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The Best Natural Attractions in Arizona

The Best Natural Attractions in Arizona

“It’s just a desert. Why would anyone want to go to Arizona?” Many uninformed people think or say this when they talk about Arizona. They view Arizona as a desert wasteland with only tumbleweeds, triple-digit heat, and dust.

Some places in Arizona are like this. But thankfully, there’s so much more to the state.

Arizona is one of the most diverse and unique states in the entire country. No, it doesn’t have mountain ranges like the Sierra or Cascades, but it has turquoise oases, mindblowing rock formations, stunning hiking, and skiing into May. Not bad for a desert wasteland, huh?

So, let’s take a little journey through the best places to visit in Arizona and show off why this state is remarkable! Stay in Arizona eco-lodges to feel even closer to nature.

What You Need To Know Before Visiting Arizona

Before embarking on any adventure, knowing what you’re getting into and how to prepare is crucial. Below are a few need-to-know points before exploring the best places to visit in Arizona.

Exploring in Arizona Is Unlike Anywhere Else

As you travel throughout Arizona, you’ll see things you’ve never seen before. This is especially true for east coasters. Enjoy hundred-year-old saguaro cacti that grow for miles towards the horizon, see the most famous canyon in America, stunning waterfalls, ancient logs turned to rocks, and so much more!

Come Prepared

When you travel to Arizona, you’re entering a climate that’s foreign to many people. It is dry, so you need to constantly drink water. It’s rugged, so be prepared with the proper hiking attire. And it can change in a heartbeat due to afternoon monsoons (though this is usually a late summer concern).

When you recreate or explore Arizona, do your research to ensure you are prepared so you can have an enjoyable time.

What Are The Best Months To Visit Arizona?

Most people will tell you to stay away from Arizona during the summer. This is 75% valid: Most of the state is hot and no fun during summer. But, if you plan to visit the high country (Flagstaff, Mt. Lemmon, Grand Canyon, Pinetop), you will have a lovely time.

The best months to visit Arizona are October through April. When over half the country is shivering in their boots, you can play golf, tan by the pool, hike mid-day, and drink margaritas with your friends.

If you plan your trip right, you can come to Arizona year-round and have the time of your life!

When Should You Stay Away?

If you want to spend time in the desert specifically, do not visit Arizona from late May through September. You’ll experience never-ending triple-digit heat and break into a sweat within minutes of sitting in your car. (I know from experience!)

How Many Days Do You Need in Arizona?

While this depends on your location and what you want to see, 4-7 days are recommended to see the best places in Arizona. Having an extended trip means you don’t need to rush, and you can take your time soaking up the majestic locations.

Places To Visit in Arizona: 15 Remarkable Destinations

1. Havasupai

Waterfall is cascading down a red rocky surface to a blue pond
Image Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch Photography.

Havasuapi is at the Grand Canyon and is an Indian Reservation. It is a place where photos don’t do it justice. And that’s saying something because images of Havasuapi are mindblowing. There’s nothing like seeing the waterfalls close up, climbing down the ladders towards Mooney Falls, or experiencing the wonder of hiking inside the Grand Canyon National Park, one of the US national parks you must see.

2. Grand Canyon National Park

One of the world’s seven wonders, one could spend their entire trip exploring the Grand Canyon and leave wanting more!

Make sure to hike below the rim. Only a fraction of the tourists actually hit the trails, and you get a much better understanding of the grandiosity of the canyon walls once you are below them. But — and this is important — stay within your ability.

3. White Pocket

Red yellow rocky mountain
Image Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch Photography.

White Pocket is one of my favorite places to explore in Arizona as it’s rugged, beautiful, and much less crowded than many similar, unique destinations. While only 90 minutes from Page, AZ, it requires a high-clearance 4×4 vehicle to reach it. This keeps most tourists away and leaves this pristine landscape for highly motivated individuals.

4. Saguaro National Park

Red earth with lots of cacti.
Image Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch Photography.

Saguaro National Park is the only national park in Southern Arizona. It is split into two sections. One resides on the western side of Tucson, while the other sits on the east. Furthermore, they are widely different, with the west being your classic desert setting and the eastern area more mountainous. Both are amazing and really show the diversity of the Arizona landscape.

5. Arizona Slot Canyons

Narrow canyon of red rocks.
Image Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch Photography.

Whether you choose to visit Buckskin Gulch or Antelope Canyon, you’re in for a real treat. These natural slot canyons result from millions of years of erosion and show off just how powerful nature can be.

If you are in northern Arizona, visiting a slot canyon is a must for any visitor!

