Home to six national parks, thirty one states parks, and some of the most iconic landmarks in the United States, Arizona is king when it comes to gorgeous scenery.
Simply put, the Copper State is a haven when it comes to unparalleled views, especially if desert terrain is what you’re after. If you’re currently in the planning stages of your Arizona road trip itinerary, chances are you’re currently feeling overwhelmed when choosing where to go and what to do during your visit.
While the entire state is dotted by incredible destinations, there are a few that simply stand out from the crowd, making them wonderful starting points to unravel the majestic beauty of Arizona.
If you still aren’t sure where to go during your visit, make sure these 8 destinations are musts in your schedule!
BEFORE YOU GO! Make sure you read our best desert driving safety tips
8 Must-See Destinations in Arizona
Way back in time, deep rifts were cut by geological forces into the Colorado Plateau, forming the insanely interesting landscape Sedona provides today. Imagine desert spires piercing the skies, expansive river canyons painting the landscape, and other-worldly red rock formations dotting the scenery to get a pretty good idea of what Sedona’s landscape offers visitors.
During your visit to Sedona, make sure you test your desert hiking skills by hitting a trail or two. Another must is exploring the cultural goodness the town provides by checking out the many museums and centers that offer an insight into Sedona’s rich heritage so you can better understand the land you’re walking on!
2. Grand Canyon National Park’s North Rim Section
Visiting the Grand Canyon may sound a little cliché, but if you’re the type of traveler who prefers staying away from the crowds, a wonderful way to experience the Grand Canyon without having to share it with hoards of visitors is by focusing your time on the lesser-visited North Rim section of the park.
This part of the canyon offers secluded hikes and viewpoints, giving visitors a much more private (but equally amazing) experience. You can find shorter trails here excellent for smaller legs, including the paved 0.5 mile Bright Angel Point, or by vehicle, enjoy the Point Imperial and Cape Royal scenic drive, only requiring short walks to the scenic lookouts.
3. Monument Valley
Another fabulous landmark of Arizona perfect for road trippers, this red sand desert region is nestled between Utah and Arizona. Known for its towering sandstone buttes, you will feel like you’ve been dropped straight into the film set of a Western movie.
The 17-mile long Valley Drive is one of the country’s most famous scenic drives (paid access). Part of Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park (Olijato-Monument Valley), there’s no rock climbing and hiking off-road without a guide, however, you are invited to admire the towering sandstone masterpieces from afar with a self-guided tour of 11 spectacular vantage points.
4. Antelope Canyon
Antelope Canyon is the most photographed slot canyon in the American Southwest, and it’s easy to see how it gained that title as soon as you step foot in it.
As one of the most iconic hikes in Arizona, no trip to the state would be complete without braving this gorgeous trail. Created by floods that crashed onto sandstone cracks in the area, Antelope Canyon is such an impressive sight because of the exquisite swirl of desert hues on its walls formed as a result.
Antelope Canyon is protected by Navajo Parks and recreation, and only authorized tour companies can take visitors to the canyon. Children are allowed on Upper Antelope Canyon tours, but be aware of the bumpy journey and no strollers & backpack carriers are allowed. Lower Antelope Canyon is undeniably more strenuous and recommended for experienced hikers.
5. The Wave
Sitting right on the spot where Utah and Arizona meet, The Wave is one of the most unique hiking trails in the entire world. With a rainbow of shimmering rusty hues coloring the rocks, the landscape looks, well, exactly like a wave of desert colors!
It is a photographers dream, though the 6.4-mile round trip hike in the Paria Canyon-vermilion Cliffs Wilderness is not for the fainthearted. It can get pretty challenging due to the area’s high temperatures, so make sure you come prepared for the feat; we’d only recommend it for families if your kids are experienced hikers.
Moreover, snagging tickets to hike The Wave isn’t exactly an easy task, so make sure you plan ahead as early as possible!
6. White Pocket
If you didn’t manage to get a ticket to hike The Wave, White Pocket is a wonderful alternative thanks to its similar terrain. Featuring Navajo sandstone that ranges from bright orange, pink, and red hues as well as whacky-looking rock formations, this place provides a landscape that will have you wondering if you were somehow teleported into the heart of Mars!
Surprisingly, White Pocket remains pretty off-the-beaten-path, making it a great spot to see if you want to explore one of Arizona’s best secret gems.
7. Havasupai Falls
Set on sacred Native lands, the Havasupai Falls are utterly spectacular, and no trip to Arizona is really complete without visiting this gem of a place.
Set on the Havasu Canyon, Havasupai consists of five separate waterfalls: Mooney Falls, Beaver Falls, Havasu Falls, New Navajo Falls, and Fifty Foot Falls, each one equally stunning than the last. When visiting, make sure you keep in mind that the grounds are guarded by the Havasupai Tribe, so it’s imperative to remain respectful of their land and, if possible, take time ahead of your visit to learn about their culture. Campground reservations are essential.
NOTE: Tourism suspension at present until at least June 2022.
8. Petrified Forest National Park
225 million years ago, tree logs were brought into the area by the heavy floods that took place during that time. Not too long after, a ton of volcanoes in the area began erupting and buried the trees under silica-rich ash. As time went by, water crystallized the ash, transforming it into quartz and making the logs look colorful and sparkly!
Millions of years passed and the logs were exposed again, making the landscape in the Painted Desert section of Petrified Forest look like an insane rainbow of colors (hence the name).
If you’re up for exploring this natural wonder, a great way to do that is by driving the park’s scenic road, but hiking trails are available if you’d like to get a closer look at the logs. Seriously, hiking in the Painted Desert is guaranteed to make you feel as though you’re walking in a different galaxy!
This list of some of the best places to visit in Arizona gave you the inspiration needed to craft the perfect itinerary. Even though the state has a ton more to offer, these places are the ideal starting points to exploring Arizona’s desert magic!
More Road Trip Planning Advice for the Southwest
Before you head out on a family road trip of America’s Southwest, you may also want to read:
- The essential packing list you need for every family road trip
- Top desert driving tips
- Ultimate Arizona-Utah Road Trip
- 7 Day Southwest Highlights Road Trip
- Scenic driving itinerary from Sedona to Grand Canyon
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