Never again will you have to ask yourself “What should we do this weekend?” when Friday rolls around.
At least, never in 2020. Our annual calendar of quick-trip Arizona adventures returns with a meaningful emphasis on remote high-country hikes, gorgeous glamping spots and rickety Arizona saloons.
Bonus: Out-of-state escapes for every season!
Photography by John Burcham, Camerawerks, Eric Cox, Mare Czinar, Jim David, Paul Gill, Mirelle Inglefield, Kevin Kaminski, Madison Kirkman, Chris Mortenson, James Patrick, Brandon Sullivan
Wardrobe Styling by Mitch Phillips, Rare Scarf Glam Vintage
Take a Polar Plunge
Lake Havasu City
Some think it invigorating. Others shake their heads at the lunacy*. But a quick jump in freezing water draws the crowds, whether you’re there to brave the icy depths or to simply gawk. Revelers gather at London Bridge Beach the first Saturday after New Year’s Day for the Annual Lake Havasu Polar Bear Day. Group plunges take place at 12 p.m., 12:30 p.m. and 1 p.m., followed by thawing under heaters and slurping bowls of hot soup.
Fun Fact: Polar Bear Day will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2023.
Fees: $5 per person.
If You Go: 1340 N. McCulloch Blvd., 928-486-0106, golakehavasu.com
*Are we talking about you? Then check out the hot springs weekend getaway on the right.
Saddle & Spur Tavern – WINTER Watering Hole
Every writer needs a dark bar. For the literary-minded who find themselves in Douglas, there’s Saddle & Spur. As the story goes, Our Town playwright Thornton Wilder’s car broke down near Douglas in 1962. While the mechanic repaired his automobile, Wilder booked a room at The Gadsden Hotel and whiled away his nights at this bar, just off the lobby. Supposedly, it was during his stay in Douglas that he began writing The Eighth Day, the novel that won the National Book Award in 1968. We’re not making promises, but who knows what awaits you after a drink at Saddle & Spur. A Pulitzer, maybe?
Bar or Booth: Definitely a booth. Rounded leather banquettes line one wall and grant privacy for penning the next Great American Novel.
Fees: Cash and cards accepted.
If You Go: 1046 G Ave., 520-364-4481, thegadsdenhotel.com/food-drink
Soak in Ancient Hot Springs
Where the paved road ends and a dirt path begins, hidden deep in the Bradshaw Mountains, you’ll find Castle Hot Springs. So named for the cistern-fed spring pools warmed deep in the earth, this secluded resort invites guests to shelve their tech devices and retreat into a digital detox. The springs heat up to a healing 120 degrees F, making them the hottest nonvolcanic natural springs in the world. Arizona’s Native American tribes first dipped into the thermal waters before the turn of the century, when wealthy travelers (Rockefellers and Roosevelts among them) navigated the tricky backcountry trek to the springs. Today, an SUV will get you there just fine.
Perfect For: Adults. Guests must be 16 years and older.
Fees: $700 to $2,000 per night, all meals included.
If You Go: 5050 E. Castle Hot Springs Rd., 877-600-1137 (reservations), 928-501-1001 (general info), castlehotsprings.com
Hike Picacho Peak
We’re not ashamed to admit that we subscribe to the notion that a New Year’s hike kicks things off right. At the very least, it helps purge your hangover from the night before. The smart folks at Arizona State Parks agree. Join one of their First Day Hikes, guide-led journeys at trail hot spots around the state, each held on New Year’s Day. The Picacho Peak option is ideal since the trek (ranging from 1.2 miles to 4.5 miles) can be difficult, with steep switchbacks, rock scrambles and elevation gain. Best to do it with an expert.
Safety First: Wear sturdy hiking boots and bring sunscreen and one quart of water per person.
Fees: No fee for guided hike, but park entrance fee applies ($7 per vehicle).
If You Go: 520-466-3183, azstateparks.com/fdh
Disrupt the Oscar Party
No more wedges of wilting Brie, discount sparkling wine and a Sunday night party that you’ll regret come Monday. Skip your friend’s annual Oscar shindig (February 9) and celebrate the movies organically by visiting Northern Arizona film locations. A few to get you started: Flagstaff, with cameos in Little Miss Sunshine and Vacation; Twin Arrows Trading Post, where Tom Hanks’ character in Forrest Gump comes up with the smiley face logo; Meteor Crater, the safe zone for Jeff Bridges in the sci-fi flick Starman; and Canyon de Chelly National Monument, featured in The Sea of Grass, How the West Was Won, The Lone Ranger, Contact and Wild Wild West.
For Fans of the Western: In Southern Arizona, tour Old Tucson Studios to see the film sites of John Wayne movies like Rio Bravo and El Dorado.
Fees: Twin Arrows Trading Post, free; Meteor Crater, $18 per person; Canyon de Chelly National Monument, free to visit the overlooks or to hike White House Trail.
If You Go: Twin Arrows Trading Post, I-40, 24 miles west of Flagstaff; Meteor Crater, I-40, Exit 233, Winslow, meteorcrater.com; Canyon de Chelly National Monument, 928-674-5500, nps.gov/cach, from Flagstaff, take I-40 East to US-191 North, then turn right on Route 7 and drive 3 miles to the Welcome Center.
Be Your Own Spirit Guide
Dear drinking folk, find a designated driver. You’ll need one to hit up this confluence of award-winning Southern Arizona distilleries. In Tucson, sample single malt at Whiskey Del Bac (whiskeydelbac.com), where the mesquite wood sends plumes of smoke into the sky. Nearby, there’s The Independent Distillery (theindependentdistillery.com), which focuses on a lineup of craft spirits from gin and vodka to bitters and absinthe. At Elgin’s Flying Leap Vineyards & Distillery (flyingleapvineyards.com), sip grape-based spirits – vodka, brandy, grappa – along with bourbon and moonshine. And for the best rum in the world (according to the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, which awarded it Best of Class Extra-Aged Rum and Best in Show), pop over to Elgin Distillery (elginwd.com).
