Roadtrip! 10 Arizona Destinations for Family Fun from AZCentral.com
The Grand Canyon State has plenty of options for fun outside the Phoenix metro area. Take the family for a ride along Arizona’s highways to these 10 attractions. Destinations on our list offer experiences kids will love, including a touch-and-smell garden, natural water slide, gunfight re-enactments, an underground ballistic missile, wildlife park and a dome where scientists lived sealed inside for two years.
Boyce Thompson Arboretum
Botany and natural history never seemed so cool as a trip to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum. Col. William Boyce Thompson created this 320-acre oasis in the 1920s to study desert plants. It now features several gardens, including herb, cactus, rose and a touch-and-smell one for kids. Watch for butterflies, hummingbirds and turkey vultures. The gift shop sells snacks and drinks.
Details: Summer hours are 6 a.m.-3 p.m. daily; last admission at 2 p.m. U.S. 60 near mile marker 223; about 55 miles east of central Phoenix, near Superior. $10; $5 for ages 5-12; free for 4 or younger. 520-689-2811, azstateparks.com/parks/both.
The program was designed to help kids learn about the Grand Canyon through fun activities. Aspiring Junior Rangers can pick up the activity booklet at the Visitor Center, Canyon View Information Plaza, Park Headquarters, Tusayan Museum near Desert View, Kolb Studio or Yavapai Observation Station. There are various age-appropriate activities, including writing observations about the canyon, answering questions, writing poems and attending a ranger-led program. Upon completion of the activities, kids will receive a badge and be sworn in. The program is free with park admission.
Details: The park is open 24 hours. South Rim, Grand Canyon. $30 for non-commercial vehicle to enter park; Junior Ranger program is free. 928-638-7888, www.nps.gov/grca/learn/kidsyouth/beajuniorranger.htm.
The park is named for a natural water chute that kids of all ages love to glide down in summer. It’s crazy popular in summer, but consider a visit in autumn, when the leaves are turning, the crowds are thin and you can walk among the apple trees and historical buildings. Originally the area was known as the Pendley Homestead, for Frank L. Pendley, who planted apple trees beginning in 1912. He was the first to successfully irrigate land near Oak Creek, and his system is still used in the park. Hike the flat, easy Pendley Homestead Trail to see apple orchards, the original Pendley home and barn, and beautiful canyon views.
Details: 8 a.m.-6 p.m.; closes 6 p.m. Sept. 8-Oct. 31; last vehicle entry 30 minutes prior to close. 6871 N. State Route 89A, Sedona. $20 per vehicle up to four passengers age 14 or older; $3 each additional passenger. 928-282-3034, azstateparks.com/parks/slro.
Lowell Observatory was founded in 1894 by Percival Lowell, a wealthy Bostonian with a keen interest in astronomy. The original 24-inch telescope was built in Boston and shipped to Flagstaff. Today, the scope no longer is used for research but to educate the 70,000 people who visit the observatory every year. Lowell devoted his time and fortune to the search for Planet X, one that had been theorized to exist beyond Neptune, the eighth planet in our solar system. Percival Lowell died in 1913. His search finally bore fruit in 1930 when Pluto was discovered.
Details: 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sundays. 1400 W. Mars Hill Road, Flagstaff. $11-$12; $6 for ages 5-17; free for age 5 or younger; free for members. 928-774-3358, lowell.edu.
Dropping by the O.K. Corral is the highlight of any Tombstone visit. Gunfight re-enactments take place at noon, 2 and 3:30 p.m. daily. Grab a bleacher seat for the showdown. Tour C.S. Fly’s Photo Studio, study the models occupying the shootout site and watch an old-time blacksmith at work. Before leaving, don’t miss the Historama, a sweetly clunky multimedia show from 1963 that’s narrated by the least cowboylike star available at the time, Vincent Price.
Details: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. 326 E. Allen St., Tombstone. $10; free for 6 or younger. 520-457-3456, ok-corral.com.
Petrified Forest National Park
A few hundred million years ago, the desolate, high-desert plains in northeastern Arizona straddled the equator. Rivers and streams flowed through a lowland basin where thickets of coniferous trees, some 9 feet in diameter and 200 feet tall, towered over the landscape. Over time, some of those trees fell, were washed downstream and buried. Time passed, and woody tissue was replaced by dissolved silica. Meanwhile, Earth’s land mass shifted. Today, those trees are the main attraction of Petrified Forest National Park. But there’s a lot more to the park than the trees. In addition to jaw-dropping vistas of the Painted Desert, the park holds an assortment of fossils, Native American ruins and petroglyphs, along with 50,000 acres of wilderness that hikers can explore. A number of Junior Ranger programs are offered.
