Road trips are an American pastime. This year, take your vacation on the road and take advantage of the thousands of miles of beauty, history, and adventure our country has to offer. A road trip is a safe and unique way to travel, and you don’t need anything more than a few provisions and a map to make memories to last a lifetime. Not to mention, you’re literally in the driver’s seat, so if anything goes awry, you can change course easily.
Arizona, jewel of the American Southwest, has more than just the Grand Canyon to offer. Before we share some of the best road trips in Arizona, here are a few tips for how to prepare for your Arizonan Road Adventure.
You’re in the desert, which means an arid climate and extreme temperatures. With little shade, when it’s hot, it’s sizzling, and when it’s cold, it’s freezing. Take note of the time of year you’re hitting the road and make sure to plan accordingly. If it’s summer, bring extra water, and make sure to stock up every time you stop at a gas station or sight. Don’t forget sun protection – sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats, sunscreen, and lightweight long sleeves are all good to have nearby. In the winter, extra jackets and blankets will come in handy. And no matter what time of year it is, you can never bring too many road trip snacks! Beef jerky, trail mix, granola bars, and fruit like oranges and apples are solid options, but don’t be afraid to treat yourself. (Just don’t forget about the chocolate bars on a hot day!)
Your car should always be stocked with an auto emergency kit and first aid kit, but a road trip is a great excuse to make those purchases. Be sure you have a spare tire, and it’s a good idea to get your fluid levels topped off at the mechanic. They can also do a safety inspection to make sure your belt and hose connections, headlights, wiper blades, and turn signals are all in good operating shape – and can let you know if your car needs any kind of service before a long journey. It’s also a good idea to get a real map – that’s right, a paper map from the olden days. You never know when you might lose cell service and need to find your way back to a main road.
We’ve organized 5 Arizona Road Trips to check out – four you can do in a day, and one for a three-day weekend. Whether you prefer the desert or the mountains, the snow or the sun, there’s an option here for every adventurer. Find a road buddy – and share your journey with us on Instagram, @LoJackcorp #LoJackOnTheRoad
Day Trip 1
Located about three and a half hours southeast of Phoenix, and three hours northeast of Tucson, Klondyke, Arizona, is a ghost town founded at the turn of the 19th century by some miners who had just been in Arizona. Named after its Canadian counterpart, silver and lead were the main products of the area mines. At its peak, about 500 people lived and worked in the busy mining town, but today only about a dozen descendants remain.
Many old buildings are still standing, including the Power Cabin – but it’s only accessible by horseback. The Power Cabin was the site of one of the last Old West shootouts. Jeff Power had brought his family to Arizona from Texas in 1908 to start a cattle ranch. His beloved wife, Martha, was killed in 1915 when a horse knocked over her buggy. Later, Jeff lost a son in World War I.
Heavy with grief, he refused to let his other sons join the army, and in 1918 they were marked as deserters, and federal law men came to arrest them at the Power Cabin in Klondyke. Jeff Power refused to stand down and started shooting. By the time it was over, Power and three of the law men were dead. His two sons were arrested and released from prison in 1960 after 42 years.
Stop by the general store for provisions before heading home.
Day Trip 2
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Bordering the Mexican state of Sonora, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is roughly three hours from Phoenix or Tucson and is the only place in the United States where the organ pipe cactus grows (they are abundant further south, in Mexico). Located along Highway 85, the park is about 20 miles north of the Lukeville/Sonoyta border crossing.
The biodiversity of the area has earned it an international designation as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. There are trails to hike and bike, including a spectacular Double Arches Trail with arched rock formations popular with visitors. The park also offers a guided, 3-hour tour conducted by a ranger – a great option for those who want to learn more and let someone else do the driving for a few hours.
On your way back home, stop in Why, Arizona, for snacks and gas at the Why Not Travel Store.
Day Trip 3
Nestled in the foothills of Flagstaff lies a historic mining town with an abundance of local wineries called Jerome. Between Prescott and Sedona, situated at about 5,000 feet above sea level, Jerome, a once-bustling town, most recently had a population of only 444. What it lacks in people, however, it makes up for in history and adventure – well worth a visit when you have a free day.
Jerome was founded by Mormon miners in the late 19th century on top of Cleopatra Hill. Studying mineral deposits in the area, geologists know the natural history of the area going back over 1.75 billion years. In its heyday, Jerome produced over a billion dollars’ worth of copper, the area’s primary resource.
