Whether you are interested in birding, fishing, camping, water sports, or just enjoying one of the favorite lakes in southeastern Arizona, make a stop at Patagonia Lake State Park
When a sign suddenly popped up along a two-lane highway carving through Arizona’s wine country I wondered if it was a mistake. It pointed to a back road leading into the desert foothills promising an unlikely destination. Is there really a lake amid these gentle rolling hills covered in desert brush?
Taking that turn we traveled a road whose route is dictated by the landscape almost doubling back on itself as it follows the path of least resistance. The drive took us through semi-desert grasslands and rolling hills studded with ocotillo, yucca, and scrub oak. After four miles it ended at small lake tucked within the contours of rolling hills.
Birding and fishing in winter
The first glimpse of water at Patagonia Lake State Park came through the tents and RVs that crowd the campground. On a winter morning early risers walk their dogs nodding to their fellow campers taking leisurely strolls through scenery that demanded attention.
The 2½-mile lake plays hide and seek throughout its length ducking around bends and into coves. On this day, anglers are the first ones on the water, prowling for bass, catfish, crappie, and even rainbow trout which are stocked during the winter. Fishing opportunities abound from both shore and boat, and anglers typically do fairly well in their pursuit of whichever species they are targeting.
Later on they will be joined by kayakers who cruise silently along the placid surface. Two-thirds of Lake Patagonia’s 265 surface acres are devoted to no-wake zones, the perfect playground for those who prefer to explore in a canoe or kayak.
Patagonia Lake also draws those who have binoculars and know how to use them. More than 300 species of birds have been spotted and the area has a national reputation among birdwatchers.
Many head to the east where the Sonoita Creek Trail leads to a riparian area perfect for the area’s full-time avian residents as well as those stopping briefly during migration. Birders have reported seeing such common species as the broad-billed hummingbird and great horned owl as well as the harder-to-find vermilion flycatcher, elegant trogon, and spotted towhee.
Sonoita Creek flows for two-and-one-half miles along the edge of the park providing some of the richest riparian habitat in the area.
Sonoita Creek courses its way through Coronado National Forest between the Santa Rita Mountains in the north and the Patagonia Mountains in the south and is notable for its extensive, well preserved riparian corridor which harbors many rare species of plants and animals, especially birds. The creek creates a band of greenery in the otherwise arid mountains in a transition zone between the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts and which stretches for 15 miles from the village of Patagonia to the low elevation foothills east of the Santa Cruz Valley where the waters evaporate or seep below ground.
A dam over the creek (constructed in 1968) formed Patagonia Lake, a small but scenic reservoir. Its blue waters are surrounded by a narrow band of trees and bushes set beneath barren, rocky hillsides bearing cacti and yucca. Below the dam, several miles of the creek and an area of hills on both sides are further protected as the Sonoita Creek State Natural Area (see the above photo).
RV and tent camping
One hundred five developed campsites with a picnic table, a fire-ring/grill, and parking for two vehicles. Select sites also have a ramada. Sites have 20/30/50 amp voltage. Sites tend to fill up in the evening from May until November. Campsite lengths vary but most can accommodate any size RV. Quiet hours (no generators, music, or loud voices) are from 9 p.m.–8 a.m.
There are also two non-electric campsites available. They have a picnic table, a fire-ring/grill, and parking for two vehicles with a ramada for shade. These two sites are 22 feet long and are suitable for camper vans and short trailers.
Boating and swimming in summer
As the weather warms, Patagonia Lake becomes an altogether different beast. The park is no secret to the thousands who come each summer to splash along its beach or carve rooster tails on its western third where wakes are to be jumped rather than shunned.
People from all over the area come to escape the heat. Summer weekends can get pretty crazy.
Most summer visitors settle in at the beach finding a seat among the dozens of picnic tables shaded by a ramada or playing in the gentle water of the protected cove as parents make sure their children don’t venture past the line of buoys protecting the area from passing boats.
About a mile away on the lake’s western portion motor boats dominate, most of them towing skiers in an orderly counter-clockwise circle. At the end of the day some will head to the handful of camping sites available only by boat enjoying sunset from their secluded nooks.
A history of recreation
The lake’s popularity nearly killed it when local citizens first dammed Sonoita Creek 50 years ago to attract recreational enthusiasts. Members of the Patagonia Lake Recreation Association built facilities to make the area popular with those who wanted to fish, water ski, or simply have a picnic. Visitors flocked to the lake in the late 1960s and early ’70s so much so that owners couldn’t safely keep up with the demand.
Eventually the area was acquired by the state and on April 1, 1975 it was opened as Patagonia Lake State Park.
Patagonia Lake State Park Fact Box
Size: 2,658 acres
Elevation: 3,804-4,200 feet
Established: April 1, 1975
Location: Southeastern Arizona, 15 miles northeast of Nogales
Directions: From Tucson, take Interstate 10 east to Vail (Exit 281); south on SR 83 to Sonoita; west on SR 82 past Patagonia to the Patagonia Lake State Park turnoff (distance is 177 miles one way)
Nearest services: In Patagonia, 10 miles away.
Park entrance fee: $15/vehicle Mondays-Fridays; $20/vehicle Saturdays-Sundays.
Best time to go: Summer, if you want to cool off; Winter, if you want to kayak or fish when crowds are gone and the lake is calm.
Trails: There are more than 25 miles of hiking trails. All but a half-mile of them are within the adjacent Sonoita Creek State Natural Area
Visitor center: This should be your first stop for maps and a list of boating and swimming rules. Wakes are prohibited along two-thirds of the lake and rangers keep a close eye to make sure everyone is enjoying responsibly.
Picnic areas: Ramadas and picnic tables are scattered about the lake’s south shore with most clustered at the beach.
Campground: There are 105 sites with electricity and room for two vehicles. Sites with electricity are $25-$30 per night; non-electric sites are $20-$25. The 12 boat-in campsites ($20-$25 per night) have no power or bathrooms. Cabins have a queen-size bed, two sets of bunk beds, table and chairs, mini-fridge, microwave, ceiling fan, heating and air conditioning. Bring your own bedding and supplies. Cabins cost $119 per night, $129 on holidays with a three-night minimum. Campsites and cabins can be reserved at azstateparks.com.
Supplies: The Lakeside Market sells food, drink, and other common provisions and also offers boat rentals, fishing licenses, and bait.
Worth Pondering… Patagonia is a tiny hamlet located in the Sonoita Valley in southeastern Arizona. A few blocks from the main street through town, on the edge of The Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, lies a non-descript ranch house that is no less than one of the most famous bird watching sites in the world.
If you are looking for a journey filled with beauty and enchantment then the dramatic scenery of the Red Rocks of Sedona is beckoning and here’s what to do
After almost 25 years of traveling to Sedona, I still find new adventures and unexpected wonders around every turn. Even though this town has changed over time, the heart of this city is still the dramatic scenery that can be seen only here by those who seek the majesty of the Red Rocks.
Due to the overwhelming number of awe-inspiring Instagram-worthy photos on social media, tourism has exploded in Sedona and why wouldn’t it? Sedona’s beauty captures the imagination and desire to roam like no other place I have traveled which is why I return again and again.
For the last four decades, Sedona has been seen as a New-Age mecca, offering healing crystals and vortexes to endeavor spiritual awakening and enlightenment. For some of the 3 million visitors each year, the opportunity for renewal comes in another form, that of outdoor adventure and the awesome appreciation of the natural beauty that is Sedona, Arizona. With its Red Rock cliffs and mesas and the vast trail system that surround this city, visitors hope to find a reprieve from their daily lives in search of a powerful connection with nature.
With a population just north of 10,000, Sedona has a reputation that far outweighs its size. It is, after all, one of the most beautiful small towns in America. Plus, there are enough things to do in Sedona, that you’ll want to push back the visit to the nearby Grand Canyon to spend extra days enjoying its scenery.
The town’s innumerable hiking trails bring you to stunning vistas and iconic destinations like Cathedral Rock. Forget traditional museums; those visiting Sedona will have museums without walls with Mother Nature leading the exhibition. The town is surrounded by incredible scenery punctuated by vortex sites and rock formations that will have you scratching your head. Plus, after a big day of exploring, you can kick back at the many local wineries before enjoying the iconic desert sunset.
Nearly 3 million tourists visit Sedona annually—a figure that’s tripled over the last decade or so. Just a day trip from Phoenix, Sedona is a gem-of-a-town surrounded by forests and red rock buttes that thrust into the sky like skyscrapers with streets lined with crystal shops and cafes, all obvious reasons why so many seek out the new-agency Northern Arizona town.
