Arizona Family Vacation Itinerary

Our family really enjoyed this 3 day Arizona Family Vacation Itinerary to the southwest and some warmer weather. The diverse landscape of Arizona makes a family vacation seem like you cover a lot of ground in just a few days.

As you travel north out of Phoenix to Sedona and through Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon the scenery changes often and is very beautiful!

Gorgeous view of the actual Big Thunder Mountain in Sedona, Arizona that inspired the ride at Disney

Our goal was to visit the Grand Canyon and see some of the southwest United States during our 5 day trip. Here is a link to more family fun vacations.

We like to vacation in January whether it’s a quick Disney cruise to relax or more exploratory travel like this trip. Last year we took a Family Vacation to San Antonio in January and enjoyed the time, but this trip was unexpectedly much more enjoyable due to the unbelievably beautiful scenery.

Arizona Vacation Itinerary

Travel Day – Wednesday after school in eastern time we flew into Phoenix and landed at 10:30 p.m. Stayed at the Hilton hotel next to the airport. Hilton Phoenix Airport review – very average.

Save this Recipe
Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

Enter your email and I’ll send this recipe right to your inbox! Plus, I’ll send you new recipes every week!

Chilly January morning view of the pool near the Phoenix airport

Day 1 – Explore greater Phoenix area:

  • 8:00 a.m. drove through Arizona State University, saw the stadium where the Buckeyes have played the national championship at Sun Devil Stadium, stopped at McDonalds for breakfast, then went to Target for water and a booster seat.
  • 9 – 11 a.m. explored the Dessert Botanical Gardens
  • 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. explored Goldfield Ghost Town and had lunch at the saloon
  • 2 p.m. Coldstone Creamery stop enroute to Sedona
  • 5:30 p.m. Slow traffic out of Phoenix and through Scottsdale extended the travel time to our VRBO in Sedona. Stopped at McDonalds for the kids in Camp Verde.

Day 2 – Explore Sedona with the Family

  • 7:45 a.m. leave VRBO for Sedona Visitor Center (maps said it opened at 8 a.m., but didn’t actually open until 8:30 a.m.)
  • 8:20 a.m. walked across the street to Pink Jeep Tours and got on an 8:30 a.m. covered bus tour since it was still chilly until 10:20 a.m.
  • 10:20 Went to Sedona Visitor Center and got advice on trails to try given the experience level of our group.
  • 10:40 – 11:45 a.m. hiked the Sugar Loaf mountain
  • 12 – 1 p.m. Lunch at Picazzo’s Italian Kitchen- adults favorite restaurant in Sedona
  • 1:20 – 2:45 p.m. Hike Fay Canyon
  • 3 – 3:30 p.m. Drove through town to get homemade ice cream from the Black Cow Creamery – AMAZING
  • 4 – 5:15 p.m. Mom dropped dad and kids off at the Pyramid to hike (they never did find the trail to go up the mountain and hiked around it for a while) while she went to grocery for water and pasta for the kids and picked up salads from Golden Goose for the adults.
  • 5:30 made and ate dinner at VRBO while doing laundry and watching a movie on Netflix
Beautiful view from the Sedona airport of the buildings in the valley and the red rock mountains beyond town

Day 3 – A Day Trip to the Grand Canyon

  • 7:30 a.m. headed north through town on the Apple maps suggested route along Oak Creek Canyon – very scenic drive up the side of a mountain that is great, but makes you nervous if you look down at several points
  • 9:30 a.m. grabbed coffee and breakfast for the kids at McDonalds in Flagstaff
  • 10:30 a.m. arrive at Grand Canyon OFFICIAL visitors center (you’ll drive by some fake ones, don’t stop)
  • 10:45 a.m. restroom stop and walked to overlook, first majestic view of one of the & Natural Wonders of the World
  • 11:00 a.m. ride bus west to Grand Canyon village and take in several more views, had lunch at El Tovar. Husband hikes east (with wind to his back along the rim trail) while kids and I ride bus back to original point.
  • 3:30 p.m. Would like to drive east to the lookout tower and take in more views, but a big storm is blowing in around 8 p.m. so we head to VRBO in Sedona to decide if it’s safe to spend the night there or if we need to get to lower elevations before the storm.
  • 6 p.m. Pick up dinner in Sedona and head back to the house to relax and eat

