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Distance from the ’Y in Sedona (one way): 43 miles
Attractions: museums, fall colors, hiking, café
At this time of the year, there’s one common sight on everyone’s must-see list: fall colors. This particular drive has you covered, from the reds and oranges in Oak Creek Canyon to the brilliant gold aspens along Snowbowl Road northwest of Flagstaff. Depending on the time of week, you’ll definitely experience traffic and crowds; if you’re looking for peace and quiet, we highly recommend scheduling this drive for the middle of the week.
From the ’Y near Uptown Sedona, head north on SR 89A through Oak Creek Canyon. Continue to Interstate 17 north and drive until it ends in Flagstaff and becomes Milton Road. Continue on Milton and then turn left on U.S. 180, 30 miles from the ’Y. You’ll pass Flagstaff’s two major museums: the Pioneer Museum and the incomparable Museum of Northern Arizona. The museums are only one mile apart and both are worth a visit.
But if you’re short on time or if it’s fall colors that are your focus, keep driving on the winding, two-lane road. You’ll pass pine forests and flatlands populated by horse farms. On your right, the San Francisco Peaks, including Humphrey’s Peak, Arizona’s tallest mountain with an elevation of 12,633 feet, loom over the valleys and forests. Thirty-seven miles into your drive, turn right on Snowbowl Road. This narrow, twisting road snakes through tall pine trees and low-lying ferns. The forest floor is sprinkled with black lava rocks, remnants of the last time the volcano blew its top, resulting in today’s five peaks.
After driving three miles on Snowbowl Road, the aspen trees begin to appear. Drive another two miles, and you’ll reach Aspen Corner. The leaves on the trees shimmy and shake in even the slightest breeze; they turn from green to a stunning gold in the fall. The contrast between the white bark on the narrow tree trunks and the colorful leaves is a photographer’s dream come true. A trailhead at Aspen Corner on the left side of Snowbowl Road leads hikers and mountain bikers along a portion of the state-long Arizona Trail.
Snowbowl Road continues for another mile, passing the trailheads for Kachina and Humphrey trails. It ends at Arizona Snowbowl, northern Arizona’s 40-run ski resort. After all that driving, park the car and take a break at the Peak Side Café in the Agassiz Lodge (open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.). Sit inside and take a look at photos of the ski area or, if it’s warm enough, relax on the patio with its views of Snowbowl. The menu includes soups, sandwiches, draft beer, wine and cocktails. On the weekends, enjoy live music.
Distance from the ’Y in Sedona (round-trip loop): 251 miles
Attractions: national park, hiking, historic trading post, roadside attractions
One of the best things about living in Sedona is our town’s proximity to Grand Canyon National Park. It’s 111 miles from Sedona to the village at the South Rim, but there’s so much more to see beyond the souvenir shops, so start your drive early and bring your hiking boots.
From Sedona, head north on SR 89A through Oak Creek Canyon into Flagstaff. Take Interstate 17 north until it ends at Milton Road. Follow Milton to U.S. 180 and head west. We prefer this route to Interstate 40 because it’s so picturesque. Pass Snowbowl Road, pine forests and the tiny and quaint Chapel of the Holy Dove (on your right, 49 miles into your drive). U.S. 180 ends at SR 64 in the town of Valle. Turn right. If you have extra time, you might want to stop at the Flintstones Prehistoric Park and Bedrock City on the left just after you turn onto SR 64. If you like roadside attractions, this one is not to be missed.
Follow SR 64 into Grand Canyon National Park and continue to the village. (There’s a $25-per-car entry fee; expect to wait in line on busy weekends.) Once you reach the village, park your car and take in the views. There’s a reason why the village was built on this spot: It offers some of the best vistas of the canyon. Wander along the Rim Trail and keep an eye out for the California condors that nest in the canyon. Also explore the historic El Tovar, a former Harvey House hotel. If you’re feeling hungry, grab a bite to eat at the restaurant inside the lodge. When the weather is warm, soaking up the sun on the restaurant’s patio is a delight.
It’s tempting to spend the entire day in the village, but today you are a road warrior. If you’re short on time, skip popular Hermit’s Rest at the western end of the park and instead drive to the eastern edge. Follow the signs to the Desert View and east exit.
Your first stop on this portion of your drive is the unmarked Shoshone Point, 1.2 miles east of the marked Yaki Point. Look for a dirt parking lot just past mile marker 244 on the left. Park and walk through the locked gate. Hike about one mile on flat ground through swaying ponderosa pines. The trail ends at a picnic area frequented by permitted groups. Walk past the covered picnic tables and make your way to a promontory that juts out over the canyon. There’s an interesting balanced rock formation on the very edge – ideal for adding perspective to photos – and the views of the canyon’s purple and pink buttes are absolutely sublime. It’s hard to find a more tranquil and breathtaking vista than Shoshone Point.
Back in your car, continue driving the twisty road toward the Desert View Watchtower. One-hundred-thirty-nine miles from Sedona, you’ll reach the historic Watchtower, which rises from the rim of the canyon like a stone exclamation point that perfectly punctuates the end of your visit. Views around the Watchtower include the Colorado River and the Painted Desert to the east.
Make a left out of the Desert View parking area, and you’ll quickly exit the park. Continue on SR 64. If time permits, stop at the scenic viewpoint 16 miles outside the park’s exit or at the Little Colorado River Tribal Park, 21 miles after you exit the park.
SR 64 ends at I-17 at the town of Cameron. If you’re ready to return to Sedona, turn right toward Flagstaff. If it’s dinner you’re craving or if you’d like to do some shopping, turn left on I-17 and stop at the historic – and huge – Cameron Trading Post. The large dining room sports a tin ceiling with Navajo rugs and baskets on the walls. The dinner menu includes Navajo tacos, steaks and Mexican specialties.
MORE SEDONA ROAD TRIPS: Lake Powell, Havasu Canyon, photographing Arizona, 3 slot canyons, 10 places to go to beat the Arizona heat, Acoma Pueblo, Grand Canyon, The Wave, Oak Creek Canyon, Crown King, Jerome, Sunset Crater Volcano, Wupatki National Monument, Arizona animal parks, Monument Valley, Phoenix’s Musical Instrument Museum, Navajo National Monument, Canyon de Chelly