Today, you can explore abandoned mines, visit the historic 19th century jail (which was rendered unusable after physical damage in the 1930s), and over two dozen historic buildings and landmarks. In fact, the entire town of Jerome was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1967, and the town takes great pride in maintaining its history and heritage for visitors.
Grab a cocktail at the Spirit Room in The Connor Hotel, which has been in operation since 1890, and some barbecue at local favorite Bobby D’s before heading home for the day.
Day Trip 4
About two hours east of Flagstaff is one of the stranger named towns in Arizona: Snowflake. Founded by Mormon settlers in the late nineteenth century, Snowflake has a population of 5,000, historic homes, and a pioneer museum. Those seeking an active adventure can go whitewater rafting on the Snake River in nearby Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, or spend an afternoon lakeside in Fool Hollow.
If it’s a nice day, you can play 18 holes on the Snowflake municipal golf course, or learn about the rich history of the area at the free Show Low Museum run by locals who have been in the area since the town was originally founded.
Every fall, local Willis Farm comes alive with a pumpkin patch and favorite fall activities like hayrides and dunking for apples. Depending on how late you stay, there’s even a haunted corn maze at night. Enjoy a beer from the town’s family brewers at Black Horse Brewery – they’ve been making beer for generations.
3-Day Weekend Trip
3 National Forests in 3 Days – Outside Phoenix
Arizona is home to some of the least-visited national forests in the United States. This 3-day trip will take you through three different national forests, through some of the most stunning vistas and peaceful roads you’ll ever experience.
Day 1 – Tonto National Forest
Up first, just an hour northeast of Phoenix is Tonto National Forest, which boasts three million acres of wilderness for exploration. With trails, lakes, cacti, and abundant wildlife, this national forest is the largest in Arizona and the sixth largest in the United States. Opt to drive through the park with the windows down to explore it from your vehicle, or organize a horseback adventure and picnic lunch.
The park’s range in altitude – from 1,300 to 7,900 – results in a variety of flora and fauna and opportunities for recreation year-round, from crystal clear lakes to cool pine forests to rugged ATV-friendly terrain. More than 400 vertebrate species can be found in the park, including 21 Threatened and Endangered Species.
After a day of adventuring, be sure to fill up on food at one of the restaurants on the shores of Canyon Lake or stop at Tortilla Flat a few miles outside the park enroute to your next destination.
About an hour north of Tonto National Park, you’ll find the charming towns of Payson and Star Valley, where you’ll be staying for the night. Between rustic lodges, campgrounds, local cabin rentals, and several low-budget motels, you have a wide range of options for the night’s lodging.
Day 2 – Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest
From Star Valley, you’re roughly an hour outside of your next destination, Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest – named for the local Apache Tribe and Captain Lorenzo Sitgreaves, an engineer who conducted the first American government exploration of Arizona. It encompasses over two million acres of mountain country, soaring to nearly 11,500 feet at its peak. The park boasts eight cold-water lakes and breathtaking views from the Mogollon Rim (pronounced: muggy-own). The Rim extends two hundred miles from Flagstaff to New Mexico.
Hundreds of miles of trails are maintained for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. In the winter, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and ice fishing are all popular activities. Be sure to visit in the autumn months, as well, when the seasons change and the trees transition from greens to vibrant reds and oranges.
From the park, head north on 377 and east on I-40 to Winslow, Arizona. Winslow is a charming desert town that was an important stop first on the railroad and later on the famous Route 66. Winslow is also the town the Eagles referenced in their 1972 hit with Jackson Browne, “Take It Easy”. Stay at the famous La Posada Hotel and have an easy morning exploring the unique town of Winslow before your final day.
Day 3 – Coconino National Forest
Today will take you through Flagstaff on your way back down to Phoenix. Take I-40 west and grab a late lunch in Flagstaff, less than an hour west of Winslow. From there, you have two options to take you through the Coconino National Forest: you can take I-17, which runs along the western border of the park and takes you directly back to Phoenix, with several places to stop and sight see along the way.
You can also cut directly through the park by taking Lake Mary Road off I-17 just south of I-40. This will take you through the heart of Coconino National Forest, past two lakes and through Sedona red rocks and Ponderosa Pines. With plenty of fishing, wading, and swimming available, don’t forget to pack your bathing suits!
In the winter, you can cut down your own Christmas tree – but you need to get a permit from the ranger’s office first. Permits sell out early so make sure to check early in the summer if you want to bring a Christmas tree home from your journey! Stop in Happy Jack, Arizona, for an early dinner before connecting back with I-17 and back to Phoenix in under two hours.