I have always been fond of the fantasy of the great American road trip…
We had a great journey on our 2019 Northern Arizona 5-Day Road Trip. There are many great drivable sites to visit, from the Grand Canyon, to colorful red rock formations, to leaving tracks on Route 66. We hardly scraped the surface of all you can do but we did everything that was on our bucket list.
Flagstaff was our home base for our road trip through Northern Arizona. Flying into Phoenix was just a short hop from Oregon. Not too much commitment in air travel which is always a plus. From phoenix we drove North to Flagstaff where we rented a lovely little home in a resort at the mountain town of Flagstaff. Flagstaff boasts a four-season experience because it is nestled in the San Francisco mountains, surrounded by ponderosa pines and colorful quaking Aspen in the fall. The town sits at an elevation of 7,000 feet which brings ideal temperatures during the summer months, and winter recreation. It is a college town with quaint breweries and a welcoming vibe.
Flagstaff is pretty centrally located for launching on day trips throughout Northern Arizona, so we often found ourselves leaving the city rather than exploring it fully. It is on our list to return to and discover more about Flagstaff in the near future.
Grand Canyon Railway, Williams, AZ
Our first road trip of our Northern Arizona 5-Day Road Trip was to the historic town of Williams, AZ; The Gateway to The Grand Canyon. Williams is a hub of color and excitement for Route 66 travelers as well with route 66 running through the main street dedicated to everything about the Mother Road.
We booked two round trip tickets to the Grand Canyon via the Grand Canyon Railway. A one-of-a-kind journey to see the Grand Canyon. Established in the late 1800’s the railway’s original purpose was to haul mined ore. Eventually the railway was completed in 1901 and reached the south rim of the Grand Canyon and the main cargo became tourists.
Today, the journey takes you to the El Tovar Hotel, an iconic National Park lodge located on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Built in 1905, The El Tovar has a deluxe hotel and fabulous restaurant perched on the edge of the spectacular view.
In 1968 the rail line to the Grand Canyon was closed due to the increased popularity of car travel for family vacations. Fast forward to 1989 when the line was reopened as an excursion train that travels the 65 miles of track from Williams, AZ., to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon once again bringing tourists on a unique journey to one of the natural Seven Wonders of the World.
We arrived in Williams early in the morning as our train was scheduled to leave sharply at 8:00am. We settled into one of the historic railway cars, gleaming with morning light and anticipation of our journey back in time. Our fare included morning continental breakfast, and a delightful conductor that served up hefty morning libations that included Mimosas and Bloody Mary’s and the conductors special blend. The leisurely train ride was comfortable and scenic as we chugged along to onboard musicians and many stories of lore. The return trip we enjoyed a late lunch and a train robbery, where bandits, followed the train on horseback, boarded then rambled the aisle ways collecting bounty. I highly recommend taking this journey out of Williams, AZ to the Grand Canyon for a lovely adventure. Train buffs, families and couples will love the journey.
Day Trip – South Rim, Grand Canyon
My first trip to the Grand Canyon, and boy was it GRAND! Huge My first view standing at the Rim looking across I was amazed that the distance, though deceiving to my eye the width of the canyon from rim-to-rim averages 13 miles across. Looking down to the bottom was a distance of about a mile! I have been to many rock formations, some much more beautiful, but none as vast as the Grand Canyon.
We set off with our day pack, some energy bars and bottle water and begin our hike along the south rim. Twisted trees, soaring eagles, squirrels and even elk were on our hiking menu for our day. I being the photographer, stopped a little too often to snap a photo of some colorful rock, or interesting bird, making our short journey along the south rim seem like a long trek.
Now here is the con to taking the train for a day trip, it has to end. We had decided to walk for an hour, as we would have to walk back an hour to return the lodge and find time for a nice lunch before boarding the train again back to Williams.
What is there to do at the Grand Canyon besides the scenic view?
There are some advantages to finding lodging at the Canyon, so that your time isn’t limited. There was so much more to do than walk the rim. Hiking the inner trails into the canyon or journeying to the canyon floor are activities that require more time. You can also hop on a bus tour that will take you to various stops and overlooks, shopping and restaurants. You can also rent bikes or go on a mountain biking adventure. Camping is common, likely more so in the summer months, helicopter tours and of course, photographing the beautiful sunrise and sunsets at the canyon. This trip for us was our first, but not our last.
We returned to the El Tovar for a nice lunch in the rustic log dining room next to a giant picture window that looked out to the Canyon.
The El Tovar has a historic casual elegance in a world-class dining room constructed of native stone and Oregon Pine! I knew I felt at home in this restaurant surrounded by trees from Oregon. The walls were adorned with Native American tribal murals from four different tribes, the Hopi, the Apache, the Mojave and the Navajo celebrating their traditions and customs. The dark wood is rich and rustic and the stories they could tell of their patrons through time, which have included Guests such as Teddy Roosevelt, President Bill Clinton, and Sir Paul McCartney. This internationally recognized restaurant has culinary professionals that have worked here for more than 20 years, bringing you white glove first class service and food. We made it in between the lunch rush and were able to sit next to the large picture window and enjoy the feeling of lux in the forest as we enjoyed our lunch. I wish we would have booked an overnight stay at the lodge. As I write this, I am thinking that on my list of “Must do’s” Is to visit all the lodges in our National Parks.
