The sheer size (it’s the sixth-largest state) and scope of Arizona make it tempting to try to explore this wonderland on a seven-day road trip around the American Southwest. But with the vastness of the Grand Canyon in its northern reaches to its gunslinging history in Tombstone near the border with Mexico, Arizona has hundreds of miles to cover.
It’s best to stake out some routes, relax and explore deeper. To see everything from Indigenous cliff dwellings to quirky towns on Route 66, here are the 7 best road trips in Arizona.
Route 66 road trip
Best road trip for Americana
Kingman—Seligman; 87 miles (140km)
This road trip on Route 66, the longest stretch still in use, is the perfect wind-down if you’ve been partying it up in nearby Vegas. Check out sights like the Arizona Route 66 Museum in Kingman, which hosts street drag-racing in October, then hit the historic “Mother Road” that threads through the sagebrush and villages to Seligman. Those quirky red signs planted roadside? They’re an homage to the historic Burma-Shave ad campaigns. From Seligman, you’ll still see Route 66 signposts pointing to Ash Fork. But purists take note: although the Mother Road technically continues to Williams, a buzzy town that’s the departure point for the Grand Canyon Railway, most of the original road is buried under I-40.
Planning tip: Kingman Visitor Center, in the Powerhouse Building in the center of Kingman, has lots of information about Route 66 attractions. The building also houses the Arizona Route 66 Museum and gift shop.
High-desert whiskey and wine road trip
Best road-trip for wine country
Prescott—Sedona; 60 miles (96km)
Find your brand of relaxation in the mile-high city of Prescott famed for its Gold Rush-era saloons on Whiskey Row (look for the locally distilled Bloody Basin Bourbon) and Watson Lake’s granite dells. This route switchbacks up Mingus Mountain into Jerome, a cliffside village best known for its ghosts, which is also part of the Verde Valley Wine Trail, with five wine-tasting rooms. Continue through the pines down to the historic towns of Clarkdale (Tuzigoot National Monument is worth a stop), Cottonwood and Cornville, which have a dozen wineries between them, on the way to Sedona.
Audiobooks to narrate your US road trip
Craters and cave dwellings road trip
Best road trip for historic sites
Sedona—Wupatki National Monument; 88 miles (141km)
From Sedona’s red rock canyons, this route climbs through forests to almost 7000ft in Flagstaff, gateway to the area’s geological and cultural past. Distinguished by its numerous historic sites and monuments, this road trip heads to Walnut Canyon National Monument, home to 25 cave dwellings built by the pre-Columbian Sinagua people, then skirts over to Winona; its namesake bridge is a picturesque relic from Route 66. Continue north to stand by the rim of a cinder cone at Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. After an eruption 900 years ago destroyed the fertile land, the Sinagua migrated through the ponderosa pines and Painted Desert to the area that’s now Wupatki National Monument, where you can see their ancient pueblos.
Detour: Stop at the Museum of Northern Arizona, a small but excellent museum that spotlights local American Indian archaeology, history and culture, as well as geology, biology and the arts. Check the website for the calendar of events, workshops and field classes.
Grand Canyon rim-to-rim road trip
Best classic road trip
South Rim—North Rim; 210 miles (340km)
It’s easy to get fixated by Grand Canyon National Park with its layers of limestone and the Colorado River snaking a mile below the South Rim. Gaze at the gorge’s expanse, trek the trails and then explore the other side of the 1.2-million-acre park on a road trip from rim to rim. Exit due east, stopping at Duck on a Rock Viewpoint for photo ops or visiting the 1916 trading post in Cameron to shop for antique Navajo rugs. This road trip gains elevation, passing through Marble Canyon near Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, celebrated for the Wave, a formation composed of sandstone swirls. This is condor territory, so watch for these winged giants gliding overhead, then travel southbound through the conifers in Kaibab National Forest to the North Rim, which sits at 8200ft.
Planning tip: Before you set off on this road trip, check the park’s website for extreme heat warnings at the South Rim in summer and for closures at the North Rim in late fall.
The best of Arizona beyond the Grand Canyon
Kayenta–Monument Valley Scenic Road
Best road trip for Navajo culture
Kayenta—North Rim; 27 miles (43 km)
Although this road trip is a short jaunt, it goes deep into the heart of Navajo culture. Start your journey in Kayenta at the open-air Navajo Shadehouse Museum to learn about the code talkers employed by the military during the Second World War. Driving north, this route traces the remains of volcanic upheaval such Agathla Peak rising above ancient ancestral Puebloan cave dwellings. To access these sites up close, you’ll need to head to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, crossing into Utah before doubling back into Arizona to get to the entrance.
Coronado Trail Scenic Byway
Best road trip for thrill-seekers
Springerville—Morenci; 117 miles (188 km)
The Coronado Trail Scenic Byway seems to be a straight shot south, but there’s a big twist to this road trip: 460 turns. Echoing the 1600s-era route traveled by its namesake Spanish explorer, when the original road was built in 1981, it was given the not-so-subtle highway number 666 and nicknamed “The Devil’s Highway.” Renamed Highway 191, this road trip in Arizona’s White Mountains near New Mexico sets off from Springerville, site of the Casa Malpais Indian Ruins and Archaeological Park. The route dips and weaves through the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. It’s a great spot to gas up and grab lunch at the 1926 Hannagan Meadow Lodge. Near Clifton, look out for an oddball national landmark: the Arrow Tree, a dead pine punctured with arrows.
Local tip: While you’re taking the last twists and turns to Morenci, key an eye out for wildlife such as bears, bobcats, bighorn sheep and wolves.
Cactus giants and gunslingers road trip
Best road trip for living deserts and the old Wild West
Tucson—Bisbee; 95 miles (150km)
Set in the Sonoran Desert, Tucson is the epicenter for exploring the long relationship between people and plants. Stop at the Tucson Botanical Gardens or 21-acre Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum for a primer on desert culture, guided hikes and art exhibits. Then drive deep into the belly of Saguaro National Park to commune with its century-old namesake cactus, which bloom and bear edible fruit in spring. After driving among the spiky sentinels, this road trip travels to Tombstone, the “Too Tough to Die” town. Once the staging grounds for gunfights at the O.K. Corral, the community plays hard into its Wild West history. Continue south to Bisbee, a former copper boomtown that’s now focused on the arts. The Artemizia Foundation exhibits contemporary work from celebrated artists such as Yayoi Kusama and Jeff Koons.