The Best Road Trip Sights in Arizona

While on a road trip across Arizona, from canyon to canyon and ranch to restaurant, make sure to stop and take in some of the best sights along the way. With all of its wide-open spaces, Arizona is synonymous with long drives, but if you take the time to get out of the car, your legs will thank you and you’ll return home with experiences, not just a checked-off list of landmarks. Road trips should be remembered for more than just the road, and Arizona is the perfect terrain for travel memories.

Page, AZ 86040, USA
I saw this place in so many photos before but when I got there and saw it in person it was such an overwhelming experience. Getting there is easy. You take the Interstate 89 South from Page and after 7 minutes you get to the parking lot. The road is suffering some constructions down the road from here and it will appear as closed but go passed the detour sign anyway. Once in the parking lot you must walk about a quarter of a mile to the actual spot where Horseshoe Bend is located. Beware there are no protection rails so one must pay attention when approaching the edge. At 7am there are very few people around and it’s also a good time for photography. After the sun is high in the sky everything is too bright for decent photos.
Payson, AZ, AZ, USA
Petroglyphs are always worth a stop. About 40 minutes north of Globe, on US 60/AZ 77, as the highway winds down through its hairpin curves to the bottom of the Salt River Canyon, stop at ‘Hieroglyphic Point.’ (It’ll be on your left.) This pull-off overlooking the river divides the San Carlos Apache Nation to the south from the White Mountain Apaches to the north. Keep your eyes open for the darker boulders strewn about: they’re covered with pre-columbian petroglyphs dating to centuries before the Apache ever called this area home...
6 Main St, Bisbee, AZ 85603, USA
In the backstreets of the mile-high mining town of Bisbee, Arizona, some unlikely art: a stencil of Mona Lisa? blindfolded? framed by Buddhist philosophy? This is some of the street-art that inspires residents in this SE Arizona town to display bumper stickers with this request: “Keep Bisbee Bizarre.”
4070 S Avenida Saracino, Hereford, AZ 85615, USA
Last April, I spent a morning hiking along the San Pedro River, just NW of Bisbee, AZ; the caterpillars were astoundingly abundant. When I stopped, I could hear them munching on leaves all around--a surround-sound of crunching, the aural fecundity of spring. Between Sierra Vista and Bisbee, the high grassland highway slowly slopes down to this cottonwood-lined river--one of the few free-flowing rivers left in the Desert Southwest. This ribbon of forest stretches from the Mexican border up towards the lower-elevation desert, providing a flyway for migrating birds and even habitat for the occasional jaguar (very rare). In the late 1980’s, this area was made a National Conservation Area, and it’s a nice shady walk in what can often be sun-blasted country.
Jerome, AZ 86331, USA
Jerome commands big-sky views from its mile-high perch on Cleopatra Hill: look out over red rock mesas and volcanic peaks while standing above a network of 88 miles of mine shafts descending over 4,000 ft. Founded in 1876, Jerome’s population fell from its 1920s boom of some fifteen thousand to a dwindling fifty-something in the 1950s; it almost became a ghost town. Day-tripping visitors hungry for Old West ambiance keep it alive today in its post-copper-bust reincarnation. (Sedona is just up the road.) Plenty of haunted Victorian bricks remain, along with art galleries, jewelry designers, and saloons still frequented by leather-chapped regulars. Mexican, Irish, Chinese, Italian, and Croatian miners once climbed up and down these hilly streets; on weekends now, art collectors, college kids, and bandanna’d bikers stream into the town that 444 residents still call home. (A 90-mile drive from Phoenix, it makes for a great day trip if you’re in central Arizona. And just a few miles from Jerome are the well-preserved pre-Columbian hilltop ruins of Tuzigoot National Monument.)
Dateland, AZ 85333, USA
In an otherwise flat and forlorn section of desert between Tucson and San Diego, exit 67 on I-8 is a sweet pit stop: Dateland! A grove of date palms was planted beside the railroad tracks here in the 1920s. Today, it’s more than just a typical refueling station—it’s a true road-trip oasis for your sweet tooth. Sample the variety of caramel ovals, and then get a milkshake! The date shakes are definitely “local-" if not “world"-famous, and prickly pear cactus fruit is also a flavor option. Look for the palms on the horizon about an hour east of Yuma; it’s not a mirage.
