Many of Arizona's unique adventures are designed for all to enjoy. This 7-day itinerary takes you from the depths of Kartchner Caverns to soaring over the Grand Canyon.
Observe the desert at night with the beam of your flashlight. Try out water skiing for the first time. And travel beneath petroglyphs and volcanoes on paved nature trails. Whether you jump into every activity or hand-pick a few, you'll leave Arizona with a new appreciation for the state.
Instead of flying into Phoenix, begin your trip in the southern Arizona city of Tucson. This southwestern city has received global accolades for its food, features a robust arts and culture scene, and has the added benefit of being near several accessible must-see sights. The first is Kartchner Caverns State Park in Benson, about 45 minutes from Tucson.
At Kartchner, learn the history of this literal hidden gem while you explore the entire "living" cave on a fully paved path—making this one of the only accessible caverns in the world. Book a tour here for your first afternoon, where you'll be transported beneath the surface of the desert terrain into an otherworldly space. Enjoy the comfortable underground temperatures (a constant 70 degrees and 99% humidity year-round) while admiring the astonishing features formed by water over the millennia in the aptly named Throne Room. Front-row seats to a unique music-and-light show cap this extra-special cave experience.
DAY 2: ARIZONA-SONORA DESERT MUSEUM
1 Hour 50 Minutes - 111 miles / 178.6 km
The following morning, prepare to be wowed all over again at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Located just below Saguaro National Park, this diverse destination features gardens, wildlife habitats (including a resident mountain lion), an aquarium, interactive exhibits, and a lively hummingbird aviary. Chances are you'll want to spend the better part of your day here. Grab a Southwestern-inspired lunch at Ocotillo Café and dessert at the Cottonwood–both on-site–before meandering through more of the handicap-accessible exhibits, like the aquarium. (It's worth noting that the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum provides electric convenience vehicles and ASL interpreters, too.) Pick up a little boost at Phoebe's Coffee Bar before hitting the road for Phoenix, just shy of two hours north, for the next part of your trip.
DAY 3: WHITE TANK WATERFALL TRAIL - DESERT BOTANICAL GARDEN
51 Minutes - 43.2 miles / 69.5 km
As the capital of Arizona, it's no surprise that Phoenix offers a host of adaptive experiences. You'll get to sample the best over the next two days. Begin bright and early to beat the heat (and a potentially crowded parking lot) at White Tank Waterfall Trail. Don't be fooled by the name—there will only be a cascade at the end if you're there right after recent rainfall. Wheelchair-enabled visitors will enjoy the first .8 paved miles of the trail. Look along the rocks for petroglyphs harkening back to an ancient time, and enjoy spotting early morning desert dwellers like hummingbirds, desert cottontail rabbits, and butterflies.
That afternoon, enjoy the sights and shopping in downtown Phoenix before another nature excursion in the evening. The Desert Botanical Garden allows guests to explore their expansive gardens with flashlights once the sun goes down—a popular activity for locals and tourists alike. You'll get to observe the desert coming to life beneath a blanket of stars, and even enjoy live music and refreshments at the on-site bar. It's a perfect way to top off a great day in Arizona.
DAY 4: BARTLETT LAKE
1 Hour 17 Minutes - 57.2 miles / 92 km
On day four, cool off in a different way on Bartlett Lake, just over an hour outside of downtown Phoenix. Here, Arizona Adaptive Watersports (AAWS) raises the bar on accessible outdoor adventure. They work with people of all abilities to ensure they have the time of their life on the water; whether that means paddling a kayak, inner tubing, fishing, or water skiing. No matter your comfort level, AAWS works with you to ensure your goals and expectations are met. We reserved the entire day for this invigorating, smile-inducing experience. Spend the evening resting for your journey the following day.
DAY 5: SUNSET CRATER VOLCANO NATIONAL MONUMENT
2 Hours 37 Minutes - 163 miles / 262.3 km
The fun is far from over on day five. Today, journey to the historic city of Flagstaff in northern Arizona. You'll pass through the gorgeous red-rock country of the Verde Valley before ascending 2,000 feet to the base of the San Francisco Peaks. Grab a bite to eat along the way to Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. (On sunny days we recommend the fantastic outdoor dining options at Pizzicletta or Tourist Home.) While Sunset Crater is beautiful to drive through, it's always better to get some fresh air. The .3-mile wheelchair-accessible Bonito Vista Trail is a great option to get a closer look at the wildflowers, former lava flows, and expansive views.
DAY 6: BEARIZONA WILDLIFE PARK
53 Minutes - 50.5 miles / 81.3 km
The following morning, trade the flora for some of Arizona's fauna at Bearizona Wildlife Park just outside the town of Williams, the "gateway to the Grand Canyon." This 160-acre park is home to some of North America's most exciting wildlife, such as wolves, bison, and black bears. Go on a self-drive safari in your own vehicle, then park and wander through the paved pathways to view smaller enclosures where otters, armadillos and porcupines bring the wilderness to your fingertips (figuratively, of course). Even lunch at Bearizona is an experience. Opt for the Canyonlands restaurant where you can dine on hickory-smoked barbecue and gourmet burgers while overlooking a spectacular jaguar enclosure with a 25-foot waterfall (gluten-free and vegetarian options available upon request). It might be worth a trip to Arizona just to eat lunch here.
DAY 7: GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK
7 Minutes - 2.6 miles / 4.3 km
Without further ado, it's time to see Arizona's namesake—Grand Canyon National Park. You have a couple of fantastic options for accessibility here. Those who prefer a slightly slower pace might enjoy the Grand Canyon Railway, which departs from downtown Williams and takes you the 60 miles to the south rim of the canyon with beautiful sightseeing and exciting narration along the way (including a staged train robbery). Those who prefer a real adrenaline rush might opt for a plane ride with Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters. Their expertly piloted 45-minute flight will make you feel like an eagle as you soar over one of America's Crown Jewels. Whether you prefer to see the Grand Canyon by train or plane, this is undoubtedly the ultimate finale to a week of accessible adventures in Arizona.
About the Author
Arizona Office of Tourism
These articles are brought to you by the staff of the Arizona Office of Tourism, and occasionally local tourism organizations around the state.