An Epic Arizona Family Road Trip: Scottsdale, Sedona, the Grand Canyon

I-17- epic Arizona family road trip

Why plan a road trip through Arizona?

I’ve ventured to Arizona with kids, without kids, and even with a kid in my belly!  There’s a reason I’ve returned over and over — it’s filled with spectacularly unique scenery, delicious food, plenty of reliable sunshine, and countless family friendly activities.  If you’re a lover of the outdoors, this is your mecca.  If your kids love playing outside, this is their playground for the next week.  And alas, if you’re thinking, “How will I get my children to look up from their devices?”  Well, if all else fails there are stretches of I-17 highway with no cell service.  And when that cell phone free moment strikes, all eyes will easily fall on the Red Rock Carpet stretched out before you.  Nature is ready to start it’s up-close geology lesson.  Get ready for an epic Arizona family road trip that will take your crew traversing through Arizona’s sunny state.

red rock drive- epic Arizona family road trip
Views from Red Rock Canyon Loop
Photo courtesy of Google Maps

What can you expect to see and do along the way?  This is not a road trip you’ll want to rush.  If you’re flying into Phoenix, kick off your adventure in one of the luxurious resorts in Scottsdale.  Spend a few days soaking in the sun, relaxing by the pool, and hiking the desert mountains for views of the valley below. 

After your kids have had a couple of days exhausting themselves playing in the pool, head north for a 2 hour drive to Sedona.  You’ll exit I-17 and hop on what’s known as the most scenic drive in the state: the Red Rock Scenic Byway (I-179).  When you arrive in Sedona, don’t be surprised if you and your kids feel the immediate itch to start exploring this new world.  Lucky for you, in Sedona there isn’t just hiking, there’s…HIKING!  In fact, there are over 200 trails that wind along the glowing red rocks, and through the famous mystical vortex energy centers.  Or, hop in one of the off-road Pink Jeeps that crawl and climb through the national parks.  End it all with a feast of the best Mexican food you’ll find north of Mexico.  

A few days later, jump in the car and head north for your last 2 hour stretch, where the road ultimately crescendos into the panoramic vistas of the Grand Canyon.  You’ll want to give Earth a round of applause when you reach the finish line!

family on hike vista trail Sedona

You can read my detailed Sedona and Scottsdale destination guide here, but get ready for my road trip hot-list below.

Stop 1: Family Friendly Things to Do in Phoenix/Scottsdale (2-3 days)

four seasons scottsdale patio Arizona family road trip
  • Stay: Four Seasons Scottsdale perfectly balances luxury living with a family friendly atmosphere and vibe.  There are three distinctly different pools available — kiddie, family, and adults only.  It’s also a stone’s throw away from great hiking and a variety of excellent restaurants.  Other popular 5-star family options include the Fairmont Princess, and The Phoneician.  They both feature large welcoming pools, some of the best spa facilities I’ve ever visited, and private golf courses. 
  • Hiking: If you’re ready to immediately head outdoors and enjoy the scenery, then Scottsdale will not disappoint.  Pinnacle Peak hiking trail is perfect for every skill level and age. You’ll cross paths with hard-core runners, leisurely walkers, and plenty of kids chasing each other.  They even have storybook signs posted along the trail for your little ones to read as they go.  If you’re traveling with older kids interested in a more challenging hiking adventure, then head over to Camelback Mountain or Tom’s Thumb. .   
Scottsdale Pinnacle Peak- epic Arizona family road trip
  • Education and Nature:  The Children’s Museum of Phoenix has just about anything your kid’s imagination can think of: gigantic forts, flying bathtubs, art studios, pretend markets for shopping, reading lofts, and life size building blocks.  Next, head to the Arizona Science Center for hands-on learning activities.  Experience the hurricane simulation, or take a stroll through a human stomach.  If you prefer to spend some time outside, then check out the Phoenix Zoo, which has over 1,400 animals! These activities are best suited for kids age 2-12.
  • Eat:  Phoenix has plenty of family friendly restaurants to choose from.  Proof has delicious American comfort food, with favorite dishes like lobster rolls and fresh fish tacos.  It’s located in the Four Seasons Scottsdale, and has a lively modern Western vibe.  La Hacienda wins my vote for best Mexican in Scottsdale.  Go ahead and order a double round of guac right away — the kids will demolish the first one in no time.  Lastly, Pizzeria Bianco features artisanal pizza creations from James Beard Award winner, Chef Chris Bianco.  

Looking for more details and tips? Don’t forget to check out my Scottsdale hotel, restaurant, and activity guide here!

