10 Amazing Places to RV in November 2023

If you’re dreaming of where to travel to experience it all, here are my picks for the best places to RV in November

The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.

—C.S. Lewis

Though best known for his fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis was also an accomplished poet and literary scholar. During the Second World War, he hosted a series of radio talks for the BBC including a sermon aimed especially at young wartime scholars trying to find their paths (from which this quote comes). His words ring just as true now as they did in that fraught time: If we worry too much about the future, we might miss the opportunities waiting for us right here in the present moment.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in September and October. Also, check out my recommendations from November 2022 and December 2022.

Urbanna Oyster Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Oyster Lovers Experience

An evolution of Urbanna Days that began in 1957, the Urbanna Oyster Festival (67th annual, November 3-4, 2023) as we know it today hosts over 50,000 people in the square mile town over two days. Visitors flock from all over to celebrate the oyster!

In 1988 it was designated as the “official” oyster festival of the Commonwealth of Virginia and maintains that title today.

Come by BOAT or come by LAND! The charming Town of Urbanna closes its streets for this big celebration of everything OYSTER! It’s foodie heaven with over 50 food vendors and every kind of OYSTER! Raw, steamed, roasted, Rockefeller, fried, stewed, oysters in a pot pie and festival food fare like BBQ and crab bisque.

Arts and crafts, antique auto shows, children’s activities, and live bands are spread throughout the town.  The town marina offers historical boats and exhibits on the conservation of the Chesapeake Bay, watermen, and the oyster industry.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Wonderland of Rocks

It’s been more than two years since West Virginia’s New River Gorge became America’s most recent national park and since then outdoor recreation has continued to soar in popularity. The National Park Service manages more than 400 sites across the United States but less than 20 percent (63) are national parks with the scale and amenities that can support heavy visitation. Currently, 20 states do not have a national park.

There are many benefits to having a national park. They can be a boon for regional tourism and bring federal resources for conserving land that may be vulnerable to development or invasive species.

So where could the next national park be? The U.S. is full of worthy candidates. However national parks are created through congressional legislation, and many considerations include available infrastructure such as roads and restrooms. Community advocacy can help fuel the effort. With strong local and federal support, Chiricahua National Monument stands a good chance of becoming America’s 64th national park.

 It’s easy to see why the homeland of the Chiricahua Apache Nation is often called a Wonderland of Rocks. The monument is a labyrinth of towering stone spires (hoodoos) and eye-popping balanced rock formations. Arizona’s representatives in Congress have already introduced a bipartisan national park re-designation bill and advocates see the creation of such a park as an opportunity to establish a long-term working relationship between the NPS and tribes with ancestral roots in national park lands.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Chihuahuan Desert landscape

Gleaming gypsum crystal dunes roll as far as the eye can see at White Sands National Park. With waves towering up to 60 feet tall, the composition of the Northern Chihuahuan Desert landscape is constantly changing due to wind and weather patterns. Hardy plants like yuccas, grasses, and shrubs have evolved to survive in the shifting sands, adding texture to the spectacle of shapes and shadows that define the scenery.

This remarkable landscape is fit to be appreciated on camera, by foot, on Dunes Drive by bike (or car), and famously on saucer sleds down the dunes. Like many national parks in the country, White Sands is remotely located and can require around an hour or more of travel time from your accommodation. The journey is well worth it!

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Lake Martin

Tucked into the heart of Louisiana’s Cajun Country and part of The Nature Conservancy’s Cypress Island Preserve, Lake Martin is part of a larger cypress-tupelo swamp. Popular for fishing and general outdoor recreation, Lake Martin is a great place for spotting wildlife. It’s also a nesting spot for waterbirds including herons, egrets, neotropic cormorants, roseate spoonbills, white ibis, and anhingas. Check out the visitor center and adjacent boardwalk for a quick tour, or stroll the 2.5-mile levee walking trail.

Arizona 89A from Prescott to Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Outdoor activities and wine in small-town Arizona

Halfway between Prescott and Sedona, you’ll pass through the community of Cottonwood in the heart of the Verde Valley. Cottonwood makes a fantastic base camp to lace up your hiking boots and explore the outdoors. On the banks of the Verde River just outside of town, you can camp, swim, fish, and hike at Dead Horse Ranch State Park. Just a short distance from there, discover American Indian history among ancient hilltop pueblos at Tuzigoot National Monument.

The Verde Valley is one of Arizona’s three nationally recognized viticultural (wine-growing) areas. Save some time to stop and sample the local wines in any of the tasting rooms in Old Town Cottonwood.

The above towns and attractions are just a glimpse of what you’ll find in North Central Arizona’s wild canyons and valleys.

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Hit the road, Texas-style

Akoozie in the gift shop at the Spoetzl Brewery demands, Eat Meat. Drink Beer. That pretty much sums up any good day trip to Shiner, a small town that’s home to roughly 2,000 souls and the famed brewery that produces iconic Shiner beers.

For the meat, options abound along the route to Shiner. For lunch, consider a stop in Lockhart for some of Central Texas’s best barbecue. There’s Smitty’s Market where the line starts right next to the open pit and the ’cue is served on sheets of paper, old-school style like all the best Texas barbecue. Other celebrated Lockhart options include Black’s Barbecue and Kreuz Market.

There’s also City Market and Luling BBQ literally across the street from each other in the town of Luling.

The beer part of this adventure, naturally, happens most deliciously in Shiner. Czech and German immigrants founded a brewery here in 1909 after discovering artesian water. Bavarian Kosmos Spoetzel bought the operation, named it for himself, and continued using traditional methods as its brewmaster from 1914 to 1950. Today, Spoetzel is one of the largest independent craft brewers in the country selling beers in all 50 states and Mexico, every drop of it brewed here.

Kennedy Space Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. NASA Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

If you love outer space, this visitor center is a must-see. It’s one of the most highly-rated destinations in the country and almost everybody reports that they loved their experience. You could easily spend an entire day here learning about the history and the future of space travel.

Guests have access to a variety of activities and learning experiences. You can touch a real moon rock, speak to astronauts, and get up close and personal with a rocket.

Tons of tours, videos, and exhibits are suitable for all kinds of people. The only downside of this experience is the price point. It’s a bit discouraging to see that entrance fee, especially if you have younger kids who might not get their money’s worth. Overall, this place is worth a visit though!

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Why I LOVE Utah

If you have never been to Utah, make sure and put it on your list of places to visit! We fell in LOVE with Utah for so many reasons. Number one is all of the National Parks in the state like Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands. But also so many state parks and the beautiful Scenic Byway 12. The scenery is constantly changing and each place has its unique beauty. From high in the mountains with aspens and cooler temps to down in the canyons or red or white rock faces and warmer temps. Utah is an adventurers’ paradise!

