Although most famed for its desert landscapes, Arizona is one of America’s most diverse and geologically interesting states. The Southwestern US state is most famed as the home of the Grand Canyon, digging a mile deep into the rocky desert landscape. But, as you dig deeper into Arizona, you’ll marvel at everything from whitewater rivers to crystal-clear lakes shaded by ponderosa pine to dramatic snow-capped mountains.
Between Arizona’s diverse and distinct landscapes lie some of the most intriguing urban destinations in the United States. Road-trippers will love crankin’ the tunes along Historic Route 66, stopping in the adventurous pine-shaded mountain town of Flagstaff. Or dig into desert city charms at top urban destinations like the state capital of Phoenix, historic Scottsdale, colorful Tucson, or the outdoor paradise of Sedona.
Ready to experience the Grand Canyon State to its fullest? Plan the ultimate itinerary with this quick & easy Arizona travel guide, including where to go, what to do, when to visit, and how to get there!
Where to go in Arizona
Most Arizona itineraries start with a jaunt in Phoenix. The state capital and largest city, Phoenix is an urban oasis smack-dab in the middle of the Sonoran Desert. From high-end shopping to world-class spas & resorts, the desert city has become one of the top travel destinations in the US, especially among travelers looking to escape cold northern winters.
Seeking out urban charms? Phoenix has them in spades. Browse boutique shops and art galleries in Downtown Phoenix, before ducking into a trendy restaurant for a delicious farm-to-table meal and craft cocktail. End the evening with a relaxing massage and a night at one of the city’s many high-end hotels.
Or, if outdoor adventure is more your jam, escape to the outskirts of Phoenix. Discover miles of hiking trails, traversing its unique desert landscapes. To add a dash of adrenaline to the mix, pursue more high-octane pursuits by booking yourself onto a thrilling ATV ride through the Sonoran Desert.
Ready to plan your Phoenix trip? Get started with these travel resources…
While it’s not quite (yet) a household name among travelers like Phoenix, Sedona is undoubtedly one of the most stunning destinations in the US Southwest. Although home to only 10,000 people, the desert town has become a tourist hotspot, especially among the spiritually-included, thanks to its geomagnetic energy “vortexes.”
Even if you’re not looking to balance your chi, Sedona is a fantastic spot for a relaxing Arizona desert vacation. Its spiritual reputation and dramatic landscapes have long attracted artists and creative types. Browse the eclectic art galleries in Uptown Sedona. Or indulge in the town’s culinary creativity with a stop at one of Sedona’s chic & sophisticated restaurants.
Looking to suck in a little fresh air? The Sedona area offers hikers more than a hundred hiking trails crisscrossing its unique desert landscapes. Top hiking spots around Sedona include Red Rock State Park and Slide Rock State Park.
Or, for a more relaxing outdoor activity, sip on a glass of wine at one of the Verde Valley’s many wineries to a backdrop of stunning high-desert views.
Ready to plan your Sedona trip? Get started with these travel resources…
Grand Canyon National Park
If you’re visiting Arizona, you simply can’t leave without checking out Grand Canyon National Park. The UNESCO World Heritage Site stretches across over 1.2 million acres, protecting its namesake canyon among other unique landscape formations, from red rocks to sheer cliffs piercing the desert sky.
The highlight of the national park is, of course, the Grand Canyon itself. Carved out by the mighty Colorado River over millions of years, the Grand Canyon measures a mile deep and 10 miles wide at its grandest. No matter where you view this natural wonder—whether at Mather Point or Toroweap Overlook—it’ll quickly become one of the highlights of your Arizona road trip.
Want a more immersive Grand Canyon experience? Opt for a mule ride along the South Rim Trail or a white-water rafting trip on the Colorado River. Or, if you’ve got a little more cash to spare, marvel at the Grand Canyon from above on an epic helicopter tour.
Few cities define the Southwest better than Tucson, the state’s second-largest city. Located in southern Arizona, Tucson showcases a mix of influences, ranging between Spanish colonial and Mexican to Native American and Old West. On the city’s streets, all collide to present a unique palette of colors and flavors unlike any other in the United States.
