Sunny Arizona is ripe for exploration for adventurous families.
Arizona winters are filled with warm sunshine during the day, giving way to crisp evenings. It’s no wonder that so many travelers decide to spend the majority of the winter months exploring the beautiful deserts of the southwest. Traveling as a family of five in our Airstream, we spent 14 weeks one year wandering from one spot to the next — mountain biking, hiking, visiting National Parks and seeing other quirky sites off the beaten path. Some destinations were average, but others still remain on our list of favorite family adventures.
Here’s a rundown of our top 6 Arizona winter destinations for RV travelers:
1) Chiricahua National Monument
As we travel, we tend to focus on the amazing resources provided by the National Park Service, and we naturally we gravitated towards this lesser-known park in eastern Arizona. Not quite knowing what to expect, we checked into our campsite and then drove up the mountain for a quick view of the surrounding landscape. It was incredible! The entire canyon is dotted with compelling rock hoodoo formations, but instead of being made from red sandstone (like Bryce Canyon National Park), these columns are composed of volcanic ash that is covered in lichen. We spent a long day hiking in the park and were super proud of our young kids for knocking out a big hike. Check out a trip report written by our oldest daughter for more information.
2) Native American Road School Study
If you home school your kids on the road, you’ll discover that Arizona’s rich history of Native American culture makes it a great subject for a unit study. There are a few national Park sites with ruins near Cottonwood, a beautiful site near Roosevelt and the Tonto National Forest, and three near Flagstaff (Walnut Canyon, Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki national monuments). We also tagged on Casa Grande Ruins as we traveled between Tucson and Phoenix, and even managed to end up in a surprising late spring snowstorm in Navajo National Monument near Shonto.
Surprisingly, our kids remained interested throughout the entire experience! Each site was unique — whether it was a cliff dwelling tucked into the side of a mountain or a veritable fortress built on top of a hill. This made it fun to compare and contrast while learning about the different ways these ancient peoples lived.
3) McDowell Mountain Regional Park
Arizona receives plenty of RV travelers every winter, and the regional parks around Phoenix are pretty efficient, clean and well run. One of our favorite spots is McDowell Mountain Regional Park, near Phoenix, with a network of mountain bike trails snaking through the hills. Ranging from easy beginner loops to heart-pounding climbs, there’s something for everyone. The park also has a competitive track and regularly runs races during the winter months. We planned to stay for eight days thinking that would be long enough, but we ended up staying for 18!
4) Lost Dutchman State Park
There is something about the Superstition mountains that still captivates me. While folks generally think of Arizona as a flat desert, this range defies the stereotype. These peaks are rugged and majestic, and paired with a typical desert sunset, they’re also unbelievably gorgeous. There’s a short, 4-mile mountain bike loop around the perimeter that was the perfect introduction for our young kids. For those that are a little more ambitious, the hike to the top of Flat Iron is not to be missed. My husband and I left before sunrise one morning to tackle the trail hoping to beat the crowds. The trail climbed slowly for the first mile and then we ended up rock scrambling to the top. The view was spectacular, and I loved getting our workout done first thing.
5) The Sonoran Desert Museum in Tucson
I went back and forth about visiting the Sonoran Desert Museum for a few days before committing to taking our three kids. We had heard good things (even amazing things) from friends and online reviews, but traveling full-time makes us slightly snobbish when it comes to tourist attractions. You start thinking things like, “Is this going to be better than ‘X’? We just did ‘Y ‘so maybe we don’t need to do this one too.” Happily, the museum didn’t disappoint in the slightest.
At this point in our travels, I had fallen deeply in love with cactus and immensely enjoyed our stroll through the cactus garden to see the spindly plants in all their beautiful varieties. As various raptors glide over our heads during a bird show, we spotted javelina in the shadow of palo verde and observed a coyote snoozing in the shade.
This museum is definitely worth a visit!
6) The Queen Mine Tour & Bisbee
Bisbee is a quirky, out-of-the-way town near the southern border. Every time we end up in a place like this, I stop and wonder how or why people chose to live there. I imagine what people do for a living and maybe what a typical day would include. Bisbee is a mining town, and the surrounding landscape reflects it. The town itself is a maze of stairs, hills, buildings and a cacophony of colors. The town is worth an afternoon (or two) of exploring, but our main stop was a tour of the Queen Mine.
With reservations in hand, we arrived at the mine ready to go. We each were fitted into a raincoat, leather belt, hard hat and lights. Once dressed appropriately, we were loaded onto small mining cars, which rolled into the dark recesses of the mine. Our guide shared a wealth of information and the kids, especially, loved learning about the mining process. We felt the tour was a great balance of authentic experience while also completely safe for visitors.
While there are many more places to explore in the beautiful Arizona sunshine, these are just a few of our favorites. Because it’s one of the few places to spend winters in a trailer while (mostly) avoiding snow, I’m sure we’ll be back to explore even more.
All photos by the Currens.