Things to Do in Arizona
Camelback Mountain is an iconic mountain visible throughout most of the phoenix metropolitan area. Towering over the city at 2,704 feet (824 meters) above sea level, the mountain was named after its very obvious resemblance to a resting camel. The mountain features unique sheer red sandstone cliffs as well as a variety of desert wildlife. Some of its more popular desert animals include Rock Squirrels, Gila Monsters, Javelinas, Coyotes, and Grey Foxes. These natural wonders make the mountain a very popular hiking and rock climbing location.
Although it is possible to hike to the top of Camelback, both trails are a strenuous undertaking and are only recommended for advanced hikers. Echo Canyon Recreation Area does, however, offer two easier hiking options for those less advanced hikers. All trails offer the ability to experience desert wildlife up close, as well as admire Camelback’s unique geological formations.
The city of Scottsdale sits adjacent to Phoenix, attracting visitors by the bus-load to Scottsdale Old Town. This older section of town is also its main cultural hub, thronged with dining, drinking, shopping and nightlife options.
Native American crafts, jewelry and artworks are sold in this downtown arts district, and galleries and outdoor sculptures add to the cultural feel. It’s also where you’ll find museums like Scottsdale’s Museum of Contemporary Art and the city’s historical museum.
Walking tours highlight the old town’s Old West character, with hitching posts from the days when horses were ridden through town and quaint stores selling Western gear.
The 16-mile gorge of Oak Creek Canyon is an outdoor wonderland that’s ripe with rusty red hills, towering trees and impressive waterfalls. Area campgrounds and picnic sites are available throughout the park, catering to visitors eager to explore some of the dozen or so trails that crisscross what’s commonly referred to as the cousin of the Grand Canyon.
Hiking newbies can meander along easier paths, like the 2.9 mile Long Canyon Trail or the shorter Vultee Arch Trail, while the more advance can head out on Casner Canyon Trail or the A.B. Young. Serious outdoor lovers can trek along the 9.5 mile Long Canyon Trail, where a 1,5000 fee rise in elevation means spectacular views and an even better workout. Just be prepared to get your feet wet, since creek crossings are common on many of the park’s scenic trails.
Want to make a spectacular understatement? Go ahead and call the Grand Canyon “a great big hole in the ground.” About 277 miles (444 km) long, an average of 10 miles (16 km) wide and more than a mile (1.6 km) deep, the colorful, eroded layers of this northwestern Arizona wonder reveal nothing less than the incredible geological history of the North American continent.
Each year, some 5 million people visit this testament to the power of water over rock, making the Grand Canyon the most popular national park in the U.S. Some arrive on a historic train from the depot in the Old West town of Williams, an hour south, while far more travel here by car.
You can brave the Skywalk, a transparent (and strongly reinforced) walkway that juts out over the West Rim; hike down, around or across the divide (remembering to bring lots of water); or soar high above the whole canyon on a helicopter tour.
This chapel in the red rocks of Sedona is literally built into the side of a hill. And while it may be a spot for religious contemplation and quiet prayer, it’s also home to some of the area’s most breathtaking views, including epic sunsets over pristine desert landscape.
As in most chapels, the benches of this tiny structure face an altar made for worship, but what makes Chapel of the Holy Cross unique is the massive windows that overlook some of the state’s most impressive and picturesque scenery.
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.
Antelope Canyon is a breathtaking natural attraction in Arizona and a large source of tourism revenue for the Navajo Nation. The stunning slot canyon is the most visited in the American Southwest and was formed by erosion of Navajo sandstone.
The canyon is composed of two parts, the upper and lower canyon. The upper canyon is referred to as “the place where water runs through the rocks” and does not require you to climb. The lower canyon is called “spiral rock arches” and has stairs so you can access the base.
Enjoy a sweeping panoramic view of the Grand Canyon from the historic Desert View Watchtower. The tower was built in in the early 1930s by architect Mary Colter, who created it as an homage to the watchtowers built by the native Anasazi people who once inhabited the area. The site consists of two circular buildings, one large and low, the other taller and more narrow, which stands five stories high. Inside the tower are petroglyph-style paintings.
More Things to Do in Arizona
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.
