13 beautiful places to visit in Arizona

Arizona isn’t just desert. You could live here your whole life and still not have seen all of its beauty. Below are our top picks for your bucket list.

1. Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is one of those bucket list items not just for Arizonans or even Americans, but for people from all over the world. It’s one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the world. A spectacular marvel! Awe-inspiring, and stunning! And, it’s right in our own backyard.

It’s a mile long from top to bottom at its deepest and 18 miles wide at its broadest. There are 277 river miles that traverse through the canyon.

The South Rim: It’s open year round and is the most visited section of the canyon. Top lookout points on the South Rim: Lipan Point, Mather Point, Bright Angel Trail (most popular), Hopi Point and Ooh Aah Point (via South Kaibab Trail).

The North Rim: It closes in mid-October and reopens in mid-May every year. If you are looking for less crowded areas of the Grand Canyon, head to the North Rim as it sees about one-tenth of the visitors that the South Rim sees. Top lookout points of the North Rim: Cape Royal, Point Imperial, Ken Patrick Trail, Bright Angel Point and the Grand Canyon Lodge. The Toroweap Overlook is one of the most picturesque spots at the Grand Canyon but it’s only accessible by dirt roads with a four-wheel drive vehicle.

The Colorado River winds through the Grand Canyon. (Source: NPS.gov)
The Colorado River winds through the Grand Canyon. (Source: NPS.gov)(NPS.gov)

Scenic Drives: Hermit Road is a seven-mile drive around the canyon rim and you can do it in your own vehicle from Dec. 1 through Feb. 28. Any other time, you must take the park’s shuttle buses. The Desert View Drive is 22 miles long and offers better views of the Colorado River and its rapids than Hermit Road.

Popular Trails: Located at the South Rim, The Bright Angel Trail is one of the most popular trails. Other popular trails are Rim, South Kaibab, North Kaibab, Cape Final, Bright Angel Point, Hermit, Rainbow Rim and Grandview Trails. Every year, thousands of people apply for a Rim-To-Rim permit. There is a strategy to increase your chances of obtaining a Rim-To-Rim permit.

Skywalk: Get brave and step out onto the most thrilling way to view the Grand Canyon. The Skywalk at Grand Canyon West opened in 2007. If you’re a thrill seeker, this could be the most terrifying and amazing way to see the canyon. This area of the rim, Grand Canyon West, is a 4 1/2 hour drive from the Valley, and it’s become one of the most talked about and popular locations to view the canyon, all thanks to the engineering genius of the Skywalk. This 10-foot-wide glass bridge is a marvel in itself.

It extends 70 feet over the rim. Look down, and you’ll see right through the horseshoe-shaped platform, 4,000 feet to the canyon floor below. The sensation of walking on glass might catch you off guard, and can take a little getting used to, but it is well worth it. If you’re nervous about walking on the glass, don’t worry, this thing can hold 70 747′s. One million adventure-seekers don booties each year to step almost a mile above the canyon, all in an attempt to experience the calm of nature, but with a touch of adrenaline.

For more information on the Grand Canyon Skywalk, click here.

Zipline the Grand Canyon: Talk about adrenaline! This is an extreme way to view one of the most serene settings. And together, the beautiful landscape with the added adrenaline rush will most certainly overwhelm the senses. Your extreme flight over the desert, on the newest zipline at Grand Canyon West, will have you on the edge of your seat, definitely not Griswold’s vacation. It’s nerve-racking, heart-pounding, and the ultimate blast. This intense ride flies you at heights reaching 800 feet, over two separate ziplines. In 30 seconds, the first line will take you 1100 feet across the canyon. The second line, which is taller, faster and longer, takes about one minute to cover 2100 feet. If you’re an adventure-seeker, this is a must-try! Getting launched over the canyon is a thrill of a lifetime.

To learn more on ziplining in the Grand Canyon, click here.

2. Sedona & Oak Creek Canyon

Sedona is one of the most majestic places on earth with its countless views of those stunning red rock vistas. People from all over the world travel to Arizona to vacation in Sedona. Nearby Oak Creek Canyon is just as inspiring. The late Sen. John McCain and his family have a ranch along Oak Creek in nearby Cornville.

