3 Arizona road trips and the vehicles to get you there
Across America, and perhaps throughout the globe, Arizona is known for expansive vistas and scenic byways. Taking some time to travel some of the state’s backcountry roadways is just the thing to escape from the upcoming triple-digit weather.
If you simply can’t wait for adventure, here are some great places to visit and explore in Arizona. Of course, getting there and back should be part of the fun, so having the right vehicle can make or break your trip.
Montezuma Castle to Payson
Designated by Teddy Roosevelt as one of the nation’s first national monuments in 1906, Montezuma Castle is a straight shot north of Phoenix on Interstate 17.
You’ll be following a path blazed by some of the nation’s earliest road-trippers. The National Park Service reports Montezuma Castle National Monument “quickly became a destination for America’s first car-bound tourists.”
Unfortunately, it’s also one of Arizona’s most overlooked monuments since most Phoenicians are passing it by on the way to somewhere else.
After getting out to stretch your legs and see the sites, you’ll want to venture over to Tonto State Park area for the gorgeous scenery and maybe hike one of the trails below to see this true geological wonder.
Although there is no camping inside the park, you may consider a car camping adventure near Payson to take advantage of the cooler weather and green scenery. The mountain community situated at about 5,000 feet above sea level is a perfect spot to escape the desert heat with activities like hiking, camping and fishing. From there, take Highway 87 back to Phoenix for another 90 miles or so.
For this adventure, a crossover vehicle like the Ford Escape is the perfect choice. After all, you’re escaping to experience history and to enjoy some of the most beautiful scenery in the surrounding area.
Head east from Phoenix on U.S. 60 until you connect with Highway 88 in Apache Junction. At Theodore Roosevelt Lake, turn southeast on 188. In Central Heights, turn west on Highway 60 for the return to Phoenix.
This might be the best-known scenic driving route in the state for good reason. If you do the full loop, this road adventure covers 198 miles and will take the better part of a day, depending on your stops and sightseeing.
Major points of interest include Lost Dutchman State Park , Tortilla Flat and Canyon Lake. Be advised that some sections are unpaved. While the gravel portions are still accessible for most passenger vehicles, you might enjoy the trip more in something with extra clearance and a stiffer suspension, like America’s favorite full-sized F-150 pickup. Throw some mountain bikes in the back, a tent and some gear and you can make this a multiday adventure.
**Tip : If you’re up for a multi-day adventure, spend some time at Canyon Lake and take a ride on the Dolly Steamboat. Depending on when you go, you could choose from an astronomy dinner cruise or a simple scenic nature cruise.
“The best part of the trip is the scenery,” according to roadtripamerica.com. “The road winds up, down and around rugged canyons abutting the Four Peaks Wilderness. The most spectacular stretch is the descent into Fish Creek Canyon. The road drops 1,500 feet over a short distance; sheer cliffs drop off on the outside.”
Divided into east and west sections, this scenic route is so named because of the area’s rich mining heritage. Arizonascenicroads.com reports the route offers “spectacular scenery for the high desert areas of the state, including tortuous roadway curves, panoramic views, gigantic open mining activities and diversity of desert ecology.”
Head east on U.S. 60 to Globe. Then turn south on State Route 77. This is the start of the eastern section. When you reach Winkelman, you’ll turn northwest on 177, which is the western section that will eventually lead you back to U.S. 60.
“In addition to its mining lore, the corridor offers vast scenic views, hiking areas including a portion of the Arizona Trail, camping, hunting and many bed and breakfasts,” arizonaexperience.org says. “Communities are working together with a goal to offer visitors a rich Arizona experience that combines outdoor recreation and a tradition of mining culture.”
For this trip, consider a brawny SUV like the Ford Expedition. You’ll have space to haul outdoor gear as well as up to eight passengers.