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Short Trips to Scenic Drives

Merkin Vinyards Tasting Room Scottsdale

Credit: Scenic Drives by John-Weatherby

Venture off the beaten path to take in Arizona's diverse topography.

Many of the Grand Canyon State's most interesting and beautiful roadways unwind after a short detour off the busier roads and highways. So take the exit ramp to experience some of Arizona's scenic drives and byways.

Click names below for full description.

Red Rock Scenic Byway

Officially Arizona Highway 179, this byway is only 14.5 miles long. But you could spend a whole day exploring the spectacular red rock formations, shops, galleries, restaurants and other attractions that line this link between Interstate 17 and Sedona.

Get oriented at the Red Rock Ranger District Visitor Center. Then head to the Village of Oak Creek (about five miles south of Sedona) to pick up picnic supplies on the way to Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte. These two beloved and much-photographed landmarks are ringed by hiking and biking trails.

Returning to Sedona, sculptor Marguerite Brunswig Staude's Chapel of the Holy Cross is a meditative and powerful retreat, with windows framing buttes and rock outcroppings. At the northern end of the drive, stroll around Tlaquepaque, an architecturally authentic Spanish Colonial village that houses galleries, retailers and restaurants.

Road tip: A Red Rock Pass ($5/day) is required for vehicles parked on National Forest land around Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon. If you plan to park and explore on foot, pick up a pass and display it on the dash of your vehicle or RV.

Apache Trail Historic Road

On this winding 41.5-mile road, just off U.S. Highway 60 near Greater Phoenix, designate a driver to keep their eyes on curves and hairpin turns while passengers "ooh" and "ahh" over the lakes, desert mountains, and canyons in Tonto National Forest's wilderness areas.

Part paved and part well-graded gravel, the road, Arizona Highway 88 was an old stagecoach route that shuttled in supplies for Roosevelt Dam's construction in the early 1900s. It begins near Goldfield Ghost Town, a re-created Wild West town, complete with gunslingers. You'll pass Canyon Lake, where you can cruise on the Dolly Steamboat.

Road tip: Due to its narrow width and tight turns, this route is not recommended for large vehicles, such as RVs or trucks with trailers.

Sonoita to Patagonia

Starting near Vail on Interstate 10, pick up this 52-mile drive south on State Route 83 through the Santa Cruz River Basin of southeastern Arizona.

In Sonoita, visit the nearby wineries of Arizona's burgeoning wine country. For lunch, drop by The Cafe, a quaint spot for creative local cuisine. Then connect back with State Route 82 heading south and watch the landscape morph from rolling grasslands to cottonwood stands and juniper forests.

In Patagonia, wander the town's charming coffee shops and retailers. Or bring your binoculars to spot wildlife at the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, one of the most popular birding spots in the U.S., home to more than 300 species of birds. Keep the fun going with a visit to the Patagonia Lake State Park where visitors hike, swim, fish and camp, all while taking in the lush landscape of the surrounding hills.

Road tip: Embark on this road trip March and April to see the wildflowers in full bloom.

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