Arizona is a gorgeous state. Large and diverse, the outdoor opportunities found here are some of the best in the world. Walk through canyons and petrified forests, enjoying waterfalls and beautiful desert scenes. There are plenty of mountain ranges to climb, and even some of the most biodiverse areas on the planet. If you are planning a vacation to Arizona, let this list be a guide for you.
1. Grand Canyon
Perhaps Arizona’s most famous feature, this national park deserves to be at the top of every list.
Is it crowded and full of tourists? Yes, in certain places.
But planning a trip to Arizona and not seeing the canyon will be one of your biggest life regrets. If you have the time, there are ample opportunities for hiking down to the Colorado River. Do an overnight visit, and enjoy one of the true wonders of the world.
Red rock central. This town and region can be described as the most picturesque area of Arizona. Large red rocks make up the back country and provide world class mountain biking and hiking. Sedona has plenty of other tourist opportunities. Companies provide jeep tours and a myriad of trips designed to maximize your time.
A tourist town to the end, there are plenty of places to stay and a nightlife to match. Enjoy the outdoors on your own time and let Sedona provide you a long weekend vacation.
3. Petrified Forest
Petrified Forest National Park is one of my absolute favorite places on Earth. Not as crowded as the Grand Canyon, this geological oddity is home to some of the most spectacular petrified wood in existence. Bright colors shine back at you and entire stone trees lay on their side.
This park is more than just a fossil cache, the painted desert makes up the surrounding hills. Yellows, purples, reds, and even greens make for spectacular photography and hiking. The best part about this park is that you can visit in the winter too. With very low precipitation, there are great opportunities for a winter overnight. Enjoy Pronghorn Antelope and witness the desert change colors, depending on the position of the sun.
4. Sonoran Desert National Monument
If you are looking for the full western experience without the glare of city lights, then this park is for you. The monument is massive, over 496 thousand acres, and is home to some of the most undisturbed desert ecosystems in the state. You can drive out and park wherever you want, and bring a tent or cowboy camp.
The stars are exceptionally bright and, because this area is far away from Phoenix, promises solitude and peace. There are some riparian sections in the park, but it is always a good idea to bring your own water.
5. Fossil Creek Waterfall
A literal desert oasis awaits the visitor. Canyons, blue water, and waterfalls provide enough entertainment for a long day trip. The extreme temperatures of Arizona make swimming at the Fossil Creek Waterfall refreshing. Take the kids, pack a picnic, and stay for the day. The drive is potentially far, but the experience is well worth the trip.
6. Patagonia Lake
A 250 acre lake, hidden in Southern Arizona, makes for a great day on the water. Plenty of boating and swimming opportunities abound, and there is even a beach. Named because of its resemblance to actual Patagonia, it really is a beautiful spot.
There are some significant large mouth bass fishing, and trophies are taken every year. Being a state park, the entrance fees are very reasonable, and the drive out there will take you through some of Arizona’s prettiest hills.
7. Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park offers the highest density of saguaro cactus in the world. Because of its unique elevation and proximity to the Tucson region, it is the wettest part of the Sonoran Desert. There are so many plants that grow here that it is commonly referred to as a “Desert Jungle.” Enjoy wildlife viewing, such as mule deer and cougars. Try visiting during monsoon season, and watch the desert flower.
8. Madera Canyon
A unique picnic and hiking area, Madera Canyon is worth the drive. The Santa Rita Mountains are over 9,000 feet above the Sonoran Desert below them. At this altitude, rain is much more common, the forests are lush, and seasonal streams abound.
These mountains are much wetter than the drier desert below them, and are known as “sky islands.” As such, they are home to some unique animals. The diversity of hummingbirds is greater here than in any other part of the United States. As for mammals, the elusive Jaguar has been known to make an appearance from time to time.
9. Pajarita Wilderness Area
When I discovered this wilderness area, I was surprised by how dope it was. Pajarita Wilderness is located on the border of Mexico, many hours from Tucson. You do need to be careful of smuggling activities, but don’t let that stop you from experiencing this amazing area.
Perennial water flows all year, and the steep canyons provide a home for rare plant species found nowhere else on Earth. Rare native fish species can also be found here. Coming across a pool of water, seemingly stocked with rare fish, is a sight to behold. I highly recommend doing a hike, or even an overnight visit. Make sure to bring your ID, as the border patrol will ask for it.
10. Humphrey’s Peak
Over 12,000 feet tall, Humphrey’s Peak is Arizona’s tallest point. Located near Flagstaff, this mountain receives snow every winter. If you are looking for some high altitude climbing and an escape from the oppressive summertime heat, then this is the place for you.
I don’t know about you, but I always try to climb the tallest mountain in every state I visit. And this mountain is no joke. Surrounded with national forest, enjoy serenity and spectacular views of Northern Arizona.
One of my favorite states, the outdoor opportunities Arizona provides are like nowhere else in the world. Relatively accessible, friendly, and always welcoming, think about visiting some of these destinations on your next vacation.