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Mention that you're taking the family to Sedona, and you'll hear a chorus of "oohs" and "ahs" from those in the know. Expect the same response from your backseat brood, as they spot the dramatic red ridges and pinnacles often seen in movies and on TV.
Sedona is about rocks. Really cool ones. They're the main attraction in this high-desert town, once inhabited by the Anasazi Indians. More than 4 million people ogle the scenery each year, on their way to the Grand Canyon. But locals know Sedona is a destination in its own right. And more outdoor-oriented families are finding that out, too.
Surrounded by national forest and bisected by lush Oak Creek Canyon, this natural "amusement park" is bursting with hiking and biking trails, natural swimming holes, campgrounds, and ancient Indian ruins to explore.
Don't like roughing it? Not to worry. There are luxury resorts, art galleries, shopping, and golf courses, all with drop-dead-gorgeous views of -- you guessed it -- red rock. Most families only spend a weekend here. But insiders say it takes at least five days to do Sedona right.
It's easy to see Sedona by car; you'll get a red-rock eyeful just driving through town. But to gawk without causing a traffic jam (a common Sedona occurrence), head for the backcountry, where you'll find panoramic views and license to rubberneck. Here are two of the most popular drives:
Jeep vehicle tours are another way to see Sedona's sights without burning a calorie; you can rent a 4WD vehicle or take a guided backcountry tour. The most kid-friendly tour we found? A Day in the West, a bumpy trip over fire roads and hiking trails that ends at a 90-acre ranch complete with western town movie set, horseback riding, and cowboy cookouts. The tour is suitable for all ages, but those under 6 are not permitted on horses.
Hiking is Sedona's most popular pastime. The National Forest Service and City of Sedona maintain more than 135 local trails, most of which are easy to moderate and can be hiked in 1-2 hours. For more detail, pick up a copy of Sedona Hikes by Richard and Sherry Mangum (Hexagon Press, 2003) at any local bookstore. This excellent trail guide includes a listing of the author's "personal favorites."
Next to hiking, biking is Sedona's big sport. The Bell Rock Pathway bike trail is 7 miles roundtrip on packed dirt, winding through the rock formations. The trailhead starts in the Village of Oak Creek, just 7 miles south of town. Rentals (and coffee) are available right across the street from the trailhead at Bike and Bean.
Don't leave Sedona without taking the drive up Oak Creek Canyon. This spectacular, 16-mile gorge features streams, waterfalls, and red rock cliffs. Plan on spending a full day at one or more of these favorite spots:
The best way to end a day in Sedona? Watching a sunset. Drive or hike to Bell Rock or Airport Mesa, two of Sedona's four "energy vortexes," to witness a brilliant color display that lasts long after the sun goes down. Besides the "light show," new agers flock to these electromagnetically charged spots for their alleged healing powers.
Spend the rest of the evening on Main Street, where upscale shops and restaurants coexist with tacky T-shirt emporiums. Don't waste your time at Tlaquepaque, however. This highly-touted, faux-Spanish colonial village is all about overpriced art and eats. If you're visiting between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, do stop by Los Abrigados Resort and Spa next door to see the annual Red Rock Fantasy of Lights, a brilliant holiday display featuring a million lights.
Type of trip: Outdoor adventure, scenic drive, educational
Best ages: 6 and up
Ideal trip length: Weekend; 4-5 days is best.
Distance: Grand Canyon (110 miles); Phoenix (120 miles); Tucson (226 miles)
Best time to go: March, June, August, and November for lower rates and fewer crowds
Weather: 55/29 degrees in January; 95/65 degrees in August. August also has highest rainfall, though storms pass quickly.
Lodging: From budget motels to luxury resorts. National Park campsites are plentiful and a cheaper alternative.
Squirm factor: None
Red Rock State Park Five miles southwest on Hwy 89A Phone: 928-282-6907
Slide Rock State Park 7 miles north on Hwy 89A Phone: 928-282-3034
Coconino National Forest Note: 165 campsites at three campgrounds
A Day in the West Phone: 800-973-3662
Red Rock Fantasy of Lights Los Abrigados Resort and Spa Phone: 928-282-1777 November - January
Bike and Bean Bike rentals Phone: 928-284-0210
Sedona-Oak Creek Canyon Chamber of Commerce Phone: 800-288-7336
Arizona Office of Tourism Phone: 800-842-8257
The Cowboy Club restaurant 241 North Hwy 89A Phone: 928-282-4200 Waitresses brandishing toy guns serve standard fare -- and buffalo, rattlesnake, and cactus -- in a Wild West setting.
Sedona may have gotten its name from the town's first white settlers, Carl and Sedona Schnebly, who discovered this high-desert "oasis" in 1902. But the Sinaguan Indians really had first dibs on the place, building their cliffside homes here in the 12th century. Many of those sites are still standing, and worth a sidetrip. The most popular:
After the ancients came miners, cowboys, and other pioneers, who turned the hillside town of Jerome into a bawdy frontier outpost. Now, tourists come for the more sedate gift shops, restaurants, art galleries and a State Historic Park recounting the area's mining history. 37 miles southwest on Hwy 89A Phone: Jerome Chamber of Commerce, 928-634-2900
Reviewed April 2004.