Day trips for everyone

June 3, 2009

The only three day weekend we have other than the Fourth of July isn’t until after school starts, so here are some day trips you, your family and friends will enjoy. Children will find these excursions interesting!

Public Lands Information Center is a great resource. You’ll find information about scenic drives, campgrounds, parks and monuments, historical-cultural sites, lakes and reservoirs, wilderness areas, wildlife refuges and national and historic trails. Visit

Saguaro Lake Recreation
Saguaro Lake is a very scenic recreation area only 41 miles from Phoenix and 15 miles from Fountain Hills, Arizona. Boating, fishing, picnicking and hiking are available at Saguaro Lake.

Boating: You can rent a motorboat, fishing boat or pontoon boat, or take a relaxing Desert Belle Paddleboat tour. There are marinas where you can rent slips for your own boat.

Desert Belle Paddleboat Tour: A 90-minute narrated cruise where you'll see towering canyon walls, dramatic desert vistas, and exotic Arizona wildlife. Desert Belle has been plowing the waters of Saguaro Lake for over forty years. Private charters are available.

Saguaro Lake Ranch: On the other side of the dam as the Salt River continues, is a beautiful ranch which once served as a residence and chow hall for workers building the dam. You can stay at a cabin, sit around the 4 sided fireplace, swim in the pool, go horse-back riding or enjoy the birds and wildlife along the river.

Fishing: Rainbow Trout, Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, Yellow Bass, Crappie, Sunfish, Channel Catfish and Walleye.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park
Lake Pleasant Regional Park is just north of Phoenix. The large lake recreation area offers recreational opportunities such as camping, boating, fishing, swimming, hiking, picnicking, and wildlife viewing.

The park covers a total of over 23,000 acres of desert. The park has a visitors' center that provides information regarding the history of the lake, the construction of the Waddell Dam and the surrounding areas. Frequent special events are hosted by the park.

Entrance Fees and Hours: $6 per car; $1 to walk into the park or bike in. Annual passes are available. (Waived for those renting camp sites). Hours: Open every day. General Park Hours are Sunday – Thursday: 6 a.m. – 8 p.m., Friday –Saturday: 6 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Camping: Camping fees run from $10 to $30 per night depending on the facilities. You can tent camp along the shore or find a developed RV site. All camp sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Fishing: Largemouth Bass, White Bass, Striped Bass, Crappie, Sunfish, Catfish (Channel), Tilapia, Carp, Buffalo fish. An Arizona fishing license is required.

Boating: Lake Pleasant Regional Park offers two boat launching ramps: 4-lane and 10-lane. Both ramps have restroom facilities, paved parking lots, and are functional to a water elevation of 1,600 feet. The 10-lane parking area allows for 480 vehicles, 355 vehicles with trailers, and 124 cars. The 4-lane ramp is located at the north end of the lake with parking for 112 vehicles with boat trailers.

The Lake Pleasant Harbor Marina is a full-service marina with docking facilities and rentals. Scorpion Bay Marina also rents slips and has boat rentals available.

Hiking: Lake Pleasant Regional Park offers over four miles of trails for pedestrian use only. Park trails range in length from .5 mile to 2 miles and moderate in difficulty.

The Pipeline Canyon Trail is the main hiking trail. A floating bridge has been installed to connect the two sections of the trail during high water levels.

Swimming and Diving: Lake Pleasant is one of the major places to scuba dive in Arizona. There are clubs that dive there and boat excursions. Swimming is at your own risk: No lifeguards. You can water-ski and enjoy kite-boarding.

Consider horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking and off-roading. Take a picnic lunch or dinner and head for a picnic area. The park is open until 10 p.m. on weekends.

The Verde Canyon Railroad
The Verde Canyon Railroad of Arizona was originally built to support Arizona's richest copper mine, located in Jerome. Now visitors enjoy the Verde Canyon Railway excursions to enjoy a leisurely trip, view the natural surroundings and participate in special events.
Train Trip Options: The Verde Canyon Railroad offers a 4 hour, out and back, train excursion along the beautiful Verde River. They also offer numerous special events including Easter Bunny and Christmas trips, Mystery Trips, Wine Tasting (Grape Escape) trips and, for you chocoholics, the Chocolate Lover's Festival in February. This summer, there are moonlight trips where you travel out during the sunset and back under starry skies.

The Verde Canyon Railroad offers first class cars with couch seating, tables, personal service from an extensive bar and a snack buffet. The coach class cars are typical of railroad travel from the 30s and 40s with row seating and no tables. Both classes of travel can access the open air observation cars. Ask about discounts for AAA, etc.

