The Best Sedona Scenic Drives: Routes That Will Take Your Breath Away

Dan Turner

Sedona, Arizona, is known for its breathtaking scenery and iconic red rock formations. Taking a scenic drive allows you to fully immerse yourself in the natural beauty of this remarkable place.

From steep canyon walls to towering sandstone cliffs, there’s no better way to experience Sedona’s majesty than from the seat of your car.

This comprehensive guide covers the top scenic drives in and around Sedona. Follow these self-guided tours to discover sprawling vistas, quaint Artists’ villages, and some of Sedona’s most photographed landmarks. Whether you only have time for a quick day trip or want to spend several days exploring the area, these Sedona scenic drives have something for everyone.

Why Take a Scenic Drive in Sedona?

Sedona is located in Arizona’s high desert region. It’s surrounded by the Coconino National Forest and distinguished by its red sandstone formations. These crimson cliffs, rock walls, and pinnacles create a one-of-a-kind landscape.

While Sedona has plenty of hiking trails, a scenic drive lets you take in sprawling views and see key landmarks from your car. It’s the perfect way to experience Sedona if you have limited time or mobility.

Scenic drives also allow stopping at attractions and overlooks along the way. You can tailor the drive to your interests, whether hiking, photography, picnicking, or sightseeing. Sedona’s mild climate means scenic drives can be enjoyed year-round.

Finally, a self-guided driving tour allows you flexibility. You can take your time at spots that pique your interest or breeze through areas quickly. With so much to see and do just minutes from town, scenic drives are one of the top things to do in Sedona.

Essential Tips for Sedona Scenic Drives

Here are a few tips to make the most of your Sedona scenic drive:

  • Go early. Dawn and early morning light make for great photos and fewer crowds at overlooks.
  • Pick up a map. Free maps and visitor guides are available around town. Having one on hand makes navigating easier.
  • Pack snacks. Many scenic spots don’t have nearby amenities. Bring water and snacks to enjoy along your drive.
  • Watch for wildlife. Deer, javelina, and coyotes sometimes traverse the roads. Drive slowly and scan sightlines.
  • Respect private property. Stay on designated roads and trails. Much of the land around Sedona is privately owned.
  • Check road conditions. Rain can cause washouts in the desert. Check weather forecasts and road statuses before heading out.

Map of Red Rock Country. Plan your Sedona scenic drives!

The Red Rock Scenic Byway (SR 179)

The Red Rock Scenic Byway, also known as State Route 179, is a stunning 7.5-mile stretch that offers some of Sedona’s most classic and beloved views. The road reveals a panorama of Sedona’s famous red rock formations as you drive. Key highlights along this byway include the views of Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte, which are especially striking at sunrise and sunset. The byway also features several pullouts and picnic spots where travelers can stop to appreciate the scenery. The route is not just a visual treat; it’s also a gateway to numerous hiking trails and spiritual vortex sites, making it a fulfilling experience for nature lovers and spiritual seekers alike.

Oak Creek Canyon Drive (SR 89A)

Oak Creek Canyon, one of the most beautiful Sedona scenic drives.

Oak Creek Canyon Drive, part of State Route 89A, winds through a 14-mile northern Arizona gorge between Sedona and Flagstaff. This route is known for its stunning natural beauty, with dramatic canyon walls and lush vegetation. The drive takes you through a diverse landscape, from high desert at the top to a riparian area at the bottom, with Oak Creek flowing alongside the road. The canyon is magnificent in the fall when the leaves of deciduous trees turn vibrant hues of gold and red. Key stops include Slide Rock State Park, known for its natural rock slides, and Oak Creek Vista at the canyon’s northern end, offering expansive views of the canyon below.

Dry Creek Road: Gateway to Red Rock Country

Dry Creek Road is an exhilarating journey into the heart of Sedona’s Red Rock Country. This drive is characterized by its serene beauty and the towering red rock formations that dominate the landscape. As you travel along Dry Creek Road, you’ll find access to several notable trails, such as the Devil’s Bridge Trail, which leads to one of Sedona’s most famous natural arches. The road also offers access to Boynton Canyon, known for its spiritual energy and breathtaking beauty. The quiet, unspoiled nature makes it an ideal spot for those seeking a peaceful retreat amidst stunning scenery.

Cathedral Rock and Bell Rock: Scenic Icons

The drives to Cathedral Rock and Bell Rock are among the most scenic in the Sedona area. Cathedral Rock, known for its majestic and photogenic structure, is accessible via the Back O’ Beyond Road. This area offers spectacular hiking opportunities and some of the best sunset views in Sedona. Bell Rock, another iconic formation, is easily visible from the Red Rock Scenic Byway. The pathway around Bell Rock is ideal for a leisurely walk, offering up-close views of its unique shape and the surrounding red rock landscape. Both of these sites are not just visually stunning but are also considered powerful vortex sites, attracting those seeking spiritual growth and healing.

Chapel of the Holy Cross: A Scenic Spiritual Retreat

The drive to the Chapel of the Holy Cross is as spiritually enriching as visually captivating. This architectural gem, built into the red rock cliffs, offers a serene oasis that blends art, architecture, and spirituality. The drive along chapel Road is scenic, with the chapel appearing as a striking silhouette against the backdrop of Sedona’s red rocks. Aside from being a place of worship, the chapel provides breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape. It’s a place of quiet contemplation, open to all visitors, regardless of their religious beliefs.

West Sedona’s Scenic Wonders

West Sedona offers diverse scenic landscapes, from rugged canyons to sprawling mesas. Drives through this area reveal lesser-known yet equally stunning views of Sedona’s red rock country. One notable route is the Upper Red Rock Loop Road, which provides different perspectives of the famous red rocks, including Cathedral Rock and Thunder Mountain. This area is also home to several hiking trails, offering a more intimate experience of the natural beauty. West Sedona combines the charm of a small town with the grandeur of Arizona’s wilderness, making it a must-visit for those who wish to explore beyond the usual tourist spots.

