Turn 225 Miles into a Grand Arizona Adventure
Not even 225 miles separate Phoenix from the Grand Canyon. If you were going to drive straight through, you could do it in four hours. Easy. The question, though, is why would you want to?
There’s so much to see and do along the way that even born-and-bred Arizonans (including those who’ve worked on this story) wind up surprised the first time they make the trip—and bummed they didn’t allocate more time for roadside exploration. Options range from vineyard-hopping (there’s a burgeoning wine scene here) to connecting with spirits (whether one's own in Sedona, or other people’s in the ghost town of Jerome). To say nothing of how much there is to do in Phoenix before you head out on the highway. (A lot, which we’ll get to shortly.)
Another point to consider: Getting to Phoenix has never been easier, with new direct flights taking off everywhere from Fargo to Ft. Lauderdale for the winter season. So give yourself the gift of a few days—six would be amazing—then hit the road. You’ll find our ideal itinerary below.
Day one: Phoenix
Take the morning to bounce back from your journey and chill at your hotel (the city's full of great options, but we're loving the Kimpton Hotel Palomar Phoenix for the fabulous downtown location and rooftop pool), then proceed to the first order of business: Walk the half mile or so to Pizzeria Bianco for what many a food editor and restaurant critic has deemed the nation's best slice.
Duly refueled (and bowled over), make your way to the nearby Phoenix Art Museum to be awed in entirely different ways. For starters, there's the longstanding Firefly Infinity Mirror Room by Yayoi Kusama—the same eye-popping installation artist whose temporary exhibits are inevitably the hottest tickets—and cause the longest lines—wherever her work travels. Arrive by Jan. 5, and you can still catch Antonio, the Fine Art of Fashion Illustration—an exhibit of more than 100 works by Antonio Lopez and Juan Ramos, whose iconic work has appeared in Vogue, The New York Times Magazine, Elle and others. (On a related note: The museum's Fashion Collection, which spans the 18th-20th centuries, is worth a spin, too.)
Then there's the new Legends of Speed (through Mar. 15), the museum's first major exhibit of race cars, with more than 20 sets of wheels by everyone from Alfa Romeo to Maserati, some of which have won the Indy 500, others of which have won the Italian Grand Prix—and still others of which have won Le Mans. Just beware the urge to rev your own engines and hit the highway, because you've still got plenty to do in Phoenix before that happens.
The short list includes another nearby downtown museum: the Heard, widely considered the nation's finest collection of Native American art. If you do nothing else here, make sure to see the stunning Hopi Katsinas, Zuni jewelry and Navajo textiles. And if you arrive before Apr. 17, you can catch Grand Procession, 23 "soft sculptures" from the largest private collection of contemporary Plains Indian dolls in existence.
You'll also want to explore the indie shops downtown, from Bunky Boutique (pick up some cute saguaro gear at the source) to Antique Sugar for the best vintage finds. Then, when you've worked up a proper dinner appetite, hit another neighborhood favorite—Blue Hound Kitchen and Cocktails—for the "curated beef program" (if you're feeling ambitious, go for the ribeye, but leave room for the fries with aji amarillo and buttermilk dressing).
To work some of that off—and ensure a night of solid, pre-departure sleep—go kick up your heels. There's live country music nightly at Scottsdale's iconic Handlebar J, complete with Arizona Two-Steppin' on the dance floor.
Day two: Phoenix to Verde Valley
After a morning hike (the South Mountain Park trails include something for everyone), take the 1-17 about 110 miles north to Jerome, your first—and funkiest—stop of the day. Perched atop Cleopatra Hill, the onetime "wickedest town in the west" has transitioned from turn-of-the-century mining outpost to an artist hub and ghost town. Ghost Town Tours offers daily Spirit Walks—hourlong intros to the local historic buildings, ruins and paranormal activity. But if you're down for something spookier, go for the company's Haunted History Shuttle or Jerome Ghost Adventure, both offered daily as well.