Recognized for their powerful energy and scenic views, Bell Rock, Boynton Canyon, Airport Mesa, and Cathedral Rock are said to be the strongest vortexes in town. What does a vortex feel like, exactly? You’ll have to experience it for yourself in Sedona.
Sedona is a four-season, red-rock playground where families can escape, romantic adventures materialize, and photographers’ dreams come true. Surrounded by stunning red rock formations and an abundance of activities for people of all ages and interests, it’s no wonder Sedona has been ranked as one of the most beautiful places on Earth by Good Morning America.
There’s no denying that Sedona occupies a setting that’s rife with romance. It is a vertical land of soaring red rocks, columns, and towers rising above forests and streams. That romantic allure should come as no surprise. The town began with a love affair.
Although American Indians lived in the region as far back as 1100 AD, European settlers didn’t arrive until 1876. Drawn by the abundance of water and fertile soil, pioneers began farming crops and planting orchards on the banks of Oak Creek. The community continued to grow, and by the turn of the century, about 15 homesteading families worked the land.
At the turn of the 20th century, T.C. Schnebly built a large two-story home that served as general store and hotel near Oak Creek. He also organized the first post office. When it came time to name the community, his original suggestions of Oak Creek Crossing and Schnebly’s Station were rejected by the Postmaster General as too long.
That’s when Schnebly came up with a grand romantic gesture—the kind of thing that would have gone viral on social media today. He simply named the fledgling community after his beloved wife, Sedona.
It was a name invented by Sedona’s mother because she thought it sounded pretty. It has no other origin. Little did she know how much the name Sedona would come to define beauty and romance for generations of travelers.
Although the Schnebly family moved away from Oak Creek for a time, they returned. Sedona—or Aunt Dona, as she was known by many residents—was a cherished member of the community until she died in 1950. Her husband T.C. died in 1954. Both are buried in Cook Cemetery off Airport Road.
To truly appreciate the legacy of Sedona’s early pioneers, spend time outside reveling in the same heart-freeing beauty they experienced. Hike the trails they carved from this wilderness. Over a century later—even as Sedona has grown into a world-class destination filled with art galleries, resorts, spas, and restaurants—you can still walk the same pathways the earliest residents walked. That’s part of the magic of this landscape, how closely connected it is too wild country.
Some of the grandest sights of all can be found by traveling Schnebly Hill Road. The rugged wagon road was scratched from the steep, rocky hillsides by Sedona pioneers. And it hasn’t changed much in the years since. This was the route Schnebly used to haul wagonloads of produce north to Flagstaff and how he brought in supplies for his general store.
Schnebly Hill Road makes a twisted ascent through red rock tablelands to the pine forests of the Colorado Plateau with sprawling vistas along the way. While the first mile is paved, don’t be fooled. The road quickly turns primitive—a lane pockmarked, ledged and littered with stones. If you don’t have a high-clearance vehicle, consider taking a Jeep tour. A steady stream of Sedona’s commercial Jeep companies snake their way up Schnebly Hill daily.
One notable formation the road passes on its steady climb is Merry-Go-Round Rock, which has become a popular spot for weddings. People travel from all over the world to tie the knot in Sedona, or to renew their vows. That should come as no great surprise. It’s a fairytale setting filled with romance.
Arizona hikes, rides, tours, and a local winery or two
All through the summer, Arizona has bounced between extremes—going from record-breaking heat to a deluge of monsoon storms. Since fall is not a season prone to anything quite that intense things should calm down. Autumn comforts even as it calls locals and returning snowbirds outside to play. Basking under big blue skies while reveling in mild sunshine, fall is a perfect time to go exploring.
For an incredible fall road trip, take the drive to the geographic center of Arizona, the Verde Valley. The wide valley stretches from Mingus Mountain to the Mogollon Rim, a lush transition zone separating the Sonoran Desert from the high country and slashed by the winding Verde River.
Scenic small towns full of personality are sprinkled throughout the valley just a few miles apart creating plenty of easily accessed options. Here are a few.
Out of Africa Wildlife Park
Nestled in the high desert of Camp Verde, Out of Africa Wildlife Park provides a sanctuary for hundreds of exotic animals and features dozens of large predators. The preserve spreads across 100 acres of rolling terrain on the slopes of the Black Hills. The large natural habitats eliminate stress-induced behavior.
Tiger Splash is Out of Africa’s signature show. There is no training and no tricks. The daily program is spontaneous, just animals frolicking with their caretakers. Fierce tigers engage in the sort of playful activities every housecat owner will recognize. It’s just the grand scale that makes it so impressive. Visitors can also take a narrated African Bush Safari and attend the Giant Snake Show.
Outside the park is Predator Zip Line which offers a two- to three-hour zip line tour across five lines and a suspension bridge high above the animals.
Wine Tasting in Cottonwood
Not long ago, Cottonwood was a sleepy little burg with much of its small downtown sitting vacant. Everything changed when vineyards and wineries sprang up on nearby hillsides with rich volcanic soil.
Wine-tasting rooms opened, one after another, and soon restaurants, shops, galleries, and boutique hotels followed. The businesses filled the Prohibition-era buildings fronted by covered sidewalks along the three blocks of Old Town.
Such a picturesque and compact setting makes Old Town Cottonwood a popular destination for lovers of wine and food since so much can be sampled by walking a block or two.
Walk the Streets of Jerome
Most everybody knows about Jerome, the mile-high town clinging to the steep slope of Cleopatra Hill. It was once known as the Billion Dollar Mining Camp for the incredible wealth pulled from the ground.
After the mines closed it became a rickety ghost town saved by enterprising hippies who turned it into a thriving artist community with fine art and crafts studios and galleries, cool boutiques, mining museums, historical buildings, eclectic inns, and B&Bs, and memorable restaurants and bars lining its narrow, winding streets.
From the high perch of Jerome, views stretch across the Verde Valley to the sandstone cliffs of Sedona. Music spills from saloons and eateries as visitors prowl the shops moving from one level of town to the next, pausing to read historic plaques and admire the Victorian architecture. Jerome feels cut off from the rest of the world. It’s one of those towns where it always feels like you’re on vacation.
Ride the Verde Canyon Railroad
Go off-road the old-fashioned way when you climb aboard the Verde Canyon Railroad and rumble into scenic backcountry. The train departs from the station in Clarkdale and travels into a high-walled canyon carved by the Verde River.
Cottonwood trees canopy the water and turn golden in the waning fall days. Such a rich riparian habitat lures a variety of wildlife, notably eagle, hawk, heron, mule deer, javelina, coyote, and beaver.
Vintage FP7 diesel locomotives provide the power. All passenger cars have panoramic windows and allow access to open-air viewing cars, where you’ll likely spend most of your time savoring fine fall days.
Hike in West Sedona
If you want to enjoy red rock scenery while avoiding some of the crowds and traffic issues, hike a few trails on the far edge of West Sedona.
The Western Gateway Trails at the end of Cultural Park Place weave together a series of interconnected pathways across juniper-clad slopes above Dry Creek. Signs with maps at every junction make for easy navigation.
The gentle Roundabout Trail, a 2-mile loop, provides a quick introduction to the area as it branches off from the paved Centennial Trail and swings through shady woodlands and past a couple of small boulder fields. Curling back, it traces the edge of the mesa overlooking Dry Creek with views north of Cockscomb, Doe Mountain, and Bear Mountain.
You can create a slightly longer loop (3.3 miles) by combining the Stirrup and Saddle Up trails. After crossing an arroyo the route climbs to the top of a plateau where the views stretch to Courthouse Butte and Bell Rock at the other end of town.
If you want a little more of a workout, the Schuerman Mountain Trail can be accessed across the road from Sedona High School. It climbs at a moderate uphill slant to the top of an old volcano, now eroded into a rangy mesa.
There’s a great view of Cathedral Rock from the first overlook. It’s a 2-mile round-trip if you make this your turnaround. If you’re in a rambling mood, the trail continues across the broad back of the mountain, golden grasslands dotted with juniper and pine trees.
Apartment House of the Ancients
Sinagua built the five-story, 20-room structure about 1150 but abandoned it in the early 1400s. Montezuma Castle is built into a deep alcove with masonry rooms added in phases. A thick, substantial roof of sycamore beams, reeds, grasses, and clay often served as the floor of the next room built on top. The placement of rooms on the south-facing cliff helps regulate summer and winter temperatures. The series of long pole ladders used to climb from the base of the cliff to the small windows and doorways high above could be pulled in for the night.