The extra-aged Regalo de Vida Ron Imperial rum is made with sugar cane from Sonora. Smells like honeysuckle. Tastes like caramel apple.
Ask For: Two-Row, the distillery cat at Whiskey Del Bac. The friendly kitty enjoys some infamy after being featured in the book Distillery Cats: Profiles in Courage of the World’s Most Spirited Mousers.
Fees: Whiskey Del Bac, $20 per person for tour and tasting; The Independent Distillery, $10 for a cocktail; Flying Leap, $12 for flight of six ¼-ounce pours; Elgin Distillery, $2 per taste.
Be a Fancy Foodie
Somewhere in Prescott National Forest (we can’t tell you where, its location is top-secret), herb-filled gardens border a courtyard with a stone pizza oven. Walnut trees edge a grassy lawn and a sprawling ranch keeps turkeys, chickens, pigs and Wagyu cattle. Luxury guestrooms with rocking-chair-adorned front porches cluster close – your accommodations for a foodie getaway at Terra Farm + Manor. Helmed by chef James Porter, this gastronomy retreat goes beyond cooking classes, although those are, indeed, part of the fun. You’ll tour the farm, pair food and wine, hike, forage, taste and end each day with a multicourse meal that showcases the best of native Arizona foods. And you’ll definitely leave with sharper axe-throwing skills than you came with.
Transportation Tip: The hosts at Terra Farm + Manor will pick you up from Sky Harbor or downtown Prescott to spirit you away to the property. Specify your preference when you make your reservation.
Fees: From $4,000 per couple for three days and $11,000 per couple for five days.
If You Go: 928-228-5510, terrafarmandmanor.com
Sleep By the River
Lake Havasu City
For a romantic getaway, consider a cozy cabin on the water. Lake Havasu State Park recently unveiled 13 new cabins, each set right on the Colorado River. Snuggle on the porch just feet from the beach, or huddle by the warmth of the fire crackling in your outdoor fire pit. These cabins best suit the laid-back couple. That’s because while this isn’t exactly roughing it (cabins come equipped with a queen bed and heat), guests of all 13 cabins must share the restroom facilities, located a short walk away.
See a Waterfall Bigger than Niagara
Not only do Grand Falls drop 18 feet farther than Niagara Falls – 185 feet versus 167 – but silt from the Little Colorado River imbues the water with a cocoa color so the whole thing looks like an oversize chocolate fountain. And, in the dramatic fashion that only waterfalls possess, as the snow-melt roars over the rock terrace, clouds of mist create rainbow-hued sprays.
When To Go: To see the waterfalls at the peak of their power, check water level readings at the U.S. Geological Survey website (waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis). Make sure the reading is above 100 per cubic feet – if it registers in the thousands, visit Grand Falls within 48 hours.
If You Go: Navajo Nation, 928-686-3227, discovernavajo.com/grand-falls.aspx. From Flagstaff, take I-10 East to Winona, drive north for 2 miles, turn right on Leupp Road, follow it for 15 miles to Indian Road 70, then follow the signs for Grand Falls (8.5 miles ahead at the end of Indian Road 70).
Harvest Your Lunch
The aptly named Field to Feast gives you a chance to not only see where your food comes from, but to actually pluck it from the ground yourself. As the country’s “winter vegetable capital,” Yuma’s crops flourish during the cooler season. And every February and March, the area’s farms welcome visitors to tour the grounds, even encouraging them to pick their own produce for the feast that culminates the day. There are eight tour dates during February and March, with tours departing at 8:30 a.m. from the Yuma Visitor Information Center via motor coach.
Fun Fact: Yuma County is the third largest producer of vegetables in the nation among counties, supplying the country with 90 percent of its lettuce.
Fees: $30 per person.
If You Go: 928-783-0071, visityuma.com
At the School House Inn Bed & Breakfast, it’s not just the subject of geography with which you can get reacquainted. The 1918 former school – built for the children of miners’ families during the industry’s heyday in Bisbee – offers nine guest rooms, each with an educational theme. There’s the Geography Room (papered with world maps), Art Room (complete with artists’ tools), Arithmetic Room and the History Room (check out the artifacts on display), to name a few. And for those of you who spent your grammar school years as troublemakers, you’ll feel right at home in the Principal’s Office Suite.
See how the other half lives. Or more like, see how the other 0.5 percent lives. Avalon Organic Gardens & Eco Village is one of the world’s largest and longest sustaining eco-villages – 220 acres where 120 people farm the land using permaculture principles, organic gardening techniques and sustainable technology. This micro-society gives 150-minute guided tours to showcase its off-the-grid approach to life, work, education, religion and culture.
Suggested Souvenir: Herbal healing salve made with organic coconut oil, beeswax, geranium, olive oil and plantain ($10).
Fees: Donations suggested.
If You Go: Tours are hosted Tuesday-Saturday at 10 a.m. Reservations are required. Book by calling 520-398-2655 or via email at email@example.com. avalongardens.org
Learn How to Pitch a Tent…
… And build a campfire. And cook over an open flame. And fish. Arizona State Parks hosts Family Campout every fall and spring, a guided weekend getaway in the great outdoors at wilderness areas around the state. If you and your kiddos have zero experience with the whole sleeping outside thing, this is for you. In addition to learning the camping ropes, you’ll also enjoy the fun stuff of spending time in nature: hiking, biking, birding, astronomy, geocaching and, of course, s’mores. Arizona State Parks provides tents, sleeping mats, first aid kits, water, coffee and snacks.