Travel Day

  • 6:30 a.m. leave Sedona VRBO to wash Turo rental van (per their last minute requirement), return to airport parking, get shuttle to airport, etc.
  • 8:30 a.m. freeway into Phoenix is closed, so have to reroute
  • 10:30 a.m. security line at Phoenix Sun Airport is moving ridiculously slow and the x-ray machine for our carry-on bags breaks, took almost an hour to get through security and to our gate.
  • 11:20 a.m. grab lunch and board the plane home – got Cyber Monday deals with Southwest, so have to connect through Houston. Arrive in Columbus, OH on time at 8:15 p.m. EST.
Red rock views above the Fay Canyon hike

Things To Know For A January Vacation

  • January is the least busy time of year in Sedona and at the Grand Canyon, but make last minute plans to ensure you catch a break in the weather as big snow storms are common.
  • Take lots of layers including thermals or long underwear the higher up in the mountains you plan to go.
  • Always carry a water bottle with you and keep extra water in your vehicle or easily accessible.
  • The altitude of the Grand Canyon is 6,800, altitude in Sedona is around 4,000, and altitude in Phoenix is 1,000 – this has a significant impact on temperature and weather patterns.
  • Be flexible and watch the weather, if a storm is moving in head towards a lower altitude if you need to be able to leave as highways in the mountains do shut down due to snow and ice.
  • The walking paths at the Grand Canyon do get covered with snow and ice and roads do close during storms

A Family Trip to the Grand Canyon via Phoenix and Sedona

We chose to visit the Desert Botanical Gardens first because they open earlier in the morning than most attractions we considered. We also came from the eastern time zone and knew we wouldn’t sleep in for very long.

Large red art in the desert botanical garden with lots of plants in the background

With the airport in close proximity it is easy to get to the garden. The Desert Botanical Gardens is a must see early on the agenda.

We love the diversity of plants, the beautiful scenery and feeling the warmth of the sun while walking around!

There is art throughout the garden, a kids area and benches to rest on. We easily spent 2 to 3 hours here with our family.

My daughter laughed hysterically as we walked through these cacti.

Large cactus that connect over the walking path at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix with people walking under them

One Day in Phoenix with the Family

The first full day of our itinerary was in the greater Phoenix area.

Goldfield Ghost Town is created for tourist and our kids had a lot of fun in the unique setting. Each activity is priced separately, kind of like al carte.

My daughter really expected John Wayne to ride down the center of town with guns a blazing. Turns out they do have gun fights on Friday and Saturday!

Large cactus next to the saloon in a ghost town near Phoenix

The Saloon is further up the hill and has a fun and unique atmosphere. Lunch was very popular with the whole family, but we decided to skip ice cream as the quality seemed to be poor for the high price. 

Burgers and pulled pork sandwich with fries and bottles of sarsaparilla at a western saloon

We stopped by the arcade style gun fight where we shot at laser targets. It costs $12 for 4 people for one minute of play. 

Toy laser shooting arcade at an old west ghost town

We did the gold mine tour which was very interesting and sobering as that was a hard, but well rewarded for the time life.

Gold mine tour at Goldfield ghost town outside of Phoenix

Pro tip – bring water and drink a lot of it. You have to buy it and the central Arizona air is so dry!

Inside the Saloon at the Goldfield Ghost Town

A Quick Family Vacation to Sedona 

Sedona is a great home base because the views are breathtaking, majestic and probably the place several computer screen savers were photographed. 

Beautiful views of the red rocks or Coffee Pot Rocks in Sedona with a bright blue sky in the background of Sedona in January

There is a scenic road to the Grand Canyon heading north out of town along Oak Creek Canyon. This road adds to the journey and this entire trip is more about the journey than the destination!

The  right up the edge of the mountain was compared as being more exciting than The Dragon’s Trail. So we took the route with an additional 15 minutes on the interstate in the dark on the way home. 

Hiking map of Sedona, Arizona

If we were to visit at a busier time of the year, we might look at staying further out of town to save money. But we got the best deals on lodging since demand is at its lowest in the winter.

Large paper map of the Verde Valley and areas surrounding Sedona, Arizona

Sedona In January 

January is a great time to plan a last minute trip to Sedona, Arizona and the Grand Canyon. Be sure to watch the weather as big snow storms that close roads and highways do happen. 

We planned a couple weeks out and were very blessed with a warm front and t-shirt weather. We wore jackets early in the day, but could hike with a t-shirt most of the day. Locals said that is unusual in January.