Page, AZ- What is there to do, and where the heck is Page?
First off, Page is nestled in the cusp of Lake Powell. When we pulled into town, mid-November, the tourists had all packed up and gone home. The outskirts of the small town were stacked with moored houseboats and party barges. I could only imagine how hopping this place must be in the summer months.
I am sure you have seen the beautiful panoramic photos of Horseshoe Bend, and the colorful splashes of rock formations at Antelope Canyon, well they are but two of the many things to see near Page. If you are a photographer like me, you probably want to take all these wonderfully scenic photos, without all the other people in them, so it looks like you are there, alone by yourself in this special place. I have been to many places where I wait forever in position to take a photo of the perfect composition, with nobody in the photo because I am sharing this experience with many, many other people.
Secret Slot Canyon
Throughout the land near page there are hundreds of slot canyons, but most are located on Navajo Nation land and therefore inaccessible to the public. Unless you take a private tour through the Navajo-owned Horseshoe Bend Slot Canyon Tours.
Their guides will take you into the canyon known as Secret Canyon, which is a slot canyon, actually longer than Antelope Canyon and depending on the time of year, a lot less crowded. In fact, other than the guide, we had a couple that was on our tour that were taking wedding photos. So, the chances of running into another person decreased considerably.
Our guide walked us from start to end point to show us the way, gave us excellent photography tips to take photos of the high red walls. He then left us to wander back and forth through the canyon at our own pace for next hour and a half and enjoy the serenity of the canyon on our own. Every corner that we turned brought vibrant hues and striations along the canyon walls. The sun was passing over the canyon briefly as we timed our visit between 11 and 1pm so that we could try to capture some light rays. I felt a sense of peace and awe as I traveled back and forth along the canyon floor, only running into the newlyweds twice. Each pass through the scene changed as the light above changed, or the angle of your view, look up, look down, get on the ground and take pictures of it all, they all turn out amazing. A journey so well worth the tour cost as we had this beautiful place to ourselves.
The Horseshoe Bend Slot Canyon Tour Company references the canyon’s proximity to the world-famous Horseshoe Bend Overlook where a section of the winding Colorado River creates a horseshoe shape 1,000 feet below the lookout point. We didn’t opt to take the additional tour to Horseshoe Bend as it was a short 10-minute drive on US 89 south of Page, AZ.
You can drive right into the parking lot and pay your $10 fee to park and begin your hike to the Horseshoe Bend overlook. It is a short hike .75 hike down to the overlook but be warned, the .75 trail is mostly all uphill on the way back out, with a steep incline. There are plenty of benches to rest on but do bring water for your journey back out.
Horseshoe bend is a beautiful area located 5 miles downstream from the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell and 4 miles SW of Page, AZ. It is a naturally occurring horseshoe-shaped curve of red rock around the dark-green waters of the Colorado River.
The view of Horseshoe Bend overlook is perched atop 4,200-foot steep cliff side that actually descend at a negative angle. This overlook affords a very expansive view of the bend but not the total view, including down.
In fact, because of the popularity of Horseshoe Bend on Social Media, more and more people are visiting the overlook trying to capture the “Best” photo possible by climbing the steep rocks sides of the overlook outside of the safety area designated by installed railings. Here they perch themselves on rock overhangs for selfies down over the bend below. This obviously has put many people in pretty dangerous situations and even deaths. I will admit the urge to break out of the mass of people visiting Horseshoe bend and trying to get that unobstructed view does beckon you to just leave the relative safety of the overlook platform and nudge yourself up or out a bit is tempting. But please don’t risk your safety for your last selfie.
When is the best time to visit Horseshoe Bend?
If you are going to take photos, the best time to visit Horseshoe Bend is late morning or mid-day. At any other time of the day the bend and river are in the shadows. Unfortunately, just before sunset, the sun will be in your eyes and the bend will be in shadow as well. You will need a lot of perseverance filters, and technical knowledge to capture those photos of the bend you see online. Here is a great example of the changing light in a series of photos taken at different times of day.
Route 66 Road Trip, Flagstaff to Kingman, AZ
Yes, and you can too. Are you itching to drive The Mother Road? Do you love old cars? Are you ready for a drive back in time? This journey was a part of our trip that my husband Matt was excited for. He rented a Mustang GT black on black 450HP with paddle shifters for the drive. I don’t know what all that means, but that is the car he wanted for the Northern Arizona 5-Day Road Trip.
So, what do you do next? Decide on which way to go from Flagstaff.