That’s why I wrote these five articles:

Tombstone Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Spending a perfect day in Tombstone

Start the perfect day in Tombstone with a hearty breakfast at O K Café Tombstone then visit the Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park where the history of the Wild West comes alive.

Afterward, take a trip to Boothill Graveyard for a unique, albeit somber, experience, as it’s the final resting place for many of Tombstone’s early residents.

Have lunch at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon for a taste of authentic Western cuisine in a setting that’s straight out of the 1880s. After the meal continue the day’s excitement with a stagecoach tour around Tombstone offering a different perspective of this historic town.

The evening’s entertainment is a performance at the Bird Cage Theater, a haunted landmark that once served as a saloon, gambling hall, and brothel. Finally, end the day with dinner and a nightcap at Crystal Palace Saloon.

Celebrating pecans © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Louisiana Pecan Festival

This celebration of one of the South’s top crops offers a unique autumn attraction for up to 75,000 attendees each year in Colfax, Louisiana. Held on the first full weekend in November (November 3-5, 2023), the Louisiana Pecan Festival typically kicks off on Friday with Children’s Day which features a petting zoo, rock walls, games, and other free family-friendly activities. Festival attendees will enjoy a parade, live music, arts and crafts booths, a cooking contest, carnival rides, and fireworks throughout the weekend.

Visitors can sample and purchase pecan specialties including pies, pralines, jams, and candies as well as catch numerous live performances by the Louisiana Pecanettes dance team composed of local high schoolers. This event is also a great place to gobble goodies like funnel cakes, fried chicken, and alligator on a stick from vendors.

Worth Pondering…

When the Frost is on the Punkin

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock,

And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock,

And the clackin’ of the guineys, and the cluckin’ of the hens,

And the rooster’s hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;

O, it’s then’s the times a feller is a-feelin’ at his best,

With the risin’ sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,

As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

—James Whitcomb Riley

Sedona: A Fairytale Setting Filled With Romance

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.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

>> Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Sedona

Cathedral Rock, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Bell Rock, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

>> Read Next: The Seducing Magic of Sedona: 20 Ways to Fall in Love

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Red Rock Scenic Byway Visitor Center, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

>> Read Next: Sedona’s Red Rock Energy

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.

Schnebly Hill Road, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Schnebly Hill Road, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

>> Read Next: Sedona Is a Must-Stop

And after all, the entire town was built on a love affair.

Worth Pondering…

There are only two places in the world

I want to live—Sedona and Paris.

—Max Ernst, Surrealist painter

The Best Arizona Fall Road Trip: Wineries, Hikes, Train Rides, and More

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 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Old Town Cottonwood

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.

Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Related article: Five Fall Road Trips in Arizona

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.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Verde Canyon Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Verde Canyon Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Related article: Family-friendly Road Trips Through Arizona: Sedona and the Verde Valley

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.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Cathedral Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Montezuma Castle © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Related article: The Ultimate Arizona Road Trip: 16 Places to See & Things to Do

Beaver Creek at Montezuma Castle © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Montezuma Well © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Tuzigoot National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Tuzigoot National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tuzigoot can be found in Clarkdale, Arizona, just west of Montezuma Castle and just north of Jerome. Visiting Tuzigoot is definitely worth your while!

Related article: Most Scenic Towns in Arizona

Worth Pondering…

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.

—Aldo Leopold, 1937

Discover Awe and Adventure in Arizona

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.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. 

Globe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Besh-Ba-Gowah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.”

Globe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Related: Spotlight on Arizona: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

Lake Powell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Page to Canyon de Chelly

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.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. 

White House Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Related: Best Things to Do in Charming Cottonwood, Arizona

Wine tasting in Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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!

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Verde Valley

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. 

Related: Family-friendly Road Trips Through Arizona: Sedona and the Verde Valley

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Native American Culture

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.

Navajo Land © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Goulding’s Trading Post, Navajo Land © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Driving through Navajo Land © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Related: Family-friendly Road Trips Through Arizona

Hubbell Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Worth Pondering…

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.

—Peter Bogdanovich, filmmaker

The Ultimate Guide to Sedona

The most beautiful place on Earth

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 the United States. 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.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the many things that I love about Sedona is that it has the perfect mixture of outdoor adventure, interesting history, and iconic landscapes. All of which are spread out throughout the region so it is a good idea to understand how the area is laid out so you can plan the best itinerary and get the most out of your time in Sedona.

A Quick Look at Sedona

Before we explore the top things to do, let’s get our bearings.

Uptown Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Uptown Sedona

Uptown Sedona lies north of the major intersection of Highway 89A and 179, also known as the Y. This part of town is more built up with a number of local attractions including the Sedona Visitor Center, Sedona Heritage Museum, and several galleries. With its central location, you’ll have everything within a few minutes’ drive.

West Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

West Sedona

On Highway 89A it feels a little more rural; however, you’ll still have the full range of amenities including hotels and restaurants. From West Sedona, you’ll have a short drive to Cottonwood while being close to the red rocks.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Surrounding Towns

The Village of Oak Creek is a popular alternative to Sedona and has several cheaper mid-range hotels plus the Sedona Golf Resort. Further west is Cottonwood found along the Verde Valley with Camp Verde to the south. There’s an excellent choice of campgrounds and RV parks along this corridor (see below for details). You’ll have a further drive to the sights in Sedona but will be near a number of great wineries along the Verde Valley Wine Trail.

Related Article: Sedona’s Red Rock Energy

Now that you have some idea of the layout of Sedona, let’s dive right into my recommended experiences and activities in and around Sedona.

Sedona trolley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

My Recommended Sedona Experiences

The Sedona Trolley

For first-time visitors, there are few better things to do in Sedona right off the bat than a trip on the Sedona Trolley. The trolley runs two distinct tours, labeled Tour A and Tour B, to keep things simple.

Tour A takes visitors to the south side of town. Along the way, you’ll see the renowned Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village, amazing views, and the Chapel of the Holy Cross.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tour B takes guests to West Sedona and Fay Canyon with expert narration. Along the way, you’ll be able to see several famous sights such as Thunder Mountain and Chimney Rock. You’ll also enjoy a 15-minute photo stop within the red rock walls of Fay Canyon.

Both tours last around an hour and cost $24 per adult and $16 per child. You can also combine both tours and save.

Oak Creek Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oak Creek Canyon

The Grand Canyon may be the most famous gorge in Arizona but Sedona’s Oak Creek Canyon is ready to surprise. It’s here that you’ll find some of the best views in town where the red rocks rise out of the green-yellow valley forming bright beacons.

Oak Creek Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The drive between Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon is also one for the books. This scenic byway follows State Route 89A all the way to the scenic Oak Creek Vista. In fact, if you’re driving from Flagstaff, take this route on your way to Sedona.

