Of all the states we visited on our last U.S. road trip, Arizona just might have been the one that surprised us the most. We arrived without many expectations, and ended up being mesmerized by landscapes like nothing we’ve seen before, some of the best Mexican food we’ve ever had, and history and culture we knew little about. Add to that the impassioned activism, funky art, and miles of open road, and Arizona was road trip heaven.
But while Grand Canyon National Park tops most lists of places to go in Arizona, we (gasp!) didn’t even go there. And while we did make a quick stop in Tombstone, it wasn’t our favorite place. Does that disqualify us as Arizona road trip ambassadors? Err, maybe.
But I promise, what we lack in Grand Canyon expertise and Tombstone enthusiasm, we make up for with tips for getting off the beaten path. These five unique places to visit in Arizona are largely free of crowds, but full of unexpected finds and scenery you won’t find elsewhere. Oh, and more than one of them is (probably?) haunted!
- Bisbee, AZ
- Jerome, AZ
- Saguaro National Park
- Petrified Forest National Park
- Kingman, AZ
We were blown away by so many places on our Arizona trip, but the town of Bisbee, AZ, was one of our favorites. An old mining town-turned-artist community on a hillside high in the mountains, this funky little place is brimming with culture, character, and unusual things to see and do.
And with its sordid history of mining accidents and gunfights, it just might have some resident ghosts. All in all, it has to be one of the most unique places to visit in Arizona.
Bisbee feels a little bit out of the way, down in the southeastern corner of the state, but it’s actually just an hour and a half from Tucson. And if you’re planning a Phoenix to Tombstone road trip, continuing on to Bisbee will only add about half an hour to the drive.
No matter where you’re coming from, though, it’s more than worth the trip. Plus, at an elevation of 5,500 feet, it’ll be a welcome break from the Southwest’s notorious heat.
What to Do in Bisbee
The Queen Mine Tour is easily one of the top things to do in Bisbee (and the only one where you get to wear a hard hat, miner’s headlamp, and yellow slicker!). Retired miners lead the tours, which take visitors underground and 1,500 feet into the mine to learn about Bisbee’s history and the lives of the miners who worked there.
The Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum is another must-see attraction, especially for history lovers like ourselves. You might not be expecting much out of a small museum in a remote town, but this place is affiliated with the Smithsonian, and its exhibits are eye-opening.
If rumors of hauntings in Bisbee spark your intrigue, you can learn all about the most notorious ghosts on the Old Bisbee Ghost Tour. These nightly walking tours wind through the town’s alleyways and pass by its old buildings, stopping to go inside a couple of the most haunted ones. If you’re not into the paranormal, the tours are still a good time and a great way to learn about Bisbee.
But even more than the attractions, Bisbee’s draw is its atmosphere, so make time to savor it. Stroll through the streets of downtown. Browse in all the little shops and art galleries. Take in the quirky art you’ll find around literally every corner. Climb up and down the many, main staircases that connect the town’s hillside streets.
Have a drink at the funky and historic bars, and dine on authentic Mexican food (you’re barely north of the border here, after all). You won’t find any place else that’s quite like Bisbee, so be sure to take it all in.
Where to Stay in Bisbee
In a town as unique as Bisbee, the one-of-a-kind accommodations should come as no surprise. When we saw an Airbnb listing for rooms in a shared home called the Bisbee House of Art & Mirrors, we jumped to make a reservation. Staying at such a quirky, artsy spot was the perfect complement to our visit to Bisbee.
There are tons of other funky-fabulous Airbnbs in town, including a private room above the famed Copper City Saloon, a colorful loft inside a building known as the Mermaid Castle (only in Bisbee!), and a renovated 1915 house complete with a hot tub.
And the hotels in Bisbee are just as full of character. Established in 1906, the Bisbee Grand Hotel is easily one of the town’s iconic places to stay. Then there’s the School House Inn Bed & Breakfast, housed inside a former school, where every room has a different theme. No matter where you stay in Bisbee, you’ll almost certainly be in for a treat.
If there’s one other place in the state that’s as offbeat as Bisbee, it’s got to be Jerome, AZ. The two have a lot in common, since Jerome is another former mining town that nearly became a ghost town before developing into an under-the-radar tourist destination. And it’s also said to be haunted by the many victims of old mining accidents and rowdy bar fights.
Jerome is an easy day trip from Phoenix, since it’s just two hours away. Or if you’re making a Phoenix to Sedona road trip (or Phoenix to Flagstaff, for that matter), tacking on a stop in Jerome will only add about an hour. Since it sits at an elevation of over 5,000 feet, the cool air will be a welcome change if you’re coming from the state’s sweltering capital.
What to Do in Jerome
Jerome is full of memorable Arizona road trip attractions, and the Gold King Mine & Ghost Town certainly tops the list – though it actually isn’t a mine or a ghost town. A less imaginative visitor might dismiss it as a junkyard, but I’d call it an outdoor museum.
