Arizona is a state of extremes. Extreme environments, extreme temperatures and extreme activities.
Where else can you wake up to fresh powdery snow for a day of skiing and end your day with a sunset hike amongst the saguaro cacti?
I’ve spent months in this state in all it’s extreme EVERYTHING and can attest that you will never run into the mundane.
See a big canyon, bathe in a remote waterfall, gaze upon ancient dwellings and reflect on it all as you dine like a king in a sparkling cactus draped city. This state wins for its contradictory nature and you will never be bored!
Arizona is one of my favorite places because it is just so diverse. Likewise, this nature loving girl knows that she can visit any time of the year and enjoy the great outdoors.
So, let’s dive right in and see my pick for the most interesting and beautiful places to visit in Arizona.
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Grand Canyon National Park
You know this had to be first on my list. When asked what national parks are on people’s must see lists, this one is often inevitably top three.
A vast expanse of millions of years of crumbling and erosion doesn’t sound as intriguing until you are there, standing before it. The depth and breadth of this enigma is unfathomable to our puny brains. You must sit and be still, alone in its grandeur, to fully comprehend what took Mother Earth six million years to whittle.
To see this wonder of the world you can easily drive up and walk to an outlook to take in the view. However, you have to get into her bowels to begin to understand what it took for this view before you to come to fruition.
Visiting the Grand Canyon can take some planning because there are four entrances to the park. The South Rim is the most visited and has the vista views that you see plastered all over social media. But the North, East and West rims have their merits.
The South Rim is the most popular and has ample accommodations and restaurants. If you stay at the famous El Tovar Hotel you will be poised to conquer the Bright Angel Trail early in the morning. Hike on foot or take a mule trip 4,460 feet down to the canyon floor.
Alternatively, you can see the canyon from way up high as you helicopter over the enormous ditch. Whatever you decide, the Grand Canyon is definitely something everyone should experience.
I climbed with my family to the top of Cathedral Rock in search of fresh air, physical and mental exercise and the view I had read about for years. What I found was a profound sense of well-being and a slight tingling on my skin.
What was this? Was this the feeling of a vortex that I had heard so much about? Or, was it the fact that I was watching the sunset on top of one of the most beautiful places on earth and I got a tingle down my spine? I choose to think the former.
If you visit Sedona, this is just one of the amazing experiences that are in store for you. Sedona is a place of ancient energy and intrigue. The city contains so many archeological sites, that it will take you days to see them all. The incredible beauty mixed with the ruins of thousands of years of civilizations that have come before us, make for a one of a kind experience while visiting Arizona.
Make time to see Montezuma Castle or hike to the ancient ruins of Palatki. Visit the petroglyphs of V Bar V where you can gaze upon over 1,000 petroglyphs set on a stone face. Or, you can choose to get some exercise and hike or bike the fantastic trails all over this city famous for outdoor recreation.
If food and art are your jam, then you are definitely going to be in the right place. The heart and soul of the art scene can be found at Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village. Stroll the village and see what puts the American Southwest on the map, then stop at one of the many delights in the gastro world and taste what others have been raving about. Dine on 14 hour smoked brisket enchiladas at the famous Elote Cafe or watch the sunset from one of the “100 most scenic restaurants in the world” at Mariposa. There are so many places to choose from when it comes to pleasing your palette.
Sedona is definitely at the top of my list for amazing Arizona vacation spots.
I remember reading about Montezuma Castle in elementary school and I could not wait to visit in person someday. Well, that day came when I got to visit with my son last year. It is so amazing to me that an ancient people were able to engineer such a feat of greatness and that it is still standing today for all to enjoy.
If you ever are in Camp Verde, Arizona outside Sedona, this will probably be the main attraction. Montezuma Castle was built by the Sinagua people around 1100 to 1425 A.D. This magnificent structure consists of 20 rooms and five stories and was built over three centuries.
Protected from the elements and nourished by a stream that runs at the base, this area must have been like it was a paradise for the people that occupied it’s walls.
But, Montezuma Castle isn’t a castle at all, but more of a prehistoric apartment building for the time. The settlers of the American west attached the Aztecs to anything they found back in the 1860’s, so they assumed that this must have been the great Aztec warrior Montezuma’s Castle. The Hopi people of the area have traced their lineage back to these times though and claim the monument as their own.
