Three road trips in Arizona

By Eloise Barker

Title photography by deimagine / Getty Images

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Do not adjust your set: Arizona is on a different scale to the rest of the world. The sixth largest state has the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley and massive skies. This state is for road trippers and road runners, and it rocks.

Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Phoenix and Monument Valley

Leaving Las Vegas

Technically in Nevada, Sin City is a great springboard for reaching Arizona’s arid wonders, if you can tear yourself away from the tables, that is. After a few days staying at the iconic MGM Grand and a few nights partying at the Hakkansan Nightclub next door, take your hire car on an adventure.

Where to stay

The MGM Grand is one of the largest hotels in the United States and comes with a fantastic array of services. You’ll find it on the southern end of the Strip near all the action of Las Vegas.

High on the Hoover Dam

Leaving Las Vegas, make a quick stop at the Hoover Dam and feel the power of concrete. This massive feat of engineering is over 221 metres tall, and you’ll need to at least pause for a roadside photo from the top.

From Phoenix it’s possible to fill your tank and make it to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park by sunset – the land’s most magical time.

Into the Grand Canyon

Avoid Grand Canyon West and head straight to the South Rim, where the Grand Canyon itself appears miraculously at your feet. This is the most famous viewpoint. Some foolhardy types take a traditional mule trail down, which isn’t for the faint-hearted. If you’re keen to travel under your own steam instead, then head to the North Rim to descend into the canyon by foot on the best hiking trails.

Where to stay

Break up your epic journey and stay at the three-star Yavapai Lodge, with its great location close to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. The best thing about staying so close to the park? You can catch the sunset after the crowds leave.

Turning to Page

The city of Page sits in a bowl of natural wonders, including Horseshoe Bend on the Colorado River. Go down Highway 89 and the famous bend is a three quarter-mile trek off a dirt road and worth it for the view of the curling river below a striking hill. Go in the late morning and the water will be in full sunlight.

Most people stop in Page to visit Antelope Canyon, a famous slot canyon with a delicate, shell-like interior. The iconic daily sunbeam tour, led by Navajo guides, was made famous by one of the most expensive photographs ever sold, an image by Peter Lik of the light striking the canyon floor.

Sunset at Monument Valley

From Phoenix it’s possible to fill your tank and make it to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park by sunset – the land’s most magical time. Watch the red rocks catch fire in the light then turn to dark giants under the blossoming stars. The sandstone ‘monuments’ are technically known as (no laughing) sandstone buttes.

Where to stay

Check in to Kayenta Monument Valley Inn within the Navajo Nation Native American reservation. This is the American West at its best.

  • Hoover Dam at Henderson Nevada near the city of Las Vegas. ©tobiasjo.

    The hard facts

    As you stand on the Hoover Dam, consider this: there’s enough concrete below you to build a full-sized highway long enough to cross the United States.

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Phoenix, Mesa, Scottsdale and Sedona

Fly to Phoenix

British Airways flies direct to Phoenix, so you can reach the capital of Arizona with ease. Once you arrive, pick up a hire car to explore Mesa and Scottsdale too. If you don’t want to drive far, opt for a helicopter flight to take in the Grand Canyon from Phoenix.

Mosey into Mesa

Mesa makes for an affordable stay, plus you can head out of the city to drive the highlights of the Apache Trail (in a trusty 4x4 only). This rustic route crawls in and out of the Superstition Mountains, a traditional Navajo area, and hits the Tortilla Flats – where a crusty old stagecoach stop (with a sign that announces a population of six) clings to the desert. It’s a time warp of saloons, boardwalks and swinging double doors, the definition of a no-horse town.

Where to stay

Make a stop in Mesa and stay at the three-star Residence Inn Phoenix Mesa, a great value hotel. Start your day right, with a complimentary buffet breakfast and after long days on the road, enjoy a dip in the outdoor pool.

Shop in Scottsdale

North east of Phoenix, Scottsdale’s excellent restaurants, bars, outlets and day spas make it a popular place to stay. The city is the site of Frank Lloyd Wright’s former winter home, but kids might prefer a turn on a train at the McCormick-stillman Railroad Park. Adults, take advantage of perfect golfing conditions, and cheekily cheap outlets. Look out for Outlets at Anthem and secret basement shopping at the Last Chance Clearance Store. And get used to ordering the area’s special: prickly pear margaritas – deliciously tequila-spiked, rather than spiky.