One of the highlights in Grand Canyon West is the Hualapai Village. The authentic dwellings provide a real fun-filled real Western adventure, which includes gun fights, cattle drives, and cowboy games like axe throwing and horseshoes. You can even mount up for a horseback or wagon ride to the edge of the rim for a spectacular scenic view of the Grand Canyon.
At the Hualapai Village, you can shop at the Hualapai Market, tour an authentic re-creation of an Indian village, watch Native American dance performances, dine at eateries and cafés, and view the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River from 4,000 feet/1,200 meters above from the Grand Canyon Skywalk. You can also enjoy activities like river rafting or exploring the Grand Canyon Caverns, which are dry caverns created from lava and limestone. This is also the only place within the Grand Canyon where visitors can access the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon on a helicopter.
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.
One of the sites most visitors encounter when they enter the South Rim is Mather Point. It’s an astonishing, breathtaking glimpse into the Grand Canyon. Best of all, you’re a short walk to the Canyon View Information Plaza, where you can pick up park information and begin your journey into the Canyon.
Mather Point has quite an extensive viewing area, set as it is on the south side of the Colorado River. Two narrow, railed overlooks, built on projecting rocks, provide views along the rim in both directions. The panorama extends from the lower end of Garden Creek, taking in some of the Bright Angel Trail, and a spectacular view over the deep canyon of Pipe Creek. To the west, you can jump on the Rim Trail, which offers more scenic vistas on its way to Yavapai Point. You can also see Bright Angel Creek, on the North Rim, between a collection of red buttes and ravines. A stop here is an excellent introduction to the Grand Canyon.
The Montezuma Castle National Monument is one of the most well-preserved and accessible ancient dwellings in North America. Built amongst the limestone, these 1,000 year-old ruins were once home to ancient farmers known as the Sinagua Indians. Although the monument has adopted the title “castle” due to its majestic appearance, the ruins were actually a multi-family cliff dwelling (similar to a modern-day high-rise apartment complex). Abandoned irrigation systems built by the prehistoric Hokokam Indians made the land and location ideal of these farmers. The high cliffs allowed them to access the fertile land surrounding Beaver Creek while remaining safe from flooding. In 1906, the Montezuma Castle was declared one of our country’s first national monuments. Since then, it has been a popular tourist location. In addition to the cliff dwellings, the monument includes the Montezuma Well, a limestone sinkhole that is believed to be the remains of the Sinagua’s irrigation system.
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.
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.
If you want to see some of the coolest sites that nature has to offer, than few destinations are better than Arizona's own Petrified Forest National Park. The park is divided into two areas along a north-south corridor.
The northern half of the park is home to the famous Painted Desert, an 146 square mile (235 square meter) area of badlands. Composed of stratified layers of easily erodible siltstone, mudstone, and shale, these desert stones gain their varied pigmentation from the iron and magnesium compounds found within the rock layers. The site makes for an absolutely breathtaking expanse of colorful desert landscape. "The southern half of the park is home to some of the world's largest and most colorful concentrations of petrified wood. The major concentrations have been given various forest names such as "Black Forest," "Rainbow Forest," and "Crystal Forest."
Urban centers like New York and Chicago tend to get the most cred for their scenic skylines, but Cathedral Rock, in the heart of Arizona’s peaceful Sedona, has inched towards fame with its picturesque natural skyline, where towering vibrant red rocks meet clear blue sky.
Located in Coconino National Forest, the steep ascent to this famous land formation draws travelers in search of a challenging hike, clear desert air, breathtaking views and wide-open space. And while the trail is only a short 1.5 miles, a quick 600-feet elevation change means parts of the passage can be a real scramble. Pack water, wear comfortable shoes and be prepared for a serious climb with views that are truly worth it.
Cameron Trading Post is a Native American themed motel, restaurant and shop located 30 minutes from the south rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. The trading post was established by the Richardson brothers shortly after a suspension bridge was built over the Little Colorado River in 1911. At that time, the only visitors were members of the local Navajo and Hopi tribes who came to barter their wool, blankets, and livestock for dry goods. Since the journey to the trading post took days, the Richardson brothers offered their hospitality by giving visitors food and a place to stay. Due to road improvement and proximity to the Grand Canyon, eventually tourists started coming to Cameron Trading Post as well to learn about the history of the southwest.
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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- Things to do in Flagstaff
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