A Traveler's Guide to Exploring Flagstaff and Sedona, Arizona

35.1983° N, 111.6513° W

Golden hour in Sedona, Arizona

EXPLORE OUR IN-DEPTH TRAVEL GUIDE ON THE AMAZING CITIES OF FLAGSTAFF AND SEDONA IN NORTHERN ARIZONA. THIS GUIDE COVERS EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW; INCLUDING, HOW TO GET THERE, WHERE TO STAY, AND THE BEST ADVENTURES TO CHECK OUT.

 



Located far out in the northern Arizona mountains are two of the coolest and most exciting towns around. Flagstaff - or "Flag" as the locals call it - and Sedona are not only drop dead beautiful, but are also full of numerous outdoor adventures, a rich culture and a whole lot of energy (especially the spiritual kind).


If you are looking for a fun destination for a long weekend away or if you are just looking to explore some other amazing areas in Northern Arizona that aren't Grand Canyon National Park, then we cannot recommend these two Arizona towns enough.


Below you will find our ultimate travel guide for both Flagstaff and Sedona, Arizona, which includes everything you need to know about visiting both adventurous towns, like the best time to visit, where to stay and what to explore while visiting.




A BRIEF HISTORY OF FLAGSTAFF, ARIZONA


The cute mountain town of Flagstaff lies near the southwestern edge of the massive Colorado Plateau and within the San Francisco volcanic field. The town is also located along the western side of the largest contiguous ponderosa pine forest in the whole continental United States.


In the 1920s local Flagstaff businessmen began lobbying for Route 66 to pass through the city (which it did). This helped turn the local industry from lumber to tourism, which then helped develop downtown Flagstaff. Another important thing to happen in Flagstaff was the discovery of Pluto in the 1930s at the nearby Lowell Observatory (which you can learn more about in their daily tours).



POPULATION: 76,831

ELEVATION: 6,910 feet / 2,106 meters




A BRIEF HISTORY OF SEDONA, ARIZONA


By far Sedona's main tourist attraction is its wide array of red sandstone formations that often appear to glow in amazing orange and red shades when illuminated by both the rising or setting sun. The monolithic red rocks form a popular backdrop for many outdoor activities that range from various spiritual pursuits to hiking and mountain biking.


The first white settler to the area was John J. Thompson, who moved to the Oak Creek Canyon in 1876. At the time, the area was well known for its peach and apple orchards. Around the turn of the century, the Sedona post office was established. At the time 55 residents - mostly ranchers and farmers - called the area home. Interestingly, it took until the mid-1950s for the first telephone directory to arrive in town. It would then take another ten years for the whole town to get electricity.


More recently, Sedona has become famous for two things: as a spiritual center and global power spot and as the home for the only McDonald's without golden arches (they are instead turquoise).



POPULATION: 9,684

ELEVATION: 4,350 feet / 1,330 meters




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\\ How to Get to Flagstaff and Sedona


Both towns are located in Northern Arizona - an area of the state that is known for its rocky, volcanic mountains and pine forests. While the two towns are somewhat remote, they are also centrally located to many larger cities and outdoor adventures. Below are the standard driving times from a few of the closest major metropolises as well as from some of the most exciting nearby adventure destinations (hello Grand Canyon National Park!).



FROM…


PHOENIX

2 hours and 45 min to Flagstaff via Interstate 17

2.5 hours to Sedona via Interstate 17 and Highway 179


LAS VEGAS

4 hours to Flagstaff via Interstate 40, Highway 93 and Interstate 11

4.5 to Sedona via Interstate 40, Highway 93, Interstate 11 and Highway 89A


ALBUQUERQUE

4 hours and 45 min to Flagstaff via Interstate 40

5 hours and 20 min to Sedona via Interstate 40 and Highway 89A




CLOSE ADVENTURES TO FLAGSTAFF AND SEDONA


Grand Canyon National Park

This beautiful national park is roughly 1 hour and 45 minutes from the edge of Flagstaff and 2.5 hours from Sedona. To reach the Grand Canyon from either town, you will need to head north out on Highway 180 and 64.