6. Petrified Forest National Park

I’ll be honest: this isn’t the most striking national park, but its history and uniqueness set it apart. While some may see a bland desert, it’s full of “rocks” that are actually petrified wood — that is, wood that has been turned into rock over millions of years.

All you need is a half day here to see natural wonders not easily found anywhere else in the US.

7. Superstition Mountains

An hour east of Phoenix, the Superstitions offer the best hiking options for locals. With Lost Dutchman State Park and the Tonto National Forest, hundreds of miles of trails satisfy day hikers, backpackers, and photographers.

It is truly a natural playground, and any Phoenix visitor should check it out.

8. The Wave

There’s no other way to say it: This location is iconic. It is one of the most stunning places and one of the hardest to access. They allow less than 50 people per day to visit The Wave, and some people have applied a hundred times and never won the “Wave lottery.”

If you have the chance to go, don’t pass it up. It is a place you’ll never forget.

9. Kofa National Wildlife Refuge

Kofa is one of the places you likely haven’t heard of before. It resides near the AZ/CA border, and during spring, magical wildflowers bloom here. It also has almost zero crowds. With incredible hiking, wildlife, and a lack of visitors, it’s a great place to go camping and enjoy time in nature.

10. Fossil Creek

This location is an Arizona summer favorite for many locals. Who can pass up swimming in turquoise waters under a waterfall? Like many places, Fossil Creek saw an explosion in tourism thanks to social media. Because of this, a permit is now required to access it in order to keep visitation under control.

I strongly recommend planning a weekend adventure here. The scenery is gorgeous, and few other places with this level of beauty are easily accessible in the state.

11. Canyon De Chelly National Monument

This is on the eastern end of the state, and there’s not much else out here to explore. But if you’re coming back from Colorado or looking to visit a hidden gem in Arizona, Canyon De Chelly is perfect. It’s a nicely done national monument with plenty of pull-offs to view the canyon below. You can also book a tour to the bottom to see its grandeur.

It’s on tribal land, so follow the leave no trace principles; the land is sacred to many. 

12. Mount Baldy

Another area in east Arizona, about 40 minutes from Pinetop, is Mount Baldy. Surprisingly, few people know that Mount Baldy rises over 11,500 feet and is a great place to spend cool summer days while Phoenix bakes. The mountain has a fantastic 17-mile loop, perfect for an introduction to backpacking or a longer day hike. 

It’s also home to the Sunrise Ski Resort, which offers excellent skiing and snowboarding if you want to avoid visiting Flagstaff.

13. Organ Pipe National Monument

On the US/Mexican border and southwest of Phoenix is the home of the Organ Pipe Cactus, lots of hiking, and stellar views. Organ Pipe National Monument is at the top of the list of least visited places in Arizona, even though it commands much attention.

If you’re looking for dark night skies and incredible sunsets, this is your spot.

14. Sedona

Red yellow rocky mountain with small greenery and small ponds
Image Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch Photography.

Sedona is red rock country! Gone are the days when you could visit here without being swarmed with tourists. Yet, it is still a magical location that people must visit in their lifetime.

While the hiking and scenery put it on another level, it’s full of native and spiritual culture. It has activities for people of all skills, ages, and abilities.

One suggestion is to visit during the week; avoid it on the weekends when it’s overrun by tourists and locals.

15. Monument Valley

Sunset and the mountains are dark silhouettes only.
Image Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch Photography.

Last but surely not least is Monument Valley, the gorgeous natural wonder on the Arizona/Utah border. Spend two nights here at the campground or hotel to get a good feel for the place.

I also suggest taking the backcountry tour to see its hidden gems and learn more about the Navajo culture and history. I took the tour in 2019, which was the best thing I did at Monument Valley.

Many Great Places To Visit in Arizona

So much for a desert wasteland, right? After reading this, you’ll surely realize that Arizona is full of beauty and awe. But remember, these places to visit in Arizona are only as good as we treat them. So, as you adventure and explore new destinations, please Leave No Trace and allow the next visitors to experience the same thing you did!

This article originally appeared on Wealth of Geeks.

A man with grey jeans, red jumper and red hat is standing and is surrounded by mountains.
Travel Writer and Photographer | Website

Alec is an adventure photographer and travel writer with a love of exploring hidden and hard to reach destinations to show off our brilliant planet. His work has appeared in Backpacker, Adorama, and numerous state tourism boards. He’s also a two-time cancer and a bone marrow transplant survivor, hoping to show that there can be a future from this deadly disease.