Wild rivers, Western ranches and ancient rock art
We call this side of the state Arizona's West Coast – and when you visit, you'll see why. Tucked along the Colorado River, the western edge of Arizona has plenty of places to take a dip, or just enjoy some quality lake time. In addition to our “coastal” treasures, this trip will take you through Western towns, glittering mineral sites and even to the London Bridge.
If you're driving to Spring Training from California, even better – many of these destinations will be right on your way to or from Spring Training. So take your time…these one-of-a-kind destinations are more than a pit stop.
Located just north of the Peoria/Surprise area is Lake Pleasant, and it lives up to its name. With miles of shoreline perfect for lounging and convenient boat rentals, you'll find plenty of fun in the sun here. Since Lake Pleasant is just a few miles out of Phoenix, it's an easy afternoon escape.
Head northwest on US 60 and you'll soon reach Wickenburg, just outside the Phoenix metro area yet a world away from modern times. Around 40 minutes from Lake Pleasant or Surprise, Wickenburg is a haven for cowboys and cowgirls looking for fun. Make it a real Western affair with a stay at one of the town's famed guest ranches – where you can ride horses, have a campfire cookout and more.
For a daytrip into an unexpected kind of history – geological rather than Wild West – head directly west from Phoenix on I-10 to Quartzsite. This little place packs a big punch, receiving more than 2 million visitors a year. Located just before the California border, Quartzsite is known for big gem and mineral shows during the winter months and for rockhounding year round.
If you're taking I-8 to or from Southern California – or just have a thing for prehistoric history – you won't want to miss this fascinating collection of more than 800 pictograms etched onto basalt boulders. Located outside the city of Gila Bend, about 80 miles southwest of Phoenix, these petroglyphs featuring people, animals and events are likely the work of the ancient Hohokam people, and are thought to be thousands of years old.
From Gila Bend, turn south on AZ 85 and make the 60-mile trek past Ajo to Organ Pipe National Monument, a lush wilderness area that might make you forget you're in the heart of the Sonoran Desert. Brimming with vibrant cacti, Joshua trees and countless other plants, this protected area is also a UNESCO biosphere site – meaning its biological diversity is an international treasure. Come for the scenery, but stay for the wildlife – which can range from elf owls to bighorn sheep.
As you head back to I-8 and west toward California, you can't miss Yuma. This city along the banks of the Colorado River is known for agritourism, sunny skies, historic sites and plenty of watersports. Be sure to stop at the Yuma Territorial Prison, a feared place for Wild West outlaws when it opened back in 1876. Today it's a state historic park nestled on the banks of the Colorado. From there, it's an easy walk through historic downtown Yuma for shopping and dining.
If you started in Quartzsite, continue on your journey north on Highway 95 to the Parker Strip, a 16-mile-long stretch of Colorado River waterfront stretching from the town of Parker north to the Parker Dam. Countless hotels and motels line the shores, while the river itself plays host to everything from canoes and parasails to waverunners and speedboats. Or head just a bit further south on Highway 95 to the Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge, where a lush cottonwood-willow forest provides a cozy home to birds, snakes and other beasts.
You don't have to cross the Atlantic to get a taste of the UK – just head up Highway 95 about 30 miles from Parker Strip to Lake Havasu City, home of the London Bridge – yes, that London Bridge, brought all the way from the Thames to add some Old World elegance to this laid-back lake town. Once you're here, rent a boat for a spin around this famed lake, or explore the streets of downtown and choose from a long list of scrumptious dining spots.
The freeway's fine, but for a real treat, head off onto the historic Route 66 – where you'll find Kingman and Oatman, two little cities with big pasts. In Kingman, where more than 60 buildings are on the national registry of historic places, you'll find museums galore – including the Route 66 Museum itself. Meanwhile, the ghost town of Oatman boasts something entirely unexpected: wild burros. Make sure you buy a bag of carrots – usually a dollar or two – at one of the shops around town to feed these friendly residents.
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.