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Best Places to Visit in Arizona, from a Local

My best friend Melissa has lived in Arizona for about 20 years and has shared with me some of the best places to visit in Arizona. Dan and I took a trip to Arizona for Melissa’s wedding which you can read about here. Since my traveling is limited right now, I have enlisted Melissa’s help with some great travel destinations from the point of view of an Arizona native. During her time in Arizona she has spent time in Monument Valley, Canyon De Chelly, Winslow, Flagstaff, Sedona, the Mogollon Rim, the Grand Canyon, Tombstone, and Saguaro National Forest. These will be broken down into the actual trips that she has taken to give you an idea of some of the best places to visit in Arizona.

Best Places to Visit in Arizona: Road trip through Winslow, Monument Valley, Canyon De Chelly, and Flagstaff

Winslow, Night 1 and 2

Melissa and her family travelled from Fountain Hills to Winslow and stayed the first two nights of their trip here. While here they stayed at La Posada which has “an amazing 5 star restaurant”. Subsequently, they visited the meteor crater and petrified forest.

Petrified Forest National Park

shows petrified wood in one of the best places to visit in Arizona, the Petrified Forest
Petrified Forest
Shows petrified wood at one of the best places to visit in Arizona, the petrified forest
Petrified Woood

There are numerous things to explore in the petrified forest. The Rainbow Forest displays an array of petrified wood. In addition, you can visit the Rainbow Forest Museum which has paleontology exhibits. After that, take one of the many trails from the museum to explore the forest. Step back in time to the ruined village of Puerco Pueblo and the petroglyphs of Newspaper Rock. Before you leave make sure to stop in the Painted Desert Inn which displays Hopi murals.

Meteor Crater

Shows the Meteor Crater, one of the best places to visit in Arizona
Meteor Crater

Located in Winslow, Arizona a huge iron-nickel meteorite caused this meteor crater by colliding with Earth over 50,000 years ago. The meteorite was about 150 feet wide and weighed several hundred thousand tons. It hit with a force 150 times greater than an atomic bomb. The crater is 550 feet deep and almost a mile wide.

You can view the attraction in several ways. You can take a 1 hour guided tour along the rim or go on a self guided trail. On the other hand, those less energetic can view the crater from one of the outdoor observation decks. Also, if you prefer not to expose yourself to the weather, you can view it from the indoor air conditioned viewing area. In addition, don’t forget to check out the Discovery Center & Space Museum.

Monument Valley, Night 3 and 4

shows landscapes in one of the best places to visit in Arizona, Monument Valley
Monument Valley
shows Buttes in Monument Valley, Arizona
Monument Valley

On day three they headed out from Winslow to Monument Valley and stopped at Canyon De Chelly along the way. Once in Monument Valley they stayed at The View Hotel. Melissa said they stayed in a cabin there, and she says the views were better than those from the actual hotel.

Canyon De Chelly

shows a man walking near a ledge at Canyon de Chelley, Arizona
Canyon De Chelly

During the drive to Monument Valley, Melissa and her family stopped at Canyon de Chelly. The Navajo Nation owns Canyon De Chelly. Here the Navajo still farm the valley and herd sheep and goats. The dwellings in the sandstone walls date back as far as 700AD. However, the inhabitants abandoned these dwellings in the 1300s. They are supposedly the oldest dwellings in the United States. Not only that, but nobody knows why the inhabitants abandoned these dwellings. The Navajo consider this their most sacred land. Therefore you must have a Navajo guide to enter. Further, there is only one steep trail to the bottom of the Canyon. This area is known for its pictographs and petroglyphs and is also listed as one of the 1000 Places to See Before You Die in the U.S. and Canada.

Monument Valley

Shows rock formations in Monument Valley, one of the best places to visit in Arizona
Monument Valley

Located on the Utah/Arizona border, Monument Valley is also part of Navajo sacred land. Known as “The Valley Within the Rocks”, the Navajo tribe still live and farm here. Many westerns were filmed here such as John Wayne’s Stagecoach in 1938 and Fort Apache in 1948. There is a 17 mile dirt loop road that brings you past buttes and spires. You should allow at least an hour for the drive. Alternatively you can ride mountain bikes on this trail. However, remember that this is sacred land and you must stay on the road unless accompanied by a Navajo guide. Monument Valley is also listed in 1000 Places to See Before You Die U.S. and Canada.

What are buttes and spires?

shows buttes at Monument Valley, one of the best places to visit in Arizona
Buttes & Spires

Buttes are flat topped hills with steep slopes on each side. Spires are pointed pillars also called towers or needles.

Flagstaff, Nights 5 and 6

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

Sunset Crater is a cinder cone which is the youngest in a series of volcanoes related to the nearby San Francisco Peaks. The park offers several trails ranging from easy to moderately difficult. Due to the range of trails, allow between 15 minutes to 2.5 hours depending on the trail. You will be able to observe jagged blocks of basaltic lava. However, remember the lava is sharp and unstable. As a result, be cautious and stay on the trails.

Here are some sponsored links if you need to buy hiking equipment:

Bearizona

This is a safari park where you drive through to see North American animals such as mountain goats, wolves, bison, and black bears. You can view the animals in their natural habitats during complimentary bus tours or from your own vehicle. In addition there is a walk through area where you can view smaller animals. Make sure to visit the petting zoo and the Mine Shaft Experience where you can view nocturnal animals. When you get hungry you can eat at the themed Canyonlands Restaurant or the Bearizona Grille.

