Sedona is celebrated for being a luxury haven in Arizona, satisfying the senses with elegant resorts, rejuvenating spas and superb restaurants that blend beautifully into the natural surroundings. Not everything worth seeking out is expensive, which can help you keep your budget in balance after indulging in awe-inspiring experiences like drifting over the desert in a hot-air balloon and bouncing through the backcountry on a Jeep tour. Regardless of the reason, here are 12 free things to do in Sedona.

1. Admire ancient Indigenous petroglyphs and rock art

Take advantage of fee-free days at important heritage destinations run by the US Forest Service: Palatki, Honanki and Crane Petroglyph (formerly called V Bar V), which is Verde Valley’s largest known site of its kind. Park rangers lead tours, deciphering cryptic paintings and markings etched in the stone and providing intel on the prehistoric cultures and people who originally lived in what’s now the Coconino National Forest near Sedona. 

Gaze up at sandstone cliff dwellings built by the Sinagua peoples and imagine how they existed in this otherworldly landscape, estimated to be between 1150–1350 CE. Get a glimpse into their lives, from the wild plants they ate and deer and rabbits they hunted for sustenance to the tools they fashioned from wood and stone. 

Planning tips: You must make a reservation to visit Palatki and Honanki. All three sites are subject to closures during extreme temperatures in summer, as well as on Thanksgiving and Christmas days. Dogs are not allowed.

Stars Sedona
Sedona is an international dark sky community with dazzling starry skies © Migz Perez / Shutterstock

2. Search for UFOs while stargazing

At night, Sedona gets dark – like, really dark. Sedona’s clear skies and dark nights are ideal for getting a glimpse of Mercury rising or spotting Orion’s Belt. As an international dark sky community, the city keeps light pollution to a minimum. That makes it easy to find a pitch-black place, let your eyes adjust and see what glitters or glows. The city also has a reputation for UFO sightings, and astronomy tourism is big here. 

If you’re hitting the desert trails at night, remember to bring a flashlight; you might even spot some scorpions. Take your stargazing to the next level to see deep-sky objects – star clusters, nebulas and galaxies – by hooking up with the Sirius Lookers, a local amateur astronomy club. 

Planning tip: Save the daily $5 parking fee at popular trails by heading off the beaten path to places like the Jordan Road Trailhead at the end of West Park Ridge Drive. 

3. Spot raptors and tarantulas at Sedona Wetlands Preserve

The upper regions of the Sonoran Desert – where Sedona is situated – supports a surprising amount of wildlife such as javelina, coyotes, mule deer, black-tailed rattlesnakes, tarantulas and a ton of lizards. And the 27-acre Sedona Wetlands Preserve is probably the best place to go birding. 

The Northern Arizona Audubon Society offers free seasonal field trips here to see hundreds of birds in their natural habitat. Find solitude on the trails while watching for skittish Gambel’s quail, leggy herons and an array of raptors: osprey, turkey vultures and even bald eagles. 

Planning tip: Visit the Northern Arizona Audubon Society website for a list of walking tour dates.

4. Check out the local arts scene (with refreshments) at First Fridays 

With more than 80 galleries, Sedona showcases a multitude of art mediums, from photography and painting to glass-blowing and sculpture. On the first Friday of each month, select members of the Sedona Gallery Association host art exhibits, events, and receptions (with refreshments), inviting guests to discover Sedona’s art scene.

Planning tip: The art reception locations change each Friday and they're are scattered among Sedona’s neighborhoods, so check the website ahead of time to see what’s featured.

5. Cozy up to watch movies outside under a blanket of stars 

Sedona's dark skies make for a perfect backdrop for outdoor movie nights; free, family-friendly films (classics from the 1970s and late 2000s) are hosted at the Posse Grounds Pavilion every Friday night in June. It’s part of the City of Sedona’s annual Summer Cinema Series, which brings locals and visitors together to enjoy a community event in the great outdoors.

Planning tips: Get comfy: bring your own chair and blanket, plus snacks and beverages. Alcohol is not permitted and neither are pets, except service ADA dogs.

6. Spot iconic landmarks when cruising the Red Rock Scenic Byway

Sedona is surrounded by natural splendor, but driving the Red Rock Scenic Byway (State Route 179) lets newcomers get acquainted with the sandstone formations towering right over the road. Driving through the Village of Oak Creek, you can’t miss the iconic Bell Rock, which rises almost 5000ft, and its neighboring Courthouse Butte, which stands even higher. The scenic route continues north to another landmark edifice, the Chapel of the Holy Cross (see below), a church built right into the cliff.

