Arizona is king when it comes to gorgeous desert scenery. In fact, The Grand Canyon State is the only place in the United State that boasts four completely different desert regions, each with its own set of fauna, flora, and geology.
Suppose you’re currently in the planning stages of your trip to Arizona. In that case, chances are what you’re looking forward to the most is experiencing the desert, but with so many amazing destinations spread all over, how do you even begin to choose what to see and where to go?
From the Mars-like landscapes of Monument Valley to sand dunes dotted by giant cacti, here are some of the best places in Arizona to visit if desert magic is what you’re after!
Places in Arizona You’ve Got to Visit for Desert Magic
1. Monument Valley
Located in the spot where Utah and Arizona meet, Monument Valley is more than just a desert destination – it’s actually an icon of the Southwest!
The entire landscape here is made up of looming red sandstone formations, mesas so huge you’ll have to pinch yourself, and buttes so beautiful you’ll feel as though they should belong in a painting.
The ultimate way to explore Monument Valley in a short time is by driving the park’s scenic road, which will have you zigzagging your way through the area in order to see the highlights. Hiking is also a thing here. If you want to dive deeper and explore beyond the main attractions, you can also book yourself a guided tour in which a Navajo guide will take you deeper into the region where the general public isn’t allowed.
Fun fact: Monument Valley is so beautiful that it has inspired film directors for decades! Some of the world’s best movies have been filmed here, including Stagecoach, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Forrest Gump, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and more!
2. Saguaro National Park
Located close to the city of Tucson, Saguaro National Park is a world of quintessential desert landscapes dotted by humongous saguaro cacti.
Commonly nicknamed the “Kings of the Sonoran Desert,” Saguaros are known to grow as tall as 50 feet and live up to 200 years, and Saguaro National Park is one of the very few places in the world where you can see so many of them growing wild.
Aside from gawking at these desert giants, Saguaro National Park is also home to mountains and pine forests, which pretty much means you’ll have plenty of options to choose from when deciding what to see and do during your time there.
Moreover, Saguaro is considered a mecca for seeing desert wildlife, which you’ll be easily able to spot while hiking or scenic driving (keep your eyes out for coyotes, desert tortoises, deer, and javelinas!)
3. Canyon De Chelly National Monument
Canyon De Chelly is more than just a beautiful landscape.
Located in northwestern Arizona and right in the heart of the Navajo Indian Reserve, Canyon De Chelly is an extremely unique place to visit due to the fact that it has been continuously inhabited for thousands of years.
As you explore, you’ll stumble across signs of life from its first inhabitants through ruins and petroglyphs from the Anazaki and Puebloans. In the present day, Navajo people still call the canyon their home, which provides a unique opportunity to learn more about their culture and life.
Sedona is a staple of quintessential Arizona desert scenery, which makes it a must on any itinerary through the state, especially for those who want to explore the outdoors while still enjoying city-like amenities and comfort.
The town itself brims with history and culture, but its main allure is in the fact that it’s located a stone’s throw away from some of the most sought-after natural destinations in Arizona.
During your time here, you’ll get to explore state parks, hit a few hiking trails through beautiful desert landscapes, check out vortex sites, and scenic drive in search of unique spots, including a cathedral located atop red rocks!
5. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Tucked away in the heart of the alluring Sonoran Desert, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is another must if unique vistas are what you’re after.
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is the only place in the United States where organ pipe cacti grow in their natural habitat. Organ pipes are very similar to saguaros, but instead of being made up of one large trunk, they consist of several, which makes them look even more enormous in comparison!
Plus, aside from getting to explore a sea of cacti, Organ Pipe also homes an array of interesting archaeological sites as well as unique desert flora and fauna, including rattlesnakes and Gila monsters.
6. Joshua Tree Forest Parkway
Think California’s the only place you’ll find iconic Joshua trees? Route 93 a.k.a. The Joshua Tree Parkway, is one of the hidden gems of northern Arizona. Between Wickenburg and Wikieup you can capture a 7-mile stretch where Joshua trees line both sides of the road.
Joshua trees – not actually a tree but a yucca brevifolia – grow up to 20 feet tall. Their pom-pom-looking branches provided a unique habitat for many birds, reptiles and mammals – and look pretty visually spectacular too! A great side stop for anyone making the road trip from Phoenix to Vegas.
Is a trip to Arizona in your plans? If so, we’d love to know which of these desert destinations in the Grand Canyon State you’re looking forward to visiting the most!
More Tips and Inspiration for Desert Exploration
- First time driving in the desert? You’ll want to check out our guide to desert driving for handy advice preparing you and your car for the summer extremes the desert can throw at you.
- Check out these wonderful spots in Arizona and beyond, all achievable on a day trip from Phoenix.
- Planning to visit the Grand Canyon in Arizona? You won’t want to miss our complete family guide to the Grand Canyon.
- Continue the desert magic with these fabulous spots in Utah for a 9-day desert magic road trip in the southwest.
- Always check for any highway closures or delays az511.gov before setting off on your Arizona road trip.
- Never forget an important road-tripping item again! Download our road trip essentials checklist to help you prepare for your next family road trip.
© Family Road Trip