Outdoor adventurers have long been drawn to Arizona, and a big reason for that is, of course, the Grand Canyon. This natural wonder is (understandably) on every traveler's bucket list, and yes, finally seeing just how vast and beautiful it is will take your breath away. But trust us when we say there's so much more to the state. Its dazzling diversity is evident both in the landscapes and the culture: In the south, deserts are sprinkled with looming Saguaro cacti that flourish in the dry heat, while further north, towering Ponderosa pines and snow-covered mountain peaks beckon hikers and skiers alike. Wild West towns, American Indian reservations, and former stops on the historic Route 66 add to the charm. Here are five Arizona adventures you can't miss.
If you’re looking for awe-inspiring natural beauty, there’s no better place than the town of Sedona, which has built its must-see reputation on the surrounding red rock buttes and the mystical relaxation they seem to inspire. Take a hike through Red Rock State Park or Slide Rock State Park (the latter also features a natural water slide that kids and adults alike will love), both of which offer trails and programs that highlight the area’s geology, vegetation, and wildlife. For the less active but just as adventurous, jeep tours take you up close to the rock formations on an off-road trek.
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Sedona is also known as one of the world’s most sacred healing spots (you’ll notice many shops in town touting alternative medicine via crystals and meditation), so visitors will find plenty of ways to relax and rejuvenate both outdoors and at the many luxury hotels and spas. Amara Resort Hotel and Spa offers free morning yoga classes and an infinity pool overlooking the rocks, while L’Auberge de Sedona exudes romance with its luxurious cabins with panoramic views of the rocks and creekside spa treatments.
Insider Tip: Be sure to schedule in time to see the sunset or sunrise here, both of which light up the rocks spectacularly and make it clear why Sedona has often been called the most beautiful place in the world.
The Wild West
Before Arizona became a state in 1912, it was known as a Wild West frontier, where the likes of legends Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday earned their outlaw reputations. In the south, the old mining town of Tombstone still stands as the most popular example of this rough-and-tumble history, and the “Town Too Tough to Die” still draws visitors with its recreation of the famous shoot-out at the O.K. Corral and the notorious Bird Cage Theater.
Farther north, Prescott and its Whiskey Row offer plenty of saloons that transport you right back to the Wild West heyday (The Palace is the oldest and most authentic). Finally, once known as the “wickedest town in the west”, Jerome now proudly owns its ghost town status. Perched over the Verde Valley, visitors come for the beautiful views, Wild West recreations (and ghost tours), and the artists who helped create a community of studios, shops, and galleries among the small 500 plus population.
Arizona is officially known as the Grand Canyon State, but don't ignore its other nickname: the Copper State, a designation partially due to central Arizona's Verde Valley and its mineral riches. The valley formerly held several copper mines that helped lure settlers to the area and allowed the surrounding towns to develop. Jerome and Clarkdale are both must-stops on this route. Clarkdale is also home to Arizona’s newest museum, the privately run Arizona Copper Art Museum, which showcases the scientific, historical, and artistic importance of the mineral. Be sure to take a ride on the Verde Canyon Railroad, which takes you into Arizona’s “other grand canyon” and through gorgeous scenery you can't get to by car.
Nestled under the shadow of the San Francisco Peaks, this laid-back city is part mountain retreat and part college town, resulting in the ultimate Southwest experience for anyone looking for outdoor adventures and hip restaurants, bars, and shops. During the summer, Flagstaff is a welcome respite from the triple digit temperatures that hit the rest of the state, and visitors take advantage of this with plenty of hiking, biking, and rock climbing activities, as well as more than fifty-five miles of urban trails and dozens of city parks. In the winter, visitors head to the Arizona Snowbowl for skiing, snowboarding, and other winter fun. Local eateries and breweries like Proper Meats + Provisions and Mother Road Brewing Company make sure you don’t go hungry (or thirsty), and as a stop on the former Route 66, Flagstaff also indulges those looking for good ole Americana nostalgia.
Insider Tip: Get up close and personal with some Ponderosa pines at the Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course located within Fort Tuthill County Park, a self-guided adventure course complete with obstacles, zip lines, and plenty of tree climbing.
Long before the gunslingers and mountain climbers came to Arizona, American Indian tribes settled the land, and today twenty-two distinct tribes still call the state home. There are several museums dedicated to their cultures and customs, as well as monuments that serve as historical testaments to their contributions, including the Wupatki National Monument, Canyon de Chelly, and Monument Valley.
The largest area is known as Navajo Nation (divided into East and West), which spans the northeast quarter of the state. Note that each reservation is considered its own government and has its own unique, and often strict, visiting hours and rules; many sacred places are off-limits to non-American Indians. Just outside the confines of Navajo Nation is the small trading post of Cameron, which was originally created as a spot for settlers to trade with American Indians and today has a restaurant and hotel and is considered the best place to find authentic Indian products and crafts.