What You Will See: You'll enjoy a narrated trip pointing out historic sights including Sinagua Indian cliff dwellings, remnants of Arizona's mining days, wildlife including eagles, javelina and deer, beautiful canyons with sheer cliffs, and the ever-present lush Verde River. Thrills included watching the train go over a trestle, going through a tunnel and stopping to marvel at a deep river canyon.

Packages: Inquire about "Room, Ride & Meal" packages which include a stay in local motels and inns.

At the Depot: As you wait at the Depot for your train trip, you can peruse the gift shop, have a meal, enjoy the stationary "Museum Car," and take pictures.

Montezuma’s Castle and Tuzigoot Historic Sites
About one and a half hours north of Phoenix are two National Monuments well worth a day trip.

Montezuma Castle stands in a cliff recess a hundred feet above the Verde Valley. It was five-story a 20-room dwelling built by the peaceful Sinagua farmers in the 12th century. This area overlooked fertile fields where they grew corn, beans squash and cotton. Nearby, a creek provided them with a reliable source of water. This location also provided some safety from potentially dangerous visitors.

Montezuma Castle was so securely built that it is now one of the best preserved prehistoric structures in the Southwest. Nearby one can also see some of the remaining ruins from an additional six-story 45-room dwelling which was built at the base of the cliff.

Tuzigoot is an Apache word meaning "crooked water." Tuzigoot is a remnant of a Sinaguan village built above the Verde Valley before 1400. Visitors are invited to walk in and around Tuzigoot to try to imagine the daily life of the Sinagua who farmed, hunted and created pottery and artwork in this area hundreds of years ago.

In addition to Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot, Montezuma Well is open to the public for visits. The well is a limestone sink formed hundreds of years ago. The local inhabitants of the era used the waters from the well to irrigate their crops. Remains of pithouses are here, as well as petroglyphs which can be viewed only certain days of the week. Contact the National Park Service for the schedule.

Both Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot are managed by the National Park Service, and there is small fee for entry. Both monuments are very interesting. No food is available so bring food and drinks. There is a picnic area at Montezuma Castle. If visiting in the spring and summer, you’ll need protection from the sun. For more information about Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot call 520-567-3322.

Directions from Phoenix to Montezuma Castle: take I-17 north to Exit 289. Follow the signs 3 miles to the Visitor Center parking lot. From there, to get to Tuzigoot, go back to I-17 to the 260 cutoff toward Cottonwood. Take 279, the old road through Cottonwood, to Clarkdale and follow the signs to Tuzigoot.

Apache Trail Scenic Drive
A drive on the Apache Trail is one of the most scenic drives near the Phoenix area.
Take U.S. 60 east all the way to Apache Junction to the cutoff for AZ 88/Idaho Road. AZ 88 is the Apache Trail, but first you have to drive through a bit of Apache Junction to get to the fun part.

There are many stops that can be made along the way. Your trip on the Apache Trail might take 2 hours, or it might take 7 hours or longer. It just depends on the route you take, and how many stops you make! You are driving in the Superstition wilderness area, home of the Lost Dutchman State Park, and a part of Arizona known historically for mining. Shortly after turning onto AZ 88, you'll come upon Goldfield Ghost Town.

There are scenic stops all along the Apache Trail, and some have paved parking lots, visitor information, paths, and rest rooms. There are places all along the road where there is enough room to pull to the side and take photos.

Canyon Lake is about 15 miles from where AZ 88, the Apache Trail, begins. The road is winding, but fully paved. Bring your camera. When you reach Tortilla Flat, get some ice cream, and walk around this little town or have a leisurely lunch.

Grand Canyon
A Short Visit to the South Rim: If you plan to go to the Grand Canyon for just the day, you can get in at least 4 or 5 hours before heading back home. This, of course, assumes you leave early and prepare for a long, tiring day.

Getting There: It takes about 4 hours to get to the Grand Canyon, with one or two short stops along the way. Take I-17 North to I-40. Take I-40 west to Highway 64. Take Highway 64 north directly to the South Rim.

When you pay your entrance fee or show your pass, you will be given a receipt, a glossy brochure about the Grand Canyon and a Visitor's Guide that looks like a newspaper. This includes information about parking lots, bus routes and South Rim view points.

Inside the Park: Once you are inside the park, you will have to decide if you will drive to various parking lots and walk to some of the rim view points, or park in one place and take the shuttle bus. Or you might do a combination of the two! Your decision might be based upon how crowded the area is that day. In the case of a busy day, it might be best to find one central place to park (there are several parking lots) and use the park's free shuttles for your park visit. There are five parking lots.

People have a tendency to stop at the very first point at the Visitor Center, which is crowded. Try Parking at Lot D to be close to most of the things you will want and need.