Adventure Guide to the West

January 15, 2021
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The West is all about new beginnings, fresh adventures, and a totally relaxed vibe – and we could all use a dose of optimism and tranquility right now. Start the new year off right by hiking around pine-fringed lakes and e-biking to architectural gems. Resolve to rejuvenate in a hot tub at an alpine B&B. Set an intention to sample more Arizona wines. Make 2021 the year you do more paddling, stargazing, golfing, hiking and helicoptering. This guide is a good place to start.

Williams

Come winter, there’s nothing like wandering through magical, snow-pillowed pine forests by day and snuggling up in a cozy cabin or B&B by night. Thankfully, Williams is home to unique lodgings loaded with charm and close to forests, lakes and the Grand Canyon, which looks spectacular in its coat of snow.

The romantic Sheridan House Inn caters to adults without children, making it the perfect peaceful getaway for two. The plush rooms invite whiling away the day with a book and a cup of cocoa, perhaps venturing outside to soak in the hot tub amidst the ponderosa pines. For guests’ convenience and peace of mind, they now offer nightly “Stay In the Inn” dinners so guests can dine inside or on the heater-warmed porch.

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For those looking for a rustic escape – with or without the kids – Trapper’s Rendezvous offers six spacious cabins decked out in Western decor. During the day, the family can take a spin around Bearizona to spy bears, wolves and bison, or fish at an 1890s dam, then head back to Trapper’s for fireside s’mores.

Williams, AZ
Williams, AZ
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Built in 1893 and completely restored and remodeled in 2013, The Historic Yellow House is the ideal setting for a family gathering, girlfriend getaway or special event. The home’s old photos and artifacts will intrigue history buffs. The fireplaces, 800-plus thread count sheets and flat-screen TVs will satisfy those who need creature comforts. And the modern kitchen and grill will delight foodies. experiencewilliams.com

Prescott

Just a short drive away, Prescott beckons with glorious mountain scenery studded with sparkling lakes. At Watson Lake, rent a kayak or standup paddleboard and paddle among great blue herons stilt-walking on ochre-colored boulders. Then saunter through pine-scented forest as you loop around peaceful Lynx Lake. Or experience a patchwork of Prescott’s landscapes on the 56-mile Circle Trail, a hiking, biking and equestrian route that rings around the city and offers 15 trailheads for easy access.

Watson Lake Prescott, AZ
Watson Lake Prescott, AZ

In town, refuel at the newly opened County Seat, a spacious, light-filled upstairs eatery overlooking historic Courthouse Plaza. The menu spans the healthy (grilled zucchini caprese sandwich and strawberry pumpkin seed salad) to the indulgent (pork loin, apple butter and cheddar on ciabatta). Downstairs, the Superstition Meadery is a unique, must-try experience. The knowledgeable staff will answer questions about how they make mead – a fermented drink fashioned from honey that’s considered the world’s oldest alcoholic beverage. Try a flight of meads crafted from a mind-boggling array of ingredients, including pineapple, vanilla beans, blueberries, cinnamon, coffee and Hatch chiles. visit-prescott.com

Santa Fe

Surrounded by pristine piñon, juniper and ponderosa forests, plus the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Santa Fe is a wonderland for outdoorsy types. A quick drive from Santa Fe Plaza, the 22-mile Dale Ball Trail System is a favorite with locals, thanks to stunning views of the green Sangre de Cristo foothills undulating into the city. The gentle Cerrillos Hills State Park is easy on the legs but stimulating for the mind. The path is studded with abandoned turquoise mine shafts where signs chronicle the area’s 19th century mining boom. On the 4.5-mile Borrego-Bear Wallow-Winsor Trail, the sound of a trickling creek, the sight of silvery aspens and the fragrance of fir trees make for an enchanting excursion.

Several outdoor operators offer creative adventures, such as yoga and meditation hiking, snowshoeing rambles in the Santa Fe Ski Basin, and Jeep tours to famous film locations. Heritage Inspirations recently opened a shop at downtown’s Inn & Spa at Loretto where cyclists can rent electric bikes for self-guided trips, or choose an expert-guided e-bike experience such as Churches of the Royal City and The City Different tour.

Reopening in March 2021, Bishop’s Lodge Resort makes a great jumping off point for horseback riding, trout fishing and hiking. And those who can’t make it to New Mexico this season will soon be able to shop the online Santa Fe Marketplace, featuring local products from the artsy city’s independent galleries and boutiques. santafe.org

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The Tavern Hotel in Cottonwood

Outdoor adventure followed by alcoholic beverages is a time-honored pairing. And in Cottonwood, that pairing inevitably includes the Verde River and vino. The cozy-chic Tavern Hotel gets into the spirit with its Paddles to Wine Play and Stay Package, which begins with a complimentary cocktail at Tavern Grille. Next, guests head out with Sedona Adventures to kayak the Verde River’s gentle riffles to Alcantara Vineyards. Inside the winery’s Tuscan-style farmhouse, you can spend your $20 per person credit, and outside, you can sip and swirl while watching bald eagles soar over the grapevines.

