Skip to main content
  • Mountain views along a hiking trail in Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument in Flagstaff, Arizona
    View more

    Flagstaff: Vibrant Gateway to the Grand Canyon

  • A soothing soak in a Scottsdale resort hot tub near the Sonoran Desert
    View more

    Scottsdale: Chic Desert Luxury

  • Appetizers and wine during a carefree lunch at Postino Annex in downtown Tempe, Arizona
    View more

    Tempe: Fun Urban Oasis

  • A Cloth & Flame gourmet dinner at dusk in the desert near Mesa
    View more

    Mesa: Foodie Trails & Outdoor Escapes

  • Mountain bikers cruising along a scenic byway in Tucson
    View more

    Tucson: Sonoran-Style City Life

  • Romantic sunset stroll on the grounds of the Desert Inn and Conference Center in Ajo
    View more

    Ajo: Hidden Gem in the Desert

Scenic drive among the saguaro cacti in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona
View more
Arizona Office of Tourism

Road Trip through Arizona’s Desert and Mountain Towns

By Idoia Gkikas

  • Route distance:
    840.00 km
  • Suggested Time:
    1-2 weeks

Travel through these desert and mountain towns to discover just how lively Arizona is.

Think you know Arizona? Think again! Yes, there’s a lot of desert here, but it’s interspersed with forests and snow-capped mountains, dotted with enchanting towns, steeped in arts and history and brimming with luxury resorts bathed in sunny skies.

01
Mountain views along a hiking trail in Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument in Flagstaff, Arizona
View more
Flagstaff Convention and Visitors Bureau

Flagstaff: Vibrant Gateway to the Grand Canyon

Fly into Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) and catch a connecting flight into Flagstaff Pulliam Airport (FLG), or rent a car and enjoy the scenic two-hour drive north. At 2,100 meters in elevation, Flagstaff is diverse in both its terrain and its weather. Snowy winter, warm spring, mild summer and crisp fall weather make for year-round beauty and outdoor excitement. Plus, it’s just a 90-minute drive to Grand Canyon National Park. See a dormant volcano and ancient lava flows at Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, followed by stargazing at Lowell Observatory, best known for the discovery of Pluto. Winter sports lovers won’t want to miss skiing and snowboarding at Arizona Snowbowl. Stroll along downtown Flagstaff’s pedestrian-friendly streets lined with pubs, restaurants and locally owned shops. Browse stores offering outdoor gear at Babbitt’s Backcountry Outfitters, a trading post that dates to 1888, or order a beer or whiskey at Flagstaff Brewing Company. Before continuing your drive to luxury-oriented Scottsdale, stay in historic downtown at the Weatherford Hotel or Hotel Monte Vista. Both hotels opened in the early 1900s, retain many historic features and are rumored to be haunted. The Monte Vista even has connections to old Hollywood movie stars and classic films.

More information
246 km
2.25 hours by car
02
A soothing soak in a Scottsdale resort hot tub near the Sonoran Desert
View more
Experience Scottsdale

Scottsdale: Chic Desert Luxury

An hour outside Flagstaff, stop at Montezuma Castle National Monument in Camp Verde. This amazingly well-preserved cliff dwelling was built by the Sinagua people in the 12th century. Once you arrive in Scottsdale, rest and relaxation are on the agenda – the city is home to more destination spas per capita than any other U.S. city. Chic establishments such as Four Seasons Scottsdale Resort and Spa, the Boulders Resort and Fairmont Scottsdale Princess offer stress-busting treats ranging from chakra balancing and gold-infused facials to upscale poolside cabanas enhanced by stunning mountain views. The surrounding Sonoran Desert is one of the most biologically diverse deserts in the world and the only place you’ll find the iconic, towering saguaro cactus. Soak up gorgeous views with a hike in Scottdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Peruse downtown’s eclectic districts including the Fifth Avenue Shopping District, the Main Street Arts District and the Historic Old Town District, then end your night at the oldest bar in Scottsdale, the Rusty Spur Saloon. Your next destination is Tempe, just 20 minutes away.

