Travelers are drawn to Arizona by the blinding desert sunshine, but that's just the beginning of the experience in the Grand Canyon state. Under these flawless blue skies, everything you can imagine to entice, entertain and enthrall is up for grabs.
There are outdoor thrills and indoor indulgences, encounters with history and hip modern quarters, wilderness escapes and tourist-packed ski resorts. Arizona's diversity spans everything from big city living to empty spaces that are perfect for quiet contemplation.
Along with desert cities that exude a hint of the Old West, Arizona has atmospheric ghost towns and natural wonders aplenty, including the Grand Canyon and the world’s largest pine forest (where you can also ski). Here's our pick of the 10 best places to visit in Arizona.
1. See the Grand Canyon from a new perspective
Unsurprisingly, the Grand Canyon is Arizona’s most famous sight. It’s colossal and spectacular and draws huge crowds in summer, which might dissuade first-timers or those seeking a quiet escape. However, it's somewhere that lives up to the hype. People think of this massive canyon system carved by the Colorado River as a single park, but there are actually four separate areas you can visit.
Grand Canyon National Park is divided into the South Rim (open year-round) and the North Rim (closed from mid-October to mid-May), and these two zones are 210 miles apart. Along with mesmerizing views and hiking trails, the busier South Rim has a free shuttle service, a geology museum and some good on-site accommodations. Reaching 8000ft in elevation, the North Rim delivers more outsize panoramas and has milder weather and fewer people on the trails, contributing to a more relaxing atmosphere.
The Grand Canyon’s West and East rims are also worth exploring, but these areas fall outside the national park. The Grand Canyon West tourism area on the Hualapai Indian Reservation is famed for its glass-bottomed Skywalk, looming 70ft out over the canyon rim, while the East Rim is quieter and ideal for peaceful hiking.
Planning tip: To see the best of the East Rim, check out the Little Colorado River Gorge in Navajo Tribal Park, about 11 miles from Cameron. There’s a $5 fee to access two stunning overlooks and you’ll need a $12 backcountry permit to hike the trails but solitude is practically guaranteed.
2. Visit ghost towns in the historic Verde Valley
Central Arizona’s Verde Valley is an underrated spot, characterized by prehistoric ruins, outpost towns, abundant wildlife and a wine trail that snakes around rivers and mountains. To get a sense of its rugged beauty, follow the 30-mile road that winds through the valley, starting in atmospheric Jerome, once hailed as the "wickedest town in the West." Built by a mining magnate in the 19th century, this once-notorious outpost is today considered a ghost town although it still has around 500 residents.
Jerome's Cleopatra Hill once delivered payloads of gold, silver and copper for eager miners, but the town today is a mix of eclectic restaurants, artists' studios and offbeat boutiques, all set inside Victorian buildings that look poised to tumble into the valley below. In the fertile land below Jerome are the similarly historic towns of Clarkdale, Cornville and Cottonwood – home to Dead Horse Ranch State Park, a peaceful spot for outdoor recreation.
Planning tip: On a trip to the Verde Valley, you can also swing by Tuzigoot National Monument and Montezuma Castle National Monument, where you can see the remains of pueblos (villages) built by the Sinagua people in around 1050 CE.
3. Span a photo of dramatic Horseshoe Bend
What marks out this 270-degree bend in the Colorado River from all the other twists and turns along this mighty watercourse? Maybe it’s the way the dark blue waters of Horseshoe Bend reflect the towering sandstone walls that surround it, leaving you humbled by the thought of the massive forces of nature that shaped this region near Page, Arizona. The overlook in Glen Canyon Recreation Area is the best place to snap a classic Horseshoe Bend photo, but a more enriching way to experience the canyon’s immensity is on a raft. Guided rafting tours head downriver to Horseshoe Bend and stop at a swimming beach with ancient Puebloan petroglyphs.
4. Get more from Monument Valley with a local guide
To explore Arizona’s Indigenous culture amid 1000ft sandstone towers, make a beeline for Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. You’ll immediately recognize the landscape’s monoliths; they've been cameoing in movies and TV Westerns since the 1930s. The outcrops are called se’Bii’Ndzisgaii in the Navajo language, and the best way to fully appreciate this sacred land is to travel with a local guide who will add context to the experience as you walk in the shadow of buttes such as East Mitten and West Mitten. If you’ve never tasted Navajo cuisine, eat at the Haskenneini Restaurant (summer only), which overlooks some of the valley’s dramatic sandstone formations.
Planning Tip: Sunrise and sunset are the best times to photograph the towering buttes of Monument Valley. For sublime sunset photos, stake out a spot by the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park visitor center or the View Hotel.
5. Get artsy in Phoenix
As Arizona’s capital, Phoenix is arguably the best place to fuel your appetite for art and architecture in Arizona. Frank Lloyd Wright, the father of modern American architecture, left his fingerprints all over the city. Start the tour at Taliesin West, Wright’s desert laboratory and a National Historic Landmark. In 2019, the house was inscribed on the Unesco World Heritage site list (along with seven of his other major works) for its cultural significance. To delve deeper into Wright’s oeuvre, visit the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa; the building was designed by Albert Chase McArthur, with Wright acting as a consultant for four months in 1928.