Après paddle, the special package continues with a stroll through charming Old Town Cottonwood to Pillsbury Wine Company, Burning Tree Cellars and Winery 101 to enjoy complimentary tastings. Dine at Nic’s Italian Steak & Crab House Restaurant or at Bocce Pizzeria, where you can bask on the firepit-heated patio or toss bocce balls with the locals while chefs toss your wood-fired pies.

Retire to the Tavern Hotel’s luxurious accommodations, such as the historical cottages, the Bocce Penthouse above the pizzeria, or the Tavern Hotel penthouse, featuring three patios overlooking Old Town (one with an outdoor fireplace). The next morning, refuel with a complimentary continental breakfast at Crema Craft Kitchen, then continue your adventures with a trip to nearby Tuzigoot National Monument, overlooking the Verde River. thetavernhotel.com

Fountain Hills

It’s so close to the rest of the city, yet Fountain Hills feels worlds away, thanks to its vast mountain preserve, picturesque lakes and stellar stargazing. The Fountain Hills McDowell Mountain Preserve is laced with 8 miles of trails commanding expansive views over saguaro-striped mountains and the city’s iconic fountain and lake. After much anticipation, the Adero Canyon Trailhead recently opened to vehicular traffic via a paved road, allowing convenient access to several paths, including the panoramic new Ridgeline Trail.

If you prefer some sport with your stroll, Fountain Hills and nearby areas are home to the Sonoran Desert Golf Trail, featuring six 18-hole courses nestled in the scenic Sonoran Desert. Designed by renowned golfers including Ben Crenshaw and Tom Lehman, the courses blend into their natural settings and provide some of Arizona’s most iconic golfing experiences.

Fountain Hills Arizona
Fountain Hills Arizona

Fountain Hills is one of only two International Dark Sky Communities located close to the bright lights of a big city. So it’s a perfect staycation location for stargazers and planet hunters. The newly expanded ADERO Scottsdale boasts high-definition telescopes for galaxy gazing, and every room has a private balcony where you can watch sunsets and moonrises.

In February, Fountain Hills plans to host the Concours in the Hills car show and the Spring Fountain Festival of Fine Arts & Crafts, featuring hundreds of artisans selling paintings, pottery, jewelry and more. (Check for potential pandemic restrictions or cancelations.) fh.az.gov

Pima Air & Space Museum

These days, many of us are missing flying in airplanes and traveling across the world. But you can fulfill some of your aviation fantasies at the Pima Air & Space Museum. This Tucson landmark is home to an unrivaled collection of more than 400 historic aircraft from civil, commercial and military operations around the planet.

Visitors can delve into a century of aviation history, marveling at a Wright Flyer, a 747 jumbo jet, the world’s smallest bi-plane, the oldest B-52 in existence, and much more. Social distancing is easy inside the six expansive hangars and across 80 acres of impressive aircraft. You can even wander among the planes with your leashed pets!

If the Pima Air & Space Museum has piqued your interest in history, head to the nearby Titan Missile Museum, where you can get up close and personal with a ballistic missile. The only Titan II site open to the public, this fascinating exhibit recounts the sobering story of the Cold War, when Mutual Assured Destruction kept the threat of nuclear war between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union at bay. pimaair.org, titanmissilemuseum.org

Pima Air & Space Museum
Pima Air & Space Museum
Grand Canyon West

The western side of Arizona’s most spectacular landscape is a hidden gem, offering unique adventures, easily accessible river trips, and a serene atmosphere. At the Grand Canyon Skywalk, visitors step onto a glass bridge offering heart-pounding aerial views of the canyon’s colorful strata and the Colorado River far below. Another adrenaline-pumping activity awaits at the nearby Zip Line at Grand Canyon West, where you can speed 3,200 feet across a stunning side canyon, suspended 500 feet above the ground. And acrophiles have yet another thrilling option: helicopter tours that take guests above or below the rim of the canyon.

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If you prefer rivers to aerial feats, Hualapai River Runners offers thrilling Grand Canyon rafting adventures that depart from Peach Springs on Route 66. And unlike the rafting trips in the main part of the canyon, these excursions don’t require you to reserve years in advance. Whether you choose a one-day motorized tour, a two-day whitewater paddling journey, or a five-day paddling voyage, you’ll hike to waterfalls, marvel at massive cliffs, and get delightfully drenched. grandcanyonwest.com

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