❔ GOOD TO KNOW: if you are hoping to head to Grand Canyon National Park's North Rim, then you will have to first head out Highway 89 towards Bitter Springs, Arizona (just south of Page). Then drive out on Highway 89A and Road 67 until you reach the rim and the various trails located there. From Flagstaff, it is roughly 4 hours to the North Rim and from Sedona, it is roughly 4 hours and 35 minutes.



Nearby National Monuments

Located quite a bit closer to both towns are three amazing nationally protected areas: Sunset Crater National Monument, Wupatki National Monument and Walnut Canyon National Monument. From Flagstaff it is around 30 minutes to the monument entrances and from Sedona it is just over an hour.


| Sunset Crater National Monument is a great spot to head to to learn more about the areas volcanic history, go for a hike, and explore some interesting lava flows.


| Wupatki National Monument is another fantastic place to do a bit of exploring - especially if you are looking to learn more about the ancestral Native American tribes that used to call this part of Northern Arizona home.


| Walnut Creek National Monument is the third national monument within a short drive of both Flagstaff and Sedona. This federally protected area is also home to many archeological wonders, including 25 cliff dwellings.






\\ Where to Stay in Flagstaff and Sedona


There are many options when it comes to finding a place to stay the night in both Flagstaff and Sedona. From uber-lux all-inclusive resorts, to cute mountain cabins, you can find something for every type of style and budget.



HOTELS AND RESORTS


In Flagstaff

| High Country Motor Lodge: this funky, mid-century style lodge is centrally located near Flagstaff's bustling downtown. The lodge has a pool, gym, free parking and is pet friendly. | BOOK YOUR STAY


| Little America Hotel: this hotel is actually located on the grounds of the Little America Travel Center. The hotel comes with a seasonal pool, gym, wi-fi, and free parking. | BOOK YOUR STAY


| Basecamp at Snowbowl: for something a bit more outdoorsy, consider booking a night at one of the Basecamp at Snowbowl's cute cabins. Located north of Flagstaff, this adventure-focused lodging option is within easy distance of many hiking and biking trails and, in the winter, skiing at the namesake Arizona Snowbowl ski resort. | BOOK YOUR STAY



In Sedona

While Flagstaff has many of the standard run-of-the-mill hotel and motel options (with of course a couple of fun spots thrown in), Sedona definitely focuses more on upscale lodging options. In truth, many of the top places to stay in Sedona are actually all-inclusive, wellness focused resorts - including one of the most famous, the Enchantment Resort.


| Enchantment Resort: this upscale resort sits on 70-acres of beautiful desert terrain near Boynton Canyon on the outskirts of Sedona. Many of the rooms at this resort come with patios with views of the glowing red rocks and access to pools, spas and other wellness amenities. | BOOK YOUR STAY


| L'Auberge de Sedona: for an even more upscale and luxurious stay in Sedona, consider booking a night at the very fancy, very beautiful L'Auberge Resort. Located on the banks of Oak Creek, this resort includes numerous types of cabins, a couple of restaurants and many wellness-focused amenities. | BOOK YOUR STAY




AIRBNB


If you are looking for a bit more privacy or if you want something a bit more homey, then maybe an Airbnb is the way to go. Below are a few of the coolest Airbnb's in both towns.

In Flagstaff

| Quaint Downtown Loft/Studio: relatively small but very pet friendly, this loft is a short 10-minute walk to downtown. | BOOK HERE


| Cute Remodeled Cottage Near Downtown: this modern farmhouse is close to downtown and numerous urban trails. | BOOK HERE


| Large Home on the Edge of Town: if you need a bit more space to spread out, then this 6 bedroom house that is right next to trails might be perfect. Plus, it has a hot tub! | BOOK HERE




In Sedona

| Amazing Apartment Near Trails With a Spa: this one bedroom studio apartment includes tons of spa amenities (including saunas and a salt water pool), fantastic views of the red rocks and is close to trails and downtown. | BOOK HERE


| Cute Cabin Minutes from Downtown: this small and cozy space comes with great views of the area and easy access to town and the great outdoors. | BOOK HERE


| Creekside Home Near Sedona: this slightly more remote home comes with 2 bedrooms and amazing private creek access. | BOOK HERE




White van in the forest near Flagstaff, Arizona

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VAN LIFING


If you are looking vanlife in either Flagstaff or Sedona, then you are in luck for both towns have many great boondocking sites available.


