Best Summer Road Trips from Major American Cities

Escape to mountains, lakes, beach, and desert. You can also escape to small towns.

Looking to get away this summer? Travel is a popular pastime every summer, but with months of lockdowns and stay-home orders confining Americans to their homes due to the pandemic, many people are more ready than ever for a change of scenery.

Here are six great summer road trip destinations just a few hours outside the urban hustle and bustle.

Macon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Atlanta

Atlanta has so much to do, but sometimes you just want to get out of the city and explore what the surrounding areas have to offer! Or possibly, like us you’re an RVer and can’t locate a decent campground within 50 miles.

Ocmulgee National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Macon

Distance from Atlanta: 83 miles

Oh, Macon! Home to a downtown area that’s got so much to do! Visit Amerson River Park and walk the paths while watching the kayakers paddle by on the Ocmulgee River. A visit to the Ocmulgee National Monument is a must-do, take a hike or bike the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail, or spend the day on Lake Tobesofkee.

Ashton Villa, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Houston

America’s fourth-largest city is a cosmopolitan destination filled with world-class dining, arts, entertainment, shopping, and outdoor recreation. Take a stroll through the historic Heights, spend the day exploring the Museum District, or head down to Space Center Houston.

Galveston State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston Island

Distance from Houston: 50 miles

Come to the island to stroll the beach or splash in the waves. Or come to the island to go fishing or look for coastal birds. No matter what brings you here, you’ll find a refuge at Galveston Island State Park. Just an hour from Houston, but an island apart!

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Phoenix

Begin your adventure in the capital city of the 48th state known for year-round sunny skies and reliably warm temperatures. Phoenix is the epicenter of a sprawling metro area (the country’s 5th most populated) known as the Valley of the Sun. You’ll find dozens of top-notch golf courses, scores of hiking and biking trails, and the well-regarded, family-friendly Papago Park and adjacent Desert Botanical Gardens.

Courthouse Plaza, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prescott

Distance from Phoenix: 100 miles

A Western history lover’s sweet spot, mile-high Prescott is home to more than 700 homes and businesses listed in the National Register of Historic Places as well as museums that tell their stories. Stroll along Whiskey Row where saloons thrive alongside shops, galleries, eateries, and antique venues.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Los Angeles

Los Angeles is home to renowned museums, diverse experiences, 75 miles of sunny coastline, and hundreds of miles of bike and hiking trails. LA’s cultural attractions include the Space Shuttle Endeavour, Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Getty Center, and art galleries. No trip to Los Angeles is complete without a visit to Hollywood, the home of movie studios, many of L.A.’s most popular and historic tourist destinations, and its world-famous namesake boulevard.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park 

Distance from Los Angeles: 130 miles

Joshua Tree National Park is an amazingly diverse area of sand dunes, dry lakes, flat valleys, extraordinarily rugged mountains, granitic monoliths, and oases. Explore the desert scenery, granite monoliths (popular with rock climbers), petroglyphs from early Native Americans, old mines, and ranches. The park provides an introduction to the variety and complexity of the desert environment and a vivid contrast between the higher Mojave and lower Sonoran deserts that range in elevation from 900 feet to 5,185 feet at Keys View. 

Amish Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chicago

Chicago is a city unlike any other. There are a few things you need to do like eat a Chicago style hot dog, see “The Bean,” and take a river boat cruise. Located on the south bank of the Chicago River, the Riverwalk stretches 1.25 miles from Lake Shore Drive to Lake Street. Chicago’s nearly 600 parks and 26 miles of lakefront make it easy to enjoy the great outdoors in the middle of the city. Whatever it is you’re looking for, you’ll find there’s no other place like Chicago.

