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Best Things to Do in Arizona and Tips for Planning Your Trip

May 11, 2021 /
arizona things to do

Warning: Due to COVID 19 some information in this article (e.g. operating hours) may not be up-to-date.

Perhaps when you think of the state of Arizona, you don’t immediately realize how many famous places it contains, yet you should know that this is the state with the most famous national parks and landscapes in the United States. There are many things to see in Arizona and for this reason, we decided to compile in this article the best resources to organize your trip in Arizona.

The Grand Canyon State (as it is called) offers visitors a wide selection of nature parks to choose from and pleasant towns to visit, which will prove to be great reference points for your trip to Arizona. We have created our personal top 10 attractions that you absolutely must visit. Plus, we’ve added a few more that are definitely worth a visit if you plan to spend a few more days in this magnificent state.

How to Get Around

The best way to visit Arizona independently is by car. It may seem an obvious suggestion, but when I look back at our own personal experience, I can’t think of a better way of traveling that is affordable and also gives you flexibility when planning your trip. I definitely recommend that you read our guide on how to rent a car, if you don’t have it or if you don’t want to use your car for this trip.

Places to Visit in Arizona

arizona road trip

Most itineraries that people follow when they explore the most famous places in Arizona do not usually start in Arizona; rather, they pass through it. If, on the other hand, you have a particular interest in the natural wonders in the Grand Canyon State, or if you want to discover all that this state has to offer, the best starting points are its capital, Phoenix, which has an international airport, or Flagstaff, along Route 66, whose airport is well connected to many American cities.

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Arizona Time Zone

It may seem like an almost obvious topic, but Arizona’s time zone often creates some headaches for tourists. Let’s start with the simplest example. Once you arrive in Arizona. you will have to set your watch on Mountain Time. If that were all you needed to do, it would be quite simple, but here are some other recommendations to keep in mind:

  • Arizona, unlike the states which it borders, does not use daylight savings time. Instead, standard time is used throughout the year.
  • However, the part of the Navajo Nation that is located in Arizona does apply daylight savings time.

In order to understand how this can affect your itinerary, I invite you to read our article that examines in greater detail all the possible itineraries to choose from.

Touristic Attractions in Arizona

With this map, you can have a quick glance to figure out the location of the most interesting attractions that we mention in this article.

Top 1 Things to Do in Arizona

It is impossible to make a real top 10 of the wonders in Arizona, so we have chosen them in random order.

Monument Valley

top 10 things to do in arizonaWalk in John Wayne’s footsteps for one day, maybe even more than one day, and go discover an unforgettable place. Visiting Monument Valley is a unique experience and you can organize a visit on your own or take advantage of the many tours available. It is a place you must see if you are traveling in the United States.

Grand Canyon

national parks in arizonaTrying to sum up everything that awaits you in the Grand Canyon in just a few lines would be, more than a feat, almost a lack of respect for one of the most famous and iconic places in the United States. On our website, you will find a whole page that will tell you not only what to do in the Grand Canyon, but also includes tips on where to stay, a guide to the best hikes, and many suggestions on which tours to choose. We especially recommend going on a helicopter tour, which is perhaps the most fascinating way to visit the national park.

Page

We chose to include Page in our top 10 not so much for the beauty of the town, but because of its strategic location, which makes it a perfect base for visiting some of the state’s most famous attractions:

