An Arizona road trip is a journey to one of the most attraction-filled states of the American Southwest. Not only is it home to two of the nation’s most revered tourism destinations (the almighty Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam), it holds a wealth of majestic deserts, monumental rock formations, and ancient Native American sites. There’s more to the state than most can fit into one trip. But what’s to stop you from trying, right?
No Arizona road trip would be complete without mentioning Sedona. The picturesque town and region are located in red rock country, where the stone walls change hues with varying sunlight. Its weather conditions are famously mild with almost perpetually blue skies. Even in the winter, the region will normally snow but rarely storm. The town of Sedona is also a lavish resort, offering hotels, shopping areas, and other amenities.
One the area’s most popular nature sites is the Bell Rock trail, a backpacking trail that tours multiple intriguing rock formations. The Bell Rock and Spaceship Rock are both known to be ‘vortex sites,’ where visitors reportedly feel inexplicable feelings of beneficial energy and atmosphere. The sites can be tough to get to if you come at them obliquely from the path, so be sure to carry a reliable pack with enough compartments for everything you’ll need. If you’re not the outdoorsy type, Sedona is also a bustling town with vibrant shopping areas, restaurants, and art galleries. The town also hosts numerous cultural events, including jazz concerts, international film festivals, and much more.
2. Horseshoe Bend
One of the more unknown regions of the Grand Canyon (though that’s quickly changing!) is Horseshoe Bend. Any Arizona road trip has to include the GC, but this is a particularly stunning portion of the Colorado River. Here, the winds and waters have carved a natural horseshoe-like pattern into the rock, which dates back to the Jurassic period.
Visitors love the spot for the feeling of being ‘inside’ the Grand Canyon rather than just observing it from afar. Horseshoe Bend is also a viable camping spot, with nearby campgrounds that are rich in fishing and wild game. Careful on the way, though: the path has lots of loose sand in spots and can be a strenuous hike, so bring outdoors wear that maximize comfort and mobility.
3. Monument Valley Tribal Park
When people think ‘western movies,’ they’re probably picturing Monument Valley in their minds. The area is the classic western filming spot, perhaps most notable for Stagecoach, starring John Wayne. And it’s no surprise either: I’ve talked a lot about breathtaking rock formations in Arizona, but there is nothing like what you’ll find in Monument Valley.
Across the valley lie enormous red rock mesas like tabletops for giants. There are also thousand-foot towers of sandstone, casting shadows as far as you can see. Especially awe-inspiring are the lightning storms in Monument Valley. The flatlands allow you to see the spectacular flashes and hear the thunder from miles around. No joke, Monument Valley is what can distinguish an epic road trip to Arizona from a mediocre one. In addition to the natural landscape, the Valley is also in the middle of a Navajo reservation. Consequently, there are tons of opportunities to view Navajo arts and crafts, sample local cuisine, and pick up authentic souvenirs. A must visit for any Arizona road trip!
4. Antelope Canyon – Lower Canyon
You could call all of these locations photogenic, but Antelope Canyon maybe takes the cake. The site is beloved by photographers for its flowing passageways, carved by flashfloods running through the canyon. The ironic thing, though, is that the difficult lighting conditions of the canyon make well-balanced photos hard to get. The canyon can be pitch-black in the shadows, but with bright sunbeams reflecting off the canyon walls.
Antelope Canyon is divided into two regions: the Crack and the Corkscrew. The Crack is more accessible and offers more photographing opportunities of sunbeams. The Corkscrew, while still popular, is a bit more difficult to traverse. Even after the addition of ladders and stairways, it’s quite a journey down below the surface. Regardless, both locations draw tons of visitors. This was on top of our list for our Arizona road trip.
5. Grand Canyon – South Rim
Like we said, any Arizona road trip necessitates seeing the Grand Canyon. But if you haven’t heard, the Canyon is… rather large. So where should you set your destination? South Rim is likely your best bet. For one, the South Rim offers a different type of spectacle depending on the season. Spring and Fall in the South Rim sees the canyons in full bloom with beautiful wildflowers and the yellowing leaves of the Aspen trees.
In wintertime, the canyon is dusted over with pristine snow, an incredible contrast to the red-glowy mental image we normally have of the Grand Canyon. South Rim is also the most well-developed region along the Grand Canyon, with its own airport, hotels, shops, an IMAX theater (for some reason), ATMs, and an RV park. You certainly don’t have to rough it at the Grand Canyon if you don’t want to.
There are, of course, numerous other sights to see in Arizona, so let us know your favorites, and happy tripping!