Best Scenic Drives In Arizona
Looking to see what the Grand Canyon state has to offer, but don’t want to get out of the car? Then you should make sure to check out the 6 best scenic drives in Arizona, USA.
When it comes to scenic beauties and worthwhile states you should visit, Arizona is usually towards the top of the list and for good reason. Most of the US states have at least one singular attraction or places that would make them worth visiting. Arizona is different in that it is filled with multiple, natural and manmade attractions that can leave you breathless.
With wonders like the Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, and Sedona, it is not a surprised that Arizona is on every list for a tourist that wishes to see the US. It doesn’t matter if you are from the USA or a foreigner, this is one of the 50 states that you must visit at least once in your lifetime.
Table of Contents
The Apache Trail
This gorgeous, 42 mile trail is famous and probably one of the best drives to see the vast array of the breathtaking desert fona, animals, and natural formations. Springtime will show you the variety of wildflowers that call this area home.
What you will see as you start driving, is the Goldfield Ghost Town, the Lost Dutchman State Park, Canyon Lake, Apache Lake, and then the Theodore Roosevelt Dam. It is at the dam where you will either turn around to head back, or go east towards Globe, where you can visit the Tonto National Monument.
The Beeline Highway -Bush Highway (Route 87)
After long months of either sitting around or waiting to get out to travel, the Bush Highway drive is perfect to scratch that itch. Located in Fountain Hills, this drive is located between the 202 and Route 87.
So, why is this highway on the best scenic drives in Arizona? Well, it is because of the beautiful landscape that will great you. A perfect place to see the Sonoran Desert scenery within the scattered rocky hills.
Look out for the tall Saguaro Cactus, Palo Verde Trees, or the Creosote Bush to name a few. As you drive, you will notice the Salt River, which you can take a look at from one of the scenic overlooks along the highway.
At Blue Point Bridge, you will find a recreational site with picnic tables, grills, and bathrooms. Additionally, it is also where most go to access the Salt River for tubing or kayaking down it. Check out what salt river tubing is and if you’re lucky you might get to see some of the wild horses that frequent the area.
Continuing on will have you will come to Saguaro Lake. If you are hungry or need a rest, the marina has a restaurant with a patio when the weather is great. Other options close by if you do wish to get out and enjoy the environment is the Butcher Jones Recreational Site, Ballantine Trailhead, and located at the end, is the charming town of Payson. This highway is perfect in representing some of the best day trips from Phoenix that are possible.
Want to see the best of Arizona and have the time, then take a drive on Route 89 in the northern portion of the state. This drive will take you through the different ecosystems that make up this great state.
A definite must for anyone who wishes to view some of the best scenic landscape that Arizona can offer you. So the question is where should you start?
Take interstate 17 north of Phoenix till you see the turn off for 260, in Camp Verde. Continue on 260 for a small bit, until you arrive in Cottonwood where Route 89A is located.
You have a choice here. Go left and you can visit Jerome, an old mining town with a supposedly haunted hotel. This would mean getting out of the car, so if you want to just enjoy driving and staying away from people then go right on Route 89A towards Sedona.
Going right on 89A will take you to the majestic red rocks of Sedona. It is a destination you should dedicate a day or more to visiting, honestly. It is still worth driving through? Very much so. Also, it is a great stop to grab a bite to eat or some food to go before the next longer stretch.
Continue on Route 89A towards Flagstaff, here you will pick up Route 89, north of the city. This stretch will take you through some amazing places like the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, near Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyons, Lake Powell, and if you want to keep going into Utah you can head towards Bryce Canyon. This is a trip that could take you anywhere from 3 hours to more than 8 if you stop at a few places.
Famous Route 66
Towards the Northern portion of the state, you will find old Route 66. Part of it has been covered by highway 40 over the years. There is the longest unbroken stretch for Route 66, which is at 158 miles long, from the California state line to Crookton Road.
If you have time, stop by the Ash Fork Museum where you can take a look at artifacts from Route 66, the railroads and other historical artifacts.
Close to Holbrook is the Petrified National Forest and Painted Desert. You will find an old Studebaker as a monument to Route 66 here. If you keep going west, you will next come along Meteor Crater, an interesting place to see what was the aftermath of meteor crashing into the Earth over 50,000 years ago.
The towns that have Route 66 pass through them are: Flagstaff, Kingman, Williams, Holbrook, Winslow, Topock, Seligman, and Oatman. Another museum that is dedicated to Route 66 is located in Kingman. Will cost you $4 for an adult ticket, $3 for seniors and kids 12 and under are free.
Looking for Route 66 maps of the different states, then check out this website which shows the different ways.
Why Is Route 66 So Famous?
Many Americans have at one point or another heard something about Route 66. Others, worldwide have also come to see what it is all about. This route has been immortalize with songs, movies, and books, like the “Grapes Of Wrath “. So what exactly makes it so special?
We Americans love our history and to take road trips to move about our enormous country. Known as “America’s Highway”, people used it to get from Illinois to California. I have heard stories growing up on how my grandparents came from back east to settle in California on this route.
