Northern Arizona is absolutely loaded with opportunity for outdoor lovers, and there's no better time to explore than during the fall weather! The diversity experienced within the numerous state parks in the northern half of the state will lead visitors on amazing adventures that touch the mind, body, and soul. Memories of fun within Arizona’s state parks are either the byproduct of a well-planned trip, or a happy result of a spur of the moment decision to seek out adventure. Regardless of your propensity to plan, or fly off the cuff, a northern Arizona road trip options is attainable for anyone looking for a great time in a beautiful slice of the Grand Canyon State.
At Dead Horse Ranch State Park just outside of Cottonwood, visitors have an opportunity to delve into a variety of outdoor exploits. The best part about this park however is the location…From this centralized location, a number of Arizona’s state parks can be reached by a short, scenic drive. Simply pull up your RV or rent a cabin, and your home base is set for adventure!
Here at Dead Horse, relax in the shade of cottonwood trees while watching fluffy white clouds roll by both in the sky, and as they reflect from the water. With each passing cloud, the thoughts of “real world” problems get carried away into the light blue atmosphere. Maybe you’re fishing for bass or catfish and waiting patiently for a bite, maybe you’re just taking in the beauty after a hike through the rugged central Arizona foothills. Either way, you’re right there, doing exactly what you need! It's even better if you're sharing your amazing experience with someone close to you.
North east of Dead Horse, Sedona, AZ is home to two absolutely gorgeous parks that display the iconic crimson rocks and natural vibe that have made the Sedona area a worldwide destination. Red Rock State Park will lead you on trails that showcase a variety of experiences. Dive into the riparian area on trails near Oak Creek and listen to the subtle rumble of water over rocks as you gaze in amazement at the various plants, trees, and wildlife of the area. Or you can explore one of the several trails that lead to a vantage with panoramic views of Cathedral Rock, or the Seven Warriors. During your time at Red Rock, make a point to talk with one of the rangers about conservation efforts in this special park.
After experiencing conservation in action at Red Rock, stop by one of the many eateries in Sedona on your way to the next gorgeous destination: Slide Rock State Park. As you drive north out of Sedona, you’ll notice the trees get taller and the rusted escarpments get steeper, as Route 89a winds along Oak Creek toward Slide Rock. Upon arrival, keep your eyes peeled for a very special park resident, the Coues whitetail deer. This sub-species is found only within very select habitats and a portion of Arizona’s robust population can be experienced right in the park. After searching for these beautiful little deer, take a short hike to the creek and have some adrenaline inducing fun sliding down the famous natural water slide. Or you can just pick a spot near the creek and soak up some Arizona high country sunshine
If you’ve been bit by the history bug, Arizona’s exciting history is on display at historic state parks throughout the state. Two very notable parks are located within close proximity of Dead Horse Ranch, and give visitors a detailed glimpse into the varied past of this often-rough western state.
At Jerome State Historic Park (only about 20 minutes from Dead Horse) you will learn about the heyday of this eclectic little town on a hill. The mines beneath the park span throughout the mountainside and once provided jobs, raw materials, and myriad stories of Arizona’s mining history. While in Jerome, take a walk down main street to enjoy the sights, shopping, and great eats!
Make a day out of discovering central Arizona history and visit Fort Verde State Historic Park in Camp Verde. Learn about the Army outpost and visit well-curated buildings that once housed troops, officers, and Army surgeons. The displays here are well-curated and offer a comprehensive look into life in an 1800s-era Arizona army fort.
North central Arizona holds nearly unlimited adventure potential, but the beauty of such lies in the diversity of recreation opportunities. North eastern Arizona gives travelers a chance to experience the ponderosa pine country of Fool Hollow Lake Recreation Area. Arizona’s high country will greet you with blue skies, puffy white clouds, the sweet smell of pine, and the soothing sound of a breeze blowing through the needles of the countless pine trees. Fool Hollow Lake adds to the sensory overload by providing a shimmer effect from sun shining on the windswept water and the sound of small waves gently crashing into the shoreline rocks are like little explosions of relaxation.
Visitors are likely to stay a while in the campground whether they like the rugged experience provided by tent camping, or the luxury of an RV. A short stay will allow you to take advantage of the area hiking or give you a chance to explore the water via a rented kayak. The lake contains a variety of sportfish for anglers, and the area is home to a large variety of birds and wildlife including elk, deer, and a ton of waterfowl. After you’ve had your fill of this high-country paradise, might as well roll on to the next stop, Lyman Lake State Park.
The drive from Fool Hollow to Lyman Lake State Park is full of amazing Arizona scenery. Escudilla Mountain looms in the distance, and at nearly 11,000 feet is one of Arizona’s highest peaks. You’ll drive through stands of ponderosa pines, broken country with junipers and yellow grass, and of course, you’ll experience the plains country. Along the way, keep an eye out for wildlife. Pronghorn antelope are right at home in the open plains country. Their white rump and underside can be seen from quite a distance which gives travelers a chance to pull over safely to admire these noble creatures of the plains.
After arriving at Lyman Lake State Park, most visitors instantly realize just how big the lake is! At over 1,500 acres, the possibilities abound with recreation potential. Into boating? Well, there’s no motor restrictions here…Adrenaline seekers are invited to open the throttle and enjoy wakeboarding, water skiing, or just exploring with the wind and lake mist in your face. If you’re into a little slower paced recreation, there’s plenty of that to go around too. Lyman is one of Arizona’s best walleye fishing destinations, there’s a solid population of largemouth bass, the catfish are typically willing to bite, and carp are everywhere. While you’re fishing, relaxing at your lakeside camp (or cabin) you’ll notice the wide-variety of Arizona wildlife here too. Coyotes, mule deer, raccoons, and a large variety of birds will keep you entertained.
The historical aspect of this park is also well defined and a variety of trails lead to numerous petroglyphs throughout the park and give visitors a glimpse into the past. It’s so cool to stand in the same place, and experience very similar views that people also encountered long ago.
A road trip through northern Arizona will expose travelers to a variety of beautiful sights and experiences that fuel a lifetime of memories. There’s just so many ways to recreate that nearly everyone can find a way to let Arizona instill a bit of wonder into any road trip. We’re just happy you’re here, so let the parks be your guide to great times on your Grand Canyon State adventure!