A short self-guided loop trail leads from the visitor center past the cliff dwelling through a beautiful grove of Arizona sycamores and catclaw mimosa trees along spring-fed Beaver Creek. Benches along the path offered the perfect spot to view the massive structure.
The white-barked Arizona Sycamore is one of the most distinctive sights at Montezuma Castle often reaching heights of 80 feet. This tree once blanketed Arizona 63 million years ago when the climate was cool and moist. As the weather became drier these deciduous trees thrived only in areas close to permanent water, such as the perennial streams and canyon bottoms.
Drive 11 miles north to see the Montezuma Well which is part of the national monument. Along with the limestone sinkhole, cliff dwellings, and irrigation channels are characteristic of the prehistoric people who lived in the area. The water in the well which is 386 feet across has high levels of arsenic and other chemicals but it still supports endemic species such as water scorpions, snails, mud turtles, and leeches.
An Ancient Village on the Hill
Built atop a small 120 foot ridge is a large pueblo. Tuzigoot is Apache for crooked water; however, it was built by the Sinagua. With 77 ground floor rooms this pueblo held about 50 people. After about 100 years the population doubled and then doubled again later. By the time they finished building the pueblo, it had 110 rooms including second and third story structures and housed 250 people. An interesting fact is that Tuzigoot lacked ground level doors having roof-accessed doors instead.
The site is currently comprised of 42 acres that includes the hilltop pueblo, cliffs, and ridges in the valley and the Tavasci Marsh, a natural riparian area surrounding an old curve of the Verde River. A paved, fully accessible trail takes you through the pueblo giving you a good idea of what it would have looked like. Though the views from the ruins alone are worth the walk, one room is reconstructed and you can enter it and see what it would have looked like when inhabited.
Tuzigoot can be found in Clarkdale, Arizona, just west of Montezuma Castle and just north of Jerome. Visiting Tuzigoot is definitely worth your while!
To my mind these live oak-dotted hills fat with side oats grama, these pine-clad mesas spangled with flowers, these lazy trout streams burbling along under great sycamores and cottonwoods, come near to being the cream of creation.
Arizona is a wonderland of awe-inspiring sights, bucket-list adventures, and soulful journeys. Start planning your trip with this guide.
Timeless beauty. Mind-boggling geology. Pristine pine forests. Dramatic sun-drenched desertscapes. Old West haunts. Puebloan cliff dwellings. And star-filled dark skies.
Arizona is a wonderland of awe-inspiring sights, bucket-list adventures, culinary delights, and soulful journeys. Now that 2022 has been coined the Year of Arizona Discovery, it’s a perfect time to pack up the car or RV and take a scenic road trip. Arizona has so much to offer with its incredible landscapes, diverse culture, and endless natural playgrounds. Here are a few of my favorite scenic road trips and quaint towns to check out.
Phoenix to the Sister Cities of Miami and Globe
Heading east from Phoenix on US Route 60 toward Miami, be sure to stop at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Arizona’s oldest and largest botanical garden which has desert species from around the world, gentle hiking trails, and rich bird life.
In the classic western town of Miami, visit the Bullion Plaza Museum to explore the ranching and cultural history of this copper mining boomtown. In Globe, you can belly up to the bar for a burger and bloody Mary at the historic Drift Inn Saloon. Cruising the switchbacks through the Salt River Canyon Wilderness Area reveals mountain panoramas and Arizona’s “other Grand Canyon.”
While in Globe visit Besh-Ba-Gowah, the heartland of the Salado people. The term was originally given by the Apaches to the early settlement of Globe. Roughly translated, the term means “place of metal.” Here visitors will see the partially restored ancient ruin of the Salado people who occupied the site between A.D. 1225 and A.D. 1400. Enjoy the self guided tour of the village which allows visitors to experience the mysteries of those who came before.
Traveling up US Route 89 from Flagstaff leads to the marvels surrounding Page, gateway to Lake Powell. Drink in dramatic views of the famed Horseshoe Bend stretch of the Colorado River or take a tour of Antelope Canyon and witness the wonders of wind and water erosion in the narrow slots.
Then, road trip it to the Navajo Nation to see Canyon de Chelly National Monument where towering rock spires, stunning sandstone cliffs, and Ancestral Puebloan art and villages await.
There are two ways to experience Arizona’s lesser-known canyon. You can drive along the rim stopping at overlooks to marvel at the vertical cliffs and stone spires and hike on one trail, the White House Trail. Otherwise, there is no entry into the canyon without a permit and Navajo guide. A popular choice is riding down the canyon aboard a 20-passenger tour truck.
The Charm of Cottonwood
Located in the heart of Arizona and the heart of wine country, Cottonwood is ideally situated above the heat of the desert and below the cooler temperatures of Arizona’s high country. Surrounded by the red rocks of Sedona to the northeast and Mingus Mountain to the southwest, its lower elevation makes it a perfect spot for your next Arizona adventure.
Old Town Cottonwood is known for its Main Street with over 60 businesses including charming boutique hotels, wonderful restaurants, shops, antique stores, and wine tasting rooms. The Verde Valley Wine Trail runs right through town and has more stops here than anywhere else on the trail. Sit back and sip, savor, and enjoy the fruit of the vine in Old Town.
Cottonwood is also home to Dead Horse Ranch State Park. Less than two miles from Old Town, this landmark has earned a reputation as a favorite fishing hole, bird lover’s paradise, and hiker’s dream. Its trails meander through sycamore and cottonwood trees along the banks of the Verde River making it a jewel in the center of Cottonwood all year round. Visit Cottonwood, the heart of Arizona wine country, where everyone is welcome!
A hundred miles north of Phoenix, the Verde Valley region is home to red rocks, green mountains, and scenic journeys. Head to Montezuma Castle National Monument, a 900-year-old, 20-room dwelling built into a limestone cliff—or, hop on the Verde Canyon Railroad luxury train and cruise through the canyons in an open-air viewing car. The Copper Art Museum in Clarkdale features galleries of amazing copper art and artifacts. Oenophiles will appreciate the Verde Valley Wine Trail whose 26 winery stops lead through charming towns like Jerome, Clarkdale, and Cottonwood.
The territory we’ve come to know as Arizona has only been a state for a relatively short time, the last of the lower 48 to be admitted to the Union. Indigenous people have lived here for millennia.
There are 22 sovereign nations here including the Hopi tribe, the Apache tribe, the Navajo (known as Dineh, “the people,” in the four corners), and the Hualapai, the tribe that manages the famous Grand Canyon West.
The seven Navajo tribal parks and three national monuments in Najavoland are treasured by outdoor enthusiasts. There you will find fascinating rock formations, sandstone canyons, historical sites, and ancient ruins; and visitors have the opportunity to learn about Navajo history, traditions, and culture.
While in Tuba City, located on the western Navajo Indian Reservation, check out the Explore Navajo Interactive Museum which features a traditional hogan, handmade rugs, and baskets. Next door is the Navajo Code Talkers Museum dedicated to Navajo veterans who served in the US Marines and used the Navajo language to send encrypted messages during World War II.
Also, don’t skip the opportunity to visit Tuba City Trading Post, which offers a variety of handmade items like extraordinary Indigenous art, handmade jewelry, and beautiful textiles.
East of Tuba City, Hubbell Trading Post is the oldest operating trading post in the Navajo Nation. The Arizona historical site sells basic traveling staples as well as Native American art just as it did during the late 1800s.
It’s breathtaking. You can’t believe it. It’s very photogenic; it has a kind of mythic feeling of age, of legend…You’ve seen it in the movies, but when you see it in life, it’s so epic in its proportions that it almost stands for the whole of the West.
To help you plan your family-friendly road trip through Arizona, I’ve put together this list of awesome road trip stops. Keep reading to learn about my favorite spots and campgrounds along the route.
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 four family-friendly road trips 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.
The capital of Arizona, Phoenix is known for its resorts, golf courses, great food and wine, and fantastic desert views. While road-tripping through Arizona, stop here for some culture and tasty morsels.
Take in the art of Native Americans at the Heard Museum. Let the kids loose at the Arizona Science Center where STEM exhibits both teach and entertain. Race fans will love the Penske Racing Museum with its amazing collection of cars, trophies, and racing memorabilia chronicling the career of the Penske family one of the most successful race dynasties.
