10 Must See Arizona Attractions – Throughout AZ

Grand Canyon

Are you traveling to Arizona for the first time?  Have you been here before but want something new to see?  Since moving to AZ, we made a list of the must-see Arizona attractions that we love and highly recommend to you to quickly get out there to start making those memories and see some of the really unique features that Arizona has to offer.

What exactly did we enjoy about these Arizona destinations?  Let us explain…

1. Grand Canyon

Seeing the Grand Canyon is a no brainer with it being one of The Wonders of the World.  The very first time we visited the Grand Canyon it was a spontaneous, 1 day road trip while I tagged along with my husband and father-in-law on their golf trip to Laughlin NV.  It was February and chilly and quite unexpected, not realizing just how diverse AZ is.  We made the 3 hour and 15 min drive to the Grand Canyon but the weather didn’t exactly cooperate. A snowstorm was coming and essentially we were in the clouds.  We couldn’t see anything in front of us in the Canyon.  Nothing.  We were so disappointed.  All of a sudden the clouds would open up for a brief second and give us this magnificent hint of something we KNEW we had to come back and see on a CLEAR day. It was awe-inspiring. 

Early morning beams of light pouring into the canyon

So check that weather!  

The snow arrived and it was getting very slippery and they actually ended up closing the park.  At the time we were living in Minnesota, so driving in the snow wasn’t anything new for us, but the majority of the Park’s visitors were NOT used to driving in the weather, people were getting stuck in their rear wheel drive cars left and right.  My hubby and his dad found the first car in the line of cars stuck on the road blocking our way, which was on the slightest curve with the tiniest bit of elevation. Instead of easing on the gas, they were all flooring it.  Not good!  I was laughing as my father-in-law would get in the driver’s seat and tell the visitors to get as many as they could fit in the TRUNK of the car all the while the others would push to get them onto flatter ground.  They had to do did that about a dozen or more times before we could make our little journey back to Laughlin. 

Since then we’ve been back 4 more times.  All those times we’ve been to the South Rim and have taken that whole drive while stopping in every pullout/overlook.  We stop at all the pullouts because The Canyon seems to change with every new corner or bend in the road!  We try and end up at The Watchtower for amazing sunset photos.   

One of my fave experiences was when we had to get a sunrise shot over the Grand Canyon for a project we were involved in.  I’m SOOOO not a morning person and enjoy SUNSETS on a very regular basis, whereas sunrises not so much.  Despite my aversion to mornings, I knew that helping my hubby on this project would be quite the experience and boy did I enjoy it. We stayed at a friend’s house in Flagstaff, woke up at 2 in the morning to get ready. Drove the 2 hours to be in our spot we needed to be in so we were set up and in place before the sun came up.  Nobody else was around so it was so serenely peaceful. The weather was perfectly chilly without being too cold and as soon as that sun was coming up we warmed up beautifully. I set up my camping chair, made a chai tea and watched the ever-changing lighting of the Grand Canyon take shape. Guess what?  It’s something that I would actually love to do again and if seeing the sunrise is your thing, DO IT!!! 

Arizona Attraction - Grand Canyon
Sunrise over The Grand Canyon

2. Sedona – A must see Attraction!!!

Oh Sedona how I love you so!  As much as we enjoy The Grand Canyon, we LOVE Sedona even MORE!  What do we love about this special place?  Everything.  There are so many great, family friendly hikes that can occupy everyone’s curiosity.  From an easy hike to difficult and everything in between.  

One of our favorite hikes so far has been up to Devil’s Bridge.  For our family, it wasn’t a super difficult hike.  I’m not the fittest person there is and I didn’t have any troubles, but we stopped along the way to take pictures and it wasn’t a race to the top, we just simply enjoyed the journey. The only thing I didn’t like with this hike is where you actually have to park your vehicle. It’s a good distance to the actual trailhead.  If you have a high clearance vehicle, like a Jeep, you can make it to the trailhead, but the majority of visitors don’t, so I do wish there was a little different way in without having that extra walk, but still absolutely worth the effort.  

As you’re hiking any of the trails, be sure to stop and look around, as your scenery is always changing.  Around every corner is something unique and different, it’s ever-changing with the countless trails all over the area.  

Our family loves to grab a couple of hot chocolates and a chai and sit outside on the patio at the Starbucks off of 98 A and 179 because it has such a magnificent view that just never gets old.  

Another little tip, while you’re there, is to take the drive up 89 A towards Flagstaff. It’s such a stunning drive and we think it’s a must while you’re there.  

