Travel: North by Northwest

Drive to Bagdad or Yarnell

By Richard Sanderson

Got wanderlust? Take off for fun fall drives to some of the most beautiful areas northwest of Phoenix. Drive to tiny Yarnell, home of the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial, or Bagdad, home of one of the oldest active open-pit copper mines in the world. Great roads, beautiful vistas, rolling countryside — both within two hours of Phoenix.

To travel to Yarnell from Phoenix, take U.S. Route 93 northwest of Wickenberg to Highway 89 north. This is the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial Highway, toward Yarnell. As you drive the beautiful, winding road north, watch for the signs and circle back to visit the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial, commemorating the 19 firefighters who lost their lives on June 30, 2013. There’s a 3.5-mile trail from the memorial to the summit, where the Yarnell Hill Fire took place. Every 1/10th mile is a memorial for each firefighter who lost his life, culminating in a group memorial at the top of the hike commemorating those brave men.  

You can also visit the Shrine of St. Joseph of the Mountains and the nearby ghost towns of Stanton, Octave and Congress. Gold was first discovered there in 1863, and it’s a colorful history to explore.

Meanwhile, a trip to Bagdad tests your driving skills. Again, take U.S. Route 93 north, this time further, to State Route 97. On 97, you’ll enjoy 11 miles of curves, switchbacks and nice scenery on your way to Bagdad.   

Bagdad is a historic, thriving copper-mining community founded in 1882 in Yavapai County. Stop at the Copper Country Bar & Grill for good food and a lively scene.

A longer option is to drive to Yarnell, continue north to Prescott, circle back to Bagdad, then return to Phoenix. From the Hotshots Memorial, continue your route to Yarnell for a light lunch, then drive on to Prescott. The drive from Yarnell to Prescott reveals soft, rolling green pastures and beautiful unspoiled vistas. You’ll drive through to an elevation of 6,100 feet.  

From Prescott, take Iron Springs Road, State Route 96, through Kirkland, approximately 38 miles to Bagdad to enjoy another scenic, remote, curvy road with rolling green hills and beautiful vistas. A favorite of some of the sports-car clubs in Phoenix, this one’s a bit of a roller-coaster, with ups and downs and sharp curves. A shorter option is to come directly back to Phoenix from Prescott.

Enjoy the drives and the beautiful scenery! 

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