Then, drive about 30 miles northeast of town to visit Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s desert sanctuary and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a stunning museum celebrating the genius of Wright’s architecture and design.
After taking in all those amazing places, visitors will have worked up an appetite. Phoenix’s dining scene is rich and varied with something for every taste.
Housed inside a 1950s bank building, the midcentury gem Federal Pizza serves up delicious wood-fired pizza in a relaxed atmosphere that’s perfect for families. Or try modern Mexican fare made with fresh local ingredients at Joyride Taco House with misters on the patio to keep you cool in the hot summer months.
Right across the street is Churn, a nostalgic candy and ice cream shop that will make all your kids’ dreams come true with shelves of retro toys and candy, artisan ice cream, and fresh-baked treats. Check out the Instagrammable wall of cassette tapes in the back (and have fun explaining what cassettes are to your kids).
Filled with sandstone buttes that provide gentle but stimulating hiking trails and photogenic spots like the Hole in the Rock, Papago Park is a scenic wonder only 10 minutes from downtown Phoenix. Home of the Phoenix Zoo and the Desert Botanical Garden, the park also offers many activities including an archery range, golf course, fishing lagoons, and an orienteering course. That little pyramid you’ll see is the tomb of Gov. George Wiley Paul Hunt.
There are several good reasons for paying a visit to the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, a 110-acre park in Gilbert. The astounding variety of cacti, probably varieties than you ever knew existed, is itself worth stopping by for. But there are also many other species of plant and animal life in and around this artificial wetland created with reclaimed water. You can view fish, birds, reptiles, and mammals of many different kinds on a pleasant little hiking trail. It’s an especially excellent place for bird watching. The picnic and playground areas are imaginatively and artistically designed and laid out.
Another family-friendly adventure is Schnepf Farms, an organic farm where you can pick your own fruits and vegetables. With 300 acres, Schnepf Farms is the perfect place to enjoy fresh air and naturally grown, pesticide-free produce (peppers, cucumbers, kale, and green onions, among others). They are especially known for their peaches with picking season usually in May.
If you’re into clean eating, check out the Queen Creek Olive Mill. You can tour the grounds and learn how to make extra virgin olive oil, the best uses for it in the kitchen and why it’s so healthy.
Eat your way through Tucson plus a dose of nature
Tucson is another Arizona destination worth repeat visits with history, culture, and outdoor activities galore. Plus, its food game is beyond your wildest expectations. Tucson is a UNESCO City of Gastronomy, named in 2015 (the first in the U.S.). Tucson gave us the Sonoran dog—a bacon-wrapped street dog forged in nearby Sonora and packed into a bun filled with burrito toppings.
Tucson’s designation acknowledges that the chefs and residents of Tucson value the role food has historically played in the city. Many local chefs use ingredients that the Indigenous people of the area have used for thousands of years.
Whatever else is on the agenda, save time to explore an area the city has designated “The Best 23 Miles of Mexican Food.” Start along Tucson’s 12th Avenue for an authentic taste of the Best 23 Miles and work your way from there. From street food to taquerias to fine dining, the Mexican food scene in Tucson is often described as the best outside of Mexico.
Laying claim to being the oldest Mexican restaurant in the U.S. is El Charro, with a menu offering a mix of traditional dishes and Mexican favorites. This colorful eatery was established in 1922 by Monica Flin (credited with inventing the chimichanga) and has been in continuous operation by the same family ever since.
At the historic Hotel Congress, the more than 100-year-old lobby restaurant Cup Cafe is something of a local legend. The food here is dependable and tasty — from French dip sandwiches with an interesting Southwest flavor twist to gargantuan breakfast-for-lunch omelets. For dessert, an old-fashioned spiraling glass display case shows guests a variety of sweet, homemade treats.
But this funky little town is chockablock with art, drawing from indigenous cultures, trippy desert landscape, and the fact that heat and desolation can really bring out the weirdness in people.
Home to the University of Arizona, the city nurtures a vibrant downtown arts scene with the contemporary Tucson Museum of Art forming the backbone of a flourishing community of painters, glass-blowers, and jewelers. When the heat drops at night, that same downtown comes alive with bars, breweries, and upscale restaurants embracing the uniquely Tucson convergence of Mexican and Arizona influences, a dose of green chiles, open-faced quesadillas (cheese crisps), and those exquisite hot dogs.
Tucson also happens to host one of the country’s biggest annual gem and mineral shows each winter when the city is taken over by rockhounds from around the world.
View a great variety of plants and animals of the Sonoran Desert at Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum. Two miles of paths lead through 21 acres of displays. Live demonstrations and tours daily. The museum is a zoo, natural history museum, and botanical garden all rolled into one.
A desert oasis, Sabino Canyon Recreation Area is a hiker’s paradise. Tucked in a canyon in the Santa Catalina Mountains in the Coronado Forest, it is easily accessible from Tucson. Ride the narrated shuttle bus and you can get off and back on at any of the stops for a picnic, hike, or a walk back. Trails off the main road explore the canyon or lead into the high country.
The West is full of beautiful national parks but one of the most iconic symbols of the Old West is the saguaro cactus—and Saguaro National Park is full of them. These majestic plants are only found in this part of the U.S. and can live to be as much as 200 years old and grow up to 60 feet tall. Learn about cacti in the gardens on the east and west sides of the visitor center and take in beautiful sunsets on the Tanque Verde Ridge Trail (a half-mile hike) from the Javelina Rocks pullout on the east or from the Gates Pass on the west side.
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:
With the Grand Canyon, Oak Creek Canyon, the Painted Desert, the Four Corners area, and many other geographical wonders in the northern part of the state, southeastern Arizona, steeped in both natural history and human history, is often overlooked. But it is not to be missed!
This was the home of Cochise. This was the land of Geronimo. This was the land of copper mines, silver mines, gold mines, Army forts, Indian Wars, cowboys, cattle rustlers, gamblers, the Earp brothers and the Clantons and Doc Holiday. Southeastern Arizona was the quintessential Wild West. This place oozes with tales and legends and beauty. And it is all still here for you to enjoy.
Your Cochise adventure begins in Benson. Amid picturesque river-valley views, agreeable weather, and the Home of Kartchner Caverns State Park, the City of Benson is ideally situated along Interstate-10 as the Gateway to Cochise County. Founded in 1880 prior to Arizona’s mining boom, Benson developed as a stopping point for the Butterfield Overland Stage mail delivery route. Soon thereafter, the Southern Pacific Railroad came into Benson and continued to serve the area until 1997 when the line was purchased by Union Pacific Railroad.
The City of Benson’s culture is ingrained with the Old West and its traditional Railroad heritage. The Benson Visitor Center—Train Depot, located at 249 East Fourth Street in the heart of Benson’s historic downtown, is a beautiful replica railroad depot using many of the same architectural features as the original depot that was built over a century ago. Learn all about the city’s rich railroad heritage and the many area attractions.
Head out from the Visitor’s Center to the Mural Walking Tour, a fun look at 42 hand-painted—showcasing everything from Buffalo Soldiers to Hopi kachinas and cattle drives to the Butterfield Overland Stage.
Then you’ll head to Sierra Vista for a Bicycle Tour of the Cochise Vista Trail. Hop in the saddle—the bicycle saddle—and explore southeastern Arizona. Whether your bike has skinny tires or knobby ones or you ride astride a single-speed cruiser or a speedy racer, Sierra Vista is the place to start your bicycle adventure.
Road cyclists looking for long, winding roads with low traffic can’t beat the stretches of asphalt in and around Sierra Vista. Whatever direction you ride, you’ll find a constantly changing landscape and expansive mountain views along the way.
Mountain bikers can find miles of single-track trails in the Huachuca Mountains along multi-use paths or signed bike lanes. One of the most popular jumping-on points is along Ramsey Canyon Road at Brown Canyon Ranch. The Brown Canyon Trail gains about 1,900 feet in elevation and connects Brown Canyon Road making a nice loop ride; be sure to take the well-traveled jog to avoid the Miller Peak Wilderness Area. Popular with experienced riders, Brown Canyon gets a little gnarly with the elevation gain and rocky terrain but the reward is breathtaking views and smooth, flatter trails in open areas.
Sierra Vista, one of the top birdwatching places on earth, is nicknamed the Hummingbird Capital of the United States. Annually, 15 species of hummingbirds and more than 300 other bird species visit nearby canyons, forests, and riverbanks.
One of Bisbee’s most magnificent architectural achievements is the countless concrete stairs that cling to the steep canyon sides. You can find these stairs all over town. While you’re at it, explore the heritage and culture along Subway Street and enjoy some shopping as you take a self-guided tour.