  • Horseshoe Bend: Horseshoe Bend is one of the most photographed natural wonders in the world; it is a horseshoe-shaped rock formation formed by the flowing waters of the Colorado River. From the parking lot, you will take a short walk in order to view Horseshoe Bend. It is not a long walk, but the heat can be overwhelming, especially in the summer. So wear a hat and be patient, because, especially during the high season, you will be in the company of many other visitors.
  • Lake Powell: A huge lake that extends for almost 190 miles. The most convenient access point is in Page, where you may choose to visit the lake on one of the numerous excursions offered. A tour that I particularly recommended is the tour of Tower Butte, a rock formation that rises 5,000 feet above sea level from which you can gaze out over the entire surrounding area. If you are visiting the area by car, it is also likely that you will get here via Highway 89, which runs along the Glen Canyon Dam. If you have time, Glen Canyon Dam is also worth visiting.
  • Antelope Canyon: Antelope Canyon, another very famous natural attraction, is a slot canyon that has been formed over the centuries as a result of the erosion caused by water and wind. It is located in the Navajo Nation and in order to visit it, you need to book a guided tour (you can find all the necessary information in our guide to Antelope Canyon).
  • Water Holes Canyon: Among the places we have mentioned, this is perhaps the least famous attraction of the area. However, it is worth mentioning because it is another fascinating slot canyon of Arizona formed as a result of erosion. It is considered by many to be a less crowded alternative to Antelope Canyon. To visit a section of this canyon on your own, you need a permit, which you can apply for by paying at the Tribal Parks Office near LeChee Chapter House, just south of Page. Once you have your permit, you will need to make sure to leave it in plain view on the dashboard of your car once you park. You can park at the start of Water Holes Canyon Trail along Highway 89 about 4.5 miles south of Horseshoe Bend. Since few tourists come here, even in the high season, it is very likely that you will still be able to visit it in perfect solitude, which is not the case in other places in the area, but visiting it requires a little more caution than Antelope Canyon.
Attention
Update: We spoke with Pierluigi and Gianna, who were newlyweds at the time, and they told us when they visited Water Holes Canyon at the end of 2018, the rules regarding admission to the canyon have changed. Now, it can only be visited on a guided tour. We decided to verify in person and we can confirm that Water Holes Canyon can no longer be visited independently and is accessible only through an organized tour. If you want to book a tour, go to this page.

 Saguaro National Park

attractions in ArizonaSaguaro National Park is out of the way for most tourists given its location in the south of the state. It is a bit underestimated, but if you have the opportunity to visit it, it is definitely worth it. The name of this park, which is managed by the National Park Service, derives from a particular type of cactus called “saguaro” and, as you can guess, are typical of this part of the Sonora Desert.

Saguaro National Park is divided into two sections (east and west) that are separated by the city of Tucson. It will take you 30-45 minutes to go from one area to another, but it mainly will depend on the road you take and the stops you decide to make. You pay admission once and you will have access to both sections of the park.

Route 66

Yes, part of the Mother Road crosses the state of Arizona and there are many attractions that could pique your curiosity. We talked extensively about this in the article dedicated to Route 66 in Arizona and here I will only mention the main ones:

  • Williams: Due to its strategic location, it is known as “the gateway to the Grand Canyon”. In addition to being a true icon of Route 66, it is used by many tourists as a stop for an overnight stay before or after visiting the famous national park. Also worth mentioning is the train station with a train to the Grand Canyon.
  • Oatman: A ghost town that is still bustling. The few remaining citizens have managed to recreate a perfect western setting that attracts thousands of tourists every year along an otherwise abandoned road. It is also famous for the Oatman Hotel, which hosted Clark Gable and Carole Lombard for a few days during their honeymoon.
  • Seligman: A small group of houses that has regained remarkable fame after the Disney movie Cars was released. In fact, there are many references to the story of Lightning McQueen and his companions.
  • Meteor Crater: A place where you can see the impact of a meteorite. It is known as the best-preserved crater in the world.
  • Flagstaff: A picturesque city that retains the charm of the Old West. Many tourists use it as a base before or after visiting the Grand Canyon. For more details, take a look at our article on how to visit Flagstaff.

Canyon de Chelly

natural wonders arizona

If you think nothing compares to the wonders of the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley, try giving the little-known Canyon De Chelly National Monument a chance. It is part of the Navajo Nation, so not all of the canyon is accessible to the public. An exception is the White House Ruins Trail, which you can visit on your own and take a look at the centuries-old adobe settlements of the ancient Anasazi, built directly in cliffs.

Canyon de Chelly is a beautiful place and because it is less frequented than the most famous attractions of Arizona, you will have the opportunity to have a more relaxing visit.

Petrified Forest and Painted Desert

arizona natural wondersPetrified Forest is a park managed by the National Park Service which has within it the Painted Desert, a desert expanse with rocks that form a rainbow of many colors. It is located near Holbrook and has two entrances. We recommend the one located east of the town right along Route 66, since it is the closest entrance to the Painted Desert.

Inside the park, in addition to the many petrified tree trunks, you can see a variety of landscapes, ranging from Painted Desert and its bright colors to Blue Mesa, with its grey hues. There are also historical artifacts in this park. At Newspaper Rock, you will find petroglyphs engraved in the rock.