What to Pack: You’re responsible for bringing food for four meals, sleeping bags, pillows, flashlights and any personal items.
Fees: $90 for a family of four (children ages 6 and older). Additional family members are $5 per person.
If You Go: azstateparks.com/family-camp
Become a Lavender Artisan
Homesteaders put down roots here in the late 1800s, raising cattle and hand-hewing wood for a farm shed. That log structure still stands today, only now it shelters stalks of drying lavender for the Pine Creek Canyon Lavender Farm. Using spring-fed water from Pine Creek, the owners grow three varieties of lavender: Royal Velvet, Provence and Grosso. When you sign up for the farm’s classes, you’ll learn about the differences between lavender varieties, ways to grow them, how to make lavender products and how to cook with lavender. You can also shop for lotions, scrubs, lavender salt and fresh lavender bundles, all of which are for sale at the farm.
Come Again: If you opt for a return visit in December, sign up for the tamale-making class with lavender-pepper pulled-chicken tamales.
Fees: $39 for 90-minute class, $49-$59 for three-hour class.
If You Go: 4223 Pine Creek Canyon Rd., 619-772-6005, pinelavenderfarm.com
Savor Global Cuisines
Being the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy in the country is a weighty mantle, but Tucson wears it well. The city’s culinary scene thrives as a hotbed of international restaurants owned and operated by families proud to show off their native country’s food traditions – several of which you can’t find in the Valley. Queen Sheba’s (queenshebatucson.com) Eritrean menu features ga`at (barley porridge) and fava bean hilbet. The cevapi (Bosnian-style sausages) are homemade at Chef Alisah’s (alisahrestaurant.com). You have your work cut out for you when choosing between all of the pastries – like almond rings and cinnamon flats – at Mona’s Danish Bakery (monasdanishbakery.com). And though the Valley has a few plus Peruvian places, squeeze in a visit to Inca’s Peruvian Cuisine (incasperuviancuisine.com) for Tucson’s best lomo saltado (beef salad over french fries and a tangy, red-onion-kissed ceviche that will send your mind straight to Machu Picchu).
Study the Leaves: Seven Cups Fine Chinese Teas (sevencups.com) offers private tea lessons ($200 per 1 ½-hour session) during which you’ll learn everything there is to know about Chinese tea and tea culture.
Fees: Queen Sheba, $8-12; Chef Alisah’s, $8-22; Mona’s Danish Bakery, $3-6; Inca’s, $6-$22; Seven Cups Fine Chinese Teas, free tastings, $15 per person for Chinese Tea Ceremony.
Don’s Cactus Bar – SPRING Watering Hole
This sleepy highway town is notable for a long-deceased resident who claimed to be the highest-paid humorist in the country after excerpts of his stories from the local papers appeared in The Saturday Evening Post. Don’s Cactus Bar, a middle-of-nowhere tavern built in 1932, is still a great place to tell tall tales. Order a prickly pear margarita (surprisingly good), a green chile burrito (excellent), plunk down five bucks to join the pool tournament held every Saturday, then start spinning wild yarns with the locals.
Where to Stay: The delightfully retro, 1940s Westward Motel (66915 Avenue C, 208-290-1111, thewestwardmotel.com)
Fees: $2.50 for a Bud Light. Why not?
If You Go: 66745 US-60, 928-859-3547
Bask at the Beach
We love San Diego as much as the next heat-addled Phoenician. But you don’t have to venture across state lines for a hot-weather respite. In Parker, River Island State Park offers white sandy beaches along the Colorado River with lots of shoreline for water play. The park is situated in a tidy cove protected from the river’s current, making swimming especially ideal. Pups are welcome on the beach, and kayakers, paddleboarders and canoers can launch their vessels from the park’s boat ramp. The 37 scenic campsites sit in the shadow of the Buckskin Mountains, so if you want to make a night of it, pack your tent and sleeping bags.
Where to Eat: Picnic! The nearby Buckskin Mountain State Park has a general store – perfect for picking up sundries and snacks.
Fees: $10 per vehicle.
If You Go: 5200 N. Hwy. 95, 928-667-3386, azstateparks.com/river-island
Tour a Missile
Nine stories tall and buried underground in a silo. That describes the Titan II missile, an intercontinental ballistic remnant of the Cold War that was deactivated in 1984. More than 50 Titan II launch-control centers were scattered throughout the United States. But now only one remains, and it lives at Arizona’s Titan Missile Museum. The site, today a National Historic Landmark, is equal parts creepy and fascinating. During a one-hour guided tour (offered daily), you’ll descend nearly 40 feet below the ground to check out the control room, tunnels and antenna tower before seeing the Titan II missile up close.
Fun Fact: Scenes from the 1996 movie Star Trek: First Contact were filmed here.
Fees: $13.50 per adult, $10 per child ages 5–12, reservations required.
If You Go: 1580 W. Duval Mine Rd., 520-625-7736, titanmissilemuseum.org
Meet the Maker
We love it when Arizona surprises the world. Like when Holbrook resident Atsuo Sakurai took home a prestigious award for the world’s best non-Japanese sake. His Arizona Sake earned that honor at Tokyo’s 2018 Sake Competition, and the collective gasp of shock was heard ’round the globe – at least among enthusiasts of Japanese rice wine. Sakurai makes his sake in small batches and distributes them throughout the state in his pickup truck. Until recently, you’d have to find a bottle at Nobuo at Teeter House or Glai Baan – not a bad thing, let’s be clear – but now you can go right to the source for a by-reservation-only tasting with the First Grade Master Sake
Suggested Souvenir: A bottle of Junmai Ginjo sake ($25).