The Bisbee Tour Company offers multiple golf cart tour options to enjoy the town from an entirely different perspective. If you’re interested in Bisbee’s eerie past, an evening walking tour with Old Bisbee Ghost Tour will show you the town and introduce you to some ghostly members of society.
Tour the Queen Mine, one of the most productive copper mines of the 20th century. Don the mining lanterns, hats, and slickers of the miners, ride the mine train deep into the mine and search for remaining veins of copper, gold, turquoise, silver, lead, and zinc.
Next, you’ll take in the ambiance of Douglas—home to the first international airport—as you enjoy the Border Air Museum and Art Car Museum. The museum includes photos, newspaper articles, original airplane photos, the official letter of President of United States Roosevelt declaring the airport “The First International Airport of the Americas,” a Trojan airplane that was built in Douglas, American Airlines memorabilia, and more.
The Gadsden Hotel opened for business in November 1907. The hotel soon became a meeting place for cattlemen, ranchers, miners, and businessmen. This grand hotel was named after the historically significant Gadsden Purchase; a purchase of 30,000 square miles from Mexico made in 1853 for 10 million dollars, negotiated by James Gadsden who was then the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. The land purchase was to ensure territorial rights for a practical southern railroad route to the pacific coast. We can now only imagine how Arizona was before it was a state and at a time when Wyatt Earp, Geronimo, and Pancho Villa rode roughshod over the West.
Any tour of this area would not be the same or complete without including the legendary town of Tombstone. The entire town is a National Historic Landmark and much of the original buildings are still intact. There is something for every member of the family in Tombstone, the Town Too Tough To Die.
At first glance, it might appear that gift, book, and curio shops are the main attractions but if you take the time to stroll down the boardwalks, you will find yourself drawn into the past. Besides the OK Corral and the reenactments that take place in the outdoor amphitheater, there are both public and private museums, antique stores, the original Tombstone Epitaph newspaper print shop, and Boot Hill.
Visitors can pan for gold, horseback ride down trails once traveled by Doc and Wyatt, take a stagecoach ride, tour the silver mines, stay at historic bed and breakfasts or an RV park, and attend the infamous Bird Cage Theater where Tombstone’s haunting and colorful past will take you back to its heyday.
To truly appreciate all that Tombstone has to offer, park the car or RV and plan to spend at least a day taking a walk back into history.
To my mind, these live oak-dotted hills fat with side oats grama, these pine-clad mesas spangled with flowers, these lazy trout streams burbling along under great sycamores and cottonwoods, come near to being the cream of creation.
To help you plan your family-friendly road trip through Arizona, I’ve put together this list of awesome road trip stops. Keep reading to learn about my favorite spots and campgrounds along the route.
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 four family-friendly road trips 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.
Northern Arizona and the Grand Canyon
There’s a lot to see in the northwest corner of Arizona where temperatures can be cooler than in the south. Start this tour from the border between Arizona and Nevada which is a short drive from Las Vegas.
Lake Mead and Hoover Dam
Lake Mead was created in the 1930s by the construction of the 700-foot Hoover Dam which is worth a tour of its own to see how the massive construction was accomplished and its inner workings. Lake Mead National Recreation Area offers plenty of boating, kayaking, swimming, and fishing.
Birdwatchers take note: More than 240 bird species have been recorded here including bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and burrowing owls.
Route 66 is a trip through history
Any road trip through Arizona must pay homage to the Mother Road—Route 66. It runs right through small towns (just like in the song) which have plenty to see and explore.
The shiny new Arizona Route 66 Museum, located in Kingman’s historic Powerhouse, traces the evolution of travel along the 35th parallel that became Route 66 and the journeys of all who traveled the route over time—including American Indian tribes, members of the military, and Dust Bowl migrants.
Once a gold-mining boomtown, Oatman hunkers in a craggy gulch of the Black Mountains, 28 miles southwest of Kingman along Route 66. Rising above the town is the jagged peak of white quartz known as Elephant’s Tooth. Often described as a ghost town, Oatman comes close to fitting the category considering that it once boasted nearly 20,000 people and now supports just a little over 100 people year-round.
Though Oatman is only a shadow of its former self, it is well worth a visit to this living ghost town that provides not only a handful of historic buildings and photo opportunities but costumed gunfighters and 1890s style ladies as well as the sights of burros walking the streets.
For old-school nostalgia, make a stop in Seligman, “the Birthplace of Historic Route 66,” which inspired the look of Radiator Springs in the Pixar movie “Cars.”
Holbrook, also on Route 66 is a small town with plenty of classic vintage Route 66 motels and many historical landmarks like the famous Wigwam Motel and Petrified Forest National Park (see below).
Explore natural wonders
There’s no way you can drive through Arizona without paying a visit to one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World—the Grand Canyon. Over 4 million (4.5 million in 2021) people come from around the world every year to see the mile-deep, 18-mile wide canyon. It’s even more impressive in person than in photos.
The idea of gazing over an old forest might pale in comparison to overlooking the vast Grand Canyon. However, this semi-arid grassland is a sight to behold too! In the Petrified Forest National Park, a variety of paleontological exhibits and petroglyphs awaits you. Visitors can choose to experience the park through hiking trails such as the Giant Logs Trail and the Painted Desert Rim or opt for a 28-mile drive.
Just south of the Arizona-Utah state line is Vermilion Cliffs National Monument with some of the most spectacular trails and views in the world. The swirls of colors in the rocks make for some eye-popping photographs.
The two beautiful Navajo Bridges that span the Colorado River’s Marble Canyon may look identical but they were built more than 65 years apart. The first bridge opened to traffic in 1929 and was, at the time, the highest steel arch bridge in the world. However, it was not designed to carry modern-day traffic and its replacement was more than twice as wide opened in 1995. Rather than dismantling the original bridge, they left it in place to allow pedestrians to enjoy the spectacular view of the river 467 feet below.
A comparatively little-known canyon, Canyon de Chelly (National Monument) has sandstone walls rising up to 1,000 feet, scenic overlooks, well-preserved Anasazi ruins, and an insight into the present-day life of the Navajo who still inhabit and cultivate the valley floor. The northernmost and southernmost edges are accessible from paved roads. The South Rim Drive offers the most dramatic vistas ending at the most spectacular viewpoint, the overlook of Spider Rocks—twin 800-foot towers of rock isolated from the canyon walls.
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:
Blake Ranch RV Park and Horse Motel, Kingman
Grand Canyon Railway RV Park, Williams
OK RV Park, Holbrook
Cottonwood Campground, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Chinle
The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail.
—Major John Wesley Powell, Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons
From alpine forests to saguaro-framed sunsets, the landscape is inescapable in Arizona—and the Grand Canyon is just the beginning
Few places in America offer such startling variety of natural features as Arizona. Deep canyons give way to rugged snow-capped mountains. The world’s largest contiguous forest of Ponderosa pines merges into the arid Sonoran Desert.
Arizona’s nickname may be the Grand Canyon State, and that namesake national park may draw more than six million visitors a year and rank as the second most popular in the country. But the canyon is just one of many natural wonders in a state unusually rich in them. In fact, with petrified forests, volcanic cinder cones, saguaro-studded deserts, and Anasazi cliff dwellings, no state in the country can boast as many National Park Service sites as Arizona.
Land of sprawling burnt red and orange deserts and other-worldly rock formations that have to be seen to be believed, Arizona is seemingly made for lovers of the great outdoors and scenic road trips. It’s also home to villages dating back thousands of years of history, sacred sites, world-famous protected areas, and endless skies, yep this US state has soul! Here are the best—and most beautiful—places to visit in wonderful Arizona…
I’d have to start my Arizona list with one of the most popular and famous national parks to visit in the country. This beautiful national park is the home to the majestic Grand Canyon which houses layers and layers of red rocks. These divulge in millions of years of geological history.
Some of the popular viewpoints which will give you a stunning and up-close view of the Grand Canyon are Mather Point, Yavapai Observation Station, and the renowned architect Mary Colter’s Lookout Studio and her Desert View Watchtower.
If you delight in gazing at towering red rocks or driving through rugged canyons, then go to Sedona. If you admire exquisite art or are captivated by amazing architecture, then go to Sedona. If you want to see ancient cliff dwellings, hear tales of Hollywood cowboys or thrill to outdoor adventures, then (you guessed it) go to Sedona. Sedona is a must-stop.
