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Things to Do in Arizona

Also known as the Grand Canyon State for its most iconic natural wonder, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona manages to combine a desert- and mountain-dotted landscape with increasingly cosmopolitan cities to form one of the United States' best places for exploring the outdoors mere minutes from bustling downtowns. As Arizona's modern capital, Phoenix and the surrounding metropolitan area not only draws sports fanatics for baseball's sping training in March and Scottsdale's 200 golf courses and major tournaments, but also hot balloon rides over the city, tours of the city's burgeoning craft cocktail and farm-to-table dining scene, and helicopter flights. To the north, Sedona's red rocks are best enjoyed on Jeep tours of the open desert, and the Montezuma Castle National Monument is an impressive display of Pre-Columbian cliff dwellings. To the south, Tucson serves as a melting pot of European, Mexican, and Native American cultures, all of which inform its architecture and gastronomy. If you want to really step into Arizonan history, take a custom tour of the original Apache Trail. And it's impossible to overlook the importance of the Grand Canyon National Park, with most Arizona cities offering helicopter tours to this natural wonder, home to some of the most awe-inspiring views in the world.
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Camelback Mountain
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Visible throughout most of Phoenix, Camelback Mountain rises 2,704 feet (824 meters) above the Sonoran Desert. The red sandstone formation gets its name from its resemblance to a resting camel, and it’s one of the metro area’s most popular spots for hiking, rock climbing, and other outdoor adventures.

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Old Town Scottsdale
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Old Town Scottsdale ranks among the Southwest’s top retail destinations, particularly for shoppers looking for Southwestern and Native American art and jewelry. The area is also home to the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museum of the West, and the Scottsdale Historical Museum.

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Wupatki National Monument
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Walk in the footsteps of the Native American tribes who built their pueblos in the deserts of the American Southwest at Wupatki National Monument. For thousands of years, tribes like the Anasazi and Sinagua lived in these rugged deserts, and among the myriad pueblos left behind is Wupatki Ruin, one of the largest and most elaborate in the region. It was three stories tall and had almost 100 rooms when the Sinagua people built it about 800 years ago. Along with exploring the ruins of a dozen pueblo villages, visitors can also hike the easy Doney Mountain Trail to the top of a volcanic cinder cone, and the visitor center has exhibits describing the culture and history of the people that lived here.

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Oak Creek Canyon
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The road that winds 16 miles (26 kilometers) through leafy Oak Creek Canyon is the most scenic route between Sedona and Flagstaff or the Grand Canyon. With dramatic red rock formations to either side, the gorge is an outdoor playground for camping, fishing, hiking, picnicking, and swimming.

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Grand Canyon National Park
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The Grand Canyon is a humbling testament to nature’s power. Carved by the mighty Colorado River, this northwestern Arizona wonder is 277 miles (444 kilometers) long and more than a mile (1.6 kilometers) deep. It’s no wonder Grand Canyon National Park is one of America’s most popular attractions, with over 6 million annual visitors.

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Chapel of the Holy Cross
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Built directly into the side of a red-rock hill not far from downtown Sedona, the Chapel of the Holy Cross is a modern architectural marvel as well as a religious place for reflection. Visitors flock to the Roman Catholic chapel primarily to take in the outstanding views of Sedona’s awe-inspiring desert scenery.

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Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
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About 1,000 years ago, outside what is now Flagstaff, a cinder cone in the San Francisco Volcanic Field blew its top, showering the surrounding area with lava and ash. Since then, the minerals in the soil around the rim of the crater rusted, creating a striking red ring that lends the name Sunset Crater. A national monument was created here in 1930 when locals protested the plan of filmmakers to detonate explosives on the side of the slope. The main attractions at the small park are the visitor center, with its interactive volcano exhibits, and the short Lava Flow Trail that loops around the base of the volcano. Visitors can’t climb to the edge of Sunset Crater, but for those interested in scaling a volcano, the Lennox Crater Trail is open to hikers.

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Coconino National Forest
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The towns of Flagstaff and Sedona both sit within the Coconino National Forest, a 1.9-million acre area of protected land fringed by four additional national forests. Many of the natural attractions around Flagstaff can be found within Coconino National Forest, such as the San Francisco Peaks—including the 12,600-foot Humphreys Peak—and the Sunset Crater National Monument. Visitors can find ample outdoor adventures within the forest, from fishing and swimming holes along Wet Beaver Creek to hiking and biking on red rock trails like those around Carroll Canyon.

