Arizona is home to over 20 national parks, nearly 40 state parks, over 100 wineries, and the largest cactus in America. It’s no wonder that it’s one of the most spectacular states to visit too.
Home to wide open canyons and huge natural stone monuments, Arizona has breathtaking scenery and something for everyone to enjoy. Here are the best outdoor destinations in Arizona:
The Grand Canyon National Park is Arizona’s only UNESCO site. Offering breathtaking views of the Colorado River, the land surrounding the park is a stunning example of natural erosion. See deep canyons, carved lakes and stunning natural monuments rise seemingly out of nowhere. The nearby Grand Canyon Village is the perfect place to stay if you’re looking for a base to explore the Southern Rim and find things to do at Grand Canyon areas across the state. The park is also home to a huge range of wildlife, including mountain lions, coyotes, gray foxes and bighorn sheep.
Petrified Forest National Park is located in the Navajo and Apache regions of Northeast Arizona. It is home to many fossils, particularly of fallen prehistoric trees from over 200 million years ago. The landscape is extremely colorfuldue to the different soil types that form something called Chinle soil. It is made up of a variety of soils and stones including limestone, clay-stone and mud-stone, which display as different lines of whites, reds and browns. The surrounding desert obtained its name of the Painted Desert due to the vibrant stone structures that form within it.
Monument Valley sits across the Arizona and Utah state lines, and is a valley peppered with monolith-like natural stone structures. The huge flat-topped structures are known as buttes, and are sandstone structures that formed when an ancient river eroded them in a similar way to the Grand Canyon. The top of each structure is tougher than the sides, which is why the tops remain flat while the sides weather down. Monument Valley now sits within the Great Basin Desert, and these huge stone structures look like they were carved by a stonemason rather than formed naturally.
Antelope Canyon-Guided tours are required to view this stunning and unusual canyon, so don’t forget to book in advance! Antelope Canyon is home to a series of antelope horn-like sandstone structures, shaped by years of wind and water. Unlike the huge open landscape of the Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon, which is a narrow opening that forms a drainage-way of water through the eroded sandstone. As the spires of Antelope Canyon are below the ground line, they also form part of a unique ecosystem that differs from the arid conditions directly above it.
Havasu Falls is an impressive series of plateaus that form a huge, thundering waterfall in the Grand Canyon. Home to breathtaking turquoise pools and sheer drops, the falls are a huge draw to people all over the world. The land is owned by the Havasupai people rather than the state, so you’ll need to purchase a ticket to visit the area and book well in advance. You will need to bring your camping gear, be prepared for an overnight stay, and a hike, but the view is well worth it.
Meteor Crater National Landmark- The Barringer crater is the site of a huge former meteor impact. It is 0.75 miles wide, and the meteor was strong enough to displace over 170 million metric tons of rock. The sight of a huge crater is a once in a lifetime view you won’t forget in a hurry. There are guided tours along the rim of the crater, as well as several lookout points and a museum which unveils the mystery of the meteor. You can also stay overnight in the nearby RV park, so you have a base for your travels.
Montezuma Castle National Monument is a perfectly preserved historic cliff dwelling in Camp Verde, Arizona. Twenty apartments are carved into the castle-like edifice, which juts out of the sheer limestone cliff face. Montezuma Castle was first discovered and named by American-Europeans in 1860, but was originally built in 1150 AD by the Sinagua people, who were indigenous to the area. When a volcanic eruption drove the tribe into the Verde Valley, at the time the fertile soil would have been an excellent site for settlement and agriculture. Now, you can walk through the complex and learn of the tribe’s history.
Saguaro National Park in Tucson Arizona is home to America’s largest cacti. Saguaro cacti can reach heights of up to 40 meters, and grow exceptionally slowly over a period of 200 years to reach their peak height. The cactus can either have many thin arms or no arms, and grows upwards in a thin vertical column. In many ways it looks like the stereotype of the thin cacti with two arms you see in many Western cartoons.
Canyon De ChellyNational Monument resides on Navajo tribal lands. It is free to enter, and this distant relative of the Grand Canyon is dotted with ancient cliff dwellings ranging from the size of a small family home to expansive group living quarters. The canyon can be explored with the assistance of a qualified tour guide, and offers the chance for you to take a 4×4 or horseback ride through this unusual landscape.
Wupatki National Monument: A series of ancient ruins near Flagstaff, Arizona. Built in a similar time to Montezuma Castle, this imperious structure looks more like a battlement, but was actually built in a modern day apartment format, and would have housed a series of local families. These buildings were known as pueblos. Wupakti would have been one of the largest and most impressive ones around, home to over 100 families. The land would have been fertile and an excellent place to settle, before the desert encroached in.
Arizona is home to ancient ruins, beautiful desert structures, and verdant green falls and cacti. Visit this state to get a taste of what life would have been like for ancestors of local tribes, and see the impressive natural stone structures in their present day form. This is the roundup of the best outdoor destinations in Arizona!