Although at first glance much of Arizona’s Valley of the Sun seems to be an extended urban area, there are actually some surprisingly diverse natural landscapes – perfect for hiking and close encounters with Mother Nature.
Phoenix & Central Arizona
Arizona’s capital city of Phoenix combines with the surrounding cities of Chandler, Glendale, Mesa, Paradise Valley, Scottsdale and Tempe, among other cities, to form the Valley of the Sun, a rich mecca of diverse experiences.
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Central Arizona’s desert is home to the Phoenix-metropolitan area and its more than 3.4 million residents. Encompassing more than 2,000 square miles, the area amazes with a variety of experiences, ranging from world-class resorts, spas, shopping and golf courses, to renowned restaurants and a vibrant nightlife. The metropolitan area has all the wonderful experiences you would expect to find in a major city set against the breathtaking backdrop of the Sonoran Desert.
In addition, the region also boasts fantastic museums and galleries, a wide array of sports events, Old West and Native American history, hiking and other outdoor activities suited for the state’s more than 300 days of sunshine each year.
Payson, just a 90-mile (or 1.5 hour) drive from Phoenix, has cooler temperatures, miles and miles of hiking and camping areas in Tonto National Forest, and serene mountain lakes where you can fish or swim. The exhibits at the Rim Country Museum provide a friendly introduction to the history of this region.
Just outside Payson, you’ll see a dramatic wall of stone that rises some 2,000 feet above the valley floor. This is the Mogollon Rim (pronounced “muggy-OWN”), a raised section of land that begins in central Arizona and continues into New Mexico. Winding roads lead you to a vast plateau with forests, lakes, and camping areas. The lakes are famous for their fishing, and boat rentals are available.
Many people visit the High Country to angle for fish, but if you’re not getting any bites, stop by the Tonto Creek Hatchery, where you can at least see what the trout you’re not catching look like.
Visit one of the world’s most unusual natural bridges at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park. The spectacular arched bridge curves over a flowing stream, and a series of paths lead down to the water.
Pinetop-Lakeside, once two towns but is now incorporated as one, is one of the most active communities in the region. In winter, snow skiers head here on their way to the Sunrise Park Resort. The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest borders Pinetop-Lakeside, as does the nearby Fort Apache Indian Reservation.
Show Low’s White Mountain location attracts anglers – two nearby lakes provide excellent fishing. The Little Colorado River passes through the small town of Greer and provides excellent trout fishing. The area is popular with cross-country skiers, and during the summer, hikers wend their way up hiking trails on Baldy Peak. Mountain bikers and horseback riders find trails suited to a variety of skill levels. The top of the peak is open only to members of the White Mountain Apache tribe – violators face a fine – so be sure to heed any signs you might see along the trails.
In the heart of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest is the town of Alpine, a good place to begin your exploration of the surrounding countryside. You can fish, hunt, hike, or camp in this beautiful setting.
Red Rock Country: Though not many destinations could claim to compete with the Grand Canyon and majestic Lake Powell, the brilliantly hued red rocks of Sedona are equally breathtaking.
Day hikes of differing skill levels to Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, Boynton Canyon, and Airport Mesa give up-close views of the the mighty rock formations, and sunsets are undeniably beautiful. Narrated jeep tours offer the opportunity to four-wheel with ease through the best sights of the area. Hot air balloon tours will have you floating on cloud nine over the red rock buttes, and helicopter rides are also popular.
Oak Creek leads to Slide Rock State Park where you can frolic among the smooth stone troughs, pushed by the stream water. The scenic trip through this country will take you past many cozy cabins and lodges along the creek that provide perfect spots for quiet retreats.
Flagstaff Area: Just north of Sedona lies Flagstaff, With its 7,000-foot elevation, Flagstaff enjoys snowy winters and elegant summers. Skiers visit the San Francisco Peaks for challenging downhill action – or take off on the winding logging roads for cross-country skiing.
In summer, hikers explore the flowery meadows and high mountain trails. Flagstaff is also a haven for mountain bikers. Try some of the dirt roads in nearby Coconino National Forest. Hunting and fishing are also very popular.
For those with an interest in astronomy, Lowell Observatory is a must-see. It was from this here that the cold and distant planet Pluto was discovered.
North of Flagstaff is Sunset Crater National Monument, where you’ll find the picturesque remains of a volcano surrounded by lava flows and caves. Don’t worry about eruptions – the cone has been dormant for more than 900 years.
If you’ve seen many classic Western movies, you’ve seen parts of the Navajo Reservation. Monument Valley is one of the most spectacular landscapes in the world, rivaling the Grand Canyon as a popular backdrop for Hollywood’s Old West movies, such as John Ford’s Stagecoach.
Dramatic pillars of stone and fabulously shaped towers of colorful rock form the setting for Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. You can start your visit at the park’s visitors center and overlook area. Jeep tours and guided horse-back rides provide you with an up-close look at some of the world’s most breathtaking landmarks.
