Sculptural slot canyons. Bears and wolves. A Route 66 saloon. The cool waters of the Colorado River and Lake Powell. And, of course, the piéce de résistance—the Grand Canyon. A trip through Northern Arizona is a visual delight, a bucket-list dream and an Instagram overload—it means bragging rights to America's best scenery.
Northern Arizona's a year-round destination where you can find fall color, mild winters with occasional dustings of snow, spring wildflowers and sunny summer days. Here are just a few of its must-sees.
The Grand Canyon
One of the seven wonders of the natural world, the Grand Canyon is a chasm carved by the Colorado River and a geological sight to behold. Most of it is protected within Grand Canyon National Park, which celebrates its centennial in 2019 with a series of special events and programming. The park is made up of two distinct parts—the remote, quieter North Rim and the more-visited South Rim.
Snow falls at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon / Credit: rabbit75_fot
The North Rim, open seasonally between May and October, offers lodging, dining, camping and hiking opportunities. The South Rim has more of the aforementioned options, as well as galleries, shops, a museum, and a large visitor center. You can also rent bikes, ride the famous mules, take a motor coach tour of the South Rim's highlights, see historic park structures, partake in ranger programs and join in educational expeditions, just to name a few activities.
Just outside the park's South Rim entry, the small community of Tusayan offers visitor-friendly endeavors like hotels, restaurants, gas stations and more. Stop by the Grand Canyon Chamber Visitor Center in Tusayan to reserve accommodations, pick up maps and brochures, get information on the free shuttle to the park, book tours and learn about other attractions statewide. Tusayan is also home to the National Geographic Visitor Center's IMAX theater—where "Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets" plays, acting as a preview to the canyon itself—and an airport that offers regularly scheduled helicopter and fixed-wing sightseeing flights over the canyon.
Downtown Williams / Credit: Ji Rui
Nearby, the town of Williams is known as the "Gateway to the Grand Canyon," but it's more than just a pass-through place—there are plenty of things to explore. The town is the southern terminus of the scenic Grand Canyon Railway, which operates vintage locomotives and old-fashioned passenger coaches that chug up to a historic train station at the South Rim. Aboard, there's entertainment and refreshments. Williams also celebrates Route 66, which cuts right through town. The historic, walkable stretch of the Mother Road is lined with saloons, soda fountains, shops and restaurants, plus plenty of Route 66 highway signs for those Instagram posts.
For those who would like a wilder drive, Bearizona is a wildlife park at the edge of Williams where you can motor (or ride a tour bus) through a wooded site filled with bears, wolves, and other animals. In another section of the park, you can walk past natural enclosures housing smaller critters, such as otters, porcupines, beavers, and bobcats.
Paddleboarding in Glen Canyon Recreational Area
The Grand Canyon and surrounding communities are not the only alluring attractions of Northern Arizona. The city of Page serves as a jumping-off point to the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and the sky-blue waters of Lake Powell, which straddle the Arizona-Utah border. Hiking, boating (including houseboat rentals), fishing and other water sports can fill up your daylight hours. Take a tour of Glen Canyon Dam, which created the lake along the Colorado River.
Be sure to book a tour to visit Antelope Canyon, a sculptural slot canyon that's one of Arizona's most-photographed spots. Another hashtag magnet is Horseshoe Bend, a perfect loop of the Colorado River. You can view and photograph it from a cliff above or see it up-close-and-personal by joining a smooth-water rafting trip that floats from the dam to the bend and back.
On the high desert between Flagstaff and Winslow, Meteor Crater is another natural wonder. Nearly a mile across and 550 feet deep, the crater is the result of a GPS-lacking asteroid that collided with earth some 50,000 years ago. A visitor center offers interpretive exhibits, a film and indoor observation areas, while the rim trail leads to outdoor overlooks. Guided tours are another option.
Join a tour
For that matter, guided tours are a great way to see all of Northern Arizona. One unique way to see the region is through the lens (literally) of a master photographer.
Arizona Highways PhotoScapes is a nonprofit group that supports the iconic state magazine by organizing photo workshops. Led by a professional photographer, the workshops have taken place at Lake Powell, along Historic Route 66, at Canyon de Chelly, the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley and other Northern Arizona landmarks, as well as other spots throughout the state and the West. Your souvenir? Great images.
Author: Nora Burba Trulsson
About the Author
The Arizona Office of Tourism occasionally features articles and content by tourism partners, including local travel organizations and businesses.