By Jill “MamaBug” Frier

With the heat of summer hitting the Valley of the Sun at full force in the coming months, it’s the perfect time of year to hop in your car and head north with the family. We love to travel up to the higher elevations and tall pines of Flagstaff, but the traffic can be a nightmare and the trip can get pretty grueling if your kids get bored.

Here are some tips for making the most of your Arizona road trip with the family, and some of the sights you just shouldn’t miss along the way.

Northbound Traffic Tips

Lets face it – the traffic on I-17 north can be a horror and test the patience of even the most mellow person. There are a few simple tips to help you avoid traffic headaches, however:

  • Travel on off-days
  • Leave early
  • Travel at non-peak traffic times
  • Take a back road

Weekend travel heading north from Phoenix is always very heavy, but it is especially heavy on Friday afternoon, Saturday mid-to-late morning, Sunday after 11:00. If you want to avoid the most traffic, leave for your destination as early as possible (we like to go at what we call “O-Dark-Hundred” – a term we got from Colonel Grandpa). Be sure to check the traffic before – Google Maps traffic feature is awesome. This will let you pick some alternate routes, in case there is an accident.

There are some really beautiful, less-travelled Arizona highways, if you are willing to take a little more time to get where you want to go. For example, if you are heading to Prescott, consider taking the Carefree Highway (State Route 74) to Wickenburg, then catching State Route 89 to Prescott. The drive takes you through some sleepy small towns, past Yarnell (and the Granite Mountain Hot Shots Memorial State Park), up and around Mingus Mountain. A longer drive, but a beautiful view and worth the trip if you want to explore some of Arizona’s less-travelled roads.

Tips for Driving with Kids

Traffic isn’t the only challenge of taking a road trip with your family. Driving with kids in the car can present it’s own challenges. We have taken Ladybug on so many road trips over the years that she rides like a pro. She is used to being in the car for long periods and always brings toys and activities to keep her occupied. Her cousins haven’t travelled as much, so they always needed a bit more help. Here are some tips for keeping kids busy and entertained – especially if you run into heavy traffic where there are no stops along the way:

  1. Use the restroom before you leave – and every chance you get along the way! I can’t emphasize this enough. One of the worst things to encounter is a kid who has to go, but has nowhere to go. It’s traumatic for the child and for the parents. So take time to take a break before you head out and stop when you have a chance. There are many stretches of highway – even our well-travelled, heavy traffic I-17 – that just don’t have a place to pull over. Go when you can, so it’s not an issue when you can’t!
  2. Pack snacks or a lunch for munching in the car. Kids get hungry at the darnedest times, and when they get hungry it’s immediate. If they don’t eat right then, you could just be asking for trouble – little cranky beasties do not make for a pleasant journey. So bring snacks – granola bars, goldfish, fruit, peanut butter and pretzels – healthy snacks that will tide them over and get rid of the crankies. Snacks are a good idea for parents, too. Traffic jams can make everyone a little hangry, so take the edge off with some munchies to tide you over.
  3. Bring water! This is critical for every drive you take through the desert (and yes, the high country is desert, too). Especially in the summer time, it is really easy to get dehydrated. And it usually happens before you’re even aware of it. The rule of thumb is that if you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated. So take plenty of water, plus extra (more than you think you’ll need), because you never know when you might get stuck.
  4. Bring entertainment to keep fidgety young ones busy. As I mentioned, we always let Ladybug pick out a few favorite toys that are easy to carry and entertaining in the car. Movies are a great idea, if you have a portable DVD player or an iPad to download digital films. Music and games are also great. Use your imagination to make the trip a sightseeing adventure for your children. Help them learn about the history and landscape of Arizona, discuss the geology, desert, plant life and animals. Buy some books and learn about our state as a family. There is a ton of information out there and it’s fascinating!
  5. Reward your kids for behaving well in the car. I’m sure that parenting books will tell you to avoid this, but really, a little bribe to behave never hurt anyone. Give your child something small – a treat like ice cream or a cookie, a small toy, a fun souvenir – for behaving well on your car trip. A little reward is a great way to help them control themselves until you reach your final destination and is a small price to pay for a peaceful trip.

Stop and See the Sights

Arizona is a beautiful state and there are wonderful sites to see in every area. Take the time to stop, rest and enjoy the beauty that surrounds you. Here is a list of some of our favorite places to stop along the way:

These are just a few of the many fantastic places to see in Arizona. Do some research and plan one or two stops to break up the drive. Some take longer than others, so plan your trip accordingly. One of these places may even become your final destination.

Be sure to check Ladybug’s Blog for a more comprehensive list of our favorite places to visit around Arizona.