Sedona. Red-Rock Country, yoga, vortexes, recreation and wellness. It’s one of the top travel destinations in Arizona. Like every other popular tourist spot, you have to take the good with the bad. Sedona and I have had a love-hate relationship since 2011. The scenery is amazing, the archaeology is cool, but… there are things that I can’t stand about Red Rock Country.
It’s time for a talk.
Love: Driving Around
Before planning any activities around Sedona, I recommend riding around and getting a feel for the town. There’s a lot to see and do. Riding around will help prioritize activities. The Sedona Chamber of Commerce is on 331 Forest Rd. They have free coffee, maps, and a restroom. Their selection of hiking and vortex maps are a great resource to get started on your Sedona adventure.
Love & Hate: Driving From Flagstaff
Coming from Flagstaff into Sedona is definitely the most scenic route. It’s a 30 mile switchback that loses several thousand feet of elevation. Follow highway 89A south from Flagstaff, through Oak Creek, into the main shopping area of Sedona. There are several pull-outs along the way for photographs. Why is everyone in such a hurry on this road? I hate this, really. If you’re in that big of a hurry, then use I-10 and bypass the scenic route. It never fails. Every. Single. Time. I take this road someone is honking, riding my bumper, or aggressively passing on the switchback. Slow down people!
Love: Hiking in Sedona
Sedona has hundreds of hiking trails. The Bell Rock Pathway is my favorite. The trails range from very easy to extremely difficult. I’ve hiked Sedona’s trails in every season. My advice is don’t try to hike during the day in the summer. Early morning and evening hikes aren’t bad as long as you take enough water.
Visiting Sedona in the summer is far from ideal. It’s crowded, the hotels and Air BnB’s are booked, people leave their garbage and dirty diapers on the trails, and the heat is miserable. The prices also go way up. Although the weather is perfect, fall and summer are off seasons in Sedona. Hiking in Sedona in the fall is beautiful and quiet, especially if you choose one of the lesser known trails.
Love More than Anything: Visiting Ancient Ruins
It’s the history buff in me after all, what can I say? Palatki and Honanki are ruins left behind by the Sinagua people. Not many people go to these sites here so if you really don’t like being around a lot of people, and I confess that I really don’t, these ruins are awesome. Exploring the 900-year old history of the Sinagua people is a great way to spend a day. Sedona isn’t just about scenic rocks, history is all over the place if you know where to look.
It’s a long and dusty drive to get to these archaeological sites. Much like Chaco Canyon, the roads to Palatki and Honanki are intentionally kept inaccessible. Leaving the roads unpaved cuts down on vandalism, theft, and overcrowding. It’s recommended that you call ahead and make reservations for the guided tour up to Palatki.
Love & Hate: Shopping
What I love about shopping in Sedona: the stones, minerals, and jewelry. On my last visit I got a pretty good deal on a forty-pound Brazilian (although Uruguayan is higher quality) amethyst that now sits on my desk. If you want to buy a few stones or few pieces of jewelry from the Hopi or Navajo reservation, shopping Sedona’s main street is fun.
What I hate about shopping in Sedona: constant harassment by timeshare vendors, wading through the crowds, the noise, overpriced, horrible food, (hair in your ice cream anyone?) and the garbage. You would think a city as beautiful and popular as Sedona would do a better job of removing the garbage. If the garbage can is full, tourists just throw the trash on the ground next to the can and walk away. I’ve watched people do this like it’s no big deal. I want to say something, but never do, it probably wouldn’t change anything.
Hate: Hiking in Sedona (It’s the garbage)
It’s not what you think. Hiking is great. It’s the garbage. Please pack out your garbage, especially the dirty diapers. Oh, and who’s smoking a mile into a trail? Even though I try to eat healthy and don’t smoke or drink, I still get a little winded a mile into a Sedona trail, so I can’t imagine smoking and hiking at the same time. Seriously, at least pack out the cigarette butts, or just stop smoking on the trails completely before there’s another Arizona summer wildfire.
