Sometimes the best travel experiences happen on accident. Visiting Sedona, Arizona, in the spring was one such accidental destination for my family that turned into a major family travel success. A city known for luxury spas and mystical spirituality may not seem like an obvious destination for family travelers. But the hikes, outdoor adventures, and kid-friendly activities turn this into family-friendly Sedona.
On my family’s spring break travels last year, we were looking to break up a long drive on a road trip taking us from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon and finally on to Phoenix. With my toddler son in tow (plus his older sister who isn’t that much more patient), breaking the road trip up into short daily drives was important. Located just two hours south of the Grand Canyon’s south rim and another two hours north of Phoenix, Sedona quickly looked like our best stop along the way. Once we did a little research into the offerings there, we decided to make it a proper visit and stay for two days and two nights in family-friendly Sedona. What a smart choice that turned out to be.
My impression of Sedona before the trip was one of luxury spas mixed with a bit of hippie spiritual vibe. I was unsure if it would offer much for my youngest traveling companions – my children (ages nearly 6 and 1.5 at the time). I was also worried about cost, as those famous luxury hotels come at quite the price, especially during spring break high season.
But Sedona turned out to be one of our most memorable stops and also one destination that didn’t bust our family’s budget. Here are the things you need to know about visiting Sedona, Arizona with kids.
Best Kid-Friendly Activities in Sedona
1. Slide Rock State Park
Our first stop on the way into Sedona was Slide Rock State Park located just north of town. This natural waterslide is a must-do for adventurous children. Kids can also jump off of a small rock ledge into a deep water pool or sun themselves on the red rock banks.
The only fee to visit is the per vehicle parking fee ($20 as of summer 2016). There’s a small store in the park where you can purchase a towel or snacks in a pinch, but I’d recommend bringing your own. The hike down to the water slide area requires a little dexterity on rock surfaces. I was able to do it in good sneakers with my toddler son strapped to me in his Ergo carrier, with the occasional helping hand from my husband in one or two places.
If you visit in the spring like we did, be aware that the water is snow runoff and can be quite chilly. The water is warmer and less rushing in the summer months. Make sure your kids are reasonably strong swimmers before sending them down the slide solo. Nature isn’t as forgiving as the water park.
2. Pink Jeep Tours
By far the priciest thing we did during our time in Sedona was an excursion with Pink Jeep Tours, but it was probably the best money we spent the entire trip. There are several jeep companies in Sedona, but Pink Jeep is by far the largest and the gold standard. Your drive will take your family and perhaps one or two other families right into the red rocks. The drive up many in angles that seemingly defy the laws of physics. It’s seriously thrilling and offers the chance for some amazing up close views of the magnificent landscape.
I found Pink Jeep Tours’ 2 hour Broken Arrow excursion the perfect fit for younger kids like ours, but longer tours are available as well. Kids as young as 18 months can take some of the tours, and my son made that cut-off by just a few weeks. The company even provides car seats and uses a more stable vehicle for younger children for extra protection.
3. Montezuma Castle
The other can’t-miss attraction for families near Sedona is Montezuma Castle, a pre-Columbia cliff dwelling carved into the side of a rock face. Operated by the National Park Service, admission is very inexpensive (just $10 for ages 16 and up and free for kids under 16, as of summer 2016). The site is an easy stroll even for toddlers — and stroller-friendly if you need to bring one along. Plan for about an hour to tour it fully. Make sure your kids participate in the Junior Ranger program for further education and fun.
Other Family-Friendly Sedona Activities
Have more than just a day or two in Sedona? Here are a few other kid-friendly activities to add to your travel itinerary that worked for my family.
- Tuzigoot National Monument: Also operated by the National Park Service is Tuzigoot National Monument, about a 20-minute drive outside town. Walk among the ruins of more pre-Columbian homes and buildings. A ticket to Montezuma Castle also includes admission to Tuzigoot (for a 7 day period).
- Chapel of the Holy Cross: This “Church in the Rock” is visually stunning and worth of a short visit to take in the views.
- Sedona Stargazing: Older kids who are really into astronomy should consider an evening with Sedona Stargazing. Book early as tours do fill up. Watch the weather as overcast skies will force cancellations.
Sedona, Arizona Travel Tips for Families
If you’re headed to Sedona with kid companions, here are a few more tips to make your trip a travel success like ours.
- Eat on the Cheap in Sedona: Sedona offers plenty of opportunities to eat well without killing your family vacation budget, even in the higher-end downtown area. For lunch, my family enjoyed Sedona Memories Bakery and Cafe which served up giant sandwiches that would feed two or three people for just $8. For a sit-down meal, the Cowboy Club on the main drag in downtown Sedona was reasonably priced, kid-friendly, and featured outdoor seating on the patio.
- Stay Outside of Downtown: The closer you are to walking distance to the quaint Sedona downtown, the more you will pay. Having the convenience of walking to shops and restaurants is nice, but not worth the price premium since many other Sedona activities aren’t even downtown. Stay in a hotel a little further afield for major savings. Parking can be a little tough when you want to come downtown, but we easily found space within three or four blocks of where we wanted to be.
- Book a Hotel with a Pool: Most Sedona area hotels have nice pools, but if you have kids, forgetting this important feature would be a big mistake! After a long day of desert hiking, taking a dip in the hotel pool is a must.