In the Verde Valley – a lush region in central Arizona – autumn is a particularly vibrant season. From fall colors to historical sites to the vineyards that line the Verde River, the Verde Valley’s striking scenery and moderate fall temperatures makes this worthy of a road trip
For travelers seeking a dynamic autumn adventure, here are ten reasons to road trip around the Verde Valley:
1. Stunning state parks. The Verde Valley is home to a variety of state parks that preserve the region’s profound natural beauty and provide havens for outdoor enthusiasts. One of the most famous is Slide Rock State Park in Sedona’s Oak Creek Canyon. In the fall, the trees that fill the canyon erupt into shades of crimson, amber, and deep green. Adding to the fall spirit is the park’s apple orchard, which was planted in 1912 and is still cared for by park rangers.
Red Rock State Park is a 286-acre nature preserve that encompasses trails, verdant meadows, and a riparian habitat teeming with plants and wildlife along the banks of Oak Creek. As the name suggests, the park is also an excellent place for viewing the awe-inspiring red rock formations for which Sedona is known. Hikers, mountain bikers, campers, and horseback riders will enjoy exploring this nature preserve amidst the comfortable fall weather.
Dead Horse Ranch State Park is across the Verde River from the town of Cottonwood. The property contains over 20 miles of trails, 3 lagoons – making it a beautiful place to truly explore the natural environment of the Verde Valley.
2. Charming small towns. Outside the sprawling metropolis of Phoenix, Arizona is dotted with historic small towns. Cottonwood and Clarkdale are two such towns. The small but bustling walkable center of Old Town Cottonwood is packed with an eclectic collection of restaurants, art galleries, antique shops, and tasting rooms where visitors can sample the wines produced along the Verde River.
Clarkdale was founded in 1912 as a home for the miners of nearby Jerome and their families. It is the home of the Arizona Copper Art Museum, as well as a plethora of historic buildings and houses from the turn of the twentieth century.
3. The Red Rock Scenic Byway. Beginning just off of I-17, this seven-and-a-half mile stretch of road traverses the spectacular scenery of the red rocks leading into Sedona. As the byway winds through the Village of Oak Creek and through the evergreen piñons of the Coconino National Forest, it offers several pull-offs and scenic viewpoints from which travelers can marvel at the landscape. Famous sites like the Chapel of the Holy Cross and Sedona’s famous vortexes at Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock are also located along this road. The Red Rock Scenic Byway has been deemed “Arizona’s First All-American Road,” indicating that it is uniquely American and considered a destination in itself.
4. Wineries and Vineyards. Thanks to the region’s sunshine, temperate climate, and location along the banks of the Verde River, the Verde Valley is home to several award-winning vineyards and wineries. Founded by hands-on winemakers who are passionate about developing this vibrant new wine region, these vineyards produce exquisite varietals to suit any palate. With tasting rooms and restaurants this is a must do on a Verde Valley road trip.
5. Historical Heritage Sites. Built by the Sinagua peoples, who were ancestors of the Hopi, the Palatki and Honanki Heritage Sites were the largest cliff dwellings in the area when they were inhabited between 1150 and 1350 A.D. These fascinating remains are just minutes from Sedona. The Palatki Heritage Site includes three trails: one that leads to the cliff dwellings, one that takes visitors to a view of the dwelling, and one leading to pictographs created by the various groups of indigenous peoples that occupied the Verde Valley. As one of the most well-preserved cliff dwellings in Arizona, the five-story, 20-room is not to be missed!
Montezuma Castle is an impressive testament to the ingenuity of the Sinagua peoples. After admiring the structure, visitors can journey to the nearby Montezuma Well, which was an underground cavern that collapsed and filled with water. At 55 feet deep and 368 feet wide, the well is a lush desert oasis and a fascinating ecosystem that hosts a variety of rare plants, animals, and insects.
6. Haunting Jerome. Located on a hilltop at 5,200 feet elevation, the tiny town of Jerome towers above the Verde Valley, offering stunning views and a tapestry of color during the fall. This historic copper mining town was founded in 1876 and was once the fourth largest city in what is now Arizona. However, after World War II, demand for copper plummeted, and Jerome’s population decreased from 15,000 to under 100. It has since been dubbed the “Largest Ghost Town in America,” attracting many purveyors of the paranormal with ghost tours and allegedly haunted destinations like the Jerome Grand Hotel (a former hospital). Jerome is now a thriving artist community, with galleries, restaurants (try the Asylum – it’s eerily good), and hotels inhabiting the town’s nineteenth-century buildings.
7. Grand Canyon. Although the Grand Canyon is not located in the Verde Valley, this majestic natural wonder is less than two hours away. Tourist season at the Canyon peaks during the summer, and by fall, visitors will be able to enjoy its splendor with fewer crowds and cooler weather. Temperatures during the fall range hover around the 70s, perfect for exploring the trails, shops and sights.
8. Adventures on the Verde Canyon Railroad. The Verde Canyon Railroad launches from Clarkdale into the wilderness of the remote Verde Canyon, where Arizona’s beautiful high desert meets the pristine riparian. Passengers enjoy a close-up view of the canyon’s stunning vistas of raw unspoiled nature. The Railroad offers a variety of special rides, such as the Sedona Fall Colors Tour, Starlight Tour, Wild Splendor, and Ales on Rails.
9. The Verde River. Park your car and take a trip down the Verde River. A diverse landscape surrounds this clear spring-fed river. Tour companies offer a variety of canoe, kayak and paddle board tours – perfect for exploring the river and its bounty. The fishing is excellent, stocked with rainbow trout, large mouth bass, crayfish, sunfish, channel catfish and more.
10. Sedona. The small city of Sedona has long attracted tourists with its landscape of towering red rock formations and numerous opportunities for hiking and outdoor exploration. Spiritual gurus are drawn to the area’s vortexes (sites where the strength of the earth’s energy is believed to promote healing and renewal). In recent years, Sedona’s arts scene has grown exponentially, leading The New York Times to call the city “a new west enclave of galleries.” From painting to sculpting to jewelry making, several different mediums of amazing artwork are represented at Sedona’s many galleries and art festivals. Dining in Sedona is as eclectic as the art and as diverse as the landscape!
Sedona is a must-see destination on any road trip through the Verde Valley, and El Portal Sedona Hotel offers an ideal “home” for experiencing all that the city and the surrounding area have to offer. Located within walking distance of uptown Sedona and Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village, El Portal offers a unique lodging experience for guests and their pets. El Portal is a AAA Four Diamond Hotel, a recipient of TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence Award, and has been named one of the best hotels in the Southwest by Condé Nast Traveler. The pet friendly hotel offers guests and their canine companions unpretentious luxury in a serene setting.