I hike a lot of pristine trails all over Arizona. When I see a piece of garbage, even if it isn’t mine, I’ll usually pack it out. However, I’m not packing out dirty diapers. Why is this happening in Sedona? I’d like to conduct a survey of hikers and ask them why they think it’s ok to just leave a dirty diaper on a trail. It’s something that seems particularly unique to Sedona. Why? I haven’t a clue, but I wish people would stop doing it.
It’s Okay: Taking an Off-Road Jeep Tour
Taking an off-road jeep tour is moderately fun. However, there’s nothing on a tour that you can’t see on your own. Also the jeep was packed full, which means touching other people, complete strangers, something I don’t like to do.
What can I say? I’m an introvert who prefers the company of myself, my husband, my animals, and nature. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m a misanthrope (a hater of humanity), but I intensely dislike the noise, garbage, disregard to wildlife, and disregard for anyone but the self that is common to most of the population.
Does being an introvert conflict with being a teacher? Not really. I love being around my students, and look forward to going to work every day. It’s incredibly rewarding to have a positive influence on teenagers. In addition to teaching history, I also teach (or at least I try to teach) compassion, resilience, care for the environment and wildlife, and compassion towards other people.
Anyway, back to the Sedona jeep tours. It’s fun for something to do if you want to try it once and don’t mind spending $80 – $100 for two people. Otherwise, it’s not that great.
Hate More than Anything: Slide Rock State Park
If you saw a line of people a quarter-mile long, and a line of cars stretching more than a mile, would you still go to that place? Although I can’t scream, “no way ever” fast enough, you can see this ritual line every summer, especially on the weekends. Slide Rock state park is cool. Is it so cool that I’m willing to walk at least a mile lugging umbrellas, chairs, coolers on a road lined with cars and no sidewalk, shoulder to walk on? Ummmmmm no!
Although I knew better, I accidentally got caught in this line last year. Never again! Aggressive honking, people nearly being run off the road, and people walking directly in the road. It’s a fight between the cars and the people walking up the highway to get into the park, someone’s going to lose. The park is nice, but it’s not THAT Nice. Plus do you want to slide down the rocks thigh-to-thigh with other screaming tourists, fighting for chair space, each competing to have the loudest music, while wading through their garbage that’s left wherever it drops? I don’t. Skip Slide Rock State Park in the summer!
Love: The Views
I will always love the beauty of Sedona. In all my travels to twenty countries, I’ve never seen anything like this place. Although I’ve considered moving to Sedona, it’s too expensive, especially during the summer. It seems like moving to a place might take away some of the the magic. People I talk to that live in Sedona don’t even notice the views anymore. That’s natural I suppose. Overall, it’s a nice place to visit, but like all travel destinations, it isn’t perfect. I’ve had many good visits to Sedona, but only after learning when to go, what to avoid (anything in the summer), and where to go to carve out a few minutes (or hours) of beautiful, scenic, solitude.
This was a really interesting read, Jen. We visited Sedona for the first time on our US road trip last year, and although we only had 1 day to explore, it was somewhere that left a big impression. In the end we were pretty reluctant to come away. The area looked awesome and there was so much to explore. We’re really into hiking and anything outdoors-ey so all the hiking paths here were a really big draw. It sounds like a lot of the things you disliked about it are kind of the byproducts of the things you do like? i.e. it’s overcrowded because it’s beautiful. We’ll for sure be back to Sedona again some day, but maybe we should take your advice and time it for the shoulder season!
It’s definitely so much better during the shoulder season!
Well written, I feel exactly the same way about where I go.
I enjoyed this article. We just returned from a day trip to Sedona, including the Pink Jeep Broken Arrow tour. Although the scenery was picturesque, to me, the entirety of the experience was ruined by-Sedona, an offensive tourist trap. We were bombarded by hucksters, and the massive plethora of New Age nonsense is a rather pathetic as well as overtly offensive testament to the people of Sedona’s lack of logic, reason, and intellect. Parking is nonexistent. Crawling at 5mph through the gridlocked little burg was absolutely maddening. Also, from an environmental standpoint, I cannot comprehend how it is OK and legal to run hundreds of thousands of 4wd vehicles over this “pristine” wilderness. And lastly, it is 2018. That Jimmy Stewart made a movie here in 1950 is complete hockey puckey-who cares? Good riddance to Sedona, and, in fact, all of Arizona. We stayed mostly in Phoenix, a miserable facsimile of either hell or Afghanistan at 105 degrees. Next time, we will instead visit the Canadian Rockies at Banff.