Oak Creek Canyon is packed with exciting things to do. The canyon is where you’ll find the West Fork Trail. You can also head down to the river to fish for trout or camp out underneath the stars.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock Scenic Byway

The Sedona Trolley may be a great way to get acquainted with the town. But getting your hands on your own set of four wheels is a must for any visit. This will allow you to venture down Sedona’s three scenic byways. These are the Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Road, Red Rock Loop Road, and big down, the Red Rock Scenic Byway, an All-American Road.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All of them are must-do. In fact, you’ll likely experience them anyway as you hit up the best things to do in Sedona. However, you should give yourself enough time to intentionally enjoy the experience from every winding turn through the desert valley to the memorable landmarks along the way.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Highlights of the Red Rock Scenic Byway include Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, and the Coconino National Forest. As its only 8 miles long, you have plenty of time to stop and explore in great detail. Don’t forget to stop at the Chapel of the Holy Cross which is just beyond the terminus of the Byway.

Schnebly Hill Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Schnebly Hill Road

Schnebly Hill Road is a steep, twisty, unpaved, and wonderfully scenic route that drops more than 2,000 feet from a wooded mesa into the wonderland of Sedona. Begin the drive off Interstate 17. (You could do the drive the other way—bottom to top—but starting at the top is more dramatic.) The first stretch takes you through a lovely forest of tall ponderosa pines. Once you reach the rim, the vistas are breathtaking.

Cathedral Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona Vortex Sites

There are four major vortex sites in Sedona. Each is a part of a powerful phenomenon that is meant to inspire and uplift the spirits of all who stand within its energetic boundaries.

Related Article: Sedona Is One Huge Psychic Vortex (Supposedly)

Sedona, as a whole, is thought to be entirely within a vortex. But the four major sites hold the key to its power. The four vortices are found at Airport Mesa, Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, and Boynton Canyon.

Each offers a different type of power. They’re either masculine, such as the Airport Vortex, feminine like at Cathedral Rock with the Boynton Canyon Vortex being a balance of both. Interestingly, the Bell Rock Vortex is a mix of all three.

Cathedral Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cathedral Rock Trail

In a town with many photography hot spots, the fact that Cathedral Rock may be the most popular says something. You’ll spot the rock formation as you explore Sedona but you can’t beat getting an up-close view of the amazing site.

Cathedral Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although it’s only a single mile-long loop, the Cathedral Rock Trail will get your heart pumping. Starting at the Cathedral Rock Trailhead, the steep incline grows ever more challenging as you go. Bring along sturdy shoes and try to avoid climbing soon after rain.

Cathedral Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The initial trek to the viewpoint will be over in the blink of an eye, so make sure to take time to admire the towering red rock formations along the way. Eventually, the trail stops in a saddle, providing one of the most spectacular vistas in the Grand Canyon State.

Look along the valley floor to see a vibrant mix of orange, reds, and lush greens flowing into the distance until they reach the horizon and the bright blue sky above.

Tlaquepaque © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tlaquepaque Arts And Crafts Village

Hiking and four-wheel-driving aren’t the only things to do in Sedona. The town, which is synonymous with outdoor pursuits, also has a firm grasp on a creative one. One of the best examples of Sedona’s thriving art community can be found at the Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village. Housed within a series of Spanish colonial buildings, the village is a labyrinth of shops and art galleries connected by cobblestone streets.

Tlaquepaque © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arrive early (it opens at 10 am) to explore before it becomes too crowded. You’ll then have a front-row seat for some of the most memorable window shopping as you peruse eclectic boutiques and watch master craftsmen and women ply their trade.

It’s a living breathing village with many of the art galleries having artists in residence which means there is a consistent evolution of art on display. Plus, like any good village, you’ll have several delightful restaurants to enjoy before continuing your exploration.

Chapel of the Holy Cross © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chapel of the Holy Cross

The architectural tree of Frank Lloyd Wright can be seen throughout the United States. Sedona is no different. One of the best things to do in Sedona is to pay a visit to the Chapel of the Holy Cross. Now, you may not have envisioned placing a chapel on the itinerary but you’ll be glad you made that choice.

The mesmerizing Roman Catholic chapel was designed by Marguerite Brunswid Satude. The creation ascends out of the red rocks, perfectly balancing nature with man-made beauty. When the sun splashes against the vast stained windows of the Chapel of the Holy Cross and oxidized rock formations, it creates a memorable sight for all who witness. But the best view is within.

Related Article: Family-friendly Road Trips Through Arizona: Sedona and the Verde Valley

Travelers can wander into the church to find the enormous crucifix placed upon the towering glass windows. From there, a stunning viewpoint awaits where you can gaze over the rolling hills, Sedona, and the scenic byways that connect the two.

Jeep Tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jeep Tours

Walking at a slow pace is the best way to take in the intricate details of the local landscape. But as we all know, hiking is tiring. But when the legs give out, that doesn’t mean the adventures have to end. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Jeep Tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona’s rocky geography lends itself perfectly to off-roading and many families will find the famous Pink Jeep Tours and other providers in town offer a great way to see as much of the local scenery as possible. Jeeps wind up impossibly steep rock faces and through narrow gullies, perching on top of gigantic boulders or slabs of rock for more terrific photo ops.

The terrain in places is so precarious that riders sometimes feel like they might fall right out of the Jeep. But not to worry, everyone is securely strapped in. It makes great fun for the kids who may feel like they’re on a roller coaster.

Bell Rock Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bell Rock Trail

Standing ominously above Highway 179 (Red Rock Scenic Byway), Bell Rock is a dramatic sight. The noticeably bell-shaped rock formation is clear from the road creating yet another memorable sight to admire.

Bell Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are multiple ways to get close to the gigantic Bell Rock. You can even begin to scramble up its side and bag the summit. There are also mountain bike trails to use. The number of trails means you can make it up as you go along, choosing to go left and right as you explore the beautiful landscape.

Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But the main loop trail that circumnavigates the iconic sight is one of the best things to do in Sedona. You can begin your hike at two different locations, the South and North lots. The latter being the better place to start as you avoid hiking up the steep side of Bell Rock, turning that section into a downhill stroll.

In addition to Bell Rock, you’ll find Courthouse Butte right behind. It’s another beguiling site to add to your days’ adventures.

Airport Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Airport Mesa Loop

Some will argue that a sunset over the Pacific Ocean is the best there is. But for me, nothing quite compares to a desert sunset. The dry air, dusty valleys, and clear skies help to create a mesmerizing mix of warm colors splashed across the landscape like paint to canvass. Plus, the oxidized sandstone rock loves to reflect the low-hanging sun creating an ever-changing scenery of light and shade.

Airport Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are several top-notch locations to see the sun go down in Sedona including Red Rock Crossing home to the Crescent Moon picnic site. But no spot for golden hour tops Airport Mesa, which you can reach on the Airport Mesa Trail.

