Detailed Guide to Riding in ArizonaPosted On: Aug 16, 2019
Treat yourself for an extended weekend of riding through the amazing deserts of Arizona.
The name Arizona means “small springs” in the local indigenous O’odham language, but nothing in Arizona is small. Home to the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, and Monument Valley, Arizona is poised to blow any traveler’s mind.
It’s also an amazing destination for winter motorcycle rides and we put together some great recommendations for routes and places to see while in Arizona.
In October, temperatures begin to cool down to mid-70s°F or 23°C. You’ll get to enjoy the breathtaking Arizona landscapes without the infamous heat of the summer months.
Northern Arizona can see some snow in winter and it’s best to stay south of Phoenix during the winter months.
We also currently have 18 self-guided tours listed on the site, take a look.
You’re about to immerse yourself in landscapes with red rock formations, deep canyons, towering red rock spires, vast forests, and the mighty Colorado River, which is famous not just in North America but worldwide.
Arizona’s glorious weather, scenic byways, tremendous natural Monuments, and vibrant Native American culture and heritage make Arizona an exceptionally interesting motorcycle riding destination.
A Bit of History
Arizona was settled thousands of years ago, first by the Native Hohokam, Mogollon, and Ancestral Puebloan tribes, then later by the O’odham, Navajo, and Hopi peoples, who still live there today.
The colonization of what is now Arizona began in the mid-sixteenth century with the Spanish explorers, later becoming Mexico’s Nueva California and finally, ceded to the United States in 1863.
The short-lived gold and silver rush boom in the 1850s soon became a bust, leaving a trail of ghost towns behind. Then the Grand Canyon State discovered its new treasures – copper and cotton. Arizona was one of the last contiguous United States to receive statehood in 1912 with Phoenix as its capital.
Although Arizona suffered a tremendous economic blow during the Great Depression, Arizona rapidly recovered by leveraging tourism.
Dude ranches and “Old West” experiences attracted more and more travelers, and Arizona’s year-round good weather acted like a magnet for people seeking to escape from harsh Northern winters. Arizona has continued to flourish becoming an enriched land that lives up to its motto, Ditat Deus or “God enriches.”
Let’s Start Riding Already
If you look at the map of Arizona, draw a long line from top left to bottom right. You’ll find incredible riding.
Here is a list of some of the best roads and highways to explore in Arizona:
- HWY 89a and 89 and Lake Mary Road between Flagstaff and Phoenix
- HWY 87 all the way from Phoenix to Flagstaff
- HWY 191 from Alpine down to Morenci
- HWY 163 through Monument Valley
- HWY 88 north of Apache Junction towards Tortilla Flat
- HWY 67 near Grand Canyon National Park
- HWY 64 from Cameron to 180
- HWY 260 east of Camp Verde
- HWY 60 between Globe and Show Low
- HWY 188 as far as it goes (stop by at Jake’s Corner Bar and Grill)
- HWY 261 taking you deep into Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest
- Hwy 366 on W Swift Trail east of Tucson
- W Arivaca Road south of Tucson
We’ll cover these as we get into weekend routes and rides that we picked for your Arizona adventures. If you only have time for a few of these, stick to the top six on this list.
A Quick Note on Food
As if the colorful landscape were not enough, the Grand Canyon State also boasts some rich culinary gems.
Because it is heavily influenced by Mexican culture, especially the southern part of the state, chimichangas, cowboy steaks, and ranch fries are just a few of the must-try dishes you should taste while visiting the state.
Keep in mind that Arizona gets incredible hot with high summer temperatures, so pack plenty of water and sunscreen for your motorcycle tour.
Situated between Phoenix and Flagstaff, Sedona is a charming desert town famous for its red rock formations, elevated desert floors, and astonishing red and orange-hued mesas and buttes.
USA TODAY listed Sedona as number one among the Most Beautiful Places in America, and rightfully so.
Its surreal red sandstone formations make for mesmerizing surroundings, and Sedona is extremely popular among motorcycle travelers because of the multitude of scenic routes surrounding the city.
Route 89A to Flagstaff is must for any two-wheeled traveler, offering awe-inspiring views of the ponderosa pine forest-covered hills.
Sedona is an artsy community with plenty to see and do both in town and out. Art galleries, shops, restaurants, and cafes abound here. For those seeking outdoor adventures, Sedona offers mountain biking, fishing, hiking, and camping in spots like Havasupai falls pictured below. Please note that this hike is not accessible on a motorcycle and booking permits in advance is the best way to secure an overnight camping spot.
To grab a bite, visit the Spoke and Wheel Tavern on Portal Lane. It's very popular among locals as well as visiting motorcyclists.
Destination: Grand Canyon National Park, Tusayan
Grand Canyon is, without a doubt, Arizona’s show-stopper.
A magnificent natural wonder, the Grand Canyon is 277 miles long and over a mile deep in some sections. Its width reaches eighteen miles in some places, revealing stunning views of the majestic Colorado River and the characteristic red-rock canyon walls and mesas.
