Whether you’re sharing the thrill of an off-road Jeep ride across the desert or connecting over the rich history of a 1,500-year-old archaeological site, there’s something about spending time together in awe-inspiring nature—of the type found throughout Arizona—that brings people closer. And with one-of-a-kind experiences and dream destinations for all ages, there’s no better place for families to go than the Grand Canyon State. It boasts some of the country’s most unique outdoor recreational opportunities, from treasure hunts and ghost towns to dude ranches and llama hikes.
Explore an underground cave system and see the longest stalactites in the world. Don a headlamp and get a personal look at a former mine. Search for mythological gold in the Superstition Mountains. Along the way, you’ll find plenty of adventure, relaxation, and a whole lot of good food.
Nestled under the Sonoran desert, Kartchner Caverns cave system boasts rooms the length of football fields and 13,000 feet of passages. Formed millions of years ago, immense stalagmites and the longest stalactites in the world project from ancient limestone. Marvel at Arizona’s tallest natural column, take a guided tour in this incredible underground ecosystem, hang out with some local bats, and drop by the Discovery Center to see the fossils of past residents.
Be a miner for a day
For a close-up look at Arizona’s mining past, head out to Queen Mine, one of the richest mines in Bisbee, a historic copper mining town that flourished from 1877 to 1975. Strap on a hard hat and headlamp before boarding a train that descends 1,500 feet underground and meeting former miners who talk about the techniques, dangers, and drama of working in a turn-of-the-century mine. Afterward, stop at the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum, a Smithsonian affiliate, for an interactive trip back in time to learn about the town’s role in the industrialization of America.
Haunt a ghost town
A bustling town in the 1890s, Goldfield Ghost Town boasted 3,000 residents and 28 buildings at its peak, including three saloons, and a boarding house, general store, blacksmith shop, brewery, meat market, and schoolhouse. Like many communities that sprang up due to the gold discovery boom, it was soon abandoned. Today visitors can go there to immerse themselves in Wild West culture. Pan for gold, take a ride on Arizona’s only narrow-gauge train, watch a gun fight by the Goldfield Gunfighters, and wander down historic Main Street.
Hire a four-legged guide
Looking for a new hiking companion? Join Arizona Backcountry Llamas on a two-hour, four-hour, or all-day hike through the stunning Prescott area with their camelid friends. As you lead your llama—an animal that’s naturally gifted at hiking—you’ll discover the natural and cultural history of the region and explore granite boulders, cool pines, or one of the area’s many lakes before stopping for a snack or lunch.
Discover a desert oasis
With nearly three miles of paths and trails winding through colorful gardens, woodlands, and native riparian habitat, Boyce Thompson Arboretum holds 19,000 desert plants from all around the world, including Mexico, Madagascar, India, China, and Africa. Don’t miss the Cactus Garden featuring bizarre shapes in cacti or the Children’s Garden with its human sundial and maze.
Connect with native culture
Located on a 1,500-year-old archaeological site once inhabited by the Ancestral Sonoran Desert people (also known as the Hohokam culture), the Pueblo Grande Museum is the largest and best preserved archaeological site within Phoenix. Stroll through a prehistoric Hohokam archaeological village site with a partially excavated platform mound, ballcourt, and replicated prehistoric houses. Inside the museum, a hands-on gallery displays artifacts of the Hohokam as well as changing exhibits and offers activities to help kids learn more about the science of archaeology.
Take the path less traveled
Go off-road with the Superior Jeep Tour and explore the extraordinary natural beauty of Superior, a small town at the base of the Apache Leap Mountains and surrounded by Tonto National Forest. During the ride, you’ll experience the Sonoran Desert and its majestic saguaro cacti as well as the valley, plateaus, and snow-crested mountains of Central Arizona, and stop at hidden gems like Historic Pinal Cemetery and Silver King Mine.
Hunt for gold
The rugged 160,000 acre Superstition Mountain range in the Tonto National Forest may be hiding a secret—countless tales have been told about the Dutchman who emerged from these mountains nearly a century ago with a satchel full of gold under his arm. Today, people still flock to Lost Dutchman State Park looking for a gold mine that may or may not exist, as well as some of the state’s best hiking, camping, and mountain biking. Conquer one of six scenic trailsand keep your eyes peeled for treasure along the way.
Where to eat along the way
Tortilla Flat Saloon
Located in a remnant of an old west town, Tortilla Flat Saloon is as famous for its atmosphere as its chili or prickly pear gelato. Cozy up on a barstool made of real saddles and admire the wallpaper made from real dollar bills from visitors all around the world.
Bisbee Breakfast Club
Since first opening in Bisbee, this Southern Arizona mini chain has earned its reputation for filling breakfasts. Favorites include the Durango Burro, a flour tortilla filled with scrambled eggs, mild chilies, ham, and cheddar-jack cheese, smothered in green chili sauce, and powdered sugar–dusted blueberry buttermilk pancakes with house-made granola.
Hope’s Fry Bread
Dig into authentic fry bread at this charming restaurant in Mesa run by a husband-wife team who grew up on the Navajo Nation. The menu has sweet and savory sections, with creative dishes like the Asian Persuasion topped with teriyaki chicken, grilled pineapple slices, fresh cabbage, and sriracha.
Where to stay along the way
Circle Z Ranch
Channel the spirit of the Old West at Circle Z Ranch, an all-inclusive escape with seven adobe cottages in the heart of the Sonoran Desert. Enjoy horseback riding through unspoiled landscapes, meals cooked from scratch, guided stargazing, and much more.
The Motor Lodge
Set in a historic motor court that’s been operational in Prescott since 1937, The Motor Lodge has new life as a modern boutique hotel. With fun and funky decor, comfy beds, and hospitality, it makes for a cozy spot on family road trips.
Rancho de los Caballeros
This sanctuary of 13,300 rideable acres isn’t just for horses—guests also love the spa, golf, and spacious casitas. The long-running kids camp offers nonstop adventure too, like horseback riding, roping, movies under the stars, archery, and scavenger hunts.