1. Antelope Canyon
Hands down this is the best spot to visit in Arizona! Yes, it beats the Grand Canyon…by far. This site should definitely be on the World UNESCO list if it’s not already. As it provides its guests with a “Legends of the Hidden Temple” slash “Indiana Jones” experience. History tells us, the canyon split and took form all from the power of water. Thus, it is an underground magical wonder that wets…no torrential soaks…even the driest travel enthusiast.
The site has two ways to explore it: an Upper Canyon and Lower Canyon. They both have a similar rock make-up but showcase different character and personality. The canyon sits on Navajo reservation land and has been well preserved. The tour guides are extremely knowledgeable, friendly and patient. Since this site is such a photographers dream many of the tour guides are “photo tour guides.” They set you up for success and help you capture shots you wouldn’t even have thought about. Truly an inspiring visit that is well worth the drive as it sits on the border of Arizona and Utah. Book early and if you see both Upper and Lower tour time slots on the same day- go for it!
Tips: Go in early to mid November. The weather is moderate and it is less crowded. Bring snacks/food and keep them in your car as there aren’t many places to eat for many miles. Also, the Lower Canyon is not designed for those who are unable to descend/ascend very steep stairs and move around tight corners.
2. Horseshoe Bend
Before you get to beautiful Antelope Canyon, stop here at this up-and-coming internet sensation. It is literally right down the street – so why not! Parking is free, entrance is free, view is free, what more could you ask for? Once you park, simply take the quarter mile hike (moderate hills) to the edge of the wild wild West. Peruse on over to the cliff and take a seat on edge – if you dare – for that once in a lifetime pic. Just you, a horseshoe, and a bend. Well not quite, but you get the idea. It’s a rock formation that looks like a horseshoe. Like all of Arizona’s grandeur, this site is best enjoyed at sunrise or sunset for the ultimate color palette show. Even if you don’t make it there for either of those times, it is still a spectacular place to take in.
Known for its yoga retreats and high-end resorts, Sedona delivers on all ends of the spectrum. A two hour drive from Phoenix, it is a great day trip for locals needing a quick nature refresh. Bell Rock offers several hiking and mountain bike trails to a popular viewpoint that is the epicenter of massive red-painted rock formations. If you’re up for the challenge, climb up to the top of the rock(s) to get a visual reward. Even if you opt out of journey to the top, you can still enjoy miles of endless red rock, cactus and classic Arizona. Once you’ve thoroughly worked up an appetite from all the physical activity, drive a few miles into the heart of the town and refresh at one of the local restaurants. Once you’re fully stuffed, take a post meal stroll through the many local shops that offer a myriad of crystal rocks, Native American souvenirs and various other trinkets.
This sleepy town sits in the heart of the state and is best visited in the fall when the leaves are changing and the breeze is refreshingly cool. There are quite a few things to do including visiting Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki National Monument. Who knew Arizona had a volcano?? I guess that would explain the lava-like heat this state carries! It’s a great chance to get an up close look at an inactive volcano and its surrounding ash and rock remains. While you’re driving through Sunset Crater, continue another 22ish miles to have your eyes tantalized by ancient Hopi and Zuni pueblos at the Wupatki National Monument. There are several reconstructed pueblos that depict life 900 years ago in the Wupatki community.
The drive through Hwy 180 and Coconino National Park is simply majestic! One could easily get a “Little House on the Prairie” vibe and a dash of nostalgia while cruising down the highway. The town also offers many local restaurants, historic museums and a mall.
5. Grand Canyon
Millions travel from all over the globe to experience this wonder of the world and it is a breathtaking piece of nature that simply cannot be conquered. Really, don’t try and conquer it – it’s just way too massive. Trail guides warn adventure hikers not to try and descend to the bottom and back in one day as “rescue is not guaranteed.” Noted!
There really isn’t much to say as the canyon speaks for itself….and it speaks loudly. The canyon can be enjoyed in a day trip or full week of camping without “fomo” (fear of missing out). You can pack a picnic, eat at the restaurants inside the park or at the nearby town. Stop by the visitors center and speak to a park ranger for tips on how to plan your day. There are plenty of hiking trail guides there as well. If you have time, stop in and catch the 20 minute cinema presentation in the theatre. It’s an engaging introduction and history of the park.
Tips: Come early! The park gets crowded fast. So if you can get there when they first open you can grab a good parking spot. No need to drive around the park, several shuttle buses are offered free of charge to take you to numerous trails and park sites. Also try and plan your visit on a National Fee Free Park day as entrance will be – you guessed it free ($30 min savings).
There are other spots to check out that didn’t make the top 5 such as: Prescott, Lake Powell, Slide Rock, and Havasupai Falls. All come with a sliding scale of moderate to extreme outdoor adventure. Whatever you decide to do, just make sure you #getoutandtravel.