We’ll look at the best cities, national parks, and outdoor attractions, and then finish with a special extras section leaving you with plenty of inspiration for your upcoming trip to Arizona.
Top places to visit in Arizona
This guide is split into specific sections, as there are many different types of places to visit in Arizona. so let’s get started.
Best cities to visit in Arizona
Arizona isn’t all desert and canyons; the state has lots of cities that deserve visiting. The following cities are some of the best places to visit in Arizona.
Phoenix is the sunny state capital of Arizona. Located in central Arizona, Phoenix is surrounded by mountains and desert landscapes. Its location seems unlikely for a city, with skyscrapers and luxury hotels shooting up from what (before 1881) was once sand and dust. However, its incongruous allure is all part of Phoenix’s charm.
Phoenix is the best place to visit in Arizona for a big-city experience. The city is bursting with creativity and attractions, including more art galleries than you could see in a whole week.
2. Lake Havasu City
If Phoenix is best for a big-city-feel, Lake Havasu City is best for the opposite. The tiny city sits next to Lake Havasu, which is fed by the Colorado River and is a hot spot for watersports and relaxation.
Nature lovers and those looking for a quiet base in Arizona will love Lake Havasu. The city has a slow pace, and its lakeside location is a pleasant change from Arizona’s dry desert landscape. There are plenty of outdoor activities and attractions, including Lake Havasu State Park and London Bridge. London Bridge is an architectural wonder transported from London in the 1970s and there is a distinct English feel in the London Village.
You can spend your days fishing, enjoying the footpaths and green space around the city, or swimming and boating on the lake. Don’t forget to check out the Lake Havasu Lighthouses that span the shoreline..
Tucson is Arizona’s second-largest city and is full of cultural diversity and things to do. If you want a different Arizona experience, we recommend visiting Tucson.
Tucson sits just above the US-Mexican border in Southern Arizona. Thanks to its location, the city has a lot of Mexican influence. One of the top places to visit San Xavier del Bac is a Spanish Catholic Mission. This national historic landmark was founded in 1692 and welcomes more than 200,000 visitors per year. The church is considered the finest Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States.
You’ll find many new experiences and immersion opportunities, from the city’s cuisine to its cultures. You must try some Mexican cuisine while visiting.
Tucson is also home to the University of Arizona. As a university city, visitors can enjoy an extra sociable, friendly atmosphere – especially in the city center. While, just outside the city center, you’ll find attractions like Saguaro National Park and Arizona Sonora Desert Museum (more on them later). Tucson is a fun, fresh city to visit in Arizona. For an introduction to Southern Arizona, don’t look no further.
Flagstaff is a small city in Northern Arizona and is also known as the gateway to the San Francisco Peaks and the Grand Canyon. Flagstaff is one of the best places to visit in Arizona if you want to be centrally located amongst most of the state’s natural attractions.
You can spend your days excitedly exploring all the nearby attractions. Alternatively, stay in Flagstaff for the day and head to the city’s historic downtown. You’ll find a brewery trail, excellent restaurants, and the Flagstaff Visitor Center. Remember to bring a camera as well, as you’ll stumble across plenty of street art and great photo spots.
Flagstaff is surrounded by both desert and forest. Coconino National Forest envelops the city and is the largest Ponderosa Pine Forest in the world. For a city where you can easily take a day trip into nature, Flagstaff is an ideal place to visit in Northern Arizona. Check out our guide on the best cabins in Flagstaff for accommodation inspiration.
Best National Parks to Visit in Arizona
5. Saguaro National Park
The park is most known for its cacti. Indeed, in this national park, you’ll find some of the largest saguaro cacti in the US. Some of the cacti live up to 200 years old and grow at a very slow rate. The national park feels like an old American West movie scene and has over 90,000 acres for you to explore.
Whether you choose a scenic drive or hike, booking a rental car to visit Saguaro National Park is the easiest option. Valley View Overlook Trail is a nice short walk that should take you around 20 minutes to complete, while hiking to Signal Hill Petroglyphs is a must for anyone interested in ancient art and civilizations.
6. Petrified Forest National Park
If the Petrified Forest National Park sounds fantastic, it’s because it is. However, if you arrive expecting a lush forest full of beautiful, interesting trees, you’ll be shocked. The national park is a barren landscape, full of fossils and petrified, sliced tree trunks.
The petrified wood is scattered across the national park, and you can drive the length of the park in around an hour – stopping at whatever spot catches your eye. Some not to miss places include Rainbow Forest Museum, the Crystal Forest hike, and the Blue Mesa hike.
