[Look at all those lush desert plants! And that beautiful red desert rock! And that kinda sorta desert sunset! Side notes: Desert sunsets really are some of the most beautiful! This was near Saguaro National Park]
Like, did you know that not all of Arizona is desert (which is what I originally assumed #dontassume) and that it actually SNOWS in some parts? Like what.
[Yes, that white stuff is snow. In Arizona. And one of the many many reasons Flagstaff is s’cool: its extensive urban trail system! Also known as FUTS (Flagstaff Urban Trail System)]
With that said, here are my favorite places (that I’ve been so far – I really want to go back and explore more of northern AZ! Mainly just bc northern AZ is more my jam – I’m not as much of a desert DESERT person).
Native Land Acknowledgment: The places I traveled were located on O’odham, Tohono O’odham, Sobaipuri, Hokoham, Southern Paiute, Hualapai, Hopi, Havasupai, Pueblos, Western Apache, Diné, Ute, Chiricahua Apache, Upper Pima, and Yavapaiv Apache land.
FLAGSTAFF IS THE PERFECT MOUNTAIN TOWNOne of the cutest and coolest mountain towns ever, so beautiful and basically set up right in the middle of nature. I ‘lived’ here for a little bit while I was in the conservation corps.
I say ‘lived’ because, even though I was in the conservation corps for three months, I was only in Flag (as the cool kids call it) for a total of about 4 weeks since I was sent to different places to work. Which was awesome – I’d highly recommend the conservation corps! I got to travel a ton (although we were paid very little haha) and have unique experiences that you wouldn’t get as a typical tourist!But ANYWAYS. Back to Flag – so it’s such a cute town with a cool community. It snows here in the winter and is abundant with Ponderosa Pines. I would def come back and live there again! Also it’s only about an hour and a half away from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon!
SUNSET CRATER IS A COOL SLICE OF HISTORYThis is such a cool place right outside of Flagstaff. It’s a cinder cone (or a “steep conical hill of loose pyroclastic fragments, i.e. volcanic ash” – taken from Wikipedia) with the actual crater located inside the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument.
You can’t actually go see into the crater – apparently, there used to be a trail but due to damage from hikers, they closed it – but you can go to the base!And even though you can’t see into the crater, you get really amazing views like the one above! The mountains are just beautiful and when you add in trees and volcanic amazingness it’s like yeahhhhhssssss!
THE GRAND CANYON WAS EVERYTHING I THOUGHT & MOREDUH. Like if you go to AZ and DON’T see the Grand Canyon did you even go? And what are you doing with your life?
I really enjoyed my experience there as I felt like I got the best of both worlds: I did a day trip from Flag to visit the South Rim, and then worked on the trail close to the North Rim and bottom of the canyon for the conservation corps (FYI: it takes about 4 hours to drive from one rim to the other because you have to go all the freaking way around).That was a really awesome experience because the North Rim was closed at the time for the winter (it snows in the Grand Canyon, too!) so the only people we came across were ones that were hiking in or running from the South Rim (about 24 miles all the way across! They are insane).
The top of the North Rim was still FREEZING but the bottom of the canyon was a lot warmer. We got to stay in the ranger bunk, but it was also warm enough that we cowboy camped outside on the helipad for a few nights.
SEDONA IS FULL OF MAGICI could not say enough about Sedona. It really is one of the most epic, unique, and beautiful places. You should DEF go, and the drive from Sedona to Flagstaff is absolutely gorgeous.
And it really is full of magic – so many people are drawn to Sedona due to its spiritual aura. So many people talk about “vortexes” in Sedona that are supposed to make you feel spiritually enlightened and healed and meditative. They’re areas where concentrations of energy make you feel alive.
I didn’t necessarily feel that, but I also didn’t try to seek out an vortexes, either. But there’s definitely something about Sedona that resets you, and makes you feel more alive and centered – although I attribute that to the beautiful surroundings more so than the energy. But who knows – you have to experience it for yourself!I would highly recommend the Devil’s Bridge hike (pretty easy) but go early or later in the afternoon! It gets crazy busy. And don’t do it in the summer unless you go super early, as it’ll be HOT. And crowded.
Otherwise, I’d recommend just driving around and exploring, and hiking random trails like the Chuckwagon Trail or the Courthouse/Bell Rock trail. Most of the trails in the area are 5 miles or less, with many of them being under 3 miles. They’re all pretty easy – at least the ones I’ve done, on pretty level trails with not too much incline.I’d highly recommend a cloudy/rainy day as the cliffs look so much more epic, and it was a ghost town.
HORSESHOE BENDHorseshoe Bend was so pretty but SO crowded. We visited during sunrise since I’d heard it was much less crowded then, but there were still a ton of people.
HAVASUPAIHAVASUPAI, man. That was a trip. Definitely one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. BUT. Even though it was so amazing, the trip itself was a little stressful. I’d say you’d definitely need to see it, though – it feels like a fairytale.
ANTELOPE CANYONAntelope Canyon was gorgeous, but both my friend and I were a little disappointed with the experience and would have done it differently had we known. But, I still think it’s worth visiting, as long as you know what you’re in for!