Details: Hours for roads and facilities vary, but generally open at 7 or 8 a.m. and close between 5 and 8 p.m. 25 miles east of Holbrook off Interstate 40, Navajo. $10; free for 15 or younger. 928-524-6228, nps.gov/pefo/index.htm.
Titan Missile Museum
Near Tucson is a former top-secret location, now a National Historic Landmark known as Complex 571-7, the only remaining Titan II missile site of 54 across the U.S. that stood ready during the Cold War from 1963 to 1987. On one-hour guided tours offered daily, you’ll start with a movie and then descend 35 feet below ground to marvel at the intercontinental ballistic missile that in about 30 minutes could have delivered a nine-megaton nuclear warhead to a location more than 6,000 miles away. Stops along the way include the launch-control center, where you’ll experience a simulated launch, and the silo where the missile still rests in its launch duct. Reservations are required for other tours, including the Moonlight Madness Tour with classroom activities from 5 to 9 p.m. the second Saturday of the month, June through August. Beyond the Blastdoor and Top to Bottom tours add areas normally closed to the public. The Titan Overnight Experience, offered just a few times a year, lets you and three others sleep in the crew quarters just feet from the missile.
Details:Hours vary; closed Christmas and Thanksgiving. 1580 W. Duval Mine Road, Sahuarita. Prices vary depending on the tour. 520-625-7736, titanmissilemuseum.org.
More than 20 years after the world waited for eight scientists to emerge from the glass-and-steel dome they were sealed in for two years, Biosphere 2 remains relevant. The University of Arizona studies water resources, climate change and other ways to keep the planet healthy. Meanwhile, everyone else can take a guided tour of the Biospherians’ living quarters and the ecosystems simulating the rain forest, a desert, a savannah and tropical ocean.
Details: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. daily; closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. 32540 S. Biosphere Road, Tucson. $20; $18 for military; $13 for ages 6-12; $10 for UA students, faculty and staff with Cat Card. 520-838-6200, b2science.org.
Wupatki and neighboring Sunset Crater Volcano national monuments encompass a great deal of scenery and history. The features of both parks can be seen during a scenic drive along a paved loop road. About nine centuries ago, a volcano exploded, burying the landscape under lava and cinders. Even after 900 years, the lava looks as if it could flow again at almost any time. The Lava Flow Trail (1 mile round-trip) loops amid flows and cinders. At the far end of the loop, enjoy a view at the foot of the cinder cone, which almost looks like black sand from a tropical beach. The main feature at Wupatki is Wupatki Pueblo, a 100-room, four-story structure built about 900 years ago from chunks of sandstone, limestone and basalt. Archaeologists say the inhabitants, ancestors of today’s Hopi, Zuni and Navajo people, abandoned the area about 700 years ago. Several smaller nearby structures, include a large room (perhaps a meeting area) and a well-preserved ball court. Check out the blowhole at the end of the walkway. This natural opening in the ground blows cool air up out of the Earth.
Details: Visitor center hours at either park are 8 or 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. depending on season; closed Dec. 25. 16 miles north of Flagstaff off U.S. 89. Entrance fees at either park are $5; free for 15 or younger. 928-526-0502, nps.gov/sucr; 928-679-2365, nps.gov/wupa.
Out of Africa Wildlife Park
Lions, a rhinoceros, black leopard, white tiger, capybara, porcupines, zebras, sable antelope, black bears, camel, lemurs and wolves are some of the critters on this 104-acre reserve. The Verde Valley usually is about 10 degrees cooler than metro Phoenix, making this a great summer escape. Included with admission are African Bush Safari tours on which passengers might get giraffe “kisses,” a wildlife tram shuttle, predator feed and four shows: Creature Feature, Tiger Splash, Giant Snake and Wonders of Wildlife. A zip line, two eateries, a picnic area and gift shop are on-site. During the monsoon, check the weather first — heavy rain means muddy roads.
Details: 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. daily (admissions close at 4 p.m.); closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. 3505 W. State Route 260, Camp Verde. $29.95, $27.95 for age 65 or older, $22.95 for active-duty military and veterans with ID, $14.95 for ages 3-12, free for 2 or younger; free the month of your birthday with ID. 928-567-2840, outofafricapark.com.