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A visit to the Titan Missile Museum in Arizona is an eye-opening experience. This amazing underground sight shows the might (and fright) that was created during the Cold War. Take a tour for a glimpse into national defense in mid-century America.

Ah, the Cold War was a wonderful time. While the United States and Soviet Union were nuclear saber-rattling with each other, some Americans were building fallout shelters in their backyards to survive the expected onslaught of airborne radiation. Meanwhile, school-age children hid under their desks in school during air raid drills–apparently nothing provides as much protection overhead as a piece of flimsy plywood. Those were some tense times.

Titan II missile in silo at Titan Missile Museum in Arizona

Where is the Titan Missile Museum?

It’s quite surprising to realize that the beguiling Sonoran Desert surrounding Tucson, with its majestic saguaro cactus forests, was a nuclear-tipped Ground Zero. Burrowed beneath a landscape that reveals an unexpected array of plant and animal life is a surviving Titan Missile silo. The Titan Missile Museum barely scratches the earth’s surface in Green Valley, Arizona, just a 25-minute drive due south of downtown Tucson.

Radioactive suits at the Titan Missile Museum.

From 1963 through 1987 there were 54 Titan II missile sites on active alert across America; a whopping 18 silos of the encircled Tucson, making the city a prime target for the Soviet Union. (I bet THAT wasn’t in the tourism brochures back then!) The silos are relics of a time when MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) was the normal course of business between the two superpowers. Visiting launch complex 571-7 at the Titan Missile Museum is a sobering reminder of how close the countries came to pulling the nuclear trigger.


Touring the Titan Missile Museum-Underground

Visitors start their tour by descending a set of metal steps more than 100 feet deep into the subterranean bunker, which is protected behind a set of hardened blast doors. As if to show that the only dangers aren’t delivered from the sky, the entrance is clearly marked by a sign stating “Watch out for rattlesnakes.” The guides are former Air Force personnel, many of whom were missile crew members who worked and lived underground during the Cold War.

The key to ending the world.

During the 45-minute tour you get to visit the Launch Control Center. With its vast array of blinking mainframe computers and rotary dial phones it feels like a time tunnel to 1963, or perhaps something out of a cheesy science fiction film. In fact, the museum served as a setting in the 1996 film Star Trek: First Contact; in its cameo role the missile was transformed into a “Warp Drive” space ship. Across the room a standard government-issue metal file cabinet painted bright red held the top-secret launch codes that the crew would have used to send the missile skyward.

PRO TIP: Touring the underground silo of the Titan Missile Museum requires descending and climbing 55 stairs.

Visitors can sit at the launch console and even reenact turning the launch key for a Titan missile. When I tried it I couldn’t believe how nervous I felt. The missile was topped with a dummy warhead and was no longer programmed to wipe out an undisclosed location in the former Soviet Union. So really, what could go wrong? But it’s easy to imagine the thoughts of the men and women who had trained for such a day, with a simple twist of the wrist hurling a nuclear missile skyward.

Tunnels lit by sputtering fluorescent lights turn off at right angles, giving the space the look of an oddly illuminated ant colony. Signs throughout indicate “No Lone Zone. Two Man Policy Mandatory.” This was an extra security measure designed to prevent a rogue crew member from tinkering with the equipment.

At the end of one tunnel the actual Titan missile looms overhead, still poised to reach supersonic speed in seconds. Visitors also access the crew’s cramped living quarters, a Spartan living arrangement they likened to a “Motel 2.” The 4-member crew worked in 24-hour shifts trained for a job they hoped never to fulfill.


Above the missile silo.

Aboveground at the Titan Missile Museum

Back above ground there is a museum that relays the history of the site and the Titan Missile program during the Cold War. In the gift shop you can even buy a mushroom cloud-adorned board game called Nuclear War. It’s billed as the “comical catyclysmic card game of global destruction.” You may never play a boring old game of Monopoly again!

Visitor Information

  • Address: 1580 W. Duval Mine Rd. Green Valley, Arizona 85614
  • Hours: 9:45am – 5:00pm; open 7 days a week Oct-May, closed Tue, Wed June-Sept
  • Price: $13.50 adults; discounts for seniors/military/children 12 and under

PRO TIP: Due to the small space, tours are limited to 26 individuals each; purchase tickets online in advance to ensure your spot


Afterwards, for another Cold war site that is active today, tour the Boneyard of military aircraft in Tucson to see where 3,000+ planes are stored.

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There’s something about Arizona’s clear blue skies and wide open spaces that make it perfect for a road trip. But what are the best road trips in Arizona? That really depends on you, and your own personal interests. We’ve driven all over the state–from corner to corner–and have put together 11 different road trips for you to try.

Some of these Arizona road trips are thematic, others are based on geographic areas. Most can be done in 2-3 days, which allows for plenty of time to visit the sights without simply stopping for a photo op. (Of course, you might want to linger for a few days at some magnificent parks and National Monuments!) Any of these Arizona road trip itineraries can be mixed and matched with another (or 2 . . . or 3!), so you can put together your own personalized best road trip in Arizona!

NOTE: Some National Park, State Park, and Navajo Nation sights may be closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. Be sure to check prior to visiting.

Road trip in Arizona-Old station wagon with luggage on roof driving in front of Arizona scenery
Photo courtesy Arizona Tourism

Arizona Route 66 Road Trip

For many, driving along old Route 66 would be the best road trip in Arizona. It’s a mixture of the old west with plenty of mid-century kitsch . . . and even a couple of abandoned old sites just withering in the Arizona sun. Old Route 66 parallels (and in some cases overlaps) Interstate 40 across the state, so the route is pretty straightforward.

map of route 66 road trip route in Arizona
Map of Route 66 Arizona road trip

Stops along the way include Petrified Forest National Park, as well as the cool small towns such as Flagstaff, Willams and Winslow (yep, the town from the Eagles’ song Take it Easy!). See more in our Route 66 in Arizona post.

  • Highlights: Petrified Forest National Park, Old Route 66 towns
  • Total Miles: About 260
  • Days: 2-3
  • Connect with these itineraries: Grand Canyon, North Central, Northeast/Four Corners
  • Where to stay: Any of these retro hotels and motels on Route 66
Two 1950s classic cars parked in front of the Wigwam motel

Arizona Classic Cars Road Trip

Anyone who loves classic cars will love Arizona: the whole state is a virtual outdoor car museum! The dry, sunny climate is perfect for old cars, and there are plenty of places in the state where you’ll be able to see them out there sunning themselves. If you love seeing classic cars in all forms, then this is one of the perfect road trips in Arizona for you.

map of Arizona classic car road trip route
Map of a classic car road trip in Arizona

This road trip through Arizona takes you along Route 66, then turns south, almost to the Mexican border. Spend a day in Tucson, where a unique mid-century marketing idea placed over 50 classic cars around town. Finish your journey in the Arizona small town of Bisbee; a street parked with old cars (and a really cool old bus!) looks like “the land that time forgot.”

  • Highlights: Route 66, Cottonwood, Tucson, Bisbee
  • Total Miles: About 600
  • Days: 4-5
  • Connect with these itineraries: Any other road trip on this list–you’ll be all over the state!
  • Where to stay: Holbrook, Cottonwood, Tucson, Bisbee


Northwestern Arizona Road Trip: Las Vegas to Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is not just a magnificent destination on its own, it also makes a great anchor for road trips in Arizona. Begin (or end) this Arizona Journey at Las Vegas, just a short drive to Hoover Dam, an engineering marvel. Then make your way down to the town of Kingman, which will put you smack-dab in “Route 66” country. Be sure to check out the Route 66 Electric Vehicle Museum, and the Arizona Route 66 Museum while you’re there.

map of las vegas to grand canyon road trip route
Map of the Las Vegas to Grand Canyon Arizona road trip

Continue making your way east along Old Route 66–this stretch through Peach Springs and Seligman is said to be the inspiration for the fictitious town of “Radiator Springs” in the Disney movie Cars. Spend some time enjoying the Victorian and mid-century ambiance of Williams before heading north to Grand Canyon National Park.

  • Highlights: Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, Old Route 66 towns
  • Total Miles: 297
  • Days: 2-3
  • Connect with these itineraries: Route 66, Flagstaff & North Central AZ, Sedona Loop
  • Where to stay: Kingman, Williams, Tusayan (Grand Canyon Gate)


North Central Arizona Road Trip: To the North Rim

This Arizona road trip passes through some well-known sites, but then veers off onto the road-less-taken. Begin at the charming town of Flagstaff, with its terrific downtown full of brewpubs and coffee shops. Explore the ancient indigenous dwellings at nearby Walnut Canyon and Waupatki National Monuments, then check out the geologic wonder of Sunset Crater National Monument.

map of north central arizona and grand canyon north rim road trip route
Map of the North Central Arizona road trip that visits the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

Head north (be sure to stop at the Cameron Trading Post for some Native American Frybread!) toward the town of Page. From here you can take an excursion to the famous Horseshoe Bend, or go boating on Lake Powell in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Head west, skirting the magnificent Vermillion Cliffs (or off-roading, if you have a 4-wheel-drive vehicle) on your way to the Grand Canyon’s North Rim. Continue on toward Utah and Nevada, stopping to see the historic homestead at Pipe Spring National Monument, which still has a working farm.

  • Highlights: Flagstaff, Horseshoe Bend, North Rim of the Grand Canyon
  • Total Miles: 390
  • Days: 3-4
  • Connect with these itineraries: Route 66, Grand Canyon and Northwest AZ, Sedona & Central AZ, Four Corners and Northeast AZ
  • Where to stay: Flagstaff, Page, Fredonia/Kanab (near North Rim)
native american frybread taco, topped with meat, lettuce, tomato, cheese, onions

Navajo Country: 4 Corners & Monument Valley Road Trip

This itinerary combines Native American history and culture with some wide-open spaces and some world-class geography geekiness! From Flagstaff, head northeast through the Navajo Nation. Be sure to stop into the Burger King in Kayenta, Arizona . . . not just for a Whopper; this is also the site of a museum commemorating the Navajo “Code Talkers” from World War II. Make your way to Monument Valley, home to incredible rock formations (and a whole passel of John Wayne movies!). From here, geography geeks (like us!) must make the short detour to Four Corners Monument–the only place in American where you can stand in 4 states at once!

map of 4 corners and monument valley road trip route
Map of the 4 Corners & Monument Valley Arizona road trip

As road trips in Arizona go, this one really delves into Native American sites. From Monument Valley, head south through the more of the Navajo Nation. Visit Canyon de Chelly National Monument to see the site of 5,000(!) years of civilization. Stop into the historic Hubbell Trading Post, which has been selling the work of Native American artisans for nearly 150 years. Continue southward to connect up with old Route 66 near Petrified Forest National Park.