Airport Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The tabletop mountain looks over the entire town. Across the mesa is where you’ll find the local airport, hence the name, plus views further afield towards Thunder Mountain.

To reach the summit views, you’ll need to venture along the 3.5-mile hiking trail that meanders along the edge of the plateau. The openness of the scenery lets you take it all in, leaving an uninhibited spot to watch the falling sun.

Related Article: Flagstaff to Sedona…and Beyond

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boynton Canyon

Boynton Canyon is one of the most scenic of the box canyons that make Sedona Red Rock Country so famous. Boynton Canyon always has been popular for its outstanding scenery. It has become even more so since it developed a reputation as a site of a spiritual energy vortex. Whether or not you follow this belief, you’ll no doubt agree on the beauty found among these towering buttes, crimson cliffs, and natural desert is divine. The 6.1-mile return Boynton Canyon trail will take you beneath towering sandstone walls towards a swath of pine trees.

If you aren’t interested in hiking or vortexes you can simply enjoy some of the best views in Sedona. The upscale Enchantment Resort is a great place for a meal at Tii Gavo and View 180 restaurants with views through the floor-to-ceiling windows.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock State Park

Red Rock State Park is a 286-acre nature preserve and an environmental education center with stunning scenery. Trails throughout the park wind through manzanita and juniper to reach the banks of Oak Creek. Green meadows are framed by native vegetation and hills of red rock. The creek meanders through the park creating a diverse riparian habitat abounding with plants and wildlife.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the park’s more interesting sites is the abandoned House of Apache Fire built in 1947 situated on a hilltop commanding beautiful views. Easy hiking trails provide views out to the red rock countryside and allow for a close-up look at the House of Apache Fire. One of the more impressive views is the Seven Warriors formation, seen from the Bunkhouse Trail.

Verde Valley Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Verde Valley Wine Country

Many of the old storefronts lining Cottonwood’s Historic Old Town have been repurposed into wine tasting rooms. More than 20 vineyards from the Verde Valley Wine Region grow grapes for commercial wine production. Verde Valley is known for its Rhône-style blends of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. Also, the region has over 100 different varietals growing in the area including Cabernet, Chardonnay, Merlot, Viognier, and Zinfandel. Arizona is known for its unique varietals such as  Malvasia Bianca, Viognier, Picpoul Blanc, Tannat, Aglianico, Negroamaro, Tempranillo, and Seyval Blanc.

Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From there you can venture through the valley named after the surging Verde River, stopping at whatever winery piques your interest.

To get you started, here are some of the top wineries along the trail:

  • Page Spring Cellars: Come here for top-notch wines, walking trails, and sheltered patios that offer beautiful views
  • Burning Tree Cellars: When the historic settlement of Cottonwood this vineyard slings boutique wines on their spacious outdoor patio.
  • Alcantara Vineyard: It’s only appropriate to stop by one winery with views of the Verde River. Plus, they have ample testing on offer.
Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montezuma Castle

One hour south of Sedona, the Montezuma Castle National Monument was home to a community of Sinagua people from the 12th to 15th century.

The castle features five stories cut into the limestone cliffs that rise out of Beaver Creek. From your vantage point, you’ll see that the startling creation begins 100 feet off the valley floor.

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If the ingenuity and will of the Sinagua community weren’t already clear, it will be once you learn how each of the 20 rooms is held together by clay and mortar.

Sadly, it is no longer possible to explore the inside of Montezuma Castle. However, the striking valley views, interpretive signs, and the invaluable visitor center help to paint the full picture.

Montezuma Well © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 have lived in the area dating back to 11,000 BC. 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.

Distant Drums RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Conclusion

Here are some additional ideas of what to do and see in this magnificent Red Rock Country:

  • Devil’s Bridge Trail
  • Soldier Pass Trail
  • Palatki Heritage Site
  • Honanki Cliff Dwellings
  • V Bar V Heritage Site
  • Slide Rock State Park
  • Mountain biking
  • Hot-Air Balloon Ride
  • Sedona Arts Center
Rain Spirit RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Places to Camp near Sedona

With so much to explore, you may want to book a campground or RV park. Here are some recommendations for places to rest your weary heads:

  • Distant Drum RV Resort, Camp Verde
  • Verde Ranch RV Resort, Camp Verde
  • Verde River RV Resort and Cottages, Camp Verde
  • Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Cottonwood
  • Verde Valley RV and Camping Resort, Cottonwood
  • Rain Spirit RV Resort, Clarkdale

Worth Pondering…

There are only two places in the world

I want to live—in Sedona and Paris.

—Max Ernst, Surrealist painter

Family-friendly Road Trips Through Arizona: Sedona and the Verde Valley

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 family-friendly road trip through Arizona?

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Red Rock Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An earlier article highlighted Northern Arizona and the Grand Canyon. Today we drive 115 miles south to Red Rock Country.

Cathedral Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona and the Verde Valley

A family road trip to Arizona turns next-level with a stop in Sedona and a side trip to the ghost mining town of Jerome and Sinagua cliff-side dwellings. Justifiably world-famous for its eye-popping scenery, Sedona and the surrounding Verde Valley have a lot to offer for road-tripping families.

Related Article: Discover Arizona’s Extraordinary Verde Valley

Bell Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The spectacular red rocks

A family that loves to hike will be in paradise here. With over 300 miles of trails spread across red rock country, there’s something for everyone. There are hikes at every difficulty level from easy for families with small kids to strenuous for expert outdoor types. Two of my favorites are Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bell Rock is a 1½-mile round-trip outing with several paths for climbing depending on skill level. It’s a well-maintained trail with plenty of spectacular views, colorful birds, hawks, bunnies, lizards, and butterflies to be spotted.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the most popular hikes in Sedona (for a good reason) is Cathedral Rock Trail. This 1.2-mile round trip is a bit steep in places but there are plenty of opportunities to stop and look around to enjoy the view.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winding through Sedona’s Red Rock Country, Red Rock Scenic Byway (Highway 179) is often called a “museum without walls.” This All-American Road winds through the evergreen-covered Coconino National Forest and past two famous and beautiful vortexes—Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock. Stop at the several scenic pullouts for great views and enjoy the prehistoric Red Rocks with nearby parking (RV friendly). There are all levels of hiking and biking trails.

Related Article: Sedona Is a Must-Stop

Chapel of the Holy Cross © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Chapel of the Holy Cross sits perched on a small red rock plateau below a multi-hued sandstone ridge creating one of the most impressive architectural sites in Sedona. This breathtaking landmark building incorporates a 90-foot cross that dominates the structure and the front face of the chapel is all windows. The Chapel is a short distance off Red Rock Scenic Byway.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is so much more to Sedona than meets the eye. People travel from all across the globe to experience the mysterious cosmic forces that are said to emanate from the red rocks. They come in search of the vortexes. What is a vortex? Sedona vortexes are thought to be swirling centers of energy that are conducive to healing, meditation, and self-exploration. Many people feel inspired, recharged, or uplifted after visiting a vortex.

