Arizona is one of the most beautiful states, and I’m not just saying that because I live here. There is a certain kind of beauty that this state has to offer that I haven’t been able to find anywhere else. From cactus covered desert to ponderosa pine forest, I’d say Arizona just about has it all. The best way to see this beautiful state is by car, and it’s not so bad considering its only about a 6 1/2 hour drive from top to bottom. I’ve road tripped up the spine of Arizona more than a few times, and I hope this inspires you to do the same, whether you live in Arizona or are considering visiting. There’s a ton of activities/things to see that I won’t be able to list here, so here’s just some of my personal favorites along the drive:
My version of this magical road trip always begins in Tucson, AZ because, well, that’s were I hang my hat.
First stop: Saguaro National Park: Tucson, AZ
If you aren’t a Southwest (or even Arizona native) I can guarantee you that you’ve never seen this many saguaros in one place probably ever. Experiencing this national park is as easy as driving right through it, but I bet you’ll be tempted to park the car along the way and get out to experience some of the most authentic and beautiful desert this country has to offer.
Here’s a shot I got one day after a quick walk from my car. It’s not uncommon to venture off the beaten path, but make sure to watch where you walk and listen for rattlesnakes. They’re no joke!
While you’re at it, you might as well stop in at the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum. Definitely a great stop if you want to know more about the region and are a total museum junkie.
Stop 2: Phoenix, AZ
There is so much fun stuff to do in this city, it’s hard to name it all. If you didn’t go to the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum (or even if you did) I’d recommend checking out the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. Museums are a great way to beat the summer heat, so we’ve got loads of them. If you aren’t into museums and want something more active, Camelback Mountain is a really popular hike in the Phoenix area! You’re sure to get some beautiful views at the top, certainly worth the sweat you’ll work up in the AZ heat. On your way out of the city grab yourself a coffee from Dutch Bros! You’ll leave the place with self-esteem significantly higher than it was before you went through their drive thru.
Stop 3: Sedona, AZ
Sedona is one of the most beautiful places ~on earth~ and I will take that statement to my grave. Sedona has so much to to and see; you could easily spend a week there every summer and never get tired of it (I actually did spend many family vacations in this sweet spot growing up, so trust me, I speak the truth). Because there is so much to do in Sedona, I recommend you find somewhere to stay here. It’s definitely not a cheap place to stay (shout out to all of the students out there) but it’s well worth it in my opinion. You can find a sweet spot with a view on Airbnb, the trusty Marriott, or many other “fancier” accommodations. It’s a town that is no stranger to tourism. Here are a few activities that I deem “must do’s” in Sedona:
Hiking Devil’s Bridge. Devil’s Bridge is one of the most iconic hikes in Arizona and it’s well worth the trek. Unless you have an off roading vehicle, you’ll have to walk to the trailhead. It’s a long walk there, but it’s beautiful the entire way and the hike doesn’t get “difficult” until you’re nearly to the bridge (the end). What’s cool about the hike is how respectful everyone is of each other’s pictures. There aren’t a ton of people on the bridge at a time – people will wait in line patiently until you get your photo – and you’ll probably buddy up with another group to take each other’s pictures. Here’s the picture that I got when I hiked Devil’s Bridge and unfortunately with my early iPhone model and the use of the zoom feature, its a crumby photo, but you’ll get the idea of the bridge + scenery.
If this hike doesn’t interest you, there’s tons and tons more in Sedona. Seriously, this place is full of em. Easy ones, hard ones, short ones, long ones. You’d be hard pressed to find a hiking trail that doesn’t make you blush.
Next is Slide Rock National Park or Grasshopper Point. I’ve spent many-a-days at these places and I can still say they’re a blast. In short, Slide Rock is a naturally occurring waterslide. There’s places to cliff dive, lay out and tan, and of course places to ride the slide. Grasshopper Point is similar, it just doesn’t have the slide part and in my opinion it’s a little more lowkey. You can hang a hammock in the trees, dip your toes in the cool water, or even cliff jump. Here’s what Slide Rock looks like, kind of like Arizona’s beach? Admission changes based on season, but expect to pay $8 ++ per car.
And this is Grasshopper Point.
