Some of Sedona’s most amazing views lay back in the narrow canyons where the average car can’t go.
So how do you get there? Hop on a Sedona Jeep for an off-road adventure!
Off-road tours have been a tourist favorite since the first Pink Jeeps began offering excursions in 1960.
Six decades later, Pink Jeep remains the largest and most visible of the town’s many tour operators, but there are at least a half-dozen others offering a mix of scenic views and off-road thrills.
While you’ll see some Hummers and ATVs on the trails, most companies still favor the four-wheel-drive Jeep. Outfitted with cloth or hard tops, most have bench seating for between 6 to 9 passengers each. These are not usually off-the-sales-lot vehicles; instead, they are specially reinforced to handle the challenging terrain.
Drivers undergo extensive training to navigate the rocky terrain and hills…while simeotaneously pointing out flora, fauna, rock formations, and interesting facts about local history and Native American culture.
Tour lengths vary, but the most popular routes last 1.5-2.5 hours. The majority of tours depart from the bustling Uptown area, but within a few minutes, you’ve left the pavement and are on the rocks.
Off-road trails are often narrow and almost always rocky and deeply rutted. Depending on the tour, you’ll traverse across small boulders, uneven surfaces, and steep hills and washes.
Classic routes generally offer one or more “thrill” elements, usually from going up or down what seem like impossibly steep and rocky hills. This can make Sedona Jeep touring a fun option for families traveling with school-aged children.
Many people describe the experience as “thrilling, but not too scary.” Tour drivers tend to go at a slow pace — not just to let you take in the scenery, but to make sure they’re safely navigating the terrain.
Sedona Jeep Tours: Many Options
You have a lot of options when it comes to choosing a Sedona Jeep tour that’s right for you. Shop around and you’ll find…
….”peaceful” tours that allow you to be out in nature on less-traveled trails
….on-road tours where you can see the sights while staying mostly on the pavement
….panoramic tours that take you to beautiful vistas, including routes that lead up to the edge of the Mogollon Rim, about 2,000 feet above Sedona
….New Age tours that focus more on Sedona’s mystical side
… “combo” tours that merge off-road adventures with other activities like horseback riding, helicopter rides, hiking, and wine tours.
Tours begin at around 7 am and end shortly after sunset. Opinions vary as to the “best” time of day for a tour, but morning and late afternoon can be particularly nice, as the rising and setting sun makes interesting shadows and color variations on the red rocks.
Especially in the summer, tours tend to fill up quickly. While there are enough different operators that you can generally find some open seats at the last minute, it can be a lot easier to book a day or more ahead of time.
Some things to keep in mind:
- Most tour operators don’t allow pregnant women or children under 1 ½ to 3 years of age on off-road tours.
- Especially for children younger than 7, consider how comfortable they are going to be with bumpy rides and steep inclines, how well they will handle 1-2+ hours in an open-air vehicle in potentially extreme temperatures, and if they are okay being in a small space with other tourists.
- If you have back problems or mobility issues, be aware that off-road touring can cause discomfort. Many tour operators will encourage you to opt out if you think it’s going to exacerbate or worsen any preexisting conditions.
Three Classic Sedona Jeep Tours
If you’re overwhelmed with all the options and just want a classic off-road Sedona adventure combining great views with a few thrills, the two names that come up over and over again are Broken Arrow and Diamondback Gulch.
Named after a classic Western filmed in Sedona in 1950, Broken Arrow was Pink Jeep’s first tour when they first launched in the 1960s and is now their signature tour, running more than ten times a day in the summer. While it is open to private vehicles, Pink Jeep is the only tour operator allowed on Broken Arrow.
The trail winds through fairly dense forest, giving you a close up view of native trees and foliage, and even some wildlife.
But the main draw of Broken Arrow isn’t the flora and fauna. It’s the rocks and the views.
Broken Arrow transitions from dirt path to smooth rock at multiple points, and you’ll spend plenty of time traveling up and down steep rock “steps.” (One notable section is known as the “Devil’s Staircase.”) Tours generally stop at Submarine Rock and Chicken Point, which both offer dramatic panoramic views of red rock spires and canyons. Then you’ll continue down the Road of No Return….but don’t worry. You’ll make it.
Diamondback Gulch is on the western side of town, giving you panoramic views of Sedona and across the Verde Valley.
The route follows an old wagon trail across what was once a cattle range. The first part passes through the wide-open country with canyons and mountains visible on all sides.
It’s main feature is, of course, the Gulch itself. As one veteran guide says: “Sometimes it feels like you’re going straight up. Sometimes it feels like you’re going straight down on the back of an angry diamondback rattlesnake.” Guides often like to hover at the very lip of the Gulch and then drop quickly to maximize the thrill.
Like Broken Arrow, Diamondback Gulch was once the domain of Pink Jeep, but today it’s open to other tour companies and ATV riders.
Most tour companies offer trips to the edge of the Mogollon Rim, about 1500 feet above Sedona.
The ride up Schnebly Hill Road is bumpy good fun, and along the way you’ll likely make stops at several memorable locations. First up is Merry-Go-Round Rock, where Elvis Presley filmed the song “Dominic” for his 1968 film, Stay Away, Joe. Then you come to a set of unique rock formations known as the Cowpies, which were used in a number of the more than 40 Westerns filmed in the area.
This is also a great tour for learning the early history of the town and how TC Schnebly and his wife, Sedona, helped establish the area in 1902. You’ll also see the old Munds Wagon Trail, a cattle trail founded in 1904 to link Sedona to Flagstaff.
Tours go various lengths up Schnebly Hill but most stop about half way up at Merry Go Round Rock where you’ll be rewarded with amazing views of Sedona and Verde Valley beyond. This is a great tour to take early in the morning, when you’re most likely to see wildlife, and as a sunset tour, as the fading light casts its shadow over the valley below and sometimes creates a lot of glare.
Jeep Tours Near Sedona
Sedona tour companies, particularly Pink Jeep, now offer off-road adventures across the Southwest. Almost everyone has a Grand Canyon adventure option. Pink Jeep also offers tours in and around Las Vegas.
Keep Comfortable on your Sedona Jeep Tour
- As with all Sedona outdoor adventures, remember your hat, wear sturdy shoes, and slather on that sunscreen.
- Stay hydrated. Bring along bottled water, aiming for 16-24 oz or more for each adult, and take frequent drinks.
- On the same topic: there are no bathrooms on tours. You’ll definitely want to go before you go. (That said: don’t let the lack of bathrooms keep you from hydrating on your tour. Dehydration is by far a greater danger than bathroom urgency.)
- Dress in layers if you’re going on early morning or sunset tours, as the desert temperatures can go up and down quickly. Most tour operators also pack blankets if they think it’s going to get chilly.
- Please remember to tip your driver at the end of your tour.