Arizona is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful parts of the United States. Located in the heartland of the American Southwest, stunning canyons and sweeping desert landscapes are not hard to find here. The terrain here is so unlike any other part of the continent that it will sometimes feel as though you have not just visited another state but an entirely different planet. Due to the sheer size of Arizona, along with how varied its natural wonders are, sometimes the best way to explore and appreciate the natural beauty of this state is from the safety and comfort of your vehicle.
Chiricahua To Willcox Highway
Skirting along the Cabezas Mountains, this more than 40-mile-long road takes its traveling along a calming and relaxing drive through the surprisingly lush landscape of the Chiricahua National Monument.
Cacti and other desert shrubs will be the most common sight, along with the famous towering stone monoliths in the Chiricahua area. You will even run into the odd patches of evergreen trees as you begin to climb in elevation. Make sure that you visit during either the spring or autumn. The heat is almost unbearable in the summer, and you could be dealing with snow during the winter. Something that even most Arizonans are not accustomed to.
Stretching across northern Arizona, the Kaibab Plateau is primarily made up of empty and unforgiving badlands with not much in the way of plant or animal life. However, this does not mean it is not worth your time.
Traveling along the more desolate and remote parts of this road gives visitors an appreciation for the United States' brutal and unforgiving regions. But even though it is brutal, it is still beautiful. Throughout the road trip, you will be treated with shades of red earth and rocks and colorful sandstone hills in the background.
Sky Island Byway
Winding through the breathtaking Catalina Mountain range, the Sky Island Byway takes travelers through a series of sharp turns and cliffside views, and deep valleys. The elevation of the road will grant you the ability to see into the distance of the nearby deserts for miles.
The road is also equipt with plenty of rest spots and observation areas. Here you can stop for a quick snack, take a closer look at the terrain on foot, or even set up camp and stay there overnight. Thanks to the mountain's elevation, the area's temperature is much cooler than the lowlands. This road should be bearable and relatively easy to drive through, even during the most intense summer heat.
Probably one of the more famous and well-known areas of the already renowned Arizona landscape, the road that passed through Monument Valley is one of the most surreal places on earth.
The road takes you through a collection of gargantuan rock formations that sprout up from the desert floor. These rock structures all vary in their shades of red and brown, making for a one-of-a-kind environment. A trip through Monument Valley will most likely be a trip you will remember for the rest of your life.
Officially known as State Route-88, most people in Arizona reverse to this stretch of road as the Apache Trail. This road was Arizona's first state road, but despite it being the first, there are still substantial sections of it that remain unpaved. So unless you want to call for a tow truck, you might want to leave the BMW and other luxury cars at home.
Do not let the dirt roads stop you from witnessing the amazing beauty that can be seen on this road trip. Since the area receives little to no rainfall throughout the year, things like deep mud are rarely an issue. The most standard truck should be able to traverse their areas without issue. Taking a road trip that is literally "off the beaten" path is a great and unique way to see Arizona.
Grand Canyon South Rim
This list would not be complete without mentioning the famous Grand Canyon. This natural wonder brings millions of tourists each year to Arizona. While many visitors are shuttled in on buses and tours, those who bring their own vehicle can explore the area for themselves.
The Grand Canyon's South Rim route is precisely as it sounds. The road hugs the steep cliffs that descend into the canyon. The views are hard to describe, and words and pictures do not do it justice. It is something that you really need to see for yourself firsthand. There is nothing quite like grabbing some friends, turning on some music, and enjoying the views Mother Nature has provided us.
Oak Creek Canyon
The ride through Oak Creek Canyon is an excellent display of Arizona's diverse and varying environments. Beginning at Flagstaff, travelers will be greeted with a smattering of evergreen forests and loosely packed pine trees doting the surrounding hills.
However, as the journey continues, you will quickly find yourself in a much more "typical" Arizona desert environment. The standout landmark of Oak Creek Canyon is the large rock formations that sit along the desert floor. Much like the towering giants found at Monument Valley, these structures are truly awe-inspiring. The road ends in the small town of Sedona, a quaint and charming place full of helpful locals—the perfect place to stay the night or stop for a quick meal.
Arizona's relative remoteness and beauty make it the perfect place to go for a relaxing drive with friends and family. As the old saying goes, "Sometimes it is not the destination but rather the journey itself." This fact could not be more accurate than in this instance. Winding through the large sandstone spires and red-earth mountains will expose many people to an alien environment. If you have ever wanted to plan a road trip with you and your friends, Arizona should be at the top of your list.