Amitabha_Stupa_Peace_Park_credit_Janet Gyenes_DSC_3922.JPG
Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park is a spiritual destination in West Sedona © Janet Gyenes / Lonely Planet

7. Walk a sacred medicine wheel and spin prayer wheels

For a peaceful place to meditate, pray, or walk a medicine wheel in the desert, head to Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park. Situated in West Sedona, this spiritual spot sits among the pines and junipers against a backdrop of Chimney Rock and Thunder Mountain (also called Capitol Butte). Take time exploring here: spin the prayer wheels next to the 36ft Amitabha Stupa, take a side trail to the gleaming white 6ft Tara Stupa, named for the female deity, and pause at the mahogany statue of Shakyamuni Buddha, on the pathway behind the Buddha to get to the medicine wheel. 

The park’s grounds are also considered a sacred Indigenous site, which features a wheel composed of stones representing the circle of life. There is believed to be a prophecy dating back to the seventh century that connects Tibetan Buddhists and Hopi peoples. Enter at the medicine wheel’s east opening, then continue strolling to the other points in a clockwise direction.

Planning tips: Parking is free, but arrive early for a more peaceful experience. Learn more about the park and Buddhism before you visit to best use your time at this sacred site.

Sedona's Chapel of the Holy Cross
Sedona's Chapel of the Holy Cross © fdevalera / Getty Images

8. Marvel at modernist architecture at Chapel of the Holy Cross

You won’t find outsize architecture in Sedona, with one exception: the Chapel of the Holy Cross. The Catholic Church, completed in 1956, is situated within the red rock at 1000ft. Both the chapel and its 90ft concrete cross built into the front façade (it functions as both symbol and structural support) are visible from the Red Rock Scenic Byway (State Route 179). Yet thanks to its modernist design, there are no sky-piercing spires or ornate embellishments detracting from its vertiginous position. Peek inside the chapel for a look at the 33ft bronze crucifix commissioned by a local artist, which was installed in 2018.  

Planning tip: The last entry to explore inside the chapel is 4:45pm; pets must be left outside.

9. Skateboard or play pickleball at Posse Grounds Park

Stretching 79 acres, Posse Grounds Park offers plenty of room to play. As Sedona’s first city park, it’s an established destination with dedicated areas for various sports, from softball and skateboarding to sand volleyball and the ever-popular pickleball. Located in West Sedona, the park’s wide-open spaces are about unwinding with a picnic at one the 10 ramadas or joining the non-stop action: bash the ball around the two tennis courts, shoot some hoops or head to the grassy spot to play bocce ball. There are even mini-parks for practicing bike skills, with a loop here for young kids too. 

10. Experience Sedona’s energy on a hike to one of its four vortex sites

Spirit seekers, or those just curious about the metaphysical world, can hike to one of Sedona’s vortex sites. These natural areas are said to radiate energy (considered masculine, feminine or a balance of the two) from the earth, drawing people to meditate, practice yoga or engage in other spiritual and wellness activities. Four vortex sites, each accessible by trail, are scattered around Sedona: Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock, Boynton Canyon and Airport Mesa. Some say Chapel Rock is the site of a fifth vortex, but it is less powerful than the others.

Planning tip: No car? No problem. Take the Sedona Free Shuttle to get to the Cathedral Rock trailhead; it’s a smart and sustainable way to get to the popular trailheads without worrying about paying for parking or finding a spot.

11. Swing by the teal arches and get a photo for the ’gram

Golden arches at McDonald's? Not in Sedona. The fast-food giant’s recognizable logo isn’t sunshine yellow, but instead a blue-green hue to better blend into the natural landscape. It might seem silly to feature a fast-food sign on this list, but it's the only set of teal arches in the world and it's a testament to Sedona's dedication to blending in with Mother Nature's splendor; the city of Sedona has a Land Development Code that outlines clear standards for preserving the community’s character, which includes the color of signs. Catch a glimpse of the famous sign on your way to the Shelby Trailhead for a morning hike or on your way to Airport Mesa to experience its vortex.

12. Enjoy flamenco dancing, ballet folklórico and other cultural events at Tlaquepaque Arts & Shopping Village

There’s always something happening in this living arts community modeled after a Mexican village and named for a city on the outskirts of Guadalajara. Along with being home to an array of artisan boutiques and restaurants, the Tlaquepaque Arts & Shopping Village hosts ongoing activities, from flamenco dancing and ballet folklórico (traditional Mexican dancing) in the courtyard to celebrations for Cinco de Mayo and its signature Festival of Lights, which ramps up during the holidays 

Keep planning your Sedona trip:

Decide when to book your trip The best time to go to Sedona 
Make it from A to B with Getting around in Sedona
Keep your dance card full with The best day trips from Sedona

This article was first published Aug 19, 2021 and updated Apr 11, 2024.

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