One of the most iconic and enduring landmarks of the American Wild West, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park has isolated sandstone mesas, buttes, and a sandy desert that has been photographed and filmed countless times. The landscape overwhelms, not just by its beauty but also by its size. The fragile pinnacles of rock are surrounded by miles of mesas and buttes, shrubs, trees, and windblown sand, all comprising the magnificent colors of the valley. All of this harmoniously combines to make Monument Valley a truly wondrous experience.
Climbing more than 6,000 feet, Mount Lemmon Highway begins with forests of saguaro cacti in the Sonoran Desert and ends in a cool, coniferous forest in the Santa Catalina Mountains. Prepare yourself for breathtaking views and a climate change that would be similar to driving from Southern Arizona to Canada in a mere 27 miles. Every thousand feet up is like driving 600 miles north offering a unique opportunity to experience four seasons in one trip. This scenic drive begins at the northeastern edge of Tucson.
Vermilion Cliff National Monument
Easily one of the most beautiful places to explore in Arizona this wonderful national monument is located in Coconino County. It protects the Vermilion Cliff, Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon, and Paria Plateau. You can drive by the U.S Highway 89A between Jacob Lake and Marble Canyon in the state to reach this picturesque location. Some of the top sights to check out include White Pocket, Buckskin Gulch, Waterholes Canyon, Navajo Bridge, and The Wave.
Maricopa County Parks offer hiking and biking trails, picnicking and camping, educational programs, and guided hikes. Some parks also offer horseback riding, golf, boating, fishing, and archery. There are 11 parks in Maricopa County, which ring around the Phoenix metro area.
Just outside of Sedona, the Red Rock Scenic Byway boasts everything from breathtakingly beautiful rock formations to ancient Native American cliff dwellings. If you’re a believer in the supernatural, you’ll find the Byway is sprinkled with what like-minded folk refers to as “vortexes” of spiritual energy—two of the biggest are Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock, formations which are stunning regardless of your personal beliefs.
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument celebrates the life and landscape of the Sonoran Desert. This is a showcase for creatures who have adapted themselves to the extreme temperatures, intense sunlight, and little rainfall that characterize this Southwest region. Twenty-six species of cactus live here including the giant saguaro and the park’s namesake. This is the only place in the U. S. where the organ pipe cactus grows wild.
The Sinagua people began building the limestone and sandstone hilltop pueblo around the year A.D. 1000. They expanded the settlement over the next 400 years to involve 110 rooms housing more than 200 people. Then, in the late 1300s, the inhabitants began to abandon the pueblo. By the time the first Europeans arrived, Tuzigoot had been empty for nearly 100 years. It’s believed the citizens joined what are now the modern Hopi and Zuni tribes or stayed nearby and became the ancestors of people now belonging to the Yavapai-Apache Nation.
While many national parks around the country are home to vast forests this preserve comes with a twist—the trees here have all been dead for hundreds of millions of years transformed into colorful slabs of stone. A broad region of rocky badlands encompassing more than 93,500 acres, the Painted Desert is a vast landscape that features rocks in every hue—from deep lavenders and rich grays to reds, oranges, and pinks.
Prescott is surrounded by ponderosa pine forests and enjoys a cooler climate that’s perfect for experiencing all four seasons in the outdoors. This is a nature lover’s paradise with lots of opportunities for camping, horseback riding, fishing, kayaking, and mountain biking. Check out the downtown historic area as well as Watson Lake, the Lynx Lake Recreation Area, and Whiskey Row.
Red Rock State Park in Arizona offers a classic Southwestern outdoor experience for visitors around Sedona. The beautiful red rocks and local wildlife can be viewed and enjoyed as you hike the 5-mile trail network around the park. You can arrive at this 286-acre park in less than 20 minutes driving from downtown Sedona which makes for a convenient stop when in the area. Nearby attractions include Slide Rock State Park, Oak Creek Canyon, Coconino National Forest, and Prescott National Forest.
Warm days and cool nights make winter an ideal time to visit Saguaro. The park has two areas separated by the city of Tucson. The Rincon Mountain District (East) has a lovely loop drive that offers numerous photo ops. There’s also a visitor’s center, gift shop, and miles of hiking trails. The Tucson Mountain District (West) also has a scenic loop drive and many hiking trails, including some with petroglyphs at Signal Mountain.
This gorgeous gash in the landscape has a spectacular feature: you can drive through it! A wonderful road built in 1929 runs the entire 13-mile length of the canyon. During the 2,500-foot elevation drop into Sedona, the pine trees fade in your rearview mirror as brilliant orange-and-red sandstone bluffs and steep canyon walls appear on your right. The forested canyon floor ranges from a mile wide at the top end to 2.5 miles at the mouth and up to 2,000 feet deep from the creek to the tops of the highest sheer red cliffs.
The spirits of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the Clanton Brothers live on in the authentic old west town of Tombstone, home of Boothill Graveyard, Birdcage Theatre, and O.K. Corral. After getting its start as a silver mining claim in the late-1870s, the settlement grew along with its Tough Nut Mine becoming a bustling boomtown of the Wild West. From opera and theater to dance halls and brothels, Tombstone offered much-needed entertainment to the miners. The “Town Too Tough to Die” town contains many preserved buildings from the 1870s and 80s.
In the foothills of the Pinal Mountains, sits the former mining camp known as Globe. Founded in 1876 and incorporated in 1907, this lovely town is brimming with century-old buildings, cottages, and hillside houses. The Besh-ba-Gowah Archeological Park features stunning partially restored ruins of a Salado pueblo along with an accompanying museum. The historic downtown area is perfect for leisurely strolls and shopping for antiques while the Cobre Valley Center for the Arts is a great spot to explore and experience the talent of some incredible artists.
Verde Canyon Railroad
Park the RV and board the train as you embark on a spectacular journey accessible only by rail. Keep your eyes on the scenery as the engineer takes you on a four-hour, 40-mile round-trip excursion between two national forests through a 680-foot tunnel and past ancient ruins and towering red rock buttes. Gaze at the remote wilderness through large windows as you sit comfortably in climate-controlled passenger cars complete with restrooms. Or choose to enjoy the open-air viewing car for fresh canyon air and an amazing 360-degree panorama.
For a few years, Bisbee was the “it” destination, named Arizona’s prettiest small town by a number of travel sites. That level of attention may have dwindled but the former mining town is as beautiful as ever. A stroll down Main Street reveals buildings that look much as they did a hundred years ago, now occupied by restaurants and boutiques rather than miners and speculators. If you head 3 miles south to Lowell, you’ll find a strip of former service stations and garages repurposed as stores and restaurants.
A National Scenic Byway, the 44-mile paved and gravel Apache Trail crosses the rugged northern part of the Superstition Mountains offering access to three reservoirs and gorgeous desert scenery. Just off U.S. Highway 60 near Mesa, designate a driver to keep their eyes on curves and hairpin turns while passengers “ooh” and “ahh” over the lakes, mountains, and canyons in Tonto National Forest’s wilderness areas. The road begins near Goldfield Ghost Town, a re-created Wild West town, complete with gunslingers. You’ll pass Canyon Lake, where you can cruise on the Dolly Steamboat.
Once a gold-mining boomtown, Oatman hunkers in a craggy gulch of the Black Mountains. Rising above the town is the jagged peak of white quartz known as Elephant’s Tooth. A shadow of its former self this living ghost town offers a handful of historic buildings and photo opportunities, costumed gunfighters, and 1890s style ladies. Burros from the surrounding hills wander into Oatman daily and mosey around town blocking traffic, greeting visitors, and chomping alfalfa cubes sold by the local shop owners.
Visitors traveling along I-10 in southern Arizona can’t miss the prominent 1,500-foot peak of Picacho Peak State Park. Enjoy the view as you hike the trails that wind up the peak and, often in the spring, overlook a sea of wildflowers. Enjoy the beauty of the desert and the amazing views.
An ancient civilization carved clever dwellings into the sturdy rock of what is now a famous monument. A lot more than Montezuma attracts people to the site—Wet Beaver Creek, a flourishing spring and interesting wildlife are just a few things to put on the list when stopping through.
Named after the fabled lost gold mine, Lost Dutchman State Park is located in the Sonoran Desert, 40 miles east of downtown Phoenix. Several trails lead from the park into the Superstition Wilderness and surrounding Tonto National Forest. Take a stroll along the Native Plant Trail or hike the challenging Siphon Draw Trail to the top of the Flatiron.
