Known as the Grand Canyon State, Arizona is rich in exciting travel adventures. The state is made up of five distinct regions, dozens of national and state parks and hundreds of towns and cities. From road trips and outdoor thrills to rejuvenating resorts and authentic local cuisine there truly is something for everyone. Our Arizona Bucket List highlights some of the must-see destinations in the 48th state. Find out how we plan to visit all these places in a two-week road trip!
The Grand Canyon National Park is home to a unique combination of geological colours and erosional forms that decorate the 446 kilometre (277 mile) long canyon that is up to 28 kilometres (18 miles) wide and 1.6 kilometres (1 mile) deep. Top of our bucket list is the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim Trail, a 38.6 kilometre (24 mile) hike that leads from the North Rim to the South Rim via the North Kaibab Trail and the Bright Angel Trail. Hikers descend 1,829 metres (6,000 feet) to the bottom of the canyon before climbing 1,371 metres (4,500 feet) back out. At the bottom of the canyon those lucky enough to snag a reservation can stay at America’s most exclusive lodge, Phantom Ranch.
Arizona’s Sonoran Desert
Arizona’s Sonoran Desert spans the majority of Southern Arizona and is one of America’s largest and most diverse ecosystems. The desert is home to big cities, small towns and hundreds of fascinating animal and plant species, including the iconic Saguaro Cactus. There are many ways to explore and enjoy the Sonoran Desert but top of our list is the cowboy way, with a horseback riding adventure. On horseback, visitors can explore pristine desert trails on well trained, retired rodeo horses. A mountain biking tour is also a great, eco friendly way to explore this natural paradise. Of course, a trip to the Sonoran Desert would not be complete without visiting the Saguaro National Park, where the giant saguaros grow to over 15 metres (50 feet) tall.
Kartchner Caverns State Park
Nestled below the Sonoran Desert, Kartchner Caverns State Park is home to the world’s longest stalactite formation (known as Soda Straw), Arizona’s tallest natural column formation below ground level and many other outstanding features. The area was discovered in 1974 and became a state park in 1988. A guided tour leads visitors into the incredible underground world, through long-hidden limestone caves and caverns that are still developing. Approximately 1,500 bats live in the caverns and from mid-April to mid-October the Big Room (the largest cavern) is closed for nursing bats.
Horseshoe Bend is one of the most photographed places on the Colorado River, located just outside of Page. This spot is becoming an iconic image that represents the Grand Canyon and it can be reached via a fairly easy hike from the parking lot. The colour of the rocks change throughout the day, and as the river flows, it sparkles and shines in different shades of greens and blues. On the rock-face by the river below are ancient messages, believed to have been left by the Ancestral Puebloans. As the number 1 attraction in the Lake Powell area, reaching Horseshoe Bend by foot is also considered to be one of the easier hikes.
Known as the ‘Town Too Tough to Die‘, the name Tombstone conjures images of gunfights on dusty streets, whiskey-drinking cowboys and a plethora of old Western films. The most authentic Western Town left in the United States, it remains a living town with a population of just over 1,000. Museums, shows, historic sites, historic tours and ghost tours provide visitors with a glimpse into the wild and turbulent past of Tombstone. At the world’s most famous gunfight site, O.K. Corral, tourists can watch Wyatt Earp, Virgil and Morgan Earp fight the McLaurys and Clantons in daily reenactments. The Saloon Theatre also offers ‘Tombstone’s Historical Gunfights’ with daily reenactments. The Goodenough Mine Tour takes visitors deep into a mine dating from 1878, one of the first silver mines to open in Tombstone. The Old’s Wests’s most famous graveyard, Boothill Graveyard, is also a must-visit spot in Tombstone!
Antelope Canyon is the most famous and most photographed slot canyon in the south west of the United States. Its beauty comes partly from its shape, formed primarily by flash-flooding, and from the light beams that shine into the canyon. Paddleboarding through Antelope Canyon is one of our dream excursions but there are many ways to explore this mysterious and haunting place, also known as Corkscrew Canyon. A scenic tour guides visitors through the amazing natural wonder, providing them with information and tips on how to photograph the beams of light.
The Painted Desert
The Painted Desert encompasses over 93,500 acres and stretches over 257 kilometres (160 miles) from the southeastern rim of the Grand Canyon to the Petrified Forest, grazing the backyard of the Wupatki National Monument Indian Ruins on the way. The name is derived from the multitude of colours ranging from lavenders to shades of grey with vibrant reds, oranges and pinks. It took millions of years for nature to create this natural canvas of unimaginable design that some describe as a multi-coloured layer cake. Driving the 45 kilometres (28 miles) from one end of the park to the other takes approximately one hour (including the Petrified Forest National Park, below), however there are a number of walking trails that could be incorporated into a visit.
The Petrified Forest National Park
Next to the Painted Desert is the Petrified Forest National Park, home to some of the most impressive fossils ever found. This is a place where dinosaurs roamed 225 million years ago, when lush green forests with 60 metre (200 foot) tall conifers ruled the landscape. Volcanic mountains erupted toppling the trees and, covered with volcanic ash and sediment, they became entombed then, millions of years later, petrified. Through gradual erosion the gigantic logs and remnant pieces became exposed; each year more impressive fossils are being discovered as erosion exposes new evidence. More than 150 different species of plants have been discovered, along with species of reptile, such as Desmatosuchus. Many hiking trails lead visitors to some of the largest and most colourful logs in the park.
Monument Valley provides perhaps the most enduring and definitive images of the American West. The isolated red mesas and buttes, surrounded by empty, sandy deserts is one of the most majestic and photographed places on earth. The 27.3 kilometre Valley Drive takes between two and four hours, starting at Kayenta, Arizona and ending at Mexican Hat, Utah (or vice-versa). The unpaved road leads past many wonderful viewpoints. Around half-way through the drive is Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, which straddles the Utah-Arizona stateline. Within the Navajo Tribal Park is The View hotel, which provides spectacular views for guests from private, eastern facing balconies. Guests may also opt for a ‘StarView’ room to enjoy unforgettable views of the stars, or a premium cabin with a private porch overlooking Monument Valley.
Rainbow Bridge National Monument, located near Lake Powell, is the planet’s tallest natural bridge. The rainbow-shaped arch is 88 metres (190 feet) tall, spans 53 metres (275 feet) and is 13 metres (42 feet) thick at the top. For centuries the bridge has been regarded as sacred by the Navajo Indians, who consider personified rainbows as guardians of the universe. The bridge is accessible via a two hour boat ride from Lake Powell Marina or a 22.5 kilometre (14 mile) hike by foot or on horseback across Navajo Reservation Land.
- Photographs provided by Pixabay
- Photograph of Kartchner Caverns State Park from https://southernarizonaguide.com/karchner-caverns/