Arizona often brings to mind cowboy boots, cacti, and the Grand Canyon. Although these are all pretty valid associations with the western state, there are so many things to do in Arizona beyond all of that. It used to be that if you weren’t particularly outdoorsy, there wasn’t a whole lot for you to do in Arizona, but we’re happy to report that is no longer the case (although if you are fond of nature, we guarantee you’ll still be more than pleased).
We happen to think that it’s important to venture outside of the country to witness everything the world has to offer, but Arizona is one of those domestic places that you absolutely must see in your lifetime. It’s true: You cannot go without exploring the eye-catching canyons, and we beg you to see a cactus up close and personal. Below, find our ultimate wish list of things to do in Arizona—from a hidden waterfall to a petrified forest to even a ghost town—there’s seriously something for everyone in the Grand Canyon state.
Explore the Grand Canyon
As one of the seven wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon should basically be on everyone’s travel bucket list.
If you happen to be flexible with timing, October is a wonderful time to go because the weather is nice, and it’s less packed with tourists (heads-up: more than 5 million people visit each year).
To escape the crowds, experts suggest going to Shoshone Point, a South Rim overlook where can park about three-quarters of a mile away. Take your time—this should not be a rushed trip by any means, and the more of the canyon you explore by foot, the better.
Take a Dip in Havasupai Falls
Not far from the Grand Canyon lies Havasupai Falls, a little-known waterfall flowing with the iciest-blue water you’ve ever seen (it’s been described as looking like blue Gatorade). The falls belong to the people of the local Havasupai tribe, and they limit the number of people who can enter the Supai village, where the falls lie. We strongly suggest applying for a permit into the village and, if approved, doing the 10-mile hike to the 100-foot waterfalls and back. If you’re not quite up for the daring jump into the falls, you can also swim in some of the pools at the top.
See the Yayoi Kusama Infinity Room
Permanently installed in the Contemporary Art Wing of the Phoenix Art Museum is revered artist Yayoi Kusama’s “Fireflies” exhibition. The eclectic artist was known for her dizzying polka dots and staged artwork that made a statement. This 25-square-foot “room” she designed in 2005 is not to be missed—it’s filled with 250 LED lights that make you feel like you’re floating in space.
Go Stargazing in Sedona
When you think of a desert town, you’re basically imagining Sedona, with its crazy canyons and red rocks for days. Try something a little different and go see the stars with Evening Sky Tours. Sedona actually has more than 300 clear days, so you’ll be able to see a ton of stars, galaxies, planets, and constellations. Because the company has high-tech telescopes, you may even be able to catch a glimpse of Saturn and its rings on certain days.
Sip Your Way Through the Verde Valley Wine Trail
Wine lovers, rejoice: You can taste your way through Northern Arizona, near Sedona. There are four distinct wineries on the Verde Valley Wine Trail, and you can do your own mini-tour using a trail map. If you want more of a guided experience, the pros at Wine Tours of Sedona will pick you up anywhere in the town and drive you to the wineries of your choice.
Climb Camelback Mountain
There is no shortage of outdoor excursions in Arizona, and hiking Camelback Mountain in Phoenix is certainly one of them. There are two trails to choose from—Echo Canyon and Cholla. If you want steep, go for Echo Canyon, and if you want length, pick Cholla. Make sure you keep an eye out for unique flora on your trip including saguaro cactus, ocotillo, and creosote bush. If you don’t want to do the trek alone, book a guided hike so you’re in the hands of an expert.
Shop at Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village
This charming Sedona shopping village is decorated in the style of Guadalajara. More than 50 shops and art galleries are nestled under the sycamore trees and elaborate archways. Once an artist community, it’s now a purveyor of artisanal goods in the area. If you work up an appetite, there’s no need to go far—the village has five gourmet restaurants right on the premises. (Try an Arizona take on chimichangas at El Rincon Restaurante Mexicano.)
Wander the Petrified Forest
A petrified forest sounds like something straight out of a fairy tale, but Petrified Forest National Park near Holbrook is the real deal. This attraction is about three-and-a-half hours outside of Phoenix, and you’ll get to see petrified logs spread out along the sparse desert. Inside the Petrified Forest is the Painted Desert, a series of badlands hills in gorgeous hues, ranging from red to green to yellow to black. If you venture there around 5 p.m., the colors will be on full display.
Attend the Waste Management Phoenix Open
This top-notch pro golf tournament, nicknamed the “Greatest Show on Grass,” is a pretty big deal, bringing in more than 650,000 attendees each year. Its 2018 dates are already set for January 29 through February 4, and to be honest, it’s basically the equivalent of a party with a little golf in the background (the best type of athletic event for non-sports fans). Make sure to put on your best dress or polo and shorts—the weather is usually gorgeous this time of year. Plus, keep an eye out for a musical performance (Rascal Flatts played here in 2016).
See a Real-Life Ghost Town at Jerome
We’ve already talked about some of the top ghost towns, and here’s one more to add to the list: Jerome, Arizona. This abandoned mining town is a quick day trip from Sedona or Phoenix, and it’s perched on top of a mountain overlooking the desert. Here you’ll find unique sights like the Sliding Jail, which used to sit on a clay slick but now lies 2,500 feet from the original location, and the Bartlett Hotel, which is now in ruins.
Catch a Glimpse of the Saguaro Cactus
There’s no better place to get a great view of the cacti that are basically the state icon than at Saguaro National Park, near Tucson. These cacti are native to only certain spots in the States, and this is one of them. You can go for a relaxing or intense hike or even go backcountry camping if you’re on the more adventurous side.
Stay on a Houseboat on Lake Powell
Lake Powell, the second-biggest man-made lake in the States, is a popular vacation spot located smack-dab in the middle of Utah and Arizona. One of the best things to do is rent a luxury houseboat for a few days to get the real experience—which includes walking on rose-colored sand, grilling out, doing any and all water sports, and even night fishing. If you have time, it’s worth taking a boat tour to Rainbow Bridge, a gorgeous rock arch that rivals the others you’ll see on your trip.