Purple heart surrounded by turqouise stones
  • Highlights: Navajo heritage sites, Monument Valley scenery, Four Corners
  • Total Miles: 488
  • Days: 2-3
  • Connect with these itineraries: Route 66, Grand Canyon & Northwest AZ, North Central to North Rim, Mogollon Rim & Eastern AZ
  • Where to stay: Kayenta, Monument Valley, Chinle

PRO TIP: The Navajo Nation observes Daylight Savings Time, the State of Arizona does NOT; be sure to plan your schedule accordingly!


London Calling: Western Az & the Colorado River Road Trip

This is one of the lesser-known road trips in Arizona, but those seeking a to see a different side of the state will be well-rewarded. Head west from Phoenix to the small community of Quartzite, popular with RVers and van-dwellers, made famous in the recent Oscar-winning film Nomadland. From here, head northward, coming alongside the Colorado River. Get in some “beach time” (and camping if you like) along the Colorado at Cattail Cove and Lake Havasu State Parks. Be sure to visit the original London Bridge, which now proudly links the city of Lake Havasu with an island in the Colorado River.

map of western AZ and Colorado river road trip map
Map of the west central Arizona road trip-see the original London Bridge!

This Arizona road trip continues northeast to Kingman, which will intersect with Route 66. Spend some time exploring the museums and memorabilia along Old Route 66 (see the Route 66 itinerary, above). Finally, head back toward Phoenix, stopping in at Wickenburg, an old west town that’s home to several dude ranches and the Desert Caballeros Western Museum, a Smithsonian affiliate.

  • Highlights: London Bridge, Colorado River, Route 66, the town of Wickenburg
  • Total Miles: 392
  • Days: 2-3
  • Connect with these itineraries: Route 66, Grand Canyon & Northwest AZ, Sedona & Central AZ, Yuma & Southwestern AZ
  • Where to stay: Lake Havasu City, Kingman, Wickenburg

Red Rocks & Red Wine: Sedona & North Central Arizona Road Trip

This one of those road trips in Arizona that offers a little bit of everything: history, ancient native dwellings, stunning scenery and wonderful small towns. Head north out of Phoenix, stopping at Camp Verde to learn some local history at Fort Verde Historic Park before moving on to Montezuma Castle National Monument (and adjacent Montezuma Well) to see some ancient cliff dwellings. Pick up a map of local hiking trails at the Red Rock Visitor Center outside Sedona. Following a trek through Sedona’s jaw-dropping scenery, browse for crystals & new age goodies in the many shops lining route 89A, or explore the many other ways to enjoy Sedona in the Fall.

map of sedona and north central arizona road trip route
Map of a central Arizona road trip to see charming towns & Sedona’s famous red rocks

Continue on to explore the charming shops, restaurants–and wine tasting rooms–of Old Town Cottonwood. Lovers of ancient culture will enjoy a side trip to the ruins of Tuzigoot National Monument in nearby Clarkdale. Stroll the streets of Jerome, an old mining town clinging to the side of a mountain, before taking the mountain pass (best done in daylight!) southwest to Prescott. While there, stroll the picturesque town square or attend the World’s Oldest Rodeo (really!). Continue the Western theme with a mosey on down to Wickenburg (see the “London Calling” road trip itinerary above).

  • Highlights: Stunning red rock scenery & hiking, great small towns, Verde Valley wine tasting
  • Total Miles: 245
  • Days: 2-3
  • Connect with these itineraries: Route 66, North Central AZ, Western AZ/Colorado River, Southwestern AZ
  • Where to stay: Sedona, Jerome/Cottonwood, Prescott or Wickenburg

Life on the Edge: East Central Arizona & the Mogollon Rim Road Trip

Those craving a little greenery when planning road trips in Arizona should head to the eastern part of the state. Here, the largest ponderosa pine forest in the US sits along the Mogollon Rim, a giant escarpment. At 8,000 feet, the climate is refreshingly cool in summer (and snowy in winter!). Begin by heading east from Phoenix to the town of Globe, with it’s charming courthouse. Explore the Besh Ba Gowah archeological ruins of the ancient Salado people, then head north to Tonto National Monument to see Salado cliff dwellings.

map of east central arizona and mogollon rim road trip route
Map of the east central Arizona road trip amid the state’s greenery

Continue on to Payson, the central point for much of the outdoor activity located amidst the Tonto and Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests. From Payson, drive east along the Mogollon Rim itself as you catch glimpses of magnificent valley views 2,000 feet below. Stop by the Mogollon Rim Visitor Center, which provides interpretive exhibits and a photo op. Emerge from the forest and continue northeast to the Petrified Forest National Park and its Rainbow Forest Museum, which shows the type of “critters” used to live nearby. (Spoiler alert: they were BIGGG!)

  • Highlights: Ponderosa pine forest with views, hiking, camping, fishing, ancient indigenous dwellings
  • Total Miles: 285
  • Days: 2-3
  • Connect with these itineraries: Route 66, Navajo Country & NE Arizona, North Central Arizona
  • Where to stay: Globe, Payson, Holbrook
Horton creek in central Arizona with water lily greens in foreground and small waterfall in background-near Payson

3:10 to Yuma: Southwestern Arizona Road Trip

On this road trip in Arizona head west from Phoenix via to explore some of the state’s rugged southwest terrain. Rockhounds will love collecting quartz at Crystal Hill in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. Continue to the most southwestern corner of the state, to explore the many sights in the historic border town of Yuma, including its old Territorial Prison.

map of southwest arizona road trip route
Map of the southwestern Arizona road trip

Head back eastward, turning south toward Ajo, a great stopover when visiting Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, where you can hike to the abandoned Victoria Mine amid majestic Organ Pipe cactus. Continue eastward and drive up Kitt Peak for a tour of the National Observatory, which will give you a new appreciation for those starry Arizona skies, before you head onward to Tucson.

  • Highlights: Crystal collecting, historic Yuma, Organ Pipe Cactus NM, Kitt Peak Observatory
  • Total Miles: 576
  • Days: 2-3
  • Connect with these itineraries: Western AZ & Colorado River, South Central Arizona
  • Where to stay: Yuma, Ajo

South Central Arizona Road Trip: History, Art & Underground Wonders

Tucson makes a great starting point for many road trips in Arizona, especially those in the southern part of the state. After feasting on plenty of Sonoran Hot Dogs in Tucson, take a cooling stroll underground viewing the wonders at Kartchner Caverns State Park. Loop back south and west, stopping to sip some of the recent vintages at one of the 17(!) wineries in the Sonoita/Elgin region. Continue south to the funky little village of Patagonia, perhaps spending a few days at the Circle Z, Arizona’s oldest continually operating guest ranch.

map of south central arizona road trip route
Map of the south central Arizona road trip

From here, it’s just a few miles to the town of Nogales, which straddles the Mexican border. It’s fun to park your car on the Arizona side and walk across the border to the Mexican side of Nogales. Browse the streets for Mexican wares, perhaps stopping for lunch at Leo’s Cafe. Turn northward, and allow plenty of time to explore the multiple exhibits at Tumacocori National Historical Park. From here it’s just a short jaunt northward to the artsy community of Tubac (pottery, anyone?). Finish this road trip in Arizona by touring another underground wonder–this one of the man-made variety: the Titan Missile Museum.

  • Highlights: Underground caverns, Mexican border town, wineries
  • Total Miles: 218
  • Days: 2-3 (longer if you stay at Circle Z)
  • Connect with these itineraries: Southeast Arizona, Classic Car Road Trip, Southwestern Arizona
  • Where to stay: Benson, Patagonia, Tubac
Titan II missile in silo at Titan Missile Museum in Arizona

Southeast Arizona Road Trip: Old West Immersion

Howdy, pardner! Feel like seeing a bit of the Old West? Then this might just be your favorite of road trips in Arizona. The southeastern part of the state is home to the town of Tombstone–home of the famous “Shootout at the OK Corral.” From there you head south to Bisbee, and Douglas, which are old mining towns that are now cool and funky in a retro-sort of way.

map of SE arizona road trip route
Map of a southeastern Arizona road trip

Round this Arizona road trip by visiting two Arizona national parks and monuments: Chiracahua and Fort Bowie. At Chiracahua you’ll see stunning ancient rock formations, whereas at Fort Bowie you’ll learn of the stunning (and often grim) clash between the native Chiracahua Apache and the U.S. Army. If you’re into the history of the old west, these destinations are a must-do on a road trip in Arizona.

PRO TIP: Southeastern Arizona is apple country. If visiting in the fall, be sure to explore ways to enjoy Apples in Arizona!

  • Highlights: The towns of Tombstone & Bisbee, Fort Bowie National Historic Site.
  • Total Miles: About 200
  • Days: 2-3
  • Connect with these itineraries: Classic Car road trip, Tucson & South of the Border
  • Where to stay: Tombstone/Bisbee, Willcox
bizarre rock "needles" at chiricahua national monument

There you have it: 11 different road trips in Arizona. They’re like pieces of a puzzle–mix and match ’em up to make up YOUR perfect road trip in Arizona! Where will YOU go???

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COMPLETE LIST OF ARIZONA ROAD TRIPS

  1. Arizona Route 66 Road Trip
  2. Arizona Classic Cars Road Trip
  3. Northwestern Arizona: Las Vegas to Grand Canyon Road Trip
  4. North Central Arizona Road Trip: To the North Rim
  5. Navajo Country: Four Corners & Monument Valley Road Trip
  6. London Calling: West central Arizona & the Colorado River Road Trip
  7. Red Rocks & Red Wine: Sedona & North Central Arizona Road Trip
  8. Life on the Edge: East Central Arizona & the Mogollon Rim Road Trip
  9. 3:10 to Yuma: Southwestern Arizona Road Trip
  10. South Central Arizona Road Trip: History, Art & Underground Wonders
  11. Old West Immersion: Southeastern Arizona Road Trip

It might be something in the water (or the lack of it) but Arizona is a giant outdoor car museum. This makes it the perfect place to take a road trip through Arizona in search of classic cars. There are many classic car sights throughout the state sitting right out in the open without any protective coverings. The desert climate provides an arid environment that inhibits rust, so car owners think nothing of keeping their classics parked outdoors for much of the year.

