5 Unique Arizona Small Towns To Visit Near The Petrified National Forest
The thing about Arizona is that you can enjoy so many different experiences depending on where you are within the state. Within just 3 hours, you can go from the valley of big city Scottsdale to the small towns up north.
We chose to visit these small towns while on our travels through the White Mountains and beyond, as we always like towns that have a vibrant downtown with unique things to see and do. Stop in and visit these towns when you’re in the area!
Thanks to Visit Arizona for hosting me. All opinions are my own.
If you like to enjoy nature, you’ll like Pinetop-Lakeside.
1. Pinetop Lakeside
Just an hour or so south of the Petrified Forest is the small mountain community of Pinetop-Lakeside. Offering almost endless outdoor activities, if you like to enjoy nature, you’ll like Pinetop-Lakeside.
Here you can enjoy camping, hiking, hunting, fishing, mountain biking, and boating, just to name a few. Along with great restaurants and friendly people, it’s the perfect place to stay before or after a visit to the Petrified Forest. Whether you want to enjoy the cool mountain air in the summer or hit the slopes in the winter, you can make it happen in Pinetop-Lakeside.
We enjoyed so many things during our stay here. The Pinetop Brewing Company is an awesome place to grab a Belgian craft beer and a burger. If you’re looking for a relaxing trail ride, look no further than Porter Mountain Stables. Visit the White Mountain Nature Center for exhibits on animals and plants native to the area, and take a walk around nearby Woodland Lake Park. Stop into the Hon-Dah Resort and Casino for gaming action. Hit the ski slopes at nearby Sunrise Ski Resort. For nicely updated accommodations in an outdoorsy setting, the Buck Springs Resort offers fully-equipped cabins located just minutes from the center of Pinetop-Lakeside.
Pro Tip: While at the White Mountain Nature Center, be sure to say hi to Funky the Eurasian eagle owl and ask about the free daily training shows.
The Wigwam Motel is the place you can spend the night in a tepee!
The closest sizable town to the Petrified Forest is Holbrook, which lies about 20 miles to the west. Once a rough and lawless town, today, this town of about 5,000 is probably best known as the Route 66 town with its teepees. Built in the 1930s, the Wigwam Motel is the place you can spend the night in a tepee! In addition to the teepees, and even better in my opinion, are all the vintage cars parked out front.
Of course, in Arizona, it’s all about traditional Mexican food and Holbrook is home to one of the best restaurants around. Romo’s Restaurant is the type of place that comes to mind when you want authentic Mexican food. Phyllis Romo has been the owner and chef for more than 30 years, ever since she bought the restaurant from her parents, who founded the business. If you’re a fan of green chili as I am, you’ll be happy to know you can indulge here. The enchiladas topped with homemade green chili are outstanding. My husband said the rice and beans he ate here are his all-time favorite!
Navajo County Historical Society
The Navajo County Historical Society courthouse is quite the trip back in time. Some items are truly ancient and some are from the 20th century. You’ll see ancient ruins from the native Anasazi people, the Apache, Hopi, and Navajo cultures. Some of the coolest items aren’t even “that” old. We loved the vintage phones, vending machines, and the old pop machines from the 1970s. Also impressive is the courtroom and law library upstairs. Seemingly untouched since the 1960s or ’70s, you can practically see the jury in the box and the defendant on the stand.
And the law books in the library look just as they must have back in the 1970s, on built-in bookcases that stretch from floor to ceiling. What’s even better is the jail in the basement. The jail was built in Kansas City way back in 1898 and was shipped to Holbrook via flatbed train. Believe it or not, the jail was used until 1976 when the county moved into its new home. The walls are still covered in inmates’ graffiti and artwork. It’s fascinating in a really eerie sort of way.
What fun it is to pose for photos with the statues and the red flatbed Ford.
Just 30 miles or so down I-40 from Holbrook is Winslow, Arizona.