Vortexes: It’s said that there are four energy vortexes in Sedona - Airport Mesa, Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock and Boynton Canyon. Airport Mesa is the easiest vortex to get to with Cathedral Rock being the most difficult. Airport Mesa is a great way to experience a vortex and at the same time get a 360-degree panorama of Red Rock Country.

Devil’s Bridge Trail: This is a moderate hike but the payoff is worth it. The trail ends where a natural rock bridge jets out from the red rocks. You may not want to walk out onto Devil’s Bridge yourself, but just seeing it from the sidelines is pretty incredible too.

Crescent Moon Picnic Site: This site offers stellar views of iconic Cathedral Rock.

Chapel of the Holy Cross: Sculptor Marguerite Brunswig Staude collaborated with Frank-Lloyd Wright in designing this church in the mid 1930s. But it took another 20 years before this architectural marvel was built.

Most Scenic Hikes: Cathedral Rock, Brins Mesa, Soldiers Pass, Little Horse, Courthouse/Bell Rock, Fay Canyon, Broken Arrow, West Fork, Doe Mountain, Huckaby, Boynton Canyon and Devil’s Bridge.

3. Monument Valley

Monument Valley. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Monument Valley. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)(3TV/CBS 5)

People come from around the world to visit Arizona’s Monument Valley. But oddly enough, many Arizonans have never been. It’s about a five-hour drive from the Valley.

People describe the area as breathtaking, spiritual and serene. And, you know it’s special as it’s the location of many Hollywood movies, such as The Lone Ranger and The Searchers.

But to really experience it, drive down the 17-mile dirt road for the prettiest trek into the valley. It’s even better if you’re not the one driving.

Take a Jeep tour through Monument Valley: Buckle up for a Jeep tour with a Navajo guide who can take you deeper into Monument Valley. Your guide will point out the beauty of the sights while explaining the most significant parts of the landscape, such as the ancient ruins tucked into the sandstone cliffs. With a guide, you can also enter restricted areas like Mystery Valley.

Go horseback riding through Monument Valley: Do like “The Duke” and in John Wayne style, saddle up to explore this iconic scenery by a horse. It’s the most unique way to see what’s considered by some to be the eighth wonder of the world. And, you can actually ride the same trails John Wayne rode. It’s an area so serene, spiritual and special that it just seems like it’s meant to be explored in this way. A guide will take you down the sandy slopes and into some pretty incredible country. Your guide will teach you about Navajo culture, the Anasazi ruins’ pictographs, and tell you which Western films were shot where. They’ll also tell you how to escape and brave the elements. Roaming about on a horse, among the wild horses that roam this land, is an eye-opening and unforgettable experience.

For more information on guided jeep tours and horseback riding through Monument Valley, visit royblacksguidedtours.com and navajonationparks.org.

4. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Lake Powell: It’s truly hard to put into words the beauty and serenity of Lake Powell. The lake was created in the mid-1950s to 1960s with the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam. Surrounded by pink rocks, the turquoise water fills stunning canyons that look different in every different light of morning, day or evening. When full, the lake has almost 2000 miles of shoreline. That’s about the same as the west coast of the United States! High temperatures range from the mid-40s in winter to the mid-90s in July and August.

Rainbow Bridge: It takes some extra time, but the hike to Rainbow Bridge is unforgettable. It’s one of the world’s largest known natural bridges. Neighboring American Indian tribes consider the bridge to be sacred.

Rainbow Bridge (Source: NPS.gov)
Rainbow Bridge (Source: NPS.gov)(NPS.gov)

Horseshoe Bend: The meandering Colorado River creates what looks like a horseshoe near Page, AZ and seeing it for yourself is breath-taking. The hike to the overlook is less than a mile.

Antelope Canyon: This slot canyon is located on Navajo land east of Page. It contains two separate slot canyons - upper and lower - and you can tour either one. The tour guides do a great job of helping visitors take photographs at just the right vantage point to capture formations within the canyons.

Lower Antelope Canyon (Source: Melissa Ziedy)
Lower Antelope Canyon (Source: Melissa Ziedy)(Melissa Ziedy)

5. Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness

Paria River Canyon (Source: Melissa Ziedy)
Paria River Canyon (Source: Melissa Ziedy)(Melissa Ziedy)

If you ask an Arizonan if they know of this area, many will say no. But its beauty rivals the Grand Canyon. No joking here.

