A postcard to the Old West, Arizona is a prismatic mix of ethereal landscapes and ancient history. The vast, arid environment brings the two together to the point they are completely intertwined. It only serves to elevate the traveling experience.
The Grand Canyon and Sedona belong in any Arizona itinerary. But between the, often scorching, valleys and the snow-capped San Francisco Peaks, lies a delectable assortment of natural and human fun that should pique the interest of all visitors.
The day begins with the rising sun, bringing a fresh burst of light from the burnt-red landscape. It ends with an unforgettable night sky ablaze with billions of stars. Within lies a playground that is yours to discover, one that will confound as much as it enlightens.
Since its admission to the Union as the 48th state, the world-famous tourist attractions in Arizona like the Grand Canyon, the Hoover Dam and Saguaro National Park have drawn in tourists from all over the world.
In this post, we'll cover:
33. Wupatki National Monument
The preserved pueblos of the Wupatki National Monument are some of the country’s best Native American archaeological sites. Lathered in history and culture, the pueblos provide what feels like a firsthand look into the heritage of the Hopi and Zuni communities.
The national monument is incredibly impactful. The area dates back thousands of years into Neolithic times and guides you through the development and expansion through to the last 200 years.
There are seven pueblos within the Wupatki National Monument to explore. Four trails snake throughout the site, bringing you to them all, with the stunning background of prairies and red rocks encompassing the monument.
32. Lowell Observatory
Unlock your inner astronomer on a visit to Arizona’s Lowell Observatory. Since opening in 1894, the observatory has been a preeminent way to gaze into the galaxies, not just for visitors but the pros as well. Here, researchers were the first to discover Pluto!
Today, you can get your hands on world-class telescopes to spot some of your favorite planets and constellations. You can balance this with lectures that explore, for example, Black Holes.
The history of the observatory is also on full display as you can read through classic scientific books, early instruments and Lowell’s original telescope.
If you can, arrive at night where you can experience the sky at its best.
31. Glen Canyon Dam
It took eight years to block up the Colorado River and create the Glen Canyon Dam alongside Lake Powell. Together, they make up the bulk of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. It’s one of the country’s largest man-made bodies of water.
From the town of Page, you can explore what is truly a sight to behold. From the dam along the canyon to Lees Ferry are 15 miles of eye-catching landscapes. The deep blues of the water contrast spectacularly with the desert surroundings of buttes and bluffs.
Throughout, you’ll find hiking and biking trails along the water’s edge. While marinas and docks provide access to seemingly endless amounts of space for water sports.
30. Chiricahua National Monument
Home to whimsical rock gardens and towering monolithic pillars, the Chiricahua National Monument is a natural wonderland. However, being the home to the Chiricahua Apache, the monument is much more than what meets the eye.
In southeastern Arizona, Chiricahua National Monument is known as the Sky Islands being upwards of 7,300 feet in elevation. Cooler weather befalls the area compared to the searing valley, providing a more diverse range of flora to color the rock sculptures.
The classic Arizonan sandstone is balanced by ancient molten debris, rhyolite. They combine to create a mix of hoodoos, balancing rocks, and pinnacles. Hiking trails snake throughout, showcasing the footprints of the Apache that lived here until the mid to late 1800s.
29. Taliesin West, Scottsdale
The subtle town of Frank Lloyd Wright can be seen throughout Arizona. However, his winter home, Taliesin West, stands above them all. In Scottsdale, Wright’s handcrafted home is preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Beyond just being his winter home and workspace, Taliesin West was a longtime campus home to his proteges. Together they expanded the boundaries of architecture that itself would flow into America’s culture.
Today, you can tour the rooms that are a mix of artistic and unusual. The bathroom floor is made of sheets of aluminum. The properties’ exterior also features some beautiful landscapes home to ancient petroglyphs.
28. Petrified Forest National Park
A great stop to make along your Route 66 road trip, the Petrified Forest National Park, is unlike anything you’ve seen before. The park is a collaboration of amazing natural “architecture”, paleontology and archeology. It’s a treasure trove, waiting to be unlocked.
