa. You’ll pass an interesting giant sinkhole(!) and the Seven Sacred Pools (an old Apache watering hole). Look out for javelinas …
Several easy/moderate trails: On the far west side of West Sedona is a traffic light intersection for Dry Creek Road on the right. Turn here and drive 3 miles until the road (which has since become Boynton Pass Road) comes to a T. Turn right onto Long Canyon Road. You’ll see signs for trailheads such as Long Canyon on the right, a lovely flat canyon trail from which you can access Mescal trail. The Chuck Wagon trailhead is on the other side of the road and you can access Devil’s Bridge Trail from this trail.
For the more adventurous: Try the 1900’ climb to the top of Bear Mountain (off Dry Creek Rd. at the western edge of West Sedona). You’ll walk first through gorgeous fields of wildflowers (purple owl clover, white mariposa lilies and white desert primrose) that lead you to the dramatic climb up the mountain. This is roughly 2.5 miles each way and the trail takes over 6 hours round trip past a series of challenging summits. Fascinating aspect: You’ll see an excellent view of layered red Schnebly rock changing to Coconino sandstone to a crown of volcanic basalt.
Another hike for the more adventurous: Sterling Pass Trail begins up in Oak Creek Canyon (at a hard-to-find trailhead north of Manzanita campground on the west side of the road – left coming from Sedona). This is a 1,265’ climb through a ponderosa pine forest to the pass from which you climb down 750’ to the popular Vultee Arch formation with its pretty manzanitas before returning the way you came (5 miles total). You’ll see bear sign in this area and enjoy lush, verdant surroundings with seasonal wildflowers such as yellow southwest candles, red penstemon and white Canadian violets in the shade. Interesting layered rock formations are on both sides of the trail, including the rare sight of volcanic basalt with layers of red rock in between. (Note from Isabelle, Lanning Gallery Director, “There are a lot of great trails off Fire Road 152, off Dry Creek Road, but only if you have a 4WD to navigate it – Sterling Pass Trail is the only trail off the main artery of 89A that connects to all these trails should you want to explore them.”)
IMPORTANT NOTE: Sedona sits at 4500’ altitude and for visitors not used to that altitude, please be aware that hydration is VERY important. Whether you are walking around the Gallery District or Uptown Sedona or taking any length of hike, bring water with you (in fact, more than you think you’ll need is the perfect amount!). And the wind can dehydrate you as well as the sun. Be safe and have fun!
ANOTHER IMPORTANT NOTE: THERE IS WILDLIFE! Be aware of this at ALL times. Though, of course, wild animals work hard to avoid people you may still see (or see signs of) javelinas, coyotes, mule deer, bobcats, rattlesnakes, mountain lions and, mostly in the higher elevations, bear. If you must hike with your dog, keep it on a leash!
YET ANOTHER NOTE: For parking at trailheads you’ll need to display a widely available $5 p/day Red Rock Pass. (Weekly and annual rates are also available.) Ask at your hotel or stop at one of the many Visitor Centers.
Favorite hiking pit-stop: At Lanning Gallery we all love Indian Gardens Café & Market, on the left as you drive 4 miles up 89A out of Sedona and through Oak Creek Canyon. This establishment is a true gem that has served locals and visitors since 1947. You will be enormously impressed with the quality and selection available for breakfast or lunch. Our recommendation: Sit at a table out back under the ash and sycamore trees!
Favorite dining experiences: (no need to be too dressed up!)
For a great dinner: You may like reservations but our favorite restaurant doesn’t take them! Locals, and visitors who have been tipped off, know to make it an early dinner day when they plan to eat at the popular Elote Cafe. (say it “eh-LOW-tay”) Located – conveniently for us - just a little way past Lanning Gallery on the same side of SR179 heading out of Sedona; it’s connected to the Arabella Hotel. (Both Lanning Gallery Owner Peggy Lanning and our director, Isabelle, are regular visitors here, and we’ve hosted many an artist here too.) If you are used to dining late that could work fine – just don’t expect to arrive at 6 or 7 pm and be seated any time soon. Here’s the trick: Arrive 4:30 – 4:45, put your name in then wait in line with all your new friends, swap stories about where you’ve come from and how you heard about this terrific restaurant. When doors open at 5 pm, you’ll be part of the first seating! The food is Mexico City Mexican by arguably the best chef in town. As Isabelle advises, “Be sure to order the eloté appetizer [eloté means “corn” by the way]. The smoked chicken enchilada is my favorite and I am not an enchilada person. But this one is like no enchilada you’ve ever tasted.”
Another great dinner spot: If you’re staying in the Village of Oak Creek (VOC) you’ll love this and, if you’re staying in Sedona, you get to drive down the beautiful stretch of SR179 previously mentioned to reach VOC and The Schoolhouse Restaurant (in Tequa Plaza near the Hilton, on the right if driving from Sedona). There’s an excellent full-range menu here and many come just for the tenderloin (that you can cut with a butter knife!). Seasonal, fresh, locally purchased ingredients.
For lunch or a more casual dinner: Try Picazzo’s (an “organic Italian kitchen”) in West Sedona right on 89A (the main drag). There’s a great variety of gourmet pizzas (all available as organic or gluten free), a wide variety of gluten free pastas, desserts and, if you prefer, a nice bar at which to hang out and meet people.
Favorite spot for a drink before dinner: Just past the round-about at the junction of SR179 (where Lanning Gallery is) and the main drag of SR89A, follow 89A toward uptown Sedona. Drive a very short way until you see an almost hidden road descend at an angle on your right. There will be a small sign for L’Auberge Road. Descend and valet park (a must). L’Auberge de Sedona is a resort and spa that has a fabulous veranda bar right on the banks of Oak Creek – a most pleasant spot at which to unwind.
Favorite spot to watch the sun go down (with a cocktail in your hand): Drive all the way through west Sedona (the business part of town) to the traffic light at Dry Creek Road. Turn right and drive 3 miles until the road comes to a T. Turn left onto Boynton Pass Road and drive 2 miles to another T. Turn right and drive into Enchantment Resort. You’ll come to a security gate but let them know you are going to a restaurant and they’ll welcome you in. There are several dining options but Tii Gavo is the more casual spot at this exclusive resort. Sit outside with a prickly pear margarita (or whatever you choose) and a bite to eat, and watch golden sunlight descend down the face of the red rocks surrounding you. If you like watching the sun set in the sky, watching it set against the walls of this magnificent box canyon is a totally different thrill. And, very important, remember to time this right!
Your friends at Lanning Gallery