The Paria River traverses 38 miles through a slot canyon. It’s located 10 miles west of Page, AZ, not far from Lake Powell. Paria Canyon has towering walls streaked with huge red rock amphitheaters, sandstone arches.

Wave at the Vermillion Cliffs: People from all over the world travel to Arizona to see The Wave. It’s so popular that there’s a lottery just to get a permit.

The BLM manages the wilderness and limits the number of daily hikers on the land. So this is a great place to escape the crowds. You’ll probably only see a handful of people in an entire day hiking in this wilderness.

The Wave. (Source: USDA Forest Service)
The Wave. (Source: USDA Forest Service)(USDA Forest Service)

6. Havasu & Mooney Falls

Havasu Falls (Source: AZ Corporation Commission)
Havasu Falls (Source: AZ Corporation Commission)(AZ Corporation Commission)

Havasu and Mooney Falls, part of the Grand Canyon, are located on the The Havasupai Indian Reservation. The blue-green waterfalls are a much sought-after destination for thousands of people every year. But getting a permit is almost next to impossible.

Experiencing this bucket list trip is not for the weary. The hike to the campground is 10 miles and it’s another 2 miles to the first falls. There are helicopters that offer rides to the campground, but they are on a first come, first serve basis and the tribe’s needs take precedent.

7. Tonto Natural Bridge

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park (Source: Arizona State Parks)
Tonto Natural Bridge State Park (Source: Arizona State Parks)(Arizona State Parks)

Tonto Natural Bridge is another natural arch located in Arizona. This one is about 10 miles north of Payson. It’s believed to be the largest natural travertine bridge in the world. The bridge stands 183 feet high over a 400-foot long tunnel. Four trails offer views of the bridge: Pine Creek, Waterfall, Gowan, and Anne Mae.

8. Canyon de Chelly

Enjoy the beauty of Canyon de Chelly by driving the Diné Tah (Among the People) Scenic Road....
Enjoy the beauty of Canyon de Chelly by driving the Diné Tah (Among the People) Scenic Road. (Source: National Park Foundation)(National Park Foundation)

This national monument is located in northeastern Arizona on tribal lands. You can explore the ancient ruins either by hiking or taking a Jeep tour. Tours require a backcountry permit and hiring an authorized Navajo guide.

9. Coal Mine Canyon and Bat Canyon

Pink light of twilight in the sky at Coal Mine Canyon in Tuba City, Arizona. (Source: 123rf.com)
Pink light of twilight in the sky at Coal Mine Canyon in Tuba City, Arizona. (Source: 123rf.com)(123rf.com)

Coal Mine and Bat Canyons are located in the desert in northeastern Arizona, on the border between the Hopi and Navajo reservations. The interest in these canyons come from the details on the rock - the colors, forms and texture of the sandstone. These canyons don’t get as many visitors and therefore, there aren’t as many signs leading visitors to viewpoints. You’ll definitely need to do your homework before venturing out to explore one of these canyons.

10. The Black Canyon Water Trail and Emerald Cave

(Source: National Park Service)
(Source: National Park Service)(National Park Service)

These two destinations are located on Lake Mead at the base of the Hoover Dam. Emerald Cave is located 2 miles up river from Willow Beach. If you glide your kayak backwards into Emerald Cave at just the right time in the afternoon, the cave water looks like it is shimmering green.

11. Seven Falls in Bear Canyon

There are quite a few places we’d consider an oasis in the middle of the desert and this is one of them too. The Seven Falls Trail in Sabino Canyon traverses through 2 1/2 miles of beautiful scenery that ends with waterfalls cascading into large pools.

12. Mogollon Rim

Don’t feel like getting out of your car? No problem. Just head out to Forest Road 300, which runs along the edge of the Mogollon Rim and overlooks the ponderosa pine forest. If you want to make the loop, it’ll include Forest Road 321. However, it’s mostly dirt or gravel so be careful, but the views are great.

13. White Mountains For Fall Foliage

White Mountains (Source: 123rf.com)
White Mountains (Source: 123rf.com)(123rf.com)

They may be called the White Mountains but they are full of color during autumn. Several towns to check out include Pinetop-Lakeside, especially along State Route 260. Greer, in the heart of the White Mountains, has great fall foliage. Those looking for a hike can check out Greens Peak that oversees the colorful aspens.

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