Seeing the Grand Canyon up close and personal is a breathtaking experience not to be missed. Home to the Navajo, Paiute, Hopi, and Hualapai people, the Grand Canyon area is as diverse as its inhabitants.
The Grand Canyon National Park is divided into four major destinations, the South Rim, North Rim, West Canyon, and East Canyon.
South Rim offers the most comfortable access and the best views of the Grand Canyon as well as several lodging and dining options in the Grand Canyon Village.
The most scenic route to the South Rim is via Sedona and Flagstaff on the Interstate 17 and Route 180, and Highway 64. This road offers stunning views of the desert and the colorful rock formations along the way.
Destination: Marble Canyon & Navajo Bridge, Page
Although slightly less impressive than Grand Canyon itself, Marble Canyon is another Arizona marvel that is definitely worthy of a visit. Located off Route 89 twelve miles southwest of Page, Marble Canyon is a narrow, multi-hued canyon set against the characteristic rugged Arizona backdrop of desert and red rock and cliff formations in the distance. The Colorado River is incredibly bright blue and green here, making for a perfect photo opportunity.
Marble Canyon is best viewed from Navajo Bridge, a remarkable engineering feat comprised of a pair of steel spandrel arch bridges across the Colorado River. Nine hundred and nine feet long, the Navajo Bridge is a tremendous sight in and of itself. The old span of the bridge is open to pedestrian and equestrian traffic only whereas the new span is open to vehicles. Navajo arts and crafts stalls can be found on both ends of the bridge offering Native American souvenirs.
Destination: Horseshoe Bend, Page
One of the most photographed landmarks in America, Horseshoe Bend is located right off of Route 89 south of Page. Horseshoe Bend, as the name suggests, is a horseshoe-shaped bend in the mighty Colorado River.
The overlook reveals a stunning vista of the red-hued rocks and canyon walls. For the best photo opportunities, and to avoid the tourist crowds, try and get to Horseshoe Bend at dawn when the sunlight divulges the most vibrant colors.
We extended the previous route to include Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, and Monument Valley since you’re already in the northern part of the state. More on those right below.
The parking at the Horseshoe Bend parking lot is $10, and you may have to wait as it is often full of travelers. From the parking lot, you’ll need to do a short half a mile walk to the viewpoint. Be extremely careful when taking photos and do not get too close to the edge for that perfect selfie as several people had fatal falls at the Horseshoe Bend.
Destination: Antelope Canyon, Page
Located east of Page, Antelope Canyon is a narrow slot canyon that was formed by the continuous erosion of water through sandstone rock.
Famous for its undulating, wave-like shapes, the rocks, and canyon walls offer a magical visual experience as the small portions of the canyon only allow very little sunlight in, creating specter-like beams of light. The light beams are best visible between 9 am and 1 pm while the sun traverses the sky directly overhead.
There are two main sections of the Canyon, Lower and the Upper Antelope. Upper Antelope Canyon is at ground level and is easier to access while the Lower Canyon requires more strenuous hiking as well as climbing some metal stairways.
Antelope Canyon is located on tribal Navajo land and is only accessible via a guided tour which you can book in Page or online before your travel date. An extremely popular -- and worthwhile -- attraction, book your tour as early as you can as they limit the number of visitors in the canyons at any given time.
Destination: Monument Valley, Kayenta
Heading North towards the border of Utah on Route 163, you’ll ride straight through Monument Valley, an iconic Western landscape of towering red rock spires and buttes.
One of the most easily recognized and renowned American locations, Monument Valley offers an unforgettable view of the vast open space dotted with spectacular natural giants of the old world. Route 163 cuts straight across the valley allowing for ideal photo opportunities. Be mindful of other travelers when you stop to snap pictures, as the road can get busy with RVs and tourist buses.
The most famous spot for photographs is Forest Gump point, named after the ending scenes in the movie.
Monument Valley is situated in the Navajo Nation territory, which means that tribal laws apply here. The sale and consumption of alcohol is strictly prohibited within the reservation. Local Navajo artists have souvenir stalls at the Center.
We suggest adding Jeep tours into the Valley and possibly a camping overnight stay in the Valley of the Gods about 25 minutes north.
Destination: Canyon de Chelly, Chinle
Situated east of the small town of Chinle, just off of Route 7, Canyon de Chelly is Arizona’s best-kept secret. Less-known than the Grand Canyon and therefore less visited, Canyon de Chelly looks like a magnificent canvas painting of exposed red and yellow rock walls surrounding a narrow river.
In the middle of the Canyon rises the lone 750-foot tall Spider Rock, considered to have a special spiritual meaning for the local Navajo people. Some believe the stunning rock tower is home to the ancestral goddess of the Navajo Nation.
