Arizona Labor Day weekend trip ideas, from the mountains to the water to the wine-tasting rooms
It feels like there is a lot of pent-up summer still out there. Since great swaths of Arizona’s high-country forests were closed because of fire restrictions for much of the summer, many folks’ hiking, camping, fishing, biking, kayaking and just generally relaxing plans had to be put on hold.
But summer’s not over yet. This year, find out just how much vacation you can squeeze into Labor Day weekend. Here are a few suggestions on where to point your wheels.
So many storms rolled through Flagstaff over the summer that, despite the lengthy dry spell, they’re now above average for yearly precipitation. Now that the forests of the San Francisco Peaks are open, make that ultimate summer drive to the highest of Arizona’s high country.
Take U.S. 180 north of Flagstaff for 7 miles and turn right on Snowbowl Road. The winding drive climbs through stands of ponderosa pine and groves of aspen shimmering with every breath of wind. Along the way, you’ll pass several trailheads when you get the urge to stretch your legs.
Look for a small parking area on the right at 4.4 miles. This is the trailhead for Veit Springs Trail, an easy 1.5-mile loop past an old homestead. At 5.2 miles, there’s parking on the left for Aspen Corner. A gentle trail here rambles through forests and meadows, connecting with the Arizona Trail. Hike as long as you like but turn back before you reach Utah.
At the end of the road, you’ll reach the parking areas for the Arizona Snowbowl. Kachina Trail leaves from the first parking lot on the right and rambles for 5 miles through boulder-strewn aspen groves.
At the north end of the parking lot is the Humphreys Trailhead. Here you’ve got a couple of options, one moderate and one very strenuous. Take the Aspen Loop for dazzling views from the high slopes of the San Francisco Peaks as it circles through open meadows and glades.
Or you can tackle Humphreys Trail and climb to the roof of the state. Humphreys Peak tops out at 12,633 feet, the highest point in Arizona.
The strenuous 5-mile trail starts in a beautiful meadow, then passes through a dense forest of spruce, fir and aspen until it reaches a rocky saddle amid bristlecone pines twisted by the wind. All that’s left is a lung-squeezing slog across a raggedy ridge of alpine tundra, the only region of tundra found in the state.
From the summit you can enjoy views of the Grand Canyon and Painted Desert, and the knowledge that you’re the highest person in Arizona. Do not attempt this hike if a storm is even a remote possibility. 928-526-0866, www.fs.usda.gov/coconino.
The stunning views from Arizona Snowbowl’s Scenic Chairlift ride are a special summer treat. (Photo: Arizona Snowbowl)
If you’d rather ride than hike, the Snowbowl Scenic Chairlift glides above treetops to an elevation of 11,500 feet where you can revel in cool breezes and endless vistas. The price on weekends is $24 ($19 for ages 6-12) and it’s cheaper on weekdays. Save 20 percent by booking online.
Snowbowl has some new attractions this summer, including a ropes course and a tubing course. Price is $15 per person or $10 if purchased online with a chairlift ticket. 928-779-1951, www.snowbowl.ski.
Horton Creek tumbles through Rim Country forests east of Payson. (Photo: Roger Naylor/Special for the Republic)
Or maybe you’re in the mood for water. Mogollon Rim forests are open after lengthy fire restrictions and Horton Creek is one of the most picturesque waterways as it tumbles through lush forests sprinkled with wildflowers.
The trail for Horton Creek starts from the Upper Tonto Creek Campground, following an old wagon road. The main trail parallels the stream and a trace trail hugs the creek bank with filament pathways connecting the two.
When a seductive cascade calls you down to the water you can clamber along the streamside path. When you want slightly easier travel — not winding among rocks and downed logs — return to the wagon trail.
The twin trails stay in close contact until the last half-mile, when the main path steepens slightly, making a few switchbacks to a junction with the Highline Trail. Just before that, a quick right leads to Horton Spring.
Getting there: From Payson, go east on State Route 260 for 17 miles. Turn north on Tonto Creek Road, go 0.8 mile and park in the lot on the left. The trail begins across the road at the north side of the campground. 928-474-7900, www.fs,usda.gov/tonto.