Shipshewanna Outdoor Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amish Country

Distance from Chicago: 110 miles

Northern Indiana is home to nearly 20,000 Amish, a culture that remains true to centuries-old traditions. A few days in Amish country will introduce you to delicious made-from-scratch meals, amazing craftsmanship, delightful theater works, tons of shopping, and horse-drawn carriage rides. You can take in the amazing works as you drive the Quilt Gardens along the Heritage Trail. Shipshewanna is home to the Midwest’s largest outdoor seasonal flea market where 700 vendors cover 40 acres of land selling everything from home decor and clothing to plants and tools. Take care when driving—buggies travel well under the speed limit.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Washington, DC

Beyond the traditional D.C. attractions—the Smithsonian museums, the U.S. Capitol, the monuments—you’ll find fresh food and cultural events. You can peruse a farmers market and take in the scenery from the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. Plan to spend some time along the Tidal Basin, a 2-mile-long pond that was once attached to the Potomac River and serves as the backdrop to some of D.C.’s best-loved sites.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park

Distance from Washington, DC: 75 miles

Just 75 miles from the bustle of Washington, D.C., Shenandoah National Park is a land bursting with cascading waterfalls, spectacular vistas, fields of wildflowers, and quiet wooded hollows. With over 200,000 acres of protected lands that are haven to deer, songbirds, and black bear, there’s so much to explore. The Skyline Drive is one of the most beautiful drives in the US at any time of the year but especially during autumn. The picturesque 105-mile road travels through Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains where 75 overlooks welcome visitors to take in panoramic views of the Shenandoah wilderness.

Worth Pondering…

I’d rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on earth.

—Steve McQueen, actor

Absolutely Best Road Trip from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon

This road trips goes from Phoenix to Sedona to Williams to the Grand Canyon to Prescott to Jerome and back to Phoenix

Many visitors to the heart of the Southwest are surprised by the diversity found in the Grand Canyon state. From cactus strewn deserts and crimson canyons to swaying grass lands and towering ponderosa pine forests, there is so much to see and do. So, buckle up and prepare to be amazed by Arizona’s wide-open spaces and jaw-dropping natural beauty. You can turn this itinerary into a weekend getaway or take your time and spend a week or more exploring Arizona on this road trip.

Papago Park, Phoenix © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Start in Phoenix

Begin your adventure in the capital city of the 48th state known for year-round sunny skies and reliably warm temperatures. Phoenix is the epicenter of a sprawling metro area (the country’s 5th most populated) known as the Valley of the Sun. You’ll find dozens of top-notch golf courses, scores of hiking and biking trails, and the well-regarded, family-friendly Papago Park and adjacent Desert Botanical Gardens.

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop 1: Montezuma Castle

In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt recognized four sites for their historic and cultural significance thereby naming the nation’s first National Monuments. Among these was Montezuma Castle. Today, visitors get a glimpse into the region’s past and the enduring legacy of the Sinagua culture through a visit to the well-preserved cliff dwellings. The 20-room, “high-rise apartment” embedded in limestone cliffs tells the remarkable story of the resourceful people who lived along Beaver Creek for more than 400 years.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop 2: Sedona (via Highway 179 from I-17)

Whether you choose to stay for an afternoon or several days, spectacular Sedona will steal your heart. The stunning, red rock vistas are unlike any you’ve seen elsewhere.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore via more than 400 miles of hiking and biking trails that wind through a wonderland of colorful stone, forest, and creek beds. Consider a famous jeep tour, part thrill ride and a unique way to discover historic native sites in the area. Sedona is well known for its energetic vibe, so be sure to ask about the area’s vortexes. Considered a center for enlightenment, the vortexes are thought to be swirling centers of energy conducive to healing and personal exploration. Don’t miss scenic Oak Creek Canyon.

Williams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop 4: Williams

This northern Arizona town is located on the last stretch of Route 66 to be by-passed by Interstate 40. Historic highway memorabilia are featured in kitschy shops and restaurants. Old time western shoot outs are staged in the middle of Main Street. And bear, bison, and wolves roam in Bearzona, a drive-through animal park. The colorful town of 3,000 residents is also home to the Grand Canyon Railway where visitors can hop aboard restored rail cars and be entertained by musicians as the train traverses the scenic, high-desert plateau between the historic depot and the grandest canyon of them all.

Grand Canyon Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop 5: The Grand Canyon

Whether you drive to the Grand Canyon or arrive via the Grand Canyon Railway, you’ll soon understand why it’s a treasured wonder of the world. Carved by the mighty Colorado the multi-hued rock walls revealing millions of years of geologic history descend a mile deep and stretch for 277 miles.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From sunrise to sunset, the canyon is the main attraction. However, with so much to see and do a stop at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center can help make the most of your time while exploring Arizona’s most impressive landmark.

