Top-25 Arizona Road Trip Destinations
Here are 25 Arizona road trip ideas the next time you visit the stunning Southwest.
An Arizona Road Trip will yield exciting discovers that can only be found in the Southwest. Arizona is a wonderfully diverse state, with an abundance of open space and unforgettable scenery…including one of the most famous sights in the world, the awe-inspiring Grand Canyon.
There are few states better suited than Arizona for a road trip. You’ll discover authentic cuisine influenced by the Mexican neighbors to the south in Tucson, unique geological sites like Monument Valley, red rock canyons in Sedona, Ol’ West history in Tombstone. Luxurious resorts and spas in Scottsdale. An eclectic hilltop artist community in Jerome. Sonoran Desert display at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. Ancient ruin cliff dwellings in Camp Verde, an unprecedented display of holiday lights in Glendale, dude ranches in Wickenburg, man-made engineering marvels like the Glen Canyon Dam that created Lake Powell, and, gastronomic delights throughout this Valley of the Sun.
If you’re visiting the Grand Canyon state, try to make time to visit some of the following areas, sights and attractions. I have embedded lots of links to help with your planning process.
1) Grand Canyon – It’s a sight that simply can’t be missed when visiting the namesake state. This Arizona Road trip is about a 3.5 hour drive due north of downtown Phoenix. I suggest staying at the Mountain Ranch Resort near the Gateway to the Grand Canyon. Use Mountain Ranch as your hub for several worthwhile northern Arizona attractions, such as historic Williams and Route 66, Bearizona and Flagstaff. While at the Grand Canyon, be sure to follow Rim Road east to the Watchtower. This area provides the most expansive views of the Canyon. After you’ve watched the sunset over the massive geological wonder, head back to Mountain Ranch Resort for a healthfully prepared meal inspired by nature.
2) Sedona is a magical place and its scenery is simply mesmerizing. Art lovers and recreational enthusiasts will rejoice. Things not to miss include: Slide Rock State Park, a hike through Oak Creek Canyon, a mountain bike ride in Oak Creek Village, the iconic chapel built into the red rocks (Chapel of the Holy Cross), a Pink Jeep tour, and a creek side lunch at L’Auberge. For places to stay, consider the Briar Patch Inn along one of the best stretches of Oak Creek. Canyon Wren cabins for two. These cabins are designed for intimacy and dedicated to the enjoyment of couples looking to re-energize within a tranquil setting. Finally, the Cozy Cactus in Oak Creek Village…it’s not fancy, just fabulous with its amazing views of three monolithic rock formations.
3) Jerome was founded in 1876 and was once the 4th largest town in Arizona Territory. The population peaked at 15,000, but is now a mere 450. Jerome is an old mining town turned into a trendy, eclectic hilltop artist community. Not far from Sedona, Jerome boasts sweeping views and many art studios, galleries and saloons/biker bars. The drive to Jerome is not one you’ll soon forget given the narrow and steep ascent, but the views once you arrive are breathtaking. Should you be a fan of ghost stories, be sure to stay at The Jerome Grand Hotel which sits atop the hill overlooking the Verde Valley. Formerly the United Verde Hospital, the five-story Spanish Mission-style building projects the coolest Frankensteinesque-castle vibe in Arizona. The hospital closed in 1950 and remained empty for decades until it was reinvented as a hotel. If you are looking for a great place to eat, the Asylum restaurant at the Jerome Grand Hotel occupies the lower floor. The maroon walls, large windows overlooking the town and comfortable furniture make for a warm, romantic setting. Another must see for a “bite” to eat, is The Haunted Hamburger. The menu consists of American cuisine such at burgers, chicken and steak with a few Mexican dishes from south of the border. You many even encounter one of their hammer-stealing ghosts during your meal.
4) Desert Botanical Garden is a popular attraction located in central Phoenix, in the midst of the remarkable Papago Buttes and near the Phoenix Zoo. Those who’ve never seen the diversity of the desert are in for a treat, especially during springtime when all the cacti are in full bloom. Many people think of cacti as thorny, unattractive plants, but as you will see through your tour of the garden, nothing could be farther from the truth. The Desert Botanical Garden is a refined facility and is extremely well manicured with many of exhibits, landscape art and plenty of places to sit and take in the Sonoran Desert scenery.
