It takes a patient person to drive into Sedona, Arizona, during the spring or fall, when all of Phoenix seems to descend at once on State 179, the road that leads to town.
Not so in January ― downtime for the tourist board but prime time for hikers looking for a day of solitude on one of two seasonally popular local trails.
Before setting out, get to know the lay of the land at the Institute of Ecotourism (10–6 daily; free; 91 Portal Lane; www.ioet.org or 928/282-2720), where interactive displays introduce you to local animals, plants, and topography. Morning temperatures tend to dwell in the energizing 40s, so there’s no need to hurry.
Stop for a prehike cup of cocoa at the Black Cow Café ($; 229 N. State 89A; 928/203-9868), where you can also stock up on sandwiches for a midday picnic. And if you forgot to pack an extra layer, backtrack to Sedona Sports (251 State 179; 928/282-1317), which specializes in all things sporty and fleece.
You should find plenty of sunshine along Munds Wagon Trail, a gentle 4-mile climb that delivers jaw-dropping views of the jagged, paprika-hued canyons. To reach the trailhead, continue south on State 179, turn uphill onto Schnebly Hill Road, then drive 1 mile to the parking area ($5 per vehicle).
In Call of the Canyon ($7 per vehicle), about 7 miles north of downtown Sedona on State 89A, the West Fork Trail offers up completely different scenery in the form of chiseled sandstone cliffs sliced down the center by Oak Creek. The creek itself makes this Sedona’s most popular hike in hotter months ― a good reason to take the 6.5-mile round-trip trail now. Wear waterproof hiking boots, as you’ll be crossing the creek via steppingstones at several points.
Make your way back into town on the early side so you can beat the crowd at the Cowboy Club Grille & Spirits ($$$; 241 N. State 89A; 928/282-4200), where the pork back ribs draw a loyal following even in the slow season. Finish guiltlessly with a warm individual chocolate cake, knowing that you’ve earned it.
Maps to go
The Sedona–Oak Creek Canyon Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center (8:30–5 Mon–Sat, 9–3 Sun; 331 Forest Rd.; www.visitsedona.com or 928/282-7722) has trail maps and brochures on area attractions.