Note: A free shuttle bus operates on the South Rim.

Courthouse Plaza, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop 6: Prescott

A Western history lover’s sweet spot, mile-high Prescott is home to more than 700 homes and businesses listed in the National Register of Historic Places as well as museums that tell their stories. Stroll along Whiskey Row where saloons thrive alongside shops, galleries, eateries, and antique venues.

Watson Lake and Granite Dells, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Set amidst the Ponderosa Pines of Prescott National Forest, the western town offers more than 400 miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails. Paddle on any of four pristine lakes in the area and enjoy a picnic lunch before getting back on the road.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop 7: Jerome

On a return trip to Phoenix stop in the tiny town of Jerome perched a mile high on the side of Cleopatra Hill overlooking the Verde Valley between Sedona to the north and Prescott to the south. Once a mining boom town boasting bars and bordellos, Jerome earned the moniker Wickedest City in the West. Decades later in 1953 when the mines shuttered the Arizona camp soon became the largest ghost town in the west.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today the cliffside destination, a National Historic Landmark, is proud of its historic restoration and a quirky collection of art studios, galleries, wine tasting rooms, and specialty shops. Visit the Jerome State Historic Park and the Historical Society Mine.

Worth Pondering…

The limestone of this canyon is often polished, and makes a beautiful marble. Sometimes the rocks are of many colors—white, gray, pink and purple, with saffron hints.

—Major John Wesley Powell, Exploration of the Colorado River and its Canyons

Take a Break from Spring Training with these 5 great Road Trips

Your ultimate Spring Training road trip travel guide

The Phoenix area transforms into baseball-fan heaven this month with spring training underway as players prepare for the 2020 Major League Baseball season. Visitors can attend more than 200 Cactus League baseball games.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you need to take a break from the stands, consider a side trip out of town. Here are four worthwhile Arizona destinations that can be reached from the Phoenix area in less than three hours and one that’s somewhat further afield.

Apache Trail

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Apache Trail, named for Native Americans who used it, served as a stagecoach route through the rugged Superstition Mountains. Day trippers can enjoy the scenery on paved roads if they mosey five miles up Arizona 88 from Apache Junction to Goldfield Ghost Town, a restored 1890s mining town. It re-creates the era through its attractions including a mine tour, narrow-gauge railroad, and a zip-line ride.

Goldfield Ghost Town © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you drive 13 miles northeast on Arizona 88, you’ll find Tortilla Flat, an old stagecoach stop that’s now a saloon that uses saddles for its bar-stool seats. Visitors can take a scenic cruise on nearby Canyon Lake aboard the Dolly Steamboat. The captain will point out bighorn sheep grazing on the hillsides and bald eagles soaring above.

Distance from Phoenix: 35 miles

Picacho Peak State Park

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On paper, Picacho Peak isn’t very impressive. It’s hardly the highest peak in Arizona. In fact, based on a U.S. Geological Survey search, there are at least 2,500 other summits ahead of Picacho. Nevertheless, it’s a peak worth bagging, if for no other reason than to conquer the most recognizable landmark between Phoenix and Tucson.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Hunter Trail is one of five routes to the top. With your first step from the trailhead, you’ll start a gradual climb up a rocky slope dotted with saguaros, creosote bushes, and paloverde trees. This time of year, you’ll see wildflowers, too, including Mexican goldpoppies, lupines, globemallows, desert chicory, and brittlebush.

Distance from Phoenix: 75 miles

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park

Boyce Thompson Arboretum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you haven’t checked out Boyce Thompson Arboretum, a 392-acre state park near Superior (it’s only about an hour’s drive east of Phoenix near Superior), you should. Featured are plants from the world’s deserts, towering trees, captivating cacti, sheer mountain cliffs, a streamside forest, panoramic vistas, many natural habitats with varied wildlife, a desert lake, a hidden canyon, specialty gardens and more.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you take a hike through Boyce Thompson, it’s easy to forget you’re in the middle of a desert. You can explore tree-lined paths, a man-made lake, and a mountainous desert landscape all without leaving the Main Trail. Along the side trails visitors can also get glimpses of life in the historic Southwest.

