Driving through Arizona allows you to enjoy unspoiled desert landscapes, and it’s certainly an experience to remember. However, if you pass through the state, you should try to give extra time for your journey, allowing you to stop and see some of the sights. Here are a few places in Arizona you just can’t miss.
Tucson is one of Arizona’s underrated cities. While people will often stop for a couple of days in Phoenix, they may not think there’s as much to do in Tucson; but, it’s actually a beautiful city with plenty going for it.
If you want to learn about Arizona’s history, visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which is a fun interactive outdoor place with a zoo and walking trails. Or you can see some classic Spanish colonial architecture at the Mission San Xavier del Bac. It’s also worth considering to rent an RV in Tucson, as this will allow you to explore the large national parks on the outskirts of the city. For example, there’s the Saguaro National Park which has huge cacti and ancient sites to explore.
The Grand Canyon
Most of the Grand Canyon is found within Arizona, so if you’re passing through the state, you have to see more of this wonder of the world. Hopi Point is one of the most popular places to take in the view of the Grand Canyon. On clear days you can see for nearly 20 miles, but there are plenty of places you can stop and see the impressive red rock formations. There are loads of hiking trails, not to mention activities from horse riding to helicopter rides, so try to make your stop at the Grand Canyon an overnight one if possible. If you stay in a nearby RV park, you can see the canyon at sunset or sunrise without the crowds.
If the Grand Canyon hasn’t satisfied your craving for natural beauty, then Sedona is another part of Arizona that’s a must see. Sedona is famous for its bright red mountains and buttes, so there’s spectacular desert scenery to explore. The city has a relaxed, arty vibe, with artisanal shops and charming cafés, and there are great hikes you can enjoy from downtown or the outskirts of the city. Even the airport is picturesque, with a scenic lookout spot where you can see across the desert landscape for miles.
Fort Apache Indian Reservation
Covering a vast area of northeast Arizona, this reservation is made up of desert land and lush pine trees, making it a beautiful place to explore and learn about the Native Americans. One of the highlights of your visit will no doubt be the Fort Apache Historic Park, which has twenty recreated historic buildings, where you can walk around and see how people lived. There are also ancient ruins where you can see Native American petroglyphs, and in the gift shop, you can buy handcrafted items from tribe members.
The state’s capital of Phoenix also feels close to nature, even though it has a large, bustling downtown area. It’s likely because of its close proximity to the mountains and the pretty sandstone buildings that line the streets. Phoenix has some great parks, zoos, botanical gardens and more, and on the weekends, you’ll find many residents heading for the mountains for epic hikes to enjoy the scenery.
Some popular activities to try in Phoenix include:
- Hot air ballooning – look up in the sky and you’ll often see tourists in hot air balloons – it’s a great way to see the city and mountains
- Jeep/UTV tours – not an experienced hiker? You can still enjoy going deep into the desert in an off-road vehicle, and it’s a lot less tiring than walking
- Hiking – there are a huge number of trails, some departing from downtown and others just a short drive away
- Museums – from the Musical Instrument Museum, to the Heard Museum which teaches you the history of Native American life, Phoenix is full of interesting museums
- Shopping – on a hot day, head to one of the air-conditioned malls for a wander, or enjoy boutique shopping downtown
If you find yourself close to the border of Utah, you should try to spend time visiting Monument Valley, an area famous for its large sandstone buttes and red desert sands. There is a 17-mile loop which you can drive with a regular car — you don’t need a 4X4 — but to see more of the park you’ll need to book an organized tour, which gives you access to places off the beaten track.
The Hoover Dam is another one of the world’s wonders that has to be seen to be believed. If you are passing through Arizona on your way into Nevada, then it’s an essential stop. You can learn about how the dam was built during the Great Depression without modern machinery, and you can see the dam in action. While you must pay for parking, crossing the dam is free, and it’s good for a quick stop when you are tired of driving.
Ever wanted to visit a ghost town? Jerome used to be a mining town, but now large parts of it lay in ruins. It still has a few residents, plus some cute shops and historic buildings, and it’s a popular day trip from Phoenix, Sedona and other cities. It’s interesting to explore this once booming town and learn about the old west, and you can still see lots of the old shops, bars and homes, now in ruin, which gives it a slightly spooky atmosphere.
When you think of Arizona, you no doubt picture vast areas of desert, but there’s a surprising number of things to do in the state. Outdoorsy activities such as hiking and off-roading are at the top of the list, but there are also cultural cities, national parks, mountains and much more. Don’t just drive through Arizona and skip these sights, make sure you have a few days to explore and see more of this fascinating state.