Wondering how this natural phenomenon occurs? Petrification of trees takes place when trees have been buried underground without oxygen for thousands of years. Over time, the decaying wood becomes mineralized and turns into fossilized stone, creating an exact replica of the original form, just in a different material.
For a unique natural experience, Petrified Forest National Park is one of the best places to visit in Arizona. We recommend choosing this national park for anyone intrigued by natural ‘mysteries’ and wanting a memorable experience in Arizona.
7. Grand Canyon National Park
South Rim and North Rim are the most popular areas to explore the Grand Canyon on foot. The North Rim is the lesser seen side of the Grand Canyon and is best for those who want a quieter place to experience it. South Rim is much busier and is packed with different hiking trails.
A popular hiking route is the Bright Angel Trail. The trail is well-maintained and relatively easy. It follows a side canyon, past cliff faces, and various switchbacks, before finishing at Plateau Point. Plateau Point has stunning views of the canyon and the park’s scenery.
Of course, you can always splurge on a helicopter ride instead. Many tourists opt to view the canyon from above, which is one of the most exhilarating things to do in Arizona.
8. Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Canyon de Chelly National Monument is a national park in Northeastern Arizona. It is located in Navajo Nation and is exceptionally close to the Arizona-New Mexico border. For those who want to experience nature in the north, it is easily one of the best places to visit in Arizona.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument covers over 80,000 acres and is home to the Spider Rock spire. The spire is a 700-foot-high sandstone rock. Spider Rock spire gained its shape by gradual erosion over time, and experts believe it was once connected to a ridge. Nowadays, it makes an unusual natural attraction and a great photograph.
You can drop by the Canyon de Chelly Visitor Center for expert local guidance on things to see and do. However, you should definitely make sure to try a hiking trail or scenic drive. You can also explore the canyon on horseback if you want a more exciting experience.
Best Outdoor Attractions
After exploring the best national parks and cities, let’s look at Arizona’s largest category – its outdoor attractions.
Arizona is perfect if you love being outdoors and experiencing natural attractions. The state is full of things to see and do outdoors, including visiting the National Monument, Antelope Canyon, and Monument Valley. Ready to be inspired? Let’s take a look.
9. Antelope Canyon
Antelope Canyon is a national treasure, not just an item on a list of the state’s best places to visit. The wave-like sandstone walls of the slot canyon are famous on social media and in travel magazines. Photographers and general tourists alike flock to the canyon to capture the magical scenery and walk along the canyon floor.
Upper Antelope Canyon is the easiest to hike but is darker, while Lower Antelope Canyon is narrower but much lighter. Decide which option best suits you, and then either book online or pay a visit to Antelope Canyon Visitor Center.
10. Monument Valley
Monument Valley is actually located along the Arizona-Utah border. If you want to visit easily, you’ll have to base yourself in a northern city like Flagstaff. The valley is one of the most famous landscapes in the US and easily one of the best places to visit in Arizona.
The valley is over 90,000 acres and full of hiking trails and spectacular rock formations. It is most known for its towering sandstone buttes, which you can experience on scenic drives or on hiking trails. Don’t miss Forest Gump Point, the iconic viewpoint used in famous movies and is an important filming location in cinematic history.
The valley is a great place to cut through if you are planning an Arizona road trip. There are many things to see while driving through the valley, and the scenery is perfect for memorable road tripping.
11. Lake Powell
If you are heading up to the Arizona-Utah border, it is well worth detouring to Lake Powell. The lake is a stunning artificial body of water situated between Monument Valley and Grand Canyon National Park. It is a beautiful place to visit in Arizona. The lake’s bright blue water and orange sandstone surroundings cut a picture-perfect scene.
The lake is fed by the Colorado River and covers over 2,000 miles of shoreline. The Rainbow Bridge National Monument is a significant tourist attraction on the lake, and the vast stone arc is the largest natural bridge in the world. It is an excellent attraction to combine with enjoying the lake itself.
12. Montezuma Castle National Monument
Fascinated by ancient culture and archaeological sites of inhabitation? Montezuma Castle National Monument is the place to visit. The site is home to several cliffside dwellings, built and lived in by Indigenous People around 1100 to 1425 AD.
Sadly, access inside the dwellings has now been prohibited in an understandable attempt to protect the site from excessive damage. However, visitors can take a virtual tour inside the houses. They look incredible from the outside, and you can enjoy numerous hiking trails for different views.