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Antelope Canyon
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In Arizona's Lake Powell area lies Antelope Canyon, one of the most-photographed slot canyons in the United States. Formed by water rushing through the rock over the course of millions of years, this southwestern natural wonder has two parts that are often mixed up—the deep yet narrow Upper Antelope Canyon (also known as Spiral Rock Arches) and the Lower Antelope Canyon (Hasdeztwazi), both of which are set on Navajo land as part of the Lake Powell Navajo Tribal Park.

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Desert View Watchtower
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Enjoy a sweeping panoramic view of the Grand Canyon from the historic Desert View Watchtower. Architect Mary Colter created the tower, built in the early 1930s, as an homage to the watchtowers built by the Ancestral Puebloan people who once inhabited the Four Corners area. The murals inside were painted by a local Hopi artist.

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More Things to Do in Arizona

Old Tucson

Old Tucson

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Step back into the gunslingin’ Old West at Old Tucson, a movie studio and theme park located near the Tucson Mountains and Saguaro National Park in Arizona. Visitors to Old Tucson might think, ‘Hey! This place looks familiar!’ And that’s because this ‘town’ has been made famous as the location for more than 300 movies and television shows. From living history presentations to historic tours to shows and special events, Old Tucson really ‘brings it’ with the Western experience.

Whether you’re a fan of drama, comedy, or music, the gunfights and stunt shows based on traditional Western themes will fit the bill. There’s even a can-can musical in the saloon, featuring ‘Lady Vivian and her girls.’ Be sure to watch out for a traveling salesman who might try to pitch you a great deal on snake oil. In addition to all the fun and games, Old Tucson has an element that will appeal to history buffs — historians give presentations on topics like ‘The American Cowboy,’ ‘Sheriffs of the Old West’ (keeping the peace in the Wild West was no easy task!), ‘Life of a Miner,’ and ‘The Raucous Saloons.’

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Hualapai Ranch

Hualapai Ranch

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The Hualapai have been living in the Grand Canyon area for generations, and today the tribe offers some of the area’s best experiences at Hualapai Ranch. Enjoy cowboy shows, cookouts, and wagon rides; visit Indian Village to learn fascinating history; and brave the Skywalk, a platform extending 70 feet (21 meters) out over the canyon.

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Broken Arrow Trail

Broken Arrow Trail

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This 4.5-mile round-trip hike is a favorite among locals and travelers because of its incredible red rock views, challenging terrain and easy access from Sedona’s main roads. But visitors warn its popularity means the trail is usually crowded with hikers, bikers and 4x4s. While the moderate climb is a good option for fit travelers, those who fear descending the Devil’s Staircase can opt for one of the area’s off-road Jeep tours.

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Tonto National Forest

Tonto National Forest

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Encompassing about 3 million acres (1,214,057 hectares), the Tonto National Forest is the country’s fifth-largest forest. The altitude ranges from 1,300 to 7,900 feet (396 to 2,408 meters), allowing for diverse flora, fauna and landscapes throughout. In fact, while in one part of the forest you might find a cactus-filled desert, in another you’ll walk through rugged mountain dotted with pines. You’ll also find beautiful lake beaches for peaceful relaxation and aquatic pursuits.

The main reason people visit Tonto National Forest is the outdoor recreation. There are eight wilderness areas in Tonto National Forest, including Four Peaks Wilderness, Hell's Gate Wilderness, Mazatzal Wilderness, Salome Wilderness, Fossil Creek Wild and Scenic Area, Salt River Canyon Wilderness, Sierra Ancha Wilderness and Superstition Wilderness. Each of these offers its own unique experiences. For example, while the Four Peaks Wilderness Area is known for its Four Peaks landmark and 16 designated hiking trails totaling about 40 miles (64 kilometers), the Salt River Canyon Wilderness is where experienced white water rafters go.

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Mather Point

Mather Point

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With its panoramic Grand Canyon views, Mather Point is one of the most visited spots in Grand Canyon National Park. The multitier viewing platform is perched on a rocky outcropping near the South Rim entrance and a short walk from a visitor center. Walk nearby trails to reach multiple vantage points and photo opportunities along the rim.

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Montezuma Castle National Monument

Montezuma Castle National Monument

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One of the most well-preserved ruins in North America, the 1,000-year-old Montezuma Castle was once home to ancient farmers known as the Sinagua Indians. Although the majestic ruins were given a “castle” title, they were actually a multi-family cliff dwelling. In 1906, the site was declared one of the United States’ first national monuments.