Near Holbrook, the park is laden with petrified woods. These can be seen up close on long meandering trails, showcasing the changing of the wood into solid quartz, with vibrant manganese and iron colors. At many points, you’ll find overlooks of the eye-catching Painted Desert that rolls through the national park.
There are some memorable human landmarks, such as Puerco Pueblo. This 100-room compound was home to the Ancestral Puebloan people over 600 years ago. In addition, you’ll find petroglyphs hundreds of years old.
27. Biosphere 2
You may be traveling around Arizona, but at Biosphere 2 you can travel around the world. Providing an up-close experience of the earth’s different rainforests, Biosphere 2 puts the natural world on display.
Great for young and old, visitors can don spacesuits and explore the complex as if they were experiencing a foreign world.
Each sphere showcases a replica of three rainforests but also some arctic and desert environments. Such is its complexity, Biosphere 2 is as much a place for researchers, including NASA, as it is for you and me.
As you explore Biosphere 2, you’ll learn how natural ecosystems can sustain themselves and how we can harness this for the benefit of both wildlife and humanity.
26. Ski in Flagstaff
So much of Arizona’s highlights showcase the beauty of the desert climate. But as you explore, you’ll begin to see the towering peaks that rise into the stratosphere. It’s here you’ll discover some snow-capped mountains, some open to skiing.
Near Flagstaff, the Arizona Snowball welcomes skiers and snowboarders from across the United States. Featuring an average of 260 inches of snow per year and over 2,300ft of vertical drop, the mountain is the preeminent ski resort in Arizona. Importantly, it’s as much a place for beginners as experts.
While the season often starts in November and December, it’s the late winter and early spring that provides the best conditions. Not to mention those gorgeous blue sky days that showcase the endless beauty of Arizona.
Other options include the smaller Elk Ridge Ski Area, 45 minutes from Flagstaff. This is a great budget option that also includes tubing.
25. Lake Powell
Enveloped in red rock cliffs and monolithic formations, the 2,000 miles of Lake Powell shoreline are a desert oasis. The man-made lake is the definition of picturesque, while being a playground for the adventurer.
In the hot summer months, families make their way to the lake’s edge to have a refreshing swim under the desert sun. Various boats roam the lake, some slowly and others at great speed. SUPs and kayaks dot the shoreline, encompassing all the activities that make Lake Powell a wonderful place to be.
Stick around for a memorable night sky while glamping along the lake’s edge. Better yet, spend a night on the water sleeping in a houseboat.
24. Heard Museum, Phoenix
In a region rich with living and preserved Native American history, we must mention the Heard Museum. In Phoenix, the museum has been around for almost 100 years and features the stories of Native American communities from a first-person perspective.
The exhibits take you on a vibrant journey from recent eras back through the centuries. You’ll explore not just the history but the evolution of culture and art. This is further exemplified through the differences between tribes that showcase the fascinating complexity that lies within.
It all combines for one of America’s best Native American museums and will leave you more educated than when you first walked in.
23. Flintstone’s Bedrock City
Along the flat, monotonous road that leads travelers through Valle, Arizona stands an eye-catching sign. “Yabba-Dabba-Doo” it remarks, automatically capturing your attention and sending you right back to your childhood living room.
This sign marks the beginning of Flintstone’s Bedrock City, a collection of buildings with that classic prehistoric look. A recreation of the famous TV town, this is your chance to live out the Flintstones’ life. Travelers can make their way to Fred and Wilma’s house, the old school, the town’s courthouse and sit in the classic car.
As a part of Raptor Ranch, you can combine this experience with various encounters with birds of prey, like raptors, hawks and eagles.
Once an abandoned mining settlement and the definition of a ghost town, Jerome is on the comeback. At 5,000 feet in elevation, Jerome stands above the gorgeous desert valley where distant snow-capped peaks confound the soaring heat. While the town itself is a vibrant mix of tourist fun and history.
Time here starts at Jerome State Historic Park, home to the Douglas Mansion. The beautiful mansion was there through the town’s growth, demise and now, comeback. The town’s surrounding vineyards also offer some tasty wine sampling.
But no Jerome experience is complete without some ghost hunting, each highlighting the breadth of the supernatural that “exists” within the once abandoned town.