5) Scottsdale resorts are famous the world over for their posh accommodations, luxurious amenities and relaxing spa treatments. Whether you stay at any of the local resorts, or simply visit to enjoy some of the amenities, here are some I would highly recommend: Sanctuary is perched on Camelback Mountain and provides an exhilarating blend of serenity and vitality. Located in the high Sonoran Desert of North Scottsdale, the Four Seasons is a place of western lore and cosmopolitan culture, a place of awe-inspiring beauty and spectacular dining and golf. The Hyatt at Gainey Ranch has become a Scottsdale classic, framed against the majestic McDowell Mountains, this remarkable Scottsdale hotel’s golf course, pool and spa are simply spectacular. The Hermosa Inn is a luxurious boutique hotel that has been around since the 30s. The unsurpassed beauty of this mature property will create memories that will last a lifetime. Camelback Inn is in the heart of Scottsdale and home of one of the most well-known Spas in the state. The Spa at Camelback Inn invites you to simply relax and relish the moments of balance and serenity. You will discover the enchantment of the Sonoran Desert while connecting with your inner self. The Royal Palms Resort and Spa is voted the number one resort by Travel+Leisure. Its Old World Spanish décor is inviting and romantic. The Royal Palms is also home to the high-end restaurant, T. Cooks. The restaurant is known for its fresh and seasonal ingredients and, for nearly two decades, T. Cook’s has garnered both local and national acclaim.
6) Rawhide Western Town & Steakhouse is the valley’s premier western venue, offering groups a unique journey back in time. Encompassing over 160 acres of beautiful Sonoran Desert, Rawhide is nestled in the center of the Wild Horse Pass area, located in Chandler and in close proximity to Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe and Mesa. Guests can enjoy Rawhide’s authentic western ambiance and on-site amenities with the shows put on by The Arizona Roughriders in the Six Gun Theater. Take a ride back in time on the Butterfield Stagecoach to get a real feel of good ol’ western transportation. The Widow Maker is a mechanical bull that takes guests on a ride of their life. The old west inspired specialty shops feature, nostalgic delights at Sweet Sally’s, souvenirs at the General Store, personalized branding irons at the Blacksmith and more.
7) Apache Junction (AJ) is home to the majestic Superstition Mountains, one of the most photographed areas in the state. I suggest visiting the Lost Dutchman State Park for a hike, which will provide fantastic views of the Phoenix metropolitan area. Goldfield Ghost town is a fun and lively attraction giving visitors an authentic glimpse of an old mining town. Not far from AJ is one of the Valley’s desert oases, Canyon Lake where you can take a tour aboard the Dolly Steamboat. Just down the way is an old stagecoach stop known as Tortilla Flat, which resides along the historic Apache Trail. Click the following link for video and information on Apache Junction.
8) Monument Valley – Located on the Navajo Nation, Monument Valley is another one of the most photographed areas in the state….if not the country. The landscape overwhelms, not just by its beauty but also its sheer size. This great valley boasts sandstone formations that tower to heights of up to one thousand feet. Framed by scenic clouds casting shadows that graciously roam the desert floor, the fragile pinnacles of rock are surrounded by miles of mesas and buttes, providing a truly unique visual experience. Sunset is probably your best time to photograph, but get there early to find that one shot you wish to capture because the sun fades fast.
9) Tucson, like Scottsdale, is well known for its luxurious resorts, spas and golf courses,. However, unlike Scottsdale, Tucson has maintained a bit of its rustic, authentic old west heritage charm. Nestled within a valley, Tucson is surrounded by spectacular mountain ranges, including Mt. Lemon, which boasts an elevation of over 9000’ and provides an escape for Tucsonans in the summer. A snow ski lodge in the winter provides a host of other recreational opportunities. There is a fantastic bed and breakfast called, Blue Agave located at the foothills of the Tucson Mountains. If you’re looking for a golf resort, the Loews Ventana Canyon and Omni Tucson are both fantastic. An Arizona road trip to Tucson is just 90 minutes south of Phoenix. Some things not to miss while visiting Tucson include:
- Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum encompasses 21 acres and fuses a botanical garden, zoo, art gallery, natural history museum, aquarium and restaurants into a wonderful educational excursion.
- Pima Air & Space Museum is one of the world’s largest aerospace museums, and is known for its massive 300+ collection of commercial, private, civil and military planes. There are both indoor and outdoor exhibits that will awe visitors.
- Old Tucson Studios is an old western movie set not far from the Desert Museum. It’s now closed to the general public, but still worth a drive by. Old Tucson is open to tour groups and special events.
- Saguaro National Park is home to the nation’s largest cacti, the giant saguaro, which is the universal symbol of the Southwest. At Saguaro National Park you’ll have a chance to see these enormous cactus up close, and, during the evening, see them silhouetted by the beauty of a magnificent desert sunset.
- Gates Pass – There is a fantastic spot just a few miles from the Blue Agave, near the top of Gates pass, to which you’ll want to take your sweetheart to watch the sunset. Click here for map.
