41 Best Sights in North-Central Arizona, Arizona

Lowell Observatory

Fodor's choice

In 1894 Boston businessman, author, and scientist Percival Lowell founded this observatory from which he studied Mars. His theories of the existence of a ninth planet sowed the seeds for the discovery of Pluto at Lowell in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh. The 6,500-square-foot Steele Visitor Center hosts exhibits and lectures and has a stellar gift shop. Several interactive exhibits—among them Pluto Walk, a scale model of the solar system—appeal to children. Visitors can peer through several telescopes at the Giovale Open Deck Observatory, including the 24-inch Clark telescope and the McAllister, a 16-inch reflector telescope. The observatory is open and unheated, so dress for the outdoors.

Page Springs Cellars

Fodor's choice

The award-winning wines at Page Springs Cellars focus on grapes popular in the Rhône wine region of France. Sit outside on the deck overlooking Oak Creek and enjoy the wines, as well as antipasti plates and pizzas. There's live music on some evenings, and you can take a tour Friday–Sunday ($34 includes wine tasting).

Verde Canyon Railroad

Fodor's choice

Train buffs come to the Verde Valley to catch the 22-mile Verde Canyon Railroad, which follows a dramatic route through the Verde Canyon, the remains of a copper smelter, and much unspoiled desert that is inaccessible by car. The destination—the city of Clarkdale—might not be that impressive, but the ride is undeniably scenic. Knowledgeable announcers regale riders with the area's colorful history and point out natural attractions along the way—in winter you're likely to see bald eagles.

This four-hour trip is especially popular in fall-foliage season and in spring, when the desert wildflowers bloom; book well in advance. Upgrade to more comfortable, living-room-like first-class cars, where hors d'oeuvres and a champagne toast are included in the price (a cash bar is also available) for $99. Reservations are required.

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Walnut Canyon National Monument

Fodor's choice

The group of cliff dwellings that make up Walnut Canyon National Monument were constructed by the Sinagua people, who lived and farmed in and around the canyon starting around AD 700. The more than 300 dwellings here were built between 1080 and 1250, and abandoned, like those at so many other settlements in Arizona and New Mexico, around 1300. The Sinagua traded far and wide with other indigenous groups, including people at Wupatki. Even macaw feathers, which would have come from tribes in what is now Mexico, have been excavated in the canyon. Early Flagstaff settlers looted the site for pots and "treasure"; Woodrow Wilson declared this a national monument in 1915, which began a 30-year process of stabilizing the site.

Part of the fascination of Walnut Canyon is the opportunity to enter the dwellings, stepping back in time to an ancient way of life. Some of the Sinagua homes are in near-perfect condition in spite of all the looting, because of the dry, hot climate and the protection of overhanging cliffs. You can reach them by descending 185 feet on the 1-mile, 240-stair, stepped Island Trail, which starts at the visitor center. As you follow the trail, look across the canyon for other dwellings not accessible on the path. Island Trail takes about an hour to complete at a normal pace. Those with health concerns should opt for the easier 0.5-mile Rim Trail, which has overlooks from which dwellings, as well as an excavated, reconstructed pit house, can be viewed.

Do not rely on GPS to get here; stick to Interstate 40.

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Walnut Canyon Rd., Winona, AZ, 86004, USA
928-526–3367
Sight Details
Rate Includes: $15, Nov.–mid-May., daily 9–5; mid-May–Oct., daily 8–5

Arizona Snowbowl

Although the Arizona Snowbowl is still one of Flagstaff's biggest attractions, snowy slopes can be a luxury in times of drought. Fortunately, visitors can enjoy the beauty of the area year-round, with or without the fluffy white stuff. The chairlift climbs the San Francisco Peaks to a height of 11,500 feet and doubles as a 30-minute scenic gondola ride in summer. From this vantage point you can see up to 70 miles; views may even include Sedona's red rocks and the Grand Canyon. There's a lodge at the base with a restaurant, bar, and ski school. To reach the ski area, take U.S. 180 north from Flagstaff; it's 7 miles from the Snowbowl exit to the sky-ride entrance.

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Bearizona Wildlife Park

Drive through 3 miles of ponderosa pine forest in this wildlife park to observe black bears up close in their natural environment, all from the comfort of your car. You can also walk through a zoo setting to see animals including otters, beavers, reindeer, porcupines, wolves, and bobcats, more than half of which were rescued. It's a good stop for families who need a detour on the way to the Grand Canyon's South Rim, one hour away.

