With its vast landscapes and colorful topography, the American Southwest is one of the best regions in the country to take an old-fashioned road trip—in fact, that’s the only way to see most of it. Arizona, specifically, is home to the only Natural Wonder of the World in the U. S., numerous national parks, picturesque state parks, and 21 American Indian tribes. So, what better way to spend spring break this year than packing up the kids for a family-friendly road trip through Arizona?
Since the possibilities for an Arizona road trip are endless, I’ve organized these family-friendly road trips into four paths. Each of these road trip routes includes a selection of my favorite stops. I’ve traveled along each of these paths—most more than once. There is truly something for every member of the family to be enjoyed in each of these road trips.
An earlier article highlighted Northern Arizona and the Grand Canyon. Today we drive 115 miles south to Red Rock Country.
Sedona and the Verde Valley
A family road trip to Arizona turns next-level with a stop in Sedona and a side trip to the ghost mining town of Jerome and Sinagua cliff-side dwellings. Justifiably world-famous for its eye-popping scenery, Sedona and the surrounding Verde Valley have a lot to offer for road-tripping families.
Related Article: Discover Arizona’s Extraordinary Verde Valley
The spectacular red rocks
A family that loves to hike will be in paradise here. With over 300 miles of trails spread across red rock country, there’s something for everyone. There are hikes at every difficulty level from easy for families with small kids to strenuous for expert outdoor types. Two of my favorites are Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock.
Bell Rock is a 1½-mile round-trip outing with several paths for climbing depending on skill level. It’s a well-maintained trail with plenty of spectacular views, colorful birds, hawks, bunnies, lizards, and butterflies to be spotted.
One of the most popular hikes in Sedona (for a good reason) is Cathedral Rock Trail. This 1.2-mile round trip is a bit steep in places but there are plenty of opportunities to stop and look around to enjoy the view.
Winding through Sedona’s Red Rock Country, Red Rock Scenic Byway (Highway 179) is often called a “museum without walls.” This All-American Road winds through the evergreen-covered Coconino National Forest and past two famous and beautiful vortexes—Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock. Stop at the several scenic pullouts for great views and enjoy the prehistoric Red Rocks with nearby parking (RV friendly). There are all levels of hiking and biking trails.
Related Article: Sedona Is a Must-Stop
The Chapel of the Holy Cross sits perched on a small red rock plateau below a multi-hued sandstone ridge creating one of the most impressive architectural sites in Sedona. This breathtaking landmark building incorporates a 90-foot cross that dominates the structure and the front face of the chapel is all windows. The Chapel is a short distance off Red Rock Scenic Byway.
There is so much more to Sedona than meets the eye. People travel from all across the globe to experience the mysterious cosmic forces that are said to emanate from the red rocks. They come in search of the vortexes. What is a vortex? Sedona vortexes are thought to be swirling centers of energy that are conducive to healing, meditation, and self-exploration. Many people feel inspired, recharged, or uplifted after visiting a vortex.
Although all of Sedona is considered to be a vortex there are specific sites where the energy crackles most intensely. The four best-known Sedona vortexes are found at Airport Mesa, Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, and Boynton Canyon—each radiating its own particular energy.
Red Rock State Park is a 286-acre nature preserve and an environmental education center with stunning scenery. Trails throughout the park wind through manzanita and juniper to reach the banks of Oak Creek. Green meadows are framed by native vegetation and hills of red rock.
Off-roading with a Jeep tour
Sedona’s rocky geography lends itself perfectly to off-roading and many families will find the famous Pink Jeep Tours and other providers in town offer a great way to see as much of the local scenery as possible. Jeeps wind up impossibly steep rock faces and through narrow gullies, perching on top of gigantic boulders or slabs of rock for more terrific photo ops.
The terrain in places is so precarious that riders sometimes feel like they might fall right out of the Jeep. But not to worry, everyone is securely strapped in. It makes great fun for the kids who may feel like they’re on a roller coaster.
Verde Canyon Railway
Ride in restored, vintage Pullman cars pulled by an FP7 locomotive on a 20-miles scenic ride to the ghost town of Perkinsville and back. You’ll pass through the high desert and 100 years of history as your train takes you through the canyon. Step out onto viewing platforms for plenty of photo ops with informative attendants to point things out and answer questions. Entertainment and food are available inside. By the way, inside is climate controlled. You could spot Ancient Sinagua ruins, bald eagles, and great blue herons as you pass close to canyon walls and riparian areas. It’s a relaxing way to get a sense of the area.
Taking in the Old West in historic Jerome
Just an hour’s drive away from Sedona is the historic copper mining town of Jerome. Once known as “the wickedest town in the West,” it’s now designated a National Historic District by the federal government and attracts visitors as a historic ghost town and artist hub.
Kids of all ages will have fun exploring the historic sites and learning about Jerome’s history at the Mine Museum and Douglas Mansion. Stop at nearby Audrey Headframe Park where a glass viewing platform allows visitors to stand—if they dare—over a 1,600-foot-deep mine shaft dating from 1918 and look down into its depths.
You can also book a guided tour on Ghost Town Tours’ Spirit Walk. There are numerous allegedly haunted places in Jerome including the House of Joy, a former bordello; the Jerome Grand Hotel; the Old Hospital; and the Old High School complete with creepy basement locker rooms and an abandoned gym.
Finally, stop at Montezuma Castle National Monument. American Indian tribes have lived in Arizona for over a thousand years and the Montezuma Castle National Monument features homes built by the Sinagua built directly into the sides of the cliffs.
Stargazing in a designated Dark Sky Community
The perfect way to end a day is with some stargazing. Families from the city or even suburbs don’t get to see the clear night sky very often and Sedona is a designated International Dark Sky Community. With very few streetlights and distance from any big city, Sedona is nationally recognized as one of the best places to stargaze in the U.S. A variety of companies offer evening sky tours in Sedona, some led by former NASA engineers or professional astronomers with powerful telescopes.
Related Article: Flagstaff to Sedona…and Beyond
Places to stay along this route
With so much to explore, you may want to book a campground or RV park along the route. Here are some recommendations for places to rest your weary heads:
- Distant Drum RV Resort, Camp Verde
- Verde Ranch RV Resort, Camp Verde
- Verde River RV Resort and Cottages, Camp Verde
- Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Cottonwood
- Verde Valley RV and Camping Resort, Cottonwood
- Rain Spirit RV Resort, Clarkdale
There are only two places in the world
I want to live—in Sedona and Paris.
—Max Ernst, Surrealist painter