Considered the capital of Arizona’s White Mountain region, St. Johns is a high-elevation destination for those looking to experience nature, marvel at the amazing geology, and see some natural and historic sites that are truly unique slices of Americana.
The town prides itself on its friendly nature and the sense of community that many feel is lost in most other towns and cities that haven’t stayed true to their roots.
Just a half-day drive from Phoenix, St. Johns is like another world in many ways. Once discovered, it’s a gem you may want to keep to yourself.
Below are 14 things to do in St. Johns that you’ll want to check out.
1. Apache County Historical Society Museum
Arizona’s Apache County, as you might expect, has a rich history going back to the pre-pioneer days, when the area was inhabited by many Native American people – including the famous and fearless Apache.
The Apache County Historical Society Museum is dedicated to preserving this fascinating past that’s now not much more than a faded memory from a different era.
The museum also includes exhibits on the area’s prehistoric wildlife, geology, and the Spanish Conquistadors who scoured the southwest looking for lost cities of gold.
Check out their website for tour information, hours and admission fees.
2. Lyman Lake State Park
Located just outside the nearby town of Springerville, Lyman Lake is the region’s largest. The surrounding park has amenities for campers, fisherman and all-around nature lovers.
The park is inside the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest and is a particular favorite of anglers, who come in search of game fish such as bass, walleye, and catfish.
The lake’s surface area is nearly 1,500 acres, and at more than a mile above sea level, it’s a wonderfully refreshing change from most of the baking Arizona desert.
Consider a trip in the fall or winter, and with a little luck, you may be able to experience the magic of fishing during a snow shower.
3. Pioneer Days
The town of Snowflake was founded in the 1870s by Mormons heading west searching for freedom to practice their religion that was looked down upon by the east’s more established ones.
The two-day event includes a traditional rodeo, parade, dances, arts fair, and fireworks – to name just a few.
If you’re looking for quaintness and charm that you won’t find anywhere else, then Pioneer Days is a must-see event that’ll take you back in time.
The event has been going strong since 1994 and is held over three days in July.
4. Apache County Fair
County and state fairs are great places to get familiar with the area you’re visiting. They’re full of fun events, great food, and lots of locals whooping it up.
The Apache County Fair has been a tradition for 75 years and it’s not showing signs of its age.
It’s held over four days in September when the northern Arizona climate is usually at its best.
With a rodeo, live entertainment, and lots of traditional grub like corn-dogs and French fries, the fair also sports a lot of Native American food like fry bread and fried corn, which you won’t find in many other places.
5. Petrified Forest National Park
Arizona is home to one of the world’s largest tracts of largely undisturbed petrified wood.
The park also includes Native American archaeological sites, historic buildings, and prehistoric fossils – many of which are hundreds of millions of years old.
The area’s climate was much different back then than it is now, as you’ll see when you view the fossils on display.
There’s also a particularly fascinating remnant of a Native American communal home that contains nearly 100 rooms and is thought to be nearly 1,000 years old.
Park admission is relatively inexpensive considering all you’ll get to see.
6. Painted Desert
With nearly 100,000 acres of the most scenic and colorful vistas you’re ever likely to see, the Painted Desert is an absolutely unique Arizona treasure that shouldn’t be missed.
Noted for its amazing array of colors – which are usually the most vibrant in the morning or afternoon – you’ll be surprised that so many hues of pink, orange and purple are naturally occurring, especially in rock.
The area was named by Spanish Explorers who came more than 400 years ago and now sits on part of the Navajo Nation, one of the largest reservations in America.
7. Hopi Reservation
In Hopi lore, the three mesas that surround their ancestral homeland are sacred, and though they’re relatively close to one another, each is inhabited by a different group who have unique art and customs.
The area’s artisans include pottery makers, basket weavers, and jewelry makers, who use sterling and turquoise to craft their products.
The Hopi Tribe is also known for its Kachina Dolls, which are intricate figures of a Hopi God who they believe is responsible for the food the earth provides and who also delivers babies to pregnant mothers.
The reservation is accessible by car and there’s no charge to enter.
8. Meteor Crater
Located on historic Route 66, the Arizona Meteor Crater is the massive impact site of a huge meteor that slammed into the earth nearly 50,000 years ago.
Some scientists claim that the explosion and debris that was forced into the atmosphere were largely responsible for a great cooling period, as the pulverized earth blocked out a significant portion of the sun’s rays.
The crater and museum are near Winslow and feature a theater, interactive area, lots of exhibits, and even a place to view the crater indoors.
There are also walking trails that’ll give you a better look if you’d like to get out and stretch your legs.
9. Sunrise Park Resort
You may be surprised to hear that Arizona has a ski resort. After all, it’s one of the hottest states in the country.
But with elevations higher than the city of Denver, Arizona’s White Mountains offer some great winter weather and get lots of snowfall every year too.
Sunrise Park Resort has nearly 70 runs suitable for skiers of all levels – and snowboard and cross-country areas too.
If you’ll be there in summer, you’ll enjoy the biking, hiking, horseback riding, and fishing.
There are other great activities on the resort and nearby too, like zip-lining, golf, and disc golf.
10. Canyon de Chelly
Arizona’s Four Corners region is home to an astonishing amount of Native American groups that live near the junction of Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico.
In the Arizona portion of the Navajo Reservation, Canyon de Chelly is one of the most visited and historic areas of Native American ruins and history.
The site includes petroglyphs and ruins from the Navajo people who inhabited the area centuries ago.
Some areas of the canyon are accessible by private car, but others are only viewable if visited with part of an official tour, which must be booked in advance due to park restrictions and their popularity.
11. Butterfly Lodge
Inspired by the myriad of butterflies that frequented the fields near his Arizona home, the man who built the Butterfly Lodge in nearby Greer may have never dreamed it would serve as a hunter’s lodge and home to reclusive writers and artists too.
Over the years it’s had its fair share of interesting characters that you’ll learn more about if you decide to visit.
The lodge has been a museum for nearly 20 years and is a great place to visit to get caught up on local history and some truly unique Arizona personalities.
Check out their website for hours, room and museum rates.
12. Madonna of the Trail
One of 12 identical monuments placed as memorials to the country’s stout pioneer women, the Madonna of the Trail monuments were commissioned by the Daughters of the American Revolution, and have been placed on the National Old Roads Trail, starting in Cumberland, Maryland and ending in Upland, California.
The statues were dedicated and placed in the late 1920s and have been symbols of the contributions made by American women to the country’s founding and progress.
One of these Madonnas is in Springerville, Arizona, not far from St. Johns.
It’s free to visit, and a great way to get outside and discover some local and national history.
13. Renee Cushman Art Collection
Springerville, Arizona couldn’t be more removed from traditional European centers of art if it happened to be on another planet.
So, it may come as a bit of a surprise to find that it is, in fact, home to an amazing collection of European art that somehow found its way across the country and ended up here.
The museum is in the Springerville Heritage Center; the collection was donated by a woman who lived in the area during the World War II years.
Her collection was relatively unknown until her passing when it was discovered that it was truly one of a kind and needed to be preserved and displayed.
14. Casa Malpais Archaeology Park and Museum
Most vacations are pretty expensive; gas, food, and lodging can add up quickly, so finding free things to do here and there is a big deal.
Located in the Springerville Heritage Center, Casa Malpais Archaeology Park and Museum is a wonderful conglomeration of Native American art, artifacts, tools and jewelry that tells a fascinating story about the area’s Indian cultures.
The area was granted National Historic Site Status in the ‘60s but wasn’t developed as a tourist site until the ‘90s, with a grant from the state and lots of volunteers working to preserve and promote it.