Image courtesy Camaron Stevenson A family plays in the snow at the Oak Hill Snow Play Area in Kaibab National Forest.
Image courtesy Camaron Stevenson

Here are our picks for the best spots in the state to plan your Winter Wonderland day trip.

While living in one of the hottest deserts in the world can be difficult in the summer, it pays off in the winter. But what if the kids still want to play in the snow?

The Copper Courier has identified 11 locations spanning seven counties ranging anywhere from 35 minutes to four hours from downtown Phoenix, where Valley residents can go to get a taste of the snow. 

Pre-Trip Checklist:

Snow clothes: Earmuffs, beanie, scarf, sweater, jacket, gloves or mittens, boots, galoshes, and thick socks. Some of the heavier gear can be found at a sporting goods store like Ski Pro or REI.

Car prep: A snow scraper for the windshield, tire chains for driving in the snow. They can be found at tire shops like Discount Tires or auto parts stores like Auto Zone, although it’s more likely to find them at stores near the snowy destination.

Snow Accessories: Sleds and snow saucers are typically sold at stores with sports and outdoor departments. And if “build a snowman” is on the list of things to do, don’t forget to pack a carrot.

Pro Tip: The farther the destination is from the Phoenix metro area, the less congested the site will be with fellow Valley residents taking a snow day.

Apache Railroad Multi-Use Trailhead in Greer

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Apache County, 210 miles northeast of Phoenix, 4-hour drive from downtown

Greer is a long drive, but it’s worth the trip! The town and surrounding area boast 8 feet of snow annually and are home to ski resorts, inviting cabins, and breathtaking scenery. 

For extended stays, Greer Lodge has every amenity a snowgoer could want, but for those looking for a more natural, less frilly adventure, The Copper Courier staff recommend the Apache Railroad Multi-Use Trailhead, just off of Arizona State Route 260. Information from the Forest Service is surprisingly sparse, but reviews from those who have been there come with photos of snowy hills ideal for sledding.

Arizona Nordic Village in Flagstaff

Coconino County, 165 miles north of Phoenix, 3-hour drive from downtown

If broad, open fields and authentic, nomadic dwelling quarters are of interest, then yurt in for a treat! The Arizona Nordic Village, located on the outskirts of Flagstaff, is outfitted with over 30 miles of ski, biking, and walking trails, cozy cabins and yurts, and regular events to keep the whole family entertained. Guests can stay in the cabins, yurts, or campsite areas available, sign up for ski or skate lessons, or purchase a season pass so they can enjoy the grounds all year long.

Bearizona Wildlife Park in Williams

Williams, AZ – December 27: An American Black Bear (Ursus americanus) makes a car stop as it crosses a road at Bearizona Wildlife Park in Williams, Arizona on December 27, 2011. Bearizona Wildlife Park is a drive-thru wildlife park directly off of Interstate 40, near the Grand Canyon, set in the Kaibab National Forest on 160 acres of with over a three mile driving area and a 20 acre walking area with settings as natural as possible for the animals, and it attracts over 300,000 visitors annualy making it a popular tourist destination.
Photo by Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images

Coconino County, 175 miles north of Phoenix, 2.5-hour drive from downtown

Tucked away in Kaibab National Forest, Bearizona Wildlife Park is a mix between a traditional zoo and Yellowstone National Park. In addition to three different types of bears, the park is also home to bison, porcupine, otters, and even reindeer. Throw on the 55 inches of snow the region gets annually, and visitors have a winter experience like no other. Guests interested in visiting the park can purchase walkthrough or drive-through passes, or, for a more free-range experience, can simply find a spot in the forest and enjoy the snow.

Interested in seeing how much snow has fallen before making the drive? Bearizona has two Cub Cams chronicling the lives of the local wildlife.

The Grand Canyon, Bright Angel Trail 

Snow-covered landscape of the Grand Canyon
Photo by Miyuki Miller / EyeEm / Getty Images

Coconino County, 230 miles north of Phoenix, 4-hour drive from downtown

The Grand Canyon is a sight to behold all year round, but in the winter, it’s something else entirely. The National Park Service recommends visiting after the December holidays for smaller crowds and a quieter atmosphere. Vehicles aren’t permitted on the North Rim of the canyon during the winter, so those seeking to immerse themselves in the winter scenery of the Bright Angel Trail should prepare to camp out, while less experienced nature lovers can enjoy the sights and snowfall from the safety and accessibility of the South Rim.

