Whether you're a nature lover, a foodie, a weekend warrior, a parent, a spiritual seeker or all of the above, Arizona has epic and unforgettable experiences waiting to be crossed off your dream list.
The ultimate life-changing wilderness experience is rafting the Grand Canyon, and there are numerous ways to choose your own adventure, from three-day motorized outings to 18-day oar odysseys. In addition, look for specialty trips: Multisport fans can mix whitewater kayaking with hiking the Canyon's peaceful North Rim. And lovers of craftsmanship can paddle the Colorado River in an elegant, handmade dory. If you prefer hiking poles to paddles, head to the Canyon's western side and trek to Havasu Falls - a paradise of cascading water and teal-hued travertine pools.
Shutterbugs can go on quests to the state's most stunning photo-ops, such as Coyote Buttes and The Wave a mesmerizing swirl of striped sandstone. On the other side of the Vermilion Cliffs is the photogenic Antelope Canyon. Photographers make pilgrimages to this slot canyon to capture shafts of sunlight piercing through walls weathered into corkscrew shapes. In Sedona, you can hike to Huckaby Trail, which follows along Oak Creek and rewards with panoramic views of red rocks buttes and peaks. When the sun goes down, Arizona is still spectacular. Designated an International Dark-Sky Park, Petrified Forest National Park is a celebrated stargazing spot. Backcountry campers can marvel at this lunar wilderness beneath the light of the Milky Way while tapping into humanity's timeless connection with the cosmos.
Bucket list experiences are typically once-in-a-lifetime, but families who visit Sprucedale Guest Ranch in Alpine often return year after year. Adults are drawn to dawn horseback rides when the mist rises from the meadows and antelope and elk scamper into the forests. Kids enjoy going free-range, riding in the children's rodeo, crafting fishing poles to catch crawdads, milking cows and laughing with newfound friends on hayrides.
For extra good old-fashioned bonding time, ride in a 1923 Pullman car on the Grand Canyon Railway. Open the windows and let the pine-scented air blow through your hair as the train chugs from Williams to the South Rim. Combine your journey with a stay at the plush Grand Canyon Railway Hotel, designed to resemble the 1908 hotel that's now part of the Williams train depot.
If unique transportation is your thing, rent a houseboat at Lake Powell's Wahweap Marina and cruise a watery wonderland between cliffs the colors of rust and ivory. Rev up a powerboat and waterski in sheltered canyons, or clamber among arches and caves. Then anchor on a sandstone beach, fish for large-mouth bass, and watch the sunset as you roast s'mores in a campfire.
Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale offers more wet and wild fun- plus urban amenities. At the resort's Adventure Water Park, kids can simulate surfing on a flow-board, tube on a lazy river and rocket down a 110-foot water slide.
To preserve some of Arizona's more popular - and fragile - wilderness destinations, visitation is limited via a permitting system. To visit Havasu Falls, make a reservation well in advance (havasupaireservations.com). In the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Coyote Buttes North (The Wave) and Coyote Buttes South require a day-use permit, granted through a lottery system (recreation.gov/permits/274309). Permits are also required to visit Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon, which are issued by licensed guides and tour operators (discovernavajo.com).
Arizona is renowned for resorts and wellness centers dedicated to helping people live healthier and more fulfilling lives. In Tucson's Catalina Mountains, you'll find a unique experience at Miraval Arizona Resort & Spa, where the therapists have four legs. Horses are highly attuned to human emotions and can serve as windows into the soul. So during Miraval's equine therapy sessions, guests can learn to overcome trauma and anxiety, communicate more authentically, uncover false beliefs and become more present in the moment.
The folks at Civana Wellness Resort & Spa in Carefree know that being in nature soothes inflammation, settles stress hormones and strengthens the ability to focus. That's why they cultivate a sense of calm through an array of alfresco activities. Civana hosts yoga on the lawn, meditation in the rose garden, outdoor labyrinth walking, sunset sound healing and forest bathing in the saguaro forests.
Arizona's spiritual center is Sedona, where swirling fields of energy called vortexes are said to suffuse people with inspiration and healing. Aumbase Sedona hosts outdoor yoga in a vortex, where you can clear your chakras while marveling at views of vermilion-colored mountains.
Or peer into the endless night sky beneath countless stars when you stay at the newly opened Clear Sky Resorts, located approximately 30 minutes from the Grand Canyon National Park's South Rim. You'll stay in your very own geodesic dome complete with panoramic windows, a skylight and a telescope - perfect for late-night stargazing.
Do you long to break out of your walled-in world and enter an open-air food fantasy in nature? Cloth & Flame can bring those imaginings to life. This couple-run company choreographs unforgettable farm-to-table dinners on fairy-lit, flower-festooned tables set in wild places. They've hosted ticketed events in the Superstition Mountains, Sedona's red rocks, Flagstaff's aspen forests and the edge of the Grand Canyon.
The great outdoors always makes food and drink taste better - and never more so than when you've earned them. With Sedona Adventure Tours, you'll launch a kayak near Cottonwood and paddle the tree-canopied Verde River. Then decant at Alcantara Vineyards to taste wines in a Tuscan-inspired farmhouse and watch bald eagles soar over the grapevines.
Farm-to-table fare doesn't get any fresher than when you can point to the fields, trees and garden that produced your dinner. At Quiessence in Phoenix, diners feast in the backyard of the farmhouse at the Farm at South Mountain. Chef Dustin Christofolo follows a slow food philosophy, so you can linger over the layered flavors of heirloom, artisanal ingredients as you sit under romantic stringed lights.
In nearby Cornville, you can experience a quintessential summer treat: picking fruits, then eating them fresh from the tree. At Folded Hills Orchard, gather juicy peaches, crisp apples, tart plums and sweet blackberries from mid-June to September.
Fitness events barely get more bucket list-y than the Bisbee 1000, the only outdoor stair climb in the county. Every October, participants run or walk 4.5 miles on steps that wind through Bisbee's colorful streets. Don a quirky costume and peek at quaint houses and gardens as you jog on paths where mules once trotted to copper mines.
If your goal is to complete a full or half-marathon, the party atmosphere at the Rock'n'Roll Marathon will keep you motivated. Live bands stationed throughout the course pump up the 30,000-odd runners who race along Tempe Town Lake, past Papago Park's red rocks and through the greenbelts of Scottsdale. Looking for a team-oriented adventure? Gather a group of eight and tackle the Ragnar Trail Arizona relay race through McDowell Mountain Regional Park near Scottsdale. Teams run day and night on saguaro-dotted peaks, covering a total of 120 miles - about 15 miles per person.
For cyclists, the El Tour de Tucson is the classic charity-supporting ride. Tucson is a designated gold-level Bicycle Friendly Community, so two-wheelers from across the country beeline here to pedal 1 to 100 miles through brightly colored barrios and Sonoran Desert scenery.
Article originally published in the 2021 Arizona Official State Travel Guide by Miles Partnership.