Verde Valley

Gorgeous scenery right outside of Sedona, Arizona in the Verde Valley

The Verde Valley is a picturesque region in North Central Arizona, which not only offers a respite from the heat, but also offers easy access to a number of natural attractions. Although Sedona is a part of this area, I wanted to signal it out as it is by far the top daytrip from Phoenix. Other towns in the Verde Valley which are less impressive but still worth a look if you have extra time include Jerome, Cottonwood, Camp Verde, and Clarkdale.

Temps in the Verde Valley are considerably cooler than Phoenix in the summertime as most towns reside at an altitude of around 5000 ft or so. One of Arizona’s last free flowing rivers, the Verde River, flows though the area and provides a habitat for rare plant and wildlife. You may want to check out Dead Horse State Park in Cottownood or the Verde River State Natural Area.

Fossil Creek Wilderness, a very popular swimming hole with a waterfall, is one of the most popular attractions in the area, particularly during the hot summer months. The extremely rough 14 mile road to get to the falls (about an hour drive), lengthy hike, and hassle of getting to a very overcrowded place make it an easy skip for me, however, if you are interested in seeing a natural swimming hole and waterfall in Arizona despite insane crowds, you will now have to apply for a permit just to park.

There are much better things to do in this area including Montezuma Castle, Out of Africa Wildlife Park, various hiking trails & state parks, along with exploring the quaint historical communities of Cottonwood and Jerome.

Montezuma castle is one of the area’s most interesting historical sights. This 1000 year old , 5 story ancient Singua dwelling, which was occupied between 1100-1435 AD, is known to be one of the best preserved cliff dwellings in the country. The layout resembles modern apartment style living.

The best preserved ancient cliff dwellings at Montezuma Castle in Arizona

Out of Africa wildlife park is another nice place to check out if you have the time. This non-profit wildlife sanctuary is known for their great shows which includes a wonderful Tiger Splash program and an interesting hands-on snake program. A narrated bus safari tour takes you past zebras and giraffes roaming about in a setting mimicking their natural environment. The walk around section is a bit unattractive due to the barren desert scenery and honestly way too hot for the summer. Otherwise, the park is a great place to check out, especially during your birthday month when admission is free!

Watusi seen via the safari ride at Out of Africa Wildlife Park in Camp Verde, Arizona
Close up of a giraffe via the safari ride at Out of Africa Wildlife Park in Camp Verde, Arizona
Grizzly bear at Out of Africa Wildlife Park in Camp Verde, Arizona
Tiger Splash show at Out of Africa Wildlife Park in Camp Verde, Arizona
Tiger Splash show at Out of Africa Wildlife Park in Camp Verde, Arizona

If you are a wine lover, you will want to check out the small town of Cottonwood, located on the Verde Valley Wine trail. There are lots of tasting rooms here where you can sample all sorts of local Arizona wines. Burning Tree Cellars is one of the nicest options and they have a great outdoor patio too. The small downtown is home to numerous local restaurants and shops. Paradise Point Cafe is a cute little local business which serves delicious homemade treats (try the German chocolate cake!). Also check out  the Old Cottonwood jail where Al Capone’s name is found carved outside an old cell.

Downtown Cottonwood, Arizona
Paleo cake at Paradise Point Cafe in Cottonwood, Arizona
Delicious desserts and a cozy setting at Paradise Point Cafe make it a perfect place for a break in between shopping and exploring the town.
Old Cottonwood Jail
The Old Cottonwood Jail recently operated as a tea house (a fantastic one), which unfortunately just closed.

Jerome is another interesting place to visit if you happen to be in the area. This former copper mining town saw a massive population decline and almost became a ghost town at one point, however, now stands strong as a very popular tourist destination. Jerome is known as “the largest ghost town in America.” Today, the small town resembles anything but a ghost town as art galleries, boutique shops, restaurants, and bars over flood the tiny downtown. Foodies and art lovers flock to the town particularly during the monthly art walk.

Historic downtown Jerome, Arizona
A view of downtown Jerome

Like Cottwonood, Jerome is also part of the Verde Valley Wine trail, with numerous tasting rooms featuring Arizona local wines. Cellar 433 is the best choice due to the gorgeous scenery which you can enjoy via the patio.

Jerome has a long history of paranormal activity, so much so that at one point the town actually published a paranormal newspaper known as the Jerome Ghost Post. The ghost legends still remain and the same eerie hauntings from year’s past are still reported today. Ghost hunters regularly visit the area, attempting to communicate with these long standing spirits. The especially creepy Jerome Grand Hotel offers ghost tours through an eerie old building which used to be a mental institution. Not surprisingly, the hotel goes all out for Halloween, attracting Halloween lovers and ghost hunters from all over.

Mile High Inn in Jerome, Arizona
A phantom cat is said to roam the halls of the haunted Mile High Inn
The haunted Jerome Grand Hotel in Arizona
Sign up for a ghost tour at the spooky Jerome Grand Hotel with the aid of real ghost hunting equipment like EVPS used by the pros on shows like Ghost Adventures
Great lunch at the Asylum restaurant in Jerome, Arizona

Dining at the appropriately named Asylum Restaurant is the best choice for lunch/dinner as the food is great and the views even better. This gorgeous restaurant has a decent sized patio which overlooks the beautiful Verde Valley region. Like the hotel, they also go all out with Halloween decor, both inside and out. 

Picturesque-views-from-The-Asylum-Restaurant-in-Jerome-AZ
Great views from the Asylum restaurant

Jerome is the coolest weather-wise of the 3 major Verde Valley cities, with an altitude of around 5000 feet, and summer temps barely exceeding the 90’s. Sedona is the next coolest with an altitude of 4000 feet and temps typically hovering in the high 90’s and occasionally the low 100’s. Cottonwood and Camp Verde, which are located at about 3000 feet, are a bit hotter and see temps in the low 100’s, yet are still at least 10 degrees cooler than Phoenix! All areas within the Verde Valley are much cooler at morning and night than Phoenix, so try to plan any outdoor activities at dawn and dusk.

These are some of my favorite daytrips within a 4 hour drive of Phoenix. If you are not up for a lengthy drive, there are still plenty of things to do around the Phoenix metro area during the hot summer season. There is simply much more to do when you add daytrips into the mix. Keep in mind that the weather is atrociously hot in the morning and evening hours too (not just during the heat of the day!), so you will be limited to indoor attractions, waterparks/pools, and super early morning hikes. Check out my list of the best things to do when it’s too hot in Phoenix.