Classic car fans seeking the call of the outdoors have plenty to keep them entertained. During a 10-hour, 600-mile road trip spread out over a few days, visitors can see a wealth of seemingly random classic car sights, along with the beautiful scenery for which Arizona is famous.

Start your road trip through Arizona on an open-air classic car quest right on America’s Mother Road: Route 66. There are several spots along this route that commemorate the glory days of road tripping, with wonderful examples of vehicles (and structures) of days gone by. (For more on Route 66 itself, check out our Route 66 in Arizona Road Trip post.)


Rusty car in the middle of desert-road trip through Arizona

Petrified Forest National Park: Old Route 66 runs through it!

Most people come to Petrified National Forest Park for the magnificent displays of wood that have turned into colorful stone fossils. But road trippers know that hidden vestiges of an early alignment of Route 66 also snake through the park. One guide to finding it is the remains of a 1932 Studebaker that looks like it was abandoned almost nine decades ago by a wayward traveler.

The tires are long gone, yet the vehicle remains, burnished to a deep umber by the desert sun, sitting balanced atop the old road that remains visible in the sand below. Take a moment to look around at the harsh landscape and imagine what it was like for migrants right out of The Grapes of Wrath in the 1930s as they headed west to escape the Great Depression for the promised opportunity of California.


PRO TIP: For more road trip ideas, check out our Best Road Trips in Arizona post.

Holbrook: A classic car with every room

Further west on Route 66 travelers can sleep in a replica Native American teepee at the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook. This novel motel is “furnished” with classic cars that are parked right outside each of the teepees. (Despite the name of the motel they are teepees, not wigwams.) So, even if you’re driving a standard late model rental, you’ll feel like you are cruising along the highway in the 1950s.


map of Arizona classic car road trip route

Winslow: A road trip through Arizona rock n’ roll history

Statue of folk singer with front of ford pickup in foreground, Winslow Arizona route 66
The beloved Flatbed Ford right near the the intersection with Route 66 in Winslow

The town of Winslow takes its Route 66 connections seriously with giant route markers painted on the street. Here you’ll find an intersection that appears in the Jackson Browne-penned song (made famous by the Eagles) Take It Easy. As the song goes: Well I’m standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, such a fine sight to see. It’s a girl my lord in a flatbed Ford, slowin’ down to take a look at me. The town has commemorated this lyric with a statue of a folk singer (and more recently one of the late Eagles singer Glenn Frey) staring at the object of desire in the song, an actual flame-red 1960 Ford flatbed pickup truck.


Seligman: A road trip through Arizona Route 66 history

old cars around old gas pumps, Seligman, AZ
Vintage cars in Seligman, AZ

It is because of this little hamlet, bypassed by Interstate 40, that the Route 66 legend lives on. In 1987 locals petitioned the State of Arizona and had it designated a historic highway. This story is said to have inspired the location of Radiator Springs for the movie Cars. Today this no-stoplight town is a pilgrimage for Route 66 fans, who find retro motels, memorabilia shops . . . and lots of vintage cars parked around town.

PRO TIP: Check out these terrific retro-style hotels on Route 66 in Arizona where you can stay to really get into the “get your kicks” mood.


Cottonwood: Fill ‘er up!

Bings Burger Station Cottonwood Arizona

At this point on your road trip through Arizona you’re probably a bit hungry. Begin heading southward, stopping at Bing’s Burger Station in historic Cottonwood for a midcentury-style pick-me-up. This old-fashioned diner is set up in a restored 1940s Atlantic Richfield gas station. You really can’t miss it—parked next to the vintage Gilmore pumps out front is a bright red 1950 Plymouth Special Deluxe sedan. Enjoy a classic American road trip meal of a deluxe cheeseburger, hand-cut french fries and a malted milk shake while surrounded by decades of service station memorabilia.


Tucson: Truly Something

Black and yellow antique car with the words "Truly Nolen" painted on the side

Continue south on your road trip through Arizona for 215 miles to the city of Tucson. It’s become something of an open-air car museum in its own right, due to the efforts of one man whose name–truly–was Truly Nolen. In the 1950s the pest exterminating king started parking classic cars around town to promote his business. The collection of Truly Nolen cars now totals more than 50 so it’s hard to go a mile or so in any direction without coming across one, creating a delightful scavenger hunt for classic car buffs.

PRO TIP: Be sure to snag a Sonoran Hot Dog while you’re in Tucson!

While 1950s land yachts like the flamboyantly tail-finned 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air are always popular, a few sentimental favorites are the 1923 Dodge Roadster, 1931 Ford Model A and the pocket-sized 1957 Nash Metropolitan. Amazingly, all the cars are left open for inspection. Start your search at company headquarters on 3636 East Speedway Boulevard, Tucson, AZ 85716 where a few of the cars are parked out front.


Bisbee, Arizona: Did I just enter a time warp?

Travel 100 miles southeast of Tucson, to the old mining town of Bisbee is located 100 miles southeast of Tucson. Although only a few miles from the Mexican border, the surprisingly high elevation (5,500 feet!) gives Bisbee the feel of a mountain town. Quaint shops line the historic downtown, but one section on the edge of town in the Lowell Historic District looks like it was abandoned in the 1950s. Largely empty Erie St. is lined with classic cars . . . and one magnificent old bus. The entire street has a slightly apocalyptic air that wouldn’t look out of place in a science fiction film. The blob attacks!

Among the vintage 1950s chrome and tail fin cars is an iconic 1955 GMC PD-4501 Scenicruiser observation coach parked by the vintage Texaco station. It looks as if it’s just waiting for a fill-up before the passengers board. Its owners have cleverly painted a “Strayhound” logo on the side, so you’re not tempted to confuse it with that other canine-ish named bus company 😉.

If all this “in the wild” classic car hopping has worn you out, finish up your road trip through Arizona at The Shady Dell trailer court. Here, you can spend a night in a vintage motorhome. The choice of a dozen accommodations includes a 1947 Airporter bus done up as a “Polynesian Palace,” a 1955 Airstream, and, for the nautically inclined, a wood 1947 Chris Craft yacht. It’s the perfect retro place to rest your head after road trip hunting classic cars in the wild.


PRO TIP: Find more classic car sights in Arizona and the United States in our book, the Roadster Guide to America’s Classic Car Museums & Attractions.

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The Sonoran hot dog in Tucson is no simple ballpark snack. This humbly-named culinary delight is the recipient of a James Beard Award. It’s a symphony of flavors and cultures (and a meal unto itself!) tucked inside a fluffy bollilo roll. Read on to learn more about the history of the Sonoran hot dog, and where to sample one.

What, exactly, is a Sonoran Hot Dog in Tucson?

Spoiler alert: this puppy is a meal unto itself! Here’s how to recognize a Sonoran hot dog:

  • A bacon-wrapped hot dog
  • Pinto beans
  • Chopped fresh tomatoes & onions (or pico de gallo)
  • Jalapenos
  • Mustard & mayonnaise
  • A bolillo roll (ideally top-split)
  • Bonus: a grilled guero chile on the side

Hand holding sonoran hot dog tucson in front of Mexican sign

Evolution of a cross-border street food classic

Like many food classics, opinions differ as to the exact origin of the Sonoran hot dog. They first emerged sometime in the 1960s most likely in the neighboring state of Sonora, Mexico. Since this region is just 70 miles to the south of Tucson, flavors, as well as people, cross back and forth. Even the geography has a cross-border name: Tucson is located in the Sonoran desert.

Mexican hot dog cart
A classic hot dog carreta in Mexico

Bobby (a local who never gave me his last name) told me, “Sonoran hot dogs came from the food carts in Sonora, Mexico, not from Tucson. I remember eating them there when I was a kid in the ‘80s. You’d never see these hotdogs in Tucson back then.” Sometime in the last 30-40 years, these street food staples migrated north into the U.S.

The food carts definitely traveled north with the hot dogs. Known as “carretas,” you’ll find them on street corners throughout Tucson. Most basic carretas only make hot dogs, but many grew into more full-service food trucks that offer tacos, quesadillas and more. Sometimes you can sit at a few outdoor chairs and tables scattered out front. Fortunately, the sunny Tucson climate is perfect for this. A few carretas have even “graduated” to restaurants, where you can sit inside.

El Guero Canelo: Tucson’s Sonoran hot dog “ambassador”

Like any great regional food favorite, locals will argue about where to find the best version. Regardless of preference , Daniel Contreras is undoubtedly the Sonoran hot dog’s greatest ambassador. Contreras is the proprietor of El Guero Canelo, a mini-chain of restaurants serving the Sonoran hot dog in Tucson. True to the roots of the Sonoran hot dog, Contreras started “El Guero” as a food cart in the early 1990s in south Tucson.

That humble cart grew and grew, eventually becoming a restaurant with enclosed seating. But as the cart grew, so did El Guero Canelo’s reputation. In 2018 the James Beard Foundation named El Guero Canelo one of its American Classics. And so a hot dog became a legend.

Daniel Contreras receiving the James Beard Award in 2018

The original cart occupies pride of place out front. In an ironic twist, Daniel Contreras didn’t begin is business with hot dogs. “At the beginning we didn’t sell hot dogs. We sold carne asada. The reason we started selling hot dogs was because our stand was so small that people thought it was a hot dog stand, so they started asking me for hot dogs.” 

At the beginning we didn’t sell hot dogs. We sold carne asada. The reason we started selling hot dogs was because our stand was so small that people thought it was a hot dog stand, so they started asking me for hot dogs. 

Daniel contreras, El Guero Canelo

Today Contreras has three restaurants scattered around Tucson, along with a meat market adjacent to his original South Tucson location. He also owns a bakery in Magdelena, Mexico where he makes all the tortillas and buns for his restaurants. That’s some hot dog entrepreneurship!

Sonoran hot dogs Tucson, 4 lined up in a row at El Guero Canelo
A tray of Sonoran hot dogs at El Guero Canelo. Notice the top-split Bolillo rolls.

Those buns are a signature of  “El Guero”: thick, fluffy bolillo rolls. Unlike typical hot dog rolls, these are sliced across part of the top, creating a “boat” in which to nestle the hot dog and its’ hefty heap of toppings.