Situated in southeastern Arizona, Chiricahua National Monument spans an elevation of 5,124 feet at the visitor center to a peak of 7,310 feet at the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. That elevation makes it a cool mountain getaway where you can hike amid wildly eroded rock formations.
Colorful architecture and mountain backdrops define Tubac’s Southwest scenery. See both at Tumacácori National Historical Park, where O’odham, Yaqui, and Apache people once dwelled. Tubac Presidio State Historic Park offers a glimpse at 2,000 years of Arizona history. Tubac features over 100 eclectic shops and world-class galleries situated along meandering streets with hidden courtyards and sparkling fountains.
See just how lush the desert can be at this oasis of more than 3,000 types of Sonoran Desert vegetation. At 392 acres, Boyce Thompson is Arizona’s largest and oldest botanical garden founded in the 1920s. There are 3 miles of trails and the most popular is the 1.5-mile main loop that offers a perfect overview.
A charming National Historic Landmark on Cleopatra Hill, Jerome is a former mining town. Meandering around the hilly, winding streets, visitors will discover galleries and art studios. Not forgetting its past, Jerome offers history buffs a wealth of experience through the Mine Museum, displaying artifacts representing the town’s past and present, and the Jerome State Historic Park, home to the Douglas Mansion.
This up-and-coming town in southeastern Arizona is attracting visitors who come for its wineries and tasting rooms, but you’re here to hike in Chiricahua National Monument and see the sandhill cranes. The majestic birds winter in the Sulphur Springs area and Willcox is the perfect hub. Thousands of cranes roost in Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, a shallow lake that is a flurry activity at sunup and sundown when birds depart and return in a swirling cloud of feathers.
To experience the magic of the giant saguaro cacti up-close, look no further than Catalina State Park near Tucson. There are easy nature trails here and also longer and more challenging trails for experienced hikers. The park spans 5,500 acres of foothills, streams, and canyons and is home to over 150 species of birds. RV camping is available.
From the mesa east of Chinle in the Navajo Nation, Canyon de Chelly is invisible. Then as one approach, suddenly the world falls away—1,000 feet down a series of vertical red walls. You can drive along the rim and take in the views from above, but the best way to experience Canyon de Chelly is to take a guided tour of the canyon. You’ll learn the history of the canyon, from the Anasazi who left behind cliff dwellings to the current Navajo residents who still farm there.
No matter what season you visit, Tucson has a lot to offer
While Phoenix may offer a more metropolitan nightlife experience, Tucson can definitely hold its own when it comes to outdoor adventures and unique sights. In fact, in many ways, I prefer the relative quiet of this southwestern town over its larger cousin to the north.
Tucson is located less than two hours southeast of Phoenix and the Mexican border is roughly one hour to the south. Its proximity to Mexico has earned Tucson’s food scene major recognition—in 2015, UNESCO designated it the first “City of Gastronomy” in the United States.
The real, natural southwest captivates the imaginations of visitors fortunate enough to spend time in Tucson. Located in the Sonoran Desert, Tucson is the only place in the world the majestic saguaro cactus grows. The tall and stately cactus, stand like silent sentinels in the shadows of the five mountain ranges surrounding the Tucson valley. Tucson provides a stunning array of possibilities, satisfying culture seekers, outdoor adventurers, and fans of cowboys and cacti.
Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park is a well-known Tucson attraction. The park is split into two by the city. The Rincon Mountain District is located to the East of Tucson and the Tucson Mountain District is located to the West. Both districts have their own visitor center, scenic drives, and hiking trail systems. In the west part, you will see plenty of the namesake cacti—the saguaro. In the east part, you will see colorful red rocks and more rugged terrain.
I highly recommend choosing several Saguaro National Park hiking trails to make the most of your time. There are both short, paved, accessible trails and day hike out in the wilderness. It all depends on what you are looking for.
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is one of the most popular attractions in town. A world-renowned zoo, natural history museum, and botanical garden, all in one place, this is a solid introduction to plant and animal life as you’ll find in the region.
Exhibits re-create the natural landscape of the Sonoran Desert Region so realistically you find yourself eye-to-eye with mountain lions and Gila monsters. Other species found here include prairie dogs, tarantulas, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Most of this museum is outdoors, so plan accordingly. Dress comfortably and bring a hat and sunscreen.
On the northeast edge of Tucson, Sabino Canyon offers a variety of terrain including a paved path for the lighter option, or miles of rugged ground to explore. Nestled in the Santa Catalina Mountains, Sabino Canyon offers a wide range of hiking adventures for beginners and experts alike. Enjoy a relaxing stroll along the paved Sabino Canyon Trail or ride the tram along the wide, scenic path.
Sabino Canyon Tours offers a narrated, educational 45-minute, 3.8-mile tour into the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. The trams have nine stops along the tour with several restroom facilities and picnic grounds located near Sabino Creek. The tram turns around at Stop #9 and heads back down to the Visitor’s Center, at which point riders may remain on board and hike back down. Trams arrive on average every 30 minutes.
Catalina State Park
One of my personal favorite stops, Catalina State Park sits at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains in northwest Tucson. Catalina is chock-full of epic mountainous backdrops, lush landscapes, towering saguaros, and trails for horses and hikers. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. If you visit in early spring, bright Mexican poppies and colorful wildflowers will greet you.
The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invite camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. The park provides miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails that wind through the park and into the Coronado National Forest at elevations near 3,000 feet.
Mount Lemmon is named after Sara Plummer Lemmon, a botanist who trekked to the 9,000-foot-plus summit with her husband in 1881. Today, it’s a great spot for outdoor adventures like hiking, camping, rock climbing, and even skiing. Yes, skiing in the Sonoran Desert.
Mount Lemmon is located in the Catalina Mountains. Follow Catalina Highway (Sky Island Scenic Byway) to explore the mountain to your heart’s content. One of the most scenic drives in southern Arizona, the paved road provides access to a fascinating land of great vistas, natural rock sculptures, cool mountain forests, and deep canyons spilling out onto broad deserts.
Tohono Chul Park
Translated from the Tohono O’odham language, Tohono Chul means “desert corner.” This 49-acre desert preserve is a leading Southwest center of desert nature, arts, and culture. This oasis in the desert provides an informative look at the region’s fascinating cultural traditions and its flora and fauna.
Old Tucson Studios
Plenty of cowboys can be found at Old Tucson Studios. John Wayne and Clint Eastwood are among the Hollywood legends that starred in some of the 300-plus movies and TV projects that have been filmed at Old Tucson since 1939. Today it’s a movie studio and theme park.
It’s been just over a year since Old Tucson Studios closed its doors. The famous western attraction was shuttered because of the pandemic. Now, after a long process, Pima County is getting ready to announce who will take over the lease. Be sure to check the current status before planning a visit.
Mission San Xavier del Bac
Fifteen minutes south of Tucson sits an important piece of the city’s history: Mission San Xavier del Bac. This is one of the most awe-inspiring of all of the area’s attractions and is definitely worth the short drive. Mission San Xavier del Bac, also known as the White Dove of the Desert, is a magnificent building that blends Moorish, Byzantine, and late Mexican Renaissance architecture.
In 1692 Father Kino, a Jesuit missionary came to the area. Eight years later he laid the foundation for the first church. This building was named for Francis Xavier, a pioneering Christian missionary. The current church, completed in 1797, serves an active parish. Today, this site is used as both a church and a school.
Titan Missile Museum
A National Historic Landmark known as Complex 571-7, the Titan Missile Museum is the only remaining Titan II missile site. On one-hour guided tours you’ll descend 35 feet below ground to marvel at the intercontinental ballistic missile that in about 30 minutes could have delivered a nine-megaton nuclear warhead to a location more than 6,000 miles away.
The oldest Jesuit mission in Arizona has been preserved in Tumacácori National Historic Park. The San Cayetano del Tumacácori Mission was established in 1691 by Spanish priest Eusebio Francisco Kino. Jesuit, and later Franciscan, priests ministered to the O’odham Indians and Spanish settlers until 1848.
A self-guiding tour booklet for the Tumacácori Mission grounds can be purchased or borrowed. The walking tour of the site leads through several interlinked rooms with open doorways, and to the enclosed courtyard garden, filled by mature trees and Sonoran desert plants.
A destination for the arts, Tubac features eclectic shops and world-class galleries. Clustered in the village plaza, old adobes, Spanish courtyards, and ocotillo fences blend with a handful of newer buildings. Meandering streets are punctuated by hidden courtyards and sparkling fountains.
