Ultimate Arizona: A Week of Adventure and Multi-sport Fun

Submitted by SharpMan Editorial Team on Wednesday 13th October 2010
In this article
  • Best spot for mountain biking.
  • Best spot for recovering from mountain biking.
  • Canyons and more.
Ultimate Arizona: A Week of Adventure and Multi-sport Fun

Your assignment: seven days of vacation.

Your destination: the Grand Canyon state.

Your mission: so much fun and excitement, you’ll need a second week just to recover.

Arizona is truly incredible, the variety of its terrain unmatched in the United States. Whether you are packing up the car and cruising from L.A. or flying in from Toyko, Tennessee or Timbuktu, we offer you a six-day adventure sampler itinerary of Arizona.

(Since this is a jam-packed trip, the seventh day is yours to throw in anywhere you need a little breather.)

Required gear? Keep things simple with hiking books, a canteen and comfortable clothes. Any other required gear, such as a mountain bike, fly-fishing equipment, a vehicle and camping gear, can be rented on arrival. Of course, throwing in a camera is a great idea.

Day One: Mountain Biking Sweet Southwest Singletrack

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There are a few towns scattered across the country whose residents just can’t help telling others where they live. Carefree, Arizona is definitely one of these towns. The name matches the relaxed character and stress-free ambience of this artsy community, located just north of Phoenix. But don’t be fooled by the golf-pants-wearing retired folks you see in the supermarket parking lot — adventure is only minutes away.

If you want some serious fat-tire challenge, try the Trail Four Loop at Seven Springs, considered one of the toughest mountain bike rides in the Phoenix area (ironically, the trailhead sign says it’s easy!). This extreme five-hour jaunt is enough to get your adrenaline going and then some, the perfect way to start your week of adventure. If you’re not quite that motivated (or skilled), the same misleading sign can point you to slightly easier trails, although we recommend picking up a copy of Paul Beakley’s Mountain Bike America: Arizona. Bring your own bike or give the guys at Wheels ‘n’ Gear Bike Rentals a call (480-945-2881; 7607 E. McDowell Road, Scottsdale, 480-945-2881); they rent high-quality suspension bikes. Wheels ‘n’ Gear also provides guided rides.

To properly recover from your ride, swing by Crazy Ed’s Satisfied Frog Saloon in Cave Creek (6245 E. Cave Creek Rd, Cave Creek, 480-488-3317) for a late lunch, and be sure to try out the home-brewed Cave Creek Chili Beer. It’s a wonderful, fiery swill that perfectly complements the fried green chili appetizer and fajitas. Your scorched taste buds may never forgive you!

Ready to hit the hay? Seven Springs has a campground 18 miles northeast of Cave Creek on Forest Route 24; no fee, no reservations (for more info, contact the Cave Creek Ranger District: 602-488-6200), or you’ll find dozens of hotels and resorts for all budgets nearby.

For those looking for something a bit more remote, head north on I-17 to Camp Verde, less than an hour from the Carefree Highway. Gas up here, and head east on Highway 260. It’s paved to start, but quickly turns into a gravel road, suitable for most passenger cars (but a high-clearance vehicle is better). Drive until you see the turn-off for the Childs Power Plant. (Go slow — this is an exhilarating drive!) The last downhill section of the road is a bit bumpy, but proceed carefully and you should have no problems. Any campsite next to the river will work. (The really adventurous will read on and head to the Verde River hot springs by moonlight!)

Day Two: A Natural Hot Spring to Soothe Your Body and Soul

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If you didn’t make it to the Verde River hot springs last night, you’re in for a treat today. Those sore from biking will hear this natural Jacuzzi calling their names. Start slogging upriver (there is a trail on the west side, across from the campground). After just over a mile of not-too-difficult walking, you’ll see the spring, the last remains of a once-trendy spa resort that burned down in 1962.

Soaking in the main pool offers stunning views of the river and mountains, while stone walls and a tarp roof enclose the second pool. Off-color cartoons, interesting quotes, and other modern-day petroglyphs cover the walls, so soaking in this tub means at least a few laughs. Although a sign seen at the entrance prohibits nudity, the Verde River hot springs are popular with naturalists. Since the springs are so remotely located, many choose to soak and sun bathe nude, but bring a swimsuit just in case others object. Likewise, if you’re the swimsuit-wearing type, don’t be surprised by the clothing-somewhat-optional policy. When you’ve soaked long enough, hike back to the campground.