21. Walnut Canyon National Monument
Not far from Flagstaff, the Walnut Canyon National Monument is yet another living tribute to the Sinagua people. The community lived within the canyon’s cliffs for hundreds of years up until the 13th century.
Carved by Walnut Creek, the canyon stands at 600ft tall and can be explored along the Rim Trail. This 30-minute out-and-back trek takes you to memorable overlooks as you watch the water meander through the canyon on its way to the Little Colorado River.
For up-close vistas of the Puebloan dwellings, embark on the 1-mile Island Trail, which also includes informational plaques. However, hikers should know there are some 200 steps along the journey.
20. Mission San Xavier del Bac
In a sea of burning sandstone and staunch cacti, the Mission San Xavier del Bac rises up out of the valley like the picture of salvation. The bright white mission is known as the White Dove of the Desert and sits on San Xavier Indian Reservation.
Home to the Tohono O’odham Nation, the mission is one of the oldest European buildings in Arizona. You can trace its story back to 1797 and those interested can join a free tour to lap up the resounding history.
The architecture, however, is captivating. Two towers rise out of the mission, gleaming under the neverending sun. While the facade boasts intricate carvings, reliefs and statues.
19. The Wave
The highlight of any trip to the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument is the Wave. Similar to the ethereal, swirling colors of Antelope Canyon, the Wave is an otherworldly sight.
Gaining access to this spot is the tricky part. Visitors need to partake in a lottery that limits access. The lucky ones will then need to hike 7 miles to the famous location. But those that do, will embark on an unforgettable experience where a camera will become your best friend.
Thousands of smooth lines whirl around the red rock, creating the sensation of water paused in time as it breaks off the coast. Just add in some splendid desert colors and you get the picture.
18. Titan Missile Museum, Sahuarita
In Sahuarita, the Titan Missile Museum was founded in the early 1980s shortly after the deactivation of the missiles themselves. The museum preserves the complex, allowing you behind-the-scenes access to a site that played a big role in the Cold War.
Over 20 years, the Titan II Intercontinental Ballistic missiles were on alert. You can learn all about this era and the creation of these missiles not just at the museum but at the silos themselves.
Guided tours are highly recommended as limited spots are available for full access. You can venture underground to the launch control center and also see what life was like for those that lived on-site.
17. London Bridge in Lake Havasu
Along the palm-lined shores of Lake Havasu lies one of the more unique tourist attractions in Arizona. Here, you’ll find the London Bridge, first built in 1831. And yes, this bridge was built in the city of London. I bet you didn’t have that on your Arizona bingo card.
In the mid-20th century, the arch-laden bridge began to sink into the River Thames. Along comes entrepreneur Robert McCulloch to bring it new life.
From dreary London to the dusty Mojave Desert, the bridge stands out. However, its history is just as fascinating as its odd location. As you wander along the bridge, you’ll see the scars of German aircraft fire marring sections, and WWII graffiti.
16. Chapel of the Holy Cross, Sedona
As you explore the red rocks of Sedona, make some time for a couple of cultural experiences. Alongside some great wineries and quirky towns, add a trip to the Chapel of the Holy Cross. Assimilating masterfully with the surrounding environment, the gorgeous church soars above the Verde Valley.
Built in the 1950s, the sprawling stained glass window reflects the vibrant surrounding nature. The structure’s sandstone colors and design choosing to celebrate the beauty of Sedona, not improve upon it.
A 1.3 mile hike departs from the chapel’s car park, bringing you up above the structure to fantastic views of the surrounding buttes. There is also a short path to the chapel’s observation area.
15. Meteor Crater
Some 50,000 years ago, an iron asteroid touched down in northern Arizona, blowing a vast area into smithereens. The Meteor Crater Natural Landmark (also known as the Barringer Meteor Crater) is almost a mile wild and 570ft deep.
It’s hard to wrap your head around the depth of the crater as you stand on its edge. Never mind the sheer force required to move such a massive amount of earth. But that’s a common theme here in Arizona, the remarkable natural world on full display for us.
After admiring the crater, be sure to balance your time here with a visit to the Interactive Discovery Center. Here the theater and exhibits expound on the crater’s creation.
Southeast of Tucson, Tombstone is a renowned Wild West town and National Historic Landmark. The nostalgia runs through this place like the tumbleweeds, allowing you to step back into the era of the Old West and experience a frontier town.
