Picacho Peak: Ever been faced with the horrible dilemma of having to choose between taking a monster truck ride, feeding a baby deer, and petting a stingray? No worries at the Rooster Cogburn Ostrich ranch at the base of the unmissable Picacho Peak between Tucson and Casa Grande. You can do it all in one stop! Picacho Peak State Park, the westernmost battle site in the Civil War, offers a nice campground and network of hiking trails ranging from 0.2 to 3.1 miles in length. A short detour could land you in Eloy’s skydiving territory as well, and we recommend a Blizzard from the most unusual Dairy Queen/gift shop combo you’ll ever see while relaxing in the afternoon shadows of the peak.
Lake Pleasant: The second largest lake in the Phoenix area (after Roosevelt Lake), Lake Pleasant is formed by the Waddell Dam and located 45 minutes northwest of downtown. With several entry points, boat rentals, cruises, colorful rock formations and flora marina, picnic tables, clean bathrooms, plenty of beaches, fishing, bald eagle nesting areas, and wild burros, you’re guaranteed to get your $6 per carload worth. A quick jaunt north on I-17 will take you to the Rock Springs Cafe, with totally WTC (worth the calories) pie.
Flagstaff Hiking: This time of year, Flagstaff offers Phoenicians the ultimate relief from hot weather, and plenty of activities and scenery for a great day in the pines. An early enough start could earn you spot on Flagstaff Xtremes’s Adventure Course, with five shady looping routes of zip-lines, balancing feats, ladders, and tunnels. We recommend lunch at the super cute Miz Zips Diner on Route 66. The Fat Man’s Trail Loop at the base of Mount Elden is a scenic kid-friendly hike with interesting rock formations and plenty of shade.
Goldfield Ghost Town: The scenic Superstitions surround this quaint former Mammoth Gold Mine northeast of Mesa on the Apache Trail. The Mammoth Steak House Saloon is a great spot for lunch or dinner, and there are plenty of activities including the disorienting, gravity-defying “Mystery Shack”, panning for gold, zip lining, and a railroad jaunt around the property. This one is especially fun for kids, and you’ll spend most of your time outside. So pick a fair weather day.
San Rafael Mountains: Arizona has extremely diverse scenery and topography within its borders, and this beautiful grassland region southwest of KITT Peak Observatory (another great detour if you have time) adds yet another unique facet to our state. The San Rafael Valley was used as the ultra green backdrop in the Rodgers and Hammerstein Musical Oklahoma! Drive through the area, but at some point be sure to get out of your car to feel the wind come sweeping down the plain. On your way home, pizza at the Velvet Elvis in Patagonia or a wine tasting any of Sonoita’s vineyards would be a lovely pit stop.