Day Trips from Sedona: Grand Canyon and Beyond

Your Sedona scenic drives may include Grand Canyon National Park.

Sedona is perfectly positioned for memorable day trips to some of Arizona’s most iconic landmarks. A popular day trip is to the Grand Canyon National Park, about a two-hour drive north. The route to the Grand Canyon, via Highway 89A and then north on Highway 64, passes through scenic landscapes and historic towns. Other notable day trips include a drive to the Verde Valley, known for its vineyards and ancient ruins, and exploring the rugged beauty of the Colorado Plateau. Each journey offers a unique perspective of Arizona’s diverse landscape and rich cultural history.

Each scenic drive around Sedona offers a unique experience, from the spiritual to the purely scenic, ensuring that every traveler finds something that resonates with their interests and desires. The beauty of Sedona isn’t just in its iconic red rocks and canyons; it’s also in the diverse experiences these scenic drives offer, from tranquil drives along lush creek beds to awe-inspiring vistas from high cliffs. Sedona’s scenic drives provide an ideal backdrop for an unforgettable Arizona road trip, whether seeking a spiritual journey, an adventurous exploration, or simply a peaceful retreat into nature.

Additional Scenic Drives near Sedona

If you have more time to explore the Sedona area, extend your driving adventures to these exceptional nearby scenic routes:

Upper and Lower Red Rock Loops

The Upper and Lower Red Rock Loop roads offer a less-traveled but equally stunning perspective of Sedona’s red rock landscapes. The Upper Red Rock Loop provides sweeping views of Sedona’s most famous formations, including Cathedral Rock and Thunder Mountain. This drive is known for its tranquility and the opportunity to see wildlife. On the other hand, the Lower Red Rock Loop winds closer to the base of the red rocks, offering a more intimate experience with these majestic formations. Both loops are great for those looking to escape the more crowded areas and enjoy a serene drive through some of Sedona’s best scenery.

Red Rock State Park is another notable attraction along the Red Rock Loop. This 286-acre nature preserve showcases the unique beauty of Sedona’s red rock formations and the diverse wildlife and plant life in the area. The park features several hiking trails that offer scenic views of the surrounding landscape, including the famous Eagle’s Nest Trail and the Apache Fire Trail.

Mormon Lake Loop

The Mormon Lake Loop is a scenic drive that takes you through a mix of forests and open meadows, with the picturesque Mormon Lake as the centerpiece. This loop is lovely in the spring and summer when the wildflowers are in bloom, and the meadows are lush and green. In the winter, the area becomes a wonderland of snow, offering a wholly different but equally enchanting experience. The loop is also a popular spot for wildlife viewing, with opportunities to see elk, deer, and a variety of bird species.

Verde Valley Wine Trail

The Verde Valley Wine Trail is a delightful journey for wine enthusiasts and nature lovers. This scenic drive takes you through the heart of Arizona’s wine country, with stops at several award-winning wineries nestled in the picturesque Verde Valley. The route offers stunning views of the valley’s rolling hills and verdant vineyards. Visitors can enjoy wine tastings, vineyard tours, and learning about the region’s wine-making history. The drive is also an excellent opportunity to explore the charming small towns in the valley, each with unique character and attractions.

Jerome and Cottonwood Historic Districts

A drive to Jerome and Cottonwood offers a journey back in time to the rich history of Arizona’s mining era. Jerome, perched high on Cleopatra Hill, is known for its historic buildings and stunning views of the Verde Valley. The drive up to Jerome is winding and scenic, with numerous spots to stop and admire the expansive views. Cottonwood, located in the heart of the Verde Valley, boasts a well-preserved historic district with antique shops, art galleries, and restaurants. Both towns offer a unique blend of history, art, and culture, making this drive a must-do for those interested in exploring the region’s heritage.

Sycamore Canyon / 4×4 Road

The drive through Sycamore Canyon offers adventure seekers a rugged and remote experience. This 4×4 road requires a high-clearance vehicle and a sense of adventure as it takes you through one of Arizona’s largest and least visited canyons. The drive combines challenging terrain and breathtaking natural beauty with dramatic canyon walls, dense forests, and occasional wildlife sightings. This route is ideal for those who want to experience the wilder side of Sedona’s landscape and enjoy an off-the-beaten-path adventure.

Each of these drives adds a unique flavor to the Sedona experience, whether it’s the tranquility of the Red Rock Loops, the culinary delights of the Verde Valley Wine Trail, the historical charm of Jerome and Cottonwood, or the adventurous spirit of the Sycamore Canyon road. Together, they showcase the diverse beauty and rich cultural tapestry of the Sedona region.

Key Points to Remember

  • Sedona’s scenic drives showcase the area’s famed red rock formations, steep canyons, and desert scenery.
  • Popular routes include the Red Rock Scenic Byway, Dry Creek Road, and Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive.
  • Go early for the best lighting, fewer crowds, and amazing sunrise views.
  • Pack water and snacks since amenities are limited at scenic overlooks.
  • Watch for wildlife, drive slowly, and respect private property when exploring Sedona’s backroads.
  • Combining several short drives creates a full day of sightseeing tailored to your interests.
  • Extend your adventure with a day trip to the majestic Grand Canyon.

Scenic drives reveal some of Sedona’s most jaw-dropping vistas. Follow these self-guided tours to make the most of your visit to one of America’s most photogenic landscapes. Let Sedona’s natural splendor rejuvenate your mind, body, and spirit!

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