Where to get Sonoran hot dogs in Tucson, AZ

Following is our list of favorite spots to grab a Sonoran hot dog in Tucson (in alphabetical order). We’ve always been happy with the lip-smacking taste of Tucson at each of these. If you’re really ambitious (or hungry), you could make a mini-road trip out of trying several spots. You might not drive the mileage of an Arizona Route 66 Road Trip, but you’ll definitely cover some territory!

Aqui con El Nene

“El Nene” is a popular spot for Sonran dogs in Tucson

Aqui con el Nene Tucson, is affectionately known as “El Nene” by the locals, who consider it the Sonoran hot dog in Tucson. It’s a popular spot in northern Tucson that falls into the hybrid-cart category. The large food truck is parked in front of a former restaurant/bar. Seating is in a covered outdoor pavilion or inside the former restaurant. (There’s a newer, brick-and-mortar shop on the south side of town as well.) It boasts an extensive condiment bar that includes enough fresh and marinated veggies to create a side dish to accompany your dog. Potato lovers should try the Papanchas, which are baked potato topped with your choice of Mexican meats and other goodies.

  • Locations (2): North Tucson; additional location in South Tucson
  • Category: The original location (north) is a food truck with indoor/outdoor seating
  • Address: 4415 N Flowing Wells Rd., 65 W. Valencia Rd.

BK Tacos

BK’s Tucson is another brick-and-mortar staple, with two locations in town. Originally known as BK’s Carne Asada & Hot Dogs, the name change reflects the growing focus on a variety of Mexican foods. The Sonoran hot dog has all the requisite ingredients, but we found the bun a little uninspired—it wasn’t toasted, and had trouble holding up to the mammoth fillings.

  • Locations (2): South Tucson; additional location north of downtown
  • Category: Restaurant
  • Address: 5118 S 12th Ave.

Calle Tepa Mexican Street Grill & Bar

Calle Tepa is a casual brick-and-mortar restaurant that offers a slightly more upscale setting for this Sonoran classic (i.e. you both order and eat indoors.) To keep with the “street food” theme, you order at a food counter that is a converted street cart. The rolls are hefty enough to hoist the dog for the duration, and the pico de gallo served on top is always made with gorgeous red ripe tomatoes and fresh cilantro. The restaurant specializes a variety of Mexican street foods, such as tortas and manchegos. Calle Tepa also has a bar in back, for those who’d like a Margarita or a cerveza with their Sonoran hot dog.

  • Location: Southeast Tucson
  • Category: Restaurant
  • Address: 6151 E Broadway Blvd.
Doesn’t this look delicious???

El Guero Canelo

If you’re only going to get one Sonoran hot dog in Tucson, this is the place to go. (C’mon! It won a James Beard Award!) The original location is a stand that has morphed to include indoor seating. Fame has brought crowds and a bit of glitz: the diners now receive pagers to alert them when their food is ready, and a video of the James Beard Awards plays on a loop in the dining area. Regardless, the dogs are still tasty, although the custom-made Mexican rolls are not toasted. Two additional locations in Tucson (and one in Phoenix.)

  • Locations (3): South Tucson; additional locations in North & East Tucson
  • Category: Restaurant
  • Address: 5201 S. 12th Ave., 2480 N Oracle Rd., 5802 E 22nd St.

El Sinaloense Hot Dog Cart

Despite its name (Sinaloa is the state in Mexico directly south of Sonora), this cart-with-tables serves up traditional a Sonoran dog in Tucson.

The atmosphere is classic careta; diners sit at folding tables and chairs tucked under a canvas canopy in the middle of an empty corner lot. The dogs are nestled in a nicely toasted bun, served with the traditional roasted pepper alongside.

  • Location: East Tucson
  • Category: Carreta
  • Address: 1526 N Alvernon Way

Hot Dogs La Reyna

La Reyna is a food cart/restaurant hybrid: seating is inside a storefront at a small strip mall, while the “kitchen” is the food truck parked out front. The hot dog is a traditional version of the classic Sonoran hot dog in Tucson

, with the bacon-wrapped dog nice and crispy and the roll toasted in butter on the griddle. When we’re feeling super-indulgent, we order Chipilones hot dogs. These are the same dogs, only with cheese melted on top-OH YEAH! La Reyna also makes their own horchata and limonada, the latter using fresh limes.

  • Category: Carreta with adjacent indoor seating
  • Location: North Tucson, just off 1st Ave.
  • Address: 704 E Prince Rd, Tucson, AZ 85719

PRO TIP: If you like cheese on your Sonoran hot dog, order “Chipilones”


Los Ponchos

This carreta, or cart, is located on a street corner about 3 miles north of the University of Arizona. A few tables and chairs under a canopy alongside the cart is a traditional Sonoran hot dog in Tucson setup. It’s popular with students and faculty alike. In addition to the Sonoran hot dog, Los Ponchos features a “queso-dogo,” which is a hot dog-filled quesadilla. Try this if you simply must have a tortilla with your frank. (And we can personally confirm that it’s pretty darned terrific.)

  • Category: Food truck with outdoor seating
  • Location: About 3 miles north of the University of Arizona, near Midtown
  • Address: 1901 E Fort Lowell Rd, Tucson, AZ 85719

The Quesadillas

The homemade salsas at The Quesadillas make a worthy accompaniment to a Sonoran hot dog

The focus at this restaurant in eastern Tucson is on quesadillas, hence the name. But due to customer requests, they added a hot dog to the menu—Yay! Owner Marcos Barragan put his own spin on the classic Sonoran hot dog in Tucson.

. He uses all-beef franks and omits the beans. Instead of wrapping the frank in bacon, Barragan tops them with “bacon bits.” Don’t be fooled by the term, these “bits” are are large chunks of chopped bacon sprinkled on top. In addition to mustard, mayo and chopped tomatoes, we added some of daughter Alex Barragan’s homemade salsas. (we especially loved the jalapeno guacamole and pineapple chiltepin). They were so delicious, we almost forgot about the other stuff on the menu.

Insider tip: the restaurant does all grilling for the quesadillas over mesquite wood. They will they will grill your hot dog there upon request.

  • Location: East Tucson
  • Category: Restaurant
  • Address: 2418 N Craycroft Rd.

Ruiz Hot Dogs/Los Chipilones

The Ruiz Sonoran hot dog carreta in Tucson

The Ruiz cart is about as classic as a Sonoran hot dog in Tucson gets. Order, then sit at one of the few stools attached. You’ll find the cart in a corner lot in southern Tucson. Because the atmosphere is pretty basic, the food must be really good. Here, we watched Gerardo work his magic. The hot dog was tender, with perfectly crisped bacon surrounding it. He topped it with delicious beans, mustard, mayo and the ripest red tomatoes. Plus, he grilled the roll to perfection, so it held up to his whopping toppings. Note: the family now has a brick-and-mortar stand with outdoor seating on the adjacent lot that serves tacos, quesadillas and breakfast.

  • Locations (2) : South Tucson (just south of downtown)
  • Category: Carreta with seating
  • Address: 1140 S 6th Ave, and in brick and mortar location next door.

Do these places have best Sonoran hot dogs in Tucson? We think they’re pretty darn fabulous, but who knows? There are new spots popping up all the time. Please let us know if you find one. These bacon-wrapped beauties are one of our favorite types of street food. We’re always game for chowing down on a Sonoran hot dog! 😋 🌭

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A wide array of Arizona National Parks and Monuments greet visitors throughout the state. The parks range from magnificent natural wonders to ancient historic sights. Therefore, there’s something for everyone. For example, there are sites of outstanding natural beauty, indigenous culture, and American history. Here’s our list of over 30 national sites to visit in Arizona.

The Grand Canyon gets most of the attention (and visitors)⏤but you probably know that already! However, take some time to discover the many other wonderful national sites in the state. The result will be worth it! These 30+ sites are scattered throughout the state. Because of this, you’re never far away from a national park or monument during your Arizona vacation.

NOTE: You can use the table of contents below to jump directly to your site of interest. Or scroll through the list to browse the many Arizona National Parks and Monuments throughout the state.

How many national parks are there in Arizona?

There are 3 National Parks in Arizona: Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest and Saguaro. There is 1 National Historical Park: Tumacacori. In total there are 31 sites in Arizona with some type of “national” designation that are managed by the National Park Service and/or the Bureau of Land Management, or a combination of local authorities. The remainder of the sites are either National Monuments, National Historic Sites or National Recreation areas.

PRO TIP: Opening times and certain park services may be limited due to COVID-19 restrictions. Be sure to check with each park prior to visiting.

Agua Fria National Monument

Petroglyphs of animals on rocks, mountains in background
Petroglyphs at Agua Fria National Monument; photo courtesy BLM

Agua Fria is a large preserved area of mesa along with the canyon of the Agua Fria River. Additionally, the visitors can explore the stone masonry remains of Pueblo la Plata, a prehistoric site. The 70,000-acre monument spans elevations from roughly 2,100 to 4,600 feet. This means there is a wide variation in wildlife and vegetation, including the famous saguaro cactus at the lower altitudes.

  • Location: Central Arizona, about 40 miles north of Phoenix
  • Reason to visit: Historic Ruins, Hiking, Mountain Biking, Fishing, Hunting, Camping
  • Facilities & Services: None, bring all supplies
  • Managed by: Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
  • More information: Agua Fria National Monument

Arizona National Scenic Trail

Cactus blooming with mountains in background
Arizona National Scenic Trail; photo courtesy NPS

The Arizona National Scenic Trail is over 800 miles long and runs from the Mexican border to the Utah state line. The Arizona Trail is divided into 43 passages, you can explore as much or as little of it as you like. (You don’t have to do all 800 miles . . . but you can if you’d like). The trail begins in the south with the Huachuca Mountains. It ends in Northern Arizona at Buckskin Mountain Passage. The trail passes through (or near) many Arizona National Parks and Monuments. Similarly, you’ll also get to explore as well as some National Forest land.

  • Location: Passes roughly through the center of the state, running 800 miles from North to South
  • Reason to visit: Hiking, Mountain Biking, Horseback Riding
  • Facilities & Services: None, bring all supplies
  • Managed by: National Forest Service (NFS), in conjunction with agencies who manage the territories that the trail passes through.
  • More information: Arizona Trail Association

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Canyon de Chelly with riverbed and trees
Canyon de Chelly National Monument; photo courtesy NPS

Canyon de Chelly is a special place. The monument encompasses a magnificent red rock canyon that has been inhabited continuously for over 5,000 years (yes, five thousand!). This is one of the Arizona National Parks and Monuments that is fully contained within the Navajo Nation reservation. Due to this unusual configuration, 40 families still live within the park’s boundaries even today. Drives with multiple lookout points (many of which are wheelchair accessible) provide a peek into this special place. Hikes into the canyon must be accompanied by either a Park Ranger or Navajo Guide.