North Phoenix/North Scottsdale

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Maricopa County, 30 miles north of Phoenix, 35-minute drive from downtown

Desert Ridge Marketplace in Phoenix decks their courtyard with lights, snow, and visits from Mr. and Mrs. Claus and the Grinch. They kick off their festivities on Nov. 20 with a holiday tree lighting and the first snowfall at 7 p.m., then blanket the grounds with snow at the same time every night until Dec. 30.

Although snow has graced Scottsdale with its presence briefly for the past couple of years, it may be too rare and too short-lived to make plans around it. Luckily, a few retail parks in northern Scottsdale bring snow to the Valley during the winter months.

Arizona Boardwalk is hosting their Snow Much Fun event again this year, where they promise snow, obstacle courses, bounce houses, live music, and plenty of shopping. First snow falls at 11 a.m. on Nov. 26 and continues until 3 p.m.

Oak Hill Snow Play Area in Kaibab National Forest

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Coconino County, 160 miles north of Phoenix, 2.5-hour drive from downtown

What was once an array of ski slopes in the 1950s is now a haven for sledding enthusiasts. The Oak Hill Snow Play Area is free to anyone willing to make the trek and offers two sled runs: a shorter slope for beginners and a longer, steeper slope for visitors with a need for speed.

While there is no water on-site, there are vault toilets on the premises and a shelter with benches and a fire circle where visitors can take a break and warm up. Metal and wooden sleds are prohibited, and the Forest Service recommends waiting until there’s at least 1 foot of snow on the ground before hitting the slopes.

Palisades Trail in the Catalina Mountains

Warm sunset light illuminates the peaks of the Santa Catalina mountains after a fresh winter snowfall.
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Pima County, 145 miles southeast of Phoenix, 3-hour drive from downtown

Just outside of Tucson lies Palisades Trail in the Catalina Mountains. Those looking for a hike can enjoy 13 miles of pine trees, waterfalls, and snowcapped scenery, but for those simply looking for snow, it won’t take more than a few steps on the trail. Snow typically begins to fall in late October and continues to blanket the area until March.

Payson

Snow covered trees and houses in Payson.
Photo by Ran Zisovitch/Getty Images

Gila County, 80 miles northeast of Phoenix, 80-minute drive from downtown

While the town of Payson is known to get some snow, the real powder lies several miles east of town off of Highway 260. Snow-seekers will need to make their way through Star Valley—once known for its hefty photo radar tickets—and into Tonto National Forest. While there aren’t any recognized play areas nearby, the Forest Service has several areas designated for camping and hiking that travelers can use to pull off and play.

Pinetop-Lakeside

Late afternoon during the winter in the White Mountains of Arizona.
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Navajo County, 180 miles northeast of Phoenix, 3-hour drive from downtown

With enough annual snowfall to justify police department “snow shifts” for road cleanup, the town of Pinetop-Lakeside promises more than enough snow for all residents and visitors to enjoy. The terrain offers a wide range of winter activities, including “cross-country and downhill skiing, sledding, snowmobiling and ice fishing.”

Thumb Butte in Prescott

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Yavapai County, 100 miles north of Phoenix, 2-hour drive from downtown

Described as “the most distinguishing landmark in Prescott,” Thumb Butte is the premier destination for a scenic, snowy getaway. Ponderosa pine trees laden with snow cover the landscape, and the picnic area has drinking water, tables, grills, and every amenity needed to spend a day in the snow. 

Thumb Butte does receive a substantial amount of snow—so much so that the Forest Service has to close the area if the snowfall is too heavy and the roads get icy. Visitors are encouraged to check in with the Bradshaw Ranger Station before making a trip to Thumb Butte by calling 928-443-8000.

Wilson Mountain/Sedona

The entering sign for Sedona Arizona during a rare heavy snowfall.
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Yavapai and Coconino Counties, 120 miles north of Phoenix, 2-hour drive from downtown

Heading north past Sedona on Arizona State Route 179 is Wilson Mountain, a hiking hotspot capped with snow throughout the winter. For those looking for snow and not necessarily a 5-mile hike with a view, Midgely Bridge is the place to go. But be warned: the bridge is a high-traffic area, meaning it might be more advantageous to find a snowy spot in Sedona and make a day out of it.