The Gold King is a sprawling property packed full of relics like rusted cars, old mining tools, and even entire historic buildings relocated from other parts of the state. What this place lacks in organization, it more than makes up for in quirk and intrigue.
The Jerome State Historic Park, featuring the 105-year-old Douglas Mansion, is another top attraction. The mansion houses a museum on the history of Jerome and of the Douglas family, who owned one of the town’s most profitable mines.
In the heart of Jerome’s small downtown, you’ll find the New State Motor Company Building. Constructed as Arizona’s first Chrysler dealership, it’s now home to several eclectic shops selling some of the town’s most unique art and memorabilia. Save time to wander the surrounding streets for even more shops and galleries, as well as a surprising number of wineries and wine bars.
As in Bisbee, you can join a ghost tour of Jerome to learn about the spookier side of the town’s history. Ghost Town Tours offers both walking tours and shuttle tours, stopping at the town’s cemetery, the abandoned high school, and other buildings believed to be haunted. Most importantly, all of the tours include ghost-hunting equipment.
Even if you decide not to take a tour, you can still search for the paranormal at one of Jerome’s haunted restaurants. Enjoy a tasty sandwich at the Haunted Hamburger or a more upscale menu at Asylum while you look for ghostly activity. Bonus: both restaurants have expansive views over the valley.
Where to Stay in Jerome
We only visited Jerome as a day trip from Phoenix, but we wished we’d stayed overnight, if only to experience one of the unique accommodations.
The historic Connor Hotel, dating back to 1898, is one of the town’s iconic spots to rest your head – and one of the best if you’re looking for ghosts. Or if you don’t mind being a bit out of the center of town, the Jerome Grand Hotel is equally historic (and equally haunted).
Jerome also has some incredible-looking Airbnb rentals, including the cozy Hacienda Suite with its fireplace and private patio – or this haunted cottage, where guests have reported visions of a grumpy old miner and sounds of parlor music!
Saguaro National Park
Not nearly enough people seem to know about Saguaro National Park, but I’d definitely say it’s one of the best places to visit in Arizona.
This park is a truly special destination in so many ways. For one thing, it’s absolutely blanketed with saguaro cactuses (cacti?), which are just amazing to see. These are what you probably imagine when you think of cactuses – the ones with “arms” – and they’re usually a whopping 40 feet tall. You really can’t make a trip to Arizona and not make a point to see the saguaros.
Saguaro is almost located inside the city of Tucson, making it one of the country’s most easily accessible national parks. If Tucson is already part of your Arizona road trip itinerary – and it should be! – there’s really no reason not to at least spend a day visiting the park.
Unusually, the park is divided into two separate districts that are about 35 miles apart: the Tucson Mountain District (West District) and the Rincon Mountain District (East District). Visit either one, or both!
What to Do in Saguaro National Park
Each district has a visitor center, and we recommend starting at one of them. The Red Hills (West District) Visitor Center is more developed and houses cultural and natural history exhibits, but both have ranger-led programs, a cactus garden, and screenings of a short film about Native American perspectives on the desert.
Both districts also have their own spectacular scenic drive. In the West District, the Bajada Loop Drive is a six-mile gravel road. Its counterpart in the East District is the Cactus Forest Loop Drive, an eight-mile paved road that also offers the park’s best cycling.
Of course, one of the top things to do in Saguaro (like in most national parks) is hiking. In the West District, the Bajada Loop passes two very short but worthwhile trails: Valley View Overlook and Signal Hill. The longest trail in this section of the park is the Hugh Norris Trail, which climbs for nearly five miles to the top of Wasson Peak.
In the East District, the Cactus Forest Loop accesses the short Desert Ecology Trail and Freeman Homestead Trail, both easy walks from the road. Another highly recommended hike on the East side is the Cactus Forest Trail, which runs for 2.5 miles straight through the middle of the loop.
Where to Stay Near Saguaro National Park
We were housesitting near Tucson when we visited Saguaro, but you can easily stay almost anywhere in the city and access either of the districts.
We loved the city for its art and architecture, which is reflected in many of its one-of-a-kind hotels. The retro Hotel McCoy looks like an artsy throwback to the 1960s, and the 100-year-old Hotel Congress is a landmark in downtown Tucson.
Tucson’s Airbnb rentals tend to be cheaper than its hotels, and you’ll find plenty of options spread across the city. Some of our favorites are this rooftop casita with its own garden patio and this private cottage that sits on 3.5 acres in the Sonoran Desert.
Another option? Camping! Saguaro National Park doesn’t have any vehicle-accessible camping, but you can hike to one of the six backcountry campgrounds. Car and RV camping are also possible outside the park, and the best bet is probably Gilbert Ray Campground, just five miles from the West District.
