With its stunning scenery and unique cities, it’s time to take a deeper look at Arizona. While we previously wrote about the Grand Canyon and its unique beauty, there’s so much more to experience beyond these layered bands of red rock. So, if you’re planning an Arizona road trip or vacation, read on as we take you on a scenic drive through desert landscapes and tall pines.
Arizona Road Trip Itinerary
|Driving Time||7 Hours and 41 Minutes|
For this road trip past natural wonders and fascinating highlights, we choose Arizona’s State Route 288, which is also known as the Desert to Tall Pines Scenic Road. This lightly used road traverses the diverse landscape of central Arizona. With Phoenix as your starting point, a short drive east takes you to the beginning of your journey.
Stop 1: Sierra Ancha Wilderness
Welcome to the wilderness! Since most of it lies at an elevation of more than 7,000 feet, the road’s about to get much higher and rugged. The Native Americans centuries ago actually built and lived in the cliff dwellings found in this region. While the area is ideal for climbing, hiking, and mountaineering, be aware that this is the wilderness and there are wild animals wandering about.
Sixt Tip: Take a Hike to Aztec Peak
Aztec Peak is the highest point in the Sierra Ancha and offers scenic views of the Four Peaks and Roosevelt Lake. The trail is about 3.2 miles out and mostly used for hiking and running.
Stop 2: Young, Arizona
Visiting the town of Young is like a step back in time. Electricity has only been around since 1965 and it lacks any fast-food chains that some of us often frequent. But it’s this untouched and unspoiled quality that has made this small town with a population of about 600 people Arizona’s best-kept secret.
Sixt Tip: Try Antlers Cafe & Bar
Considering the lack of modern fast food chains, this quaint little eatery is a nice detour if you’re looking for signs of life. If you don’t go for the western decor, you’ll certainly enjoy the food.
Stop 3: Mazatzal Peak
If you’re a seasoned adventurer in search of a challenge, then this next entry is just for you! The Mazatzal Wilderness has about 40 scenic hiking trails, but none is more challenging than the hike to Mazatzal Peak. This landmark mountain’s 9.1-mile loop trail begins at the Barnhardt Trailhead and features a beautiful forest setting along the way. Of course, you don’t need to make the hike to admire its beauty so you are free to take in the scenes from the comfort of your car.
Sixt Tip: Stay at the Kohl’s Ranch Lodge
Kohl’s Ranch Lodge is strategically located between Young and Mazatzal Peak. It’s also nestled within the largest Ponderosa Pine forest in the world. It’s decorated in mountain lodge style and offers a casual and friendly atmosphere, making it a great place to spend the night.
Stop 4: Tonto Basin
From Mazatzal Peak, continue southwest on Arizona State Route 87 until it becomes SR 188, at which point you enter the Tonto Basin. Home to beautiful wildlife and ancient ruins, there’s no shortage of things to do here. Some highlights include the two large cliff dwellings. They were built into caves by the Salado people that lived here centuries ago. Though not as famous as others, a visit will simply take your breath away.
Sixt Tip: Stay at the Punkin Center Lodge
If you’re looking for a place to stay that’s closer to the Tonto National Forest, the Punkin Center Lodge is another alternative. It’s great for exploring the area and less than 40 minutes away from our next stop, the Roosevelt Dam.
Stop 5: Theodore Roosevelt Lake
Our last stop on this Arizona road trip takes us to a beautiful oasis in Arizona, the Theodore Roosevelt Lake. It’s an artificial lake along the Tonto Creek and the Salt River that was built in 1911. It is the largest lake in the state and is primarily used for fishing, boating, camping, and of course vacations. The Roosevelt Dam there was once the tallest masonry dam in the world. Built between 1906 and 1911, it helped turn the then barren Arizona deserts into fertile land for farming. The trip to this area can be quite difficult, but those who make the drive are rewarded with a gorgeous setting with mountains as a backdrop.
SIXT car rental in Phoenix
If Phoenix is the starting point for your road trip, SIXT gives you two ways to get a premium car so you can experience all that Arizona has to offer in comfort and style. You can find us at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport if you are flying in, or you can take advantage of our downtown delivery service. If you’re on a budget for the road trip, one of our compact cars is a great choice, while an SUV can provide more passenger and cargo space, plus make the mountainous parts of the trip easier.