To continue on your adventure, drive back to the intersection where you turned toward the river, but instead of going west to Camp Verde, take a right turn. The road passes a swimming hole (always packed with people in the summer), and then the Fossil Springs power plant and trailhead. When you reach Strawberry, go right toward Payson until you see signs for Tonto National Bridge, the largest natural travertine bridge in the world — definitely quite a sight.

After a short hike and few snapshots, get in the car and head back toward Strawberry, continuing north on Highway 87 toward Winslow. Meteor Crater is another interesting stop. This mile-wide hole is the result of a mere cosmic pebble (80 feet across) that slammed into earth roughly 50,000 years ago.

After reaching Winslow, go east on I-40, and 26 miles past Holbrook, get your camera ready. On the left is the Painted Desert and on the right, Petrified Forest National Park. The ranger at the info center can give you information about several short hikes to see some of the prehistoric logs now turned to rock.

Drive another 23 miles to Chambers and head north on Highway 191 toward Chinle. Spend a few minutes at Hubbell Trading Post, and then continue on to Canyon de Chelly National Monument (pronounced "d’shay"). Numerous hotels are available in this area, or pitch a tent at the Cottonwood Campground located in Canyon de Chelly Park. Plenty of sites and usually plenty available. No fee. For more information, call 520-674-5500

Day Three: Rambling through Rock Canyon

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To safeguard the 2700+ archeological sites found here, actually entering Canyon de Chelly almost always requires an authorized Navajo guide. However, one trail within the National Monument that can be hiked without an escort is the path leading to White House Ruins found on the south rim drive. Only a little over a mile each way, the hike is moderate in difficulty, but start your day early, especially in the summer when mid-day temperatures can make this short hike torture. The last stop is the Spider Rock overlook, one of the most photographed sites in Arizona. Don’t miss it.

After leaving Canyon de Chelly, head north. If you have the time for an hour detour, the Four Corners is an interesting stop — it’s the only place in the United States where you can have one limb in four different states (Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah). After playing foursquare, twister, hopscotch or however else you decide to celebrate your "no borders" moment, cruise west toward Monument Valley.

Depending on what time you arrive at the Park, the info center will have all the details on the different tours available. The free self-drive tour is one of the best ways to see the otherworldly formations up close. You couldn’t ask for a better backdrop than the Mitten View campground; the air here is incredibly clear, so expect intense star shows if you decide to camp out. Mitten View Campground is next to the Visitor’s Center in Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, with 100 campsites on first come-first served basis. Summer camping fees are $10 per site per night for up to six campers. Winter camping fees are $5 per site per night. Reservations are only taken for group sites, which are available for $20. For more information, call 928-871-6647.

Day Four: Extreme Fly-Fishing

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Get on the road early and head west to Page. Go south on Highway 89 to Bitter Springs, then turn right on Highway 89A. Watch for signs to Lee’s Ferry and take a right after crossing Marble Canyon Bridge. Located below Glen Canyon Dam, Lee’s Ferry is perhaps the most overstimulating fly-fishing trip you can take. The incredible beauty of the canyon is mind-boggling, but better yet, healthy populations of rainbow and cutthroat trout provide plenty of pole-bending action.

If you have never fly-fished before or are just a beginner, think about hiring an expert to "put you on" the fish. The scenic boat ride upriver alone is worth the relatively inexpensive price of hiring a guide (roughly $100-$150 per person for four to eight hours). The best guides can be found at Glen Canyon Anglers (813 Aqua Avenue, Page, 877-369-5563), Marble Canyon Guides (Box 6032, Marble Canyon, 800-533-7339), and Lee’s Ferry Anglers (HC-67 Box 30, Marble Canyon, 800-962-9755). Your guides can provide the necessary fly-fishing equipment when given prior notice.

