Red rocks, ghost towns and the Grand Canyon
Some of Arizona's most renowned destinations – as well as plenty of hidden treasures – are just a few short hours north of Phoenix. Whether you take an easy day trip or devote several to touring this unforgettable region, you'll find plenty to see, do, taste and explore when you hit the road headed north.
Pack your hiking boots, grab your camera and make room for some souvenirs: your road trip through North Central and Northern Arizona begins now.
Driving north from Phoenix on I-17, take Highway 260 west to Jerome, an old mining town about 100 miles northwest of Phoenix perched precariously on a steep hillside above Cottonwood. Known for winding, hilly streets lined with galleries and local artists' workshops, this turn-of-the-century gem has been transformed from a former boomtown to a current bohemia. Want a spirited adventure? Head to the Jerome Grand Hotel, perched at the top of the hill. Once the town's hospital, it's now known as a spook-tacular place to spend the night.
Think you can't grow grapes in Arizona? Prepare to be proven deliciously wrong. Head back down the hill from Jerome and into the heart of the Verde Valley, where you'll discover a wide range of local vineyards ready to tempt your taste buds. Stop by any of the four local wineries or seven tasting rooms for a taste of Arizona wine, or try one of the great restaurants or area bistros before making your way to the romantic red rocks of nearby Sedona.
With postcard-perfect vistas of red rocks at every turn, Sedona is sure to make you feel like you've entered a breathtaking new world. Plus, this friendly town is full of art galleries, fine restaurants and some of the most luxurious resorts you can imagine – not to mention hiking trails, jeep tours and mountain biking. If time is on your side, plan to spend the night in one of this town's distinctive resorts or B&Bs, or further north in the heart of Oak Creek Canyon.
Just northeast of Sedona on Highway 89A, this ponderosa pine-covered river gorge beckons. Splash your feet in the gurgling creek at the bottom, or drive onward to the top of the canyon. Don't miss the scenic overlook at the top of the canyon, where you can park and take in the endless views of the Verde Valley below.
Have time for a two-day jaunt? Lucky you – because you'll want the extra time to explore the Grand Canyon, Arizona's own Wonder of the World. From the Sedona/Oak Creek area, head north past Flagstaff – the national park entrance is about two hours away. Once you've marveled at the sheer grandeur of this awe-inspiring place, lace up your boots: it's time for a hike – or at least a little walk. Stroll along the rim or head down into the canyon on the Bright Angel or South Kaibab trails. Just remember, for every minute you spend going down, it'll take you twice as long to get back up.
Don't leave the Grand Canyon just yet. If walking worked up your appetite, treat yourself to a meal worthy of an American president at the El Tovar Dining Room. The first of many famous visitors, Theodore Roosevelt stayed here in 1906, just after its opening. Today, El Tovar offers lunch with a view from several of its tables. After your meal, take a moment to bask in the ambience of the hotel's rustic-yet-refined décor.
Stay for the canyon's sunset, or head down scenic US 180 about 70 miles to Flagstaff for a dinner to remember. This lively college town along old Route 66 is a haven for those who crave an old-fashioned feel with plenty of modern appeal. Stroll the narrow streets full of historic hotels and squares, then pop into one of downtown's tasty new culinary destinations serving inventive cuisine, often sourced from local farms.
If the sky is clear, head just a mile outside of town to Lowell Observatory – the perfect nightcap after a busy day. Soothe your spirit while you stare at the night sky from this working research facility, which also features a planetarium. After enjoying the serenity of the night sky, kick up your heels at the Museum Club, a Route 66 icon.
Make sure to map your trip ahead of time for directions and approximate driving times. Depending on your pace (and how early you get up), you may need more than a day for some itineraries.