Category Archives: arizona

Phoenix/Flagstaff/Sedona

A list of our favorite places in Phoenix, Flagstaff, and Sedona.

Hopefully, our “best of” list will guide you if you’re not sure where to go in Arizona!

Sedona

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Sedona can be a pricey place to stay and eat while enjoying the red rock views. If you have a ton to spend, it can be a luxurious getaway. But, if you are a budget traveler like us, consider the following:

Red Rock Visitor Center and Ranger Station needs to be your first stop when entering Sedona. Not only do they have educational info about the area, but the rangers are incredibly helpful in finding the best trails to explore. If you don’t stop here, you might find yourself stopping at all the crowded trails waiting for people to get out of your way just to take a picture!

Cave Springs Campground and Pine Flat Campground located between Sedona and Flagstaff in the Oak Creek Canyon. Both campgrounds are very shady and have spots along the creek. Good for tent camping and there are no hook-ups available. There are vault toilets at both sites and Cave Springs has coin operated showers. Be sure to make reservations online since they both fill up fast, especially on the weekends!

Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood, only a 30-minute drive from Sedona and away from all the crowds! There is a $7 entrance fee, $15 fee for tent camping and $60/night for camping cabins. We tried out the cabins for a night and loved it! Check out the website for all info on recreation plus it’s also close to Jerome!

My favorite hot dog place in Sedona closed down, so the only recommendation I have for quality food on a budget is Wildflower Bread Company. Since Sedona is a big tourist town, I feel like they lack decent food unless you are willing to spend a ton of money. We usually avoid all of the restaurants on highway 89 because they tend to be overpriced for the quality.

Flagstaff

We had a very memorable hike up to Fisher Point Overlook. The overlook is an intermediate trail that ends at 6, 620 feet where you get an amazing view of the forest. After the overlook, we wandered around the surrounding trails and found beautiful rock formations and caves. It’s also an awesome place to bring your mountain bike if you have one!

After a big hike, I suggest visiting Beaver Street Brewery and Historic Brewing Company. Both places have beer and food. The burgers are awesome at Beaver Street!

Payson

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Near the Tonto Creek Campground is the Horton Creek Hiking Trail. The hike is 7 miles RT but overall an easy trail. At the end of the trail, there is a beautiful gushing creek that is the perfect setting for a picnic.

The Tonto Natural Bridge State Park has the world’s largest natural travertine bridge. It’s a short, but slippery hike that brings you under the bridge and gives an incredible view. Also, a great place to bring the family for a picnic!

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I accidentally forgot my bag with my hiking clothes and shoes! Don’t be like me! This was incredibly slippery in boots.

Beeline Cafe, 815 S Beeline Hwy in Payson is a small diner along the highway that offers big portions, delicious food, and good prices. Great for those of us on a budget, just remember to bring cash!

Phoenix

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Bartlett Lake

There are so many amazing places in Phoenix, I could go on for pages giving recommendations on camping, hikes, things to do, things to eat! Instead of rambling, I’m giving you my top favorites. Use my guide if you get overwhelmed by google and yelp!

Food:

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Butterfield’s Pancake House and Restaurant in Scottsdale is Clayton’s favorite place. They offer a traditional American breakfast with big hearty portions. This seems to be a favorite for locals and snowbirds. Clayton recommends the pancakes, German pancakes, benedicts, and omelets.

Butters Pancakes and Cafe in Scottsdale was more of a favorite for me. It’s a bit more trendy than Butterfield’s and has an assortment of omelets, benedicts, and pancakes with interesting toppings. Avoid the fresh squeezed orange juice if you’re trying to save money!

The Breakfast Joynt in Scottsdale has amazing red velvet waffles. And that is the only thing I’ve ever gotten there!

Spinato’s Pizzeria has the best pizza I have ever had in my life. They have 5 valley locations, so there is bound to be one near you. You have to try Mama Spinato’s Signature Spinach pizza. I would fly to Phoenix just to eat this pizza!! But be warned, some people don’t like it because the sauce tends to be on the sweeter side.

O.H.S.O. Eatery and Nano Brewery has 2 locations and has an amazing happy hour!! They are also extremely dog-friendly. You can find free dog treats and pictures of dogs on the walls. I love grabbing an AZ Burger while having a beer or sangria on the patio. They are also gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan friendly!

Postino has 7 valley locations and is known by locals for their $20 Monday/Tuesday deal. On these days, you can grab a bottle of wine and a bruschetta board for only $20. At Postino’s you can be fun, fancy, and cheap!

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We enjoyed some delicious fish tacos and margaritas at So Cal Fish Taco Company in downtown Gilbert. Their happy hour was incredibly cheap and they have a great patio.

Talking Stick Resort has the most amazing buffet, Wandering Horse Buffet. This is not your ordinary casino buffet. Their food is top notch, especially during dinner. They even have a full on gelato bar! If you have an RV, they also offer free parking so you can fill up on food then go straight to sleep in the parking lot.

Hikes:

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McDowell Mountain Regional Park

McDowell Mountain Regional Park in Scottsdale is a family favorite for us. You can have an easy to difficult hike, all within the same area. Pick your trail, spend however long you want, and enjoy the awesome views of the valley. No fee to enter this park!

Usery Park has the Wind Cave Trail that is an easy hike for those wanting to take in awesome views without taking the whole day.

Camelback Mountain is a favorite for locals and visitors. It can get extremely crowded and parking is incredibly limited. I don’t recommend this one for young children. The crowds plus the steep trails might make parents a bit anxious even if your kid is capable of difficult hikes. Many people have fallen at Camelback and have gotten seriously injured. Also, dogs are not allowed on any trails!