Make sure you tour this incredible area to get a feel of the way people lived so many centuries ago. This attraction is surely one of Arizona’s best places to visit.
Some people may not know that when the heat of the summer is really rockin’ in Phoenix, there’s a place to escape to that is not far away. Flagstaff is a beautiful alpine ski mountain town that doesn’t fit the mold of cacti and desert sand. At almost 7,000 feet in elevation, Flagstaff is a mountainous playground for the adventure seeking lowlanders of Tucson, Phoenix and Scottsdale.
Want to go snow skiing? Flagstaff has you covered. Arizona Snowbowl is one of the best small scale ski resorts in the country. Large enough to keep lift lines short, but small enough to navigate easily. People from the major cities in Arizona find it convenient to get to Arizona Snowbowl in a little over 2.5 hours.
Flagstaff is also one of the top destinations for outdoor lovers in the summer time. Visitors can climb the beautiful San Francisco Peaks and see views for hundreds of miles. If exploring volcanoes is something that interests you, Sunset Crater should be on your list. Pueblos that have been standing for 800 years at Wutpatki National Monument are also a compelling addition to your travels.
Flagstaff is one of the surprises of Arizona for being a refreshing and different destination to get away from it all.
Vermillion Cliffs National Monument
Imagine a national monument in such high demand that you have to enter a lottery in order to hopefully be rewarded a permit to see it. This place exists at Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. I have read of people entering the lottery every year for ten years and still not winning a spot to tour “The Wave”, one of the most coveted areas in Arizona.
Vermillion Cliffs has been photographed by millions and will be photographed by millions more. It is one of the most beloved places in Arizona to visit, if not the world. If you open Instagram, chances are you will see someone trekking across the wave, gleefully boasting their chance to dance on something extraordinary.
But, don’t get too excited about your trip yet, because only 20 people a day are allowed to grace “the wave’s” presence. So, plan on visiting the national monument and enjoy other parts of the park.
Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon are other areas to see sinuous slot canyons and beautiful sandstone rock formations. A good time can still be had without getting that all important permit.
Petrified National Park
This is another place in Arizona that I will never forget studying in school. I vowed to make it there someday as it seemed so mysteriously impossible that a plant could turn to rock over millions of years. I just had to see it for myself. Well, my family and I finally got there in 2019 and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I think my kids were just as enthused as I was, and that’s no small feat.
Walking among the graveyard of the fallen tropical trees, it is inconceivable that this now desert was a tropical rain forest over 200 million years ago. These trees criss-crossed the rivers that were plentiful and over time got buried by sediment. Water slowly leached into the skeleton of the fallen tree replacing the organic material with the minerals left behind.
This park is simply otherworldly and almost reverent. You feel the same feeling as if you were at a funeral, but with a good dose of curiosity and respect for the ions. This is a park that should go on everyone’s list when visiting Arizona.
A diamond in the desert that shines with the light of a million lights. This is how I describe Phoenix. It’s as if a mirage has taken hold of you and you can’t shake it. This place is a mecca for retirees and those that are constantly in search of a home with amazing weather and an active lifestyle.
Nestled in the Sonoran Desert at the foothills of the Phoenix Mountain range, Phoenix is actually sitting in one of the wettest deserts on Earth, with the capability to get up to 15 inches of rain a year. This makes for an amazingly green landscape in spring and early summer and is one of the most beautiful ecosystems on earth.
If you’re looking for a work/life balance that keeps you happy, Phoenix fits the bill. Work a full day and then hit many of the trails that dot the city. Likewise, there are many museums and art installations throughout the metropolitan area to please the intellectual side of you. Visit the Phoenix Art Museum, or to please your pint sized crew, the Children’s Art Museum of Phoenix is sure to excite them and is another fun place to go in Arizona.
The food scene is strong in this Southwest town. Try the Kai Restaurant in the Gila River Indian Community and dine on Bison Steak and saguaro cactus key lime pie. If you want to go for more down home cooking, the award winning fried chicken at Mrs. White’s Golden Rule Cafe is a ‘must try’. Authentic Mexican Food can also be found at Mariscos Playa Hermosa… Go see what people have been raving about for 20 years!