Oh great.  Now I’m longing for another trip back to beautiful Sedona.

3. Canyon Lake/Tortilla Flat Drive

When we get visitors into town and they haven’t done this particular drive it is definitely a drive we do!  It starts at basically the base of the Superstition Mountains and winds its way through the Tonto National Forest, now ending at Tortilla Flats.  

The road used to go beyond that destination but due to a monsoon this past summer, the road is now washed out and no longer useable which is so sad because if you could take the S curves and switchbacks there a special little spot that President Roosevelt named the Mini Grand Canyon back there that is so peaceful and quiet and it really does look like a mini Grand Canyon. 

Interesting fact, it’s the same road/path that the Apache Indians used way back when to go through that area. 

The mountains have a character all their own through this area with light green lichen blanketing them, the saguaros are everywhere, and the lake is a treasure in the desert.

Now getting back to Tortilla Flats.  One thing you must do is go into the little ice cream store and get yourself a Prickly Pear gelato.  They make it fresh there.  If you don’t know what that is, it’s the fruit part of a Prickly Pear cactus.  It’s sweet like other berry fruit and likened to a cross between a strawberry and a raspberry.  SO. GOOD!  

Arizona Attraction - Canyon Lake
Canyon Lake, Arizona at Sunrise just off of the Apache Trail Hwy 88

You can also enjoy a meal at the restaurant.  When you’re there take a look at the stools at the bar, so cool!  Also, their walls have dollar bills all over them, feel free to add to it, they welcome that.  One more thing, you must see the bathroom as there is a unique picture opportunity if you’re brave enough.  That’s all I’m going to say about it.  🙂  

On your scenic journey to Tortilla Flats, there’s a huge lake called Canyon Lake. It was made by the dams on the Salt River.  It’s such a picturesque lake with gigantic rock faces cascading down into the lake with many saguaro cacti dotting its shores.  We’ve camped at the campground a few times by the marina and have enjoyed seeing a small group of bighorn sheep make their way down to the lakes shore to get a drink of water.  The best time to truly enjoy this drive is in the spring when the desert is in bloom.

4. Horseshoe Bend

We tried this iconic hike/destination last February.  We had another project we were doing in that area and so we thought we’d take advantage of our situation and check it out.  

Would I recommend seeing it in the winter?  Probably not as it was slick in a few spots on the trail and it was COLD!  

Northern Arizona winters are no joke.  

The temp was in the 20’s, windy, and damp.  None the less it was still absolutely beautiful and worth the 1.5 mile round trip adventure.  The initial part of the trail is a steep little hill that then graduates to lower ground as you make your way to the edge of the canyon.  

It’s definitely a tourist destination and to our surprise, it must get visitors year-round with the crowd that was there even when the weather was less than ideal.  The way that the Colorado River winds itself around this vista is truly unique and where it gets its name.  The area has a few more attractions like Lake Powell and Antelope Canyon, all of which are at a pretty close distance to Horseshoe Bend so make sure you have a couple of days to explore this beautiful part of Arizona that we just can’t get enough of.   

Arizona Attraction - Horseshoe Bend
Horseshoe Bend

5. Mount Lemmon

What an unexpected treat this is just northeast of Tucson.  We were so surprised at how different the mountain looks in it’s relation to the desert.  With a summit elevation of 9,159 and the highest point in the Santa Catalina Mountains, it’s a breath of fresh air (literally) as you can take in the wonderful pine forest and aspen smells with it being in the Coronado National Forest.  In the summer this can be a refreshing escape from the summer heat as it’s approximately 30 degrees cooler from Tucson. 

From Downtown Tucson, it takes about 1 hour and 20 mins to the top of the mountain to arrive in Summerhaven the little town at the top.  There’s no quick way to get there as it’s all stoplights through the city of Tucson once off of the freeway, so expect that.  

Our recommendation is to pack a lunch and snacks so you can really enjoy your time up there.  Explore the little ski town of Summerhaven with its little shops, ending your day to watch the sunset on Windy Point Vista.   

In the winter months, you can expect snow and dangerous roads so watch the weather closely.   

6. Tombstone

This iconic Wild West location has so much history that honestly, I only knew a little about.  Of course I had heard about it growing up and knew a few of the characters names but I wasn’t really interested in anything having to do with Tombstone so I went with very little expectations, mostly to just go along for the ride with the rest of the family and maybe learn a bit more about Arizona’s history.  