13. Horseshoe Bend
Horseshoe Bend is the postcard image of the Colorado River. It is definitely one of the best places to visit in Arizona. As you may have guessed, the curve is shaped like a horseshoe, and you’ll find a fantastic viewpoint where you can appreciate the unique scenery up close. Make sure to pack a camera if you’ve got one, as Horseshoe Bend is one of the most popular sights in the US.
Reaching the viewpoint is relatively easy and is just a 1.3-mile round hike. Horseshoe Bend is best visited during the early morning or late afternoon though, as there is very little shade and Arizona gets dangerously hot in summer.
14. Desert Botanical Garden
We spoke about the Desert Botanical Garden when discussing Phoenix. The garden is located in Papago Park, in the center of Arizona’s capital city. However, the Desert Botanical Garden is worthy of a spot on our list in its own right. We highly recommend visiting even if you just fly into Phoenix and head straight out of the city after (but seriously, at least give the city a day or two).
Why is the Desert Botanical Garden so spectacular? The 150-acre garden has over 50,000 desert plants and is the ideal place to visit for a convenient desert experience. The botanical garden is an easy and fun alternative for those who don’t have time to visit major desert locations like Saguaro National Park.
Phoenix’s botanical garden is a fantastic place to visit in Arizona. The garden is a great compromise option if you still want to experience the desert landscape and characteristic cacti and flora.
15. Glen Canyon Dam
Glen Canyon Dam is situated in Glen Canyon National Recreation Park, a one million-acre reserve encompassing biking trails, hiking trails, and Lake Powell.
Planning a trip to Glen Canyon National Recreation Park to visit Lake Powell? We recommend taking a detour to visit the Glen Canyon Dam. The dam is a hydroelectric power plant and has become an iconic attraction along the Colorado River.
Visitors can take boat tours to view Glen Canyon Dam up close or even fly over the dam with a flight experience. The 710-foot infrastructure is incredible from a distance and even more impressive up close. Of course, to save a bit of money, you can always walk across Glen Canyon Dam Bridge, where you’ll still have great views over the dam.
16. Lake Mead
Lake Mead is another impressive artificial attraction. The lake has the highest water capacity of any US reservoir and sits on the Nevada-Arizona border. If you love water activities and lakeside living, Lake Mead is one of the best places to visit in Arizona to unwind and relax.
We recommend allowing time to take a Lake Mead cruise, as the contrast between desert and an oasis-like body of water is striking and best experienced from the water itself. You can also fish, and boat on the lake. The desert mountains are the perfect places for scenic drives and biking; however, it will be hard to draw yourself away from the refreshing lake that they surround.
17. Coyote Buttes
Do you love unique and exciting landscapes? If so, Coyote Buttes are one of the best places to visit in Arizona.
The Buttes are located in Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness. A little like Antelope Canyon, the landscape features wave-like rock patterns. But instead of being in a canyon, you can experience the waves out in the open, amongst towering buttes. The landscape is fascinating and is a bit like walking through a maze of natural skatepark ramps.
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness is a great spot to visit in Arizona. But, if you are visiting, prioritize a visit to the Buttes. Paria has over 100,000 acres of protected lands, but the Coyote Buttes are the most exciting part to see.
18. Hoover Dam
Once the tallest dam in the world, the Hoover Dam has a nostalgic kind of power. While it no longer holds that grand title, it is still one of Arizona’s best places to visit. Visitors quickly appreciate its power and strength. It is said that the dam could withstand the force of Niagara Falls – which gives you an excellent perspective on how strong it is.
You can view the Hoover Dam from afar or drop by the Hoover Dam Visitors Center to book a guided tour. Tours typically include access to the Hoover Dam tunnels, an elevator ride to the top, and special access to functional rooms throughout the building.
If you are interested in architecture or just want to see a national historic landmark up close, the dam is great to visit. It is also combined with a trip to Las Vegas, as the dam sits on the Nevada-Arizona border.
19. Jerome State Historic Park
Fancy indulging in a bit of history? Jerome State Historic Park is a fantastic place to visit in Arizona. The state park has a couple of acres surrounding Douglas Mansion, which has been transformed into a quirky mining museum.
Visitors can wander through two floors of informative exhibits plus outdoor gardens. The museum balances general mining stories and the local town’s history. You can learn about region-specific minerals and mining processes through various mediums, including cinematic videos.