Start digging into Tucson’s cultural scene at one of its many museums. Dip into local Native history at the Arizona State Museum, featuring a massive collection of Native American artifacts. Or relive Spanish colonial history at the Mission San Xavier del Bac, just outside the city center.
Nature lovers will find plenty around Tucson to keep them busy, too. Marvel at several unique desert habitats at the open-air Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, home to 230 animal species and over a thousand plant species. Or simply hit the hiking trails at Saguaro National Park, one of the state’s most popular outdoor escapes.
Ready to plan your Tucson trip? Get started with these travel resources…
Looking for a quieter urban alternative to Phoenix? Escape just west of the capital to the beautiful city of Scottsdale. One of the poshest travel destinations in the Southwest, Scottsdale bursts with luxury, with world-class spas, 5-star hotels & resorts, high-end boutiques, trendy restaurants, and lush golf courses all competing for your cash.
Not interested in getting pampered? There’s plenty more to keep you entertained in Scottsdale. Wander around Scottsdale’s Old Town, often dubbed “The West’s Most Western Town.” Architecture fans will also love checking out Taliesin West, the winter estate of world-famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Or, for a more active Scottsdale visit, venture into the Sonoran Desert to tackle the desert city’s top hiking trails, including Pinnacle Peak and the McDowell Sonora Preserve.
Ready to plan your Scottsdale trip? Get started with these travel resources…
One of the most famous stops along the legendary Route 66, Flagstaff has long been a favorite for road-trippers. And even if you’re not roarin’ along this classic American road-trip route, this lovely Arizona mountain town is well worth a quick stop.
Flagstaff is most well-known as the gateway to Grand Canyon National Park. But there’s plenty more for outdoor adventurers around than tackling the canyon.
Dig into Arizona’s ancient history with a visit to Walnut Canyon National Monument and Wupatki National Monument. Or, if you’re visiting in winter, bring along your skis and carve the pistes at the Arizona Snowbowl, one of the country’s most surprising ski destinations.
For a dash of culture, traipse around downtown Flagstaff, soaking up its art galleries, craft breweries, and hip restaurant scene. Or enjoy exploring Flagstaff’s museums, including the Museum of Northern Arizona and Riordan Mansion State Historic Park.
If you’re into marveling at the cosmos, also be sure to carve out time in your Flagstaff itinerary to visit the historic Lowell Observatory. Opened in 1894, the observatory offers picture-perfect views of the stars over “Dark Sky City.”
Ready to plan your Flagstaff trip? Get started with these travel resources…
Other destinations in Arizona
- Petrified Forest National Park
- Monument Valley
- Antelope Canyon
- Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
- Lake Powell
- Lake Havasu
When to visit Arizona
The best time to visit Arizona is during the spring and fall months. In spring and fall, the temperatures in Arizona are at their best, avoiding the peaks of summer and the cooler winter weather.
The tourist high season in Arizona runs between October and May. During these months, be sure to book your accommodations well ahead. Expect to pay higher prices, particularly in popular winter destinations like Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tucson.
Overall, Arizona is a year-round travel destination. No matter what time of year you choose to visit, you’ll find suitable destinations for your itinerary.
In winter, stick to the desert areas in the south; in summer, you’ll want to head for the hills in northern Arizona to escape the brunt of the summer desert heat.
How to get to Arizona
Arizona is home to nine commercial airports, including four international airports. Most visitors to Arizona enter the state via Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX). The airport serves as a hub, base, and focus city for several major airlines, including:
- American Airlines
- American Eagle
- Frontier Airlines
- Southwest Airlines
Other popular air gateways in Arizona include Tucson International Airport (TUS), Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport (AZA), and Grand Canyon National Park Airport (GCN).
- Los Angeles, CA, to Phoenix (5h17m)
- San Diego, CA, to Phoenix (5h6m)
- Las Vegas, NV, to Flagstaff (3h41m)
- Albuquerque, NM, to Flagstaff (4h43m)
- Las Cruces, NM, to Tucson (4h2m)
- Salt Lake City, UT, to Flagstaff (8h)