The Phoenix Art Museum is another top venue featuring work by both big-name and emerging artists. In its permanent collection is one of Yayoi Kusama’s wildly popular infinity mirror rooms, entitled, You Who Are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies. From the art museum, it’s just three blocks to Roosevelt Row, where you can admire the murals that made Phoenix’s street art scene rightly famous.
6. Mix history and the great outdoors in Tucson
Home to half a million people, Tucson is Arizona’s second-largest city, and it beautifully blends urban comforts with outdoor endeavors. Although it’s smack in the middle of the Sonoran Desert – fringing Saguaro National Park with its ancient, eight-ton cactuses – Tucson defies the desert city tropes. A short drive from downtown along the Sky Island Scenic Byway, 9000ft Mount Lemmon is the highest point in the Santa Catalina Mountains, and the southernmost spot in the continental US where you can go skiing.
Downtown Tucson is a mix of historic sights and hipster vibes. The Turquoise Trail is a self-guided walking route linking 23 historic landmarks. Nearby, Fourth Avenue celebrates Tucson's heritage with updated energy; its murals, tattoo shops and vintage boutiques are frequented by students from The University of Arizona.
Planning tip: Tucson scores bonus points for sustainability thanks to the Sun Link Streetcar and The Loop, a 131-mile car-free pathway for cyclists, runners and walkers. Bikes can be rented from many local operators; you can pick up rentals from Tucson Bike Rentals on The Loop.
7. Experience spirituality and wellness and wilderness in Sedona
Although it's technically a city, Sedona feels like a glamorous village and it's surrounded by natural splendor. Wherever you wander, you’ll be greeted by imposing red-rock formations and 5000ft monoliths such as Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock – said to be focal points for natural energy fields known as vortexes.
Modern-day Sedona has evolved from an outpost of ranches and apple orchards to a popular hub for spirituality, wellness and – reputedly – UFO sightings, and this land is also sacred to a number of Indigenous groups. It’s also a great stop for art buffs and outdoor enthusiasts, with more than 80 galleries and 400 miles of trails zigzagging along Oak Creek through stands of prickly pear cactuses and ponderosa pines.
8. Go stargazing in Flagstaff
Perched at 7000ft, Flagstaff offers the best of the city and the mountains. Situated in the world’s largest ponderosa pine forest, “Flag” is home to Northern Arizona University, which contributes to the city's youthful vibe. The streets are awash with coffee houses and craft beer establishments, which you can explore on the Flagstaff Brewery Trail.
To connect with the great outdoors, head to the Arizona Snowbowl, a four-season playground in Flagstaff’s backyard with 40 ski runs and three terrain parks. Chairlifts go up to 11,500ft, offering dizzying views of Sedona’s red rocks, the rim of the Grand Canyon and fields of cinder cones as you ride up the western slope of 12,637ft Mount Humphreys.
Flagstaff is also a leading destination for astrotourism. In 1930, astronomers at Lowell Observatory discovered Pluto, and all the American astronauts who walked on the moon were trained in Flagstaff. Decades later, Flagstaff became the world’s first international dark sky city, and many visitors are drawn here specifically by the start-gazing opportunities.
Planning tip: Flagstaff is a great base for exploring Arizona. Meteor Crater is just 42 miles away, and you can also easily access Grand Canyon National Park, Walnut Canyon National Monument, Sunset Volcano National Monument and Wupatki National Monument by car.
9. See a 50,000-year-old impact site
Arizona has more than its share of superlative sites, and Meteor Crater near Winslow is one for the ages. This massive depression, 2.4 miles in circumference and 700ft deep, is considered the best-preserved meteorite impact site in the world. The site has a fascinating backstory; it was created some 50,000 years ago when a monstrous iron-nickel meteorite smashed into the ground at 26,000 mph, leaving a perfect impact crater. You can learn more about the site at the visitor center and 4D theater.
10. Explore the curious Grand Canyon Caverns on iconic Route 66
There are many stretches of Route 66 that visitors can explore in Arizona, but we recommend making a stop at the wild and sometimes weird Grand Canyon Caverns. Located in Peach Springs, this idiosyncratic site is composed of an inn, a four-table restaurant and the largest dry cavern in the US, situated 210ft down in the underbelly of the Grand Canyon. Fitting this outpost's oddball history, local woodcutter Walter Peck accidentally discovered the caves in 1927 after falling off his horse while heading to a poker game. Today, you can explore them yourself on a series of tours, including a ghost walk.
Planning tip: Arizona lays claim to 401 miles of Route 66, making this a great base for short road trips on this historic route. Essential stops include Holbrook (home to the Wigwam Motel), Winslow (immortalized by The Eagles in the song Take it Easy) and Williams, starting point for the Grand Canyon Railway.