More information
10 km
0.33 hours by car
03
Appetizers and wine during a carefree lunch at Postino Annex in downtown Tempe, Arizona
View more

Tempe: Fun Urban Oasis

Home of the largest Arizona State University (ASU) campus, Tempe is a lively college town with outdoor recreation in the heart of the city. Papago Park boasts a variety of natural and cultural attractions, including the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix Zoo, Hall of Flame Fire Museum and AZ Heritage Center. The park’s 16 kilometers of hiking trails include a path that leads to the Hole-in-the-Rock, a geological formation that frames stunning views of the city lights and desert landscape. For more outdoor fun, join the locals at Tempe Town Lake. The lake offers refreshing activities such as stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking, while shoreline paths are popular for biking and running. Downtown Tempe’s funky shops, bars and music venues invite visitors to mingle amid the college population and happy hour crowd. Be sure to pick up some Arizona State University Sun Devil gear at Cactus Sports, dedicated to all things ASU, and enjoy an outdoor meal of Italian fare (and an extensive wine list) at Postino Annex. Mesa, your next destination, is a short drive away.

More information
11 km
0.33 hours by car
04
A Cloth & Flame gourmet dinner at dusk in the desert near Mesa
View more
Visit Mesa

Mesa: Foodie Trails & Outdoor Escapes

In Mesa, you’ll find a plethora of outdoor attractions, loads of shopping and a thriving dining scene, thanks to the city’s farming roots. Schnepf Farms offers U-pick produce, breakfast and lunch at Fresh from the Farm Café, and just-baked desserts at The Bakery. The Cozy Peach, also located on site, features funky accommodations in renovated vintage campers. Find more fresh flavors to sample along Mesa’s Fresh Foodie Trail, a scenic, agri-tourism route featuring food specialists such as Superstition Farm, The Windmill Winery and Queen Creek Olive Mill. Back in downtown Mesa, snap photos of whimsical sculptures while browsing antiques shops, museums, art studios and boutiques. Check the city calendar for free events, too. Savor a truly al fresco dinner with Cloth & Flame, which hosts farm-to-fork meals in the Superstition Mountains, among other scenic spots.

183 km
1.75 hours by car
05
Mountain bikers cruising along a scenic byway in Tucson
View more
Visit Tucson

Tucson: Sonoran-Style City Life

On the drive south, stop to stretch your legs on Picacho Peak State Park’s hiking trails. It’s especially breathtaking during the spring wildflower season. Tucson, Arizona’s second-largest city, is where Mexican, Spanish and Western heritage meet modern amenities. It’s delightfully easy to tour, thanks to the Sun Link Tucson Streetcars, which link the city’s must-see districts. Local history lessons await at El Presidio Park, in use since 1539; Presidio San Agustín del Tucsón, built in 1775; nearby Tombstone, site of the infamous O.K. Corral gunfight; and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a cultural center with a museum, botanical garden and nature exhibits. Go for long, picturesque hikes in Saguaro National Park, Catalina State Park or Sabino Canyon Recreation Area; and explore underground caverns at Colossal Cave Mountain Park and Kartchner Caverns State Park. Dinner is funky American fusion at Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails (think pork belly donuts and burgers with foie gras), followed by a sweet treat from HUB Ice Cream Factory. Before leaving the city, visit Mission San Xavier del Bac. Also known as the White Dove of the Desert, this 300-year-old mission is a stunning example of Spanish Colonial architecture.

More information
212 km
2.25 hours by car
06
Romantic sunset stroll on the grounds of the Desert Inn and Conference Center in Ajo
View more

Ajo: Hidden Gem in the Desert

Your next stop is the small desert town of Ajo, about two hours west of Tucson. It’s worth a stop for its relaxed pace, stunning scenery and burgeoning art scene. The centerpiece of the town is the Spanish Colonial-style Ajo Plaza. Check out the colorful street murals and latest creations from local artists in Artists Alley. Then, stop by the Curley School, a circa-1919 school that has been converted into living/working spaces for artists in residence, as well as a charming inn and event center. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, an International Biosphere Reserve along the Mexican border, offers hiking, camping and ranger-led programs amid a desert landscape dotted with multi-armed organ pipe cacti. It’s about two hours to either Tucson or Phoenix for a return flight home.

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California
View more
Continue exploring