10 Ways to Enjoy the Great Outdoors in Arizona

Arizona’s Parks, Recreation, and Natural History

    Arizona is known for its wild rivers, long range mountains, and the flat dry lands where the cool, dry breezes blow. This state is where the nation’s famous landmark, the Grand Canyon, can be found, sprawled across the north of the state. Aside from being a haven for adventure seekers and wealthy retirees, Arizona has an ideal healing environment for hay fever sufferers.

    This state is also a breeding ground for modern architecture that blends harmoniously with the modern desert lifestyle. Moreover, as one of the Old West counties, Arizona’s diverse culture was a by-product of the European settlers, the Navajo natives, the indigenous Mexicans and the new exodus from the California Gold Rush era. With its mix of rural Western charm and natural wonders, here are the top 10 destinations to fulfil your Southwestern experience in Arizona.

    1

    Explore the Grand Canyon National Park

    Experience the complex beauty of the South Rim abyss

    The Grand Canyon covers 1,900 square miles and has its own exclusive zip code and address called the Grand Canyon Village. Although there are so many ways to access it, the most popular area is the South Rim, Arizona, where the scenic Colorado River runs through. Visitors are encouraged to spend a few nights in the area, as there are too many spectacular sites to complete in one day.

    The South Rim has 3 main zones with different exhibit buildings and quite a few trails to choose. There’s the Bright Angel Trail at 9 miles, South Kaibab at 3 miles, as well as Rim Trail, Hermit Trail and Grandview Trail. If you don’t feel like walking, a brief 1-mile trail called the Desert View from the parking lot will get you to the top with amazing panorama views of the Painted Desert and the Colorado River.

    Phone: +1 928-638-7888

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    2

    Eat and shop at the Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village

    Coffee and culture in Sedona

    Right in the middle of Arizona, Sedona is a small town that was once a Native American settlement. The artisan village is called the Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village. Pronounced, “til-locky-pocky” this market is an outdoor plaza with gardens, courtyards and fountains, inspired by the bustling Mexican villages.

    There are more than 50 shops where you can find Southwestern art, weavings, blown glass, stone jewellery and wood carvings. The wind garden is filled with echoing wind chime sculptures, kinetic art pieces and whimsical installations. Stop for brunch at the Pumphouse Station for contemporary eats in a cosy shack.

    Location: Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village, 336 AZ-179, Sedona, AZ 86336, USA

    Phone: +1 928-282-4838

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    photo by Graeme Maclean (CC BY 2.0) modified

    3

    Drift along the turquoise waters of Antelope Canyon

    Rafting at Lake Powell and Horseshoe Bend

    Lake Powell area is home to the famous Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend and the Glen Canyon Dam, all in the vicinity of 20 miles radius. The lake is 186 miles long and cuts through Utah and Arizona. The Lower Antelope is known for the stunning cave, the Lion’s Den, with high walls of Navajo sandstones in red and orange swirls. Because if its vastness, there is no right or wrong way to enjoy this area. To get to horseshoe bend, south of the dam, you can take a boat tour down south, or drive straight to the Horseshoe Bend parking lot and just marvel at the view over the cliff.

    For a day at Lake Powell, visitors can be dropped off by tour companies at different locations around the area. Canoeing is highly preferred over motorboats for a tranquil experience. You can see the birds and fishes, while skimming along the emerald waters, with walls of canyons embracing the waterways.

    Location: Antelope Canyon, Navajo Tribal Park, Page, AZ 86040, USA

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    4

    Eat Southwestern cuisine in Scottsdale

    The aura of the old west and adobe dwellings

    Head to Scottsdale, 10 miles east of Phoenix, to see the remnants of an old American Western town, complete with watering holes and hitching posts. Visit the Old Adobe Mission, Scottsdale’s first Catholic church, built by Hispanic and Yaqui Indian families with its original adobe bricks still intact. For an Old West adventure, the area has great horse riding tours along the scenic Saguaro Lake.

    Try some authentic Tex-Mex dishes at Los Olivos, known for their fajitas and margaritas. The Buffalo Chip Saloon serves the old cowboy-style cuts, from smoked briskets to rib eyes, and Diego Pops serves Brussel Sprout Nachos, pineapple and pork tacos, and their special snow-cone margaritas. In old town Scottsdale, locals know how to have fun, with plenty of saloons, outdoor fiestas and karaoke joints.

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    photo by Visitor7 (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    5

    See Arizona’s modern architecture in Taliesin West

    The design origins that paved way for modern desert living

    Standing on 500 acres on the McDowell Mountains, Taliesin West made the National Register of Historic Places for its trailblazing urban development designs. Follow the footsteps of Frank Lloyd Wright, the famous American architect who spent his late career in Arizona. He fell in love with the desert landscape and did a design experiment that would originate the concept of “organic architecture” to coexist with the surrounding environment, and this style had set the tone for the rest of modern Southwestern architecture since the 1960s. Take the Insights Tour and the Photography Tour for an exclusive view of his bedroom, and learn about the power line feud that bothered Wright so much that he wrote to ask President Truman to remove it from sight.