Distance from Phoenix: 55 miles

Prescott

Watson Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An hour and a half north of Phoenix, Watson Lake sparkles amid Prescott’s Granite Dells, an exotic collection of massive boulders that rise directly from the water and adorn the shoreline. Watson Lake Park is a good starting point for exploration of this North Central Arizona city. The park includes picnic tables, horseshoe pits, playground equipment, and hiking trails.

Courthouse Plaza, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A mile-high city, Prescott is nestled in the Ponderosa Pines of Prescott National Forest. Fill your lungs with that amazing pine scent as you enjoy Prescott’s natural surroundings, including more than 400 miles of hiking, mountain biking, and equestrian trails.

Distance from Phoenix: 100 miles

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Canyon de Chelly © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the 1800s, Navajo clans sought refuge from U.S. soldiers in the distant reaches of Canyon de Chelly. The canyon, in northeastern Arizona, is deep, remote, and beautiful. Pueblo ruins still stand under red cliffs while modern-day Navajos farm the bottomlands along shallow creeks.

White House Ruins, Canyon de Chelly © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors can drive along the canyon rims and stop at overlooks or take a hike to White House Ruin but tours into the canyon led by Navajo guides give a better understanding of its past and present. Tour options include hiking, horseback rides, and four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Distance from Phoenix: 310 miles

Worth Pondering…

This was as the desert should be, this was the desert of the picture books, with the land unrolled to the farthest distant horizon hills, with saguaros standing sentinel in their strange chessboard pattern, towering supinely above the fans of ocotillo and brushy mesquite.

—Dorothy B. Hughes

Turn 230 Miles into a Grand Arizona Adventure

Here’s how to make the most out of a drive to the Grand Canyon with scenic tours and adventure along the route

Less than 230 miles separate Phoenix from the Grand Canyon. If you drove straight through, you could be there in an easy four hours. But, why would you want to?

There’s so much to see and do along the way. Options range from vineyard-hopping to connecting with spirits (whether one’s own in Sedona or other people’s in the ghost town of Jerome).

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day One: Phoenix to Verde Valley

Take 1-17 about 110 miles north to Jerome, your first—and funkiest—stop of the day. Perched atop Cleopatra Hill, the onetime “wickedest town in the west” has transitioned from turn-of-the-century mining outpost to an artist hub and ghost town. Ghost Town Tours offers daily Spirit Walks—hour-long intros to the local historic buildings, ruins, and paranormal activity.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About a 15-minute drive east of Jerome on Arizona Highway 89A is Cottonwood where you’ll want to park yourself for a while. You’re in the heart of the thriving Verde Valley Wine Region where tastings are most definitely in order. At a minimum, check out Pillsbury Wine Company and Burning Tree Cellars in Old Town Cottonwood.

Day Two: Cottonwood to Flagstaff

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rise and shine! The first stop is a mere 19 miles up 89A where you’ll find the red rock heaven that is Sedona.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spend as much time here as you see fit—emphasis on “fit” as a local hike is a must! Try Bell Rock or Airport Mesa both said to house vortices (mystical energetic sites, basically). But whether or not you believe that energy spirals into or out of the earth’s surface at various sacred spots the gorgeousness alone will awe and inspire you. And hey, if you feel a little something unexplainable amid these surreal, red rock surroundings, who are we to say it’s not a vortex at work?

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of course, there’s another mind-body-spirit pursuit that Sedona’s known for: pampering, nurturing, and healing treatments. And the town is teeming with legendary spas.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Head north on 89 A to Slide Rock State Park in Oak Creek Canyon and up the road, on your final approach to Flagstaff, you’ll find another worthy stop: the Oak Creek Overlook Vista Native American Artisan Market, where you’ll find gorgeous local jewelry and crafts (and, as the name would suggest, views). 

Oak Creek Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With a newly acquired treasure or two, roll into Flagstaff—not even 15 miles north on 89 A. Conveniently, historic Flagstaff is compact and walkable—or bike-able, for that matter. Either way, look around—and relax.

