The Grand Canyon State of Arizona is an amazing place and its diversity never ceases to amaze me. Like a lot of folks from the Valley of the Sun, I try to escape the summer heat as often as I can. Thankfully, the pilgrimage is only a couple hours north of the Phoenix area via Interstate 17. As a road trip blogger, however, I try never to drive the interstate, but rather the scenic highways and byways—the slower we go, the more we see.
It was mid-July and the humid monsoon was just beginning, so I was itching to get out of town. I began my journey from Wickenburg and headed north via Highway 89 up Yarnell Hill, (Yarnell may sound familiar as it received a lot of national media attention last year due to a devastating wildfire that clamed the lives of 19 hot shot firefighters). It didn’t take long before I had climbed over 2000 feet and began to see and feel the climate and topography change from the desert floor below. As I continued north, I discovered an idyllic area called, Peeples Valley, where I saw plenty of white pipe rail fenced horse property and large ranches. The ascent continued and it wasn’t long before I had climbed an additional 1000 feet in elevation and was now at 5500’ and driving through the first capital of Arizona, Prescott. Continuing north on Highway 89, I drove through an extremely unique geological area scattered with colossal sized granite boulders and towering hoodoos called, the Granite Dells.
I drove another hour or so and climbed yet another 1000+ feet and was soon in the town of Williams…it was so cool and comfortable it felt like I was in another state. Williams is known for being the gateway to the Grand Canyon and borders the historic Route 66 Highway. It’s also just 25 miles or so west of Flagstaff. The rolling hills and tall pine trees were a clear indication that I had indeed escaped the heat of the desert.
Just outside of Williams, and nestled at the base of Beacon Hill, is where I would call home for the next several days…Mountain Ranch Resort. This hotel was built back in the 60s, but has been family owned and operated since 1985. Just recently the hotel has been going through a dramatic transformation…from a place to stay the night while visiting the Grand Canyon, to a destination with a strong emphasis on health and wellness. From myriad activities like tennis, volleyball, hiking and mountain bike riding, to functional fitness classes, a wellness spa (coming soon) and, a restaurant serving only fresh, organic (when possible), healthful menu items, the Mountain Ranch Resort is committed to providing and promoting a sanctuary for guests who want to learn about, or maintain a healthy lifestyle.
As soon as you walk through the beautiful solid wood and iron doors into the lobby, a staff member, who is most likely one of the owners or a family member, warmly greets you. The lobby is so inviting with its oversized leather furniture and large stone fireplace. The old gift shop has been converted into a fashionable boutique where the lady in your life will rejoice. From stylish jeans, hats of all sorts to jewelry and jackets, there are many unique items to choose from.
All the rooms at the Mountain Ranch Resort are being renovated…I stayed in a Superior room that was just completed in May of 2014, which was quite spacious. The Bernhardt furnishings gave the room a hint of Northern Europe, with its sophisticated edge and rustic appeal. The bath area includes a tub-shower combination, granite top vanity area, two luxurious bathrobes, weight scale, hairdryer and a Keurig coffee maker. There is also a 39″ flat-screen television in the room with complimentary Wi-Fi.
An amazing breakfast is also included in your stay. Adhering to the health and wellness theme, breakfast consists of your choice of a made-to-order omelet with your own selection of fresh vegetables, meats and cheeses, or, a whole grain Belgian waffle. There is also fresh cut fruit, berries, oatmeal, homemade granola, and an array of healthfully fresh-baked breads and muffins. You can also have a glass of freshly squeezed juice or cup of organic, locally roasted coffee.
After breakfast, you may want to participate in a functional fitness class that will certainly burn enough calories to keep you in a deficit during your stay (see clips in video above). If you’re looking for something a bit less strenuous, you can take out one of their complimentary mountain bikes and explore the trails of the Kaibab National Forest at the back of the property. If you’re from a lower altitude like I am, be warned that it won’t take long for you to be out of breath like I was. Regardless of the lack of oxygen, I had a blast riding around Beacon Hill. I ended up riding the bike as high as I could go until it was just too steep. I locked the bike up and decided to hike the rest of the way. Once atop Beacon Hill, you have a marvelous 360 degree view.
They also have stables on the property and you can sign up for a couple different horseback rides. If you just want to relax, you can do that too…either by the pool, or, while receiving a spa treatment (coming soon).
In addition to all the on-site activities, there are also a number of nearby things you won’t want to miss. For starters, you can’t overlook seeing the Grand Canyon; it’s just 60 miles due north of the Resort. If you don’t feel like driving, you can head to downtown Williams and hop aboard the train. It departs at 9:30am and allows passengers a few hours to explore before returning to Williams at 5:30pm. If you take the train, there is a little ol’ western surprise on the ride back waitin’ for ya…that’s all I’ll say. Back in town you might want to peruse the streets of downtown, one of which is the historic Route 66. I really got a kick out of taking pics of some of the old buildings, cars and signage. There are, of course, a lot of gift shops and tourist attractions, but there are also some nice restaurants and live music. You can’t help but feel a sense of nostalgia walking along Route 66.
Just down the street from the Mountain Ranch Resort is a very cool wildlife experience called, Bearizona. This wildlife exhibit is unique in that the first part is a several mile drive through the animals’ natural habitats (note: you cannot get out of your car and windows must be rolled up). Here, you’ll see bears, buffalo, wolves and other animals. After the driving portion is complete, there is a zoo-like area where guests can walk around to a variety of enclosed habitats. One thing not to miss is the Birds of Prey performance that takes place at three different times each day. Hawks and owls fly right over the heads of those in attendance. It’s really a neat experience (Again, see the video for some footage of this venue).
After a full day of activities, you won’t want to miss a healthful culinary journey at the Ranch Bar & Grill. Chef Darren Kirkpatrick and his team have a wonderful menu that encompasses something for everyone. The best part is that you may feel as though you had an indulgent meal, but without any of the guilt. Everything on the menu has been painstakingly thought through to make it as fresh and nutritional as possible. During my stay I tried just about everything on the menu…here are some of my highlights:
- Crab Cakes with a whole wheat panko, romesco sauce and a jicama slaw.
- Beet Caprese with roasted golden beets, fresh mozzarella with a basil pesto and black truffle balsamic drizzle.
- Pork Tenderloin with peach chutney, baby bok choy and roasted purple fingerling potatoes.
- Gamberetti Pasta with fresh prawns, sundried tomatoes, goat cheese, stuffed pepper with pesto cream sauce over linguini.
- Chicken Sandwich with avocado feta puree, arugula, Campari tomatoes with a lemon citrus aioli on a wheat telera roll.
They even have a full bar with some delicious signature cocktails.
The Mountain Ranch Resort is one of those places where I think guests will be pleasantly surprised by the overall value and will certainly want to stay more than a single night just en route to the Grand Canyon.
If you’ve ever stayed at the Mountain Ranch Resort in Williams, Arizona, please leave a comment below and let my readers and me know what you think.
Mountain Ranch Resort Contact Information:
Address: 6701 East Mountain Ranch Road | Williams, Arizona 86046
Rates: $129-$304 (varies based on accommodation level, dates and amenities)