Home to the only Natural Wonder in the United States, many rock formations and 21 Native American tribes, Arizona is a unique place to explore. We love taking road trips in Arizona because it’s a fun place for active families. Located in the southwest corner of the country, Arizona experiences both hot and chilly weather. The average high temperature there is 71 degrees Fahrenheit and the average low is 38 degrees. A car is a great way to explore the 6th largest state in the US. Here are some of what we think are the best road trips in Arizona.
Note: due to COVID-19, some attractions may be closed, especially on Native American reservations. Be sure to check websites for updated hours of operation. Arizona doesn’t have a mandate for wearing a face mask, but some businesses and cities do. Make sure to keep yours handy.
Phoenix to Las Vegas
Distance – 400 miles
A road trip to Las Vegas is an iconic vacation. The open desert is beautiful and there’s plenty to stop and see on the way.
The capital of Arizona, Phoenix is known for its resorts, golf courses, great food & wine and fantastic desert views.
The museums in Phoenix have a variety of themes and there’s something for everyone. Heard Museum focuses on the art of Native Americans and the indigenous people of the area. The largest art museum in the Southwest, the Phoenix Art Museum has collections featuring Asian art, fashion design, Latin American art and photography.
Traveling with children? Seek out the Arizona Science Center so they can learn how fun STEM exhibits can be. Have an Indianapolis 500 fan in the family? The Penske Racing Museum will be where they want to explore.
A hot air balloon ride lets you get an eagle-eye look at the surrounding area, provides specular views and can also be a once in a lifetime experience. Some companies even offer a champagne toast.
Golf lovers will agree that heading to Phoenix is one of the best road trips in Arizona. With over 200 courses in the area and the ability to play on the same greens where PGA tournaments have taken place, they’ll never get bored.
After all that fun, seek out the many unique restaurants the city has to offer. And don’t miss eating at some places that use local ingredients like citrus and prickly pears.
Montezuma Castle National Monument
Indigenous tribes have lived in Arizona for over a thousand years. The Montezuma Castle National Monument highlights homes built by the Sinagua tribe. The homes are unique because they’re built directly into the sides of the cliffs.
The dwellings are neither castles nor have anything to do with the Mexican ruler Montezuma. The ruins are more like modern day condos. And explorers incorrectly thought the Aztecs had constructed the homes.
There are trails to explore and you can view the dwellings from afar. Visitors are no longer permitted inside.
With over 400 miles of trails, Sedona is a hiker’s dream. But there’s more to this city that sits on the edge of several nationally protected areas.
Adventurous types should take the famous Pink Jeep tours of Sedona. Our family had a blast driving the hard to miss Jeeps and exploring the city’s rock formations. Just be sure to remember to bring plenty of water – it gets hot out there, especially with the sun reflecting off the rocks.
Known as a haven for artists, Sedona has lots of avenues for art lovers to explore. In addition to the city’s many art galleries, the Sedona Arts Center has a fine arts center and visitors can also take a self-paced art walk.
Lake Mead National Recreation Area
The first designated recreation area in the United States, Lake Mead National Recreation Area is located partially in Arizona and partly in Nevada. Anyone who loves watersports, history or wants to get closer to nature will find themselves at home.
Both Lake Mohave and Lake Mead are accessible, so you’ll find plenty of boating, kayaking, swimming, and fishing opportunities. The area is on a north-south bird migration route. More than 240 birds have been recording here, including bald eagles, peregrine falcons and burrowing owls. There are also several resorts and campgrounds available within the park.
That said, the casinos and hotels of the city are fantastic. You could spend all day in them doing different things. Spending the night gives plenty of options, from lower budget hotels up to rooms that tens of thousands of dollars per night. And while The Strip is where most first-time visitors stay, don’t ignore the downtown area. Many of the rooms in the older hotels have been renovated and the hotel rooms tend to be larger.
Second in popularity to the casinos have to be the shows. There are shows of all types and price points. You’ll see music concerts, magic shows, burlesque and one of our family’s favorites – Cirque de Soleil.
Did you know that Vegas has an amazing art scene? It’s the perfect place for art lovers to see works by Picasso, Andy Warhol and other masters. The Neon Museum is the ideal place to learn more about the art that defined Las Vegas. There’s also a lot of street murals throughout downtown, Fremont Street and surrounding areas.
Tucson to Grand Canyon
Distance – 375 miles
Tucson is more than just a pretty place. Originally founded as a Spanish military site, the city is a nice place to relax and explore. It’s a very historic city and was designated a UNESCO City of Gastronomy, the first US city to receive that honor.
Gila River Indian Reservation
Learn more about the Pima and Maricopa Native American tribes by visiting Gila River Indian Reservation (while the term Indian is no longer considered an appropriate way to describe the indigenous tribes of the United States, the phrase is still used in the official name of many locations).
Kofa National Wildlife Rescue
Stretched over 660,000 acres, Kofa National Wildlife Rescue helps protect desert bighorn sheep. All the animals there have learned to survive without much water and often seek out shade during the day.
A great time to go to Kofa is early in the morning or just before sunset when the animals come out. Bring a pair of binoculars and quietly wait. You might see gophers, jackrabbits, bobcats, mule deer, various birds, reptiles and other mammals.
Route 66 runs right through Kingman, but even though it’s a small town, there’s plenty to see.