Fees: None, reservations required.
If You Go: 1639 Navajo Blvd., 928-241-8594, arizonasake.com
Kinder Crossing Trail – Most Remote HIKE
This isn’t the longest trail, nor is it the hardest. However, if you’re looking for a little alone time, Kinder Crossing Trail’s tucked-away locale at the end of a rugged road – and its conclusion at the bottom of a canyon where East Clear Creek gurgles by – means you might be the only soul around. Bring a copy of Zane Grey’s Under the Tonto Rim to read on the creek bank in the shade of fir and oak trees. The story is set in this very place and was likely written at Grey’s nearby Mogollon Rim cabin.
Transportation Tip: You’ll need a high-clearance vehicle to access the trailhead.
If You Go: 928-477-2255, fs.usda.gov/coconino. From Payson, head north on SR-87 for 47 miles to FR-95, turn right, drive 4 miles to FR-95T, turn left and continue to the Kinder Crossing Trail sign at the fork in the road.
Eat a Cactus
When does the fruit of the saguaro ripen? If you guessed June, bingo. That’s also when the Saguaro Harvest Weekend takes place, an event hosted by the International Sonoran Desert Alliance and the Sonoran Desert Inn & Conference Center. A member of the Tohono O’odham leads a group to Organ Pipe National Monument to share the tribal tradition of desert harvesting, including using a kukuipad – long poles of cactus ribs – to pull the fruit. The weekend’s activities also include a Tohono O’odham language class, cooking demos and chef-made feasts starring cholla buds, prickly pear, nopales and other native foods.
Duly Noted: Don’t attempt a saguaro harvest on your own. Harvesting on national monument land is forbidden, unless you have a Native American guide.
Fees: From $345 per person, which includes a two-night hotel stay, meals and activities.
If You Go: Sonoran Desert Inn & Conference Center, 55 Orilla Ave., 520-373-0804. The event happens in late June. To be notified of the date, sign up for email alerts by sending a message to firstname.lastname@example.org. sonorancc.com
Follow the Signs
By signs, we mean neon. Lots of neon. And all of it artfully arranged in pleasing vignettes for your consumption. Thanks to Instagram, or perhaps nostalgia for Americana, or maybe a love of bright, flashy things, Ignite Sign Art Museum is insanely popular, if we’re going by its 4.9 Google review rating. What started as a personal collection of signs gathered from around the country has grown into a small-but-mighty public display of electric, LED, aluminum and neon wattage in various states of restoration. Imagine: a giant Arby’s hat advertising roast beef, a saguaro buzzing lime green, retro beer signs brightening a brick wall and a glowing orb emblazoned with the 76 gas logo.
Weirdest Sign: Neon word search puzzle.
Fees: $12 per person.
If You Go: 331 S. Olsen Ave., 520-319-0888, ignitemuseum.com
Descend into a Volcano
There was once a man who bought a volcano. The year was 1977. The man was James Turrell, an artist renowned for works that explore light and space. Roden Crater, a dormant cinder cone in Northern Arizona, has become Turrell’s still-in-progress masterpiece. Its contribution to the art world is, to put it plainly, a big deal. That’s why supporters include the Guggenheim, the Smithsonian, the National Endowment for the Arts and, yes, Kanye West. The large-scale artwork invites you into the depths of the cone, where tunnels give way to skyward apertures that capture sunlight during the day and planets and stars at night for an immersive experience into the contemplation of light and darkness.
The Caveat: Turrell fans feel certain that Roden Crater will open to the public this year. But the artist has been working on the project for decades. What can we say? A magnum opus takes time.
If You Go: rodencrater.com, email@example.com
Hike to a Swimming Hole
By this time of year, we’re more than ready for a refreshing dip in cold water, even if it means we have to hike 3 ½ miles to achieve it. The Crack at Wet Beaver Creek wedges into a slot canyon and extends deep enough down into the hard sandstone that you can cannonball off the edge and into the clear, chilly pool. For non-adrenaline junkies, stick to the other side of the swimming hole, a quiet spot where you can wade and sunbathe peacefully, away from the cliff jumpers.
Safety First: While the hike itself isn’t difficult in terms of elevation gain or distance, most of the path sits in direct sunlight with little shade. Apply sunscreen, wear a hat, bring a cover-up and pack plenty of water.
If You Go: 928-203-2900, fs.usda.gov/recarea/coconino
Passage 28 of Arizona Trail – Best Sunset HIKE
You don’t have to go far to glimpse a photo-worthy sunset in Arizona. But for backpackers willing to haul their gear, hike the 16.1-mile (one way) Passage 28, then set up camp for the night, the epic sunsets reward the effort. Why? This section of the Arizona Trail, which runs north from State Route 87 to Gooseberry Springs, covers some of the state’s most scenic territory, from flush creeks and sharp canyons to thick forests and views galore.
For Day-Trippers: If you prefer a shorter jaunt, you can do an out-and-back from the trailhead at SR-87. Just be sure to bring a headlamp for the return trip to the parking lot.
If You Go: aztrail.org/explore/passages/passage-28-happy-jack. From the intersection of SR-87 and SR-260 north of Pine, drive northeast 19.5 miles on SR-87, then turn right on FR-138. This is 0.8 miles west of the Blue Ridge Ranger Station. The trailhead is 100 yards south on FR-138, on the left (east) side of the road.
The Buffet Bar – SUMMER Watering Hole
Raise a glass in Tucson’s oldest operating drinking establishment. The Buffet Bar received its license after Prohibition in 1934 and has been serving pint-glass-size cocktails and cold beers ever since. No windows (just how we like it in the summer), one door (good for seeing who’s coming and going) and loads of history are embedded in the graffiti-covered walls. It’s a dive bar for the people, a place where you can do a Jell-O shot or sip a craft IPA, no judgment either way.
