In the 1970s, Gordon Lightfoot’s song Carefree Highway hit the airwaves.
But it wasn’t just the result of creative genius. An actual destination inspired him to write the famous tune.
Today, we’re exploring the desert southwest to fill you in on all the details.
Let’s hit it!
About the Song, Carefree Highway
Gordon Lightfoot wrote Carefree Highway years after seeing a sign with the name during his travels. When asked about the inspiration for the hit, he said, “I thought it would make a good title for a song. I wrote it down, put it in my suitcase, and it stayed there for eight months.”
The sentimental tune alludes to feeling nostalgic for home and lost love. The lyrics mention a woman named Ann who broke his heart after they dated in his twenties.
Overall, the track taps into a sense of longing and loneliness but carries it on an upbeat melody.
Where Is the Carefree Highway?
Just 45 minutes north of downtown Phoenix, you’ll find the suburb of Carefree, Arizona. This hidden gem is surrounded by natural beauty in the Sonoran Desert foothills. Native wildflowers, massive Saguaro cacti, and staggering geological formations make the environment unique.
Despite high temperatures, 300 days of annual sunshine make it an excellent place for outdoor activities most of the year. You can choose from plenty of hiking trails, botanical gardens, and recreational areas all nearby.
Carefree and neighboring Cave Creek celebrate the region’s cultural history. Indigenous Americans occupied the area long before Spanish settlers moved in.
Today, this melting pot is known for its unique artwork and architecture. The Carefree Highway that inspired Gordon Lightfoot’s famous hit leads into town from Interstate 17. It isn’t a major road, and it’s not very long.
We can’t say for sure, but it seems fate had a hand in the song’s creation as Lightfoot happened to notice the street sign in a brief moment.
What Is the Carefree Fine Art and Wine Festival?
Most art fairs happen once a year, but this isn’t a typical event. The Carefree Fine Art and Wine Festival takes place three times a year. In fall, winter, and spring, over 150 artists set up shop on the streets of downtown to sell their works.
Each three-day festival is rigorously juried, and winners are considered the best of the best. You can find paintings, sculptures, pottery, hand-blown glass, and more.
But you can also experience Arizona’s most extensive wine tasting while you’re here. Vintners from around the world offer samples of their finest wines. You’ll need to buy a separate ticket for the tasting, but you’ll leave with an engraved glass and any bottles you choose to purchase.
Unique Places to Explore Near the Carefree Highway
There’s no shortage of things to do around the Carefree Highway. Whether you want to get outside, check out the art, or taste local flavors, you won’t get bored. Here are some of our favorites.
Carefree Desert Gardens
This public botanical garden is a favorite among locals and visitors alike. You can stroll through more than four acres of desert flora and reconnect with nature. Rare plant specimens grow alongside signature species such as Saguaro cacti.
What began as a project to enhance downtown’s aesthetic appeal quickly grew into a destination of its own. Best of all, this park is free! And it’s open 365 days a year, so you won’t have to plan your visit too carefully.
However, if you’re there around Christmastime, be sure to stop by. They hang lights on many of the plants for a festive glow.
If you drive the highway through downtown Carefree, you can’t miss the massive sundial. While locals tout it as the largest in the US, folks in San Francisco and Sun City, Arizona, have disputed their claim. Either way, this spectacle is worth visiting.
At 35 feet tall and 90 feet in diameter, it’s more than just a work of art. The sundial is the brainchild of an architect and a solar engineer who designed and constructed the masterpiece.
Today, the local Kiwanis Club maintains the site in the middle of a roundabout. You can cross the street from Town Hall and admire the piece from one of the manicured lounge areas.
Cave Creek Regional Park
Looking to burn off some energy? Cave Creek Regional Park is the place to do it. Nearly 3,000 acres of Sonoran beauty are waiting for you to explore. You’ll find 15 miles of hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails, plus over 50 picnic sites.
Don’t pass up the Nature Center when you visit. You’ll see desert creatures such as scorpions and rattlesnakes up close! It’s also the best place to learn about the area’s extensive history.
In the 1800s, Cave Creek was a hot spot for gold miners. However, the Clay Mine was a bust. That didn’t stop at least one person from cashing in, though. Leila P. Irish purchased the property in the 1930s and marketed the clay from the mine as a “magic elixir.”
Today, Rangers lead tours of the site, and it’s a great way to escape the Arizona heat in the summer.
Best Places to Stay Near the Carefree Highway
You’ll want plenty of time to explore this corner of the world. Fortunately, you’ll have lots of options for accommodations. Here are a few of our top picks.
Cave Creek Regional Park Campground
RVers will be right at home at the Cave Creek Regional Park Campground. You’ll find water and electrical hookups at each of the 55 sites. There’s a restroom with hot showers and a dump station if you need to empty your black water tank.
This family-friendly spot has a playground and picnic area with access to hiking trails. You can even bring your four-legged friends along.
Spur Cross Inn Bed and Breakfast
For a stay with more amenities, check out the Spur Cross Inn. This Old West bed and breakfast is just off the main drag but feels a world away. You can rent the original ranch house or book one of the private suites.
During the day, you’ll enjoy views of the adjacent botanical gardens. At night, check out the universe through the onsite Galileo telescope. And to top it off, you’ll be less than ten minutes from the famed Carefree Highway.
Prickly Pear Inn
If you’d rather pamper yourself, a room at the Prickly Pear Inn could be just what you’re looking for. This boutique hotel is in the heart of historic downtown Cave Creek. As part of Prickly Pear Plaza, you’ll be steps away from shops, galleries, and restaurants.
This inn only has 11 rooms, so be sure to book in advance.
Plan a Carefree Trip
Gordon Lightfoot brought the Carefree Highway to fame in the 70s with his hit song of the same name. But this area has earned its reputation as a hub for creatives and nature lovers. Whether you want to soak up the desert sunshine or take in the local art, there’s plenty to do and see.
If you’re in the Phoenix area, it’s worth exploring this diverse region.
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