Read about road trip planning here.

Best Places to Visit in Arizona: Day Trip to Sonoran Desert and Saguaro National Forest

Waking early to make the journey to Mirana, just north of Tucson, the Sonoran Desert and Saguaro National Forest are a day trip from Scottsdale.

Saguaro National Park

Upon arrival visit the nation’s largest cacti, a symbol of the American west. Visit between April and June to see the beautiful cactus flowers. Make sure to pack a picnic lunch because the park has no concession stands, although picnic areas are available. Pack plenty of water as well. The park has water fountains, but only at the visitor center. You can camp at the park but you must bring all your supplies and hike to your destination. The backcountry camp sites have no running water. You can hike on 150 miles of trails or view the area from the car loop. Remember you are in nature. To sum up, be aware of your surroundings and remember cell reception will be spotty.

Sonoran Desert Museum

After a picnic lunch head to the Sonora Desert Museum. The museum showcases desert gardens. Visit the aquarium which houses both salt water and fresh water species. Participate in a stingray experience. Journey through the many exhibit areas such as mountain woodlands, desert grasslands, desert loop trail, life on the rocks, cat canyon, and Riparian Corridor where you can view animals native to these ecosystems. Step into the Walk-in Aviary and Hummingbird Aviary to visit with birds up close. Then go underground to witness burrowing animals. Don’t forget to stop by the Ancient Arizona exhibit and Earth Sciences Center to learn native history before you leave.

Best Camping in Arizona: Mogollon Rim

The Mogollon Rim is a 200 mile area stretching from central Arizona into New Mexico with the escarpment being 2000 feet high. You can take hiking or horseback trails to explore the area. In addition, you can go boating and fishing on Woods Canyon Lake. During winter experienced thrill seekers can go backcountry skiing. Melissa and her family have camped here at different locations over the years in tents, campers and in a cabin with friends. For more information on camping check the Mogollon Campground located near the Woods Canyon Recreation Area.

Here are some sponsored links for pages for camping gear if you need to buy some:

Best Places to Visit in Arizona: Overnight in Tombstone and Bisbee

Driving past Tucson to Tombstone as a stop off point and then on to Bisbee is a great overnight trip in Arizona.

Tombstone, One of the Best Places to Visit in Arizona

Inside an old saloon in Tombstone, Arizona
shows a drama of the shootout at the OK Coral
Tombstone
Tombstone, one of the best places to visit in Arizona, shows the inside of an old saloon

Journey back in time to the Wild West. Here people in period dress walk the streets. In addition, visit the museums that tell of the incredible history of the time period. Highlights of the area include the shootout at the OK Corral. Melissa says the actors are good and involve the audience, making it a fun time for all.

Another great place to visit in Tombstone is a haunted bar called The Bird Cage. Full of antiques, it has the original items and rooms the prostitutes used. Melissa says the living quarters were so small that it was creepy and felt like it was haunted. You can take a haunted tour or just guide yourself.

Bisbee

Bisbee was an old copper mining town with storefronts that transport you back in time. Enjoy the beauty of the Art Deco buildings. Check out the eclectic collection of artsy antique shops, bars, and wine tastings. Of course you must complete your visit with a stay at the haunted hotel called the Copper Queen. Due to the bars and wine tastings, this is not really geared for kids.

Best Places to Visit in Arizona: Day Trip to Jerome

Another old copper mining town, Jerome is located just outside Sedona on a winding road up the side of a mountain. The drive itself can be interesting. Again, storefronts transport you back in time. Jerome has an old hospital which is now a hotel and restaurant. It boasts being haunted and has been known to have paranormal investigations take place there. Just down the hill is a restaurant called The Haunted Hamburger. In addition, the town houses numerous antique shops and boutiques with one of a kind items. There is no shortage of bars or wine tastings here. The town is rich in history and makes a big celebration out of Halloween. Once again, not really a place geared towards children. Check out Trip Advisor for one of the romantic or quaint hotels to stay in.

I hope you enjoy the best places to visit in Arizona chosen by my friend Melissa. Please let me know if you get to explore any of these places or if you find any unique places people should explore.

5 thoughts on “Best Places to Visit in Arizona, from a Local

  1. Wow, the meteor crater is the coolest thing ever! To hit with 150 times more force than the atomic bomb… that’s incredible. I have some friends that just moved to AZ so can’t wait to check out some of these sites when I visit them!

  2. Wow, so many amazing places to visit in Arizona! I’d like to take a day trip to Sonoran Desert and Saguaro National Forest and see the largest cacti. Tombstone is a must too. A journey back to the Wild West sounds exciting to me.

  3. We spent a few weeks in Arizona and quickly determined it was going to take several visits to see all the great sights. I can’t believe how many on your list that we missed – Petrified Forest, the Meteor Crater and Monument Valley will all be on our list for a return visit. While we did visit Jerome, we missed Tombstone. Lots of reasons to head back.

  4. I’ve been to some of these places, twice, like Petrified Forest and the Grand Canyon. I want to revisit Saguaro during winter, so it’s not super hot like when we visited in June. My friend lives in Tucson. She also suggested us to visit Tombstone but we didn’t have time. I know I will be back to Arizona because the state has so many amazing places to see. Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly to name a few.

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