As one of the best preserved Wild West towns from the late 1800s, Tombstone has plenty of history. It was on these dusty streets in 1881 that one of the legendary O.K. Corral gunfights took place.
Today, you can brush through the double doors of an old saloon, slam your cup down on the bar and live the life of an outlaw. Afterwards, check out the old time shops and watch a classic Wild West duel take place.
13. Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix
One of the most popular things to do in Arizona is to explore its deserts. There is beauty to see in the harshness that lies within bare and arid lands. But if you haven’t yet fallen in love with the charm of a lonely, desolate desert, the Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden will do the trick.
Home to America’s richest collection of desert plants (over 50,000 unique species), the garden provides unparalleled access to the arid experience. The delightful walking trails take you on a journey through various desert climates, sectioning each region like a hall in a world-class museum.
12. Monument Valley
As you drive into Monument Valley for the first time, somewhere deep in your conscience, the twang of a guitar rings out. You know the sound, the one that accompanies every 20th century Western. It’s appropriate too, since the stunning landscape of Monument Valley was the go-to backdrop for these cinematic classics.
As you drive along the shimmering black road, the deep orange base of the desert spreads out to the left and right. Hints of sagebrush green flow with the wind. But they are outdone by the towering red rock spires that have showcased incredible strength to withstand millennia of erosion.
For the best scenes, head into the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park to complete the 17-mile one-way gravel drive.
11. Canyon de Chelly
A national monument, the Canyon de Chelly features pueblo cliff dwellings set within picturesque red rock bluffs. Dating back around 1,000 years, the dwellings on Navajo tribal lands are a remarkable feat of engineering.
The area’s main canyon is home to the White House Ruins. Built around 1050 AD, the cliff is home to over 100 pueblos set just back from the cliff’s edge. It’s not hard to imagine the amazing view they would have had looking out over the landscape.
Roads through Canyon de Chelly National Monument provide great views. But to get up close, hike to the White House Overlook.
Other ancient ruins include the Mummy Cave in Canyon del Muerto, where legitimate mummies have been uncovered.
10. Drive Down Route 66
The Main Street of America, Route 66, has been capturing the minds of dreamers and drivers alike for almost 100 years. From Chicago to LA, the Mother Road represented the completion of westward expansion. While for you, the route’s largest section lies here in Arizona.
Much has changed along Route 66 since its heyday. In fact, large interstates have all but removed it as an efficient way to traveling. But quirky towns and an overdose of neon lights still await those that do.
As each town appears on the horizon, you can sense the nostalgia, the colorful motels, kitschy shops and street corner bars. All before being swallowed again by the desert prairies and tumbleweeds.
Those looking to do the journey justice should pick up a Route 66 Passport.
9. Hoover Dam
In 1935, the final touches were put on one of the world’s great engineering marvels. Damming the Colorado River sure did have some implications. But the sight of the Hoover Dam, standing at 726ft high and 1,244ft long, is captivating.
Out of the sheer red rock-laden landscape rises the cream dam wall, holding back the deep blue of Lake Mead. Visitors can first drive across the enormous canyon bridge. After putting the car in park, head along the path that guides you along the top of the dam wall.
With two years’ worth of Colorado River water on one side and a 90-degree drop on the other, the experience is a mix of marveling at the creation and trying to keep your heart rate stable.
8. Saguaro National Park
Despite being just a hop, skip and jump from one of America’s largest metro areas, the Saguaro National Park is an unheralded gem. As you can already tell, there’s no shortage of adventures in Arizona. But before you venture too far, come explore the land of saguaro cacti.
The protected flora encapsulates much of the desert experience. They rise like hands out of the reddened floor, ready to embrace the harsh experience that the desert brings. But as prickly as the cacti may be, they’re beautiful.
Trails in the park’s eastern and western sections take you up close, with some Saguaro over 200 years old and standing at 50 feet.
7. Montezuma Castle
You can experience the historic dwellings of the Sinagua people at Arizona’s Montezuma Castle. The fascinating marvel is carved into the ancient rock walls, preserving an incredible way of life in the otherwise harsh desert conditions.
