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U.S. Hot Spots: Highlights & Hikes of Arizona

Arizona is full of history, culture, and awe-inspiring natural landmarks. Here are some suggestions for mixing a road trip with some of the state’s phenomenal hiking opportunities. Start or end with a few days in Phoenix.

091508--Sedona--Flickr.jpgDays 1-2: Wickenburg, Prescott & Sedona

From Phoenix, head northwest to Wickenburg and visit the Desert Caballeros Western Museum. Then proceed to Prescott, “Everyone’s Hometown,” with its old-fashioned town square, Victorian homes, and pine-covered foothills. In Jerome you’ll find a vibrant artist’s community. The red rocks of Sedona provide a stunning backdrop to a community famous for its chamber music and art galleries.

In Prescott you can take an extra day to visit the Sharlott Hall Museum and smell the roses in the garden, or hike the popular Thumb Butte Loop Trail. With an extra day in Sedona, a Pink Jeep tour among the towering red rocks is a hoot, and stunning vistas can be seen while hiking along the trails at Red Rock State Park.

Day 3: Flagstaff

In Flagstaff you can visit Lowell Observatory, the Museum of Northern Arizona, and the Arboretum. An evening stroll around the historic downtown district is less than a mile. If hiking and history are your desire, you can take the short drive out of town to Walnut Canyon National Monument with its preserved ancient Native American cliff dwellings. There are two trails to choose from—one easy, one more strenuous—but both are rewarding.

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Day 4: The Grand Canyon

A hundred miles north of Flagstaff, the sight of the Grand Canyon’s immense beauty has taken many a visitor’s breath away. There are hiking and walking options aplenty, for all levels of fitness—if you prefer letting the mules do the trekking for you, book up to 6 months ahead. Whatever you do, though, make sure you catch a sunset or sunrise view of the canyon. A night, or even just dinner at the grand El Tovar Hotel won’t disappoint, but again, book early.

Day 5: Navajo National Monument & Monument Valley

The landscape here is incredible, and even if you’ve seen it in the movies, up close and personal is an unforgettable experience. There are self-guided driving tours of the area, but a tram tour led by Navajo guides takes you past the sandstone mesas and spires of Monument Valley, where private cars can’t go. For those with an equine inclination, a guided horseback tour will probably be the trip of a lifetime.

091508--CanyonChelly--Flickr.jpgDays 6-7: Canyon de Chelly

Canyon de Chelly is another of Arizona’s unique and fascinating natural wonders. It’s smaller than the Grand Canyon, but many say it’s just as beautiful—and the archaeological sites and ruins make this a very spiritual sort of place. You can do a self-drive tour, or journey into this magical sandstone landscape on foot, on horseback, or in a guided four-wheel-drive vehicle.

Day 8: The Painted Desert & Petrified Forest

If rocks could talk, those in Petrified Forest National Park and the Painted Desert would tell how eons of wind and rain polished the remains of a primeval swamp into gem-color hills filled with fossils. While it’s true that some visitors are underwhelmed, there’s really nothing quite like the Petrified Forest anywhere else in the world.

Days 9-10: Coronado Trail & Scenic Byway

On the scenic Coronado Trail you can find treasure in abundance: aspen and fir trees, lakes stocked with trout, and a variety of wildlife. You’ll never hear anybody lament having spent an extra day in the White Mountains, so if you have the time, you probably owe yourself an overnight stay in Greer, either in a fully furnished cabin or in a room at any of the lodges.


  • If your budget permits, renting a four-wheel-drive vehicle will allow you to take advantage of side trips to remote areas.
  • Climate extremes, both heat and cold, make Arizona traveling hazardous, so heed the advice of locals. If somebody tells you it’s a “little warm” to be poking around in those hills, they’re probably correct.
  • Carry plenty of water and if your vehicle should break down, put the hood up and stay with the vehicle.

Photo Credit: Sedona Red Rocks courtesy of peterrieke on Flickr. Canyon de Chelly image courtesy of kevindooley on Flickr.

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