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Scenic Drive Through Verde Valley
Road Trip into Arizona's Past

by Robert Schaller

Waco biplane
Robert Schaller
Waco biplanes take sightseers over Oak Creek Canyon & Sedona

Horseman Lodge
Robert Schaller
Horseman Lodge Restaurant

Back road to Indian Gardens
Robert Schaller
The "back road" to Indian Gardens

Creekside Restaurant in Christopher
Robert Schaller
Creekside Steakhouse in Christopher, Arizona

I'd plan this 4½-day trip in the following order. Start your drive in Phoenix, drive north to Camp Verde, which is about 100 miles from Phoenix on I-17. (On the way, you can also visit Arcosanti at Cordes Junction). Spend the remaining daylight exploring Fort Verde State Park. For an excellent dining experience, drive a few miles to Cornville for supper at the Manzanita Inn. Stay in Camp Verde or head to Sedona for the night.

On the second day, explore Sedona for a few hours. Try a Pink Jeep Tour or ride up-canyon in a biplane. Have lunch, and then drive north on State Route 89A to Indian Gardens and Slide Rock State Park. (Check for locally grown produce at the store there.) If you go in July or August, be sure to keep your eyes open along the creek for wild blackberries. Dangle your feet in the cool waters for a while, fish for rainbow trout, and then continue on to Flagstaff and the Horsemen Lodge, just north of town on US Highway 89. Have supper in this real ranch-oriented establishment. (The salad bar is my favorite anywhere.) [NOTE: In 2020, the Horsemen Lodge closed permanently.] Afterward, drive back down State Route 89A to Flagstaff, Sedona or Cottonwood. Spend the night, and then take the train (at Clarkdale) for a ride through Sycamore Canyon.

After the train excursion, visit mystical, mysterious Jerome for a couple of hours in the afternoon and maybe have a cowboy supper at the Blazin' M Ranch. (Alternatively, you could visit Jerome the next morning, along with Tuzigoot National Monument). After Tuzigoot, drive east on the Crook Trail (State Route 260) to Payson. Payson has Zane Grey's cabin at the Rim Country Museum (It's a reconstruction - the original near Kohl's Ranch burned in a wildfire a few years ago.) Consider continuing out State Route 260 to Christopher Creek and having supper at the Creekside Steakhouse (which also has cabins if you want to stay overnight).

Next morning, have breakfast at the great little 260 Café on State Route 260 (on Payson's east side), then make the ninety-minute drive back to Phoenix on State Route 87. If you're catching a flight out of Phoenix, allow at least 2½ hours for the drive from Payson to the Phoenix airport, and more if you will be arriving during the busiest times of the day. It'll take you another half hour to drop off your rental car and get to the terminal on the shuttle bus.

Total distance is about 470 miles; total driving time is about 9.5 hours.

Bob Schaller
December 31, 2006

(Updated August 8, 2020, RTA)

View Phoenix to Verde Valley and Payson, Arizona in a larger map

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