Route 66 was an opportunity for many to either escape to a new place or provide opportunities for towns to be connected and prosper. Popular during the 1930’s to escape during the Dust Bowl for many in fact.
With the end of World War II, the government saw the need for a better interstate system. The crumbling Route 66 couldn’t handle the increased in traffic and wear over time. In fact, the end result of a better interstate highway allowed more urban and suburban communities to be connected as well as faster ferrying of goods.
Route 66 is a part of America’s history and it’s progression over time. It allowed many to either find an escape from their troubles, offered newer opportunities, or helped to enabled a connection that was not present beforehand.
The Swift Trail on Arizona Highway 366
This trail is located in the higher elevations of Arizona and takes you up towards Mount Graham. If you are afraid of heights or do not have the most reliable car, then it is best not to do this one even if it is on the list for best scenic drives in Arizona.
What you will encounter is tight sections on the road, a low amount of cars, and switchbacks. In fact, there is no guardrail present along the trail, so caution should always be used when determining if you should drive the trail during certain weather or not.
Designed in 1993, the Swift Trail 366 will take you through the Coronado National Forest where you will be surprised to see pine trees, flowers, and other green plants. Within an hour you will be able to see the beautiful scenery of the desert floor to the high mountaintop of the Pinalenos.
Is it paved? Well, 21 miles of it is and the last 7 miles is made up of dirt. Since the last section is dirt and higher up, the weather can really affect the roads more so they will have this part closed from November 15th to the 15th of April.
Four Peaks in The Tonto National Forest
Have you ever visited or been in Phoenix and wonder what is that mountain to the Northeast with those four peaks? Well they are the four distinct peaks of the Mazatzal Mountain range, with Browns Peak , being the tallest at 7,659 feet (2,334 m). Of my favorite out of the best day trips from Phoenix due to the low crowds and amazing views at the top.
Getting off on OHV Road #143 to Route 188 will take you up towards the top of Four Peaks on a winding, dirt, unpaved road. The road is a out and back trail that is 26.3 miles long and will take you a good 4 to 5 hours to drive. Be warned, you will see off trail dirt bikes or hear people shooting during the first few miles on the road. It is a popular place to go riding, shooting, or just camp and relax.
Always show caution when driving and check weather conditions. Anytime you take a road trip or want to hike, you must always check the weather prior. Flash floods, habbos, and monsoons can happen very quickly. You do not want to be stuck in this area during these extreme weather conditions.
In fact, most locals don’t even know that there is an Amethyst mine located within the mountains that produces fine grade gems. Yes, I know you are thinking, can I see it? I know I did. Sadly, my wife and I haven’t had a chance yet, but eventually we want to take a tour, which cost over $500 per person, but that includes the helicopter ride up and I hear you get to keep a small bag of the Amethyst you mine.
What this trail offers is fantastic views of the different plants and animals that make up the Tonto National Basin. You will experience the Saguaro Cactus protruding from the dry desert landscape and as you continue on, this scenery will change to lush wildflowers and pine trees.
Tips on what to bring for any day trips in Arizona
- What to bring: Water, water, and did I mention water? You get my point by now. It can be very easy to get dehydrated during all parts of the year.
- Snacks: Always make sure to have extra snacks on you that won’t go bad or melt in any extreme temperatures that are known to frequent the desert ecosystems.
- Camera/Phone: Any weatherproof cameras or phones are a great way to take pictures of your trip so you can remember it later on.
- Sunglasses/Hat/Sunscreen: This is important since it is the desert. It is easy for the temperatures to be in the high 100’s and can change drastically from night to day. In addition, the air is very dry and it can be easy to get dehydrated without you even realizing it.
- Printed or downloaded map: Do not trust that you will have wifi the whole way. Always check the official state websites for the maps and any advisories before taking off on your drive.
Best Time Of Year
The answer to this all depends on what you wish to see or get out of your road trip. Summertime will have the highest temperatures, ranging from 100 to 117. There have been a few days to reach the 120’s, but this is a perfect opportunity to cool off in one of the many swimming holes, lakes, or rivers that scatter the land. Also expect the most crowds since kids are out of school.
The fall and spring are gorgeous times to take a drive through this state. Most wildflowers and other plants will bloom during the spring or after our monsoon season. Be careful of the winter or our other extreme weather. You do not want to be stuck in the middle of the desert, road, or mountain.
Always adhere to any warning signs or flash flood warnings. They are there for a reason! Do not be another statistic and you also do not want to have to pay for your own rescue, due to the Stupid Driver Law.
Don't Forget To Pin It For Later!
Have you visited Arizona and have any other suggestions for scenic road trips? Let us know in the comments.
Have any other activities or places we should see, let us know in the comments section. From Phoenix? Hi neighbor, comment and say hi or let us know any other places we should add!
The information on this website has come from research and by experiencing it ourselves. Opening hours, closures, prices, etc. are always subject to change. We try to keep up to date on any new information, or tips to help make your adventure more enjoyable.
Always make sure to check all websites and national park services before you go to see what new restrictions they have during Covid.