We’re creeping up on the holidays here with it being in early November ~ and one of the best things about the holidays is having friends and family who arrive at your house.
Equally as wonderful as having your family or friends over is finding a way to entertain everyone to get them out of the house.
Young or old, what works best for us is two words: Day trip.
We do so many day trips – and for the last 3 years, every holiday we have entertained our parents, brothers, sister, cousins and even childhood friends through day trips. By taking our guests (no matter who they are) on day trips around Arizona, everyone gets to experience a change of pace.
Even better .. it allows us to show off some of Arizona’s most beautiful sights… AND.. allows our kids to see more than what is here in Phoenix (which.. I’ll admit gets a little old after a while!)
Since we are just a few weeks short of the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays now, we are working on our own plans to help our house guests – so we thought we would share that with you so you can do the same.
Tucson’s Catalina Highway to Mt. Lemmon
Head down to Tucson’s east side and head up to Summerhaven, Ski Valley and Sky Center – the drive will take you through the more scenic portion of the Coronado National Forest. Along the scenic drive .. you can pull out and check out the sights on the overlook, and enjoy much cooler weather (as much as 30 degrees cooler!)
Enjoy some food at the Sawmill Run Restaurant in Summerhaven or, the Iron Door Restaurant, a little farther up at the top of the drive.
Set aside a few hours for the trip up and back – not including any time you spend eating.
Willcox to Chiricahua National Monument
Take HWY 186 south of Willcox south for just 40 miles – you’ll travel through rolling green hills of beautiful farmland with grazing cows until you get to Chiricahua National Monument. Once you get to the monument, follow Bonita Canyon Road all the way to the top – park your car and spend an hour viewing the sights.
It’s absolutely GORGEOUS. Return by driving towards Elgin and enjoy some time at any of the wineries that dot the roadside. In the winter, the vineyards are pretty quiet.. but you can visit for wine tastings – offered daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. – you’ll pay just $5 – $8 for six samples.
Our kids loved this day trip – it’s quite a ways from Phoenix though so start early in the morning, or opt to stay over the night before in Willcox.
Saguaro National Park
Take a beautiful drive through the Saguaro National Park on Bajada Loop – from Tucson, you will take Gates Pass West and turn right on Kinney Road past the Desert Museum to the visitor entrance.
There are two scenic drives in Saguaro National Park – open from 7 a.m. to sunset. The drive in the east part of the National Park is a paved, 8 mile one way loop, while the drive in the western part of the park has several routes.
The drive time from Tucson is about an hour.
Fredonia/Vermillion Cliffs Scenic Road
Head up HWY 89A from milepost 525 to 607 for just over 80 miles of grassy plains and pine forests to see the Kaibab Plateau. You’ll see sunset colors of leaves, followed by the Vermillion Cliffs scenic area.
The scenic road is the entry for the Colorado River in Marble Canyon and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. You can stop to visit the Navajo Bridge (constructed in 1929) with the newer bridge which was constructed in 1995… and visit the Navajo Bridge Center inside to learn more.
Swift Trail Parkway
This parkway heads up one of southern Arizona’s famous “sky islands,” Mount Graham near Safford. It climbs about 6,000 feet into lush mountain pine forests, traverses the habitat of the endangered red squirrel, bypasses an observatory and concludes at an 11-acre trout lake.
The trail was named after T.T. Swift, who was the first supervisor of the Coronado National Forest – it starts at 2,900 feet in the Gila Valley (desert), and travels up to 9,000 high in Pinealeño Range. When you get to the top, you’ll see what looks as “Sky Islands”. Along the way, you’ll see Heliograph Peak (a signal outpost during the late 1800’s) and Treasure Park – which legends mention may hold gold and silver from Mexican banditos.
It would be a wonderful way to conclude a trip from Willcox to Chiricahua National Monument if you are headed back to the Phoenix area through Safford instead of taking the 1-10 through Tucson.
Volcano and Ruins
Take a Sunday drive through Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki National Monument through this 73 mile scenic loop.
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument is a U.S. National Monument created to protect Sunset Crater, a cinder cone within the San Francisco Volcanic Field (now dormant). The monument is managed by the National Park Service in close conjunction with nearby Wupatki National Monument. The crater/national monument is open 9 – 5 for part of the year and 8 – 5 the remainder of the year. A vehicle pass is available for $20 (for both Sunset Crater and Wupatki National Monuments).
Wupatki National Monument is one of several sites preserving pueblos (villages) of ancient peoples. The ruins/village are scattered over a relatively large area of desert northeast of Flagstaff. The pueblos all have a distinctive deep red color and were made from thin, flat blocks of the local Moenkopi sandstone.
The scenic loop leads you from the high Ponderosa Pine forests of Sunset Crater, down nearly 2,000 feet in elevation to the red rocks and painted desert vistas of Wupatki.
Point Sublime (North Rim, Grand Canyon)
If you can spare more than a few hours.. head up to the north rim of the Grand Canyon and ride out to to the Ponderosa Pines and the lush forest of the Kaibab Plateau. The trees will cluster as you head up a ill – you’ll see some pretty impressive views of the Kaibab Plateau, and the bottom of the canyon (from certain spots).
It’s not an easy drive – the adventure will be a little rough, and at one point it will go to one lane – but the trip will give you 270 degree views and you’ll have the opportunity to see the Colorado River in the bottom of the canyon.
The trip is 18 miles one way – and you’ll start at the Grand Canyon Lodge on the North Rim, and go north on the park road for 2.6 miles until you turn off at Widforss Trail – turn left and go 18 miles. You’ll want to try to have a 4-wheel drive and high clearance vehicle.