I walked away with more curiosity than ever.  I was now fascinated with the characters, their relationships, and way of life.  It never interested me as a kid, but as an adult when history can be made real and brought to life, it’s just different.  

I’m not gonna lie, the demographic for Tombstone appeals to the 55+ crowd but I hope the younger generations can appreciate when you step back in time, how tough life was back then.  We got burgers at Big Nose Kate’s, ate our ice-cream and walked the city streets, and rode on a trolly that brought us by all the main character’s homes and attractions, we then ended the day with a little miniature golf.  We didn’t do the full-on “Shootout” reenactment as we just didn’t want to really see that play out but we heard it was a very good show.  

Tombstone, Arizona, USA old western town at sunset.

7. Flagstaff

I don’t think people think of Arizona as having 4 seasons.  Granted not all of AZ does, but parts of this state do.! 

Flagstaff’s location just 2 hours North of Phoenix, being up in the high country has so much to offer all times of the year.  In the winter you can enjoy skiing, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing as they get on average 100” of snow per year.  In the spring, wildlife starts to rear it’s young so watching the wildlife can be quite amusing while your hiking or biking on it’s many trails around the area plus the flowers are starting to bloom!  Gorgeous!  In the summer, it’s considerably cooler than the valley but still pretty warm so the hiking trails just call your name.  In the fall, the colors come to life with all the Aspens and Ponderosa Pines littering the forest shining so beautifully in all its splendor. 

It’s an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise.  We loved watching a meadow one evening.  In it was a large heard of elk with some deer scattered among them and in the distance through our binoculars came a coyote.  We love wildlife so we were thrilled with what we go to see.

There’s also a very rich culture in the Native American arts and crafts, festivals, and shows.  This is a town we plan on exploring more as there’s so much to do, see, and EAT.  

8. Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum

This mostly outdoor museum/zoo/art gallery is ranked among the top museums in the United States and #1 must do thing in Tucson. It’s tucked away inside part of Saguaro National Forest, west of Tucson and makes for a gorgeous drive into the museum.  With over 200 animal species, about 2 miles of walking trails, thousands of plant life, huge mineral collections plus so much more.  

The Sonoran Desert Museum really shows what makes the Sonoran Desert unique in the way they have made the native desert creatures enclosures look like they are living in their natural desert environments, which I love.   

What also makes this museum special is the reason behind it.  The museum’s efforts to help in the conservation of the Sonoran Desert have made people more aware of what the desert and it’s inhabitants need to thrive.  I always love watching wildlife and learning more about them so having this museum is a real treasure.  

9. Antelope Canyon

Arizona is well known for this beautiful carved out landscape.  It has to be one of the top places photographed and easily recognizable landscapes in the state and even the country. It’s located a few miles SE of Page so you are very close to the Arizona and Utah border on the Navajo Indian Tribe Nation’s land.  Why is that important to know?  

That means you can’t go on a self-guided tour.  

You have to book a tour with a licensed guide from the Navajo Tribe.  It’s a very popular destination so make sure you plan ahead to book your tour early since they can and do sell out weeks in advance.  

If you’re not able to tour Antelope Canyon we’ve also been told that Waterhole Canyon is another beautiful canyon nearby that’s equally beautiful.  Both would qualify as must see Arizona attractions!

Arizona Attraction - Antelope Canyon
Antelope Canyon near Page USA

10. Montezuma Castle

This interesting find is a beautiful quicker attraction, taking only a little bit of time and on the way to some of your larger attractions on the list. I also found myself fascinated by the trees in the area, especially the Arizona Sycamore.  We had seen these trees while in other parts of Arizona but always thought they were a different tree. I learned at the park what they were and why there were used.

It’s a well preserved, cliff dwelling, wayyyyy up high in the limestone cliffs along the Beaver Creek Canyon located in Camp Verde.  Although you can’t go into the ruins, you can still get a really good look at the ruins on the very easy to walk on pathway to admire one of the best well preserved, ancient “apartment buildings” in the United States.  

It was pretty obvious to see why at least one of the reasons the ruins are up so high in the cliff was because when we visited the site, there was clear evidence with the recent winter storms, that the very close river flooded!       

Arizona Attraction - Montezuma Castle
Montezuma Castle National Monument

You won’t be disappointed you decided to visit this wonderfully unique state. There is a plethora of things to do and see. We’d love to hear what your favorite places in Arizona are!  It may give us new ideas to explore.  

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