In Arizona, the landscapes are as diverse as they are dramatic. From the world-famous Grand Canyon to the eerie allure of the Sonoran Desert, this state - rich with rushing rivers, snow-capped mountains, stands of ponderosa pine and pristine lakes - has adventures to suit every traveller's taste. So, dust off your hiking boots and don your best cowboy hat because here are some of the best things to do in Arizona.
- Soar above the Grand Canyon
- Eat up in Tucson
- Stargaze in Flagstaff
- Visit Monument Valley
- Explore Saguaro National Park
- Cruise the Apache Trail
- Discover Antelope Canyon
- Hike Havasu Falls
Our journey through Arizona begins with the obvious but ever-so-awe-inspiring choice: the Grand Canyon. This colossal geological wonder, ancient and expansive, stands as America's ultimate rock star, extending over 217 miles and delving into depths that exceed a mile, unfurling a narrative spanning two billion years of Earth's history. Hike along the rim, take a helicopter tour, or even raft down the Colorado River at the canyon's base. As one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the vistas that await are nothing short of jaw-dropping.
In 2015, Tucson earned the prestigious title of the United States' inaugural UNESCO City of Gastronomy, a testament to its rich cultural legacy. As the oldest continuously inhabited and farmed region in the country, Tucson's cuisine is a delightful fusion of Native American, Northern Mexican and Mediterranean influences. Today, innovative contemporary chefs, along with the city's array of local restaurants and bars, are dedicated to preserving culinary traditions, using heritage ingredients and ancient crop varieties, all presented with a modern twist.
Flagstaff's allure extends far beyond its quaint downtown; it's also renowned for its pristine, starry skies. As a designated International Dark Sky City, Flagstaff takes its commitment to minimising light pollution seriously, providing the perfect canvas for stargazing enthusiasts. A must-visit is the Lowell Observatory, a national historic landmark with a rich astronomical history, including the discovery of Pluto in 1930. Established by Percival Lowell in 1894, the observatory offers daytime activities like exploring the solar telescope and guided tours. However, the real magic happens at night when, weather permitting, you can peer into the cosmos through the observatory's telescopes.
Monument Valley is a slice of Martian-like terrain right here on Earth, earning its spot among the best things to do in Arizona, especially for photography enthusiasts. Its iconic buttes and mesas have graced countless Western films, making it a symbol of the American Southwest. Take a guided jeep tour through the Navajo Tribal Park to appreciate this red-rock wonderland's sheer beauty. Be warned: you may feel like you've stepped into a John Wayne movie.
The giant saguaro, king of the cacti, dominates the landscapes of Saguaro National Park in southern Arizona. With prickly limbs reaching up to 49ft into the sky, these striking symbols of the southwest can impressively live over 250 years but are only found in this patch of the state, with the densest population in the western section of the park. From mid-May to early June, these cacti burst into bloom, enhancing the scenic beauty of over 149 miles of hiking and horse riding trails. Remember to bring ample water and sun protection and start your adventure early to beat the heat.
Hold onto your cowboy hat as you embark on a scenic drive along the historic Apache Trail. Winding through the Superstition Mountains and along the shimmering waters of Apache Lake, this rugged trail is one of the best things to do in Arizona for those seeking an authentic Wild West adventure. Be sure to stop at Tortilla Flat, a charmingly quirky old west town, for a slice of pie at the saloon. The route also passes by the legendary ghost town of Goldfield, offering a glimpse into the region's rich mining history.
Prepare to be enchanted as you explore the surreal slot canyons of Antelope Canyon. Carved by millennia of wind and water, the narrow passageways are illuminated by slivers of sunlight that create an ethereal play of colours and shadows on the sandstone walls, making for an otherworldly destination. It’s part of Lake Powell Navajo Tribal Park, so you’ll have to sign up for a guided tour to access the area.
If you're up for a bit of hiking, Havasu Falls in the Grand Canyon's Havasupai Indian Reservation is a must. It's a challenging and steep 10-mile trek from the canyon rim that'll have you huffing and puffing for about four hours (and don't forget, the return trip is all uphill). However, trekking to these emerald-blue waterfalls is a rewarding challenge, and the payoff is swimming beneath their cascading waters in a desert oasis. To unlock this natural wonder, you'll need permits, and mark your calendar because it's accessible only from February to November. If you plan to stay overnight, reservations are a must for either the campground or the Havasupai Lodge.
All images by Jerome Galland