Camp Verde

Less than one hour North of Phoenix on I-17 is a town called Camp Verde, nestled in a valley. It doesn’t look like too much from the highway, with the fast food and gas station signs dragging away the driver’s attention. But the area offers some quite unique things to do. Even if you’re on the way to Flagstaff, Camp Verde attractions make a good quick-stop on the way. Take a day or an hour.

Although Camp Verde temperatures run about 5 degrees less than Phoenix, the summer months often bring high temperatures of 100 degrees. March and April are great times to visit, with 70-80 degree highs.

All aboard! The Verde Canyon Railroad Depot

One of the best ways to see the Verde Valley is to hop on the Verde Canyon train for a 4-hour scenic ride. An old locomotive pulls passenger cars and some open-air cars through some great scenery.

Especially in the springtime, the natural wild and bird life abound in the Verde Canyon, with the lush landscape and canyons, but most importantly, the peace and calm found only within the presence of Mother Nature. Enjoy the beauty from your window seat, or from one of the open air cars.

The 4-hour trip goes quickly, but very young children might find the trip confining. or (800) 320-0718

"Apartment Hunting" at Montezuma Castle

Carved out in the side of a mountain, the Montezuma Castle is one of those things that can’t be fully appreciated from a picture. The five-story, 20-room cliff dwelling served as a "high-rise apartment building" for prehistoric Sinagua Indians over 600 years ago. Some originally thought the dwelling had something to do with the Aztec king, Montezuma, but the structure was actually dated a century before. Still, the name stuck.

The "Castle" is 1/3 mile from the parking area and the small museum. You can’t actually tour the dwelling because the foot traffic would destroy the structure. But it is big enough and close enough to keep your attention. 

Montezuma Castle is a great stop for families with small children. The hike to the dwelling is short and the terrain has a different feel from the desert landscaping we’re used to. The museum is small and contains just enough information to inform but not bore.

Montezuma Castle is located 3 miles off Interstate 17. Use Exit Number 289 and follow signs. or 928-567-3322

Flow like a river – the Verde River

Grab a fast-food lunch at one of the Verde Valley fast-food places, and head over to the Verde River for a picnic lunch. Summer would be a great time to dip your toes in, but without a canoe in the spring, it’s best just to relax by the water’s edge and let those I-17 stresses flow away with the river. There are Bald Eagles, Blue Herons, beaver and river otter to watch. Or you can watch the people at the annual Verde River Canoe Challenge on March 27.

The White Bridge recreational day use site:

From Interstate 17 in Camp Verde, take Highway 260 east 4 miles to Horseshoe Bend Road, then quick right into recreational site. Picnic tables and restrooms are available.

Circle the Wagons! At the Camp Verde Historic Park

Camp Verde used to be just that, a camp which served as a staging base for military operations in the surrounding countryside. Infantry troops built a wagon road west to Fort Whipple near Prescott and east to Fort Apache. Today, you can relive those Wild West days at the Fort Verde State Park. Only 3 building remain of the original camp, and they have been furnished in their 1880s period style. The administration building is now a museum with relics of the period.

From I-17, take Hwy 260 (east). Turn left on Main Street to 125 E. Holloman St. and turn left. The park is on your right. or (928) 567-3275

Ta’Ching, Ta’Ching at the Cliff Castle Casino

Ok, it doesn’t fit in with rest of the Verde Valley activities, but hey, life is about variety. Outside, the Cliff Castle Casino tries to blend in with the Verde Valley rocks, but inside, it’s all about the slots, the poker and the blackjack.

If gambling is not your thing, Cliff Castle has other games to keep the whole family having fun. The 20-lane bowling alley has Glow-in-the-dark balls make bowling in this Fifties-style bowling alley a cosmic experience. Kids will love the giant arcade, and the 50’s diner, Johnny Rockets, is a great place to have a burger and malt.