  • Location: Northeastern Arizona, about 100 miles southwest of Four Corners
  • Reason to visit: Scenic drives, hiking (guided), Navajo and ancient Pueblo culture
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor Center, Guided tours, Accessible paths
  • Managed by: National Park Service & the Navajo Nation
  • More information: Canyon de Chelly

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

Casa Grande Great House ruins with canopy
The Great House at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument; photo courtesy NPS

Casa Grande is a collection of ruins from an ancient farming community of Sonoran Desert Peoples. The ruins date from the mid 1400s. Because little documentation regarding the structures exist, its overall purpose is still a mystery. But the extensive ruins make a fascinating visit.

Due to its location midway between Phoenix and Tucson, its one of the Arizona National Parks and Monuments that makes a nice detour while traveling between those two cities.

  • Location: Central Arizona, about 50 miles southeast of Phoenix
  • Reason to visit: Tour ancient ruins
  • Facilities & Services: Guided tours, gift shop, picnic grounds
  • Managed by: National Park Service (NPS)
  • More information: Casa Grande Ruins

Chiricahua National Monument

Rhyolyte rock formations at Chiricahua National Monument
Some of the giant rock “needles” at Chiricahua National Monument; photo courtesy NPS

If you love rocks, Chiricahua is your kind of place. Nearly 27 million years ago the nearby Turkey creek volcano erupted. As a result, this valley is filled with towering “rock needles.” These giant rock towers look like giants were playing with building blocks 27 million years ago. The nearly 12,000-acre park has 17 miles of hiking trails and an 8-mile paved scenic drive. Because of its location in an avian flyway, Chiricahua is also terrific for birding.

  • Location: Southern Arizona, about 120 miles southeast of Tucson
  • Reason to visit: Ancient rock formations, hiking, camping, birding
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor center with museum, bookstore, restrooms and drinking water; camping at Bonito Canyon
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Chiricahua National Monument

Coronado National Memorial

Desert beauty at Coronado National Memorial; photo by Dave Bly, courtesy NPS

Coronado National Memorial offers a glimpse into two things: first, the history of the region. Secondly, Coronado showcases the area’s natural beauty. Many scholars believe that the Coronado Expedition of 1540-1542 passed through this region alongside the Mexican border. A visitor center explores the lasting impacts on the culture of northwest Mexico and the southwestern United States.

The park is also a nature lover’s paradise. The area incorporates four distinct ecological zones: Sierra Madre, Chihuahua Desert, Rocky Mountain, and Sonoran Desert. The flora and fauna are represented in the park’s diverse landscape. Explore hiking trails through oak woodands, piñon-juniper, grasslands, and riparian corridors. Spelunkers will love the natural limestone cave, while drivers will appreciate the sweeping vistas from Coronado Peak.

  • Location: Southern Arizona, about 90 miles southeast of Tucson, along the Mexican border.
  • Reason to visit: Cultural history, hiking, birding, cave exploring.
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor center with museum, bookstore, restrooms and drinking water.
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Coronado National Memorial

Fort Bowie National Historic Site

Ruins of Fort Bowie
Fort Bowie National Historic Site; photo courtesy NPS

Fort Bowie and Apache Pass was the site of nearly 25 years of conflict between the Chiricahua Apache and the US Army in the late 1800s. Learn about this turbulent history at the visitor center and nearby graveyard and fort ruins.

NOTE: For most visitors, the visitor center and ruins are only accessible via a 1.5 mile hike from the parking area at the trailhead. Consequently, visitors requiring ADA access can drive to the site by prior arrangement with the Park Service. See driving access to Fort Bowie for more information.

  • Location: Southern Arizona, about 120 miles east of Tucson.
  • Reason to visit: Native American and Old West history.
  • Facilities & Services: Interpretive visitor center, restrooms.
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Fort Bowie

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Horseshoe Bend
Famous Horseshoe Bend at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area; Photo by Brent and Dawn Davis, courtesy NPS

Glen Canyon is a massive 1.25 million–acre (yes million!) park that straddles the border of Arizona and Utah. The majority of the park is in Utah, however the main entrance is in Arizona, near the town of Page. From here you can visit Glen Canyon Dam. This engineering marvel damming the Colorado River creates Lake Powell to the north, where you can enjoy water sports aplenty.

Those looking for a terrific photo op can visit the now-famous Horseshoe Bend at the southern end of Glen Canyon. Because of it popularity, an ADA-accessible trail to Horseshoe Bend was built, and opened in January 2020. There are several tour operators in the nearby town of Page that can assist with camping and other arrangements.

  • Location: Northern Arizona (near the Utah state line), about 275 miles north of Phoenix.
  • Reason to visit: Water sports, hiking, stunning scenery, tour Glen Canyon Dam.
  • Facilities & Services: Multiple visitor centers, gift shops, restrooms, water, campsites, ADA accessible trails.
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Grand Canyon National Park

Long distance view of the Grand Canyon
The view from Shoshone Point, Grand Canyon National Park; photo courtesy NPS

The Grand Canyon is “the Big Kahuna” of Arizona National Parks and Monuments. And for good reason: it’s one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. [Full disclosure: this is the only place I’ve ever been that actually left me speechless. I couldn’t get over the vast beauty of it. I’m not sure which amazed my husband more, the grandeur of the scenery, or my inablity to talk. 😆]

The park encompasses over 1,900 square miles of land, including its namesake canyon. The Grand Canyon itself averages 1 mile DEEP, following 277 miles of the Colorado River. In some spots it’s almost 18 miles wide. No wonder they call it “Grand”!

The Grand Canyon is one of Arizona’s most popular tourist destinations, welcoming approximately 6 million visitors per year. As a result, there are extensive facilities, including several options for lodging in Grand Canyon National Park. (Be sure to reserve early, as these get booked, especially during the summer.)

  • Location: Northern Arizona, about 225 miles north of Phoenix.
  • Reason to visit: Stunning scenery, hiking, cycling, rafting, scenic drives, camping.
  • Facilities & Services: Multiple visitor centers, gift shops, restrooms, water, hotels/lodges, campsites, ADA accessible trails.
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Grand Canyon National Park

Hohokam Pima National Monument

Hohokam Pima National Monument is unique among Arizona National Parks and Monuments. It is located within the boundaries of the Gila River Indian Reservation. One of the largest known ancient Hohokam villages, Snaketown, is located there. Excavations have revealed that the area was inhabited from about 300 B.C. to 1,200 A.D, and include the largest scientifically excavated collection of whole artifacts from the Hohokam Culture are.

In order to protect the fragile site, the Gila River Indian Community has closed the Snaketown site to visitors. However, many of the magnificent artifacts are on display at the nearby Huhugam Heritage Center. Visit to see elaborately decorated whole pots, stone bowls, and bone artifacts, and to learn more about the Hohokam culture.

  • Location: Central Arizona, about 20 miles south of Phoenix.
  • Reason to visit: Large display of ancient Hohokam artifacts, learn about ancient culture.
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor center/museum, restrooms.
  • Managed by: Gila River Indian Community
  • More information: Hohokam Pima National Monument and Huhugam Heritage Center

Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site

Old trading post building, Hubbell Trading Post
Historic Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site; photo courtesy NPS

Hubbell Trading Post is unique among national historic sites: it is still active! The post was founded in 1878 by John Lorenzo Hubbell as a place where local Navajo peoples could trade their wares for household goods. Hubbell operated several posts throughout the region, however this was his home.

Today Hubbell Trading Post is the oldest continuously operating trading post in the southwest. Visitors can shop for Native American arts and crafts, and even watch some Navajo weavers creating their masterpiece rugs. Tours of the historic family home and farm are available, and there are picnic grounds on site. *NOTE: Hubbell Trading Post is located on Navajo Nation lands, which observes Daylight Savings Time (unlike the state of Arizona).

  • Location: Northeastern Arizona, about 150 miles northeast of Flagstaff.
  • Reason to visit: Historic “shopping” experience, Native American arts and crafts, historic homestead.
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor Center, Active trading post with crafts, gifts, snacks, picnic area, restrooms.
  • Managed by: Western National Parks Association
  • More information: Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site

Ironwood Forest National Monument

Petroglyphs in desert, Ironwood National Monument
Petroglyphs in the desert at Ironwood National Monument; photo by Bob Wick, courtesy BLM

Ironwood is for those who like their parks and scenery “raw and uncut.” This massive (129,000 acres) site contains no facilities or services. As a result, be prepared to bring whatever you need.

 Most importantly, humans have inhabited the area for more than 5,000 years. For those who like a little ancient culture mixed in with their wildlife, Ironwood Forest National Monument has three areas of archaeological interest. The Los Robles Archeological District, the Mission of Santa Ana del Chiquiburitac and the Cocoraque Butte Archaeological District are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

  • Location: South central Arizona, about 25 miles northwest of Tucson.
  • Reason to visit: Wildlife, native plants, petroglyphs, archaeological sites, hunting, camping.
  • Facilities & Services: None. Bring all supplies.
  • Managed by: Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
  • More information: Ironwood Forest National Monument

Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail

Men in historic dress in desert with saguaro cactus
Hiking and history on the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail; photo by Bob Wick, courtesy BLM

In 1776, Spanish Lt. Colonel Juan Bautista de Anza led more than 240 men, women, and children from New Spain (now Mexico) through Arizona to establish a settlement in California. The 1,200-mile Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail follows the route of the first colonists to travel overland through the southwest to establish San Francisco.

Beginning in Nogales, Arizona, the trail travels approximately 350 miles through southwestern Arizona. After that, it turns north in California. The trail passes through several important historical sites along the way, including Casa Grande and Tumacacori (see below). Following this trail is an excellent way to see several historic sites in context; as a result, you can connect events of the past.