As you depart from either Phoenix or Flagstaff, make sure to add Petrified Forest National Park, Painted Desert National Park right next to it, and several of the iconic Route 66 stops in Winslow and Holbrook to your ride.
The best view of Canyon de Chelly and Spider Rock is from the South Rim just over a mile from Chinle. Access to the canyon floor is strictly prohibited without a guide or a park ranger, but the views from the rim are more than enough to experience the serene loftiness of Canyon de Chelly. There are horseback expeditions and guided walking tours to nearby native ruins. Several lodging and dining options are available in Chinle.
Destination: Hoover Dam, Kingman
Even though riding to Hoover Dam is best to do out of Las Vegas, we wanted to highlight it in our Arizona Guide as well. Located on the border of Nevada and Arizona, where the time zone change can be just a few steps each way, Hoover Dam is one of the most popular destinations for motorcyclists.
Listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Industrial World, Hoover Dam is a man-made monument of epic proportions. 726 feet tall and 660 feet wide, this gigantic concrete monolith straddles the Black Canyon taming the powerful Colorado River.
Built in 1935, Hoover Dam has been providing hydroelectric power to Arizona, California, and Nevada for over eighty years. The amount of concrete used to build the giant structure of the Dam would be enough to construct a highway from San Francisco to New York!
The construction of Hoover Dam created the artificial Lake Mead, the largest water reservoir in the US. Lake Mead extends 110 miles behind the dam and is now a popular holiday destination on both the Nevada and Arizona sides offering boat tours, jet skiing, and fishing.
There are paddlewheel boat cruises offering Hoover Dam views from the water available from Las Vegas and Boulder City, Nevada. Coming from Las Vegas you can ride across the Hoover Dam, park on the other side, and walk across for a bird's eye view of this incredible man-made structure.
See the list of rental locations in Las Vegas.
Destination: Tombstone, Cochise County
Southern Arizona is less popular among visitors than the grandiose North, but there is one fundamental gem of the Wild West here that might just entice you to come for a visit: Tombstone.
A historical silver mining boomtown built in 1879, Tombstone is a living relic of the Old West. Once a flourishing town boasting several saloons, brothels, and opera houses, Tombstone nearly became a ghost town when the silver surge ended in the early twentieth century.
Tombstone was home to America’s most infamous outlaw shootout in 1881. A conflict between two outlaw groups escalated to a full-on Wild West gunfight, which lives on in an official re-enactment in Tombstone every day. The reenactment in the town’s OK Corral happens daily in the mornings and the afternoons. If Western frontier towns, cowboys, and outlaws are your thing, Tombstone is a living Wild West paradise.To get you up to speed on the events on 1881, here is a trailer of the 1993 movie called Tombstone.
Currently Tombstone is home to several Wild West-themed galleries, saloons, and museums. Many of the original buildings and streets are beautifully restored offering a trip back in time.
Home to some of the world’s most breathtaking natural Monuments, Native peoples, and stunning nature, Arizona is one of the best motorcycle touring destinations in the US.
Riding in Arizona is the quintessential experience of the American West, from the majestic Grand Canyon to the seemingly boundless Colorado Plateau.
As the miles disappear under your front tire and the sun sets behind the towering red giants of Monument Valley, it’s as if the world stands still for a moment, and the wind carries ancient blessings for the road.
Southern Arizona is a great destination to visit in the winter months, where the temperatures cool down and you can take extended weekend trips to the desert. We’ve put together a tour of the region – Arizona Sun Winter Getaway.
Side note on this winter tour: this route will take you through the historic town of Ajo, gorgeous landscapes of the Organ Pipe National Monument, mining town of Bisbee, and into Tombstone, followed by a ride back up to Phoenix through the Saguaro National Park. In short, the ride is packed with a rich history and natural beauty. Suggested riding months: November – April.
Arizona Fun Facts
- Arizona (along with Oregon, 12 years earlier) is America’s Valentine. Arizona received its statehood on the 14th of February, Valentine’s Day, in 1912.
- Arizona is the host to the most Native states in the US: 22 federally recognized tribes call Arizona home.
- The Grand Canyon is over a billion years old, making it older than the dinosaurs.
- The first barrel of tequila produced in the US was made in Nogales, Arizona.
- The original London Bridge is now in Arizona. In 1967, London Bridge over the River Thames was dismantled and shipped to the US to be rebuilt, granite block by granite block, in Lake Havasu City, AZ.
- Arizona is home to the two largest North American man-made lakes, Lake Powell and Lake Mead.
- Arizona has some of the weirdest laws in the US. In the Grand Canyon State, it is illegal to refuse a person a glass of water or to cut down a saguaro cactus. Also, donkeys are allowed to stand in bathtubs, but they are not allowed to sleep in bathtubs.
By now you’re likely craving to be on a motorcycle already. The next step is to choose the routes that you favorited, pick the dates for the trip, join Club EagleRider to cover your rental bike cost, and contact our travel team if you want to add hotels, mobile navigation app, or anything else to your trip.
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