To many people across the country, Memorial Day weekend signals the unofficial start to the summer season. As our daytime temps in the Valley begin to climb upward, many Arizonans start looking for ways to have fun while beating the heat.
“Locals and visitors love to take road trips throughout our state,” says Debbie Johnson, director of the Arizona Office of Tourism. “Whether you’re in the Valley poolside or planning a quick trip to one of these special Arizona destinations, you’re in for a great holiday weekend either way.”
While a warm grill, cool pool and ice-cold beverage serves as option No. 1 for many, packing up the car for a road trip to our state’s cooler climates is also perpetually popular. Here are a few ways to beat the heat with an Arizona Memorial Day getaway, from Arizona Office of Tourism.
Prescott: Watson Lake and the Granite Dells
A quick two-hour drive from the Valley, Prescott is nestled a mile high in the Ponderosa Pines of Prescott National Forest. A Memorial Day road trip here lets travelers enjoy upper 70-degree days, amazing pine scents and beautiful natural surroundings.
The Prescott area offers adventurers more than 400 miles of hiking, mountain biking and equestrian trails, with a fair portion of that surrounding picturesque Watson Lake and the Granite Dells. This otherworldly landscape offers fishing, boating, kayaking, canoeing, hiking, rock climbing, camping and day picnicking – something for everyone. Plus, it’s just four miles from Downtown Prescott, making it a very manageable day trip.
Downtown Prescott brims with Victorian homes, turn-of-the-century saloons along Whiskey Row and, of course, the majestic granite courthouse. Add in the great museums, art galleries, antique shops and local eateries, and your itinerary is sure to fill up fast!
Visit during any weekend to take the Prescott Cocktail Tour, which provides a guided walking tour of the famous courthouse, local-favorite saloons and taverns plus a little history at each location. Visit over this Memorial Day weekend for the long-running Off Street Art Festival, which offers arts, crafts and food booths near the Prescott Chamber of Commerce.
Sky Islands of Southeastern Arizona
Once primarily familiar to cowboys, outlaws and the U.S. Army, Arizona’s Sky Islands mountain ranges have since earned a well-deserved reputation for offering cool retreats to locals and amazing terrain to explore for adventurers.
But the real magic of these unique outposts lies in the escape they offer from desert summer temperatures. With some Sky Island peaks near 10,000 feet, a determined explorer can start out at 115 degrees on the desert floor and end up on top of a mountain where the temperature is a cool 75 degrees – dare we say a light jacket may even be in order?
Nearly as drastic as the temperature variations are the hugely diverse trails and biomes to be found on these ecologically isolated peaks. Partly comprising the Mule, Chiricahua and Huachuca mountains, the Sky Islands beckon hikers and mountain bikers. Vertical monoliths challenge rock climbers. And cool, damp canyons create some of the world’s greatest biodiversity. Here, vintners grow award-winning wine grapes alongside spicy chiltepin peppers and sweet pistachios. Jaguar, white-nosed coati and javelina wander under forest canopies, while elegant trogon and myriad hummingbirds zip across blue skies. In the fall, butterflies abound.
To learn more about Arizona’s amazing Sky Islands, start here. To find them on your own, just head toward Cochise County.
Family Fun in the White Mountains of Eastern Arizona
The cool communities of the White Mountains provide families a perfect getaway from the Valley, and perhaps even better, an opportunity to escape the digital gadgets that too often keep us inside! Plus, temps in the mid-70s over Memorial Day weekend ensure a trip focused on outdoor fun!
One defining characteristic of the area, which includes parts of Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, the White Mountain Apache Reservation and communities including Pinetop-Lakeside, Greer, Springerville and Eagar, is its abundance of tiny lakes, which make for superb recreation opportunities. Kids love the activities available to them here – camping, fishing, hiking, horseback riding and more.
Pinetop-Lakeside’s family-friendly Woodland Lake Park is a good place to start, where picnic tables, ball fields, a playground and easy trails encircling a small lake can fill an afternoon. Just outside town, Porter Mountain Stables is one of several stables offering the chance to ride a horse. During this time of year, Sunrise Park Resort makes its scenic chairlift ride available, which offers views and access to descending trails.
And finally, the kids can really run loose at Lyman Lake State Park, a 1,200-acre park set around a 1,500-acre reservoir. The park offers cabins to rent and great camping spots, but the insider tip here is that you can start the fun really fast by driving up and parking right up next to the lake.
Arizona has already experienced its first wildfires of the season, with the frequency only expected to increase as we head into summer. To help Arizonans and visitors safely experience the state, the Arizona Office of Tourism created the AppreciateAZ program, which provides guidelines for responsible and sustainable tourism practices across Arizona’s spectacular landscapes and unique destinations.
For example, AppreciateAZ Principle #5 – Be Careful with Fire – provides specific best practices and access to resources to help travelers manage their own campfires and spark-causing events in the safest ways possible. Visit AppreciateAZ.com to review all seven principles while planning your next Arizona road trip!
Featured image: Lyman Lake State Park, Photo credit @x_.carlitos._x