Family hiking with mountains in the background and cactus in the foreground of the red dirt path

If work didn’t get in the way of living we could’ve easily stayed for a week and barely touched the 600 miles of hiking trails and adventures, not to mention restaurants and shops. 

I was surprised how often we found ourselves driving through town, which made supplies very accessible. 

We got out of town before a big storm came in mid January that seemed to be losing ing steam through out the day.  Keep an eye on the altitude that weather is expected and head south towards Scottsdale to avoid travel delays if necessary. 

One Day in Sedona

We started our chilly January morning with a Pink Jeep Tour. Instead of doing the more authentic open Jeep, we opted for the bus covered in glass and full of windows.

This single day was our hands down favorite day in our Arizona family vacation itinerary!

Covered pink jeep tour in front of the red rocks on a cool January morning

The tour guide was wonderful, took us extra places and gave us lots of great info on the town and area.

He took several family photos for us, including panoramic pics like this one.

Panoramic view of Pink Jeep tour up to the Chapel of the Holy Cross on the hill in Sedona

We were given 25 minutes to walk up to the Chapel of the Holy Cross and explore the area.

Inside the peaceful and beautiful Chapel of the Holy Cross

After out 2 hour tour we went the Sugar Loaf for a family hike up a smaller mountain.

We found that the kids really enjoy hiking and we all enjoyed the workout. Soaking up some sun was perfect too!

After our hike we went to get a nice salad along with so many other options at Picazzo. This turned out to be my favorite restaurant in Sedona. The lunch special is AMAZING!

Slice of pizza and half green goddess salad is the lunch special at PIcazzo

Then we took a drive to hike Fay Canyon which was a very easy trail and oh so beautiful.

Every few steps it felt like you could look up and see beautiful new views on either side of the canyon.

Kids on the easy family hike in Fay Canyon with beautiful mountains in the background

It was also much cooler with the vegetation down in the canyon.

Then we took an ice cream break!

Unique combinations of homemade ice cream at the Black Cow Creamery

After ice cream I dropped the family off at the Pyramid near our VRBO and went to the grocery and to pick-up dinner.

I picked up salads from the Golden Goose that were fine, but super expensive and not that much better than a bag salad from the grocery store.

The Grand Canyon In January 

When visible the magnitude of the canyon is absolutely breathtaking!

This visit was the purpose of the entire trip and we would absolutely visit again. However it’s interesting that we all probably enjoyed our day at Sedona the best because it was more relaxed, less travel, etc. But the Grand Canyon is still a must do if at all possible!

View of the Grand Canyon in the winter

The risk of planning a once in a lifetime visit is the weather is very unpredictable and winter storms can close main roads including state routes around the canyon because of the huge changes in grade with the mountains. 

When weather fronts move in with clouds the canyon may not be visible for days. 

We went on a day that was clear until about 3pm but then saw rain clouds moving in that certainly out a damper on the majestic views. 

January at the Grand Canyon with some snow on the rim hiking trail

So if you can plan a longer trip and stay at a lower altitude that is likely to have better weather and drive up on the best day you can really increase your chance of the best views compared to planning a tight schedule. 

We ate lunch at El Tovar bar and it was fine, but not wonderful. We found food offerings to be limited and would probably pack or bring heavy snacks in the future and go to Flagstaff for a nicer meal.

Lunch at El Tovar bar at Grand Canyon village

Fly Into Phoenix or Las Vegas?

Phoenix is the closest, most scenic and populated route to the south rim and official visitors center of the Grand Canyon.

There are several places to stop and eat and use the restroom between Phoenix and the Grand Canyon National Park.

There are several miles of trails with look out spots that have rails and more safety features in the national park.

We found the Phoenix airport and Sedona to have a more family friendly atmosphere for your kids than Vegas. 

Arizona Family Vacation Review

Our family will absolutely return to Arizona! We would recommend the Arizona family vacation itinerary shared above without hesitation!

My husband would enjoy warmer weather to hike down in the Grand Canyon and he would also enjoy watching some of the baseball spring training.

Our entire family would love to return to Sedona for a few more days to hike and explore. We’re all really glad we saw the Grand Canyon, but I would wait to take the kids again when they’re older and can appreciate God’s creation a bit more.

More Family Vacation Ideas

Taking the family to the nation’s capital and visiting Washington D.C. was an important and more serious type of trip.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *