Tucked into the southwest corner of the United States, Arizona offers something for all types of travelers. Visit highlights like the Grand Canyon, the Wild West town of Tombstone or the red rocks of Sedona, or head to cities like Phoenix or Tucson for professional sports, museums, observatories and science centers. Read on to discover which of the state’s endless iconic sights, stunning landscapes and gorgeous natural formations you should add to your Arizona bucket list. (Note: Some of the following activities and locations may be affected by the coronavirus outbreak. New policies may be in place, including capacity restrictions, reservation requirements or mask mandates. Check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of State and local tourism boards before traveling.)
Prepare to be wowed by Antelope Canyon, a jaw-dropping slot canyon in Northern Arizona. Swirling, orange sandstone and ethereal light beams (which typically appear in the summer months) make for a magical, otherworldly destination. Travelers must sign up for a guided tour to access this area, which is part of the Lake Powell Navajo Tribal Park. If you’d like to stay in the area overnight, you’ll find accommodation options like the Best Western Plus at Lake Powell and the Comfort Inn & Suites Page at Lake Powell in the nearby town of Page, Arizona. Past visitors say Antelope Canyon is a must-see and remark that tour guides can often provide expert advice on how to take the best photos while there.
If you’d like to check another national park off your bucket list, visit Arizona’s Saguaro National Park. Located about 14 miles northwest of Tucson, the park features a giant forest of saguaro cacti, some of which stand up to 50 feet tall and date back more than 200 years. But the park boasts more than plant life; be sure to look out for animals like coyote and desert tortoises during your visit. Stay overnight at upscale properties like the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort or the Miraval Arizona Resort & Spa. Or, for a more rugged experience, go camping in the Rincon Mountain District.
Step into the Wild West in Tombstone
About 75 miles southeast of Tucson, travelers will find the infamous Wild West town of Tombstone. A National Historic Landmark, the district is “one of the best-preserved specimens of the rugged frontier of the 1870s and ’80s,” according to the U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Park Service. Tombstone was the site of the legendary gunfight at the O.K. Corral in October 1881, known by many as the most famous shootout of the Wild West era. The town was also portrayed in the 1993 movie “Tombstone,” starring Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer. Today, travelers can visit to explore historic saloons and shops, take a visitor-approved trolley tour and watch a reenactment of a shootout.
Drive Route 66
Get a taste of nostalgia as you travel down iconic Route 66. The longest, best-preserved stretch of the highway snakes through Arizona, from the town of Topock on the west side of the state to Lupton in the east. It runs through the cities of Winslow and Flagstaff, as well as Petrified Forest National Park. Travelers can stop for staged gunfights at former gold-mining camp Oatman, lunch at one of many diners and historic hotels like the Weatherford Hotel in Flagstaff. For a kitschy overnight stay, book lodging at the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, which is made up of tents fitted with full bathrooms, cable TV and air conditioning. Visitors recommend checking out the many vintage vehicles parked outside.
Architecture lovers won’t want to miss this Frank Lloyd Wright gem in Scottsdale. Considered a must-see for Wright fans according to past visitors, this National Historic Landmark and UNESCO World Heritage Site served as Wright’s winter home and desert laboratory. He once described it as “a look over the rim of the world.” Taliesin West offers a variety of tours year-round, and you must purchase tickets in advance. Be sure to spend some time enjoying the grounds outdoors and stop into the on-site store, which sells Wright-inspired art, books and home decor.
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park
Located on the border of Utah and Arizona, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is known for its 1,000-foot-tall sandstone monoliths – which are tall, narrow stones – as well as abundant mesas (geologic features with flat tops) and buttes (steep, stand-alone features with flat summits). As such, Monument Valley is one of the most photographed places in the world, and it has been featured in multiple Western films. View some of the formations from the park’s visitor center or book a guided tour to travel into the valley itself. Nearby lodging includes the Bluff Dwellings Resort & Spa and the Desert Rose Inn & Cabins. Past visitors have described Monument Valley as one of the most beautiful, majestic and mystical places they’ve ever visited, noting its likeness to Zion, Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon National Parks.
Meet the Flintstones at Bedrock City
Fans of “The Flintstones” should pay a visit to Bedrock City, a recreation of the fictional town where Fred Flintstone and his family lived in the classic cartoon. Located at Raptor Ranch in Williams (about 25 miles south of the Grand Canyon), Bedrock City is open throughout the week and features sights like Fred’s house, the post office and statues of Pebbles Flintstone and Barney Rubble. Admission is free if you’re staying at the Raptor Ranch campground, while a fee applies for those just visiting for the day. Reviewers say this hidden gem is great for young kids and only takes about 30 minutes to see.
Outer space enthusiasts should consider a stop at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff. Founded in 1894, the observatory was the site of major discoveries like Pluto, the rings of Uranus and the expanding nature of the universe. While here, travelers can gaze through a telescope, take a constellation tour and enjoy science demonstrations. Visitors love seeing the original 1896 telescope and recommend taking a guided tour at the observatory.
Explore Mission San Xavier del Bac
On a getaway to Tucson, pay a visit to Mission San Xavier del Bac, a former Catholic mission constructed in the late 1700s. The Baroque-style building is the oldest intact European structure in Arizona. Today, it remains a Catholic church with original sculptures and murals, as well as and imagery of shells – a symbol of pilgrimage – throughout. Visitors say Mission San Xavier del Bac is worth a visit for both its rich history and exquisite architecture.
Arizona Snowbowl Scenic Chairlift
For a bird’s-eye view of some of Arizona’s most famous sites, including the Grand Canyon and the red rocks of Sedona, hop on the scenic chairlift at the Arizona Snowbowl in Flagstaff. The ride up and down the mountain is about 15 minutes each way, and there are lots of activities to enjoy at the base, like disc golf and hiking trails. Leaf peepers can also head to this spot to take in the golden leaves of the aspen trees during fall. For an extra special visit, take a sunset ride and enjoy dinner at Agassiz Restaurant & Bar at the chairlift’s base. Overall, reviewers describe this scenic attraction as the highlight of their Flagstaff vacation.
Soar over the Grand Canyon
Any way you choose to see the Grand Canyon will be amazing, but a unique option is to take in the amazing natural wonder from above in a helicopter. Companies like Grand Canyon Helicopters fly over the widest, deepest parts of the canyon, allowing you to see the North and South Rims – and everything in between – in just 30 minutes. This tour provider’s helicopters hold up to seven passengers, and tours depart from the South Rim, Page and Las Vegas. Travelers describe the memorable outing as a thrilling but gentle ride with views you won’t see anywhere else.
Walnut Canyon National Monument
While in Flagstaff, add Walnut Canyon National Monument to your itinerary. This Arizona canyon is home to cliff dwellings dating back more than 700 years, as well as plentiful hiking trails and wildlife like coyotes, rabbits, mule deer and 120-plus bird species. Past hikers advise taking the Rim Trail if you want to avoid lots of stairs, while the Island Trail provides visitors with great views of the cliff dwellings. While there are no campsites inside of the actual park, nearby options include Bonito and Canyon Vista campgrounds.
Peruse Heard Museum
Get an up-close look at American Indian art at the Heard Museum in Phoenix. Founded in 1929, the museum features 12 exhibition galleries, sculpture gardens, a cafe and a contemporary art gallery. Be sure to browse the museum shop, where you can find original pottery, jewelry, katsina dolls and weavings by American Indian artists. Affordable accommodations like the Cambria Hotel Downtown Phoenix and the Hampton Inn Phoenix-Midtown-Downtown Area are nearby. Visitors describe the Heard as a “must-visit museum” and recommend spending about two hours there.
Catch an Arizona Cardinals football game at State Farm Stadium
Head to State Farm Stadium in Glendale to cheer on the Grand Canyon State’s NFL team: the Cardinals. The fan-approved stadium is known for its innovative architectural design, including modern exterior metal panels and the first retractable natural grass playing field in North America. It also hosts the Fiesta Bowl each year. If you’re visiting during the off-season, book a behind-the-scenes tour to see areas like the press box, the visiting team locker room and the view from the stadium floor. Several hotels are located next to the stadium, including the Aloft Glendale at Westgate, the Renaissance Phoenix Glendale Hotel & Spa and the Tru by Hilton Phoenix Glendale Westgate.
Arizona Science Center
For some hands-on learning, visit the Arizona Science Center in downtown Phoenix. The center offers permanent exhibits like “Making Sense of Dollars and Cents” (which introduces kids to saving money), “Flight Zone” (which details the science of flight) and “Forces of Nature” (which explores natural events like tornadoes, hurricanes and volcanoes). The Science Center also has a planetarium and a theater with a five-story screen. Reviewers say the center is interactive and engaging; they also advise getting your parking ticket validated to avoid a parking fee. The Science Center is just a few blocks from the Children’s Museum of Phoenix and Chase Field, as well as hotels such as The Westin Phoenix Downtown, Kimpton Hotel Palomar Phoenix and Hampton Inn & Suites Phoenix Downtown.
Wander among the red rocks of Sedona
Vermillion Cliffs National Monument and The Wave
To fully immerse yourself in the wilderness, explore Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, a 280,000-acre natural zone in northern Arizona. One of its most popular areas, The Wave, features a swirling display of colored sandstone that makes for magnificent photos. Visiting the park can be tricky: You’ll need to enter a lottery to secure a permit, as only 20 people are allowed into each area per day. If you’re successful, get ready for jaw-dropping landscapes and natural formations. You will need a four-wheel-drive vehicle to access any part of the park. There aren’t any cities within the immediate vicinity of Vermillion Cliffs. Stay about 50 miles northwest in the town of Kanab, Utah; accommodation options include the Hampton Inn Kanab or the Holiday Inn Express and Suites Kanab.
Grand Canyon National Park North Rim
While the Grand Canyon’s South Rim is the more popular side of the iconic landmark, the North Rim is worth a visit as well. In fact, only 10% of all visitors go to the North Rim, making it a great place to avoid the crowds. The North Rim Visitor Center, which closes during the winter due to snow, is less than 60 miles from Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. At the North Rim, stop at the Grand Canyon Lodge for spectacular canyon views at Bright Angel Point, then enjoy a scenic drive to various lookouts where you can see the Angels Window natural arch and other formations. Travelers can stay at the seasonal Grand Canyon Lodge between mid-May and mid-October. Or, book a vacation rental or hotel room in Kanab, Utah, or Page located about 80 and 125 miles north, respectively.
Lake Havasu State Park
Situated along the California border, Lake Havasu State Park is home to a narrow lake surrounded by Arizona desert land. The park offers popular activities like swimming, boating and kayaking, and it features 47 campsites, a beach and hiking trails. There are also other nearby state parks to explore, including Cattail Cove State Park and Buckskin Mountain State Park. Save time to check out the historic London Bridge and the Lake Havasu Museum of History. Previous travelers say Lake Havasu is a great place to camp, thanks to its large recreational vehicle sites and clean bathrooms.
Arizona is home to vast dark sky regions found in areas like the Grand Canyon, Sedona, Flagstaff, Camp Verde, the Village of Oak Creek and Kaibab Paiute Indian Reservation. Head to one of many observatories for minimal light pollution and the best view of the stars above. Popular options include the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory south of Tucson; the Mt. Graham International Observatory in the southeastern Pinaleno Mountains; and Kitt Peak National Observatory, located southwest of Tucson. Some area resorts like L’Auberge de Sedona and Boulders Resort & Spa also offer special nighttime viewings with their own telescopes and astronomy programming.
Explore a ghost town
Arizona is full of ghost towns: areas that emerged during mining booms, only to later be abandoned when the mining opportunities dried up. In Gleeson, situated 16 miles east of Tombstone, you’ll find the remains of the old jail and general store from its 1880s heyday as a turquoise mining town. Along with Gleeson, Tip Top – which was founded in the 1870s to mine silver and is located about 50 miles north of Phoenix – was one of the most active mining towns in the state. Today, you can see dozens of buildings left behind from its glory days which at one time included a post office, saloons, a school and a brewery. In addition to exploring old buildings and structures in these old towns, there are often off-roading and hiking trails nearby as well, and some even have haunted hotels. You can easily spend several hours simply wandering in and out of the different buildings and looking at the remnants scattered about (just exercise caution as the buildings are old). Most are free to enter, though a few are on private land and do charge entrance fees. If you want a guided tour, head to Castle Dome, Vulture City, Ruby or Goldfield Ghost Town, which have guided options.