Visit a Tasting Room You’ve Never Heard Of
You’ve enjoyed wine in the Verde Valley. You’ve visited Sonoita and Willcox. So what’s next on your bucket list, oenophile? How about Red Rock Ranch & Farms? The only winery in Arizona’s White Mountains, Red Rock grows red-wine grape varietals, such as Barbera, Malbec, Tempranillo and Petit Verdot, and white varietals like Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. Sample the vino on Saturdays from 1-6 p.m. in the farm’s tasting room, then bookend your visit with a peek at the farm’s lavender fields.
Suggested Souvenir: Lavender-themed notecards, $18 for a pack of eight cards.
If You Go: 928-245-5763, redrockfarms.com
Party at a Park
When the sun sets, things get exciting at Homolovi State Park. That’s because it’s the only state park with its very own observatory. On the fourth Saturday of the month, the staff invites visitors to hang out after dark for a Star Party at the park’s Winslow Homolovi Observatory. Nighttime activities vary, from speakers to workshops, but always include stargazing via the telescope with an expert guide.
Did You Know?: Arizona can claim more certified Dark Sky destinations (16 parks, places and communities) than any other state in the country.
Fees: Park entrance ($7 per vehicle).
If You Go: Homolovi State Park, I-40, Exit 257, 928-289-4106, azstateparks.com/homolovi
Not the psilocybin-y kind, silly. Foraging for mushrooms! At Hart Prairie Preserve, join the Arizona Mushroom Society for the annual Pick and Cook Foray, a foraging adventure that’s equal parts educational and delicious. With the guidance of an expert, you’ll collect edible mushroom species, cook them at the historical Hart Prairie Preserve Lodge, pair the mushrooms with wine, and then eat them. The expedition starts at 9 a.m., returning to the lodge by mid-morning to cook and taste. The event concludes by 2 p.m.
Duly Noted: It should go without saying, but do not forage for mushrooms – or consume wild mushrooms – without first checking with an expert on whether or not they’re edible.
Fees: $45 per person, with proceeds going to The Nature Conservancy.
If You Go: 480-326-6863, arizonamushroomsociety.org
Find Your Sea Legs
The desert may seem an unlikely place for mermaids and mermen to gather, but then how do you explain Return of the Mermaids? Described as a “monsoon celebration and mermaid festival,” this series of cosplay events lauds the myths, legends and lore of the ocean. Attendees are invited to dress up in their best undersea attire and partake in the activities. Synchronized swimming, pirate shows, costume contests, face painting and a parade keep things family-friendly until night falls. After 9 p.m., DJs start spinning tunes and costumes get a tad racier.
Suggested Souvenir: Buy a homemade gift from the vendors at the Mermaid Market.
Fees: Admission fees vary per event.
If You Go: Events take place on and around Fourth Avenue, fourthavenue.org/return-of-the-mermaids
Forget Havasu Falls
Securing a permit to camp at Havasu Falls is notoriously difficult. Let us introduce you to Cibecue Falls, a worthy understudy. The 80-foot cascade drops over the jagged walls of Cibecue Canyon on the White Mountain Apache Tribal Land. A blue-green, mineral-rich pool sits below, with water so clear you can see the smooth rocks on the bottom. To reach the falls, head out on a 2-mile hike (one way) that crosses Cibecue Creek as it carves through the canyon. Prepare to get wet; wear water shoes and pack a change of clothes.
Before You Go: Because you’re traveling on native land, you will need to obtain a permit ahead of time for this adventure. But good news – they’re easy to snag.
Fees: $30 per person per day, available online.
If You Go: 928-338-4385, wmatoutdoor.org
Coronado Trail National Scenic Byway – SUMMER Scenic Drive
Looking for a road trip on long stretches of highway where you’ll never see another vehicle? US-191 meets that criteria. With a 4,300-foot elevation gain, looping switchbacks and very little traffic, this road passes through desert landscapes into the dense pine and aspen forests of the White Mountains, with nary another traveler in sight. Launch from Springerville, heading south. The 120-mile route takes about four hours if you’re doing it right. As in, going slow, stopping often and marveling at the
Scenic Stop: Blue Vista Lookout. The rest stop sits at 9,000 feet, clings to the edge of the Mogollon Rim and grants you views that extend nearly 100 miles.
Stagecoach Trails Guest Ranch – FALL GLAMP SPOT
The new Pioneer Wagon at Stagecoach Trails Guest Ranch represents glamping in all its luxurious glory. The spacious Conestoga wagon offers a king-size bed, heat, air conditioning, electricity and the opportunity to sleep under the stars with more than 350,000 acres of wild desert surrounding you. Plus, the ranch’s all-inclusive amenities gift you with two daily horseback rides, three meals, a swimming pool and hot tub, and activities such as wagon rides and archery.
Perfect For: City-slicker families.
Fees: From $298 per adult, $182 per child ages 4-12, $40 per child younger than 4.
If You Go: 19985 S. Doc Holliday Rd., 928-727-8270, stagecoachtrailsranch.com
Go Dark. And Party.
PRO TIP – Bring your own snacks and adult beverages. It’s encouraged!
One of 10 places in Arizona designated as a Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association, Oracle State Park is a blessedly unilluminated little pocket of Arizona naturally shielded from the light pollution of the Phoenix and Tucson metros. Which is to say: It’s a great place for a Star Party. Park officials hold two of them annually (the other is in March), beginning with a pre-sunset walk on Nature Trail Loop, where musicians stationed at intervals along the trail serenade passing guests. At sunset, revelers retire to the on-site ranch house patio for astronomer-led telescopic star-hunting and more music. Far out, eh?