10) Benson – Kartchner Caverns is one of the largest and most well-preserved living caves in the country…if not the world. If you’ve never been inside a cave before, this is the one you must see. Painstaking effort not only went into preserving the cave for generations to come, but also for making it the most comfortable cave for tourists to explore. Paved trails run throughout the cave system, making it easy for folks of all ages and abilities to explore.
11) Camp Verde’s Out of Africa Wildlife Park – The park has gained much esteem as a highly respected wildlife park for its unique approach that allows its residents to thrive and flourish through spacious habitats, preservation, rehabilitation, education, research, and public interaction. Visitors will experience amazing interactive shows with lions, tigers, bears and a whole lot more. Out of Africa
12) Heritage Square is a striking reminder of the city’s vibrant Victorian past. The square dates to the late 1800s, with the restored Rosson House Museum as its crowning jewel. Whether you love history, technology, good food, or just a quiet place to reflect, the historic Heritage Square that encompasses the Arizona Science Center and one of the best pizza restaurants in the world, Pizzeria Bianco, is a wonderful place to visit.
13) Petrified Forest & Painted Desert – Badlands are not exclusive to South Dakota, in fact, in the northeastern part of Arizona there are two impressive geological wonders…the Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert. If you’d found yourself walking back in time some 225+ million years ago, you would have found 200-foot tall conifers in a lush green forest, along with a few dinosaurs roaming around. A couple million years later, volcanic mountains erupted and toppled all life form volcanic ash and sediment covered trees and other life form, entombing everything for millions of years until they became petrified. Erosion over the years later exposed the gigantic logs and remnant pieces for the world to experience. There are even some backcountry hikes into areas never open before such as Red Basin and little known areas like the Devil’s Playground. This Arizona road trip is about 90 minutes east of Flagstaff, or 3.5 hours northeast of Phoenix.
14) Hiking – Arizona is well known for its plethora of hiking options…not far from the 2015 Super Bowl headquarters is a number of hikes. Squaw Peak (renamed Piestewa Peak), Camelback Mountain, Shaw Butte and White Tank Mountains. In the periphery are even more…in the far east valley in the Superstition Mountains you have Lost Dutchman State Park, Silly Mountain and the Hieroglyphics trail just to name a few. To the south is South Mountain Regional Park.
15) Arcosanti is an urban laboratory experiment located in the middle of the high desert just northeast of Cordes Junction, Arizona. This unique facility was the brainchild of the famed architect, Paolo Soleri…the last remaining disciple (recently deceased) to study under Frank Lloyd Wright. Arcosanti has been in development for forty years now, all that time under the close watch of Mr. Soleri himself, as well as his many passionate students and stewards to this unique way of planning/building. Simply stated, the focus of Arcosanti is on pursuing lean alternatives to urban sprawl through innovative design, with accountability to the environment. This Arizona road trip is just a short drive from the Phoenix area.
16) Taliesin West (Frank Lloyd Wright’s home/studio) – Despised by what he called stale, backward looking design being produced by his peers, Frank Lloyd Wright was more interested in creating a new, vibrant American style. His remarkable designs were the antithesis of typical architecture based on Greek, Roman, Gothic and Tudor styles. He freed himself from the limits of existing materials, which were often described as “organic architecture” with site-specific construction, where “form and function became one.” Frank Lloyd Wright began building his desert masterpiece in the late 1930s as his personal winter home, studio, and architectural campus. Located on 600 acres at the foothills of the majestic McDowell Mountains in northeast Scottsdale, the Taliesin West site offers a broad range of guided public tours. Visitors experience Wright’s brilliant ability to integrate indoor and outdoor spaces and guided tours range from one to three hours long. This Arizona road trip was once in the outskirts, but is now in central Scottsdale.
17) Old Town Scottsdale – Old Town is a neighborhood within Downtown Scottsdale that features a taste of the Old West. Here you’ll find a host of art galleries, ol’ west shopping, an array of restaurants and Western bars, and, some world class nightclubs, some of which were made famous by the 2008 Super Bowl. Adjacent to Old Town is the Civic Center plaza where you’ll often find annual events like the Scottsdale Culinary Festival, art museum, performing art center and free seasonal outdoor concerts. For the wine connoisseurs, Old Town is home to a few great wine bars including Kazmir World Wine Bar. Kazmir has plush sofas & chairs in vineyard colors, stone walls softened by candlelight; wooden wine casks call to mind the feel of a European wine cave; subtle lighting. Eclectic blend of jazz, latin & world beat plays pre & post-entertainment. Fifth and Wine is another hot spot for sipping your favorite fermented grape beverages. The restaurant has an extensive wine bar and a wide array of simple, flavorful, food at moderate prices. The casual atmosphere invites you to sit back and relax with friends.
