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Phoenix Day Trip – Verde Canyon Railroad

All aboard!

You know I couldn't resist.

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As we explored Arizona we found so much to do. There is rich ancient peoples history, native American history, mining history, and railroad history. Throw in cowboys, pioneers national parks and you've got the makings for a lot of interesting weekends!

While Mr. Misadventures was doing research for some photo scouting he stumbled upon the Verde Canyon Railroad near Jerome and Clarkdale. During the same week, I read a tiny blurb in a regional magazine about this regional train being one of the best in the country. It was kismet and we planned a day trip from Phoenix.

Arizona Weekend Adventures - Verde Canyon Railroad Andi

You board the train in Clarkdale, a few minutes past the Jerome turnoff on 89A. From our house in the Phoenix area, it is an hour and 45-minute drive. The train operates year-round, usually with one 4-hour trip a day leaving at 1:00 pm.

However, there are special events, special trips, and even some days when the train leaves at noon, so it's best to check the schedule. They do sell out nearly every day, so it is also good to plan ahead and book your tickets in advance.

Given that Mr. Misadventures and I are morning peeps, we decided to take the morning and explore the local area before the afternoon departure.

Ee have a national park pass, so we headed to Tuzigoot National Monument, just 5 minutes down the road. This national monument, like Wupatki near Flagstaff, is preserved remains of 12th-century high desert Sinagua Indian dwellings right next to the Verde River.

Between 1100 and 1425 AD, the Verde Valley was occupied by the Sinagua. They built pueblos up and down the river, traded with each other, and banded together in defense for 300 years. Then they disappeared. And nobody knows why.

Tuzigoot National Monument

We walked the short trail from the visitor center to the 3-story dwelling which had great views of the valley. I spoke with a volunteer ranger for a bit who shared a little bit of the Sinagua history and other spots in Verde Valley where you can see ruins.

The best time to visit is in the fall when the foliage is turning, it is very brief, but according to the ranger, exceptionally beautiful. I think it is pretty interesting any time of year, but we will be back in the autumn to check it out.

Mr. Misadventures was frustrated that he couldn't get far enough distance to get all the ruins in the frame. We spoke with the rangers who didn't have a clue how to access the hills surrounding the park, so we took off on the hunt to gain elevation to access the site at a better angle.

After driving around a bit and striking out, we headed back to the train depot to eat lunch before the trip got underway.

Verde Canyon Railroad does sell snacks and drinks on the train, and even ice cream on the return trip. But given our low-carb lifestyle, we packed our own lunch and picnicked at the depot. The depot has nice outdoor tables, a store, a museum, a full restaurant, and a snack bar.

We purchased a coach class ticket (there are first class, caboose, and locomotive ride-along tickets as well). When you pick up your Verde Canyon Railroad tickets you are assigned to a climate-controlled railway car (ours was the Tucson, which is cool because we love Tucson).

We boarded the passenger cars and were introduced to our docents for our trip. We did a little safety talk on train travel and were then let loose.

Arizona Weekend Adventures - Verde Canyon Railroad Andi

The interior of the train cars is well maintained with comfortable seating. The trains began running in 1912 as a means to link the copper smelter at Clarkdale with the copper mines in Jerome.

Jerome is another fun place to visit in the hills above Clarksdale (and a great spot for activities with teens). It is a historic mine that has been well preserved for the sake of tourism and is quite popular to visit. You can see it in the hills here:

Jerome in the hills above Clarkdale

The Santa Fe Railway owned the tracks and trains until 1988 when it was bought by a private citizen David L. Durbano who re-opened the line between Clarkdale at milepost 38 and Perkinsville at milepost 18. So the route is 40 miles round trip.

The Verde Canyon railroad tour takes 2 hours to get to Perkinsville, the FP7 locomotive car is turned around and the train returns to Clarkdale, the entire route through the Verde Valley.