Sedona

arizona cities

Sedona is perhaps the most mystical place in Arizona, since it is said that the Earth’s energy is more densely concentrated there and is manifested in the energy vortexes of great spiritual power. These vortexes have been located at four different points in the city, which also correspond to the four most beautiful natural attractions to visit. The attractions are Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, Boynton Canyon and Airport Mesa.

If you are interested, you can learn more by taking a look at our article that talks about what to do in Sedona, where you can discover many other interesting places and beautiful landscapes in the area.

Tombstone

arizona ghost townIf your dream as a child was to be a cowboy, you can finally make it come true in Tombstone, a real Far West town. As you walk under wooden walkways, passing by old saloons and dusty streets, you will feel like you’ve traveled back in time to the Far West. Located just 30 miles from the border with Mexico, it is definitely worth visiting if you want to have a unique experience in Arizona.

Hoover Dam

arizona sightsCan a dam attract more than a million visitors a year? The answer to this question is yes and the dam we are talking about is the Hoover Dam. Because it is located on the border between Nevada and Arizona, we wanted to include it in this list. After the release of the video game Fallout New Vegas, the dam has gained more popularity, especially among young people, as it is the setting for the decisive battle in the story.

You will have many possibilities to visit the most famous dam in America. You can decide to visit it on your own or you can go on one of the many tours offered.

Main Cities and Ghost Towns in Arizona

Phoenix

arizona points of interestI must mention the capital of Arizona, not because of the institutional role it plays, but because of the many attractions it hosts. There are things to do in Phoenix that will please both history lovers, for example, the Heard Museum and Heard Art Museum, and nature lovers, who will find be enchanted by the landscapes of Papago Park.

Of all the suburbs around Phoenix, I should mention Scottsdale, a city with its characteristic historic district, and Taliesin West, the famous studio residence built by renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Tubac

arizona touristic attractionsFounded in 1752 as a Spanish garrison, it was also originally one of the stops on the Camino Real that connected the Franciscan missions along the Californian coast. Artifacts that document Tubac’s history over the centuries can be found by visiting the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park. Today it is a lively town that showcases its art and culture, for example, at the many festivals organized throughout the year, especially in February during the Tubac Festival of the Arts takes place.

Tucson

arizona tourist sitesTucson, the city that divides the aforementioned Saguaro National Park in two, is the perfect place to visit the park. As far as points of interest in the city, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum deserves to be mentioned. This museum contains over 200 species of animals and 1200 plants, as well as an aquarium, botanical gardens, an art gallery, a natural history museum and a zoo.

The St. Philips Farmers Market is one of Arizona’s largest markets, and every Saturday and Sunday, the many local farmers who come here enjoy a reputation for the high quality of their produce.

Western film fans will feel at home visiting Old Tucson, a film set converted into a theme park. It was built in 1939 for the film Arizona and has since been used as the location for more than 300 films and TV series including Little House on the Prairie and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

For more information, read our article on what to do in Tucson.

Jerome – Ghost Town

jerome arizonaIt is said to be one of the largest ghost towns in the United States. It became famous in 1876, when miners from all over the state came here to work in the adjacent copper mines. Just think that in 1920 the town had more than 15,000 inhabitants, but starting in 1953, they began to leave the site when the mines were closed due to the lowering of the price of copper. By visiting the Jerome State Historic Park, you will learn all about the history of this town.

Goldfield – Ghost Town 

Goldfield arizona

A town that became a ghost town following the emigration of all the gold diggers (you may have guessed where the name comes from) who had sought their fortune in the area. Today some buildings have been restored and tourists can enjoy visiting the town and take advantage of organized tours to visit the old mines.

Other Natural Wonders and Places of Interest

Bedrock

how to visit arizona

If as a child you yelled Yabba-dabba-doo like Fred Flinstone, follow the example of our friend Bernardo, who, on his way back from visiting the Grand Canyon, came across this attraction with vintage charm. You will find all the necessary information in his article on Bedrock. NEWS: Unfortunately, the park has closed.

Mystery Valley

places to visit in ArizonaThe name already says it all. It is a secret place unknown to most people, which is not far from the much more popular Monument Valley, and gives you a different experience of the most famous valley. It has a strong connection to the history of the Anasazi and it offers visitors the opportunity to visit wonderful open spaces, natural arches, caves, small canyons, and, above all, the ancient ruins of the Anasazi. You can discover all the information you need to know before you visit this place in our article about Mystery Valley.