Constructed in the mid-12th century, Montezuma Castle reached its zenith 200 years later. Large chambers and state rooms housed up to 50 people, with the wider community spread throughout the base.
While we can no longer explore within the castle, the national monument allows you to learn about the region’s history, the construction of the castle and the link between the Sinagua and pre-Columbian indigenous peoples.
6. Pima Air and Space Museum, Tucson
With over 400 air and spacecraft on display, the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson is a chance to indulge our inner kid. In Tucson, it’s one of the largest private aerospace museums on earth.
Space vehicles and missiles are set between old and new school aircraft to create an experience that will have you wanting to don the wings and take flight. Some of the highlights of Pima Air and Space are modern commercial planes that showcase the changes to the way we move. You’ll also find retired presidential planes, the historic Wright Flyer and military aircraft, like the SR-71 Blackbird.
5. Havasu Falls
The paradisiacal valley of Havasu awaits those who make the trek down to Havasu Falls. Within the Havasupai Indian Reservation, these 100-foot falls tumble into turquoise water surrounded by walls of sandstone red.
Although close to the Grand Canyon, the falls are not a part of the national park. But those up to the challenge, which includes a 20-mile return hike and 2,500ft of elevation change, are well rewarded.
Havasu Falls has created rock terraces and pools of blue that slowly flow into Havasu Creek and, eventually, the Colorado River. All visitors must make a prior reservation and stay overnight, which forces even the most gung-ho traveler to kick back, relax and enjoy the spellbinding scenery.
4. Antelope Canyon
Featuring a jaw-dropping slot canyon straight out of an ethereal dream, there’s nothing quite like Antelope Canyon. In a state packed with remarkable landscapes, Antelope Canyon stands out with her soft bed of sand that meanders through the swirling sandstone.
As you wander through, light beams shoot through the canyon’s ceiling, providing a kaleidoscopic effect on the rock’s iron. The lines of the rock, like the aftermath of a brush, provide a contrast dance of shade and light. Of course, this is ever-changing depending on where you stand.
You’ll find Antelope Canyon within the Lake Powell Navajo Tribal Park. It’s worth signing up for a guided tour to help you snag the best photos.
3. Horseshoe Bend
So you’ve come to Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. You can’t leave until you’ve wandered down the trail to gaze upon Horseshoe Bend. With the glistening Colorado River turning essentially 360 degrees along the canyon floor, it makes for arguably Arizona’s best photo.
An ADA-accessible trail takes you from the trailhead a half-mile to the canyon’s edge. From there you’ll be amazed by the 1,000ft drop and the mix of blues and greens among the vast red.
The most popular time to see the Bend is at sunset, when the west-facing horseshoe captures the last of the day’s light. Arrive early to snag the best spot.
Better yet, avoid the crowds and come at sunrise when you can see Horseshoe Bend wake up from morning slumber.
2. Red Rocks of Sedona
Around two hours north of Phoenix, the Red Rocks of Sedona wake up before most. While you’re pouring the morning coffee, the rocks are ablaze, glimmering in the early morning sunlight.
The collection of monoliths, bluffs and buttes is remarkable. With the addition of Native American history, a touch of the Wild West and some tourist fun, Sedona is unmissable.
It’s worth having a vehicle to explore this region on your own schedule. The roadside views are exceptional, and the trails that linger off the tarmac are so tempting, you’ll be glad you can set your own itinerary.
To escape the summer crowds, come in the winter as the red rocks start to feature snow-capped peaks.
1. Grand Canyon National Park
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park may be the United States’ most popular. But none are arguably as famous as Arizona’s Grand Canyon. A product of tectonic uplift and the carving paintbrush of the Colorado River, the canyon is a natural masterpiece, millions of years in the making.
The Grand Canyon is over 270 miles long and up to 18 miles wide. At its deepest, the canyon walls dive over 5000 feet towards the river below. The national park is itself divided into two main areas: the remote North Rim and the more accessible South Rim.
Spanning 13 miles, the Rim Trail guides along the canyon’s edge with spectacular views. There is also a shuttle along the rim to some of the best viewpoints.
Yes, you can take the Bright Angel Trail 9.9 miles to the canyon floor. But while going down is optional, hiking back up is mandatory.