Tom’s Thumb in Scottsdale is a heart pumping hike surrounded by beautiful desert scenery and awesome rock formations. This one is at the top of the list for us!

Spur Cross Ranch Conservation in Cave Creek has tons of trails for hiking or horse back riding. Make sure you bring cash for the entrance fee!

Lakes:

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Bartlett Lake

Lake Pleasant Regional Park located in North Phoenix has beautiful waters to go boating or swimming. It is also home to a ton of wildlife including bald eagles! $6 per vehicle at the gate.

Canyon Lake in Tortilla Flat. This lake is at the top of our list because the scenery is incredible. You will need to purchase a Tonto Pass to spend the day here.

Bartlett Lake in Scottsdale is beautiful and typically less crowded than the other lakes. This is a popular spot to go camping right along the water. You will need to purchase a Tonto Pass to spend the day or night here.

Saguaro Lake in Mesa is a beautiful place to find wild horses. It is also close to the Salt River where most locals float during the summer. A Tonto Pass is also required here.

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Horse traffic jam at Saguaro Lake.

More Fun:

Catch a Spring Training game for as low at $8! It’s an awesome way to spend the day even if you’re not a baseball fan. Spring Training begins the end of February and usually lasts about a month.

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McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park is one of Riley’s favorite places! Catch a ride around the park on their dog-friendly train, hop on the carousel, grab some ice cream, and check our their train museums. It’s a low cost, fun way to spend the day with any train lover in your family. They also have events during the holidays and a summer concert series.

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Arizona is an awesome, diverse state with so much to do! It’s obvious why it’s one of our favorite states to visit. Have fun and comment below if you have any questions.

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Salt River

Earlier this week, my initial plan was to write our next blog post on a spontaneous road trip we took during winter break in 2013. Due to the recent events concerning the wild horses in the Salt River area in Arizona, we felt it would be the appropriate time to share our experiences on the Salt River. This post is in no way meant to be a political rant or anything of that nature, but more so our thoughts and feelings on the recent events and why we feel this way based on our experience.

Per the officials of the Tonto National Forest, the horses pose a safety risk to the public. Due to this concern, the US forest service came up with a plan to “annihilate” the horses by rounding them up and selling them at auction. The notice posted by the officials state that any horse that is unclaimed or not sold at auction will be “…destroyed, or other wise disposed of…”

I feel that the outrage and confusion for all of us opposed to this action is that there are no reports of the horses attacking people. How could fear and assumption that something MIGHT happen someday drive such a drastic move that could kill these animals? One official gave an example about the horses standing near children and how the children could have been hurt. I can’t help but think of how idiotic this logic is. Should we then remove all of the animals out of the wild in order to protect people?

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One view from the river.

 We spent many days and nights at the Salt River either hiking, camping, or floating down the river in our raft. I remember one morning we woke up and heard the horses running by our tent. They never bothered us, they just passed through. There were several occasions while floating down the river that we would pass the horses. Several babies and their mom’s peacefully drinking water and curiously looking at us as we passed by. The older horses, accustomed to the sight of people, always appeared unfazed by our presence.

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The horses taking a dip under the hot sun and taking a look at us.

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The horses had a calm and peaceful demeanor, and as a parent, what a blessing it was to have Riley witness the presence of these animals in their natural environment. If the officials with the forest service are concerned about public safety, why don’t they focus their efforts on teaching people how to respect nature and the animals? We took Riley on his first hike when he was 4 months old. Even when he was too young to understand, a focus we had as parents was to teach Riley to respect nature. We continue to teach him to stay on the trails, don’t pick or destroy plants, and don’t run or intimidate other animals no matter how big or small they are.

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There are cows in the river too.

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From our experience on the river, we feel the public needs to be educated on proper conduct in the wild. It was very irritating to be camping along the river and have a group of people leave all of their trash around, demonstrating to the rest of us that they have no respect for their surroundings. Imagine floating down the river and finding beer cans, marshmallows, bags of food left behind. We feel human beings are more detrimental to this area than the horses are.

Arizona was our home for 5 years and we loved it. We made amazing memories and learned to appreciate the state, it’s landscape, the animals, and all of it’s beauty. These horses made the experience in the river much more exciting and contributed to some wonderful family memories.

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Good spot to fish!

A little bit of info for those wanting to have some Salt River fun. The drive was usually about 45 minutes for us. When we moved to North Scottsdale, we’d usually go through Fountain Hills and up the 87. When we lived in Tempe, it was easier to take the 202 to East Mesa to access the river. During the summer, Salt River tubing is a favorite past time for those who enjoy floating the river for several hours. Tube rentals and a free ride to and from the drop off points is offered to those who don’t have their own equipment. We never went that route since children have to be at least 8 years old to rent a tube and ride on the bus. Riley has been floating the river since he was 2, so that was never an option! We would use our big raft, bring a cooler with food and drinks, and relax!

There are 5 entrance/exit points for the river where you can either get a ride on the bus, or park your car. We’d take both of our vehicles and park them at different points depending on how long we wanted to float the river. One time we went the whole 5 hours, and it was exhausting! When we approached the 5th hour, the river became incredibly still so we had to use team work to row towards the parking lot. Rowing in the hot Arizona sun after a couple beers is not the best idea. Although we were incredibly tired, we couldn’t help but laugh at the experience.

Overall, the river was one of our favorite places to hike, camp, fish, and float. It’s definitely one of the things I miss the most about living in Arizona.

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Best seat on our “boat”
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Beer is mandatory. We enjoyed this cheap lager from Trader Joe’s. Just remember, don’t litter!!