    Location: Taliesin West, 12621 N Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd, Scottsdale, AZ 85259, USA

    Phone: +1 480-627-5340

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    6

    Discover the bizarre beauty of the Desert Botanical Garden

    Curious creatures thriving under Phoenix’s hot spell

    The Desert Botanical Garden is a collection of more than 50,000 plants on 140 acres. This place is home to Southwestern plants, desert plants and succulents in all shapes and sizes, with more than 350 endangered species in their care.  

    While being mindful of the prickly pears, check out the wildflower loop trail and the Sonoran Desert loop trail. The crested saguaro is one of the most photographed trees, along with the totem pole cactus, agaves and the butterflies in the Butterfly Pavillion. Although the botanical garden is mainly known for its desert plants, this place deserves credit for its cutting-edge art space and avant-garde exhibitions. Its outdoor area hosts many unique installations, such as the blown glass sculptures and the Electric Desert show that displays psychedelic lights after dark, projected on to their cacti gardens.

    Location: Desert Botanical Garden, 1201 N Galvin Pkwy, Phoenix, AZ 85008, USA

    Phone: +1 480-941-1225

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    photo by Simeon87 (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    7

    Fearless rafting down the Salt River Canyon

    White knuckling through white waters

    About 2 hours’ drive east of Phoenix, a few rafting companies will take you to the popular yet secluded Salt River Canyon. The river is 200 miles long, with a few outposts to choose from. The Mescal Falls is the Class 4 rapids, which means a more aggressive current and main drops, while the western part of the river offers serene flows for tubing and family fun.

    Between March and May, you’re likely to see a lot of serious rafting enthusiasts from all over the country. These guys will book a solid 7-day tour of camping and paddling. Because the ride can be both exhilarating and exhausting, all visitors will be given a crash course on paddling, commands and safety instructions.

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    photo by Xander Ashburn (CC BY 2.0) modified

    8

    Soak in the majestic views of Cathedral Rock

    The energy vortexes of Sedona

    Sedona is another hikers’ favourite spot, with its rumoured vortexes that attract spiritual visitors to come and witness the energy that flow between the Bell Rock, the Spaceship Rock, Munds Wagon, the Cathedral Rock and Boynton Canyon.

    For a spiritual quest, search for the area that’s claimed to be where the earth’s power lines meet, and the healing electromagnetic powers that help you achieve deep meditation. Of all the highlights, Cathedral Rock is known to have the best panorama views and rustic red rocks. However, the overall hike can be steep and requires a lot of uphill strides and light climbing, so don’t forget to bring enough drinking water.

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    photo by Coconino National Forest (CC0 1.0) modified

    9

    Drive through scenic Mt. Lemmon

    Feel the temperature drop on the mountaintop

    Take a scenic road trip up to Mt. Lemmon, southern Arizona where a non-stop drive from bottom to top takes only about an hour. This region is part of the secluded Catalina Mountains that was used by the US military for space shuttle observation. Because of the 9,000-feet elevation, the temperature at the peak can drop as much as 25°F.

    Along the drive, you’ll see the varying vegetation, from saguaro cacti at the base of the mountain to the winter woodlands on the hilltops. Stop for a break in Summerhaven, a small Mt. Lemmon community where you’ll find local cabin homes and restaurants. If you’re up for a cycling adventure, do take good caution as cyclists have to share the path with cars on a single-lane road with frequent curves.

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    photo by Bre LaRow (CC BY 2.0) modified

    10

    Practise your quick draw in the old Wild West

    Tombstone, Arizona – home of the O.K. Corral

    Arizona was once a lawless place of cowboys and cattle rustlers, when disputes were settled by a punch up or even a shootout. It’s fun to revisit this period of American history in the town of Tombstone. Visit the courthouse, the silver mines and the Wyatt Earp house to learn about the long-drawn feud that sparked a historic fight.

    Stay the night at their local B&B saloons, located off of East Fremont Street. Visitors can witness the outdoor re-enactment of bar fights and shootouts, and walk the trail towards the Boothill Cemetery that buried all of the Tombstone pioneers who died with their boots still on. Quite a few real-life actions happened in front of the Crystal Palace Saloon and the Oriental Saloon. However, the biggest brawl erupted near the O.K. Corral, a standoff between the cowboys and the town marshals. To this day, the O.K. Corral fight is known as the most famous shootout in the history of the Wild West.

    Location: Boothill Cemetery, 408 AZ-80, Tombstone, AZ 85638, USA

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    photo by Packbj (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

    Joy Sanyapongse | Contributing Writer

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