20. the Superstition Mountains
Legends of gold have kept mining companies and independent hunters searching the mountains for years. Many hunters have hit the jackpot and found lots of riches. You can join the crowds or, alternatively, find non-gold-related entertainment in the mountains.
You can visit the Superstition Mountains Museum, explore the surrounding Tonto National Forest, or hike along one of the various trails. These mountains are one of the best places to visit in Arizona for adventure.
More Places to Visit in Arizona
These destinations are special additions to our guide on the best places to visit in Arizona. Whether they are a museum or sacred tribal lands, they don’t fit into the outdoor tourist attraction category. So, here is a category of their own.
Here is our final subsection, our special list of more places to visit in Arizona.
22. Chapel of the Holy Cross
The Chapel of the Holy Cross is one of the most unique places to visit in Arizona, and there’s no way we couldn’t add this unique Catholic church to our list.
While we aren’t placing the church in our outdoor attraction category, its exterior is a beautiful sight. The church is wedged between two sandstone buttes and has large, plain glass windows that give it a modern, chic design. The Chapel of the Holy Cross is not your typical church.
You can enter the church to look around or join a service if you wish. The church is near Sedona and plenty of other attractions, so it isn’t too much of a detour to make.
23. Arizona Sonora Desert Museum
The museum is a bit of everything – from natural history museum to a zoo and a botanical garden. Arizona Sonora Desert Museum covers 98 acres and includes an aquarium section, live animal exhibits, plus flora displays in the botanical garden section. There is also an art gallery for visitors to enjoy.
24. Little Colorado River Navajo Tribal Park
Little Colorado River Navajo Tribal Park is another of the best places to visit in Arizona to add to your list. The park is located just north of Flagstaff. It is easily combined with a visit to Lake Powell or Monument Valley.
The park’s main highlight is the gorge overlook, where you’ll get the chance to admire the sheer drop of a lesser visited canyon. Be wary of where you are stepping as there is little to no barrier protection, and the park isn’t as commercialized as others in Arizona. Many find it a peaceful alternative to busier canyons – like the Grand and Antelope Canyons.
If you are driving from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, or Monument Valley, make sure to stop at Little Colorado River Navajo Tribal Park. The gorge outlook is perfectly positioned to slot into even the busiest day trips.
25. Gold King Mine Museum and Ghost Town
Gold King Mine Museum and Ghost Town is by far the quirkiest place on our list. The property is set up as an Old West mining camp and is designed to give you an insight into what the life of a miner was like.
You’ll be fully immersed with old vintage vehicles and mining equipment on display. Car enthusiasts will especially love this museum, and we recommend visiting if you are interested in old cars and vehicles. The variety is impressive even if you know nothing about cars.
It isn’t just all old relics, though; there are working areas like a sawmill and blacksmith’s shop to visit as well. Gold King is designed to be a step back in time – fully immersing visitors in the old mining lifestyle.
You can expect to spend at least a couple of hours learning, laughing, and admiring your way around the museum and ghost town. It is like its own little world and a fun yet historically informative thing to do in Arizona.
26. Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway
Looking for a scenic drive? Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway is an incredible, relatively short scenic drive that you can enjoy from Tucson. Short enough to comfortably squeeze into a day yet long enough to provide diverse scenes and attractions, this scenic byway is a great place to drive.
You won’t find the byway marked on a map. However, it is the only paved road leading to Mount Lemmon’s top. The road is called Mt Lemmon Highway and starts from the outskirts of Tucson. Altogether, the route is approximately 60 miles long and takes three to four hours to complete – plus extra time to allow for stops.
Speaking of stops, we recommend stopping at Babad Do’ag Scenic Overlook, Molino Canyon Vista, Thimble Peak Vista, Windy Point Vista, and Geology Vista Point. There are quite literally dozens of hiking trails and trailheads along the highway as well. You can easily park up and take a detour on foot.
Allow extra time again once you reach Mount Lemmon’s peak. There is Mt Lemmon Ski Valley, Mt Lemmon Sky Observatory, and a Fire Lookout Station to visit. Mount Lemmon has a small town at the mountain top too, where you can grab refreshments and do some light shopping.
The ‘Grand Canyon State’ is packed with wonderful activities and tourist destinations. Visiting Arizona is guaranteed to be memorable, and you’ll stay well entertained throughout your stay. The state has so much to offer, whether you want a typical desert experience, a quirky tourist attraction, or a cultural immersion.
Have a fantastic trip. We hope you manage to experience at least a couple of these best places to visit in Arizona.
Photo Credit: Chapel of the Holy Cross