18) Tombstone is the famous Wild West town known for the shootout at O.K. Corral. You can walk the very same streets that Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, Johnny Ringo, Ike Clanton and a host of other Western Legends walked over 130 years ago. You can just feel the history in Tombstone as you stroll the streets. This is probably the most authentic Western Town left in the United States! This Arizona Road Trip is just an hour and a half southeast of Tucson.
19) Canyon De Chelly – Located in Northeastern Arizona, Canyon De Chelly National Monument is a wonderful Arizona Road Trip. Established in 1931, the preserved ruins of the early indigenous tribes who lived in the area is quite a sight. The monument covers 83,840 acres and encompasses the rich floors and rims of the three major canyons: de Chelly, del Muerto, and Monument. Beyond the amazing vistas, the typically temperate climate, and the rich history of this special place, Canyon de Chelly National Monument boasts some of Arizona’s finest examples of native rock art. The summertime is its busiest season and includes many park ranger-led activities, horseback tours and hikes for sightseers to explore.
20) Arizona is serious about golf and has hundreds of beautiful golf courses, here ten exceptional ones:
- Dinosaur Mountain at Gold Canyon has some of the most dramatic elevation changes in Arizona golf to challenge even the most proficient golfers. Dinosaur Mountain is considered one of the best public golf courses in Arizona with its panoramic views of the Superstition Mountains.
- Phoenician – Named “North America’s Leading Golf Resort” by the World Travelers Awards, this extraordinary 27 hole champion golf course is located in North Scottsdale. The course terrain has amazing greens and breaks, taking views of Arizona’s natural desert oasis. Some golfers consider the Phoenician course an adventure that must be experienced when visiting the Valley!
- Loews Ventana Canyon – Located in Tucson, Loews Ventana Canyon is situated around the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Famous for its 100-yard par 3 signature hole and the terrain being built around the mountains makes this one of the most challenging courses in the State.
- Troon North – Troon North has not one, but two nationally recognized private courses, Pinnacle and the Monument. Both courses are settled alongside the iconic Pinnacle Peak… a favorite of hikers and golfers. Golfers have expressed both courses are beautifully maintained and each has its own individual charm.
- The Club at Seven Canyons is located in mystical Sedona and is known for its magnificent red rock topography and striking emerald ponderosa pines. The course has a classic style, bunkering amidst the awe inspiring views.
- Wigwam Resort – Located in Litchfiled Park, this resort contains some of the oldest and most traditional courses in the state. The Wigwam golf resort has been a part of Arizona history since the 1930s and still flourishes today. There are three courses to choose from which gives golf lovers much variety at a relaxing retreat.
- Grayhawk, Eagle Mountain – Eagle Mountain nuzzles up to the McDowell Mountains where golfers can play from sunrise until sunset while enjoying a challenging golf experience. Picturesque nature and downtown cityscapes provide a playful mix of an urban and rural backdrop.
- Omni Tucson – Another favorite in the Tucson area is the Omni, host of two golf courses. Omni has been home to countless PGA tournaments. Whether you are a pro or not, you will really enjoy these courses. The Catalina course has eight sparkling lakes and eighty bunkers, and the Sonoran course is a desert style with two lakes and sixty nine bunkers.
- Rio Rico Golf – Constructed in 1971 by one of the greatest architects in golf history, the Rio Rico Golf course has huge bunkers and greens, strategically placed hazards all shadowed by a backdrop of cascading beauty. Another bonus, this course is famous for Mother Nature’s creatures…a bird watchers delight!
- The Boulders Golf Club is a semi private club with one of the finest courses in the Southwest. The Boulders has two courses, one with a spectacular view of Black Mountain, and the other, sister to two of the resorts famous rock formations. A scenic natural wonder, you will experience 36 inspiring holes amidst the desert’s rugged beauty.
21) Heard Museum – Arizona has a strong connection to the Native American people, the internationally acclaimed Heard Museum is one of the best places to experience the myriad cultures and art of American Indians of the Southwest. Located in downtown Phoenix, the museum hosts nearly a quarter million visitors a year. The museum’s eleven spacious exhibit galleries and outdoor courtyards feature authentic traditional and contemporary American Indian art.