After a day on the water, enjoy the 125-mile drive to the south rim of the Grand Canyon by following Highway 89 south, then heading west on Highway 64. Hotels and campgrounds are available, but call ahead to make reservations. South Rim (Grand Canyon) Campgrounds include Desert View Campground, 520-638-7888; Mather Campground, 800-365-2267; Flintstone Bedrock City, 520-635-2600; Ten X Campground, 520-638-2443; and Grand Canyon Camper Village, 520-638-2887. Hotels include El Tovar Hotel, Kachina Lodge, Thunderbird Lodge, and Yavapai Lodge, 303-297-2757, www.grandcanyonlodges.com. Also check out the Grand Canyon Chamber of Commerce: www.grandcanyonchamber.com.

Dozens of other lodging options are available in Flagstaff, 90 minutes south. Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce: www.flagstaffchamber.com

Since reservations should be made as far in advance as possible, it’s a good idea to request a free Grand Canyon Trip Planner (928-638-7888).

Day Five: Hiking the Grand Canyon

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Don’t even think about hiking all the way to the Colorado River and back in one day. Sure you can walk 15 miles on flat land in one day. But trekking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and all the way back up to the Rim is a different story. If you are just looking for spectacular scenery, several rim trails exist and are generally flat and easy. The farther you get away from the visitor center, the more solitude you find.

For the more experienced hiker, or for those looking for a workout, try hiking a short distance down Bright Angel Trail. Bring plenty of water and don’t forget that the hike up takes at least twice the time and is at least twice as difficult. Plateau Point, just past Indian Garden, is the maximum day hike destination, but seriously consider how much energy you have when you reach the Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse. It’s a long way up!

After your Grand Canyon experience is complete, the 85-mile ride to Flagstaff is a breezy delight. The scenery through the Colorado Plateau region is beautiful and while most people believe that Arizona is nothing but desert, you’ll find yourself driving through the world’s largest stretch of ponderosa pine forest.

Continue south on Highway 89A to Sedona. The stretch through Oak Creek Canyon is one of the more picturesque drives in Arizona, and you’ll find numerous pull-off spots for great photo opportunities. These same stops are excellent places for day hiking, in the event the Grand Canyon was more than you wanted to tackle. The West Fork of Oak Creek is very popular and striking in scenery.

There are plenty of camping options in the Sedona area and dozens of inexpensive hotels as well Sedona Campgrounds. Check out the following — and remember, reservations are highly recommended: Bootlegger & Manzanita Campgrounds, Sedona Ranger Station 520-282-4119; Lolomai Outdoor Resort (Cabins, RV Sites, Tent Sites), 11505 Lo Lo Mai Road, Page Springs, 928-634-4700. Are hotels more your speed? Check out these Sedona favorites (reservations recommended): Los Abrigados Resort & Spa,160 Portal Lane, Sedona, 800-258-2899; Enchantment Resort, 525 Boynton Canyon Road, Sedona, 800-826-4180. Dozens of other hotels are located in central Sedona; contact the Chamber of Commerce at www.sedonachamber.com.

Day Six: Scooting Around Sedona

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It’s rise and shine early today! Red Rock Balloon Adventures (call 800-258-3754 for reservations, or check out http://www.redrockballoons.com/) and Northern Light Balloon Expeditions (800-230-6222) offer early morning hot air balloon flights over Sedona’s magical red rocks. Truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Spend your afternoon splashing around at Slide Rock State Park, or take a Pink Jeep Tour (800-873-3668, 204 North Highway 89A, Sedona, AZ; reservations required). If you want to keep hiking, several favorite trails in the area include Mt. Wilson South (long and difficult), Broken Arrow (moderate) or Boynton Canyon Trail (easier). Sedona Hikes by Richard and Sherry Mangum is in every Arizona explorer’s library. Tourist information headquarters is located just south of the main strip and can provide you with countless other ideas. Be sure to ask about the mystical vortex sites.

Masterfully prepared high desert cuisine and a relaxed ambience await at the Cowboy Club (928-282-4200, 241 N. Highway 89A, Sedona, 520-282-4200), a great way to finish up an incredible trip–they even serve rattlesnake! Reservations recommended.

A word of warning, however: it will be difficult to say "so long" to Sedona. In fact, after this ultimate week of adventure in Arizona, you just might find yourself dreaming about the Southwest. You might even find yourself packing up and making a break for the desert; others certainly have before.

This article last updated on Wednesday 13th October 2010
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