Arizona offers beautiful, raw energy in its red rocks, canyons, crystal shops, and of course, its astronomical, internationally-acclaimed canyon. If the Grand Canyon isn’t reason enough to visit this vibrant desert, its two other national parks and adorable towns should provide ample motivation. Whether you’re a local Arizonan or on a summer getaway, we’ve put together an epic and easy-to-follow itinerary so you see the most sensational sights, spending as few or as many days at each destination as you’d like. If you visit each area below in order, starting with Sedona and ending in Holbrook, you’ll drive in a logical loop and arrive within a few hours of the first destination.
Top sights: Devil’s Bridge and Bear Mountain
Take a picture standing on the thinnest part of Devil’s Bridge, the largest natural sandstone arch in Sedona, and arguably, the most picturesque in the state. Then head to Bear Mountain, a very steep hike that rewards visitors with wildflowers along the trek, and finishes up with remarkable panoramic views of red rocks and peaks in both Sedona and Flagstaff. Aside from the scenery, it’s worth spending time in the town of Sedona itself, which is known for its meditation sites, crystal shops, and wellness retreats.
2. Grand Canyon National Park
Top sights: Horseshoe Bend, South Kaibab Trail, Desert View Drive
Drive time from Sedona: 2 hours
After refreshing your energy in Sedona, it’s time to tackle the Grand Canyon, which is estimated to be around 6 million years old and is bigger than the state of Rhode Island. Closest to Sedona is the South Rim, one of the best locations to view this natural wonder of the world. The South Kaibab Trail is a moderate hike that offers grand views with a steep dropoff. At the east entrance, you’ll find Desert View Drive, which guides you to some of the most spectacular sights in the National Park.
Top Sights: Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend
Drive time from the South Rim: 2-3 hours Drive time from the East Rim: 45 minutes
Because these popular, striking slot canyons are located on Navajo lands, you must book a tour and reservations fill months in advance. Opt for Upper or Lower Antelope Canyon, or explore both if you have time. Upper Antelope Canyon’s high canyon walls may be more photogenic, but its lower counterpart offers more exciting obstacles, such as narrow passageways and ladders.
4. Monument Valley Tribal Park
Location: Navajo County, Arizona Top Sights: Valley Drive Loop, Anasazi Petroglyphs, Teardrop Arch
Drive time from Page: 2-3 hours
The park’s sandstone formations tower up to 1,000 feet above the desert floor. Navigate the sights along the 17-mile long Valley Drive Loop, or register for a tour on Navajo land, explore petroglyphs on Anasazi sights or hike to the infrequently visited Teardrop Arch, which offers picturesque and isolated views of the iconic monuments through its sandstone gap. A full day here is more than enough, but consider spending the night for a relaxing reset after an eventful start to your trip.
5. Petrified National Forest
Location: Northeast Arizona Top Sights: Blue Mesa, Puerco Pueblo, Painted Desert Inn Drive time from Monument Valley Tribal Park: 3.5 hours
Throughout this 346-square mile park you’ll find large deposits of petrified wood, tree fossils that existed 225 million years ago, and Blue Mesa, a popular loop trail along uniquely colored rock formations. In addition to ancient remains, you’ll get a glimpse into human history. View Puerco Pueblo, a 100-room village that was abandoned in the mid-1300s due to inhabitable conditions, as well as the more recently established Painted Desert Inn. Built in the 1920s, the inn now functions as the park’s museum.
Location: Tucson Top Sights: Tucson Mountain District and Rincon Mountain District
Drive time from Petrified National Forest: 5 hours Drive time back to Sedona (first stop): 3.5 hours
Similar to Joshua Trees in California, the Saguaro cactus only grows in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, part of which encompasses Saguaro National Park. It’s estimated that there are 1.9 million cacti in the park. The Tucson Mountain District on the west side is more popular due to its dense cacti population and variety of short hikes and overlooks, while the Rincon Mountain District on the East offers a photogenic mountain backdrop, backcountry hiking, and campsites.
After a full day and an even more action-packed road trip, reward yourself in Tucson to taste some authentically delicious Mexican and Southwest meals. The city is recognized by UNESCO as one of the most important food scenes due its impeccable flavors and culinary heritage. Tuscon boasts “the best 23 miles of Mexican food in America,” including the nation’s oldest Mexican restaurant in the county, El Charro Cafe. Established in 1922, this local favorite is still family-owned.
Prepare for Your Trip
Road trips require a lot of preparation, from planning your itinerary to packing your gear into your favorite travel bag. Whether you plan to rough it, camp in luxury (a.k.a. glamping), or stay in high-end resorts, Arizona offers a memorable abundance of desert adventure. Prepare for your trip by packing some of our favorite essential outdoor wear listed below.
Featured Image – The iconic road to Monument Valley by Halie West.
Nancy Raven Kirk Nancy is a writer, traveler, and outdoor enthusiast originally from Los Angeles. She's had work published in the L.A. Times, OC Weekly, and various other publications. Check out her website at www.copybykirk.com.
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