Route 66 to the East – You have Walnut Canyon, Winona, Tow Guns and Twin Arrows, Meteor Crater, Winslow, where you can stand on the corner, Holbrook and the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park all along the I 40 freeway with very little pavement from the original Route 66.
Route 66 to the West – The Sunset Crater, Grand Canyon detour, Williams, Sedona, Jerome, Seligman, Grand Canyon Caverns, Peach Springs, Valentine, Hackberry, and Kingman and 83 miles of detour off I40 on actual route 66 pavement.
I bet you can guess which way we went, west! We drove I-40 to exit #123, Seligman. From Seligman there is an uninterrupted 83 mile stretch of the actual Route 66 complete with Burma shave signs and a string of kitschy towns and ghost towns, and towns we just plain missed.
Be sure to pick up the Historic Route 66 brochure and map present by the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona. This brochure was our guide to find the small towns by using mileposts and exit numbers along the route. This brochure and the Arizona Route 66 Pasport were the best reference of all the maps and brochures that we picked up.
We stopped at the visitor’s center in Flagstaff to get our Passport. We purchased the Mother Road, which covers Route 66 through the U.S. A., and the All American Road, Arizona 66 Passport which was free. The Arizona Passport, has all the stops in Arizona, with much more detail that the Mother Road Passport. You can get the passports in any city on the route that has a stamp location. Learn more about the Route 66 Passports here.
We followed the map and stopped in the each city listed on our passport to get a stamp, and a small token for stopping. We bought a sticker and sent a post card home from each location. It was a great way to track your journey without missing a stop.
Points of Interest – Route 66 West of Flagstaff
Flagstaff, Exit #195 – A significant surviving section of Route 66, runs through Flagstaff. A 16 mile stretch that forms the main street through the north of town that runs along the railway. We stopped at the Flagstaff visitor center located in the railroad station and picked up our Route 66 passports, both the Arizona and the full passport and took our first photo of the Route 66 road mark.
Parks, Exit # 178 where you will find a General Store with a post office. A perfect quick jump off I40 to grab some snacks and get the next passport stamp.
Williams, Exit # 165 – Our next stop was back to Williams which is the last Route 66 town to be bypassed by I-40 and home to the Grand Canyon Railway Williams is a cute little town where 66 runs through the main street adorned with a plethora of gift shops, and diners to meander through. Here we stopped back at the Railroad station to get our second passport stamp.
Ashfork, Exit #146 – The Flagstone capital of the world, has the comprehensive historical museum of Ash Fork and Route 66 exhibits. The ladies that were running the museum the day we arrived, we so kind. They stamped our passport and gave us each a wooden nickel.
Seligman, Exit #123 –
This little town embraces route 66 and is your kickoff to follow Route 66 for the rest of the journey to Kingman. Seligman puts all of its heart and soul into the Mother road. Here you will find the iconic Snowcap Drive-In, and Angel’s Barbershop. Angel still does an occasional shave for customers, but you will need to book an appointment well in advance of your visit.
Grand Canyon Caverns , Milepost 115 – One of the largest dry caverns in the U.S.A., a natural limestone cavern with its famous cavern suite 210’ below the surface where you can spend the night. If the Cavern suite is booked, you can stay in the Vintage Motor Inn or RV Park.
Peach Springs, Milepost 103 – Where the Hualapai Indian Reservation/Cultural center, lodge and restaurant and ranch are located. Also known as the gateway to reach the Grand Canyon West skywalk although it is still another 2-hour drive from Peach Springs. You can also access one of the only points where you can drive into the bottom of the Grand Canyon using Diamond Creek Road, which is the only actual “road” that goes to the canyon floor. It’s 21 miles long and unpaved. It follows Diamond Creek, a tributary of the Colorado River, down a side canyon near the town of Peach Springs. It’s pretty, but since the road is unpaved, driving a rental car down it is not advised. If you have your own vehicle with adequate clearance, you can drive down the Diamond Creek Road as long as you obtain a permit from the Hualapai Indian Tribe whose lands the road is on. You can get this at the Hualapai Lodge
Truxton, Milepost 94 – Historic Frontier Motel and Café is located here.
Valentine, Milepost 85-87– There is a Wild Animal Sanctuary outside of Valentine where you can get your Route 66 stamp.
Hackberry, Milepost 80 – Milepost 80 Has an old General Store with a great collection of 1950’s and 60’s period cars, signs, gas pumps and gift shop.
Valle Vista, Mile post 71 – Currently a popular retirement community
Kingman, Mile post 44-53– Home to The Powerhouse, a former power plant that’s now a worthwhile Route 66 museum, Route 66 museums, historic district, and diners. Get your turquoise here at the Kingman Turquoise Mine store.
We really enjoyed our Northern Arizona 5-Day Road Trip and all it had to offer. I know that in no way is our journey a comprehensive list of things to do in Northern Arizona, but it covers all the things that we went there for. Be sure to check out all the other great things you can do while visiting. There is so much! We hope to return and drive Route 66 to the east next time and spend more time exploring the Flagstaff and other small towns.