It is roughly a three-hour drive to the White Mountains, and the trip to Pinetop-Lakeside begins with views of the high desert. Rocky terrain, proud saguaros, and low brush melt away as you climb the winding roads through the mountains and find yourself surrounded by Ponderosa pines. There is a sudden drop in temperatures and it is clear that the Valley is far behind you. The towering pines, and the scent of snow intermingled with the hint of a distant wood-burning fire are a sure sign that you are in higher climes, albeit still in the state of Arizona. Pinetop is a welcome change, even if for a short weekend escape. You could not be blamed for the hopes of a cup of hot cocoa by a cozy fireplace as the snowflakes flutter down just outside the window of a snug cabin amid the trees. Pinetop does not disappoint.
Yet do not believe yourself to be confined to the great indoors alone, there is plenty to see and do in town. Start the morning with a frothy latte and chocolate croissant at the Arizona Mountain Coffee Co. Though there is plenty more on the menu in the form of drinks and bites to be had. A short walk away is the Gingerbread Cabin, a shop that sells jewelry, soaps, clothing, and the best fudge in town. You cannot leave without having tried their many flavors like hot chocolate, salted caramel, praline, and cappuccino.
For some fresh air on a casual stroll along the paved trail of Woodland Lake Park takes you around the lake. This path is ideal if you have small kids or merely want an easy walk. You will pass plenty of locals walking their dogs or people fishing for trout off the pier. No matter what side of the lake you are on, you will find beautiful spots to photograph along the way.
A popular spot for lunch is the Pinetop Brewing Co. which has their own microbrewery to develop Belgian-style beers. They serve up plenty of sandwiches, salads, and 'shareable' plates, but the burgers are a must and pair perfectly with one of their beers. The brioche burger buns are made right in town at a local bakery, and the sweet potato fries are addictive alongside a dill aioli dipping sauce.
A 25 minute drive from Pinetop is the Sunrise Ski Resort if you are looking for some skiing, snowboarding, or even lessons. The resort has a cafe and restaurant on site as well as a ski shop for all your needs. However, if you are looking to rent ski gear in advance you can try Elevate Ride Shop in Pinetop where the fees are reasonable and the people are helpful and friendly. At the base of the Ski Resort is Snowy Mountain Horse Stables. There you can go for a horseback ride or opt for a more leisurely ride in a horse drawn sleigh through the snow covered woods.
The sleigh, pulled by two horses, takes you through the stillness and quiet of a snowy landscape. The only sound that follows you as the sleigh glides over the snow and in between the trees is the gentle ringing of the sleigh bells as the horses trot along. Aside from the grooves of the sleigh and hoof prints left in its wake, on either side the glistening snow appears unmarred apart from the occasional animal tracks of a rabbit or coyote. You can choose from a 20 minute or a 40 minute ride, either way, you must wrap up warm.
A weekend in Pinetop can in fact be quite busy and active. However, for those looking to merely rest and relax by the fire for a cozy cabin retreat, there is plenty to be had of that too. A winter wonderland awaits!