The area that the train traverses is practically untouched and absolutely gorgeous. Besides the unusual rock formations and historic trestles, the open-air viewing cars are just a cool way to travel!

The only way to access the area is by train or by foot. On the train, you get to see it all. Every train car has its own outdoor car connected to it. It's really great because there is plenty of room for everyone and you don't have to fight for space.

Arizona Weekend Adventures - Verde Canyon Railroad Andi

Mr. Misadventures had enough room to use his big lens amongst everyone using their own cameras and cell phones. During our trip, we saw eagles and hawks as well as javelinas. Late winter/early spring is the perfect time to go because the vegetation is just starting to bloom and you can see the wide expanse of trees along the river without obstructing your view.

Late spring, summer, and even into the fall the foliage covers the river – that is not to say that fall foliage is not gorgeous, I've seen the photos to prove it, but it is just different. If you are local, it behooves you to go more than once! Also, the route covers more than just the river, your views of rock formations and other parts of the canyon will still be awesome.

Arizona Weekend Adventures - Verde Canyon Railroad Landscape

I'm not sure I would love to be in the outdoor car in the height of summer, but the indoor cars are air-conditioned with panoramic windows, so if you aren't interested in photography, the summer is still a good time to ride.

One thing I can say for sure is that the docents are fabulous! We had Michael and he was so knowledgeable about the history of the area. We pummeled him with questions about things to visit, his recommendations, and his native American drumming. He plays every week in Sedona at Oak Creek Brewery and we hope to check it out.

Speaking of ales, the Verde Canyon train goes all out in the fall with Ales on Rails. On Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays in late September and October, the railroad offers an ale tasting and optional lunch that takes place at the depot. You can try local ales and craft beers from Arizona right before hopping on the train – fun!

Arizona Weekend Adventures - Verde Canyon Railroad Andi

When we got to Perkinsville it took a few minutes to reverse the locomotive car. And this is where I think there is a missed opportunity. It looks like there used to be a station here. There are abandoned buildings as evidence.

Why not rebuild the station and have a 30-45 minute break for people to visit the station, have a coffee, beer, or ice cream, learn a little history buy a t-shirt, and then get back on board? That's what I would do.

But alas, no one asked me. The return trip is nice because as we approach Clarkdale we are reaching the golden hour for photos. Mr. Misadventures and I just sat back and enjoyed the nice, breezy ride and vibrant scenery.

The canyon is called the Little Grand Canyon because the red rock sandstone formations look very much like the bigger more famous version. There are caves, tunnels, and bridges, and lots and lots of beautiful red rocks to see.

Arizona Weekend Adventures - Verde Canyon Railroad Andi

We enjoyed this train trip and plan to take it during every season so we can enjoy the differences. It is great for families and friends visiting Arizona. It's clean, well-run, with great docents. From the moment you step on the train to the end of your trip you will have a good time!

A few things to bring: sunscreen, a hat (although you might need to hold onto it from time to time), and PSI bands if you suffer from motion sickness (I forgot mine and regretted it). As I mentioned in the beginning, there are snacks and beverages, but if you want you can bring your own.

You can also go fancy and buy a first-class experience in a private car with complimentary champagne and up-leveled food. One of the times we took this trip there was even a marriage proposal followed by a champagne toast – it was very romantic!

Now back to Tuzigoot National Monument for a moment. Mr. Misadventures was not satisfied with the responses that the national park rangers provided, nor the initial scouting that we did, so during the week after a train trip he did more research and the following weekend we headed to Cottonwood (a cute little wine town).

It's off of 89A to Dead Horse Ranch State Park where at the end of Flycatcher Road you have the PERFECT shot of the monument. Sure would be nice if national and state parks spoke with each other and knew the local area!

And this was the reward:

Arizona Weekend Adventures - Tuzigoot Landscape

Zoomed in:

Now, we just have to wait for that fall foliage (or snowfall) and Mr. Misadventures will have the shot he wants!