1891 I-19 Frontage Rd, Tumacacori, AZ 85640, USA
The wording is irresistible: “Get a taste of history.” On the grounds of one of the oldest Spanish missions (est. 1691) in Arizona, tortillas cooked over a mesquite fire, in the shade of mesquite trees, steps from an adobe church--this is Tumacácori. Drive about an hour south of Tucson. Just 20 miles from the Mexican border, this mission/Nat’l Historical Park was originally established by the Jesuits. The remaining structure (surprisingly intact) dates from the early 19th century, when Franciscans and the native Tohono O’odham stacked some ninety thousand adobe bricks together to build their church. Spaniards and Basques settled the Santa Cruz River valley, missionaries brought fruit trees and foreign religion...After the Colonial period, support from the government in Mexico dwindled, Apache attacks increased, and by the 1850’s, when the U.S. acquired this territory, the mission had been abandoned. Tortillas are made outdoors most weekends fall through spring; call ahead to confirm. (520-398-234) [pronunciation note--Tumacacácori: “too-mah-KAH-koh-ree”]
37615 E Arboretum Way, Superior, AZ 85173, USA
An hour east of Phoenix, or just 90 minutes north of Tucson, is the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Arizona‘s oldest and largest botanical garden. No matter which city you might be visiting, this desert oasis is one of the best day-trips you can take. (My wife and I made a day of it from Tucson, first visiting the pre-Columbian ruins at Casa Grande Nat’l Monument, then continuing through the Old West town of Florence before ending up here at the Arboretum.) In addition to native Sonoran Desert vegetation, the gardens feature specimens from deserts all over the world, making this a truly ‘international oasis.’ It’s jointly run by the state as a state park and also by the University of Arizona. Founded in the 1920’s, this is one of the best places to be outside in Arizona... (For more information: http://cals.arizona.edu/bta/about_us.html and http://azstateparks.com/Parks/BOTH/index.html)
Payson, AZ, AZ, USA
Driving between Globe and Show Low in the White Mountains east of Phoenix, US 60 curves and descends dramatically into the Salt River Canyon. Some call it the ‘mini Grand Canyon.’ The highway snakes down some 2000 feet before climbing back up... Spring brings snowmelt and whitewater rafting...by late summer, the monsoon rains are keeping the river muddy and turbulent...Several parking areas allow you to pull off the two-lane road; breathe in the views, stretch your legs on Apache land.
1950 W San Xavier Rd, Tucson, AZ 85746, USA
Just to the southwest of Tucson, on the San Xavier Reservation, sits the late XVIII-century Mission San Xavier del Bac, one of the finest examples of Spanish colonial architecture in the U.S. The combination of late Baroque and Moorish-inspired design is a beacon any time of the year, but on this winter day, the flooded fields worked some magic—panoramas of reflected landscapes are almost nonexistent in southern Arizona! The ‘white dove of the desert’ is the oldest intact European structure in Arizona, and it still serves as a parish church for the Tohono O’odham people.
Lake Havasu City, AZ 86403, USA
After the Grand Canyon, Arizona’s second-biggest sightseeing destination is...London Bridge. And unlike many ‘world landmarks’ from up the road in Las Vegas, this is actual Old World stonework, meticulously de-constructed, transported, and re-constructed over the waters of a dammed section of the Colorado River. To be honest, I wouldn’t call this a ‘destination,’ but if you happen to be passing through the area on a road-trip, or if you’re a die-hard anglophile driving through the Desert Southwest, then this curiosity is worth a stop. This early 19th-century bridge began sinking in the early 20th-century as automobile traffic (for which the bridge hadn’t been designed) increased over the Thames, and so in the 1960’s the bridge was literally put up for sale. Arizona entrepreneur Robert P. McCulloch paid about two and a half million dollars for it, had it meticulously disassembled, shipped to California via the Panama Canal, and then trucked across to this spot on the the eastern banks of the Colorado River, a few hours south of Las Vegas. By 1971, the work was finished, and now you can kayak or jet-ski under these curious but venerable arches. (Note--Lake Havasu City has become a wildly popular college-crowd spring-break destination...and summers are brutally hot.)