Standin’ On The Corner Park
For all you Eagles lovers, Winslow brings the iconic Eagles to life in a sense with Standin’ On The Corner Park. The downtown corner, dedicated in 1999, is complete with two life-sized bronze statues inspired by the Eagles. Make sure to get a picture with the huge Route 66 road sign painted on the street and the red flatbed Ford. With Eagles songs blaring in the background, what fun it is to pose for photos with the statues and the red flatbed Ford. When we The Standin’ On The Corner Foundation hosts the annual Standin’ On The Corner Festival each year in September that sounds very fun as well. The park is located downtown on the corner of Kinsley Avenue and 2nd Street.
La Posada is known as one of the last of the great historic track hotels.
La Posada Hotel
Another must-see in Winslow is the famous La Posada Hotel. Originally built in the 1930s, La Posada was purchased in 1997 and saved from certain demolition. Since then, it’s been extensively and lovingly restored by owners Allan Affeldt and Tina Mion.
This amazing property is the architectural creation of Mary Colter, who many believe to be the greatest architect of the Southwest. The hotel is said to be her most elaborate and personal project, and today, the hotel is the crown jewel of Winslow. With railroad tracks right out the back doors, the hotel was one of a few railway hotels developed by Fred Harvey, who ran all the hotels and restaurants on the Santa Fe Railway.
Today, La Posada is known as one of the last of the great historic track hotels. The trains continue to run frequently along the tracks outside the hotel today, and it’s even home to an Amtrak stop. The whistles, at first loud, become almost unnoticeable after a couple of days, although the hotel does provide free earplugs for those that aren’t train enthusiasts.
Walk inside the property and you’ll find traditional southwestern architectural features like curved arches, exposed beams, and earthy colors. Full of unique art and rustic yet cozy gathering spaces, there’s something interesting to look at around every corner.
The Turquoise Room, the gorgeous restaurant and bar, is a destination unto itself and is known as the finest dining in the area. The on-site gift shop, full of unique southwestern-themed gifts including lots of turquoise jewelry, Mexican pottery, and other handcrafted items, is the perfect place to find that special souvenir.
The windows in our room overlooked the back gate and train tracks, giving us a bird’s eye view of the trains as they whizzed by. The hotel is simply a magnificent piece of history!
Per tip: There is no elevator at La Posada. Request a first-floor room if you don’t want to make your way upstairs with your luggage.
Flatbed Ford Cafe
We overheard rave reviews of the Flatbed Ford Café while picking up Eagles souvenirs down the street. I love chorizo, so when I heard this place serves the best in town, we had to try it for ourselves. Located just across the street from Standin’ On The Corner Park, the café is open every day and has daily specials every day of the week as well. Specials we saw included taco Tuesdays, the Route 66 burrito, and the special flatbed pasta, all under $10. The pork carnitas skillet and scrumptious potatoes, topped with eggs and piled high with chorizo, is a winner.
Grand Canyon Railway
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The town known as the Gateway to the Grand Canyon is only about 2 hours from the Petrified Forest. While in Williams, take the Grand Canyon Railway to the Grand Canyon for an easy day trip. Leave the driving to the engineer as you sit back and relax on the historic train. You’ll be taken on an approximate 2-hour scenic journey through the high desert and back again. Once you’re back in Williams, check out Western Outfitters and DeBerge Saddlery for handcrafted leatherware. When hunger strikes, head over to Pine Country Restaurant for home-cooked meals and homemade pies.
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Gorgeous Sedona is worthy of a visit anytime you’re in Arizona. The red rocks and breathtaking scenery are reason enough to go. If you like to hike or even just walk outside, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more beautiful area. Favorite trails are the Airport Mesa and Cathedral Rock. Make sure you visit the Chapel of the Holy Cross church, and try any Pink Jeep Tours — they’re incredible. Drive to nearby Cottonwood and stop into one of the wineries to sample Arizona wine from the Verde Valley Wine Trail. Visit Main Street and try amazing local restaurants like Crema and Merkin Vineyards.