Sedona from Airport Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although all of Sedona is considered to be a vortex there are specific sites where the energy crackles most intensely. The four best-known Sedona vortexes are found at Airport Mesa, Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, and Boynton Canyon—each radiating its own particular energy.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock State Park is a 286-acre nature preserve and an environmental education center with stunning scenery. Trails throughout the park wind through manzanita and juniper to reach the banks of Oak Creek. Green meadows are framed by native vegetation and hills of red rock.

Jeep tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Off-roading with a Jeep tour

Sedona’s rocky geography lends itself perfectly to off-roading and many families will find the famous Pink Jeep Tours and other providers in town offer a great way to see as much of the local scenery as possible. Jeeps wind up impossibly steep rock faces and through narrow gullies, perching on top of gigantic boulders or slabs of rock for more terrific photo ops.

Jeep tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The terrain in places is so precarious that riders sometimes feel like they might fall right out of the Jeep. But not to worry, everyone is securely strapped in. It makes great fun for the kids who may feel like they’re on a roller coaster.

Verde Canyon Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Verde Canyon Railway

Ride in restored, vintage Pullman cars pulled by an FP7 locomotive on a 20-miles scenic ride to the ghost town of Perkinsville and back. You’ll pass through the high desert and 100 years of history as your train takes you through the canyon. Step out onto viewing platforms for plenty of photo ops with informative attendants to point things out and answer questions. Entertainment and food are available inside. By the way, inside is climate controlled. You could spot Ancient Sinagua ruins, bald eagles, and great blue herons as you pass close to canyon walls and riparian areas. It’s a relaxing way to get a sense of the area.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Taking in the Old West in historic Jerome

Just an hour’s drive away from Sedona is the historic copper mining town of Jerome. Once known as “the wickedest town in the West,” it’s now designated a National Historic District by the federal government and attracts visitors as a historic ghost town and artist hub.

Jerome Mine Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kids of all ages will have fun exploring the historic sites and learning about Jerome’s history at the Mine Museum and Douglas Mansion. Stop at nearby Audrey Headframe Park where a glass viewing platform allows visitors to stand—if they dare—over a 1,600-foot-deep mine shaft dating from 1918 and look down into its depths.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can also book a guided tour on Ghost Town Tours’ Spirit Walk. There are numerous allegedly haunted places in Jerome including the House of Joy, a former bordello; the Jerome Grand Hotel; the Old Hospital; and the Old High School complete with creepy basement locker rooms and an abandoned gym.

Montezuma Castle © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montezuma Castle

Finally, stop at Montezuma Castle National Monument. American Indian tribes have lived in Arizona for over a thousand years and the Montezuma Castle National Monument features homes built by the Sinagua built directly into the sides of the cliffs.

Rain Spirit RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stargazing in a designated Dark Sky Community

The perfect way to end a day is with some stargazing. Families from the city or even suburbs don’t get to see the clear night sky very often and Sedona is a designated International Dark Sky Community. With very few streetlights and distance from any big city, Sedona is nationally recognized as one of the best places to stargaze in the U.S. A variety of companies offer evening sky tours in Sedona, some led by former NASA engineers or professional astronomers with powerful telescopes.

Related Article: Flagstaff to Sedona…and Beyond

Distant Drum RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Places to stay along this route

With so much to explore, you may want to book a campground or RV park along the route. Here are some recommendations for places to rest your weary heads:

  • Distant Drum RV Resort, Camp Verde
  • Verde Ranch RV Resort, Camp Verde
  • Verde River RV Resort and Cottages, Camp Verde
  • Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Cottonwood
  • Verde Valley RV and Camping Resort, Cottonwood
  • Rain Spirit RV Resort, Clarkdale

Worth Pondering…

There are only two places in the world

I want to live—in Sedona and Paris.

—Max Ernst, Surrealist painter

Why Arizona is the Ultimate Road Trip Destination

Busy cities and desolate washes, low deserts to high pine-filled mountains, black lava flows to red rocks and pastel deserts, ancient ruins to thriving modern Native American communities

Driving around Arizona, the sixth largest state in the US, it’s easy to feel like you’ve been transported into the middle of nowhere, or even onto another planet—in one moment you’re surrounded by rocky red buttes, the next saguaro-speckled desert-scapes and then, ponderosa forests.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona is what road-trip daydreams are made of. But this is a destination that also richly rewards those who linger a little and set off on foot to explore spectacular hiking trails and quirky desert towns.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A trip to the Grand Canyon in the northwest of the state is an adventure no traveler can forget. The Colorado River snakes through a vast gorge that plummets to depths of more than 5,200 feet and is 18 miles across at its widest.

Related: 7 Serene Arizona Lakes for Water-related Activities

Navajos herding sheep in Canyon de Chelly © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sheer cliffs rise on either side of a flat-bottomed, sandy ravine, an area created much the way uplift and water formed the Grand Canyon. Though only a fraction of the Grand Canyon’s size and majesty, Canyon de Chelly offers more than a rugged landscape. Native Americans have worked and lived there for thousands of years and today Navajo people still call it home. Canyon de Chelly’s blend of landscape and cultural heritage allows a glimpse at an area originally inhabited 4,000 years ago and which still sustains people today.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park is a surprising land of scenic wonders and fascinating science. The park contains one of the world’s largest and most colorful concentrations of petrified wood, multi-hued badlands of the Chinle Formation, portions of the Painted Desert, historic structures, archeological sites, and displays of 225-million-year-old fossils.

Verde Valley between Cottonwood and Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in the ‘heart’ of Arizona, the Verde Valley is ideally situated above the heat of the desert and below the cold of Arizona’s high country. The Spanish word verde means “green” so the name may seem like a misnomer for arid Arizona. The valley encompasses red rock formations and lush canyons fed by the Verde River.

Related: What Makes Arizona Such a Hotspot for Snowbirds?

Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the shadows of Mingus Mountain and in the heart of the Verde Valley, Cottonwood offers a distinctive historic district lined with shops and restaurants on its Main Street. History is alive in nearby Clarkdale whose homes and buildings still reflect its early copper smelting heritage. Four specialized museums focus on Native American cultures, international copper art, and local railroad and town history.

Peralta Canyon trail head © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ninety minutes south explore the Superstitions Wilderness Area with dramatic views along the Peralta Canyon Trail and the Pass Mountain Trail. The Peralta Canyon Trail is one of the most popular hikes in the Superstition Wilderness outside of Phoenix and for good reason. This hike is one of the gateways into the 160,000-acre wilderness and offers spectacular scenery for the day hiker.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucson is home to the nation’s largest cacti. The giant saguaro is the universal symbol of the American West. These majestic plants found only in a small portion of the United States are protected by Saguaro National Park to the east and west of Tucson. Here you have an opportunity to see these enormous cacti silhouetted by the beauty of a magnificent desert sunset.