This village of about 1,500 people has over 100 galleries, studios, and shops, all within easy walking distance of each other. You’ll find an eclectic and high-quality selection of art and artisan works that include paintings, sculpture, pottery, metalwork, hand-painted tiles, photography, jewelry, weaving, and hand-carved wooden furniture.
Tubac Presidio State Historic Park
Established as a Spanish presidio in 1752, Tubac was the first permanent European settlement in what later became Arizona. Those early ruins are visible in an underground exhibit at Tubac Presidio State Historic Park. Visitors also will see a museum that houses Arizona’s first printing press (demonstrations are offered), a furnished 1885 schoolhouse, and living-history exhibits.
Outdoor patio exhibits show how people lived, cooked, and worked in Spanish colonial times. The Park is home to three buildings on the National Register of Historic Places: an 1885 schoolhouse that is the third oldest in Arizona; Otero Hall, built as a community center in 1914 and now housing a collection of paintings; and a mid-20th century adobe vernacular row house.
Madera Canyon is known for exceptional and varied hiking trails. The Mount Wrightson trailhead provides access to several trails including the Super Trail and Old Baldy trail where experienced hikers can climb to higher levels. These two trails to its summit cross one another twice and make a figure eight.
Madera Canyon is a famed wildlife location, in particular for birds with over 250 recorded species. The resident birds include hummingbirds, owls, sulfur flycatchers, wood warblers, elegant trogan, wild turkeys, and quails, as well as numerous migrating birds. Other notable wildlife includes coati, black bear, raccoon, mountain lion, bighorn sheep, bobcat, and ring-tailed cat.
Tucson has preserved a flair of its American Indian and Spanish-Mexican past of a pueblo in the Sonoran Desert. The days of the Presidio de San Agustin del Tucson, the original fortress built by Spanish soldiers during the 18th century, seem not that long ago. Wandering through the recreated structure, it is easy to imagine what life was like when members of the Tohono O’odham Nation, Native American people of the Sonoran Desert, mingled there with Spanish soldiers and early Territorial Period settlers.
The neighborhood surrounding the Presidio, the Presidio Historic District, is a charming, eclectic assembly of adobe and brick buildings in Spanish-Mexican, Anglo-American, and other architectural styles of the 1920s. Many houses have been restored to their former beauty, in brilliant colors of bright green, brick red, plum-purple, and hues of blue and yellow, and their original masonry.
Once in a lifetime, you see a place, and you know, instinctively, this is paradise.
In many ways the beauty of Arizona is embodied by its most famous natural landmark, the Grand Canyon but there is so much more. Discover the endless possibilities now.
Arizona is well-known for its beautiful landscapes and scenery. These beautiful, must-experience places are bucket-list worthy; some are well-known while others are hidden gems you might not have known about. From national landmarks to historical towns and breathtaking outdoor landscapes, here are 16 places to visit on your next Arizona road trip.
The most obvious landmark and Arizona road trip (and the most breathtaking of them all) is the Grand Canyon. If you have never experienced the sight of this outstanding view, you absolutely have to add this to your bucket list. The hiking trails will leave you speechless. Plus many photo opportunities! Check out the El Tovar Hotel, a historic property that opened its doors in 1905 and has entertained celebrities and presidents for over 100 years. Just steps away from the Grand Canyon’s edge, the dining room is as close to the canyon as you can get as well.
One of Arizona’s best-kept secrets is the historic town of Bisbee. The former mining town is a small, unique community that sits high in the mountains in the far southeast corner of Arizona. With plenty of things to do, activities, events and festivals, shops, and galleries plus hiking, birding, gallery-gazing, or dining, Bisbee offers a plethora of choices to keep you entertained.
Home to Lake Powell, The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is a stunning region of blue water with desert landscape and dramatic stone walls. One of the largest manmade lakes in the United States, this area is known for both land-based and water-based recreational activities. You can enjoy a summer’s day with perfect weather, cool water, amazing scenery, and endless sunshine. This is the perfect place to escape to and rent a houseboat, stay at a campground, or enjoy lodging.
Montezuma Castle, near Camp Verde, has nothing to do with Montezuma, nor is it a castle. The Sinagua built the five-story, 20-room pueblo about 1150 but abandoned it in the early 1400s, almost a century before Montezuma was born. Montezuma Castle is built into a deep alcove with masonry rooms added in phases. A thick, substantial roof of sycamore beams, reeds, grasses, and clay served as the floor of the room built on top.
Linking Arizona and Nevada, Hoover Dam is one of America’s great engineering marvels and a fantastic Arizona road trip. Completed in 1935, this massive and hard-to-miss structure crosses the Colorado River and sits at a total of 726 feet high and 1,244 feet long. You are able to walk across the dam or take a tour. The visitor center provides information on the tours and has a café where you can stop for some basic grub.
An old mining town-turned ghost town-turned tourist attraction, Jerome sits on a mountainside just above the desert floor. Jerome is unique and quirky, to say the least, with the Sliding Jail in Jerome that was originally built around 1928. While you’re there, you can visit the town’s most appreciated historical landmarks including the Gold King Mine Museum and the Jerome State Historic Park.
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Along a 17-mile one-way gravel road, you will find the heart of the valley, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. While visiting this area, which straddles the border between Arizona and Utah, you’ll experience the true Arizona desert feel with miles and miles of beautiful landscape and scenery of mesas and buttes, shrubs and trees, and windblown sand, creating all the wonderful and majestic colors of the Valley.
With its small-city feel and defined seasons, Prescott has tall Ponderosa pine trees, lakes, and the occasional sprinkle of snow. This charming town has many things to offer, including the old courthouse, Whiskey Row, Elks Theatre, and numerous other tourist attractions. You can grab a bite to eat at one of the downtown restaurants.
One of Tucson’s most popular attractions is Saguaro National Park which is a great place to experience the desert landscape around this well-known town and see the famous saguaro cacti up close. With an east and west portion, the park has two sections, approximately 30 minutes apart. Both sections of the park offer great opportunities to experience the desert and enjoy hiking trails.
Jutting out of the Sonoran Desert some 1,500 feet, you can’t help but see Picacho Peak for miles as you drive along Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Tucson. Travelers have used the peak for centuries as a landmark and continue to enjoy the state park’s 3,747 acres for hiking, rock climbing, spring wildflowers, and camping
After getting its start as a silver mining claim in the late-1870s, Tombstone grew along with its Tough Nut Mine becoming a bustling boomtown of the Wild West. From opera and theater to dance halls and brothels, Tombstone offered much-needed entertainment to the miners after a long shift underground. The spirits of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the Clanton Brothers live on in the authentic old west town of Tombstone, home of Boothill Graveyard, the Birdcage Theatre, and the O.K. Corral.
Just minutes from downtown Phoenix, Papago Park offers great hiking and a wide array of recreational facilities. Comprised primarily of sandstone, the range is known for its massive buttes that rise and fall throughout the park. Papago is home to two of the region’s most visited attractions, the Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Garden.
Sedona is a well-known hotbed of energy—one that’s conducive to both meditation and healing—and this is one of the reasons 4.5 million travelers flock here annually. That and the region’s red rocks: stunning sandstone formations that jut upward thousands of feet and change colors from orange to rust to crimson as the sun passes through the sky.
A comparatively little-known canyon, Canyon de Chelly has sandstone walls rising up to 1,000 feet, scenic overlooks, well-preserved Anasazi ruins, and an insight into the present-day life of the Navajo, who still inhabit and cultivate the valley floor. From the mesa east of Chinle in the Navajo Nation, Canyon de Chelly is invisible. Then as one approaches suddenly the world falls away—1,000 feet down a series of vertical red walls.
Surrounded by mountains, Tucson is a beautiful city set in the Sonoran Desert and is the second-largest city in Arizona. With many historic sites and cultural attractions, Tucson is a place to unwind and explore. Highlights include the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Saguaro National Park, Sabino Canyon, El Presidio Historic District, and Old Tucson Studios. You will also discover hiking trails, and afterward, you can find a bite to eat at one of the many wonderful restaurants Tucson has to offer.
The remote Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a gem tucked away in southern Arizona’s vast the Sonoran Desert. Thanks to its unique crossroads locale, the park is home to a wide range of specialized plants and animals, including its namesake. The organ pipe cactus can live to over 150 years in age, have up to 100 arms, reach 25 feet in height, and will only produce its first flower near the age of 35.
The trip across Arizona is just one oasis after another. You can just throw anything out and it will grow there.