1500 E. Rte. 66, AZ, 86046, USA
928-635--2289
Sight Details
Rate Includes: $25 for children on weekends, $35 for adults on weekends ($20, $30 on weekdays)

Bell Rock

With its distinctive shape right out of your favorite Western film and its proximity to the main drag, this popular butte ensures a steady flow of admirers, so you may want to arrive early in the day. The parking lot next to the Bell Rock Pathway often fills by midmorning, even midweek. The views from here are good, but an easy and fairly accessible path follows mostly gentle terrain for 1 mile to the base of the butte. Mountain bikers, parents with all-terrain baby strollers, and not-so-avid hikers should have little problem getting there. No official paths climb the rock itself, but many forge their own routes (at their own risk).

Canyon Coaster Adventure Park

Home to Arizona's only mountain coaster, this adventure park attracts thrill seekers year-round to tube on fresh snow in the winter and mountain tube on specially designed tracks in the summer. The open-air coaster twists, turns, and corkscrews through the pines as you control its speed up to 27 miles per hour.

Cathedral Rock

It's almost impossible not to be drawn to this butte's towering, variegated spires. The approximately 1,200-foot-high Cathedral Rock looms dramatically over town. When you emerge from the narrow gorge of Oak Creek Canyon, this is the first recognizable formation you'll spot. The butte is best seen toward dusk from a distance. Hikers may want to drive to the Airport Mesa and then hike the rugged but generally flat path that loops around the airfield. The trail is ½ mile up Airport Road off AZ 89A in West Sedona; the reward is a panoramic view of Cathedral Rock without the crowds.

Those not hiking should drive through the Village of Oak Creek and 5 miles west on Verde Valley School Road to its end, where you can view Cathedral Rock from a beautiful streamside vantage point and take a dip in Oak Creek if you wish.

Cathedral Rock Trail

A vigorous but nontechnical 1½-mile scramble up the slickrock (smooth, rather than slippery, sandstone), this path leads to a nearly 360-degree view of red rock country. Follow the cairns (rock piles marking the trail) and look for the footholds in the rock. Carry plenty of water: though short, the trail offers little shade and the pitch is steep. You can see the Verde Valley and Mingus Mountain in the distance. Look for the barely discernible "J" etched on the hillside marking the former ghost town of Jerome 30 miles away.

Chapel of the Holy Cross

You needn't be religious to be inspired by the setting and the architecture here. Built in 1956 by Marguerite Brunwig Staude, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright, this modern landmark, with a huge cross on the facade, rises between two red rock peaks. Vistas of the town and the surrounding area are spectacular. Though there is only one regular service—a beautiful Taizé service of prayer and song on Monday at 5 pm—all are welcome for quiet meditation.

A small gift shop sells religious artifacts and books. A trail east of the chapel leads you—after a 20-minute walk over occasional loose-rock surfaces—to a seat surrounded by voluptuous red-limestone walls, worlds away from the bustle and commerce around the chapel.

Courthouse Butte

Central

Toward sunset, when this monolith is free of shadow, the red sandstone seems to catch on fire. From the highway, Courthouse Butte sits in back of Bell Rock and can be viewed without any additional hiking or driving.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park

The 423-acre spread of Dead Horse Ranch State Park, which combines high-desert and wetland habitats, is a pleasant place to while away the day. You can fish in the Verde River or the well-stocked Park Lagoon, or hike on some 6 miles of trails that begin in a shaded picnic area and wind along the river; adjoining forest service pathways are available for hikers and mountain bikers who enjoy longer journeys. Birders can check off more than 100 species from the Arizona Audubon Society lists provided by the rangers. Bald eagles perch along the Verde River in winter, and the common black hawks—a misnomer for these threatened birds—nest here in summer. The park is 1 mile north of Cottonwood, off Main Street.

675 Dead Horse Ranch Rd., Cottonwood, AZ, 86326, USA
928-634–5283
Sight Details
Rate Includes: $7 per car for up to four people, Oct.–May 8–4:30, June–Sept. 7–6

Fort Verde State Historic Park

The military post for which Fort Verde State Historic Park is named was built between 1871 and 1873 as the third of three fortifications in this part of the Arizona Territory. To protect the Verde Valley's farmers and miners from Tonto Apache and Yavapai raids, the fort's administrators oversaw the removal of nearly 1,500 Native Americans to the San Carlos and Fort Apache reservations. A museum details the history of the area's military installations, and three furnished officers' quarters show the day-to-day living conditions of the top brass. It's a good break from the interstate if you've been driving for too long.

Grand Canyon Deer Farm

You can feed deer raised from babies, walk with wallabies, and pet llamas on this 10-acre animal farm near Williams. The farm also has coatimundi, bison, peacocks, goats, camels, and more. True animal lovers can book an interactive experience with some of the farm's inhabitants for an additional fee.