Stop 2: Family Friendly Things to Do in Sedona (4-5 days)

enchantment resort - epic family road trip Arizona
Boynton Canyon - arizona epic family road trip
  • Stay: If you’re spending a few days in Sedona, Enchantment Resort should be your family friendly hotel choice.  Nestled in the Boynton Canyon, the resort has stunning views of the red rocks, which start glowing at sunset!  It’s easy to just plop by the pool for a few days, or take advantage of the many on-site activities like tennis, golf, and the spa.  The casita class rooms have connecting rooms with kitchens, living areas, and outdoor patios.  There is also access to your laundry facilities to rinse off the red rock dust at the end of the day!  Lastly, the hotel is close to plenty of walking trails, and only a 15 minute drive from Sedona’s Main Street. 
soldiers pass hike - epic Arizona family road trips
View from Soldier’s Pass/Brins Mesa Hike

cathedral rock from crescent moon park
Crescent Moon Park
  • Hiking:  It’s impossible to give a run-down on each and every trail in Sedona.  Luckily, with over 200 options, it’s hard to go wrong.  Plan to give your family a few days to really explore the land.  My favorite hike through the red rocks is Soldier’s Pass.  It’s challenging, and best to do if traveling with older kids, but the views make every “hmmm” and “haaaa” worth it.  For an easier walking trail, take the kids to Crescent Moon Park to play in the stream.  Pack a picnic dinner and take in the views of Cathedral Rock, one of the most photographed views in all of Sedona.  Some other family-favorite spots include Sliding Rock Park and West Fork Trail, which are located along I-77 on your way north to the Grand Canyon.  I also recommend the Vista Trail for hotel guests at Enchantment Resort.  It’s a quick 20 minute hike to the top, easy to do with kids, and has rolling panoramic views of Boynton Canyon.
father and daughter at crescent moon park
Crescent Moon Park with views of Cathedral Rock
  • Other outdoor family activities:  Book a Pink Jeep Tour to take your road trip off-road for an afternoon.  Hold onto your camera on the Broken Arrow Tour, which dips and dives over the red rock crevices.  You’ll be rewarded with views not accessible to the average hiker. Another option is to check out the famous mystical vortexes.  Vortexes are thought to be areas of spiritual energy, and played a significant role in Native American cultures.  Today, people travel from all over the world to experience guided meditation, yoga, and prayer in these spiritual energy pockets. 
Pink Jeep tour - epic Arizona road trip
  • Eat:  Elote Cafe deserves its reputation of being one of the most popular Mexican restaurants in the state.  Show up early, prepare to stand in line, and trust that it’s worth the wait (Tip: arrive at 4:30pm to wait for a table).  Mariposa, a delicious Latin inspired restaurant, has unforgettable views of the red rocks.  Let the kids run around on the spacious green lawn while you wait for a table, and then dive into your order of homemade empanadas.  Thai Spices is informal and family friendly, but bold in flavors and generous in portion sizes.  If you love Thai food, and need to switch up the cuisine style, then head here for some Red Curry and Pad See-Ew.  If you’re craving some fresh, healthy lighter fare, check out Local Juicery for smoothies, acai bowls, salads, and toasts.  It’s also a great option if you need lunch on the go, or a hiking snack.  Lastly, Tamaliza is a “honey pull over” quick lunch spot, featuring the best homemade tamales in town. 
elote cafe Sedona sign - epic Arizona road trip
girl having lunch tamaliza - epic Arizona road trip
view from mariposa restaurant
view from Mariposa restaurant

Looking for more details and tips? Don’t forget to check out my Sedona hotel, restaurant, and activity guide here!

Stop 3: Family Friendly Things to Do in the Grand Canyon (1-2 days)

  • Planning tip for accommodations and eating:  It’s entirely do-able to visit the Grand Canyon as a day trip from Sedona.  Total travel time: 2 hours each way.  While the Grand Canyon is one of Earth’s most luxurious sights to see, don’t expect to find 5-star accommodations and chichi restaurants.  Therefore, if luxury is more your cup of tea, then it’s best to make the Enchantment Resort your home base.  Start your day-trip early, and pack a lunch for you and the kids.  If you’d rather stay overnight, then the most popular places to stay in the South Rim area are the El Trovar Hotel, and the Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon.     
  • Check out these views:  Mather Point and Grand Canyon Village both offer stunning shots of the Grand Canyon.  Mather Point is less crowded than the village, and has unobstructed views of the Colorado River 1 mile below!  Pack the family a lunch and head for one of the picnic tables.  After lunch, head to Grand Canyon Village for access to trailheads, some restaurants, museums…and even more overlooks of the canyon.
girl standing next to Grand Canyon - epic Arizona family road trip
  • Hiking at the Grand Canyon:  Hiking in the Grand Canyon is a bit…backwards.  You’ll be walking from top to bottom, which means the strenuous uphill climb isn’t completed when you have more energy earlier in the day.  Keep that in mind as you plan some of your hikes with young kids.  A good option if you have younger kids is the scenic hike from the Visitor’s Center to the start of the Bright Angel Trail.  It has paved paths and you’ll pass many of the attractions like the Geology Museum and the Hopi House.  Another option is the Bright Angel Trail to the Resthouse.  The pathway is wide, easy to maneuver, and you’re able to hike directly down into the canyon.  There aren’t steep drop offs, but it’s a better option to do with older kids, as there aren’t guard rails.  Check out this site for excellent step-by-step hiking tips.  

Want to learn more? Read: The Ultimate Guide to Scottsdale and Sedona

I hope this article has inspired some ideas for your own summer family road trip to Newport, RI. Stay tuned for the last installment of the Best Family Road Trips Series.  If you have any questions, or your own travel tips, please leave them in the comments below.  Also, don’t forget to sign up for the monthly newsletter, packed with travel tips, upcoming news, and access to FREE destination itineraries.

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