Arizona: what to see and do. Grand Canyon, awesome landscapes, Route 66 and a Tombstone tour

Why go

Think plateaus, peaks, mountains, giant rocks, winding rivers and pioneer towns and you’ve pretty much summed up Arizona. Sandwiched between California, Nevada, Utah and New Mexico in America’s south-western corner, it may be famous for its spectacular desert scenery, but there are plenty of forests too, making it perfect for outdoor activities.

Its main draw is the spectacular Grand Canyon, but this state also has a rich cultural history. Around a quarter of its land is made up of Native American Reservations, and there are several Old West towns ripe for exploring.

What to do

Havasu Falls. Arizona
The blue water and red rocks of Havasu Falls make it the most striking waterfall in Arizona

Did we mention The Grand Canyon? Arizona is home to the 277 mile-long natural phenomenon and the good news is, it can be explored on foot, by helicopter or even on a mule.

If you want to get off the tourist trail, there are plenty of national parks to choose from, including Canyon De Chelly and the dramatic Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park.

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For more urban adventures, there’s pretty Flagstaff, cosmopolitan Phoenix and spiritual Sedona. Bear in mind too that the immense Hoover Dam bridges Arizona with Nevada, meaning the temptations of Las Vegas aren’t too far away.

Where to stay

Arizona. El Tovar hotel.
When it opened in 1905, El Tovar was considered the most elegant hotel west of the Mississippi

For a prime Grand Canyon spot, historic hotel El Tovar offers spectacular views over the South Rim. The nearby small town of Tusayan has decent budget options. If chic mid-century modernism is your thing, the Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale has it in spades, plus easy access to dozens of nearby golf courses, shops and restaurants.

Adobe Grand Villas. Arizona
Adobe Grand Villas in Sedona, Arizona is the hotel to pick if you want relaxation

For a great escape, the relaxing Adobe Grand Villas near downtown Sedona boasts a spa, private villas, and afternoon hors d’oeuvres.

Where to eat

Arizona chefs are experts at firing up the grill for ribs and steaks, and there’s a strong Mexican influence in the south. At the Grand Canyon, try the Arizona Room for sumptuous views and meats teamed with local prickly pear sauces.

The Joyride Taco Bar in Phoenix has a colourful street food vibe while Cibo is a quaint Italian with fabulous pizza near the city’s Light Rail line.

Getting around

With a good portion of the famous Route 66 winding through Arizona, it’s proper road trip country. Rent a car and soak up that fabulous scenery. Outside the cities, traffic is light so stop off at some of the state’s classic roadside cafés.

Petrified Forest Field. Arizona. National Park Service
A petrified forest field in Arizona

When to go

To explore Arizona’s stunning desert peaks but not swelter in its heat, take a spring or autumn trip. It’s worth bearing in mind that the Grand Canyon’s more wild and secluded North Rim has a shorter season running roughly from mid-May to October.

Three things we like

Tombstone Arizona
You can take a tour around Tombstone, one of the best preserved old frontier towns
  1. Laidback Sedona is a relaxing base away from the bustle of Phoenix or Flagstaff and it’s easy driving distance from both. See the vibrant red rock formations while hiking some of the town’s many scenic trails before doing a spot of night time star gazing.
  2. A walking tour through Tombstone provides a great taste of the American West. It’s one of the best preserved towns of the old American frontier, and you can see where Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday exchanged fire in the OK Corrall gunfight, and wander around cowboys’ tombstones at Boothill graveyard.
  3. The crystal clear Havasu Falls. These bright blue pools, just a few hours from the Grand Canyon, are perfect for a cooling swim.

Something we don’t like

Arizona is the sixth biggest state in the US and this could mean several hours in the car between stops. Arm yourself with plenty of water and snacks for the long drives.

Don’t miss

Stay at a Dude Ranch. The Dude Ranch Association has ranches all over the US offering visitors a taste of Western life and hospitality. In Arizona, there are around nine ranches, with a variety of activities on offer including twice-daily horse rides. The Stagecoach Ranch in Yucca – two hours drive from Las Vegas – is a peaceful oasis in the middle of the desert.

Seligman. Arizona. Route 66 town
Visit the town of Seligman, known as the ‘birthplace of Route 66’

Route 66 town Seligman. The self-proclaimed ‘birthplace of Route 66’ is a kitschy stretch of souvenir shops, colourful cars and irreverent relics all dedicated to the historic highway. Stop off at Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-In for a bite to eat from the quirky menu, which includes ‘cheeseburger with cheese’ and ‘dead chicken’.

Explore the Grand Canyon by foot. While many tourists see the vista by helicopter, there are several hiking trails with great views and far fewer tourists going into the basin itself.

High50 insider tips

  • Be sure to bring a decent camera to capture this state’s famous sunsets. Lipan Point provides one of the best Grand Canyon sunset views.
  • Take some good walking shoes: Arizona has a dusty, rocky desert landscape and your feet won’t thank you in sandals or flimsy trainers.
  • For a spot of bizarre British sightseeing, head to the original 1831 London Bridge in Lake Havasu City. It was bought in 1968 for $2.5 million by the city’s founder, and re-erected in this rather unlikely setting.

Travelling with family

The Grand Canyon Railway. Visit Arizona
If you’re travelling with kids, they’ll love the Grand Canyon Railway

Children will love the Grand Canyon Railway, which features performers and musicians on the two-hour ride from Williams. For water fun, Lake Powell offers water skiing, boating and tubing. In Phoenix there are some great water parks to cool you down in the summer heat.

Need to know

  • Fly to Las Vegas in neighbouring state Nevada and it’ll take around four hours to drive to the Grand Canyon. Flights direct into Phoenix are around ten and a half hours from London
  • Plug sockets can be two- or three-pin, so take an adaptor
  • Stay on designated trails when hiking. This minimises the chance of coming across a harmful animal or stray rattlesnake.
  • The Grand Canyon’s North Rim is only fully open from mid-May to October, while the South Rim is open all year round
  • Time difference is GMT – 8
  • Currency is the US dollarSee trips to Arizona and other long-haul deals.