Stop 4: Flagstaff, AZ
To get to Flagstaff, you’ll likely take the 89A which happens to be my favorite highway possibly ever (who has favorite highways? Me). I’ve driven down this road so many times that I’ve lost count, but there was one time when I drove down it in August that truly captivated my heart and, yes, I cried. The way the trees hug so tightly against the road and grew over top of it was so beautiful to me. I guess I’ve really exposed myself as a desert rat now, haven’t I?
Flagstaff is one of my favorite places because even though it’s in the same state that I call home, its so different than where I grew up and I appreciate every moment of the four hour drive north. First, you’ve got to get a cup of coffee from Macy’s. Whether you’re visiting in the summer or winter they’re a definite must-do.
For some reason, I always end up at the Flagstaff Goodwill. I always find the best things there, so if you’re big into thrifting I’d definitely recommend spending a little bit snooping around in there. Another great destination for shopping is the Old Town Shops. You can find some beautiful items in this little area along with funny novelty “Flagstaff” items. There’s a big area outside of the shops that oftentimes has performances and gatherings! If you’re looking for an outdoor activity, I’ve done my fair share of wildflower searching and hiking in this city, too. It’s not hard to find either. Flagstaff has a beautiful aspen forest that you can’t miss either.
As far as accommodations, I usually stay in Muds Park, which is just outside of Flagstaff. It’s just a short drive into the city and is the perfect little area full of A-frame cabins and open space. I’ve always used Airbnb when I’ve stayed in Flagstaff, I’d recommend you to do the same!
Stop 5: The Grand Canyon!
It isn’t an AZ road trip without the Grand Canyon. If you’ve been, you know the drill. It’s a giant hole in the ground, but you’ve gotta see it at least once. Admission to the park is $30 per car for a week’s pass for the north and south rims. You can come and go as you please so long as you have the pass displayed.
I know so many people that are way cooler than me who have hiked all the way to the bottom and back out several times and kayaked through the Colorado River. There’s a ton of tours available to get you to the bottom and back out again safely, or if you’re on the riskier side you could certainly do it on your own. There’s tons of camping sites to set up & even more great views of the canyon. She’s really beautiful at sunrise, and I know this because one night I slept in my car just to see it. Well worth the neck pain, let me tell you! Here she is at the peak of daylight:
Stop 6: Horseshoe Bend
Horseshoe Bend is located in Page, Arizona and is my favorite destination on this entire road trip…that’s why it’s saved for last. Also because its at the tip top of Arizona, but hey. I’ve actually taken a water tour through the river at the bottom of the bend and it was wicket to see it from the inside. The view from the top is what’s iconic, though. Here’s what it looks like at midday:
In the day light you can see all of the different colors in the water and the rocks (does anyone else see a face in the rock?!), but it does get ~very hot~ depending on the season you go. Sooo with that being said, I think horseshoe bend looks way better with the sunrise. The colors of the rock + the the natural pinks of a sunrise mix together to make one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen.
It is a little bit of a walk to get down there and it isn’t difficult getting there, but coming back is a little harder with it being uphill. Nothing You couldn’t handle though, I’m sure 🙂 It’s certainly worth the walk. I’ve spent hours of my life sitting at the edge of the surrounding cliffs, no seriously, like I’ve fallen asleep on the cliff before. I’ve loved every moment. Despite the mass amounts of tourists + their drones that flock to this spot every day, there’s a certain amount of peace that still exists when you look down into this structure. Being there at sunrise will definitely separate you from the rest of the crowd, but if you aren’t an early riser there are still places to sit and watch that are away from the big crowds.
I know I said Horseshoe Bend would be the last place, but I have two bonuses in Page, AZ!
- Lake Powell. Even if you don’t have a boat there is still a little beach that is nice to sit at and lay out, swim, etc. When I went the water wasn’t the cleanest but it was cool and felt really good against the harsh heat. The rock formations also look really cool against the water!
- Antelope Canyon. This is a bonus because I haven’t done it yet!!! The only way you can actually see the canyon is through a guided tour, and depending on the season it can be quite expensive. I will definitely update this post one day when I am able to do it, but for now I’ll just be a dreamer!
If this has inspired you to take a road trip in Arizona, let me know! Also, with the knowledge that these are just my favorite stops on the trip, and there are probably a few AZ natives reading this post, leave a comment with more suggestions with your favorite places to see in our great state!