Visit the Mohave Museum of History & Arts to learn about the area’s mining history. The Arizona Route 66 Museum traces the journeys of all who traveled the route over time, including Native Americans, the military and dust bowl migrants.
Housed in an old railroad depot, the Kingman Railroad Museum features model trains, tools used build the railroad through the southwest, and other train memorabilia pieces.
Grand Canyon National Park
Considered one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the Grand Canyon is one of the United States’ top national parks. Over 5 million people enter the park every year to see the mile-deep, 18-mile wide canyon.
Visitors can access the Grand Canyon from the North Rim or the South Rim. The South Rim is closest to this road trip. It is also the busiest viewpoint. The North Rim tends to have cooler temperatures and fewer visitors, so it’s another option.
Lodging is available within the park. But hotels, RV parks and lodges fill up quickly, so plan at least a year in advance. There are plenty of options available from smaller motel-style rooms to the El Tovar, which offers suites and amenities.
Route 66 (East to West)
Distance – 545 miles
If you’ve dreamed of one of your road trips in Arizona being a trip on Route 66, you’re in luck! While I-40 has taken over most of the route, you can still visit sites that road trip enthusiasts saw 70 years ago. There’s even a portion that takes you off the interstate and along a portion of the old roadway.
Start your Route 66 adventure in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Founded in 1706, the city has many Hispanic and Native American influences. These influences appear in the food, the music and the architecture of the buildings in Albuquerque.
The Albuquerque Bio Park is a great place to explore for families. The park houses a botanic garden, fishing pond, zoo and aquarium, keeping everyone entertained.
Petrified Forest National Park
50 miles inside the Arizona state line is the Petrified Forest National Park. Along with the park’s fossils, you’ll see prairie grass and plenty of wildlife. Things to do in the park include hiking trails for all levels, horse camping and geocaching. Make sure that you bring plenty of water when you visit. There is no water available inside the park.
Walnut Canyon National Monument
Ancestorial home to the Sinagua people, Walnut Canyon is located just outside of Flagstaff. Take some time to stop to view the ancient dwellings and explore the trails.
If you crave anything nostalgic or old-school, make a stop in Seligman. Nicknamed the ‘Birthplace of Route 66,’ the city also inspired Radiator Springs’ look in the Pixar movie ‘Cars.’ So, you know it’ll be colorful and fun!
Lake Havasu City
300 days of sunshine. Hundreds of miles of shoreline. Lots of fresh air. And London Bridge – but it’s not falling down. Lake Havasu City will let you end this road trip relaxing on the water and enjoying its atmosphere.
Make your first stop to London Bridge. Yes, the original bridge from the children’s song is in Lake Havasu City. In the 1960s, the city of London wanted to sell the bridge. Lake Havasu City decided to purchase it to bring in tourism. It worked! You can appreciate the bridge by taking a walking tour or catching views from the water.
The city offers visitors plenty of water activities including swimming and boating. The city is also home to, believe it or not, replicas of 18 famous US lighthouses. The lighthouses have a practical purpose, to provide safety on the lake. They also are great to visit and tours are available.
Flagstaff to Bryce Canyon National Park (UT)
Distance – 280 miles
The shortest of our road trips in Arizona starts in Flagstaff’s mountainous city and ends in Utah. The monuments and parks you’ll cross on the way let you see some of the most beautiful rock colors and formations you’ll view in the United States.
If one of your previous road trips in Arizona doesn’t include visiting the Grand Canyon, don’t worry. You can still see it on this leg since roads to the park are located outside the city of Cameron.
A small town with a love of the outdoors and pride for its proximity to the Grand Canyon, Flagstaff is a fun place to start this road trip.
The Museum of Northern Arizona contains Native American works from the north part of the state and teaches about its natural history. Riordan Mansion State Park was built in 1904 and had features rare to homes of the time: indoor plumbing, electricity and hot & cold water. Visitors can tour the house and also view wildlife from the grounds.
Astronomy lovers can’t miss Lowell Observatory, where scientists discovered Pluto. Still home to lots of research, the observatory offers visitors the opportunity to watch the stars from six telescopes on an outside observation deck.
For outdoor lovers, visit the national monument parks in the surrounding area. There are also plenty of places to hike, bike, camp, or go skiing in the winter months.
The largest city in the Navajo Nation, Tuba City, teaches about the tribe that lives there and the land’s pre-historic history.
There are two Navajo museums you can visit in Tuba City. The Navajo Code Talkers Museum honors the Native American Marines who created a code used by Allied forces during World War II. The code proved to be unbreakable by the enemy. At the Navajo Interactive Museum, you can see how Navajos lived many years ago and learn about their language, culture and traditions. There’s even a traditional Navajo home inside the museum.
Moenkopi Dinosaur Tracks shows real dinosaur tracks where they have been for over 200 million years ago. This site is on Navajo lands so you many see Navajo vendors selling souvenirs too.
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Just south of the Arizona/Utah state line is Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. The swirls of colors in the rocks allow for some spectacular photographs.
Overnight camping is available, but only through a lottery system to help control how many people access certain parts of the monument.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Amphitheaters, hoodoos and stratas. You’ll find these rock formations and more when you visit Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah. The park offers 18-miles of road, hiking trails, full moon hikes and plenty of places for watching the stars.
There are accommodations available in the park during the winter and summer, including a lodge and campgrounds. There are also spots to grab a bite to eat and a Visitors Center.
Have you taken any road trips in Arizona? What’s your favorite attraction and where would you suggest others visit?