Even without perfect weather, a trip to the Verde Valley is a refreshing experience. Just under two hours from Phoenix, the Verde Valley region looks like a canvas painted with lush landscapes, red rocks, Mingus Mountain, forests and water flowing from the Verde River and other creeks. A few of the destinations in the area are Jerome, Sedona, Clarkdale and Cottonwood.
Cottonwood’s Main Street is a gem that allows visitors to discover it at their own pace. From antique shops to olive oil and wine tastings, there’s plenty to see while strolling after lunch in one of the colorful restaurants that fill the town’s main thoroughfare. The Verde Valley region has become well known for its wine production and several of the local vineyards have tasting rooms on Main Street.
If you enjoy a walk on the wild side, Out of Africa Wildlife Park is the place to visit. The park moved to the Verde Valley a decade ago from Fountain Hills, gaining a larger area with plenty of room for animals to roam. Lions, tigers, bears, zebras, Kibo the giraffe and a 4,000+ lb. rhinoceros named Jericho are housed in the massive park that resembles their natural habitat. The park has rescued many of the animals and raises awareness on the importance of conservation efforts worldwide. There are several tours available depending on your timeframe and budget.
Another unique feature of Out of Africa is the zip line tour that lets you glide above the animals. Lazarus the Lion is said to let out a deafening roar from time to time as visitors fly over his lair. This is the only zoo in existence that allows zip liners to soar above lions and tigers!
Having never kayaked before, I was slightly hesitant to get in an inflatable kayak and row my way down the Verde River on Sedona Adventure Tour’s Water to Wine tour. The friendly guides removed any hesitation I had and assured me that even if I managed to tip my kayak over, I could stand in the two-foot deep water and get myself back up! Whether your incentive is seeing the blue heron birds or the occasional bald eagle, riding down minor rapids or ending your journey with a flight of unique wines at Alcantara Vineyards, the hour-long float is a relaxing journey. You do get slightly wet, so you may want to bring a towel or a change of pants. Sedona Adventure Tours offers many unique trips in the area.
Our kayak trip ended at the serene Alcantara Vineyards. The Tuscan-style tasting room is an inviting respite after the rigorous kayak trip! Barbara Predmore owns this beautiful vineyard and tells the story of her mother inspiring her to always remember her faith and family. As a testament, the vineyard is named after her mother. A treat for us was meeting Craig Boyd, the vineyard’s winemaker. Craig has a master’s degree in enology and enthusiastically explained how each delicious wine we tasted was made. A friendly dog named Charlie was also on hand to join in and eat cheese treats while you sip wine and enjoy a cheese and fruit plate.
This perfect day ended with a visit to Montezuma Castle National Monument. Although Montezuma never lived here and there’s no castle in sight, this 900-year old ancient cliff dwelling served as a “high-rise apartment building” for the Sinagua Indians and is remarkably intact and worth a visit. The ruins are adjacent to Beaver Creek and a perfect spot to stop for a family picnic.
There are many things to discover in the Verde Valley area, so go and make your memories!
Laura Franco-French is the Director of Community Relations for the Arizona Office of Tourism. She enjoys exploring the lesser-known sides of Arizona like its burgeoning wine regions and historic sites.