5 Unique Arizona Small Towns to Visit Near the Petrified National Forest

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The thing about Arizona is that you can enjoy so many different experiences depending on where you are in the state. In just 3 hours you can go from the valley of the big city of Scottsdale to the small towns of the north.

We choose to visit these small towns on our travels through the White Mountains and beyond because we always love towns that have a bustling downtown area with unique things to see and do. Stop and visit these towns when you are in the area!

Thanks to Visit Arizona for hosting me. All opinions are mine.

If you love enjoying nature, you’ll love Pinetop-Lakeside.
S. J. Morgensen

1. Pinetop Lakeside

About an hour south of the Petrified Forest is the small mountain community of Pinetop-Lakeside. Offering nearly endless outdoor activities, if you love enjoying nature, you’ll love Pinetop-Lakeside.

Here you can go camping, hiking, hunting, fishing, mountain biking and boating, to name a few. 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 fresh mountain air in the summer or hit the slopes in the winter, you can make it happen at Pinetop-Lakeside.

We enjoyed so many things during our stay here. the Pinetop Brewery is an awesome place to grab a Belgian craft beer and a burger. If you’re looking for a relaxing ride on the trails, look no further than Porter Mountain Stables. Visit the White Mountain Nature Center for exhibits of animals and plants native to the area, and take a walk in nearby Woodland Lake Park. Stop by the Hon-Dah Resort and Casino for some gambling action. Hit the nearby ski slopes sunrise ski resort. For beautifully updated accommodation in an outdoor setting, the Buck Springs Resort offers fully equipped cabins located minutes from downtown Pinetop-Lakeside.

Pro Tip: While at the White Mountain Nature Center, be sure to say hello to Funky the Eurasian Eagle Owl and ask about the free daily training shows.

The Wigwam Motel with teepees.
The Wigwam Motel is the place to spend the night in a teepee!
S. J. Morgensen

2.Holbrook

The closest major 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 people is probably best known as the Route 66 town with its tepees. Built in the 1930s, the Wigwam Motel is the place to spend the night in a teepee! In addition to the tepees, and even better in my opinion, all the old cars are parked in front.

Rome’s restaurant

Of course, Arizona is all about traditional Mexican cuisine, 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 over 30 years, ever since she purchased the restaurant from her parents, who founded the business. If you’re a green chili fan like me, you’ll be happy to know you can indulge yourself here. The enchiladas topped with homemade green chili are exceptional. My husband said the rice and beans he ate here were his all time favorite!

Navajo County Historical Society

the Navajo County Historical Society courthouse is quite a journey through time. Some objects are really old and others date from the 20th century. You will see ancient ruins of the indigenous Anasazi people, Apache, Hopi and Navajo cultures. Some of the coolest items aren’t even “that” old. We loved the vintage telephones, vending machines and old pop machines from the 1970s. The upstairs courtroom and law library are also impressive. Seemingly untouched since the 60s or 70s, you can practically see the jury in the box and the defendant on the stand.

And the library’s law books are just as they must have been in the 1970s, on recessed shelves that stretch from floor to ceiling. What’s even better is the prison in the basement. The jail was built in Kansas City in 1898 and shipped to Holbrook by flatbed rail. Believe it or not, the jail was in use until 1976 when the county moved into its new home. The walls are still covered in graffiti and artwork by the inmates. It’s fascinating in a really weird way.

Standin on the corner of the playpen, Ford flatbed.
What a pleasure to pose for photos with the statues and the Ford with a red top.
S. J. Morgensen

3.Winslow

Just about 30 miles down I-40 from Holbrook is Winslow, Arizona.

Standing on the corner park

For all Eagles lovers, Winslow brings the iconic Eagles to life in a sense with Standing on the corner park. The downtown corner, dedicated in 1999, is completed with two life-size bronze statues inspired by eagles. Be sure to take a photo with the massive Route 66 road sign painted in the street and the red flatbed Ford. With the songs of the Eagles in the background, what a pleasure to pose for photos with the statues and the Ford with a red top. When we visited, the place was a revolving door of people looking for the perfect photo op. the Standin’ On The Corner Foundation hosts the annual Standin’ On The Corner festival every September, which also seems like a lot of fun. The park is located downtown at the corner of Kinsley Avenue and 2nd Street.

Window of La Posada in Winslow, Arizona.
La Posada is known as one of the last great historic runway hotels.
S. J. Morgensen

Hotel La Posada

Another must-see in Winslow is the famous La Posada hotel. Originally built in the 1930s, The Posada was purchased in 1997 and saved from some demolition. Since then it has been extensively and lovingly restored by owners Allan Affeldt and Tina Mion.

This stunning property is the architectural creation of Mary Colter, considered by many to be the greatest architect in the Southwest. The hotel is said to be his most elaborate and personal project, and today the hotel is the jewel in Winslow’s crown. With railroad tracks right outside the back doors, the hotel was one of the few railroad hotels developed by Fred Harvey, who ran all hotels and restaurants on the Santa Fe railroad.

Today, La Posada is known as one of the last great historic runway hotels. Trains continue to run frequently along the tracks outside the hotel today, and it even houses an Amtrak stop. The whistles, loud at first, become almost imperceptible after a few days, though the hotel provides free earplugs for those who aren’t train enthusiasts.

Walk inside the property and you’ll discover traditional southwestern architectural features such as 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 beautiful restaurant and bar, is a destination in itself and is known as the best restaurant in the area. The on-site gift shop, which is stocked with unique Southwestern-themed gifts, including plenty of turquoise jewelry, Mexican pottery, and other handcrafted items, is the perfect place to find that special keepsake.

The windows in our room overlooked the back door and the train tracks, giving us a bird’s eye view of the speeding trains. The hotel is simply a beautiful piece of history!

PRO TIP: There is no elevator at La Posada. Ask for a room on the first floor if you don’t want to go upstairs with your luggage.

Ford Coffee Tray

We’ve heard rave reviews about the Ford Coffee Tray while picking up Eagles memorabilia on the street. I love chorizo, so when I heard this place serves the best in town, we had to try it for ourselves. Located directly across from Standin’ On The Corner Park, the cafe is open daily and also offers daily specials every day of the week. Promotions we saw included Taco Tuesdays, the Route 66 burrito, and special flat pasta, all under $10. The skillet of pork carnitas and succulent potatoes, topped with eggs and piled high with chorizo, is a winner.

Grand Canyon train waiting at Williams Station, Arizona.
Grand Canyon Railroad
Nicola Pulham / Shutterstock.com

4.Williams

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 while you sit back and relax on the historic train. You will be taken on a scenic journey of approximately 2 hours through the high desert and back. Once back in Williams, head to Western Outfitters and DeBerge Saddlery for handmade leather goods. When hunger strikes, go to Pine Country Restaurant for homemade dishes and homemade pies.

Cathedral Rock at Oat Creek in Sedona Arizona.
cathedral rock
littlenySTOCK / Shutterstock.com

5.Sedona

Beautiful Sedona is worth a visit whenever you are in Arizona. The red rocks and breathtaking landscapes are reason enough to go. If you enjoy hiking or even just walking outdoors, you’ll be hard pressed to find a nicer area. Favorite trails are Mesa Airport and the cathedral rock. Be sure to visit the Chapel of the Holy Cross church, and try any Pink Jeep Tours – they are amazing. Drive to nearby Cottonwood and stop at one of the wineries to sample Arizona wine from the Verde Valley Wine Trail. Visit Main Street and try amazing local restaurants like Cream and Merkin Vineyards.

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