22) Sunset Crater in Flagstaff – Roughly 900 years ago, the eruption of a volcano reshaped the surrounding landscape, forever changing the lives of people, plants and animals. You’ll find the contrast between the color of life, and the blackness of the surface to be quite dramatic. Hike the trail through the lava flow and cinders and you’ll likely discover colorful, ruggedly dramatic geological features coexisting with twisted Ponderosa Pines and an amazing array of wildlife. I recommend driving through the entire thirty-four mile loop that winds from Highway 89 through Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki National Monuments. The scenic loop leads you from the high Ponderosa Pine forests of Sunset Crater, down nearly 2,000 feet in elevation to the red rocks and painted desert vistas of Wupatki.
23) Page/Lake Powell – Lake Powell is encompassed within the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and is at the mouth of the Grand Canyon. The lake is extremely scenic with tall canyons, red rock formations and sand dunes—it’s a wonderful place for recreation such as house-boating, water skiing, kayaking, fishing, hiking, camping, exploration and so much more. Here is an interesting fact…the stunning body of water known as Lake Powell has more coastline than the entire west coast…with finger inlets of turquoise blue water stretching for miles. This spectacular Arizona Road Trip is about 2.5 hours north of Flagstaff, or five hours from Phoenix. Here are five things you can’t miss when visiting Lake Powell.
- Antelope Canyon – You’ve probably seen the amazing pictures of Antelope Canyon before, but probably didn’t know where it was located. This is a fantastic experience and a must when visiting Page / Lake Powell. Tip: for photographers…try to get on a tour that puts you in the Canyon around noon for the best light. Also, there are tours for both upper and lower Antelope Canyon…I’ve done both and would give the edge to the lower.
- Dam tour – You can visit the Glen Canyon Dam both atop and below…both are very interesting.
- Lone Rock – Located at the north-end of the lake with great access for boats with sand dunes and cliff-jumping, this is a cool place to explore.
- Tour the lake – You can rent a boat, or, hop aboard a tour boat for the Antelope Canyon Cruise, which will provide you with a quick introduction to the lake.
- Wesley Powell Museum – Learn about the canyon before, and, after the damn was built. John Wesley Powell was the first person to traverse the mighty Colorado River.
24) Camp Verde’s claim to fame is it’s home to an enormous and very well-preserved cliff-dwelling. While the state of Arizona has a number of ancient cliff-dwelling sites, Montezuma Castle is probably one of the more popular. Nestled into a limestone recess high above the flood plain of Beaver Creek in the Verde Valley, stands one of the most easily accessible cliff ruins in North America. The five-story, twenty-room cliff dwelling served as a “high-rise apartment building” for prehistoric Sinagua people more than six hundred years ago. This Arizona road trip is about 90 minutes due north of Phoenix.
25) Restaurants – There is no shortage of fantastic restaurants in the state, especially in the Valley of the Sun. Here are some standout favorites:
- Café Monarch – An Artful duet of cuisine and romance.
- Aunt Chilada’s – Nestled in the shadow of the Squaw Peak Mountain, Aunt Chilada’s is truly an historic landmark with a personality all its own. Aunt Chilada’s not only carries on a historic tradition of heartfelt Southwestern hospitality, but also dishes out the finest Mexican food this side of the border.
- Citizens Public House – Where comfort meets class.
- Different Pointe of View is a distinct and unforgettable Phoenix dining destination, that over its 31 year history, has evolved into a culinary experience just as memorable as its stunning views atop North Mountain in Phoenix.
- Talavera at the Four Seasons –Where fine dining is typified.
- Tomasos – Dining at Tomaso’s is an experience combining exceptional service, atmosphere, and Italian cuisine. Your table awaits you amidst authentic Tuscan country brickwork columns and original artwork.
- Hula’s Modern Tiki – Voted Best of the Valley by Phoenix Magazine. With several Valley locations, Hula’s Modern Tiki is a modern, urban twist on the classic tiki bars and restaurants of the ’50s & ’60s. Locally owned and operated, it’s a community place where everyone is welcome and one that celebrates the long awaited urban renewal of Uptown Phoenix.
- The Arrogant Butcher – Already an iconic downtown Phoenix landmark, the restaurant and bar at The Arrogant Butcher is one of the only places where sports fans and theater-goers can enjoy a burger and a beer next to some of Arizona’s top politicians. The Arrogant Butcher offers you the best of everything – seafood, steaks, draft beer, wine and cocktails, comfort food and good company.
- Postino Wine Bar – Set in comfortable, rustic and immaculately restored buildings, each Postino combines unique and approachable wines with simple, delicious and locally grown fare. This is just a sample of some of the restaurants that can’t be missed when visiting the Phoenix area during the 2015 Super Bowl.
What is your favorite Arizona Road Trip destination? Please leave a comment below and share your experience.