Fees: $7 per vehicle.
If You Go: Scheduled for one Saturday in March and September, dates TBD. 3820 Wildlife Dr., 520-896-2425, azstateparks.com/oracle
Rely on Moon Shine
At Red Rock State Park, experience sunset and moonrise on a guided Full Moon Hike. Under the lunar glow, your naturalist guide will teach you about this geologically special region of the state, situated between riparian-rich Oak Creek and Lower Oak Creek, where rare avian species such as the Common Merganser roam. You won’t spot the birds at night, but you will see the silhouettes of the park’s native trees: sycamores, velvet ashes, Arizona alders, junipers and cottonwoods. The hike runs 150 minutes and covers a distance of 2 miles.
What to Bring: Closed-toed shoes and a flashlight, even though you probably won’t need it.
Fees: $5 for the hike, plus park admission ($7 per adult, $4 per child ages 7-13).
If You Go: 4050 Red Rock Loop Rd., 928-282-6907. Hikes are offered during the full moon in September and October. azstateparks.com/red-rock
Artists, vendors, makers and peddlers unite at the Flagstaff Urban Flea and Artisan Market to sell everything from used books and handmade soaps to vintage bicycles and fresh flowers. Looking for Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde record? Peruse the vinyl collection. In need of an affordable circular saw? Sift through the used tools. Comic books, toys, up-cycled goods, even gems and minerals – you’ll uncover them here, we assure you.
Feel-Good Fact: A portion of the market proceeds helps fund local nonprofits. Win-win.
If You Go: Second Saturday of the month, 9 a.m.–2 p.m., City Hall parking lot, 211 W. Aspen Ave., 928-607-0054, flagstaffmarket.com
Lace Up Your Skates
Dig your rollerblades out of your closet. It’s time for the Saguaro Sunrise Skate, an in-line skating race that travels along the peaceful roads of Oro Valley at dawn. Select from three race distances: marathon (26.2 miles), 10-mile or 5K (3.1 miles).
Where to Stay: Spend the night before the race at the nearby Hilton Tucson El Conquistador, 10000 N. Oracle Rd., 520-544-5000, hiltonelconquistador.com
Fees: Rates vary depending on registration date, starting from $90 for the 10-mile skate and $100 for the marathon to $120 for the 10-mile skate to $130 for the marathon.
If You Go: Race starts and ends at 2291 E. Rancho Vistoso Blvd., 480-734-0558, saguarosunrise.com
Hang with a Bug Scientist
You can do that and a whole lot more at the Arizona Insect Festival, hosted by the bug-loving folks at U of A’s Department of Entomology. The festival’s interactive exhibits engage the whole family, and the deep-dive nerdy research stuff intrigues academic types. Past topics at the Ask a Scientist Café – one of the event’s offerings – include discussions about monsoon insects and what kinds of bugs are good for your garden. The Build-a-Bug booth lets kids create an adorable creepy-crawly while the Insects as Food booth teaches you all about edible bugs (and lets you sample a few, too).
Suggested Souvenir: Festival T-shirt that shows off cute bugs.
Take the Stairs
Blind corners and curving roads. Crumbling steps forged out of old mule paths. The worn and weathered terrain of a former mining town. That’s what you’ll navigate on foot during the legendary Bisbee 1000, a 4.5-mile race that’s won awards for being unique to Arizona, including earning a designation as an official Centennial Event for the state’s 2012 celebration. You’ll run or walk more than 1,000 steps on nine staircases that jut up and down and in and out of the most scenic parts of Old Bisbee.
Plan Ahead: Started in 1990, the race gained such a cult following, event organizers now cap attendance at 1,500 people. Register early.
Fees: $130 per adult, $30 per child ages 7-17.
If You Go: October 17, 7 a.m.-noon. Race starts and ends at 201 Tombstone Canyon Rd., 520-266-0401, bisbee1000.org
Kachina Trail – BEST FOLIAGE HIKE
Aspens, aspens and more aspens. This leisurely hike along Kachina Trail bestows classic autumnal views (and Insta photo ops) in shades of gold, yellow and orange. The thick aspen groves give way to ancient limber pine and Douglas firs, and sloping meadows open up to panoramic views of Flagstaff below and Agassiz Peak above. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch the peak capped in snow, a spectacular sight amid the ring of fiery fall foliage. The entire trail spans 10 miles round trip, but you can truncate the moderate hike into shorter distances.
Look For: The massive lava flow formed eons ago. The trail crosses the flow, and a cave-like recess in the lava marks where looser volcanic debris eroded away from the denser layers.
If You Go: 928-526-0866, fs.usda.gov/recarea/coconino. From Flagstaff, drive 7 miles northwest on US-180, turn right on Snowbowl Road (FR-516) and follow it 7 miles to Snowbowl, then drive to the first parking lot on the right. The Kachina Trailhead sits at the south end of the lot.
Joshua Tree Parkway – FALL Scenic DRIVE
Wickenburg to Wikieup
Don’t let California take all the credit for the iconic Joshua tree (actually a yucca). We have our own forest in Arizona, and it’s best explored on this afternoon drive. First things first: Pick up sandwiches from The Local Press in Wickenburg. Then drive north. If you’ve never seen a Joshua tree in person, you’re in for a treat. The Joshua Tree Parkway winds through a whole lot of nothing (including a town named Nothing) save these strange, gnarly plants. Miles upon miles of them stretch out in every direction, fanning out toward the mountains in the distance, and neighbored by saguaro-dotted cliffs and canyons.
Transportation Tip: Fill up on gas in Wickenburg, enough for a round-trip journey.
If You Go: From Wickenburg, drive north on US-93 to Wikieup; 74 miles one way.
