Family-Friendly Road Trip Through Southern Arizona
Adventure & Storyteller
Arizona’s Natural History
Start / End
Saguaro National Park, Chiricahua National Monument, Ramsey Canyon Nature Preserve, Coronado National Memorial, Kartchner Caverns State Park
183 miles / 295 km
At least four
Take five days to explore the lesser-traveled side of Arizona, from Tucson to Sierra Vista and everywhere in between. You’ll get to see the area’s biggest highlights, like Saguaro National Park and Chiricahua National Monument, while discovering your own adventures in regions that aren’t as well known. Meet a javelina in Ramsey Canyon, shoot paintballs at a farmstead, and make history interesting at a series of engaging museums. This trip will go down in the memory books for years to come!
This week-long journey is built for the family who loves to explore. You’ll want to focus on seeing and doing as much as possible, and not on doing laundry or having to purchase any essentials that were left at home. Plan ahead and pack technical layers for the whole family, which can double as breathable sun protection and added warmth. Rain jackets, sunblock, hats, and reusable water bottles are always a good idea. Hiking boots, and poles if desired, will round out the perfect packing list.
The adventure begins immediately upon arrival in Tucson, Arizona! Depending on how much time you have this afternoon, pile into the rental car and head directly to Saguaro National Park. It’s here that the photogenic saguaro cactus, which only grows naturally in Arizona, is found. These stately giants can reach up to 40 feet high, and are the largest cactus in the United States! Pick your entrance to the park: both the east and west sides are under an hour from the airport and feature a number of scenic hikes. Otherwise, if you’re short on time, the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum offers two miles of hiking trails through 16 individual desert botanical gardens as well as a 98-acre zoo that features animals of the desert—a beautiful introduction to your time in the desert.
That evening, discover the unique flavors of Arizona at one of Tucson’s many restaurants. In fact, Tucson is a UNESCO City of Gastronomy thanks to its agricultural roots dating back 4,000 years. If you’re traveling with adventurous eaters, they will delight in sampling cactus and chili-forward dishes while in the city. More of the mac-and-cheese type? Rest assured, there will be a restaurant that fits the bill for the whole family. Afterwards, get a good night’s rest in one of Tucson’s many lodging choices before hitting the road in the morning.
39 MINUTES – 42 MILES / 67.6 KM
The following morning, rally the family for a hearty breakfast downtown. Then, it’s off to the small town of Benson for a walking tour of one of the most impressive collections of murals in the west. Here, tucked into alleyways and unexpected storefronts, almost 40 murals, (with hidden easter eggs) bring the streets to life.
After taking photos with the colorful trains and charismatic cowboys, continue to the Amerind Museum in Dragoon. This one-of-a-kind destination is also a great place to have a picnic lunch! Spend a few hours discovering a variety of Native American exhibits that will capture the attention and imagination of kids and adults alike. Then, head outside. Kids can run amok in the small field before tucking into lunch at a picnic table, surrounded by massive granite boulders.
LATE AFTERNOON / EVENING
Only 30 minutes further east is Tirrito Farm, a newly-opened farmstead featuring a restaurant, brewery, milk dairy, and paintball course. This is an excellent place to burn off some energy in the thin air at 4,200 feet! Meet the farm animals, let the siblings chase each other around on the paintball course, and tumble exhausted into the restaurant for some wings and pizza afterward. That night, catch some shut eye at the family-friendly Arizona Sunset Inn or another local spot.
37 MINUTES – 34.4 MILES / 55.4 KM
On day three, prepare for the ultimate outdoor excursion at Chiricahua National Monument. Known as a “Wonderland of Rocks,” it’s easy to see why. The landscape is dominated by strange, Dr. Seuss-inspired rocks—known as hoodoos—that are actually the result of a volcanic eruption that happened 27 million years ago. Historically, the Chiricahua Apache called this area home. Today, visitors can hike 17 miles of trails that traipse through the balancing rocks with stunning views around every corner. You may also want to stop by Faraway Ranch, an original homestead that serves as a time capsule for this unique monument.
If time permits, that afternoon you may be interested in traveling to the John Slaughter Ranch Museum located right on the Mexican border. A National Historic Landmark, this was once the home of John Slaughter, Cochise County Sheriff from 1887 to 1890. It serves as a living monument to what life was like back in the rough-and-tumble west and is a can’t-miss for history buffs.
That evening, get settled into the Gadsden Hotel in downtown Douglas. This opulent hotel has gorgeous stained-glass windows and a grand marble staircase in the lobby with a chip in it purportedly from the hoof of Pancho Villa’s horse! Dinner at 333 Cafe Restaurant and Bar will fill all hungry bellies before a night of sweet dreams in one of the historic suites.
31 MINUTES – 26.6 MILES / 42.8 KM
The next morning, journey west to the historic mining town of Bisbee — at one time, the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco. First, get your bearings on a Lavender Jeep Tour. These open-air trips take you up and down the windy streets of Bisbee while sharing stories and lore about the passing scenery. Trust us: this is one of the best ways to explore the town without having to navigate its narrow roads yourself.
That afternoon, pursue the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum and marvel at just how little has changed since the boomtown days. Then, it’s time to truly immerse yourself in Bisbee’s history with a ride underground at the Queen Mine. Not for the faint of heart, you’ll journey 1,500 feet into the mine and learn just what it was like to go to work here every day. Retired miners lead the tours for a truly authentic look at this way of life.
Afterwards, pull up a seat at the Bisbee staple, Cafe Roka. With a focus on locally sourced and seasonal ingredients, this restaurant is a real crowd-pleaser for a multitude of taste buds! Then, if the group has energy for one more activity, the Bisbee Ghost Tour will have everyone on their toes. Their website has helpful “fear meters” to determine which tour is right for your crew. Even if you’re a non-believer, the walking tour is a great way to stroll around Bisbee and hear stories about its past.
HEREFORD / SIERRA VISTA/ BENSON
36 MINUTES – 29 MILES / 46.6 KM
On the final day of your family road trip through Southern Arizona, the great outdoors takes center stage. Select from a variety of options around nearby Sierra Vista: hiking Coronado National Memorial or Ramsey Canyon Nature Preserve, or birding at Ash Canyon Bird Sanctuary.
Those who are curious for panoramic views into Mexico should select Coronado National Memorial. In fact, there is also a cave here that you can explore without a guide. (Don’t forget to pack a flashlight or two!) Alternatively, families who are intrigued by Southern Arizona’s world-famous bird watching will want to stop at Ash Canyon Bird Sanctuary, where visitors can quietly enjoy feathered friends in a garden-type setting. And finally, those who want to combine both birding and hiking should drive to nearby Ramsey Canyon Nature Preserve, where (an abbreviated version of) the Hamburg Trail makes a great out-and-back.
That afternoon, stop by one of Sierra Vista’s diverse restaurants to refuel. 142 Street Tacos, Angry German, or Indochine are all delicious options. Then, journey to Kartchner Caverns State Park. Conveniently located on the way back to Tucson, this is undoubtedly one of the most impressive live caverns in the world. Kids and parents will be in awe during the entirety of the tour, and afterwards the Discovery Center–featuring information about resident bats–is not to miss! Afterward, reluctantly continue on toward Tucson to catch your flight home.