Related: Arizona’s Coolest Small Towns Are Filled with Cowboys, Wine, and Mysticism

Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although it’s called a museum, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum—about 15 miles west of downtown Tucson—is more of a zoo. In fact, 85 percent of what you’ll experience is outdoors (so dress accordingly). The facility’s 98 acres host 230 animal species—including prairie dogs, coyotes, and a mountain lion—and 1,200 local plant species (totaling 56,000 individual plants). Walking through the museum’s trails, visitors get acquainted with desert life.

Presidio Old Town Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And as well as the outdoor splendors, Arizona has many ways to reward you for a day’s adventure, with luxurious resorts/ spas, top restaurants, and an increasingly exciting wine scene.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Arizona State Parks

Worth Pondering…

The trip across Arizona is just one oasis after another. You can just throw anything out and it will grow there.

—Will Rogers

Forget Napa! It’s Always Wine O’clock in these 5 Underrated Wine Regions!

While I’m familiar with Napa, the throngs of tourists and the overpriced wines that accompany them have caused me to explore elsewhere

Napa Valley may be synonymous with wine country trips. The well-established region with 400 wineries consistently churns out award-winning labels. But there are many more wine trip destinations that shrug off the pretension and make damn good vino and also offer outdoor recreation to break up your wine tastings. While these regions have managed to quietly “sip” under the radar for years, they boast big flavor without touristy crowds or the tourist prices that typically go with them.

Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the remarkable pinot noirs in Oregon’s Willamette Valley to California’s Shenandoah Valley to Canada’s largely undiscovered wine region in the Okanagan Valley, these authentic spots are ripe for exploration.

Here are five alternatives to Napa for your next wine country escape. Get ready to indulge in these underrated wine regions because it’s always wine o’clock somewhere.

Willamette Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Willamette Valley, Oregon

The Willamette Valley, Oregon’s leading wine region has two-thirds of the state’s wineries and vineyards and is home to nearly 700 wineries. It is recognized as one of the premier Pinot noirs–producing areas in the world. The Willamette Valley is a huge and varied appellation that includes nine nested appellations: Chehalem Mountains, Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, Laurelwood District, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge, Tualatin Hills, Van Duzer Corridor, and Yamhill-Carlton.

The Willamette Valley is protected by the Coast Range to the west, the Cascades to the east, and a series of hill chains to the north. Its namesake, the Willamette River, runs through its heart. The largest concentration of vineyards are located to the west of this river on the leeward slopes of the Coast Range or among the valleys created by the river’s tributaries.

Willamette Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to the flagship Pinot noir grape, wineries also produce Pinot gris, Pinot blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Melon, Gewürztraminer, sparkling wine, Sauvignon blanc, Syrah, and Gamay among other lesser-known varieties.

While wineries are the centerpiece of a wine tourist’s itinerary, there are also other things to see and do like visiting an art gallery, biking, hiking, or floating above wine country in a hot air balloon.

Shenandoah Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah Valley, California

The most concentrated Gold Country wine-touring area lies in the hills of the Shenandoah Valley east of Plymouth in Amador County. Zinfandel is the primary grape grown here but area vineyards produce many other varietals from Rhônes like Syrah and Mourvèdre to Italian Barberas and Sangioveses. Most wineries are open for tastings at least on Friday and weekends and many of the top ones are open daily and some welcome picnickers.

Shenandoah Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah Valley produces some of the most interesting wines due to its terroir, a unique combination of rocky soil and warm temperatures that gives the wines their distinctive flavor.

Home to some of the oldest vines in California, the wines produced from the vineyards in the Shenandoah Valley are renowned for their intense fruit and deep color. Stylistically, zinfandels from the Shenandoah Valley tend to be fuller, riper, and earthier with a characteristic dusty, dark berry fruit character, hints of cedar, anise, and clove spice, and scents of raisin and chocolate.

Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Canada’s stunning Okanagan Valley is emerging as a varied and exciting wine destination. The Okanagan has a rare combination of growing conditions; desert climate (hot days, cool nights), low humidity, tolerable winters from its moderating lakes, young soils lain over glacial till and all of this occurs at a high latitude (along the 49th parallel but vine growth is typically only possible in higher-temperature climates between the 30th and 50th parallels). These are the qualities that the entire global wine industry desires to define itself as being.

Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Only 150 scenic miles stretch from the northern edge of British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley to its southern limit at the U.S. border but that short distance encompasses a world of wine. The north with its cool, forested hills and racy Rieslings evokes Alsace or the Mosel; the south comprises Canada’s only desert where intense summer heat produces powerful Bordeaux-style reds and lush Rhône-style whites. The fact that from north to south there are so many pockets with so much potential for certain grape varieties makes the valley unique as there are very few wine regions like it in the world.

So take our word when we say Canada is the next hot spot. Or don’t (…more wine for us).

Temecula Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Temecula Valley, California

For many visitors, the Temecula Valley Wine Country is a surprise. After all, a lot of people don’t expect to see gently rolling hills blanketed with rows of vineyards so close to the California desert. But the Temecula area has been producing top wines since the late 1960s.

For years, the Temecula Valley wine country—an unassuming area of rolling hills set close to the Southern California desert—has been somewhat of an under-the-radar destination. But it’s a secret no longer. Wine Enthusiast named Temecula Valley one of the “10 Best Wine Travel Destinations for 2019” shining a spotlight on the area’s winning combination of notable wines and top-notch hospitality. This Tuscan-like wine region now boasts over 40 licensed wineries producing over 500,000 cases annually.

Temecula Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The De Portola Wine Trail is quickly becoming the new “Wine Row” of Temecula and this has a balanced combination of the picturesque valley and the nine unique wineries that nestle amid the rolling hills.

No matter which varietal of wine you’re looking for, you can probably find it here. Known for its diversity, wineries in the Temecula Valley grow and produce over 50 different varietals of wine from Cabernet Sauvignon to Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot to Mourvedre, Viognier to Chardonnay, and Syrah to Grenache.

Verde Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Verde Valley, Arizona

Many of the old storefronts lining Cottonwood’s Historic Old Town have been repurposed into wine tasting rooms. Cottonwood, a quick drive from the red rocks of Sedona, is located in the 200-square-mile Verde Valley. More than 20 vineyards form the Verde Valley Wine Region grow grapes for commercial wine production.

Verde Valley Wine Country has a long history of winemaking. When the Spanish conquistadors came through the area in the late 1500s, a Conquistador named Antonio de Espejo called it the “Valley of the Grapes” because wild grapes were growing along the river beds. This small, bitter local variety termed Vitus Arizonica was used with not much success to make wine.

