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Arizona seems like a state just made for touring by car. With landscapes so beautiful you just have to pull over and gape, Arizona has enough variety to keep every member of the family happy. We’ve taken several fun family road trips throughout the state of Arizona, and we’re happy to share some of our favorite spots with TPG Family.
Rules of the Road
Before you drive out of your parking spot, there are a couple of things worthy of consideration as you prepare for happy campers. First of all, make sure you have drinks and snacks. You never know when someone is going to get a little peckish, and it’s always good to have something along to avoid a meltdown. If you’d like to keep the kids off their devices and focused on family time, here’s our list of low-tech things to do on a road trip.
Most importantly, plan for extra time on the road. There are so many gorgeous views and odd places to stop along the Arizona roadways, you may very well find some happy diversions on the way to your destination. Enjoy the journey and stop and smell the roses (or cactus flowers as the case may be)!
Fun Family Road Trips in Arizona
Whether you fly into Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) and rent a car, or drive in from a neighboring state like we did, Phoenix is the place to start. (Silvercar, an all-Audi TPG favorite rental car option, is available in Phoenix). On a recent trip we preferred the ease of staying in Tempe, a town located just south of Phoenix that is home to Arizona State University. As a college town, there is an energy and vibe we really liked — not to mention fantastic restaurants and great hiking. While in the area, we visited the Desert Botanical Garden, which was unbelievably cool. Giant cactus gardens, butterfly enclosures, desert wildflowers and more all abound here. Right down the street is the Phoenix Zoo, and nearby is a Legoland Discovery Center and Sea Life Arizona Aquarium, both big hits with kids.
While in Tempe, we enjoyed a very easy hike at The Buttes. Walking up to the top, we scrambled over some rocks for a bird’s-eye view of Phoenix down below. This was a nice way to greet the morning, and then head off to breakfast at Snooze Eatery for some cinnamon roll pancakes (and a nice mimosa for the parents).
For other family things to do in Tempe, go to Tempe Tourism from some great itinerary ideas.
Tucson is a majestic city perched at a higher elevation and literally surrounded by gorgeous mountain ranges and interesting rock outcroppings. Growing up, these vistas were my vision of the Old Southwest, where gunslingers rode horses through the dusty trails. Now, Tucson is all of that and more. Western history mixes with modern hipness in this college town. We loved our stay here.
With the kids, we visited several places we would go back to again and again. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a spectacular combo of zoo, botanical gardens, aquarium, aviary and art museum. With so much to see, we could have stayed here all day on the meandering trails. We saw all kinds of desert creatures included javelinas, owls, prairie dogs, coyotes and more. Just down the road about 30 minutes, we visited the old Mission San Xavier del Bac. Established in 1692, this was one of the earliest Spanish settlements on the Mission Trail leading into California and up the coast. After our tour, we enjoyed some Indian fry bread from vendors in the courtyard. This traditional treat, sort of a bready tortilla, can be served like a taco or flat with honey or sugar. (Our kids chose the honey, and got it all over the car seats — ugh.)
Where to Stay: Loews Ventana Canyon Resort (Rooms from $169. Book through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal to use your UR points or through Hotels.com/Venture to charge it to your Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card to earn 10 miles per dollar.)
For more information, Visit Tucson has several suggested itineraries for families.
One of those postcard perfect towns with ridiculous vistas of red rocks and colorful canyons, Sedona is so full of beautiful sights it’s hard to narrow down a list. One of the best ways to see it up close is off-roading. Several local companies offer four-wheeling tours, and we had a blast with Pink Jeep Tours. The ride can get a little bumpy, and sometimes it felt more like being on a roller coaster instead of a jeep. The kids laughed through the whole ride (securely belted in, of course). The drivers are knowledgeable guides, and we were surprised to learn the whole area was once at the bottom of an ocean!
Another great time in Sedona with kids is a morning hike. We suggest heading out before the sun gets too hot, so right after breakfast is a good time to get started. The best and most picturesque hike is at famous Bell Rock, aptly named due to its bell shape. Choosing one of the easier hike options, we enjoyed seeing tons of desert flora and fauna along the way. Colorful birds, hawks, bunnies, lizards and butterflies all came out to greet us.
For more information on family itineraries, Visit Sedona has some great suggestions.
If your family likes a good ghost story, Jerome is the perfect place for you. Our two girls are obsessed with haunted houses, vampire romances and other creatures of lore. The abandoned Western mining town of Jerome paid off for them big time, with spooky buildings and scary stories. To get a lay of the land, we took a guided tour with Ghost Town Tours’ Spirit Walk. We learned about the mining town and its heyday in the late 1800s, with shoot-outs like in old western movies, and strange murders at the town’s only hotel. The kids were definitely spooked when we walked through a deserted old high school (and so were the parents!). It was a ghostly site complete with creepy locker rooms and an abandoned gym.
Where to Stay: Jerome Grand Hotel (This hotel, with rooms starting at $165, is said to be haunted! Use flexible points like those from the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card to pay for your stay.)
For more information on spooky things to do in Jerome, visit the Jerome Chamber of Commerce.
Saving the best for last, the Grand Canyon is just that — enormously Grand. There are a couple of points of entry worth considering as you plan your road trip. From Tucson, the drive is about five hours to reach the South Rim. You can also take the Grand Canyon Railway from Williams, Arizona, to the South Rim to add some rail to your road trip. From Sedona, the trip will take you about two hours. Whichever city you originate from, the drive will deliver on the promise of grandeur, massive rock formations, deep crevices and colorful outcroppings. Really, it’s hard to describe the enormity of the Grand Canyon and pictures just don’t do it justice.
The Grand Canyon is 1,902 square miles — that’s bigger than the state of Rhode Island! Considered by many as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Grand Canyon is more than a mile deep in some places. This geological masterpiece sports rocks at the bottom that are more than 1.2 billion years old. Kids, that is really ollllllddddddd (and here’s how to visit it and other national parks for less).
Where to Stay: Camp at the Grand Canyon (for those adventurous souls; campsites are $10 per day). Or, check out the Yavapai Lodge (Rooms from $169/night are also bookable with Chase Ultimate Rewards points through its travel portal.) You can also use 40,000 IHG points or an annual certificate available with the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card.
Arizona offers an abundance of road trip options and must-visit sites for families on the go. Have you traveled the state by car? What did your kids enjoy the most? Let us know.
For other road trip tips:
- The Great American Road Trip: One Month, 9,000 Miles and $600 in Rewards
- 5 Tips for Feeding a Large Family on Vacation (Without Going Broke)
- Large Family Road Trip Tips
- Best Credit Cards for Road Trips
Featured image by Shahriar Erfanian, 41 Stories Photography via Getty Images.
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