Join an Art Stroll
Visit nearly 20 galleries and artists’ studios in this funky, mile-high art colony. During the Jerome Art Walk, held the first Saturday of the month from 5 to 8 p.m., you’ll get a chance to meet artists, watch them work and buy one-of-a-kind art. Local restaurants also share complimentary nibbles, wineries ply you with free tastings and hotels invite you to stay the night with room discounts.
Where to Stay: The Connor Hotel (160 Main St., 928-634-5006, connorhotel.com, $105-$165/night), the historic hotel located above The Spirit Room.
If You Go: Park in town, then catch the free shuttle that runs throughout the evening, jeromeartwalk.com
Witness Tombstone After Dark
Linger in the dusky (dusky, not dusty) glow of the town too tough to die during the monthly Tombstone at Twilight event. From 5 to 8 p.m. on the fourth Saturday of the month, stick around past sundown to clump along the wooden boardwalks like you own the place. Live mariachi music fills the air, tourists and locals pack the saloons, the Wild West Witches entertain the crowds and lawless men un-holster their six-shooters for a thrilling gunfight re-enactment. It’s bawdy and bold in the best ways possible.
Suggested Souvenir: At Bronco Trading Co., shop for 1880s Western attire. For men, a shiny red scroll vest will run you $52, and a bustle skirt for the ladies costs $80. broncotradingco.com
If You Go: 311 E. Allen St., 520-366-4005, tombstoneforward.com
Red’s Bird Cage – FALL Watering Hole
Is it a true Old West watering hole if it wasn’t once a bordello? Or, in the case of Red’s, designed in the spirit of a bordello? This underground bar – a hopping spot in Yuma’s nightlife scene, if that says anything – used to be a Western Union telegraph office, but in the 1970s C.C. “Red” Rambo opened it as a brothel-style pub with red lights, red wallpaper and C-list Vegas performers. The live shows are no longer, but the red lights still illuminate the bar and nostalgia oozes from every dark corner.
What to Order: You can get Four Peaks on tap, but that’ll mark you as a city slicker. Instead order a Coors Light in a red solo cup.
Fees: Cash only.
If You Go: 231 S. Main St., 928-783-1050
Pretend You’re in a Classic Holiday Movie
Hallmark and Lifetime begin showing their formulaic but addictive holiday movies as early as October. Little America Hotel doesn’t begin celebrating quite that soon, but by mid-November, the hotel’s quaint property turns into a veritable winter wonderland. That’s when the Little America Holiday Lights Festival clicks on, burning brightly every night through December. Snow-laden pine trees tower over an illuminated scene: old-fashioned gas lamps, millions of colored holiday lights, decorated Christmas trees, cider, cookies and carolers.
Meet Santa: Join Santa for a breakfast buffet on select dates through the end of the year ($28 per adult, $18 per child ages 3-12).
Fees: Festival admission is free.
If You Go: 2515 E. Butler Ave., 928-779-7900, flagstaff.littleamerica.com
Hit the Slopes, Then Lounge by the Pool
Mount Lemmon and Tucson
After a morning of snow skiing, snowboarding, sledding – or any other manner of snow fun – shed your coat and scarf to relax poolside under the warm sun. Thanks to Phoenix’s central location between the ski havens of Flagstaff and Mount Lemmon, we have our pick of snow-swim adventures. But the recent opening of The Tuxon, Tucson’s newest, hippest, trendiest accommodations, makes your decision easy. Go south, friends. Pack in cold-weather activities at Mt. Lemmon Ski Valley, then toast cocktails in your bathing suit at the sleek and modern Tuxon. Only in Arizona, amiright?
But Wait, There’s More: Take advantage of The Tuxon’s movie screenings, live music, cooking workshops and art shows.
Fees: From $139-$249 per night at The Tuxon; from $40 per lift ticket at Mt. Lemmon Ski Valley
If You Go: The Tuxon, 960 S. Freeway, 520-372-2853, thetuxonhotel.com; Mt. Lemmon Ski Valley, 10300 Ski Run Rd., 520-576-1321, skithelemmon.com
Stay in a Landscape Hotel – WINTER GLAMP SPOT
It’s impossible to compete with Sedona’s mystical beauty. So Ambiente doesn’t attempt the feat. Instead, this in-the-works resort (ETA: late 2020) aims to blend in seamlessly. Considered North America’s first “landscape hotel,” it sits on 3 acres of untouched red-rock country. Each of the 40 cube-shape rooms – built on piers so as not to disturb the land – will offer floor-to-ceiling bronze-tinted windows that reflect the environs. The atrium-like rooms afford guests unobstructed views, so it’s like you’re camping amid nature, but with luxe amenities such as a soaking tub and private
No Cars Allowed: Ambiente’s design aims for a minimal footprint and maximum sustainability, including the property’s no-cars-allowed policy. Valet and golf carts only.
If You Go: 900 W. SR-89A, ambientesedona.com
East Wetlands – Best Family HIKE
Bring the kids and the dog for an easy 3-miler through 500 acres of wetlands – marshes, cottonwoods, willows – within the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area. The East Wetlands are part of an environmental restoration effort that’s been ongoing since 2004, and one that has doubled the bird population and boosted species diversity among the winged creatures. Keep binoculars handy for herons, osprey and vermilion flycatchers. Pack a picnic to enjoy post-hike at Gateway Park, where the trailhead is located.
By the Numbers: As part of Yuma’s restoration program in the wetlands, more than 200,000 trees and shrubs have been planted and 330,000 cubic yards of dirt moved.