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San Francisco Peaks

San Francisco Peaks

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A collection of once violent volcanoes dots the rugged high desert north of Flagstaff. Collectively called the San Francisco Peaks, or just ‘The Peaks’ by locals, today they sit dormant, offering a wilderness playground for adventurous visitors keen to hike, climb, bike or ski. The tallest is Humphrey’s Peak towering 12,633 feet, where hearty hikers can tackle a nine-mile, round-trip hike to its top. For wildlife spotting, lower elevation trails like Little Bear Trail wind through ponderosa pine, oak, and aspen forests, and the Lava River Cave offers great views and an exciting walk through a lava tube. The 44-mile Peaks Loop road is perfect for car-based sightseeing, while winter visitors can hit the slopes at Wing Mountain or the Snowbowl Ski Area.

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Kaibab National Forest

Kaibab National Forest

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This huge 1.6 million-acre National Forest park, divided into three distinct sections both north and south of the Grand Canyon, is more than just juniper, spruce and pine forest as the name implies—it is also comprised of grassland prairies, rocky riverbeds, scrubland and peaks like Kendrick Mountain at 10,418 feet.

Popular for its Grand Canyon-esque ecosystems without the crowds, the first decision visitors will have to make is which section to visit. The Williams District in the far south is home to the park’s visitor, which carries maps and brochures of area activities, while the Tusayan District abutting the southern edge of Grand Canyon National Park has popular hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding trails through its varied elevation. The North Kaibab District—bisected by the Kaibab Plateau-North Rim Scenic Byway (State Highway 67), past sinkhole ponds and Ponderosa pines—is the largest area and stretches most of the way to Utah.

In total, the forest area boasts six campgrounds and more than 300 trail options affording chances to glimpse whitetail deer, elk, turkey or coyote. Three historic cabins—Hull Cabin in the Tusayan District, Jumpup Cabin in North Kaibab and Spring Valley Cabin in the Williams District—are available for rent. Several Grand Canyon helicopter and plane tours departing from the airport in Tusayan afford the chance to double-dip and take in the National Forest en route to the Grand Canyon’s grandeur.

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Desert View Drive

Desert View Drive

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This scenic drive in the Canyon’s southern section is open year round and boasts scenic views, incredible landscapes and plenty of overlooks. Travelers can explore the 26 miles of highway in about an hour, while en route to the park’s east entrance. While the spectacular views are the highlight of this journey, the Desert View Watchtower and Tusayan Ruin and Museum are both worth a stop for visitors who want to explore the region’s history and Native American culture.

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Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park

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Featuring a colorful desert landscape with significant deposits of petrified wood from the late Triassic period, Petrified Forest National Park is an Arizona treasure. Highlights include the Painted Desert badlands that cover the northern area, Blue Mesa Road Loop, and Newspaper Rock, covered with ancient petroglyphs.

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Cameron Trading Post

Cameron Trading Post

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A popular stop en route to the Grand Canyon, the historic Cameron Trading Post combines American Indian art and culture with a modern travel stop. Browse the expansive souvenir shop, eat at the restaurant, or even stay overnight in the hotel—all while experiencing the traditional food, crafts, and decore of Navajo and Hopi tribes.

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Bell Rock

Bell Rock

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Stunning scenery, epic red rock landscapes and wide-open skies are just part of what makes a trip to Sedona’s Bell Rock a memorable travel experience. Visitors can navigate the destination’s five trails, which range from an easy hike between the Courthouse Vista Parking Lot and the Base of Bell Rock, to more challenging routes, like the moderate climb to Upper Bell Rock Trail or the most strenuous option, known as The Ascent. Travelers will catch incredible views of Chicken Point, Submarine Rock and Chapel of the Holy Cross—true icons of Arizona’s famed Red Rock State Park—from various lookouts along Bell Rock’s multiple trails.

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Tlaquepaque Arts and Shopping Village

Tlaquepaque Arts and Shopping Village

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Most travelers venture to Sedona to get back to nature, get outdoors and get up close to Arizona’s stunning red rocks. But the unique shops, handmade crafts and tasty restaurants of Tlaquepaque Arts and Shopping Village offer visitors a chance to experience another part of Sedona—its artist community.

Visitors can wander the 40 specialty shops that make up this laid-back shopping destination and bare witness to artisans at work. Whether its blowing glass, painting an Arizona landscape or throwing a pot in one of Tlaquepaque’s studios, a visit to Tlaquepaque puts travelers in touch with the artists and offers a one-of-a-kind experience that’s sure to be a memorable part of any Sedona trip.

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Verde Canyon Railroad

Verde Canyon Railroad

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The Verde Canyon Railroad winds its way along the scenic Verde River at a leisurely 12 mph (19 kph), offering passengers a unique way to experience the Arizona wilderness. The refurbished heritage railroad cars make the round-trip journey through national forest land, with stellar views out windows on both sides of the train.

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