Sedona, Arizona is my happy place. I find it filled with a special magic, especially in fall. I love fall anyway – it’s my favorite season – but Sedona in October embraces everything that is special about the season. It gives me a chance to pull on a jacket, sit by a fire pit and breathe in the mountain air. Sedona is the perfect destination for a magical fall getaway filled with hiking, exploring the trails, off-roading, eating, shopping and relaxing. Here are a few of my favorite moments for a magical fall in Sedona.

Sedona is a Special Place

Sedona is only two hours from Phoenix, but it feels as if it is a world away. The small town of only about 10,000 full-time residents is surrounded by brilliant red sandstone cliffs. At an elevation of about 4,500 feet, there is a mix of desert landscapes, cottonwoods, sage, junipers and pines. By late October, you can enjoy the height of fall colors. You can keep a close check on the changing leaves online to help time your visit.

Fall in Sedona Arizona

I love the drive to Sedona with those Red Rocks against the blue Arizona sky. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Many Native American tribes claiming Sedona and the surrounding area as their original birthplace. The town has embraced that heritage and today it is an interesting blend of rugged beauty, boutique shopping, artwork, restaurants and luxury spas.

Sedona is known for its “vortices.” A vortext is an invisible whirling dervish of energy. People travel from all over the world for the area’s healing properties and to get a sense of renewal. It’s a place where unexplained things happen and where I always find some little piece of myself I never knew existed. I feel more at home among those red rocks than anyplace else I’ve ever been. Is it because of the vortexes and some magical energy? I’ll let you decide for yourself.

The Red Rocks of Sedona are perfect for off-road adventures. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

The Red Rocks of Sedona are perfect for off-road adventures. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Relaxing in Sedona

The drive from Phoenix to Sedona takes about two hours. It’s a beautiful drive that shows the slow transition from desert to high desert to the mountains. Once I see those towering red rocks in the distance, I feel the stress of everyday life fall away.

There are some great hotels, inns and resorts in Sedona. If you’re going for a spa getaway, I suggest Mii amo – a destination spa at Enchantment Resort. The spa experience I had at Mii amo remains the most memorable spa visit of my life. I was there for a beautiful four days in October and it was life-changing.

Mii amo entry

Mii amo entry is set against the red rocks of Boynton Canyon. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

But, if you want to go up for a few days to explore both the town and the surrounding area, I suggest booking a room at Amara Resort and Spa, A Kimpton Hotel, right in the heart of Sedona.

Amara Resort and Spa in Sedona, AZ. Photo courtesy Amara Resort and Spa

Amara Resort and Spa in Sedona, AZ. Photo courtesy Amara Resort and Spa

As I wind slowly down the driveway to the hotel’s front entrance, I feel the unmistakable pull of Sedona. It’s time for relaxation in the fresh mountain air. After checking in, I make a beeline for Amara’s patio, which offers a front-row view of the beautiful red rocks. It is so quiet and peaceful it’s easy to forget you’re in the middle of town.

I love Amara’s whimsical, eclectic design. Guest rooms feature bright accent pillows and fun, modern décor, but touches of local materials add a connection to the natural setting. For example, the headboards, a bit different in every room, are handcrafted from local fallen trees.

Fall in Sedona Arizona

I love the eclectic design in each Amara guestroom. Photo courtesy Amara Resort and Spa

I’ve stayed several times, but my last stay featured a creekside one-bedroom suite. The huge room featured private patios overlooking Oak Creek. Sitting outside at night, I could see a million stars overhead.

Save time to visit the heated pool. It sits on the edge of the woods and Oak Creek. I recommend relaxing poolside to get the full Sedona fall getaway experience. 

Dining in Sedona

There are so many great dining options in Sedona. It’s just a 5-minute walk up the hill to downtown Sedona, where you can find an array of dining choices. However, I recommend that you take the Amara shuttle to nearby Mariposa Latin Inspired Grill. This has to be one of the most beautiful settings for a restaurant anywhere in the world. If you show up for happy hour, you can start the evening with drinks on their amazing patio and watch the sun set over the red rocks.

Mariposa Latin Inspired Grill is the award-winning restaurant for one of Sedona’s legendary restaurateurs, Chef Lisa Dahl. Unlike her other Italian restaurants in town, Mariposa finds its inspiration from the chef’s travels to Argentina, Chile and Uruguay.

Fall in Sedona Arizona

The majestic setting of Mariposa Latin Inspired Grill. Photo courtesy Mariposa Latin Inspired Grill

The setting is simply breathtaking. The restaurant’s mariposa theme (butterfly in Spanish) starts when you arrive and magnificent iron butterfly orbs greet you. After dark, fire flickers inside each one.

Fall in Sedona Arizona

Entry at Mariposa Latin Inspired Grill. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

The flavors at Mariposa reveal not only Chef Dahl’s soul, but the soul of Sedona. At Mariposa, I found the food so full of love and flavor that I was certain those vortexes were adding to the experience.

Some of my favorite dishes continue to be offered on the menu because…well…they’re everyone’s favorites. I suggest starting with the Sopa de Justino (a thick, hearty soup made with roasted chicken, vegetables, quinoa, avocado, and tortilla strips). Chef Dahl used to make this soup with her son Justin, and it’s definitely a recipe filled with love.

I also adore the handmade empanadas – try the beef empanadas with tender filet, currant, potato, Sicilian olives and queso. All of the steaks are served with a housemade chimicurri sauce that is a lovely blend of Mediterranean and Southwest flavors.

Empanadas at Mariposa Latin Inspired Grill. Photo courtesy Mariposa Latin Inspired Grill

Playing in Sedona

No trip to Sedona is complete without an off-road tour with Pink Jeep Tours. These iconic pink Jeeps have been taking visitors around the red rocks since 1960. Pink Jeep arranges to pick you up at the front of the hotel. I enjoyed taking the company’s original Broken Arrow Tour with just a handful of other travelers.

Fall in Sedona Arizona - Pink Jeep Tours Sedona. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Pink Jeep Tours Sedona. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

The Broken Arrow trail covers about two miles in the Coconino National Forest. The sights along the trail are magnificent. On my tour, our guide pointed out many of the most famous Sedona landmarks with fun names like Submarine Rock, Chicken Point, Bell Rock and Chapel Butte. The highlight of the ride is a descent down The Road of No Return. Pink Jeep Tours offers an assortment of adventures from two hours to full-day excursions.

Fall in Sedona Arizona - Along the Broken Arrow Trail in Sedona with Pink Jeep Tours. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Along the Broken Arrow Trail in Sedona with Pink Jeep Tours. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Whether you believe it’s because of the vortices and magical energy or not, you will discover breathtaking natural beauty when you visit Sedona in the fall. Whether you wander along Oak Creek, nibble treats on a patio, head out for an off-road excursion or simply relax and rejuvenate, you will discover that the red rocks and golden fall foliage simply take your breath away set against that unforgettable blue Arizona sky.

As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with accommodations, meals, tours and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.

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