Petrified Forest National Park
The least-visited of the state’s three national parks, Petrified Forest National Park is another one of our favorite offbeat Arizona road trip stops. Its location on the eastern edge of the state, just under two hours from Flagstaff, makes it a convenient stop on a combined Arizona-New Mexico road trip. In fact, the drive from Phoenix to Albuquerque will take you straight through the park.
The park is, in fact, a petrified forest, littered with fossilized logs thought to be up to 225 million years old. Petrified Forest is also known for its historic buildings and expansive views – so even if the thought of old logs doesn’t excite you, the park is still more than worth a visit.
What to Do in Petrified Forest National Park
Each entrance has a visitor center – Painted Desert Visitor Center on the northern edge and Rainbow Forest Museum on the south end – so you can start at one and end at the other. Rainbow Forest is an attraction in its own right, with its dinosaur skeletons and other paleontological exhibits.
The top thing to do in Petrified Forest is the 28-mile scenic drive that connects the two visitor centers and passes most of the park’s main sites. Plan on making many stops at the various historic buildings and scenic overlooks, like Agate Bridge and Newspaper Rock, and save time to take the spur at Blue Mesa as well.
As we drove across Petrified Forest, we definitely weren’t expecting to find an old hotel in the middle of the park – but we did. Built of petrified wood in the early 1920s, Painted Desert Inn now houses a museum with history exhibits and murals by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie.
The main road also accesses several short hiking trails. Make sure you walk the 0.3-mile loop to Puerco Pueblo, the remains of a village dating to around 1300. And the 1.6-mile Long Logs Trail or 0.4-mile Giant Logs Trail will treat to you the park’s largest petrified logs. But our favorite hike was the Blue Mesa loop, a one-mile trail through colorful badland hills.
For a more off-the-beaten-path hike, try to snag one of the three first-come-first-served permits available each week for Devil’s Playground, a loop that passes some seriously otherworldly hoodoos.
Where to Stay Near Petrified Forest National Park
The night before visiting Petrified Forest, we stayed at a surprisingly nice free campground near the small town of Show Low, which is a little under an hour and a half from the park. And I can’t not mention that Show Low is home to the Trumped Store (yes, an entire store dedicated to paraphernalia celebrating the 45th President).
A much more convenient option would be the nearest town of Holbrook, which is about 25 miles from the park. Our top-choice hotel there would probably be Brad’s Desert Inn, a classic Route 66 stop with themed rooms, funky decor, and super affordable prices.
You’ll also find a big selection of highly-rated Airbnbs in Holbrook. For a memorable experience, head to The Bunkhouse, built as an actual cowboy bunkhouse for a working ranch in the 1940s. Or try the White Buffalo Casita, a cozy budget-friendly cottage – past guests say the host gives great tips for the park!
Not many people go camping in Petrified Forest National Park – but you can! There are no car-accessible campgrounds, but, like Saguaro, it’s open to backcountry camping.
When we were planning our Arizona road trip route, we learned about so many places we didn’t have time to visit. One of them was the town of Kingman, which feels like the perfect addition to this post: an 1800s mining town that became a classic Route 66 stop in the 1950s and is now known for its historic sites and retro vibe. Honestly, this town feels like it probably belongs on any Arizona itinerary!
Out in the northwestern corner of the state, Kingman is closer to Las Vegas than it is to any Arizona cities, but the drive from Las Vegas to Phoenix will take you right through this little town.
What to Do in Kingman, AZ
We can’t tell you exactly what it’s like to visit Kingman – but we can tell you what we’ll do when we eventually get there!
The three museums in town seem like the place to start: the Mohave Museum of History and Arts, the Arizona Route 66 Museum, and the Kingman Railroad Museum (all within walking distance of each other).
But the attraction that first drew us to Kingman is actually half an hour down the road: the Hackberry General Store. Nicknamed the “Mother Lode of Mother Road Memorabilia,” it’s more of a museum than a general store (though there is a gift shop), and it sounds very reminiscent of the Gold King Mine in Jerome.
Another reason to stop in Kingman? Its viticulture scene – somewhat unexpectedly, the area has a whopping five wineries. If wine isn’t your drink of choice, never fear: tiny Kingman is also home to Arizona’s first craft distillery and the wildly popular Black Ridge Brewery.
Where to Stay in Kingman, AZ
I didn’t find a lot of exciting hotels in Kingman, but it does have a few well-reviewed budget options, plus the standard chains. If we were choosing one, the El Trovatore Motel (which opened in 1937!) would probably be our pick, with the colorful Route 66-themed murals adorning the entire exterior.
Fortunately, what Kingman seems to lack in hotel choices, it makes up for in Airbnb options. If you’re a fellow animal lover, you’ll probably agree that this horse retreat just down the road from Kingman seems like the best place to stay. There’s also a bright red cabin in the desert just outside of town that must be a close second.
And if you’re looking for a camping option instead, the campground at nearby Hualapai Mountain Park is highly-rated, and the park looks to have some great hiking trails.
Click here for an interactive version of the map!
What are your favorite unusual Arizona road trip stops?
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