Day Three: Flagstaff to Williams

Williams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Your next stop is 33 miles west on Interstate 40 where you’ll find Williams. Cowboy shootouts. A bear and bison park. Historic Route 66. Welcome to unexpected fun in this gateway to the Grand Canyon.

Williams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The opium dens, bordellos, and other landmarks of Williams, Arizona’s, rough-and-tumble past are long gone. But some kinder, gentler vestiges of this town’s Wild West era remain. And that’s fortunate for Grand Canyon-bound visitors seeking a fun, full-service spot as a base before and after a trip to the canyon’s South Rim, 56 miles north.

Williams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Williams boasts the final stretch of Route 66 to be bypassed by Interstate 40 (on October 13, 1984). The original “super-highway,” as Route 66 was known in 1926, spanned more than 2,300 miles from Chicago to Long Beach, California and opened up the West to road travel. (Get Your Kicks on) Route 66 singer Bobby Troup marked the day Route 66 was bypassed, October 13, 1984, by plunking out the 1946 tune on a piano in the middle of America’s most iconic byway—called “The Mother Road” by John Steinbeck in his classic novel The Grapes of Wrath.

Williams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, the town’s Main Street is a National Historic District. Its storefronts house curio shops, an old-fashioned soda fountain, and classic diners and motels, which preserve a bygone era.

Day Four: The Canyon 

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The sheer size of the Grand Canyon is difficult to comprehend through photos or words.  Much of the canyon is over a mile deep, 15 miles wide, and 277 miles long, carved through geologic formations that are over 1.7 billion years old. The vast majority of the Grand Canyon National Park is extremely rugged and remote, and many places are only accessible by pack trail.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Truly a sight beyond words, the Grand Canyon should be on every RVer’s bucket list. You can’t describe in words what takes your breath away with each view.

Want more on the Grand Canyon? Right this way!

Worth Pondering…

The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself.

—John Wesley Powell

Top 10 Day Trips From Phoenix

Phoenix is a hub for a number of memorable day trips that allow you to explore Arizona for the day and be back to your snowbird roost by night

Phoenix is the perfect central hub for a long list of Arizona day trips—the Phoenix area makes sense as a snowbird roost as it offers plenty of RV parks, hiking, golfing, and other activities. These excursions are iconic bucket list material and can be reached within a few hours or less.

As a bonus, the roads leading to these destinations are interesting and gorgeous as well. So if you want to truly enjoy the scenic beauty of Arizona, consider these day trips, one day at a time.

Sedona

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It takes roughly two hours to travel from Phoenix to Sedona, so there’s many hours in between to soak into the natural and new age aspects of lovely Sedona. Known as Red Rock Country for the colorful red rock formations that dominate the landscape, Sedona is a popular destination for photographers, nature lovers, hikers, and mountain bikers. Sedona is home to hundreds of miles of trails, some easy, some difficult, yet all loaded with magnificent views of the surrounding million year old ancient rocks.

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ah the day trip of all day trips—the magnificent Grand Canyon is on most bucket lists, and the South Rim resides 230 miles north from Phoenix. Sure, you might want to spend more time at this landmark, but it could be done in a day. What can we say? This mile deep canyon is over 18 miles wide at some points, and displays mesmerizing geological colors and formations. Camp, hike, or just stop for a peek—regardless, it’s a “must”.

Lost Dutchman State Park

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Montezuma Castle National Monument

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. The drive will set you back an hour and a half.

Prescott

Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Tucson Mountain Park

Tucson Mountain Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A hefty 20,000 acres comprise this large park featuring 62 miles of hiking and biking trails. Historic sites such as old locomotives and school houses create an intriguing environment that melds with the outdoors. It takes just under two hours to get there.

Red Rock Scenic Byway

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What’s a day trip round-up without mentioning a sweet highway? This stunning drive is the literal “gateway” into the area’s that house iconic red stone formations of Arizona making it highly significant. One hundred and ten miles from Phoenix, the breathtaking drive offers glimpses of amazing foliage and spanning views.