Grand Canyon Visitor Center

Here you can get information about activities and tours and buy a national park pass, which enables you to skip past some of the crowds and access the park by special entry lanes. Nevertheless, the biggest draw is the six-story IMAX screen that features the short movie Grand Canyon: Rivers of Time. You can learn about the geologic and natural history of the canyon, soar above stunning rock formations, and ride the rapids through the rocky gorge. The film is shown every hour on the half hour; the adjoining gift store is huge and well stocked.

Historic Downtown District

Storied Route 66 runs right through the heart of downtown Flagstaff. The late Victorian, Tudor Revival, and early Art Deco architecture in this district recalls the town's heyday as a logging and railroad center. The Santa Fe Depot now houses the visitor center. The 1927 Hotel Monte Vista, built after a community drive raised $200,000 in 60 days, is one of the Art Deco highlights of the district; today it houses a restaurant, live music venue, and a combination coffeehouse and cocktail bar. Across the street, the 1888 Babbitt Brothers Building was constructed as a building-supply store and then turned into a department store by David Babbitt, the mastermind of the Babbitt empire. (The Babbitts are one of Flagstaff's wealthiest founding families.) The Weatherford Hotel, built in 1900, hosted many celebrities; Western author Zane Grey wrote The Call of the Canyon here. Most of the area's first businesses were saloons catering to railroad construction workers, which was the case with the 1888 Vail Building. Nowadays, downtown is a bustling dining and retail district, with restaurants, bakeries, and alluring shops. Across the railroad tracks, the revitalized Southside is home to popular eateries and craft breweries.

Rte. 66 north to Birch Ave., and Beaver St. east to Agassiz St., AZ, USA

Homolovi State Park

Homolovi is a Hopi word meaning "place of the little hills." The pueblo sites here are thought to have been occupied between AD 1200 and 1425, and include 40 ceremonial kivas and two pueblos containing more than 1,000 rooms each. The Hopi believe their immediate ancestors inhabited this place, and they consider the site sacred. Many rooms have been excavated and recovered for protection. The Homolovi Visitor Center has a small museum with Hopi pottery and Ancestral Pueblo artifacts; it also hosts workshops on native art, ethnobotany, and traditional foods. Campsites with water and hookups are nearby.

Javelina Leap Vineyard & Winery

Predominantly red wines with bold, dry flavors are produced by Javelina Leap Vineyard. Taste a few here and you'll be welcomed by the owners as if you were family.

1565 Page Springs Rd., Cornville, AZ, 86325, USA
928-649–2681
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Rate Includes: Sun.–Thurs. 11–5, Fri.–Sat. 11–6

Jerome State Historic Park

Of the three mining museums in town, the most inclusive is part of Jerome State Historic Park. At the edge of town, signs on AZ 89A will direct you to the turnoff for the park, reached by a short, precipitous road. The museum occupies the 1917 mansion of Jerome's mining king, Dr. James "Rawhide Jimmy" Douglas Jr., who purchased Little Daisy Mine in 1912. You can tour the mansion and see tools and heavy equipment used to grind ore; some minerals are on display, but accounts of the town's wilder elements—such as the House of Joy brothel—are not so prominently featured. Just outside the mansion/park gates is Audrey Head Frame Park, where you can peer 1,900 feet down into the Daisy Mineshaft.

100 Douglas Rd., Jerome, AZ, 86331, USA
928-634–5381
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Rate Includes: $7, Daily 8:30–5

Lava River Cave

Subterranean lava flow formed this mile-long cave roughly 700,000 years ago. Once you descend into its boulder-strewn maw, the cave is spacious, with 40-foot ceilings, but claustrophobes take heed: about halfway through, the cave tapers to a 4-foot-high squeeze that can be a bit unnerving. A 40°F chill pervades the cave throughout the year so take warm clothing.

To reach the turnoff for the cave, go approximately 9 miles north of Flagstaff on U.S. 180, then turn west onto Forest Road (FR) 245. Turn left at the intersection of FR 171 and look for the sign to the cave. Note: these forest roads are closed from mid-November to March due to snow. The trip is approximately 45 minutes from Flagstaff. Although the cave is on Coconino National Forest Service property, there are no rangers on-site; the only thing here is an interpretive sign, so it's definitely something you tackle at your own risk. Pack a flashlight (or two).

Meteor Crater

A natural phenomenon in a privately owned park 43 miles east of Flagstaff, Meteor Crater is impressive if for no other reason than its sheer size. A hole in the ground 600 feet deep, nearly 1 mile across, and more than 3 miles in circumference, Meteor Crater is large enough to accommodate the Washington Monument or 20 football fields. It was created by a meteorite crash 49,000 years ago.