Where to stay

Stay at the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale, an oasis for golf lovers. Its championship golf course is a massive draw, as are the multiple pools. Go full Italian with a meal at the Alto Ristorante… followed by a gondola ride on the hotel’s lagoon.

Spas in Sedona

From Scottsdale, Sedona is two hours north (and just two hours south of the Grand Canyon). The city is named after the wife of the city’s first postmaster and sits at a higher, cooler altitude than Phoenix. That’s not the only reason it’s seen as a haven. It’s also supposed to be the site of great spiritual energy – ideal for the local spas.

Where to stay

If you want to stay in Sedona, Bell Rock Inn offers breathtaking red-rock views and an outdoor pool.

Exploring Red Rock State Park

Cathedral Rock, one of the most photographed sites in Arizona, looms above Sedona and forms part of the Red Rock State Park, which is a great place for hikes. Head to the Devil’s Bridge Trail – a strenuous hike with precarious rock formations, or Eagle’s Nest, a climb with valley views. The Painted Desert in the Petrified Forest National Park is a surreal trove of multi-coloured hills and scattered rock art.

On towards Flagstaff

Route 66 passes right through Flagstaff. The city is a good base for trips to the Walpi Village, where you can explore Hopi culture atop a dramatic mesa. Drive three hours to reach the inimitable Canyon de Chelly, or reach the brink of a stark, 50,000-year-old meteor crater in the middle of the desert. From here, Monument Valley and Utah call from the north, or you can return to Phoenix to fly home.

  • Tourist inside slot canyon, Upper Antelope Canyon, Page, Arizona. ©Matteo Colombo.

    Two canyons

    Think the Grand Canyon is hard to beat? Antelope Canyon gives it a run for its money.

    Hotels in Phoenix
  • San Xavier del Bac Mission, Tucson, Arizona.©phbcz.

    Say it right

    Tucson is pronounced ‘Too Sawn’ – get that right before you book your plane ticket.

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  • Taliesin West, built by the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, Scottsdale, Arizona.©Universal Images Group North America LLC / DeAgostini / Alamy Stock Photo.

    Good from all angles

    Frank Lloyd Wright believed that Arizona deserved its own unique architecture. His winter home was made from rocks plucked out of the desert.

    Holidays in Phoenix

Phoenix, Tucson, Tombstone and Bisbee

Leaving Phoenix

The drive from Phoenix to Tucson is one hot, strange, empty road – a long gullet into the belly of the state. Look out for monster trucks off the highway, before you finally reach Arizona’s second largest city.


Tucson is a hot mix of cultures, with Mexican, Spanish, Native American and Anglo influences all stirring its cooking pot. The city has even been recognised as a UNESCO capital of gastronomy. There’s good cooking plus plenty of history, none more richly realised than in the traditional Mariachi music you’ll hear in the evenings. Make a pilgrimage to the elegant, Baroque Mission San Xavier del Bac, known as the White Dove of the Desert. This bone-white cathedral has survived against the odds in wilderness.

Where to stay

Take a break at the luxurious JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort & Spa. There’s a lazy river, pristine golf course and serene spa, as well as on-site biking and hiking trails. The hotel’s desert setting is picturesque – when dusk falls, it’s time for some stargazing.

Around Tucson

If you can face an eye-wateringly early start, a hot air balloon ride gives you a perfect view of Tucson’s surroundings: the vast, improbably green Sonoran Desert. The desert, including Saguaro National Park is full of protected cacti – these spiky stems look like they could do more harm to you than you to them, but stay back – damaging one of these protected plants can lead to a hefty prison sentence.

Where to stay

Experience a true oasis in the Sonoran Desert with a backdrop of the Santa Catalina Mountains at The Westin La Paloma Resort and Spa. Tee off at the Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course and enjoy a wellness massage in the La Paloma Spa & Salon.


You’ll find ghost towns scattered across the Arizonan desert, and Ruby is the most famous – but one town is still very real: Tombstone. A true cowboy town, it’s here that three unsavoury criminals were shot in the O.K. Corral by lawmen in 1881 and it’s still a popular tourist spot. Next up, visit the city of Bisbee, the last stop on the road before the border, with a massive old copper mine and a surprisingly fertile arts scene. Head too far south from here and you’ll end up in Mexico. It’s truly the end of the road.