Jerome

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located near the top of Cleopatra Hill between Prescott and Sedona is the historic copper mining town of Jerome. Once known as the wickedest town in the west, Jerome was born a copper mining camp, growing from a settlement of tents into a roaring mining community. Today Jerome is a thriving tourist and artist hub with a population of around 450 people. Jerome resides above what was once the largest copper mine in Arizona which was producing an astonishing 3 million pounds of copper per month.

Picacho Peak State Park

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Yuma

Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About three hours away, you can drive southwest to Yuma, a popular snowbird destination with some excellent historic attractions and sand dunes for outdoor recreation. Tour Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park and then sample delicious dates at Martha’s Gardens Medjool Date Farm. You can often find fun local festivals taking place in the historic downtown area and also head over to the Imperial Sand Dunes National Recreation Area to drive ATVs up and down the dunes.

Worth Pondering…

Newcomers to Arizona are often struck by Desert Fever. Desert Fever is caused by the spectacular natural beauty and serenity of the area. Early symptoms include a burning desire to make plans for the next trip “south”. There is no apparent cure for snowbirds.

Stunning Papago Park: A World-Class Attraction

Papago Park features a wide variety of outdoor fun opportunities

Papago Park is located on the east-side of Phoenix, near the border of Tempe and South Scottsdale. The 1,200 acre park is home to “Hole in the Rock” a red rock that is distinctive to its landscape. Its massive, otherworldly sandstone buttes set Papago Park apart, even in a city and state filled with numerous world-class natural attractions.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

It is not the largest park in the city of Phoenix, a distinction that belongs to South Mountain Park. But Papago features the widest variety of outdoor fun and is home to some of the most visited attractions in the Phoenix area making it a popular destination for both residents and vacationers. 

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Papago’s desert trails are generally smooth, easy treks with little elevation gain, making it a great place for a family hike or to hone your mountain biking skills. While visitors to Papago can enjoy its extensive trail network through Sonoran Desert habitat, they can also enjoy the park’s two major residents, the Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Garden, world-class attractions that draw millions of visits each year.

Hole-in-the Rock Butte at Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

It is also home to the Arizona Historical Society Museum and Hunt’s Tomb, the tomb of George W.P. Hunt (1859-1934), Arizona’s first governor. The Papago Golf Course is also located within the park. Oh, and did we mention it’s only 10 minutes from downtown Phoenix.

Looking through the Hole-in-the-Rock at Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

But did you also know that its 1,200 acres were once known as Papago-Saguaro National Monument? Part of the homeland for the Hohokam, local tribes—the Maricopa and Akimel O’odham—and rich in petroglyphs, archaeological sites, desert plant life, and scenic qualities, this area stood out among many other spots in Phoenix for a national monument status.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

In 1914, about 1,700 acres surrounding Hole-in-the-Rock butte was designated Papago-Saguaro National Monument by President Woodrow Wilson. The intention of this was to federally protect the archaeological sites, per the Antiquities Act of 1906, as well as create a scenic area for locals and tourism.

Desert Botanical at Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Despite the lofty designation, however, Papago-Saguaro suffered from severe funding issues, something that many national park sites are still struggling with today.  Eventually, in 1930, Congress abolished Papago-Saguaro National Monument and transferred ownership to the state and local city governments.

Desert Botanical Garden at Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

During World War II, the area housed German prisoners of war from 1943 to 1946. After the war, the prisoner camp was converted to a Veterans Administration Hospital from 1947 to 1951. It became the District Headquarters for Arizona’s largest Army Reserve Unit from 1953 to 1966. In fact, today an “off-limits” portion of Papago Park is used for Arizona National Guard training.

The hole-in-the-rock is the most prominent icon in Papago Park and carries evidence that the prehistoric Hohokam Indians settled this area thousands of years ago. The red butte was created 6 to 15 million years ago and naturally formed with a series of openings caused by erosion.

Desert Botanical Garden at Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The openings and chamber (hole) near the butte’s summit are easily accessed from the rear via a smooth, but somewhat steep path. Those that trek to the chamber hole-in-the-rock are rewarded with great views across the city.