You can't descend into the crater because of the efforts of its owners to maintain its condition—scientists consider this to be the best-preserved crater on Earth—but guided rim tours give useful background information, and telescopes along the rim offer you a closer look. There's a restaurant on-site, and the gift shop sells specimens from the area and jewelry made from native stones.

I–40, Winslow, AZ, 86047, USA
928-289–5898
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Rate Includes: $22, June–Aug., daily 7–7; Sept.–May, daily 8–5

Mine Museum

Run by the Jerome Historical Society, the Mine Museum in downtown Jerome focuses on the social history of miners in the area. The museum's collection of mining stock certificates alone is worth the (small) price of admission—the amount of money that changed hands in this town 100 years ago boggles the mind.

Montezuma Castle National Monument

The five-story, 20-room cliff dwelling at Montezuma Castle National Monument was named by explorers who believed it had been erected by the Aztecs. Southern Sinagua Native Americans actually built the roughly 600-year-old structure, which is one of the best-preserved prehistoric dwellings in North America—and one of the most accessible. An easy, paved trail (0.3 mile round-trip) leads to the dwelling and to the adjacent Castle A, a badly deteriorated six-story living space with about 45 rooms. No one is permitted to enter the site, but a viewing area is close by. From Interstate 17, take Exit 289 and follow signs to Montezuma Castle Road.

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Montezuma Castle Rd., Camp Verde, AZ, 86322, USA
928-567–3322
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Rate Includes: $10 (includes admission to Tuzigoot National Monument), Daily 8–5

Museum of Indigenous People

Downtown

The 1935 stone-and-log building, which resembles a pueblo, is almost as interesting as the Native American artifacts and exhibits inside. Baskets, kachinas, pottery, rugs, and beadwork make up the collection, which represents indigenous cultures from the pre-Columbian period to the present.

Museum of Northern Arizona

This institution, founded in 1928, is respected worldwide for its research and for its collections centering on the natural and cultural history of the Colorado Plateau. Among the permanent exhibitions are an extensive collection of Navajo rugs and a Hopi kiva (men's ceremonial chamber).

A gallery devoted to area geology is usually a hit with children: it includes a life-size model dilophosaurus, a carnivorous dinosaur that once roamed northern Arizona. Outdoors a life-zone exhibit shows the changing vegetation from the bottom of the Grand Canyon to the highest peak in Flagstaff. A nature trail, open only in summer, heads down across a small stream into a canyon and up into an aspen grove. Also in summer the museum hosts exhibits and the works of Native American artists, whose wares are sold in the well-stocked museum gift shop.

Oak Creek Canyon

Oak Creek Canyon

Whether you want to swim, hike, picnic, or enjoy beautiful scenery framed through a car window, head north through the wooded Oak Creek Canyon. It's the most scenic route to Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon, and worth a drive-through even if you're not heading north. The road winds through a steep-walled canyon, where you crane your neck for views of the dramatic rock formations above. Although the forest is primarily evergreen, the fall foliage is glorious. Oak Creek, which runs along the bottom, is lined with tent campgrounds, fishing camps, cabins, motels, and restaurants.

Oak Creek Vineyards & Winery

This winery offers Syrah, Merlot, Chardonnay, and dessert wines. You can also munch on panini here or pick up fixings for a picnic—salami, cheeses, crackers, and chocolates.

1555 N. Page Springs Rd., Cornville, AZ, 86325, USA
928-649–0290
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Rate Includes: Sun.–Thurs. 10–6, Fri.–Sat. 10–8

Phippen Museum

The paintings and bronze sculptures of George Phippen, along with works by other artists of the West, form the permanent collection of this museum about 5 miles north of downtown. Phippen met with a group of prominent cowboy artists in 1965 to form the Cowboy Artists of America, a group dedicated to preserving the Old West as they saw it. He became the president but died the next year. A memorial foundation set up in his name opened the doors of this museum in 1984.

4701 AZ 89 N, Prescott, AZ, 86303, USA
928-778–1385
Sight Details
Rate Includes: $10, Tues.–Sat. 10–4, Sun. 1–4, Closed Mon.

Prescott National Forest

The drive down a mountainous section of AZ 89A from Jerome to Prescott is gorgeous (if somewhat harrowing in bad weather), filled with twists and turns through Prescott National Forest. A scenic turnoff near Jerome provides one last vista and a place to apply chains during surprise snowstorms. There's camping, picnicking, and hiking at the crest of Mingus Mountain. If you're coming to Prescott from Phoenix, the route that crosses the Mogollon Rim, overlooking the Verde Valley, has nice views of rolling hills and is less precipitous.