Thanks for your comment Mark. I have an issue with all the jeep tours as well. I didn’t know about the movie, I’ll have to look that up, thanks.
Just returned from a nerve battering weekend in Sedona. Tourist trap. Crowded, expensive, horrible traffic and overrun with tourists from California (with their bad attitudes) and foreigners. Such nice scenery and so ruined by mobs of people. Garbage being thrown, long lines to park, fights in parking lots, new age huckster crap, and lines of idiots everywhere. How can such a beautiful area turn into such a chaotic tourist trap? I was so happy to get out of Sedona. It is kind of a sad commentary on our planet that such a beautiful place can be so ruined. As far as the switchback road…I had to compose myself several times and pull over. Tailgating, passing on hills and double lines, obscene gestures, horn blowing and so on. Same crap here in Colorado on a daily basis. So sad..I have little faith in the future of our species.
I’m sorry for your experience. Unfortunately it’s only going to get worse. I’ve been to Sedona a few times in the fall and that seems to be the off season. Summer… never again!
I just got back from a trip to Sedona and, perhaps because it was early summer, I didn’t see many of the negatives you stated. There were virtually no crowds (except when I saw numerous cars outside Slide Rock Park, which I agree is probably a place to avoid).
In addition, we went on a Jeep tour and loved it (not the ubiquitous and uber-corporate Pink Jeep tour, but another locally-owned one). Sure, you can get your own vehicle and drive the backroads yourself, but there’s no way you can have the knowledge of a good guide. Ours told us things about the area which I never would have known and showed us things I never would have looked for. I also did a lot of hiking and didn’t see any garbage on any trail (not to doubt that you did).
Lastly, and I know that you didn’t bring it up, but someone did; I’d take 95-100 degrees and very low humidity over 80 degrees and high humidity on the East Coast any day of the week. Overall, I loved Sedona and was super impressed with the town and area.
We’re still going to go back, just in the off season. Thanks for commenting.
I wonder if I could get a “I hate pink jeeps” sticker
Sedona was a big disappointment for me. Everything she mentioned from no parking downtown to the hucksters to the all the hokey new age take a picture of your aura stuff. Tourists shoulder to shoulder. A beautiful land so sacred that the natives would leave their offerings…and now is never ending gated communities with multi million dollars homes.Tourist trap deluxe. A truly ruined land.
Update: April 2021; as a 3 yr. local I’ve observed tourist numbers have tripled since the covid. This leaves daily travel on main roads of sedona (hwy. 89a & 179) about at the level of LA rush hour traffic. (I lived in socal for 25 years so u know what its like to go nowhere) its a boom for the local economy so it will never be fixed and will only get worse. If you cant get to the beauty of the rocks, whats the use?
I’ve also read that the people who work in Sedona can’t afford to live there because anything for sale is immediately turned into an Air BnB. I havent visited in several years. It’s sad all around what’s happened in Sedona.
Agree with Mickey Johnson. After 3 years in Sedona, I am ready to leave. But where? It requires a lot of searching, exploring, again!. I do not get tired of the beauty, but I get very tired of the City of Sedona who is wrecking this beautiful place. I am tired to the zombies vehicles and the wrong type of tourists who do not care. Vacationing in Sedona and living here are two very different things. I am disappointed. I honestly thought that Sedona was a lot more protected. I thought it would be easier to make new friends as it is a small place. One can feel very isolated here. Too many things are lacking: nice small cafes, small boutiques, farm-to-table restaurants working with local farmers, dance classes, and a real downtown where people could walk or sit on benches. Taqueplaque is beautiful, but there are too many tourists, and it is a little fake. Sedona is one of the most beautiful place in the world, and it is getting destroyed by countless construction sites and hundred s more coming, poor management and horrible urbanization ..