Along the northwest edge of Indian Country, you’ll find the expansive waters of Lake Powell, created by the mighty Glen Canyon Dam in 1963. Lake Powell’s clear blue waters provide a popular spot for house boating, fishing and water sports. The shore is dotted with small canyons that let you get away from the crowds and enjoy the pleasures of solitude and seclusion..
Hikers should consider investigating narrow Antelope Canyon, renowned for its steep, rainbow-hued walls. You can also rent a boat from the Wahweap Lodge and Marina and visit the scenic Rainbow Bridge National Monument to see this enormous natural arch of stone.
One of the best kept secrets in Arizona is the utterly beautiful Canyon de Chelly National Monument. (Pronounced “duh-SHAY.”) The canyon walls display the colorful hues of sandstone above, while the canyon floor is green and fertile. People have lived here for more than 2,000 years, and the canyon has many ancient ruins, including the popular and easily-accessible White House Ruins. The visitor center offers seasonal ranger-led hikes and exhibits. To enter the canyon itself, you must be accompanied by an authorized guide, and many visitors opt to take a guided jeep tour.
Outside of Winslow look for one of the most unusual sights in the world – Meteor Crater. A gigantic piece of space rock struck the earth here 22,000 years ago, leaving behind a moon-like crater. Lunar astronauts have trained here before heading to the moon.
The Petrified Forest National Monument, near Holbrook, features few green trees, but acres of fossilized ones dot the landscape. Displays and a short film at the visitors center explain how the ancient stone forest was created. Remember, it is forbidden to remove any petrified wood from the monument.
Just west of Holbrook, Rock Art Canyon Ranch, a working ranch, offers guided and self-guided tours to Chevelon Canyon. The area contains hundreds of petroglyphs that were etched into the canyon walls by the ancient Anasazi people.
Northern Arizona: The Grand Canyon, Sedona’s famed red rocks, Flagstaff’s forested mountains, Lake Powell’s blue waters and Monument Valley’s sandstone spires are some of the natural wonders that await you in Northern Arizona. Grand Canyon Adventure Vacations
In addition to beautiful scenery, Northern Arizona also offers the excitement of traveling the Mother Road, Route 66, the opportunity to explore Native American cultures, interesting local artwork and delicious regional cuisine.
Enigmatic landscapes that captivate the imagination and capture the soul are found throughout this singular landscape. Here, the mile-deep Grand Canyon slashes its colorful course across 277 miles, the cobalt-blue waters of Lake Powell mark a stunning contrast against the sandstone shoreline, and the flourishing forests of the San Francisco Peaks seem to reach to the sky.
North Central Arizona: Enjoy the cool temperatures of Ponderosa pine forests, dozens of lakes and mountain retreats that welcome visitors.
Though Arizona is often synonymous with desert retreats for snow-weary visitors, the North-Central region’s four seasons of recreation and entertainment allow getaways to the cool, pine-scented forests for hiking, biking and horseback riding along tree-shaded mountain trails. Throughout the summer, travelers flock to high-country communities to enjoy rodeos and festivals. In the fall, the aspen leaves turn red and yellow, and in winter, high above the cactus-studded desert, residents and travelers revel in the snowy wonderland of the White Mountains.
Visitors to the area can also satisfy their thirst for new experiences by exploring the area’s Old West and Native American cultures, Prescott’s famed Whiskey Row, Jerome’s burgeoning artist community, a plethora or historic sites and delicious local cuisine.
Arizona’s West Coast: Come sail away in a place that blends pleasant desert sunshine with the cool blue waters of the Colorado River.
Arizona’s West Coast is wet and often wild, formed as the mighty Colorado River courses its way south from Hoover Dam to Mexico. Along its shoreline, visitors will find vibrant communities filled with fascinating museums and attractions, water-based activities galore, and natural wonders and habitats protecting the wildlife that proliferates along the river.
The region also features a variety of Native American communities, the London Bridge, world-class golf courses and fantastic restaurants.
Tucson & Southern Arizona: Replete with natural wonders, history and culture, Southern Arizona has been romancing visitors with its Old West charm for decades.
The region’s most populous city, Tucson, is a thriving metropolis with luxurious golf courses and resorts, a flourishing art and history scene and vivid multi-cultural heritage. With Old West towns and guest ranches, the region makes a perfect Arizona getaway for visitors who want to relive the past. Or, for those with an eye to the sky, the area hosts a variety of astronomical observatories which study everything from our closest star, the sun, to all the stars beyond . Additionally, Southern Arizona’s rich riparian areas and rugged mountain ranges rank among the world’s best birding sites.
Visitors to the region can also indulge in Arizona-made wine, regional cuisine and explore a variety of natural treasures the likes of which will not be seen elsewhere.