Many visitors to the heart of the Southwest are surprised by the diversity found in the Grand Canyon state. From cactus strewn deserts and crimson canyons to swaying grass lands and towering pine forests, there is so much to see and do. So, buckle up and prepare to be amazed by Arizona’s wide-open spaces and jaw-dropping natural beauty. You can turn this itinerary into a weekend getaway or take your time and spend a week exploring Arizona on this road trip.
The itinerary goes from Phoenix to Sedona to Flagstaff to Williams to the Grand Canyon to Prescott to Jerome and back to Phoenix.
Begin your adventure in the capital city of our 48th state, known for year-round sunny skies and reliably warm temperatures. Phoenix is the epicenter of a sprawling metro area ( the country’s 5th most populated ) known as the Valley of the Sun. You’ll find world-class resorts, dozens of top-notch golf courses, scores of hiking and biking trails, a slew of award-winning eateries and the well-regarded, family-friendly Phoenix Zoo.
The city is particularly proud of the Heard Museum, recognized internationally for their dedication to the advancement of American Indian art. Visitors can expect world-class exhibitions, hands-on educational programming and extraordinary festivals. Founded in 1929, the Heard presents the stories of Native people from a first-person perspective while showcasing the exceptional beauty of traditional and contemporary art.
In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt recognized four sites for their historic and cultural significance, thereby naming our nation’s first National Monuments. Among these was Montezuma Castle. The destination quickly topped the lists for America’s early road tripping tourists. Today, visitors can get a glimpse into the region’s past and the enduring legacy of the Sinagua culture through a visit to one of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in North America. The 20-room, “high-rise apartment” embedded in limestone cliffs, tells the remarkable story of the resourceful people who lived along Beaver Creek for more than 400 years.
Whether you choose to stay for an afternoon or several days, spectacular Sedona will steal your heart. The stunning, red rock vistas are unlike any you’ve seen elsewhere.
Explore via more than 400 miles of hiking and biking trails that wind through a wonderland of colorful stone, forest and creek beds. Consider a famous jeep or helicopter tour, part thrill ride and a unique way to discover historic native sites in the area. Sedona is well known for its energetic vibe, so be sure to ask about the area’s vortexes. Considered a center for enlightenment, the vortexes are thought to be swirling centers of energy, conducive to healing and personal exploration. Don’t miss scenic Oak Creek Canyon and Slide Rock State Park. The latter is a former 43-acre homestead and historic apple farm within the canyon, where visitors can view original cabins and take advantage of the park’s name sake creek slide. It’s also a great place to cool off on a warm, sunny day.
Just 80 miles from the Grand Canyon and close to seven other parks and monuments, this college town offers a long list of options for road trippers during every season of the year. At 7,000 feet, you’ll enjoy hiking and biking amidst Ponderosa Pines or cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter months.
Check out Sunset Crater, created by a dramatic series of eruptions 900 years ago. You can learn about the youngest volcano on the Colorado Plateau. on a one-mile, self-guided Lava Flow Trail. Tap into the history that combines the nostalgia of Route 66, the historic “Mother Road” that bisects the town, as well as the rich legacy of the old west and the Native American culture, while exploring the culturally-rich downtown area. Don’t miss a tour and exhibits at the Lowell Observatory, the astronomy research center where Pluto was discovered.
If your family has seen the movie “Cars”, there will be a familiar vibe to this northern Arizona town, located on the last stretch of Route 66 to be by-passed by Interstate 40. Historic highway memorabilia are featured in kitschy shops and restaurants. Old timey western shoot outs are staged in the middle of Main Street on weekend evenings. And bear, bison and wolves roam in Bearzona, a nearby, drive-through animal park.
All this, at the Gateway to the Grand Canyon. The colorful town of 3,000 residents is also home to the Grand Canyon Railway, where visitors can hop aboard lovingly restored rail cars and be entertained by musicians and the antics of cowboy characters as the train traverses the scenic, high-desert plateau between the historic depot and the grandest canyon of them all.
Whether you drive to the Grand Canyon or arrive via the Grand Canyon Railway, you’ll soon understand why it’s a treasured wonder of the world. Carved by the mighty Colorado, the multi-hued rock walls, revealing millions of years of geologic history, descend a mile deep and stretch for 277 miles.
From sunrise to sunset, the canyon is the main attraction. However, with so much to see and do, a stop at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center can help make the most of your time while exploring Arizona’s most impressive landmark.
You’ll find information about tours, tickets, park programs and special events. Don’t miss the on-site IMAX film, Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets. In 34 minutes, you’ll fast forward through the amazing history of the canyon and emerge eager to experience its grandeur first hand.
To understand more about the Park’s colorful story, the Grand Canyon Historic Village is an important stop. You’ll find many National Historic Landmarks, including the iconic El Tovar hotel, shops and art galleries within the canyon-side village.
Kids between the ages of 4 and 14 can become a Junior Ranger, earning a badge and certificate by completing a list of activities in the park.
Note: A free shuttle bus operates on the South Rim.
A Western history lover’s sweet spot, mile-high Prescott is home to more than 700 homes and businesses listed in the National Register of Historic Places as well as museums that tell their stories. Stroll along Whiskey Row, where turn of the century-style saloons thrive alongside shops, galleries, eateries and antique venues.
Learn about the area, once the territorial capital, through the Prescott Heritage Trail & History Hunt Adventure, available at the Visitor’s Center. The 90-minute, self-guided walking tour of the downtown area and important cultural and historical attractions is fun for every age group. Outdoor and nature enthusiasts are equally well served in Prescott. Set amidst the Ponderosa Pines of Prescott National Forest, the western town offers more than 400 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails. Paddle on any of four pristine lakes in the area and enjoy a shoreside, picnic lunch before getting back on the road.
On a return trip to Phoenix, stop in the tiny town of Jerome, perched a mile high on the side of Cleopatra Hill, overlooking the Verde Valley, between Sedona, to the north and Prescott to the south. Once a boom town, boasting bars and bordellos, thanks to the healthy production of local copper, gold and silver, Jerome earned the questionable moniker Wickedest City in the West. Decades later, in 1953, when the mines shuttered, the Arizona camp soon became the largest ghost town in the west.
Today the cliffside destination, a National Historic Landmark, is proud of its historic restoration and a quirky collection of art studios, galleries, wine tasting rooms, and specialty shops. Visit the Jerome State Historic Park and the Historical Society Mine for a deeper dive into the town’s colorful history. Take time for a stop at the Sliding Jail. The structure was put to good use during the era when gunslingers and gambling were the norm. But when blasting in the mines sent the building slipping and sliding down the town’s steep hillside, it was deemed unfit for the prisoners. Today it is safely bolstered and home to recollections of more raucous times.
Here some tips for setting out on a road trip on Arizona highways.