Near Flagstaff, the best spots to camp are either up in the Fort Valley area (north of town) or on the many forest roads off of Highway 89A (the road between Flagstaff and Sedona). In our opinion, the national forest area off of Highway 89A was a bit more natural and offered more spread out camping sites. But, the Fort Valley area was very close to some awesome mountain biking trails (see more on this below).


Unfortunately, in Sedona, there were not as many free camping options. In truth, really the only legal spots were west of town off of either Loy Butte Road or Deer Pass Road. But with that being said, Sedona did offer quite a few other vanlifer-centric services, including free water fill-ups at ChocolaTree Organic Marketplace, strong wi-fi at the Sedona Public Library and free recycling at the town recycling center.

💬 INSIDER TIP: we tend to find many of our free campsites on either the iOverlander or FreeRoam apps. Both are free to use and come with lots of helpful information; including, where to find free water, recycling centers and showers.






\\ When to Visit Flagstaff and Sedona


While the two towns are only a short 29 miles away from each other, because of their sharp difference in elevation (over 2,000 feet), the two towns experience pretty different seasons and weather. This is important to keep in mind if you are planning to visit both spots during your trip, for while it can be scorching in Sedona, you might actually need a light jacket up in Flagstaff.



FLAGSTAFF WEATHER


Due to Flagstaff's higher elevation, the city can be quite a bit cooler in the winter (the average winter low is 14° F in January). The city also gets over 80 inches of snow a year - which is great if you are planning to visit and ski at the nearby resort Arizona Snowbowl. In our opinion, the best time to visit the city - especially if you are looking to hike and mountain bike - is between June and August. During the summer, Flagstaff’s average high temperature is around 82° F.




SEDONA WEATHER


Sedona has a nice temperate and semi-arid climate. In the summer (June - August) you can expect hot sunny days (many over 90° F), and in the winter you can expect the average high to be in the mid-50s. Due to this temperature swing, the best time to visit Sedona is going to be during the shoulder seasons: April to May and September to October.


❔ GOOD TO KNOW: while Sedona is still nice during the summer, the town does get incredibly busy. Within one year, the otherwise small town sees over 3 million visitors - most of which come between June and August.




Sunny day on a hiking trail in Sedona, Arizona

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\\ How Many Days Do You Need to Visit Flagstaff and Sedona?


We believe that you need at least 3 days to explore both Sedona and Flagstaff - though of course, we always think slowing down and spending more time in one spot is better overall. You can read our 4 day travel itinerary for Flagstaff and Sedona at the end of this guide (or jump there now).






\\ The Top 6 Things to Do in Flagstaff and Sedona


There are a ton of things to do in both Flagstaff and Sedona, from the highly adventurous to the deeply cultural. Below are six of the best things to do in either town.



1 | GO MOUNTAIN BIKING


If there was one thing we were really itching to do in the Flagstaff and Sedona area it was mountain biking. We had heard for years about the amazing red rock scenery and beautiful and exciting mountain bike trail system. So you can imagine our excitement when we finally got the chance to check the trails out for ourselves. And let us tell you - we were not disappointed!


Below are a few of the best mountain bike trails in both Flagstaff and Sedona.



TOP 6 MOUNTAIN BIKE RIDES IN FLAGSTAFF AND SEDONA

In Flagstaff


Schultz Pass Loop | 11.5 miles total, rated as a blue; this trail is very pretty and green - especially during the spring. But be aware that part of the trail can be a bit rocky, especially near the top.


Hart Prairie Loop | 15.2 miles, rated as a blue; this scenic trail has lots of beautiful forested scenery to explore.


Campbell Mesa | 10.2 miles, rated between a green and blue; this is a very good beginner trail to head out on, especially if you are worried about really steep sections (there are none). Plus, you get to ride through a really pretty forest.



In Sedona


West Sedona Tour | 13.1, rated as a blue; this is one of the most popular rides in the whole Sedona area. You can expect beautiful canyon views and a great intro into what makes mountain biking in Sedona so fun.


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