17843 E Peak Ln, Picacho, AZ 85141, USA
As you speed through the desert on I-10 between Tucson and Phoenix, consider getting off at Exit 219, especially if you have kids in the backseat... ...and even if you don’t have kids in the backseat, feeding ostriches and lorikeets is FUN! This is a classic road-trip must-stop thing to do. Stretch your legs and take a break from dodging eighteen-wheelers while communing with a bit of feathered nature at the foot of Picacho Peak. There are deer and goats to feed as well, and ostrich feather dusters for purchase, along with gigantic eggshells and related desert avian kitsch. The ‘rainbow lorikeet forest’ is a delight--these Australian parrots fly free in this tree-filled enclosure and will happily land on you to feed from the cups of nectar you’ll be offering... I’d passed by this area for years before finally stopping, always curious but skeptical. I can honestly say it’s not a rip-off and you’ll probably end up spending more time than you thought you would...unless you have a phobia of birds. (Keep in mind--mid-summer mid-day temps can be brutal here, and there are occasional dust-storms in this area. Plan accordingly.)
1580 Duval Mine Road, Green Valley, AZ 85614, USA
Visitors flock to southern Arizona for sun and saguaros... ...but for a hole in the ground? Other than the ones on golf courses? From the 1960’s to the 1980’s, Tucson was ringed by eighteen steel-and-concrete-reinforced holes in the ground--highly secure shafts in the desert that housed intercontinental ballistic missiles tipped with multi-megaton nuclear bombs. “Peace through Deterrance” was the idea, as the propaganda-phrase goes... Of the 54 Titan Missile complexes that were scattered around the country, only this one, about 45 minutes south of Tucson, has been preserved and opened to the public. It’s a startling reminder of how thin the line was that separated the “Cold War” from “M.A.D."--"mutual assured destruction.” It would only have taken 30 minutes from its desert launch for this missile to deliver unimaginable destruction--via a 9 megaton nuclear warhead--up to 6300 miles (10,000km) away... On a lighter note, some of the filming of one of the Star Trek films took place here. You can visit the subterranean control bunker and staff living quarters, access corridors, and the missile silo itself. Tours are offered on the hour year-round, with additional tours offered every thirty minutes from January through April. Closed Christmas and Thanksgiving. Whether you’re coming from the left or from the right, politically, the sobering reality of this fusion of human nature and technology is worth going underground for if you’re driving down I-19.
Ajo
Ajo, AZ 85321, USA
In the middle of the Sonoran Desert, hours from Phoenix and Tucson, sits Ajo. Dating back to the 19th century, and with a population of only 3700, its art scene is surprisingly vibrant, with murals all over this mining town. As the nearest town to Organ Pipe National Monument, and also as a pit-stop for Phoenicians driving down to the Sea of Cortez just south of the nearby Mexican border, Ajo might seem like an unlikely haven for artists and street-art. The town’s central square was built to resemble a colonial Spanish plaza--one of the best examples of 20th-century town planning in Arizona. Yes, it can be unbelievably hot in the summer, but during the cooler half of the year, you won’t regret lingering in its quaint streetscape.
580 North Ajo Sonoita Highway
Why, Arizona. You just have to stop. And even though it feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere, in one of the hottest deserts in the U.S., it’s on the way if you’re headed to see the natural wonders of Organ Pipe National Monument...or if you’re escaping from the urban routines of Tucson or Phoenix and heading to the nearest beaches at Puerto Peñasco (“Rocky Point”) in Mexico--a mere 3 hours and 45 minutes from Tucson, incidentally...Years ago, when the handful of local residents wanted to have their locale designated as an official place, they wanted to call it “Y,” since the two highways came together in a Y-shaped intersection. State bureaucracy required all town and place names to have at least three letters--and so, “Why” was born. And then, “Why Not” came into being--the best (and only) place around to stock up on gas, drinks, and ice for trekking through the Sonoran Desert.
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