Fool Hollow Lake Recreation Area
Nestled in the pines just outside of Show Low, Fool Hollow Lake Recreation Area features boating, fishing, swimming, camping and hiking. (Photo: Roger Naylor/Special for the Republic)
Maybe you want more than a creek. Maybe you need a whole lake’s worth of water. Sitting in the pines just outside of Show Low, 149-acre Fool Hollow Lake is one of the loveliest bodies of water in the White Mountains, which is high praise indeed.
Yet there’s no vantage point in the park that allows you to see the entire lake. Maybe that’s part of Fool Hollow’s mystique. You discover it one vista at a time and it gives you a lot of different looks along the way.
There’s big open water, several isolated coves, some quiet marshes and long channels. This is the kind of lake that makes you want to jump in a kayak and go exploring. And you can do that. Canoe, kayak and paddleboard rentals are available through Labor Day from J&T’s Wild-Life Outdoors at the east boat launch ramp (928-892-9170, www.jtwildlifeoutdoors.com).
Landlubbers will enjoy the 1.5-mile hiking trail running along the edge of the lake. Anglers can try their luck landing rainbow trout, largemouth and smallmouth bass, channel catfish, walleye, northern pike and more. Fool Hollow also has 123 campsites for tents and RVs. Make reservations online or by calling 877-697-2757. Park admission is $7 per vehicle. 928-537-3680, azstateparks.com/fool-hollow.
Verde Valley wineries
Javelina Leap Winery | Javelina Leap is a family-owned winery that processes approximately 60 tons of Arizona-grown grapes equaling about 3000 cases of fine Javelina Leap Arizona wine. The winery is nestled in a valley overlooking the riparian greenbelt of Oak Creek and the Audubon bird sanctuary, which provides a picturesque backdrop. Don’t expect indecipherable wine-speak in the cozy, comfortable tasting room, modeled after an old saloon. | Details: 1565 N. Page Springs Road, Cornville, 928-649-2681, javelinaleapwinery.com, $ (Photo: Javelina Leap Winery)
Or maybe instead of water, it’s wine you’re interested in. You can start with a handful of boutique wineries in the Verde Valley, nestled on the rich volcanic slopes above Oak Creek. Drive to the little burg of Cornville and turn north on Page Springs Road as it rambles through the countryside. The winding curves mimic the twists and turns of the stream.
First up is Page Springs Cellars (928-639-3004, www.pagespringscellars.com), where you can sit on a deck overlooking the vineyard and listen to live music while sipping a glass of vino. Another deck perches above the creek in cottonwood shade. The bistro serves a tasty seasonal menu, and massage and yoga sessions are available.
A half-mile up the road are two more wineries with tasting rooms, Oak Creek Vineyards (928-649-0290, www.oakcreekvineyards.net) and Javelina Leap (928-649-2681, www.javelinaleapwinery.com). Both offer a variety of boutique wines, and Javelina Leap offers food to nibble on.
Both wineries are directly across the highway from Page Springs Fish Hatchery (928-634-4805, fishaz.azgfd.com/page-springs-hatchery).
Bubbling Ponds is part of Page Springs Fish Hatchery, where visitors can hike, picnic and view the facilities and young fish. (Photo: Roger Naylor/Special for the Republic)
Visitors to the hatchery, the largest in the state, can walk the gentle nature trail through the trees, around the pond and along the stream. Watching the young trout swim in swirling circles, their scales winking silver in the sunlight is weirdly hypnotic. There’s also a show pond where kids can feed the fish.
The newest addition to the complex is Bubbling Ponds, which includes a 1.8-mile nature trail winding through mesquite bosques, wetlands and a big gallery of sycamores draping Oak Creek. This is a good place to watch for river otters and is nationally recognized as an Important Birding Area.
After 7 miles, Page Springs Road ends at State Route 89A, midway between Cottonwood and Sedona. Now you have to choose between heading north for red-rock hiking trails and jeep tours or south for the many wine-tasting rooms, restaurants and shops in quaint Old Town Cottonwood, Clarkdale and Jerome. Sounds like a three-day weekend isn’t going to be enough.
Getting there: From Phoenix, take Interstate 17 north to McGuireville (Exit 293) and go west on Cornville Road for 8 miles. Turn right onto Page Springs Road.
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