As Phoenicians, we love to travel north towards Flagstaff, especially during the heat of summer. But one of our favorite areas to visit on weekend and day trips is nestled between Phoenix and Flagstaff, in the rolling hills of the Verde Valley, just south of Sedona. The small, rural towns of Camp Verde, Cottonwood, Clarkdale, Cornville, Page Springs and Rimrock sit along the banks of the Verde River as charming little slices of Arizona history and western culture, just an hour or two from the Valley of the Sun. Here are a few of the spots we recommend you visit the next time you’re looking for a quick and unique getaway.

Camp Verde
Camp Verde is the first stop on our list. The town prides itself on being “the center of it all,” due to its very central location in the state of Arizona. Camp Verde is full of historic sites, ranging from Fort Verde State Park, a well-preserved example of the Arizona Territory in the wild west era of the late 1800s, to the nearby Montezuma’s Castle National Monument, an 800 year old legacy of the Sinagua people who lived in ancient Arizona. More modern attractions to the Camp Verde area include Out of Africa Wildlife Park, Cliff Castle Casino, and the Verde Valley Archeology Center. The climate is perfect and there are plenty of outdoor activities in the area including beautiful places to camp, boat, fish, hike and explore along the shores of the Verde River.

Cottonwood, known as the Heart of the Verde Valley Wine Trail, is a friendly haven for artists, foodies, wine and antique lovers. Once a small farming community, historic Old Town Cottonwood is now known for its Main Street, featuring cafes, restaurants, wine tasting rooms, antique stores, art galleries, hotels, shops and boutiques. The town is also home to Dead Horse Ranch State Park, a beautiful location for camping, hiking, boating and fishing near the Verde River Valley lagoons located in the area.

Clarkdale, Arizona, just a few minutes down the road from Cottonwood on the way to Jerome, was designed and built by Senator William Andrews Clark as a copper-smelting company town for the mine employees in Jerome. Although it has a population of less than 5000 people, Clarkdale is big a tourist attraction with daily train rides on the Verde Canyon Railroad bringing hundred of tourists to the area. It is also home to Tuzigoot National Monument, a fascinating look at ancient Sinagua pueblo ruins on a hilltop overlooking the Verde River. Visitors to Clarkdale can also experience the Arizona Copper Art Museum, enjoy some of Verde Valley wine country’s finest at the Southwest Wine Center, or float down the Verde River with experienced local river outfitters through unspoiled riparian areas adjacent to the Audubon Important Birding Area in Tavasci Marsh.

Cornville and Page Springs
The tiny towns of Cornville and Page Springs are a bit further off the beaten path, on the road to Sedona between Cottonwood and Rimrock. Both communities sit alongside Oak Creek, a tributary of the Verde River flowing through Sedona, and both are part of the Verde Valley Wine Trail, in the heart of Arizona wine country. A trip north on the winding Page Springs Road out of Cornville will take you along a trail full of local wineries and beautiful scenery on the way to Sedona. Cornville was once the home of long-time Arizona Senator John McCain. Page Springs hosts the largest state run fish hatchery, the Page Springs Fish Hatchery, which is operated by Arizona Game and Fish and stocks more than 50 percent of the state’s trout population.

Rimrock is a small town north of Camp Verde along I-17, incorporating the Beaver Creek Communities of Lake Montezuma, Rimrock and McGuireville. Just down the Verde River from Sedona, Rimrock is the town nearest to the Montezuma’s Well National Monument, the site of Sinagua ruins just downstream from the larger and more popular Montezuma’s Castle National Monument. The location of this monument is beautiful, lush and green, with a pueblo community built into a cliff overlooking a small, deep pond. Rimrock is also the gateway to the Beaver Creek Wilderness area, a perfect place to camp, hike and fish, just downriver from Sedona, and the fascinating V Bar V Ranch Heritage site, the largest and best-preserved petroglyph site in the Verde Valley. Most of the more than 1000 petroglyphs were created by the Sinagua people from about 900 AD until about 1350 AD.

The Verde Canyon Railroad’s motto – “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey” – is one of my very favorites. It applies to all of the trips that take you to visit the tiny towns and desert hideaways throughout our great state. The places listed here are just a few of our favorite spots to visit in the Verde Valley area of Arizona, but there are many more worth seeing. Take your time and enjoy the slow pace of the many small towns and communities that line the Verde River on the way to Sedona and Flagstaff from Phoenix. And be sure to check out for more fun things to do everywhere in Arizona!