Four Corners

places to travel in arizonaThis is a special attraction that Breaking Bad fans will surely recognize, because it was immortalized in a scene from the popular TV series. If you want to be in four different states at the same time, all you have to do is visit the Four Corners and enjoy making the funniest poses!

Vermilion Cliffs National Monument and Paria Canyon

places to see in arizona

Vermillion Cliffs and Paria Canyon could certainly have been included in the top 10 because of their beauty, but we decided against it, because it is difficult to access them and, above all, because they require a long visit in order to fully enjoy them. The most famous section of the Paria Canyon is undoubtedly Coyote Butte, which will mesmerize you with its perfectly polished rocks that follow the hypnotic undulating lines of The Wave, and the Dinosaur Trackway, where dinosaur footprints are still visible. You can find all the information on the permits required to visit the area and the most recommended routes in our article about Vermilion Cliffs and Paria Canyon.

Marble Canyon and Lees Ferry

top places to visit in arizonaIn the vast Glen Canyon, there are two hidden gems that are definitely worth visiting if you have time. Lees Ferry is the place where the Colorado River began to form the Grand Canyon and is also the only point in the entire Glen Canyon where the river is easily accessible and navigable. If you are interested, we have written an article in which you will find many suggestions on how to spend a day on the Colorado River.

Hunts Mesa

Arizona places to visit

If you have always dreamed of sleeping under the stars in the Far West and venture into the landscapes made famous by Hollywood movies, you can consider going on a 2-day or multi-day tour with a Navajo guide and explore the vast area of the Lower Monument Valley. When you arrive at Hunts Mesa, you will be amazed by the 360° view of the entire surrounding area.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument arizonaOrgan Pipe Cactus National Monument, which is managed by the National Park Service, is found along the border with Mexico, so if you would like to visit this park, you have to plan how to get there, since it is out of the way for those following the traditional road trip routes. Here the famous Organ Pipe cacti, and other plant species, grow undisturbed in their natural habitat. There are numerous scenic viewpoints, many of which can also be reached by car (preferably with an off-road vehicle) following the directions that the rangers will give you at the entrance.

Tumacacori National Historical Park

Tumacacori National Historical Park Another national park managed by the National Park Service is also located in southern Arizona, about an hour’s drive from Tucson near Tubac. Inside the park, you can visit the Spanish mission called San José de Tumacácori and the Tumacácori Museum.

Montezuma Castle

arizona hidden gemsLocated almost halfway between Flagstaff and Phoenix, Montezuma Castle is an ancient Indian dwelling built literally in a rock face and vaguely resembles the cliff dwellings that can be seen at Canyon de Chelly (or Mesa Verde Park). It is definitely fascinating, but you should go if you’re just passing through and, above all, if you have a national parks annual pass (it’s managed by the National Park Service) because otherwise the price of admission, which is $10 per person, may actually be a bit too much for what the park has to offer.

Apache Trail

arizona road tripThis is a scenic route that winds through the Superstition Mountains and it was once used by the Apache and the pioneers in stagecoaches that had to travel this stretch of Arizona. The most popular section runs along State Route 88, starting at Apache Junction in the suburbs of Phoenix, and runs along Apache Lake to Theodore Roosevelt Lake. Those who are more adventurous and have the right vehicle can also explore the many dirt trails that wind through the mountains and the Tonto National Forest.

Best Time to Visit Arizona

Although it may seem obvious to say that spring/summer is the best time to go, we recommend this period, because, despite the heat and large crowds of tourists, we believe that it is the period that allows you to visit everything you want without too many problems. In any case, Arizona can also be visited in all seasons.

Useful Resources to Organize Your Tour

If we have managed to make you curious and you can’t wait to travel to Arizona, here are some useful links that will help you organize your next trip while also trying to save money.

  • Let’s start with the basics: How to find a low-cost flight.
  • It can be useful to know which hotels (don’t forget our “Where to Stay” section) you should go to after you have landed at the airport.
  • After finding accommodations, it’s time to look for some advice on how to rent a car at the lowest price, if you need it.
  • If you are looking for something more adventurous than a car or you are in a large group, why not rent an RV.

If you don’t like to devote too much time to the organization of your trip and you want to rely on a tour or a tour package you can look at these day tours or multi-day tours of Arizona to see if you find anything interesting.

Filippo Nardelli
Filippo Nardelli

I have a degree in History of North America and have always been fascinated by the United States.

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