Desert Botanical Garden at Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The ancient Hohokam People noticed that a hole in the ceiling in the chamber creates a ray of light that changes positions on the chamber’s floor during the year depending upon seasonal movements of the sun. They marked the occurrence of the summer solstice by grinding a bedrock “metate slick” at the location where the ray of light falls during the day at noontime.

Desert Botanical Garden at Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The winter solstice is marked by the ray of light interaction with a natural seam in the bedrock. They also marked the equinoxes, the seasonal halfway point between the summer and winter solstices with a bedrock metate slick. The boulders near the hole-in-the-rock appear to provide other solstice and equinox markers.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

While Papagp Park may not be part of the original vision when the area become a national monument, it is an area where a portion of Phoenix’s original natural beauty still manages to flourish.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

Alone in the open desert,

I have made up songs of wild, poignant rejoicing and transcendent melancholy.

The world has seemed more beautiful to me than ever before.

I have loved the red rocks, the twisted trees, the sand blowing in the wind, the slow, sunny clouds crossing the sky, the shafts of moonlight on my bed at night.

I have seemed to be at one with the world.

—Everett Ruess

Catch Cactus League Spring Training

10 stadiums. 15 MLB teams. 75-degree temperatures.

Follow your favorite baseball teams to Arizona for Cactus League Spring Training and catch all the big league action you can handle. While you’re here, spend some time playing the Arizona outfield with all the incredible dining, shopping, outdoor activities, and incredible sights within easy driving distance of the Phoenix Metro area.

Tempe

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Tempe’s casual cool attracts those who enjoy the exciting feel of a college town. Stroll historic Mill Avenue in downtown to find great nightlife, shops, and restaurants. Explore aquariums and museums, paddleboard or kayak on Tempe Town Lake. “A” Mountain is just a few minutes away from the lake.

Desert Botanical Garden © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Or enjoy the sunshine with a hike around Papago Park, just north of “A” Mountain and Tempe Town Lake. A desert preserve Papago is home to hiking and biking trails and attractions such as Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix Zoo, Pueblo Grande Museum, and Arizona Heritage Center.

Scottsdale / Fountain Hills

Fountain Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

For the see and be seen scene, Scottsdale is the place to be. You’ll find luxurious resorts, chic nightlife, eclectic shopping, and award-winning dining, all with a splash of Southwestern charm. Scottsdale also has wonderful hikes and a booming art scene, so there’s no lack of entertainment even if you’re not a baseball buff.

Mesa

Usery Mountain Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Mesa is quickly becoming a foodie destination with its innovative, local cuisine. And when you’re not watching a game or munching goodies, swing away at one of the area’s many golf courses or explore miles of desert mountain trails in nearby Usery Mountain Regional Park, one of 13 Maricopa County Regional Parks. The spectacular desert mountain scenery here is breathtaking.

Glendale / Goodyear

Sports fans may recognize Glendale as home to Arizona’s NFL and NHL teams. This sports mecca entertainment district is like a mini urban amusement park, with restaurants, wine bars, and outlet shops.

Apache Junction

Apache Junction and the Superstition Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Apache Junction is a suburban desert community nestled in the shadows of the Superstition Mountains, It is the easternmost community in the Phoenix Metro area.  Each winter the city welcomes an estimated 35,000 snowbirds.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Named after the fabled lost gold mine, Lost Dutchman State Park is located in the Sonoran Desert, a few miles east of Apache Junction. Several trails lead from the park into the Superstition Wilderness and surrounding Tonto National Forest. Starting in Apache Junction, the Apache Trail offers magnificent views of the Superstition Mountains with forests of saguaro and several blue lakes.Visit the old-west style settlement of Tortilla Flat.

Phoenix

Phoenix is a hotspot of urban action and family fun. Head downtown to discover hip restaurants and eateries, concerts with the biggest artists and up-and-coming bands, family-friendly museums, and so much more. Or tackle an urban hike-with sweeping city views-on Camelback Mountain or South Mountain.

Peoria

Lake Pleasant Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Peoria is only about a half-hour northwest of Phoenix yet it’s flown under the radar until recently. Relaxed and family friendly, the Northwest Valley offers plenty of shopping, growing arts scene, and natural beauty. The cool blue Lake Pleasant is located in a Maricopa County regional park. The recreation area has campsites, hiking trails, boat ramps, and a Discovery Center where you can learn more about the area’s plants and wildlife.

