Staycation 2012: Enjoying Arizona on a Budget!

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After the success of the 2011 Staycations series, bloggers have teamed up again to bring you more great ideas for this summer! Just like last summer, gas prices here continue to hover not too far below $4/gallon. So, once again, many fam­i­lies will be look­ing for ways to save money on vaca­tions or may even find them­selves stay­ing closer to home this sum­mer.

For those of us in the two largest metropolitan areas (Phoenix & Tucson) of Arizona, pleasant summer activities typically need to involve water or being indoors due to the HOT temperatures. However, one of the many fabulous things about Arizona is the diversity of climates (& biomes) with some truly beautiful scenery. In under a 2-hour drive, you can go from the hot, cactus-laden Sonoran Desert to 7,000+ elevation conifer forests with MUCH cooler temperatures.

So, whether you’re local and plan­ning a true stay­ca­tion or will be just be vis­it­ing Arizona this sum­mer, there are MANY  budget-friendly, family fun things to check out!


In a large city like Phoenix (and HUGE when you con­sider the entire “Val­ley of the Sun”), there is a wealth of fam­ily fun to be had–from pro-sports team, to zoos and muse­ums, golf courses, water­parks, and more! I covered Phoenix staycation ideas last year & Saving for Someday is covering the Phoenix area this year. So, if you’re looking for specific Phoenix-metro ideas, be sure to click on the links to check out those two posts.

Tucson/Southern AZ

Mr. Mom Endeavors & I lived in Tucson for 5 years while he went to grad school at the University of Arizona. Much like Phoenix, there are a lot of different family fun & budget friendly options! My friend Karen from Desert Chica Ramblings has this year’s Tucson staycation tips covered! So, be sure to check out her list if you’d like more extensive information on that area. But, here are a few of our favorite things to check out in Southern AZ:

If you’re wanting to do a true staycation in these two hotter, desert metro areas, keep in mind that summer is actually the “off-season” for hotels & resorts. You can often snag incredible deals on some really nice places (often times somewhere between $89 & $149 a night on rooms that might be $200-$400+ during the winter). So, be sure to check on that if you’re interested in a fun, resort stay.

Northern Arizona

If you’re looking for an affordable way to explore Arizona & stay out of the heat, I think exploring Northern Arizona with a National Parks Pass is an awesome way to go. A pass is $80, but covers entrance and standard fees for a driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle at per vehicle fee areas (or up to four adults at sites that charge per person). Children age 15 or under are admitted free.

You can check out the comprehensive list of National Park sites in Arizona here, but this is my list of Northern Arizona favorites. The first two are the ones that I personally think you’ll want to spend the most time at. But, we’ve been to all of these & they’re all really interesting/really educational.

You could actually hit all of those parks in two days depending on how you did it. If Flagstaff was your “home base”, then you could be to any of those parks within two hours. If you’re over near the Petrified Forest, then the Hubbell Trading Post, which has been in operation since 1878, might be another cool place to check out! While in Flagstaff, the weather certainly lends itself very well to a number of outdoor activities–hiking, fishing, camping, etc. Some other fun things to check out are Lowell Observatory (Kids under 5 are FREE and adults are just $11), the Snowbowl Scenic Skyride, or the Arizona Cardinals summer training camp at NAU (which is FREE!). Then, you could take the very scenic (& very curvy) SR Highway 89A down from Flagstaff to Sedona.


Home of the “Red Rocks” and one of the absolute most gorgeous places in the state!

There is certainly fun shopping & various hiking trails around. But, our two favorite summer Sedona activities center around Oak Creek. First up is Slide Rock. The name is exactly as it sounds–a natural rock slide. Growing up in Arizona, it was a fun family destination for many a summer! The cost is just $20 per vehicle to get in for a whole day of fun. And, just a bit further down the road from Slide Rock is our absolute favorite hiking destination–Call O’ the Canyon/West Fork Trailhead. It’s just $8/vehicle and the site has bathrooms, picnic tables, and was an old apple orchard (which is really fun in the fall). The hike down by the creek is GORGEOUS and great to do with kids! Just watch out for poison ivy/posion oak!!

If you were to continue down SR 89A from Sedona, then you’d come upon Jerome–an old, historic Arizona mining town! My friend Sara, the Clever Pink Pirate, actually did a little trip in that area & did a great post on it complete with some good tips & links. So, be sure to check out her post for more on Jerome.

Continuing on SR 89A from Jerome, you’d then come to…


Prescott is less than a 2 hour drive from Phoenix & is rich in history, has cooler weather and some great things to do.  First off, you could take a stroll around historic, downtown Prescott, which is really interesting & often has fun activities going on. In fact, Prescott was actually founded in 1864 as the Territorial Capital of Arizona!  Sharlot Hall is a museum (with very low admission rates) that you can check out to learn more about all the area’s rich history! There are also some great outdoor places nearby, like the beautiful Granite Dells (pictured above).

If you have any train-lovers, you may want to check out the Verde Canyon Railroad while you’re in this general area! It is certainly not the most budget-friendly thing to do in the area. But, if you’re wanting a unique way to site-see or want to splurge a bit for your favorite train-lover, this is a really cool option!


Heading to the lake is a great summer recreational activity. Although Arizona certainly doesn’t have the water content that other states do, there are some really nice lakes throughout the state.

The larger lakes closest to the Phoenix area are Lake Pleasant (pictured above), Roosevelt Lake, Saguaro Lake, Apache, and Canyon. But, if you’re looking for options in other places, check out the Arizona Lakes index on AZ Central.

No matter what you do, I hope you enjoy some family time together this summer!

What inexpensive, summer family fun things do you like to do in YOUR area?

*If you have other favorite inex­pen­sive Arizona places, please com­ment & let us know!

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I’m Sara, a mom to three adorable boys living in the Arizona desert. As a former teacher, I love sharing my passions with others. So, have a look around for creative inspiration about cooking, creating, celebrating, traveling with kids, and more everyday mom endeavors!


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12 Responses

  1. A great round up of ideas and info! Good job Sara! Love all these places, there’s so much to do here, I keep telling my hubby we’ve barely scratched the surface. Northern AZ is for sure one of our faves.

  2. Great list of ideas. We love escaping the Tucson heat by driving up to Mt. Lemmon for the day. Such a nice change of pace.

    PS. Hello from the AZ bloggers Facebook group! 🙂

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