  • Location: Southwestern Arizona, from Nogales, north through Tucson to Phoenix, then west to Yuma.
  • Reason to visit: Follow the trail of an historic expedition, see multiple historic sites.
  • Facilities & Services: Marked autoroute; detailed maps of each county the trail passes through
  • Managed by: National Park Service, in conjunction with local agencies and organizations at sites along the way.
  • More information: Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail

Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Marina at Lake Mead
Boating in the desert at Lake Mead National Recreation Area; photo courtesy NPS

Lake Mead National Recreation Area straddles the Arizona and Nevada borders along the Colorado River. It was the first National Recreation Area created by the National Park Service, and it is HUUUUGE! The area encompasses 1.5 million (yep, MILLION) acres of both land and water. It is also the site of the famous Hoover Dam.

Of all the Arizona national parks and monuments, this is the one that probably has the most water. The area includes mountains, valleys, canyons, wilderness areas, and two large lakes (Lake Mead and Lake Mojave). Because of the lakes, this recreation area is terrific for boating and fishing, as well as camping and hiking and exploring. It also makes a great base for exploring much of northern Arizona, including the Grand Canyon.

  • Location: Northwestern Arizona (the corner bordering Nevada)
  • Reason to visit: Boating, fishing, swimming, camping, hiking, hunting
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor Center, multiple campgrounds (both tent and camper), boat ramps, marinas, food and fuel services, shops (both gifts and provisions)
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Montezuma Castle National Monument

Cliff dwellin at Montezuma Castle National Monumnet
The massive cliff dwelling at Montezuma Castle National Monument; photo courtesy NPS

Montezuma Castle is one of the largest ancient cliff dwellings in the country. The structure was built by the Sinagua people over 600 years ago. It’s a massive 40-50 room “apartment complex” carved out of a rock face. The structure is fragile, consequently, in order to preserve the structure, visitors cannot climb into the dwelling. However, it’s still astounding to view it from the valley floor.

You can visit an additional cliff dwelling site is located about 11 miles north of the “castle.” Known as Montezuma Well, this structure is not as large as Montezuma Castle. However, the smaller size allows you to view the structure from a closer vantage point. Take this shady hike; it makes a nice change from much of Arizona’s desert landscape.

  • Location: North central Arizona, about 90 miles north of Phoenix
  • Reason to visit: Explore ancient culture and architecture.
  • Facilities & Services: Montezuma Castle has a Visitor Center, with museum, bookstore and restrooms, along with picnic grounds. Montezuma Well has picnic grounds and pit toilets.
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Montezuma Castle National Monument

Navajo National Monument

Cliff dwellings, Navajo National Monument
Majestic cliff dwellings at Navajo National Monument; photo courtesy NPS

Navajo National Monument offers visitors the opportunity to see ancient cliff dwellings amidst spectacular desert sandstone scenery. Three distinct cliff dwelling sites that date to the 1300s are housed within the monument grounds. Two sites (Betatakin and Keet Seel) are available to visit. This is one of the Arizona national Parks and monuments contained within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation, offering an excellent opportunity to seek out some Native American Frybread for a meal or snack.

Self-guided trails provide a tour of the canyon and an overlook of the Betatakin cliff dwellings. Those interested in seeing cliff dwelling sites up-close must sign up for a ranger-guided tour. Tours to Betatakin involve 3-5 hours hiking over steep terrain. Keet Seel is more remote: tours are by reservation only, and involve a 17-mile round trip hike. Camping is available near the trailhead. More information is available at ranger-guided tours at Navajo National Monument.

  • Location: Northeastern Arizona, about 140 miles northeast of Flagstaff
  • Reason to visit: Explore ancient culture and architecture.
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor Center, with museum, bookstore and restrooms, ranger-guided tours of the cliff dwellings, camping.
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Navajo National Monument

Old Spanish Trail National Historic Trail

Dry riverbed in Virgin River Canyon, Old Spanish Trail, Arizona
Virgin River Canyon along Old Spanish Trail National Historic Trail; photo courtesy NPS

The Old Spanish Trail commemorates the trading route that connected goods and people between Mexico and the fledgling United States. The trail begins in Santa Fe, New Mexico and splits into a few branches through Arizona, Colorado, Utah and Nevada before rejoining near Los Angeles, California. Due to its connection with other states, the branch of the trail in Arizona ambles very near the state’s northern border with Utah.

Following the Trail is an excellent way to string together several Arizona National Parks and Monuments in the southwest since it connects multiple sites. Use this interactive map of Arizona sights on the Old Spanish Trail to help plan your route through this historic and scenic countryside.

  • Location: Northern Arizona, along the border with Utah
  • Reason to visit: Follow historic trade route, connect multiple Arizona National Parks and Monuments and parks
  • Facilities & Services: Distinctive National Trail Signage; see related listings for facilities at sites along the Trail
  • Managed by: National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management
  • More information: Old Spanish National Historic Trail

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Organ Pipe cactus silhouette in sunset
Sunset at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument; photo courtesy NPS

The magnificent cacti of the Sonoran Desert are on spectacular display at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. There are 516 square miles of territory to explore the flora and fauna of this unique landscape, which has been designated and International Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations. Because of this Biosphere designation, it’s a popular spot for birding as well as spotting other types of wildlife and desert plants. There are also some remains of abandoned mines and ancient cultures that are accessible via hiking trails.

This is an excellent park to visit if you’d like a fair amount of land to yourself. Organ Pipe has a similar landscape to Saguaro National Park near Tucson, yet gets only 1/4 the number of visitors annually. No matter what level of “outdoorsy” you are, Organ Pipe National Monument has you covered. Since this is such a vast park, there are scenic drives, hiking trails and spots for both RV and tent camping.

  • Location: Southwestern Arizona, about 125 miles west of Tucson
  • Reason to visit: Explore a the unique ecosystem of the Sonoran Desert, hiking, camping, horseback riding
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor center with displays, bookstore, restrooms; scenic drives, hiking trails, RV and tent campsites, backcountry camping
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Parashant National Monument (Grand Canyon)

SUV in desert at Parashant National Monument
Four-wheelin’ at Parashant National Monument; Photo by M. Draper, courtesy NPS

Parashant National Monument is one of several Arizona National Parks and Monuments located in the vicinity of the Grand Canyon. This is a terrific destination for those who love the rough and rugged outdoors amid stunning scenery. The million square miles that make up Parashant border the northern boundary of the Grand Canyon in the extreme northwest corner of Arizona. Although the monument is in Arizona, there are entrances from Nevada and Utah. Due to its location north of the Grand Canyon, the information center located in St. George, Utah.

NOTE: There are no paved roads in Parashant. Most roads that do exist require a high-clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle. Check here for a list of scenic drives at Parashant National Monument, which includes descriptions of vehicle requirments.

  • Location: Northern Arizona, along the border with Utah and Nevada
  • Reason to visit: Stunning scenery, very few people, off-roading, backcountry camping
  • Facilities & Services: No services within the monument boundaries. There is an information center in St. George, Utah
  • Managed by: National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management
  • More information: Parashant National Monument

Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified tree trunks in foreground, with badlands peak in background
Petrified Forest National Park; photo by T. Scott Williams, courtesy NPS

Anyone taking a road trip through Arizona along historic Route 66 should plan to explore a few Arizona National Parks and Monuments. Petrified Forest National Park is probably the the most convenient. The park is super-easy to access: it straddles Interstate 40, and there’s an exit right into the park! Route 66 and I-40 are combined along this stretch, so if you’re road-tripping Route 66, you will literally pass through the park on our drive.

Sure, you can come here to see the petrified logs that made the park famous. But there’s also a lot more to see here. Petrified Forest National Park is full of badlands, buttes and mesas that contain ancient petroglyphs, fossils, wildlife and wildflowers. If you only have an hour or so, you can see some spectacular view from your car, with a few stops at overlooks. Stretch your road-trip legs by walking one of the short maintained trails. Or hike into the backcountry along for some desert solitude one of the “Off the Beaten Path” routes.

PRO TIP: Petrified Forest National Park is pet-friendly, and gives your fur babies a chance to get some exercise too!

  • Location: Eastern Arizona, along Interstate 40, about 125 miles east of Flagstaff
  • Reason to visit: Startling “other-worldly” landscape, hiking, biking, camping
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor Center (2), with museum, gift shop, snacks, restrooms; hiking trails, pet-friendly
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Petrified Forest National Park

Pipe Spring National Monument

Stone homestead of Pipe Spring National Monument
The Mormon homestead at Pipe Spring National Monument; photo courtesy NPS

Life was tough for travelers passing through the high desert in the 1800s. Temperatures were extreme and water was scarce. Therefore, when Mormon settlers discovered the fresh water oasis at Pipe Spring, they knew it was something special. Native Americans (the Kaibab Paiute) had been using the oasis for hundreds of years already. As you can imagine, the arrival of the newcomers caused some conflict.

Today, you can get a glimpse into oasis life at Pipe Spring National Monument. This is one of the Arizona National Parks and Monuments that offers live demonstrations. Tour the historic Mormon homestead and (still working!) farm. You can purchase heirloom fruits and vegetables in season, which also includes Native American corn, beans and melons.

  • Location: Northwestern Arizona, near the Utah border
  • Reason to visit: Visit historic spring and ranch site; learn about Native American and Mormon cultures
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor Center with museum, bookstore, restrooms; historic ranch with animals, fresh heirloom fruits and vegetables (in season)
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Pipe Spring National Monument

Saguaro National Park

Multiple Saguaro cactus in the late afternoon sun, with mountains in the background, one of many Arizona National Parks and Monuments

There is probably no plant more associated with the American Southwest than the giant Saguaro cactus. You can find these magnificent spiny structures growing at specific altitudes throughout southern Arizona. See these beauties, along with cholla, ocatillo, prickly pear, and other desert wildlife at Saguaro National Park.

The park is unique among Arizona National Parks and Monuments in that it is divided into an East and West section, with the city of Tucson in between. It makes a great day trip if you’re visiting Tucson. You can take a slow drive through each section. But the cacti are so beautiful. Therefore, we recommend one of the many hikes to really see the cacti up close. 🌵

  • Location: South central Arizona, immediately east and west of Tucson (2 separate branches of the park)
  • Reason to visit: Explore the Sonoran Desert, hiking, drives, camping
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor Center (2) with exhibits, bookstore, restrooms, drinking water; hiking trails, scenic drives, camping
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Saguaro National Park

Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area

Tumacacori cemetery with trees overhead
Tumacacori mission cemetery is part of the Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area; photo courtesy NPS

The watershed of the Santa Cruz Valley has been home to settlers for thousands of years, making it an area rich in history and culture. In 2019 the National Park Service connected three national sites along the Santa Cruz river and created the Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area. This newly-formed area helps put the vast and varied history of the area into context.

The National Heritage Area includes JUAN BAUTISTA DE ANZA NATIONAL HISTORIC TRAILSAGUARO NATIONAL PARKTUMACÁCORI NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK (all listed here in this post). Information about how the sites relate to one another is available at each of them. Since this is a relatively new (and creative!) entity among Arizona National Parks and Monuments, look for many new and exciting programs in the coming years.

  • Location: Southern Arizona, between Tucson and the Mexican border
  • Reason to visit: Explore historic Spanish and Native American Sights and desert landscapes
  • Facilities & Services: See individual sights for more information
  • Managed by: National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management
  • More information: Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area

Sonoran Desert National Monument

Sonoran Desert with saguaro cactus in foreground, mountains in background
Sonoran Desert National Monument; photo by Bob Wick, courtesy of BLM

If you love saguaro cactus and a desert landscape, but want something a bit more rough and rustic than Saguaro National Park, try Sonoran Desert National Monument. The nearly half-million acre area has limited facilities, but lots of desert beauty.

You can hike or ride horses on trails in one of three designated wilderness areas. Hunters will enjoy the vast acreage dedicated to that sport. And a side note to history lovers: the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail (listed above) passes through this park.

  • Location: South central Arizona, about 65 miles southwest of Phoenix
  • Reason to visit: Explore desert landscape; hiking, horseback riding, camping, hunting
  • Facilities & Services: Limited restroom facilities
  • Managed by: Bureau of Land Management
  • More information: Sonoran Desert National Monument

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

The cinder cone of Sunset Crater
Sunset Crater National Monumnet; photo courtesy NPS

There’s a whole lotta geology going on throughout Arizona. Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument gives you a chance to glimpse some of that up close and personal. You can view the cinder cone of Sunset Crater, an extinct volcano that erupted about 1,000 years ago. (That’s practically “last month” in geology terms!)

Hike the Lava Flow Trail, which takes you along some other-worldly landscapes that make you feel like you’re in a Star Wars episode. Then plant yourself in the cinder-coated center of nearby Lenox Crater, the park’s smaller volcano and stare off toward Sunset Crater in the distance. Because of this juxtaposition, you can imagine what it must have been like with the lava rumbling and ready to explode.

  • Location: North central Arizona, about 20 miles north of Flagstaff
  • Reason to visit: Explore remains of ancient volcano, hiking, scenic drives, camping
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor Center, restrooms, picnic grounds, campgrounds
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

Tonto National Monument

Ancient cliff dwelling with scrub in foreground, Tonto National Monument
Upper cliff dwelling at Tonto National Monument; photo courtesy NPS

Tonto National Monument is an excellent place to learn about the Salado and their culture. The Salado were a society who lived approximately 700 years ago. They blended multiple Native American cultures and developed sophisticated cliff dwellings. Tonto preserves two of these remarkable building complexes. Many cliff dwellings elsewhere are only visible from a distance, however at Tonto you can get right in or near the structures.

There are two sets of dwellings at Tonto. Because they are perched in cliffs, you must walk a fairly steep path to reach them. You reach the (smaller) Lower Dwelling via a half-mile hike. To reach the (larger) Upper Dwelling, you must book a tour with a park ranger for a guided 3-mile (round trip) hike.

  • Location: Central Arizona, about 115 miles east of Phoenix
  • Reason to visit: See ancient cliff dwellings
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor Center, museum, restrooms, picnic grounds, guided tours
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Tonto National Monument

Tumacacori National Historical Park

Tumacacori Mission with scattered clouds above
The mission church at Tumacacori National Historical Park; photo courtesy NPS

Tumacacori is located on the Santa Cruz River. Because of this irrigated location, it has been a site of settlement for multiple cultures for centuries. Of all the Arizona National Parks and Monuments, it is probably the one that provides the most insight into how civilization developed in the region. Today the historic Mission and surrounding community are preserved at Tumacacori National Historical Park.

The heart of the Mission is the beautifully preserved 16th century church, surrounded by many outbuildings. As a result, there are many buildings to visit. Be sure to explore the historic convento. Despite its religious-sounding name, the convento was a sort of 16th-century shopping arcade.

  • Location: South central Arizona, about 45 miles south of Tucson
  • Reason to visit: Explore historic church and mission grounds; learn about two unique cultures: Spanish and Native American.
  • Facilities & Services: Museum, Visitor Center, gift shop, restrooms, cultural events and demonstrations
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Tumacacori National Historical Park

Tuzigoot National Monument

View of stone tower remains at Tuzigoot National Monument
The “tower room” tops the pueblo at Tuzigoot National Monument; photo courtesy NPS

Tuzigoot gives us insight to the Sinagua peoples that inhabited the Verde Valley nearly 1,000 years ago. Remains of a stone pueblo are perched on a ridge overlooking the Verde River. At one time this large pueblo contained between 80 and 160 rooms! As a result, you can still see the outline of many of the pueblo rooms today. Be sure to look for the “tower room,” which is perched atop the center of the pueblo structure.

Tuzigoot is one of the Arizona National Parks and Monuments that makes a nice day excursion when touring the Sedona area.

  • Location: North central Arizona, about 110 miles north of Phoenix
  • Nearest town: Cottonwood
  • Reason to visit: Explore ancient Sinagua pueblo
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor Center, museum, bookstore, restrooms, picnic grounds
  • Managed by: National Park Service, Western National Parks Association
  • More information: Tuzigoot National Monument

Vermillion Cliffs National Monument

Man looking out over rock formations at Vermillion Cliffs National Monument
Vermillion Cliffs National Monument; photo by Bob Wick, courtesy BLM

Want to go off-roading amidst some eye-bending scenery? Vermillion Cliffs National Monument is for you. This 280,000-acre chunk of northern Arizona is chock-full of weird and wonderful rock formations. Think “Dr. Seuss in the American Southwest.” You’ll see cliffs with squiggly stripes of white and orange and peaks that look like giant melting sand castles. It’s the sort of place you’ll use up an entire film card taking photos!

Be advised that among Arizona National Parks and Monuments, this is one of the most rugged: you MUST have high-clearance four-wheel drive in Vermillion Cliffs. There are no paved roads, and lots of potential places to get stuck. Check the website for info on permits and recommended driving routes. And bring LOTS of water!

  • Location: Northern Arizona, along the border with Utah, about 125 miles north of Flagstaff
  • Reason to visit: Explore stunning rock formations, hiking, camping
  • Facilities & Services: None; nearest services are 40-50 miles away in Kanab, UT and Page, AZ
  • Managed by: Bureau of Land Management
  • More information: Vermillion Cliffs National Monument

Walnut Canyon National Monument

Cliff dwelling alongside hiking path in the forest, Walnut Canyon National Monument
Hike right by cliff dwellings in the forest at Walnut Canyon National Monument; photo courtesy NPS

Imagine taking a hike in the forest and coming upon an ancient dwelling tucked into the rock face along the trail. That’s what it’s like at Walnut Canyon National Monument. You feel like an explorer who’s just made a historic discovery!

Small ancient cliff dwellings are tucked into a forested canyon. You hike along the 1-mile Rim Trail, admire nature, and BAM! There it is, a row of rooms tucked under a rock ledge. You can even enter some of the dwellings. It’s awesome.

  • Location: North central Arizona, about 12 miles east of Flagstaff
  • Reason to visit: Explore historic cliff dwellings
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor Center, museum, bookstore, restrooms
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Walnut Canyon National Monument

Wupatki National Monument

A view of Wukoki pueblo on the plains at Wupatki National Monument
Wukoki pueblo, one of several on view at Wupatki National Monument; photo courtesy NPS

Waupatki National Monument showcases a collection of red stone pueblo remains. The Waupatki pueblos are out on the open plain. As a result, these pueblos are very different from the cliff dwellings at Walnut Canyon.

You can take a series of short ( 1/4-1/2 mile) hikes to explore six different pueblos. Join a Ranger-guided hikes to explore more distant sites. Ranger hikes are 2-3 miles and 2-3 hours long. The truly intrepid can sign up for an 18-20 mile overnight hike. Submit your name to a lottery for these limited capacity hikes, held in the spring and fall.

  • Location: North central Arizona, about 30 miles north of Flagstaff
  • Reason to visit: Explore ancient pueblo ruins
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor Center, museum, restrooms
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Waupatki National Monument

No matter where you go in the state, Arizona National Parks and Monuments are not far away. Be sure to seek them out and see some of the truly stunning natural and historic sites preserved in the landscape!


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Arizona is full of cool small towns. Most were built sometime in the 1800’s as either mining or cattle towns. Because Arizona was so large and sparsely populated, these Arizona small towns needed to be fairly self-sufficient. As a result, they each have a downtown core with terrific old architecture and unique history. Although some of these towns are still bustling with the business that got them started, many have reinvented themselves as tourist destinations that celebrate their heritage.

Each of these Arizona small towns are worth a visit. Some are perfect as a day trip, others make an excellent weekend destination. A few are even worth a longer stay, for use as a base when exploring some of the many natural wonders in the vicinity. Following are a list of 13 of our favorites in different parts of the state:

Prescott Courthouse in background, compass rose on pavement in front, arizona small towns

Northern Arizona Small Towns

Flagstaff

Flagstaff is the largest town in northern Arizona. Old route 66 passes through the southern edge of town, so you definitely get that “classic road trip” vibe. (And there’s a cool Route 66-themed gift shop in the old train station–souvenir alert!). The main part of town has a “nice old fashioned downtown” feel, with historic late Victorian brick buildings housing bars, restaurants and shops. Northern Arizona University is also based in Flagstaff, which means the town is not just a tourist haven.

Tudor-style train station building along railroad tracks

Of all the Arizona small towns, Flagstaff has the highest elevation in the state, at nearly 7,000 feet. Because of this high elevation, Flagstaff is one place in Arizona where you get snow in the winter! (There are ski slopes nearby.) High elevation also means Flagstaff never gets too hot in the summer, which can be refreshing if you’re looking to beat the desert heat. Flagstaff’s location, midway between Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest National Parks, makes it good base for exploring the natural wonders in the northern part of the state.


Kingman

Kingman was established as a railroad town in the 1880s, and soon grew thanks to mining in the surrounding area. Historic Route 66 passes right through town, Kingman is the westernmost Arizona town on the so-called “mother road.” Andy Devine, one of the early stars of western movies, is from Kingman. To celebrate this celluloid hero, the portion of Route 66 that goes trough the center of town is known as “Andy Devine Avenue.”

Today Kingman has a real “road trip” feel, and celebrates its motoring and railroad heritage. The cool multi-purpose Visitor Center is in an old converted power station. You’ll also find the Arizona Route 66 Museum and the Arizona Route 66 Electric Vehicle Museum there. Across the street in Locomotive Park train geeks will love the ogling historic old steam engine #3579. And there is no shortage of Route 66 photo-ops: the logo is displayed all over town on signs and painted on the street.


Seligman

Battered old red tow truck parked in front of building with American Flag painted on side
Is this Seligman . . . or Radiator Springs???

It is because of this little hamlet, bypassed by Interstate 40, that the Route 66 legend lives on. In 1987 locals petitioned the State of Arizona and had it designated a historic highway. This story is said to have inspired the location of Radiator Springs for the movie Cars. Today this no-stoplight town is a pilgrimage for Route 66 fans, who find retro motels, memorabilia shops . . . and lots of vintage cars parked around town (you might even get to meet Tow Mater!)


Williams

Two things distinguish Williams: Route 66 and the Grand Canyon. Williams describes itself as “the best preserved stretch of Route 66.” It was the last town on the “mother road” to be bypassed by Interstate 40 (in 1984), so it really hung on to its Route 66 identity. The center of town, with its diners, motels and shops is a designated National Historic District.

building with statue of cow in front

Williams is also the town nearest to the main entrance of Grand Canyon National Park (about 50 miles due north), which makes it a great base for exploring the area. The town is the headquarters of the Grand Canyon Historic Railway and Hotel. Because of its close proximity to the park, many Grand Canyon tour operators are based in Williams. Kaibab National Forest surrounds the town, with plenty hiking, biking and fishing opportunities for outdoor lovers.


Winslow

For anyone who has ever listened to a Classic Rock radio station and heard the lyrics, “well I’m standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona . . . ” Yep, this is the place! This is one of the small Arizona towns along old Route 66 which has capitalized on the Jackson Browne/Glenn Frey song made famous by the rock group Eagles. Get your 70s rock fix at the park that commemorates “Standing on a corner Winslow Arizona” where there’s even (you knew this was coming!) a flatbed Ford.

Route 66 sign on roadbed, Winslow Arizona

Winslow’s other claim to fame is the La Posada Hotel, one of the original Fred Harvey railroad hotels designed by Mary Colter along the Santa Fe railroad line. Current owners renovated and reopened the southwestern style luxury property in 1997. Today it contains a top-notch restaurant and art gallery in addition to comfy guest rooms. It makes an elegant old-world stopover while cruisin’ Route 66.

PRO TIP: Go retro in Northern Arizona! Stay at one of these cool hotels on Route 66 in Arizona!


Central Arizona Small Towns

Cottonwood

Cottonwood sits alongside the Verde River in the valley just north of Jerome. Due to its location along a river, Cottonwood is unique among small Arizona towns in that it began its life as a farming community in the late 1800s. The cute main street has a midcentury feel. Our first visit to Cottonwood in 2013 showed a town with “good bones” but not a lot going on. However, recent visits show that the town has really come into its own. Shops, cafes and restaurants now fill the once empty storefronts.

Red 1950s car parked in front of vintage gas station Cottonwood Arizona

Cottonwood has stayed true to its agricultural roots. The town’s other draw is the Verde Valley Wine Trail. Rows of grape vines grace the gently sloping hills surrounding Cottonwood. Over 20 wineries and tasting rooms are open for sampling in and around the town.


Globe

Globe was founded in the 1870s on copper mining and cattle, and both are still important industries today. This central Arizona small town is equidistant from Phoenix and Tucson and makes a nice day trip or weekend destination. Take a walking tour of the historic downtown. Visit the Gila County Historical Museum and explore the work of local artists at the Cobre Valley Center for the Arts (housed in the former courthouse).

Sitting in the middle of the Tonto National Forest, Globe is near several native American historic sites, such as the Tonto National Monument (cliff dwellings), as well as Besh Ba Gowah Archaelogical Park. The 3,500-foot elevation transitions between saguaro-filled desert and ponderosa pine forest. Wildflower lovers come to Globe for some spectacular natural displays.


Jerome

Jerome is a unique former copper mining town that’s now a great destination for visitors. Climb up Cleopatra Hill on a single twisty road to get there. As a result, the view of the surrounding valley is spectacular. You can even see many of Sedona’s red rock formations in the distance.

Jerome is an Arizona Victorian small town perched on a mountain, here is the 1898 Hotel Connor with the red rocks of Sedona in the background

Jerome once had so many saloons it was called “The Wickedest Town in America.” Now you can brows in funky shops and wet your whistle at atmospheric bars and restaurants. Planning on whoopin’ it up old-tyme miner style during a night on the town? We recommend staying in one of the cute Bed & Breakfasts. You certainly won’t want to tackle the drive down that mountain late at night.


Prescott

Prescott is charming, an example of Arizona small towns at their best. A classic old courthouse anchors the central square. (Remember the old Back to the Future movies?) Pretty Victorian homes and cottages line the downtown streets. Surrounding the square are restaurants, boutiques, antique shops, cafes and western wear outfitters. Visit historic “Whiskey Row,” so called because that’s where all the “hootin’ & hollerin'” happened. Today you can still do a bit of hootin’ & hollerin’ on Whiskey Row, and get your Western on . . . many of the bars feature live music.

Prescott Courthouse in background, compass rose on pavement in front, arizona small towns
The courthouse in the center of Prescott’s beautiful town square

That western atmosphere is legit: Prescott is also home to the world’s oldest rodeo, with the grounds about a half mile northwest of downtown. Nearby Prescott National Forest and Watson Lake State Park provide plenty of opportunity for outdoor pursuits.


Southern Arizona Small Towns

Bisbee

Street in Bisbee, Arizona with mountain in background
The winding streets of Bisbee, a small town nestled in the Mule Mountains of southeastern Arizona.

Bisbee, Arizona was established in 1876 as copper mining town tucked away in the Mule Mountains southeastern part of Arizona. The mine is no longer operational, but Bisbee has now transformed itself into a cool and funky destination with a sort of “Victorian-meets-Midcentury” kind of vibe.

Learn how copper helped shape both the town⏤and the nation⏤at the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum, and then see the real deal underground on a Queen Mine Tour. Browse in Bisbee’s many art galleries, and spend the night (or 3) at one of the town’s picturesque bed and breakfasts.


Patagonia

Patagonia is a small town nestled high in the Santa Rita Mountains, about an hour southeast of Tucson. Once a mining town, Patagonia today is focused on cattle ranching and recreation. The wine growing region of Sonoita is just a few miles north.

The Sonoita Creek flows through Patagonia year round (a rarity in Arizona’s dry climate). As a result, the region is a popular flyway for many unique types of birds⏤and is a great spot for birdwatchers. Downtown Patagonia has a few funky art galleries, shops and cafes. The town’s high altitude (4,500 feet) keeps it cool in the summer, and many visitors like to stay for a week, enjoying nearby Patagonia Lake State Park, or ropin’ and ridin’ at the historic Circle Z Ranch.

Tombstone

Stagecoach and horses on the dirt streets of Tombstone, Arizona
It’s hard to get more “Old West” than the small Arizona town of Tombstone, home of the O.K. Corral. (Photo courtesy of AOT)

It would be hard to get more “Old West” in Arizona small towns than Tombstone. This is where the famous “Shootout at the OK Corral” took place with the Earp brothers & Doc Holliday pitted agains the Clanton-McLaury gang. But there’s a lot more to Tombstone, including its rich silver mining history, and clashes with the Apaches.

Tombstone has done much to preserve its Old West atmosphere. The main street is still dirt, and cars have to share the road with horses! There are plenty of western wear shops, restaurants and saloons. Historic sights include the Birdcage Theater and Tombstone Courthouse. But be sure to allow some time to see the “shootout:” it’s re-enacted daily.

Tubac

Tubac is a small Arizona town about 50 miles south of Tucson that today is a thriving artist colony. Unlike most Arizona small towns, the history of Tubac predates mining and cattle. Because of its location along the Santa Cruz River, it was a settlement for native tribes. Many of these native tribes greeted the Spanish Missionaries when they arrived in the late 1600s.

Colorful pottery outside a shop in Tubac, Arizona
Colorful pottery is one of the many types of creative expression available in the artsy small town of Tubac, Arizona. (photo courtesy AOT)

History buffs should visit Tumacacori National Historic Park just outside of town. Here, hundreds of years and layers of history mingle together, incorporating Native Peoples, Spanish Missionaries and Mexican and American soldiers. Tubac’s multiple art galleries line the sleepy streets of Tubac. The Tubac Center of the Arts hosts rotating exhibits, art workshops and performances.

Yuma

Yuma is a small Arizona town in the extreme southwest corner of the state. Sitting along the banks of the Colorado River made Yuma a strategic location in the 18th and 19th centuries. Initially it was missionaries who traveled this route. Passing through Yuma became one of the fastest ways to get out west during the California Gold Rush.

Today visitors to Yuma can get the feel of a real “old west” town by visiting the historic downtown. The center of town really took off during the gold rush years. Yuma was also home to the Yuma Territorial Prison, which is now a state park. (The prison figured largely in the classic Western movie 3:10 to Yuma). Visit the Colorado River State Historic Park to learn about the importance of the crossing throughout the past few centuries.


These Arizona small towns help to tell the fascinating history of the state. They all sit amid Arizona’s fabulous scenery, under those magnificent blue skies. The combination makes them each of them a great destination for a few days’ excursion.

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List of Small Arizona Towns to Visit

  1. Bisbee (southern Arizona)
  2. Cottonwood (central Arizona)
  3. Flagstaff (northern Arizona)
  4. Globe (central Arizona)
  5. Jerome (central Arizona)
  6. Kingman (northern Arizona)
  7. Patagonia (southern Arizona)
  8. Prescott (central Arizona)
  9. Seligman (northern Arizona)
  10. Tombstone (southern Arizona)
  11. Tubac (southern Arizona)
  12. Williams (northern Arizona)
  13. Winslow (northern Arizona)
  14. Yuma (southern Arizona)