Winter breaks often leave parents looking for activities to entertain their kids while they’re on holiday. Going to see relatives is a nice way to spend the holidays, but why not take the family on an adventure?
Arizona is a perfect destination for a winter family road trip – from dramatic desert landscapes, to breathtaking canyons, to historic ghost towns, to petrified pine forests – the Grand Canyon State has something for everyone. And road trippers might be surprised at the sight of snow dusted cacti peppering the landscape!
Here are our top picks for Arizona winter road trips.
1. Sedona to Oak Creek Canyon
The short seven mile trip north along route 89A from Sedona to Oak Creek Canyon offers travelers panoramic views of the strikingly beautiful local landscape. Interested in archaeology? Take a historical tour of the Sinagua cave dwellings and explore the limestone cliffs of the Verde Valley, or take a canoe trip down the Verde River past prehistoric Native American ruins. Explore some of the nature trails and journey through lush green forests painted with red rock mountains. There’s lots to see in Sedona as well – art lovers will enjoy the Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts village. Sedona is also said to be home to several natural vortexes, places where people feel a heightened energy from the surrounding environment. The entire scenic drive covers only 14 miles, but travelers looking for a longer trip can choose to descend to Flagstaff before returning to Sedona.
2. Tombstone Wild West Adventure
The West is rich with history and remnants of bygone homesteaders, cowboys, lawmen and outlaws. Western history buffs know all about the shootout at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone – the town too tough to die! Take Interstate 10 southeast until you reach Benson, then follow Route 80 to Tombstone. This small Arizona town offers visitors a glimpse at what life was like in the 1870s. Jump on a stagecoach for a historical tour of the old town or set out on foot to explore on your own. Allen Street is a perfectly preserved piece of the Old West, with reenactments and hired townspeople dressed in clothing settlers of the town would’ve worn in the late 1800s. Here, visitors can watch a reenactment of the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral between Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp and a group of outlaws called the Cowboys. Feeling adventurous? Check out the local ghost tours, tour the old gold mine or pop into the Wild West’s wickedest night spot, the Birdcage Theatre.
3. Explore the Petrified Forest
East of Flagstaff, travelers on Interstate 40 can take a detour onto Route 180 to visit Petrified Forest National Park. The fossils of the fallen pine trees found here are 225 million years old, dating back to the Late Triassic Period. Take a tour on horseback or take a hike on one of the many trails. The Crystal Forest Loop, Rainbow Forest and Giant Logs Loop trails allow hikers to view some of the most well-preserved fossils of the forest. The northern part of the park extends into the Painted Desert where ancient rivers and seas left sandstone deposits that, over millions of years, have colored the “painted” desert. Looking for a family fun adventure? Try geocaching and see if you can uncover hidden treasure. Be sure to stop by the visitor’s center to check out the exhibits and learn more about the park’s history. Camping in the park is unrestricted, meaning there are no designated camp sites, so anyone wishing to camp in the backcountry can do so without applying for a permit. Those who enjoy stargazing are sure to enjoy a magnificent view of the Milky Way if the skies are clear.
4. Visit the Grand Canyon
Winter is a great time to visit one of Arizona’s most popular attractions – the Grand Canyon. A short trip from Flagstaff, travelers can opt to use the Grand Canyon National Park main entrance via Route 180 North, or enter through the less-trafficked east entrance by taking Highway 89. No matter which route you decide on, the loop around the rim of the Grand Canyon provides sightseers with magnificent views of this awe-inspiring natural wonder. If you want to stretch your legs, Kaibab Trail to Cedar Ridge is a short three-mile loop that offers some stellar views of the canyon. More adventurous hikers can opt to make the journey to the bottom – something that less than one percent of visitors accomplish. Be sure to give yourself more than a day if you plan to hike one of the two trails to the bottom of the canyon as the park service does not recommend attempting the strenuous hike in one day. Interested in learning about the geological history of the Grand Canyon? Stop into the Yavapai Geology Museum and check out the topographical model, educational displays and bookstore. Winter trips to the Grand Canyon are less congested, but be sure to check the weather conditions and, depending on the forecast, prepare for potential snow and ice on the roads.
5. Historical Camp Verde
Follow Interstate 17 south from Phoenix, and you’ll find yourself in beautiful Camp Verde. Nestled in Coconino National Forest, the quirky town is home to roughly 10,000 year-round residents. View the remnants of ancestral cliff dwellings just outside of town at the Montezuma Castle National Monument. Once inhabited by the Sinagua people, the limestone castle’s ruins are well-preserved, and the archaeological marvel is well worth the trip. Five miles south of the castle, Fort Verde Historic State Park offers tourists a look at what life was like for frontier soldiers. Here, you can tour buildings preserved from the late 1800s and learn about the life of soldiers stationed at the fort during the Indian Wars. The park has three museum houses filled with artifacts and interpretive exhibits. A few miles from Interstate 17, wildlife enthusiasts can zip line over the animals, take a VIP guided safari tour in an all-terrain vehicle, feed tigers and watch the famous Tiger Splash show, which was featured on Animal Planet and Good Morning America!
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We hope that these Arizona winter destinations piqued your interest. Happy travels!