ARIZONA OUTDOOR TRAVEL GUIDE
Arizona is home to the 2nd most visited National Park in the United States, the Grand Canyon. Some people don’t realize though that Arizona also has two other unique National Parks, 15 national monuments, and a ton of outdoor recreation opportunities, often without crowds. Here in our Arizona travel guide, we give you the low-down on Arizona, including a number of detailed blog posts, to help you plan your trip to the Grand Canyon state.
THE BEST TIME TO VISIT ARIZONA
While Arizona can be explored year round, we recommend visiting Arizona’s desert regions in the Spring and Fall. Temperatures in Arizona can rise to the triple digits in the summer, and those months also happen to draw the largest crowds in areas like the Grand Canyon.
TOP OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES IN ARIZONA
Hiking – Whether you want to explore the lush waterfalls of Havasu Falls, the depths of the Grand Canyon, or thru-hike the 800 mile long Arizona Trail, Arizona offers incredible hiking in a variety of landscapes.
Climbing – Arizona has more exposed rock than any other state in the US with more than 7,000 climbing routes. Climbing is very popular around the Flagstaff area where summer temperatures are more moderate, as well as around the Granite Mountains in central Arizona.
Biking – Flagstaff, Prescott, and Phoenix all offer great mountain biking trails just outside the city. Road biking is also very popular, and there are numerous scenic road bike routes for those looking to sightsee on two wheels.
Petroglyph Exploring – Arizona has 21 recognized Native American tribes and almost a quarter of Arizona is protected tribal land. You can explore ruins and petroglyphs all over the state.
Water Sports – Beat the summer heat in Arizona by hitting the water. Lake Powell and Clarkdale offer great kayaking options for beginners and overnighters, while rafting the Grand Canyon is at the top of every boater’s buckelist.
TRAVELING TO ARIZONA
While Arizona is the 6th largest state in the United States, it’s easy to get around and see multiple areas within an extended weekend or week trip. Phoenix and Tucson both have international airports. For most people who are planning to visit Grand Canyon National Park, in Northwest Arizona, the least expensive option is to fly into Las Vegas. Flagstaff, while more expensive, also has a small airport.
NATIONAL PARKS IN ARIZONA
You could spend a full week just exploring Grand Canyon National Park. Most people visit the South Rim before ever embarking on the quieter and cooler North Rim. Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon is the only lodging below the rim, and if you really want to experience the full thrill of the canyon, you can spend up to 25 days rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.
Just off of I-40, Petrified Forest National Park is a great weekend stop where you’ll generally find an uncrowded park full of colorful landscapes, detailed petroglyphs, historic Pueblo sites, and loads of 200 million-year-old crystallized logs. Check out our travel guide to this park here.
Saguaro National Park is in southern Arizona and has 2 distinct sections that skirt the city of Tucson. You can find petroglyphs and a true desert landscape full of giant saguaro cacti in the park.
OTHER MUST-SEE ARIZONA DESTINATIONS
The Arizona National Scenic Trail is a long-distance hiking trail that traverses 800 miles down the middle of the state from Mexico to Utah. It offers great weekend and longer backpacking trips through mountains, canyons and desert landscapes.
Of the 15 National Monuments in Arizona, there are three remarkable sites just east of the Grand Canyon and North of Sedona that we highly recommend. Walnut Canyon National Monument offers incredible hiking trails. while Wupatki National Monument and Canyon de Chelly National Monument, which is the farthest east of the three, also offer rich history and breathtaking scenery. You should try to plan ahead as some of the national monuments in Arizona can only be toured with a private guide.
The Arizona side of Lake Powell is a great spot for outdoor adventure seekers. The famous “Horseshoe Bend” in the Colorado River is just south of Lake Powell as well as the incredibly picturesque, Antelope Canyon, which can only be visited with a Navajo guide.
Finally, Havasu Falls is one of the most magical and colorful places on earth, with it’s deep turquoise waterfalls, sunny swimming holes, and steep red cliffs. Located just west of Grand Canyon National Park, Havasu Falls should be on the top of everyone’s adventure bucketlist. Check out our detailed Havasu Falls camping guided here.
TOP ARIZONA TOWNS TO EXPLORE
Greer is a small city with great hiking, fishing, camping, and skiing options. Skiing in Arizona? Yes! Most people think of Arizona as one large hot, dry desert but Greer is an Eastern Arizona town in the White Mountains along the New Mexico border where you can find all four seasons.
Sedona a.ka. Red Rocks Country is surrounded on 3 sides by Arizona’s famous red rock. It’s also a good way to round off a trip to the Grand Canyon. The Red Rock Scenic Byway (SR 179) takes you right through Sedona, and we highly recommend making a day trip from Flagstaff to travel and sightsee in this area. If you are traveling south from Sedona on I-17, definitely check out the Montezuma Castle National Monument to see preserved native cliff dwellings.
Tempe is just 10 minutes east of Phoenix but you’ll feel you’re in a totally different city. Tempe is young and hip with a big foodie and microbrewery scene. Make sure to walk the unique Mill Avenue District during the day AND at night for two totally different yet thriving scenes. If you do visit Phoenix, the Musical Instrument Museum is out of this world awesome–totally worth a stop! The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix is also incredible.
Tucson is surrounded by Saguaro National Park and is a great city in Southern Arizona only an hour from the Mexico-US border. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a great place to visit with its focus on Arizona wildlife, animals, and plants. If you are looking for a day trip from Tucson, head to the iconic old western town of Tombstone, AZ.