Surprise / Litchfield Park

White Tank Mountains Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

If you’re up for a little adventure, trek through trails in the nearby White Tank Mountains. Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium & Safari Park has Arizona’s largest collection of exotic and endangered animals, with more than 600 separate species, rides, a petting zoo, and daily shows.

Wildlife World Zoo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes, or games, are created equal.
—George Will

Find Comfort and Warmth in these Snowbird Roosts

Expect a warm winter season at these popular snowbird destinations

Stop wishing winter away; ditch your wool socks, grab your sunglasses, and get ready to see a whole different side of winter in these destinations.

Suffering through a long winter season is optional. The endless summer is far more appealing—and doable in these popular winter RV destinations.

Laughlin, Nevada

Average high in February: 69 F

If your idea of a winter wonderland includes shorts weather and desert backdrops, then flap your snowbird wings and head to Laughlin. Sitting along the Colorado River, this Nevada hot spot has game rooms galore for those who get a thrill on the craps table, and endless nature for those who like to cast for striped bass and rainbow trout. No matter if you’re eyeing the buffet spreads or boating on nearby Lake Mohave, one thing is certain: Laughlin’s weather sure beats the frigid temperatures back home.

Snowbirds love to: Hike around the petroglyphs at Grapevine Canyon, and then chow down at one of the eateries in a riverside casino.

Harlingen, Texas

Average high in February: 73 F

Snowbirds are so prominent in this region that there’s a name for them: Winter Texans. Discover why they flock to the very southern tip of Texas with a visit to Harlingen, a southern city in the Rio Grande Valley. Just like people, birds migrate to this warm spot. Even in the height of winter, the mild weather affords you the opportunity to explore the Arroyo Colorado, where you can search for green jays and great kiskadees and 500 other species of birds that have been spotted in the area.

Snowbirds love to: Marvel at the masterpieces painted on the walls of downtown businesses, which are a part of the city’s beautifying Mural Project.

Phoenix, Arizona

Average high in February: 71 F

Snowbirds favor Phoenix. It’s not hard to figure out why. During the winter when the snow and rain flies up north, the Valley of the Sun offers up some of the greatest winter weather anywhere. Phoenix offers a variety of attractions that should satisfy some of the most discriminating tastes and leave some great life long memories.

One of the finest botanical gardens anywhere is in Papago Park. Home to one of the world’s largest cactus gardens, the variety of plants come from all over the world.

Snowbirds love to: Use their home base in the Phoenix area for day trips to Sedona, Prescott, the Grand Canyon, and to drive the Apache Trail.

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Average high in February: 65 F

From dancing to shopping to exploring nature, Breaux Bridge offers a variety of activities for your enjoyment. It’s where food is almost a religion. Wander the quaint downtown streets of Breaux Bridge and you’ll find yourself transported back to a time before life became hectic. Breaux Bridge is the gateway to authentic Cajun culture in south Louisiana with traditional Cajun and funky Zydeco music, world-famous cuisine, and a rich history filled with interesting stories.

Snowbirds love to: Get up close and personal with ancient mossy cypress trees, majestic bodies of water, and of course, the alligators on an airboat tour of the Atchafalaya Basin.

Apache Junction, Arizona

Average high in February: 70 F

Apache Junction is a suburban desert community nestled in the shadows of the Superstition Mountains, 1,750 feet above sea level and 35 miles directly east of Phoenix.  It is the easternmost community in the Phoenix Metropolitan area.  Each winter the city welcomes an estimated 35,000 snowbirds. Starting in Apache Junction, the Apache Trail offers magnificent views of the Superstition Mountains with forests of saguaro and several blue lakes.

Snowbirds love to: Visit the old-west style settlement of Tortilla Flat.

Worth Pondering…

Recently I ran across a few lines by Pierre de Ronsard, a 16th-century poet: “Live now, believe me wait not till tomorrow. Gather the roses of life today.” Maybe it’s time to stop dreaming about that trip you’ve always wanted to make—and just do it!