A couple of local haunts you'll want to check out, whether or not you take a formal tour: Puscifer, the record store and barber shop owned by rock star Maynard Keenan of Tool fame (we told you this was a funky town). The other Keenan-owned business you won't want to miss: Caduceus Cellars Tasting Room, where you'll also find an Espresso House. And for lunch? The Haunted Hamburger, naturally, where the signature patties and handspun milkshakes rival the resident views and ghost stories—both of which are pretty intense.
About a 15-minute drive east of Jerome on AZ-89A is Cottonwood, where you'll want to park yourself for a while. You're in the heart of the thriving Verde Valley Wine Region, where tastings are most definitely in order. At a minimum, check out the award-winning Arizona Stronghold Vineyards (just prepare for some irreverently named collections) and Alcantara Vineyards. A note about the latter: The most fun you can have getting here is by boat (the estate hugs the Verde River), so consider Verde Adventures' beloved Water to Wine tour (final destination: Alcantara's tasting room).
At some point this afternoon, find your way to The Tavern Hotel (a historic grocery store turned posh boutique hotel in Old Town Cottonwood) to check in and chill out by the fire. And once you're feeling up to another excursion (and possibly another bottle or two), walk the three minutes to Merkin Vineyards Osteria & Tasting Room. Yet another Maynard Keenan creation (the guy's nothing if not prolific and, um, playful), this Italian venture serves up stellar house-made pasta along with beautifully paired wines. Try the cacio e pepe or the prickly pear-infused mac & cheese. And save room for some of the seasonal, house-made gelato to ensure extra sweet dreams.
Day three: Cottonwood to Flagstaff
Rise and shine! Or if you're not quite shining after yesterday's bacchanalia, rise and caffeinate across the street from your hotel at Crema Craft Kitchen & Bar, where you'll find an excellent espresso bar—and a continental breakfast that's included in your room rate. And—truth be told—you have to rally only so much: The next stop is a mere 19 miles up 89A, where you'll find the red rock heaven that is Sedona.
Spend as much time here as you see fit—emphasis on fit if you'll be doing one of the legendary local hikes. Try Boynton Canyon or Airport Mesa, both said to house vortices (mystical energetic sites, basically). But whether or not you believe that energy spirals into or out of the earth's surface at various sacred spots around the globe, the gorgeousness alone here will awe you. And hey, if you feel a little something inexplicable amid these surreal, red rock surroundings, who are we to say it's not a vortex at work?
Of course, there's another mind-body-spirit pursuit that Sedona's known for: pampering, nurturing and healing treatments. And though the town is teeming with legendary spas, L'Apothecary Spa at L'Auberge de Sedona is our post-hike favorite, specifically for the Feet in the Creek treatment, whereby a therapist takes you ankle-deep into Oak Creek (the lovely waterway that borders the hotel) for some breathing exercises and sublime reflexology with the spa's signature flower essence serum. Pair that with the Desert Sage Sugar Scrub, and you'll be maximally peaced out on the treatment table—but try to come to, because there's more amazing exploration on the day's docket.
Fuel up on hacienda burritos just outside of town at the beloved, historic Indian Gardens Cafe & Market before you head another five minutes north on 89-A to Slide Rock State Park in Oak Creek Canyon. Yup, same creek you were just ankle-deep in, except now you may want to brave the full-body version on the namesake rock slide. Mind you, the water that flows through this historic homestead turned recreation area is cold, so be sure you want to go all the way in before you do. Either way, the place is still worth a visit for the natural beauty and old-timey vibes.
Nine miles up the road, on your final approach to Flagstaff, you'll find another worthy stop: the Oak Creek Overlook Vista Native American Artisan Market, where you'll find gorgeous local jewelry and crafts (and, as the name would suggest, views).
With a newly acquired treasure or two, roll into Flagstaff—not even 15 miles north on 89-A—and relax. One favorite local B&B is The Inn at 410, which places you right in the thick of things. On the other hand, if your lodging tastes lean grand and historic versus small and intimate, consider the iconic Weatherford Hotel. We're not saying you shouldn't check out the equally iconic Hotel Monte Vista, but perhaps just for drinks. Otherwise, the sounds of three resident bars—and who knows how many resident ghosts—might disturb your well-earned sleep.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves here: Believe us, no one's sending you to bed without supper. Especially in a town full of epic eats. We suggest the sustainable and seasonal selections at Brix—a historic carriage house turned thoughtfully chic eatery. And though you can't go wrong with the wine selection (along with the requisite local cheese board), consider the cocktail menu, too, where the bourbon-based Daisy Lou is a favorite.