If You Go: Gateway Park, under the Ocean-to-Ocean Bridge, E. First and S. Gila Streets, 928-373-5198, yumaheritage.com
4 Out-of-State Escapes
Revive Body and Soul
Santa Fe, New Mexico
While it may be best known for its arts and culinary scenes, Santa Fe is no slouch in the wellness sphere, either. Sunrise Springs: An Ojo Spa Resort offers dozens of health, fitness, spirituality and self-care opportunities on its 70 acres, from archery and hiking to animal communication and hypnotherapy. Its newest offering: Repose Pools, where guests can enjoy a communal soak at the edge of the resort’s pond under a canopy of cottonwoods. The Soak + Stay package (inquire for pricing) allows resort guests unlimited soaking and access to a saltwater pool. If you’re lodging elsewhere, there’s a day guest option available – $30 per day Monday-Thursday and $45 per day Friday-Sunday and holidays (soaking hours: 9 a.m.-10 p.m.). Reservations are strongly encouraged, and bathing suits are mandatory. This isn’t that kind of resort.
Puppy Love: Pal around with four-legged friends at The Puppy Patch, a partnership between the resort and Española Humane to share the benefits of canine companionship through cuddling, petting, walking and basic training. The dogs are available for adoption in case you make a love connection.
If You Go: 242 Los Pinos Rd., 877-977-8212, sunrisesprings.ojospa.com
Discover Wine Harvest
Monterey County, California
Despite what you’ve seen on HBO’s Big Little Lies, sea-skirting Monterey is anything but snooty. Farming and growing reign supreme. After a short chat with a local, you’ll understand how profoundly agriculture drives everyone’s daily routines. Those who live here can offer insight into canning or grape pruning or beekeeping or fishing or the mercurial nature of the weather. So if you’re itching for a wine weekend that’s more than swirling and sipping, come to Monterey County during harvest. You won’t be able to get your hands dirty (they have professionals for that), but you’ll revel in the contagious energy of harvest season. Here’s how you do it: Stay in Carmel-by-the-Sea, where you’re steps from 20 tasting rooms – our fave is Caraccioli Cellars – and restaurants serving the best rustic Italian cuisine you’ll ever eat. Then plan for a full day (and a driver) to visit the vineyards and taste the region’s renowned varietals, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Check out: Chalone Vineyard, Hahn Family Wines, Wrath Wines and Odonata Wines.
Agritourism Adventure: At Carmel Valley Ranch, suit up for a beekeeping lesson, learn how to make goat cheese and meet a dirt whisperer and a salt sourcer. carmelvalleyranch.com
If You Go: 888-221-1010, seemonterey.com
Explore National Parks
The Beehive State boasts a bevy of natural wonders ranging from coral-colored cliffs to sky-high stone arches that you have to see to believe. Make a road trip out of it and stop at Utah’s “Mighty Five” national parks – Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches and Canyonlands. Zion offers a free shuttle for visitors that traverses through towering sandstone scarps and snakes around the Virgin River. Each of its nine stops offers access to adrenaline-inducing hikes with jaw-dropping views. Conquer your acrophobia on Angels Landing, which features a series of quad-shredding switchbacks that give way to a tightrope-like ascent up the spine of the 1,488-foot rock formation. For less strenuous sightseeing, stay in the car and take a scenic drive through Bryce Canyon, which provides access to 13 viewpoints of the park’s polychromatic precipices.
Carry on to Capitol Reef, which surrounds the 100-mile-long Waterpocket Fold, where you’ll find winding walls of golden sandstone and slot canyons. At Arches, take the 3-mile trek to Delicate Arch, arguably the park’s most famous formation – it’s featured on the state’s license plates, after all. End your national parks parade at Canyonlands, which consists of breathtaking canyons and mesas carved by the Colorado River.
Fun Fact: National parks make up a whopping 63 percent of land in Utah.
If You Go: nps.gov/utah
Snow Play in the Rockies
Beaver Creek, Colorado
Fresh, heavy snow sits thick and blinding over the rolling backcountry at Beaver Creek Resort, so intensely white it almost appears pale blue on a cloudless winter afternoon. You can “hit the slopes,” but there will be no moguls or black diamonds on this adventure. Instead, strap on some snowshoes. Outfitted by the resort’s Olympic-style Nordic Center, you can tramp into silent aspen groves, trailblaze through thigh-high snowbanks and generally drink in some of the cleanest, most restorative scenery Colorado has to offer. Fans of Telluride, Taos and other cozy, midsize Rocky Mountain ski villages will surely experience a pang of pleasant recognition stepping into Beaver Creek, located just west of Vail in the middle of Colorado’s all-star row of Interstate 70-adjacent ski resorts. But the place has a singular energy, too. It’s not just the snowshoes strapped to your feet. You’ll also find it in the slightly louche collection of bohemian art at the stylish Beaver Creek Lodge back in town. Or the nightly fireworks show as seen from Allie’s Cabin, a wine-centric dining palace with cinematic display windows overlooking the valley. It’s family-friendly, but offbeat. Unexpected.
What you can expect: Handsome and highly accessible skiing on 1,900 acres of skiable terrain (about the same as Telluride) and convenient air travel from Phoenix into Vail. It should be on your winter-travel short list.
If You Go: beavercreek.com
Where to Stay
A new addition to Marriott’s Autograph Collection, Beaver Creek Lodge offers a bracing blend of the Old West and European sensibilities, with large-format sculpture and paintings, and spacious, comfortable suites. Ideally situated at the foot of the ski mountain, the lodge offers quick access to Beaver Creek Village’s compact selection of restaurants and bars, but also has one of its own: Alpine + Antlers, a rotisserie-focused, kinda-sorta gastropub concept where you can start the day with a gourmet breakfast buffet, or end it with a rib-sticking bowl of bison chili. 26 Avondale Ln., 970-845-9800, kesslercollection.com