The Best Vacation Destinations in Arizona

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The Grand Canyon

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Arizona’s unique desert climate makes it one of the most popular vacation destinations in the U.S. It’s an outdoor lover’s paradise, packed with unparalleled scenery. Time, weather, and geology came together to create incredible natural formations for us to enjoy. And when you need to escape the desert heat, Arizona is packed with exciting indoor (meaning air-conditioned!) options.

Much of Arizona is accessible by bus and train. Major cities offer plentiful transportation options, and you can easily find ways to travel between cities and major attractions. We dug out the best vacation spots that you should consider for your next trip to Arizona if you’re looking for an unforgettable vacation.

1. The Grand Canyon

Horseshoe Bend, Arizona

If you’re heading to Arizona, no location is quite as iconic as Grand Canyon National Park. Covering 1,904 square miles, it is bound to provide you with various fun activities on your next Arizona getaway. Most prominently, those looking for an adventure can choose from dozens of hikes – just don’t forget the water! 🥵

Less strenuous options include a drive around the canyon or lunch at the El Tovar Hotel, where Theodore Roosevelt and Albert Einstein have both dined in the past. Or even just spending the day taking in views along the rim is sure to create an unforgettable experience.

To visit two of Arizona’s epic destinations, you can even combine a trip to both the Grand Canyon and Sedona.

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Bus & train prices are based on the average cost of a one-way ticket for the respective route available on Wanderu over a 30-day period. 

2. Sedona

Sedona, AZ

The red rocks of Sedona give it an almost mystical quality. Many people have capitalized on that mysticism, so there is no shortage of spas and wellness experiences in Sedona.

If you’re looking for an all-out red rock experience, you can view the city from above with a helicopter or a hot air balloon tour, or opt for a ground-level jeep tour. In addition, you can find over 200 hiking trails in Sedona, ranging from 0.7 to 23.2 miles long.

With beautiful views, original shops and restaurants, and an endless supply of activities, Sedona is an ideal choice for a fun getaway in Arizona. Make it a quick weekend trip or stretch it into a week-long vacation – there are so many things to do in Sedona, both inside and out!

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3. Tucson

Tucson, AZ

One of the sunniest cities in the U.S., Tucson is bursting with opportunities to enjoy its desert climate. It’s home to Saguaro National Park – did you know that Arizona is the only U.S. state where you can find the classic saguaro cactus in the wild? As if a national park isn’t enough, other outdoor options include the Tucson Botanical Garden, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and Catalina State Park.

Tucson is unique in the way it’s designed to make travel easy without your own transportation. The Sun Tran, the city’s public transit authority, runs through five districts of downtown Tucson. In addition, Sabino Canyon, a popular outdoor recreation destination in the area, offers pretty cheap shuttle bus tours ($12 for adults, with the chance to get off and on at the nine different stops along the drive).

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Bus & train prices are based on the average cost of a one-way ticket for the respective route available on Wanderu over a 30-day period. 

4. Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park

The Petrified Forest National Park is an Arizona vacation destination you don’t want to miss. A drive along the 29-mile long road that runs through the park is like taking a trip to the past: fossils of preserved wood dating back 200 million years are scattered throughout. On top of the geologic history, you’ll see a millennium of human history, including the Native American ruin Puerco Pueblo and petroglyphs written between 1000 and 1300 AD.

Although the Petrified Forest is one of the less-visited U.S. national parks, it’s definitely worth checking out in our books, though we suggest avoiding the trip during the summer to steer clear of any heat risks.

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5. Scottsdale

Scottsdale, AZ

Scottsdale is known for its upscale, boutique vibe, but don’t let that deter you if you’re a budget traveler! If you do want to shell out, Scottsdale is home to one of the most unique hotels in the United States, the Andaz Resort & Bungalows. Here, you can stay in a mid-century modern bungalow in the heart of the Sonoran desert.

Outdoor activity options include hiking Pinnacle Peak or Tom’s Thumb. You can also visit the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center to learn how volunteers help rehabilitate animals such as bears, wolves, tortoises, mountain lions, and even skunks.

Visitors of all ages can enjoy the Odysea Aquarium or Butterfly Wonderland. Scottsdale has plenty of activities to make your visit worthwhile no matter what time of year you go.

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6. Flagstaff

Flagstaff, AZ

Just a couple of hours from the Valley of the Sun, Flagstaff is the perfect getaway for a cool Arizona vacation. In the summer, the high typically caps around 85℉, and in the winter, Flagstaff averages around 100 inches of snow every year. 😮

You’ll find sledding locations all over the city, along with skiing at the Arizona Snowbowl and Nordic Village. In addition, the city of Flagstaff is jam-packed with small businesses, including coffee shops, cafes, pottery galleries, and of course, outdoor adventure supply stores. And since you’re further from big cities and their light pollution, Flagstaff’s stargazing is top-notch.

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Bus & train prices are based on the average cost of a one-way ticket for the respective route available on Wanderu over a 30-day period. 

7. Coconino National Forest

Coconino National Forest

Coconino National Forest is brimming with diversity throughout its 1.856 MILLION acres, including red rocks, alpine tundra, and pine forests. They say variety is the spice of life, and Coconino is a little chili powder of an Arizona vacation.