To make a day of the Verde Canyon Railroad. Have breakfast in Cottonwood, visit Tuzigoot National Monument, take the train, and then return to Cottonwood for wine-tasting and an early dinner, or head up the hill for a meal at Jerome Grand Hotel (stunning views on their outdoor terrace where you can dine).

You can do this train ride in Phoenix, Scottsdale, or the Sedona area too if you are visiting. The Verde Canyon Railroad Clarkdale AZ address is 300 N Broadway.

How about you? Have you ridden the Verde Canyon train? Do you think you'd want to? Have you enjoyed another heritage train ride somewhere else? Do tell!

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Phoenix Day Trip - Verde Canyon Railroad Arizona USA

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  1. Sarah Bailey says:

    Oh wow now this looks like a fun place to head and explore, I bet it is amazing going on the railway. Peaceful and calm and just the views! WOW.

  2. Catherine Sargent says:

    This looks like such a neat train ride and the scenery looks amazing. I will keep this in mind if I am in the area.

  3. Marie Altenor says:

    The pictures looks amazing. I love riding in trains. Maybe one day i will get to visit Arizona.

  4. I love the idea of visiting Arizona and seeing this railroad. I am fascinated by stuff like this but we don’t have much here in New England that compares. I hope to get to travel to Arizona in my future.

  5. I want to ride that train. What an amazing and breathtaking experience for the kids this would be. I am awestruck at the beauty

  6. Annemarie LeBlanc says:

    The scenery is fantastic! I haven’t been on a scenic train ride for the longest time. I am glad that the Verde Canyon Railroad operates year round! I would love to take my grandchildren there to experience it. We’ll start planning for a trip soon.

  7. How gorgeous. I have always wanted to take in Arizona and would love to do so via train. This looks like it would be a lovely time well spent.

  8. Toughcookiemommy says:

    It looks like you guys had a great time on your train trip. I have been considering taking a trip on the train to visit family during the summer. I think you just helped me make up my mind about it.

  9. We are visiting Arizona from Michigan and took the Verde Canyon train ride a couple days ago. What an amazing way to see things you could never see safely any other way. We did see vehicles driving down into the canyon but you’d never catch me doing it. We rode in the VIP car which has comfy couches on one side and pairs of chairs with a small table on the other side. We had access to a cash bar and free water and snacks for the first half of the ride.

  10. Jenn and Ed Coleman says:

    I have always wanted to kayak down the Verde but never quite made it. The Verde Canyon Railroad was a close second. I was just thinking about Jerome the other day and the haunted hotel there. It’s getting to be that time of year.

  11. Love those last panoramic pictures! Taking a train to see all of this would be so much fun. The landscapes in Arizona are unmatched. So much variety! And ruins! I didn’t even know those were there. Can’t wait to see what it looks like in all seasons…

  12. That train ride looks epic! Mr. Misadventure had expertly translated it visually.(or it’s the other way around). I like that I feel riding along with you while reading your post… And your further research had indeed produced an amazing reward…That’s an awesome pic of the Tuzigoot National Monument.

  13. Ashley Hubbard says:

    I love train rides (working on writing about one in the Smoky Mountains right now) and would love to take this little excursion! I wish trains were a normal thing in our country still. I love the scenery you saw (and wildlife!) and can’t wait to see photos from the fall and/or winter.

  14. This looks like a really lovely day trip! I love to ride trains – I often say they’re my favorite form of transport. But I always associate them with the UK or Europe in general. Never the US (mainly due to some strange Amtrak experiences haha). However the Verde Canyon railroad trip looks perfect for a relaxing day.

  15. Paula Barber says:

    I rode on that railroad line back in March 2019 with my friends from Kentucky and their uncle & cousins from Phoenix. We had a blast in the club car drinking Margaritas and eating our snacks and singing songs. The scenery was spectacular and the weather was nice.