Verde Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Verde Valley is known for its Rhône-style blends of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. Also, the region has over 100 different varietals growing in the area including Cabernet, Chardonnay, Merlot, Viognier, and Zinfandel. Arizona is known for its unique varietals such as Malvasia Bianca, Viognier, Picpoul Blanc, Tannat, Aglianico, Negroamaro, Tempranillo, and Seyval Blanc.

No visit would be complete without a stop at the Southwest Wine Center on the campus of Yavapai College in Clarkdale. Not only is it a place for students to learn winemaking and land jobs in the industry but visitors are welcome to visit the 13-acre vineyard and sample wines from the center’s own label.

Verde Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.

―Benjamin Franklin

Wine Country and National Parks: A Perfect Summer Pairing

Combine spectacular national park scenery with a nearby wine country tasting experience

In an era of shrinking wilderness, it seems downright visionary that early U.S. presidents put pen to paper to protect diverse ecosystems for the public good. Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Valley Grant Act in 1864. Ulysses S. Grant created Yellowstone National Park in 1872. And, at the turn of the 20th century, Theodore Roosevelt earned the moniker “The Conservation President” for his amazing number of protections.

Ironside Vineyards in Calaveras County, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With 252 distinct wine regions and even more grape varieties across the U.S. (There are about 10,000 varieties of wine grapes worldwide), wine lovers can savor their favorite wines and explore new ones on their way to and from great parks including Yosemite in the High Sierra south to Joshua Tree in the desert and east to Shenandoah in the Appalachians. Like the stewards of America’s unique national parks, winemakers and growers also feel a deep connection to the land―and making it easy for travelers to find the perfect wine to complement their journey.

Murphys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California: Yosemite National Park

First protected in 1864, Yosemite National Park is best known for its waterfalls but within its nearly 1,200 square miles you can find deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, and a vast wilderness area.

70 miles northwest is Murphys, one of California’s richest “diggins” during the California Gold Rush of the 1840s—hence its former name, Murphys New Diggings. The draw today isn’t gold though. It’s quaint, as you’ll see when strolling down the town’s idyllic little Main Street with its clapboard buildings and white picket fences. But where prospectors and gamblers once mingled in between gold-digging expeditions (fit in a visit to the Old Timers Museum if you can), now winemakers hold sway and there are upwards of two dozen wine-tasting rooms along Main Street and several vineyards in the vicinity. As the so-called Queen of the Sierra, Murphys has a small population of around 2,213 but plenty of homestyle restaurants and cozy country inns. One such is the Murphys Hotel whose illustrious guests have included Ulysses S. Grant and Mark Twain.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Mexico: White Sands National Park

Prefer a less crowded park experience? While four million people trek to Yosemite each year, White Sands National Park receives just 600,000 visitors across 275 square miles of desert. As its name implies, the park’s gypsum sand shimmers enough to mimic snowy dunes.

Rio Grande Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bright and dry days help vines flourish in nearby Mesilla Valley, New Mexico’s smallest American Viticultural Area (AVA). Straddling the Rio Grande River, the climate supports the production of rich reds from varieties like Zinfandel, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon plus a bit of Tempranillo. The town of Las Cruces serves as a jumping-off point to explore local wineries like Lescombes Winery, Rio Grande Winery (see photo above), La Viña Winery, and Luna Rossa Winery.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California: Pinnacles National Park

As throngs fight for reservations to Yosemite, in-the-know travelers go to Pinnacles National Park. Not only does it serve around 200,000 visitors a year, Pinnacles neighbors the beautiful coastal town of Carmel-by-the-Sea and Central Coast wine regions in Monterey County.

Vineyards near Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Much like the ancient soils that nurture nearby Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines, the park’s landscape was born of geological upheaval. More than 23 million years ago, volcanoes and shifting tectonic plates created the unique Talus caves and rock formations, or pinnacles. Hikers and cavers test their athleticism and nerve on challenging terrain though there are also easier hikes for the less ambitious. All highlight diverse wildlife from hummingbirds and condors to salamanders and mountain lions.

Wine lovers can tackle the 5.3-mile hike from Condor Gulch to High Peaks in the morning followed by lunchtime sips in the Santa Lucia Highlands. There’s a clutch of wineries along River Road with Hahn Family Wines near the south and Wrath Wines further north.

Pillsbury Wine Company tasting room in Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona: Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park is a showstopper of the American Southwest. With upwards of six million visitors each year, reservations for the vast gorge’s lodges and campgrounds are often booked up to a year in advance. However, a photo of the winding Colorado River from the South Rim is far easier to land. Lookout points at Navajo Point and Desert View Drive swell with crowds but for good reason. The two-billion-year-old layered red sedimentary rock is peppered with pines, spruces, and firs. It’s peerless in its beauty.

Wine tasting room in Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two hours south, near Sedona, another hiking haven amidst sublime scenery sits Verde Valley. Winemaking dates to the 1800s but the modern industry was resurrected in the 1980s. Vineyards offer mostly red grapes like Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, and Mourvèdre. Taste along the Verde Valley trail or at the numerous tasting rooms in Cottonwood and Jerome.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Virginia: Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah which teems with vistas, wildlife, and waterfalls attracts around 1.5 million visitors a year. About 75 miles from Washington D.C., the centerpiece of the 200,000-acre park is the 105-mile Skyline Drive that features dramatic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains around every turn. Well-marked trails offer hikes through woodland valleys and across streams. History buffs might want to stop at nearby Manassas National Battlefield Park, the site of a devastating 1861 Civil War clash.

At the southern end of the park lies Charlottesville, the pastoral area that Thomas Jefferson called home. Though he failed to make fine wine, wineries like King Family Vineyards, Stinson Vineyards, Barboursville, and Veritas produce Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Viognier, and red blends in the Monticello AVA.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California: Joshua Tree National Park

Two major deserts, the Mojave and the Sonoran come together in Joshua Tree National Park, 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. And the hiking is fantastic.

Temecula Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A visit to this park wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Temecula about two hours southwest. The Temecula Wine Region invites you to savor the hundreds of award-winning wines in Southern California’s wine county. Wine snobs may scoff at the wines of Southern California in favor of the grapes of Napa or Sonoma but the vineyards of Temecula Valley have established a reputation over the last decade for producing fantastic Bordeaux and Rhône varietals as well as those from Spain, Italy, and Portugal. With more than 40 vineyards throughout the region, you can find something to satisfy any tasting desire from lavish, over-the-top wine resorts to small, mom-and-pop operations.

Robert Renzoni Vineyards & Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stunning modern Moorish architecture and warm hospitality are the hallmarks of Bizhan “BJ” Fazeli’s beautiful winery which has one of the widest ranges of varietals in the Temecula Valley. Produced both from estate vineyards and select local growers the names of the collections are an homage to Fazeli’s Persian roots—The Heritage Collection honors five Persian poets, Embrace the Chaos includes Pandemonium, Rukus, Mayhem, and Uproar and the popular Season Collection celebrates annual solstices and equinoxes. If you’re visiting at lunchtime, stop by Baba Joon’s Kitchen for Mediterranean/Persian-influenced shareable appetizers, sandwiches, salads, and flatbreads.

Worth Pondering…

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, I’m finding enjoyment in things that stop time. Just the simple act of tasting a glass of wine is its own event.

―David Hyde Pierce

Best Things to Do in Charming Cottonwood, Arizona

Located in Verde Valley, the center of Arizona, Cottonwood is a charming small town situated below the high country chill and above the desert heat

Part river town, part wine trail, and part historic hub: Cottonwood, Arizona, offers a fun and lively scene that sets it apart from the arid desert to the south and the soaring mountains to the north. Although it might be best known as a gateway to the nearby red rocks of Sedona, Cottonwood has plenty of charms of its own. They start with the quaint Old Town district and branch out to the banks of the lushly green Verde River and the nearby historic towns of Clarkdale and Jerome.

Driving from Cottonwood to Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You might initially go to Cottonwood for its proximity to the famous red rocks, but don’t be surprised if you want to stay for the laid-back atmosphere and restaurant choices.

As a frequent visitor to Cottonwood over the years, I’ve always loved the Verde River’s swath of vivid green that winds its way through the browns and grays of the high-desert terrain. For me, Cottonwood offers the perfect mix of small-town Arizona, cool river scenes, and burgeoning wine scenes.

Historic Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located virtually in the center of Arizona, Cottonwood features a mild climate that is somewhere between the sizzling heat of the Phoenix area and the cool mountain air of Flagstaff—making it a true year-round destination. Average high temperatures in the winter hover around the 60-degree mark and summer averages tend to reach the mid-90s. Springtime is lovely with average highs in the 70s to 80s. Fall remains hot and sunny through October when average highs are in the low 80s.

Here are seven of the best things to do in Cottonwood.

Historic Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Explore the Historic Old Town

Any visit to Cottonwood should start with a stop in the Historic Old Town, a district that dates back to the early 1900s when it was a center for the area’s mining and smelter industry. Today, many of the buildings feature the rock and brick architecture of the 1920s and 1930s.

Historic Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The town’s Clemenceau Smelter closed down in 1936 which dealt a devastating blow to the local economy. In recent decades, though, the Old Town has been revitalized as a vibrant business and tourism district. Cottonwood’s Old Town currently features 60 businesses including five tasting rooms, 13 cafes and restaurants, nine antique stores, six galleries, and three hotels.

Historic Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a fun time, plan to camp at nearby Dead Horse Ranch State Park or Rain Spirit RV Resort and spend some time wandering Main Street stopping at any of the tasting rooms that interest you. Consider checking out the hip Pillsbury Wine Company and the friendly Winery 101 before having dinner around an outdoor fire pit at the highly rated Pizzeria Bocce Patio Bar.

Because the Old Town area is relatively small and compact, the restaurants and tasting rooms are wonderfully walkable. On-street parking is available and convenient parking lots are sprinkled throughout the area.

Birding along the Verde River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Experience the Verde River

You’re never far from the cool waters of the Verde River in Cottonwood. As one of only two Wild and Scenic Rivers in Arizona, the Verde is a definite must-see on any visit to the region.

The Cottonwood and Clarkdale communities offer many convenient spots to access the river—some that are right on the beaten path and others that are more hidden away. For fishing, swimming, kayaking, and canoeing, check out Clarkdale’s Tuzigoot River Access Point or the Bignotti Picnic Site between Cottonwood and Camp Verde (accessed via a rough dirt road recommended only during dry weather).

Dead Horse Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Visit Dead Horse Ranch State Park

Another great access point for the Verde River is available at Dead Horse Ranch State Park, located adjacent to the state’s Verde River Greenway and not far from Old Town Cottonwood.

Known for its giant cottonwood trees, pretty fishing ponds, and wildlife viewing, Dead Horse attracts locals and visitors alike. The park is also a magnet for those looking for a peaceful campground in a moderate climate.

Tuzigoot National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Tour Tuzigoot National Monument

While much of the Verde Valley is steeped in the mining and frontier history of the late 1800s and early 1900s, the pueblo at Tuzigoot National Monument in Clarkdale goes back hundreds of years more. Experts estimate that the 110-room hilltop pueblo dates back 900 years or more to when the native Sinagua people traded and farmed the fertile land along the Verde River. The pueblo ruins were excavated and reconstructed in the 1930s and today they offer a glimpse of the lives of those early farmers and artists.

The national monument is located between Cottonwood and Clarkdale. Climb to the top of the pueblo for expansive views of the Verde River Valley, Historic Jerome, and the nearby Mingus Mountain.

Verde Canyon Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Travel Back in Time in Clarkdale

For a fascinating step back in time to a more recent era, explore the neighborhoods of Clarkdale, located about 4 miles from Cottonwood, also along the Verde River. Many of the town’s charming brick and stucco houses date to the early 1900s when Clarkdale was a “company town” for the United Verde Copper Company. Clarkdale is also the base for the Verde Canyon Railroad which takes passengers along the river’s scenic canyon.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Learn about Arizona’s Mining History In Jerome

Delve even deeper into mining history by continuing along Highway 89A toward Jerome, a one-time mining boomtown. Over the years, Jerome transitioned from its late-1800s mining heyday to a veritable ghost town in the 1950s and 1960s. Today, tourists flood Jerome’s steep, winding streets to take in the old buildings perched precariously on the mountainside and the quirky selection of shops, restaurants, and wineries.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along with its mining history, Jerome offers many spots for lunch or dinner with sweeping views of the Verde Valley below. The interesting Jerome Historical Society Museum offers a look back at Jerome’s days as the “Wickedest Town in the West.”

Mingus Mountain Mountain Scenic Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Take the Mingus Mountain Scenic Road

For some flat-out gorgeous mountain scenery, continue southwest from Jerome on Highway 89A toward Prescott. But be prepared for plenty of hairpin turns and slow-going traffic on the highway that is a favorite for tourists and motorcyclists.

The highway climbs to over 7,000 feet in elevation at the summit and offers consistently spectacular views of the rugged Mingus Mountain. The route passes through the Prescott National Forest and several scenic trails are available along the way such as the Woodchute Trail (a 2.3-mile moderate climb) and the Yeager Canyon Trail (a 2.4-mile difficult hike). Both trails traverse rough, primitive terrain.

Mingus Mountain Scenic Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The drive is great for a sightseeing excursion to the summit or for a day trip to the historic community of Prescott which is about a 50-minute drive from Jerome.

Worth Pondering…

The trip across Arizona is just one oasis after another. You can just throw anything out and it will grow there.

—Will Rogers