You can hike mountains or red rock trails, fish in beautiful lakes, or relax in cabins nestled inside the park. It’s a far cry from the blistering Arizona heat you typically expect.

Coconino National Forest is just outside of Flagstaff, so your game plan should include traveling into Flagstaff and then renting a car to drive into the park.

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8. Phoenix

It’s the capital of Arizona and the sunniest major city in the U.S., so make sure you keep Phoenix on your list of must-visit vacation destinations in Arizona.

Travel will be less heat-strokey during the winter months, but many businesses offer discounts during the summer to entice visitors. Camelback Mountain is a must-hike in the city, though you’ll need to be prepared with adequate water and safe footwear.

If you choose to venture to Phoenix during the summer months, or simply prefer indoor activities, check out the Musical Instrument Museum, Heard Museum, or the Phoenix Art Museum. To make exploring easier, snag an all-day pass for the Valley Metro Rail for just $4 or rent a cruiser bike for a leisurely ride around town.

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Bus & train prices are based on the average cost of a one-way ticket for the respective route available on Wanderu over a 30-day period. 

9. Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon is an Instagrammer’s dream destination, and your iPhone is sure to capture some unforgettable (and very frame-worthy) shots!

Keep in mind that visiting requires some pre-planning and pre-saving, as you’ll need to book a tour run by a Navajo guide a few weeks or even months in advance. Once you’re inside the orange walls of the slot canyon, though, you’ll realize that the planning was well worth it.

Antelope Canyon is a 4.5-hour ride from Phoenix, so anticipate staying the night in nearby Page before or after your tour. There are many amazing things to do in Page, so you can take advantage of your proximity to Horseshoe Bend and other stunning spots.

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10. The Wave

The Wave

If you’re feeling lucky, consider applying for a permit to visit The Wave: a sandstone formation that resides in Arizona and Utah. The Wave is a stunning formation that features layers upon layers of orange, yellow, and white sand that compressed over millions of years.

The Wave is located inside the North Coyote Buttes, and getting there requires a three-mile hike. That’s six miles round trip through desert conditions, so the faint of heart should not attempt! Currently, only 64 people are allowed to hike The Wave each day (which is a considerable increase from the previous limit of 21 people a day).

The best hiking weather is in the spring and fall, though you might have a better chance of winning a permit if you apply for days during the summer or winter.

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11. Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

Monument Valley

Step into a scene from your grandpa’s favorite Western black-and-white with a visit to Monument Valley. If you don’t want to book an organized tour, you can drive the 17-mile Tribal Park Loop or hike the Wildcat Trail. For any other drives or hikes, you’ll need to pay for a tour with a Navajo guide.

Although it may feel inconvenient, having a guide gives you a better understanding of the land, protects you against the dangers of the heat and sand, and respects the history of the Navajo people. Visit during the spring or fall to avoid the summer heat and the winter snow.

P.S. Don’t forget to make the 20-minute trip down the road to Forrest Gump Point, or check out the nearby 4 Corners Monument!

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12. Lake Powell

Lake Powell

Lake Powell is the perfect escape from the Arizona heat. You can swim, ski, and fish on the water. Not only is the area breathtaking with blue-green waters against red rock, but families, couples, friend groups, and solo travelers will all find something to do, making it a perfect vacation destination in Arizona.

Native Arizonians will try to convince you that the summer temps are ‘just a dry heat!’ but when the high hits 106℉, you’ll appreciate the cool waters of Lake Powell!

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Extend Your Arizona Vacation

Hoover Dam

Arizona is an endless list of possible travel destinations. Check out a few more that weren’t included in our top 12:

  • Visit Hoover Dam to marvel at an engineering masterpiece.
  • Check out Montezuma Castle National Monument to visit a five-story archaeological wonder.
  • Spend the day at Tombstone to indulge your love for the Wild West.
  • Hike the Arizona Trail to see some of the best landscapes the state has to offer
  • Stop in Bisbee to check out a mining town turned artists’ haven.
  • Stay in Prescott to hike over 400 miles of trails or visit one of their famous museums.
  • Drive the 60-mile round trip of Mt. Lemmon Scenic Byway to take in some incredible views.
  • Go underground at Kartchner Caverns and see some of the longest stalactites in the world.

Pack your sunscreen and water bottle and head to Arizona for a vacation full of adventure. We know you’ll be particularly delighted to plan a winter escape to the state of sunshine for some much-needed vitamin D and warmer days. However, no matter when you choose to visit, you’ll find plenty of ways to stay busy.

Tell us in the comments which spot you’d like to head to first!

Travel Safely

At Wanderu, we want to make sure you are equipped with all the information you need to plan a safe trip. Please visit our COVID-19 Travel Guide for the latest tips & advisories.

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About the author
Katie Schuknecht

Katie Schuknecht

Katie resides in her hometown in Kentucky with her husband and daughter, but she loves visiting other corners of the world. Her top 3 favorite adventures include exploring the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns, Australia, the redwood trees in California, and Olympic National Park in Washington state.