Here are a few of my favorite weekend road trips in Arizona.
First up is Forked Pine Campgrounds, a hidden campsite south of Flagstaff. We found this campsite because we were attempting to go somewhere else and it was full, so we drove and drove until we reached this unmaintained site. It’s on Ashurst Lake and you can find out more from the official website here. The site is open and maintained May 6 to October 11, and during that time the campsites are $16 a night. If visiting after the 11th of October, the site is accessible for free but is not maintained and there is not access to the vault toilets, so it’s more like dispersed camping but with a table and fire pit. We liked that this site was less crowded and offered pretty views. It was a bit of a drive on a dirt road, but nothing a 2 wheel drive vehicle can’t handle.
Speaking of Flagstaff, Locket Meadow is another great weekend road trip in Arizona; those fall colors are poppin’ too! Be prepared, because you’ll have to wait in line for a parking spot and the camp sites are first come first serve. It’s one of the best places to see the San Francisco Peaks’ Aspen trees change from green to gold. Here, you will need a high clearance vehicle to access the site and the cost is $14 a night for up to 8 people. If you’re not into camping, that’s okay too – you can stay in the historic Hotel Monte Vista (but be careful, it’s haunted!). If you do stay at a hotel, you’ve got an advantage over anyone driving up from out of town, because you might actually make it to the trails before the rush of people! Additional Flagstaff and Coconino fall color sites can be found here.
I’ve included the Grand Canyon in my list, because even though we all know it’s there, many of my local friends and family haven’t ever been! To be fair, it took thirty years for me to get there, and I like to travel. We visited this past January, but it’s beautiful year round, and giant holes in the ground don’t change all that much season to season. For those non campers, may we suggest the Bright Angel Lodge. It is literally on the edge of the south rim, and just minutes from the Bright Angel Trail Head. These single cabins are glorified glamping. While not necessarily luxurious, a warm bed and shower in a much cooler destination is a luxury in and of itself. We loved our little cabin (below) with adjoining room since we always travel with friends and family.
And then we have Chevelon Lake and Campground also located in northern Arizona. It is about 15 miles west of the city of Heber and is one in a series of small, canyon-bound lakes located on the Mogollon Rim. It is a beautiful lake down a short 3/4 mile hike from the campgrounds. This site does get very cold but with warm clothes it’s lots of fun with kids and pets. We loved that this site is secluded, which is always nice when camping. The area is great for fishing and because the weather is so much cooler it’s a welcome change from the desert heat. This site is first come first serve so you’ll want to arrive mid day. There is no fee to camp here which is why we like camping … little road trips in Arizona with little cost!
And finally, beautiful Sabino Canyon in Tucson. With a list of resorts here, you can find a comfortable place to stay nearby and plan a cooler weather hike or tour into the canyon. There is some water in the canyon, which most people don’t associate with the desert. And, really fall is the perfect time to go because it can be too hot in the summer and very cold in the winter. While this destination is full of cacti, I felt like I need to include at least one destination fulfilling cliches. The sunsets are phenomenal, and who doesn’t love saguaros?! With trails and tours (they’ll even drive you up on a tram and you can walk down) this is a great hike for kids.
I hope this list inspires you to explore Arizona a bit more this fall! You can find all the campsites at Recreation.gov and plan your next adventure right now! If you want to check out more sites and where we’ve been, you can find my full blog featuring all my camping with kids posts.