Day four: Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon
Conveniently, historic Flagstaff (or Flag, as you’ll quickly learn to call it) is compact and walkable—or bike-able, for that matter (and you may want to consider some rental wheels to explore beyond the central section). Either way, once you’ve had a good look around—and some scones and café au lait at local legend Macy’s European Coffee House and Bakery—hit the road.
Your next stop is just 15 minutes northeast of town, where you’ll find Picture Canyon, home to fascinating ancient petroglyphs and blessedly easy hikes (hey, your quads and calves may still be bouncing back from Sedona and South Mountain).
Then comes a tempting detour: Winslow is a mere 52 miles east of here—well worth the drive if you’re into a) classic road trip music, b) the Eagles, c) Route 66 or d) all of the above. Snap and post a selfie entitled “Standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona” (there’s even a Standin’ on the Corner Park), then order the Piki Bread with Hopi Hummus from the Travelers Lunch Menu at the Turquoise Room. From there, you’ll backtrack a bit and head toward Valle (115 miles to the northwest if you’ve taken the detour; not quite half that distance if not).
Wherever you’re coming from, welcome to the gateway (or at least a gateway) to the Grand Canyon, where the new Under Canvas Grand Canyon is a safari-style glamping setup that places you 25 minutes from the South Rim entrance. You can still snag a luxury tent here through Nov. 17, but after that, you’ll have to wait till the camp’s reopening in the spring of 2020, or just check into any of the more conventional (though lovely) lodgings in the neighborhood.
If you go the Under Canvas route, however, it’ll include on-site dining, organic bath products, a fire pit and s’mores, yoga and an Adventures Concierge, who’ll see to whatever you want to do in the Grand Canyon (whether that’s hiking, biking, driving, flying, boating or horseback riding your way through the national park).
Day five: Free time at the Grand Canyon
See: all the activities mentioned above. And even if you wind up staying someplace that doesn't have an in-house Adventures Concierge, plenty of operators in the Grand Canyon area offer treks, flyovers, Jeep safaris, mountain biking tours, horseback rides...the works.
Day 6: Valle to the state’s northern edge
After breakfast and morning yoga, take the 150-or-so-mile drive to Marble Canyon where you’ll find no actual marble but natural beauty to spare. This stretch of the Colorado River—flanked by multicolored and strikingly textured limestone walls—is a favorite of river runners, who launch from Lees Ferry (i.e., right here) before making their way to and through the Grand Canyon.
Even if you have no intention of hopping a raft and riding the rapids downstream, the Lees Ferry launch ramp is fun to see, as is the surrounding area: Glen Canyon and the attendant dam along the Arizona/Utah border. But of all the various walks in the area, don’t miss the pedestrian portion of the Navajo Bridge that takes you over the Colorado River.
Break for lunch at the iconic, middle-of-nowhere Cliff Dwellers restaurant (at the lodge of the same name), then—if you’re feeling extra-ambitious and you’re driving a 4x4 with high clearance—do the 52-mile drive to White Pocket inside Vermillion Cliffs. Yup, that’s the same National Monument that houses The Wave, except hiking White Pocket’s swirling, color-banded, outer-galactic-looking formations doesn’t require a permit.
Wind down your day—and adventure—in Page, a two-hour drive (give or take) from White Pocket, and a 45-minute drive from Marble Canyon. Check into Lake Powell Resort for views of the namesake lake, and hit Big John's Texas Barbecue for pulled pork or smoked baby back ribs. Full rack. You've probably gotten in like 20,000 steps today.
Day 7: Return to Phoenix (and home)
After taking in the last of your Lake Powell views, hit the road for the four-hour drive back to Phoenix. And don’t be surprised to find yourself plotting your next Arizona adventure along the way. It’s only natural.
Ready to plan your own road trip? Check out Visit Arizona's website for tips and recommendations.