My family and I have spent a lot of time in Phoenix and enjoy the outdoors as well as the southwestern cultural vibe that Phoenix exudes. If you happen to be in the Southwest, Phoenix is definitely an Arizona destination you won’t want to miss.
Another one of Arizona’s most photographed and celebrated natural enigmas can be found in the Navajo Nation in Page, Arizona.
The geological history behind this area is astonishing.
During monsoon season, torrential rains fill the canyon with rushing water that slowly erodes the sandstone leaving behind these mesmerizing works of art that only Mother Nature can produce. This is definitely one of the best places to visit in Arizona.
Take a guided tour of Upper or Lower Antelope Canyon via a short hike. The upper canyon is more of a level, straight shot. On the flip side, the lower canyon will be for the more adventurous. Traversing deep sand up and down hills and climbing ladders and stairwells will be what you encounter on this hike.
Make sure you take your camera, because not only is the canyon gorgeous, but you will also get views of Canyonlands National Park and Lake Powell on your trek.
This masterpiece of hydrology is little known to the common traveler and difficult to get to, but it has been on my list for some time.
Located on the Havasupai Indian Reservation lands on the fringe of the Grand Canyon, this is a sacred jewel to the Native Americans and they intend to keep it that way. Here, four waterfalls lie along the Havasu Creek River that are so gorgeous, you will think you’re in a photoshopped picture.
You must reserve a time to come to the area which starts on to the Hualapai Hilltop. This is a challenge due to the thousands of people who are competing for an allotment of permits everyday. You can then hike eight miles to the Supai Village.
Alternatively, you can hire a horse to take you, or even take a helicopter ride to the village.
Once there, be prepared to rough it. Although Supai Village has a small store, cafe, lodge and museum, there isn’t much else there and most people camp at the Havasu Campground located two miles from the village. You will be camping along the river among the four amazing waterfalls and water features. This will be a trip of a lifetime, but this is a backpacking, wilderness adventure. You will be required to hike more than 20 miles on this trip, but it is worth it! This is one place you have to see in Arizona.
Welcome to the cutest little mining town there ever was. Bisbee, Arizona is where art and mining collide. What once was the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco in the early 1900’s is now a thriving art scene upheld by forward thinking hippies that just want to enjoy life.
Gold and silver brought the masses where you can still tour these mines located in town.
During my visit, I took my family on an underground mining cart tour. Riding into the bowels of the Earth, you will learn about geology and the trials and tribulations many went through took to get rich. Drive through town and you can see the remnants of a deep pit where mining operations put this town on the map.
The colorful architecture and rich culture that exist today as you walk the streets of the town make Bisbee a stop to put on your Southwest excursion itinerary.
Saguaro National Park
The Saguaro cactus is the one of the most unique natural features of Arizona. It is here, in the Sonoran desert, that this cactus thrives and it is the only place in the world that it can be found.
Essential to the ecosystem of the desert in so many ways, the national park system saw it befitting to pay homage to the plant in the form of a national park. Hence, Saguaro National Park was born.
Set in the midst of the Tucson Mountains which were formed by explosive volcanoes 80 million years ago, the Saguaro Cactus has learned to survive and thrive in such an inhospitable environment. The large cacti that you will see in the park and in the Sonoran desert are anywhere from 200-300 years old. They support a myriad of wildlife and keep the delicate ecosystem in balance.
Hit the trails of the park in either the Rincon Mountain district at the east entrance of the park where you can trek one mile hikes up to 7 mile hikes, traversing the beautiful Sonoran desert. Alternatively, you can enter to the west at the Tucson Mountain District and hike up to 8 miles and stay late enough to see its famous sunset.
If you are ever in the Tucson area, this will be the highlight of your visit as you immerse yourself in quintessential southwestern landscapes among the cacti.
Bold and beautiful and full of the unexpected, Arizona should go down as one of those places to spend copious amounts of time exploring. From its mountain peaks to the desert valleys, opportunity for adventure awaits.
Did we miss any of your favorite places in Arizona?
Let us know in the comments if there are anymore places in Arizona you’d like to see on our list!