CHIRICAHUA IS LIKE NOTHING YOU’VE SEEN BEFORE
This is such a cool, unique place! The ‘hoodoos’ are super awesome. We went on Easter and it was pretty empty. However, we did find a random gigantic stuffed pink horse on the side of the road, and my friend thought it would be a great idea to pick it up and attach it to her backpack – we got a lot of weird looks.
Like Sedona, this is another place where I just felt alive and energized. There’s something about looking at those beautiful and bizarre hoodoos. To be honest, I think there’s just something about the Southwest in general that’s different from anywhere else.
BISBEE IS THE CUTEST PLACE IN THE WORLD
Another cute little town. I’m obsessed with cute little towns, if you can’t tell. I’m also obsessed with its old, western style buildings and artist hippie feel (it was a haven for them back in the 60’s!).It’s also kind of like a treasure hunt, as there are 9 hidden staircases that you can walk around and find. Every year there’s a race where you have to run up every single one and suffer in the name of who knows what. Super cool. If you’re into suffering and being out of breath. If you end up gettin’ your ass on over to this gem of a town, I’d recommend just walking around. It’s suuuuper small (I felt like I was able to see pretty much all of it in a day, although I’d have happily spent a few days there bc of its charming, laid back vibe) so you can cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time.
I’d suggest wandering around, popping into all of the cool antique-y shops, stopping at the brewery, and finding alllll the staircases (which pretty much gives you a nice little tour in itself).
SAGUARO NATIONAL PARKThe desert is just unlike anything else. I’ve never really been a desert person (more into trees & forests tbh), but I kinda did fall for it a little when I was working in AZ. There’s just something so mysterious and mystical about the desert. I’m not really sure what it is, but it’s just this quiet serenity that’s unlike anything else I’ve experienced. You should definitely camp there if you can (but hopefully not in the summer or else you probably won’t come back, because you’ll be dead). I’d also attempt to see a sunrise and sunset (easy peasy if you’re camping) because it’s just so beautiful. There’s just something so still, so serene about desert landscapes and mountains. I would highly recommend visiting in the spring to see all the cacti blooming – so so so prettyyyyyyy. Plus, then you’re more likely to see wildlife with their babies! We saw Javelina and their reds (aka babies), a pregnant Gila Monster, so many birds, etc.
I also really enjoyed the houses in Scottsdale. So many southwestern style homes, all unique yet still maintaining a cohesive vibe. I also loved the cacti in everyone’s yards! Very cool that so many people didn’t try to fight the AZ climate and try and grow grass (so much water wasted!).
And also I just LOVE cacti and succulents, and love to look at them especially since I somehow manage to kill all of mine. If you’re going to southern Arizona, I would highly recommend staying in Scottsdale over Phoenix! It’s much nicer, in my opinion, there’s a ton of hiking nearby, and it’s only about 20ish minutes from Phoenix.
Can we also talk really quick about the crazy awesome summer storms that occur during summertime aka monsoon season (mostly July/August)?? They come out of nowhere and are soooooo cool. Like one second it’s still and quiet and the next it’s pouring rain with thunder and lightning. I LOVE.
PLACES I MISSED
THE WAVEAnother difficult place to get to! You have to enter a permit lottery, basically. But so pretty!
WHITE POCKETIf you can’t get to The Wave, this is a popular second choice! You need high clearance and 4-wheel drive to get here, though, unless you want to pay for transportation through a guide service; and then, most people get a guide to take them around. It looks amazing, and well worth it, though! If we’d had an extra day, I definitely would’ve made us check this spot out, too.
THE CONFLUENCE AT HAVASUPAI
I can’t find a free photo of the confluence, soooo click here so you can see the pretty photos for yourself!
IT LOOKS SO PRETTY! But, it’s a 16 mile hike round trip from the campground, and the trail is not super well marked. So, we decided not to do it and just stopped at Beaver Falls (which ended up being a good thing because it started pouring rain the day we had planned it). It seriously looks soooo pretty, though, and if I ever go back to Havasupai, I definitely want to try and do it!
FOSSIL CREEKWaterfalls and other prettiness. You can also swim in it, which is a majorrrr plus. Unfortunately, it’s getting more popular as a daytime party spot for local AZ-ers. Come on y’all – keep it clean and beautiful for the creatures that live there, and so other people can continue to enjoy its’ loveliness! So, I’m pretty much definitely going back to Arizona! I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did, but now it definitely has a place in my stone cold heart.
I’m sure there are like 1043485748 other beautiful places that I don’t even realize exist, especially in northern AZ. Ugh, I’d move back to Flag any day! It’s the definition of the perfect town for me – small, but not too small; bike-able; basically right smack dab in the middle of nature; varied and beautiful surroundings; snow but not toooo much; mountainous; really pretty with unique houses; small but fun downtown – list goes on. Only thing I’d wish for is to be a little closer to the ocean, and maybe for a little more rain. But, it’s definitely a place I wouldn’t mind living in again!