Off-Season Savings in Arizona
Arizona's diverse geography—from snow-covered mountains to sunny desert landscapes—means the weather differs from region to region and from season to season. To help you make the most of your travel budget, take advantage of off-season travel. Here, a guide to where in Arizona, and when, to visit.
Hike Canyon de Chelly National Monument.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument and Navajo National Monument, both in the Navajo Nation in northeastern Arizona, are admission-free parks that preserve American Indian history and culture, as well as sculptural canyons. Try scenic rim drives or hike down to the White House Ruin, a cliff dwelling site at Canyon de Chelly. You can hike the trail on your own, but other travel is allowed only with authorized Navajo guides or a park ranger. The only lodging inside the canyon is Thunderbird Lodge, a cozy motel built in an adobe style. In the fall, the lodge often cuts rates by almost 40 percent, so rooms often start in the double digits.
Go leaf-peeping in Flagstaff.
At about 7,000 feet in elevation, Flagstaff sits beneath the state's tallest mountain range, the San Francisco Peaks. Swaths of golden aspen trees drape the peaks in fall. Just outside of Flagstaff, make the drive to Lockett Meadow, part of the Coconino National Forest, to enjoy spectacular alpine scenery. Find autumn color updates through the LEAF-ometer from Discover Flagstaff. More good news is that come fall and winter in Flagstaff, hotel rates dip by at least 10 percent.
See the snow at the Grand Canyon.
With summer crowds gone and trees mantled in fresh snow, the Grand Canyon's South Rim feels like a vastly different place, quiet and still. Roads are less congested and some, like scenic Hermit Road, are open to private vehicles during winter. Hotel rooms are readily available and at sweet rates.
But it's the canyon that transforms. The brilliant hues of the cliffs become even more dazzling when framed by the snowpack. Because of the clear skies, visibility is highest this season—with some mountain peaks as far away as 200 miles able to be seen. Walk from Mather Point to the Canyon View Information Plaza to get your bearings, then enjoy a short hike to the Yavapai Geology Museum and Observation Station, where you'll learn about the canyon's geology. For a glimpse of early Pueblo Indian life, visit the Tusayan Museum and walk to a ruin.
Note: The North Rim of the Grand Canyon closes to visitors in the winter because of dangerous snow conditions on roads.
Experience the Old West in Oatman.
Explore the Arizona legends and lore of cowboys, outlaws, miners and other Wild West characters. Oatman, in northwestern Arizona on Route 66, has its own rootin' tootin' gold mining history. In winter, snow and cooler temperatures keep the crowds at bay, leaving you free to roam the historic Main Street, photograph the town's wild burros (descended from miners' pack animals) or watch mock gunfights in the middle of the street.
Bonus: Oatman is only about three hours southwest from the Grand Canyon, so make it a weekend road trip of Arizona's historic and natural highlights.
Ski in Flagstaff.
Come winter, the mountains above Flagstaff are swaddled in the white stuff. With an average of 260 inches of snow, the slopes are packed with skiers and snowboarders during the holidays and all through January. But the fun doesn't have to end on January 31. About the same time that Major League Baseball's Cactus League Spring Training gets underway in metro Phoenix, there's still a deep base of snow on the San Francisco Peaks, with each new storm adding a layer of fresh powder. Arizona Snowbowl Winter Resort stays open through the end of April and often runs specials and deals to entice visitors. You'll enjoy less-crowded lifts and wide-open skiing lanes under crisp morning skies.
Watch wildlife in Sierra Vista.
Spring in Sierra Vista, with its abundance of wildflowers and migrating birds, is technically high season. But you can take advantage of the wild beauty of this southern Arizona destination without breaking the bank. That's because the Friends of the San Pedro River organization offers free interpretive walks through lush riparian zones, where cottonwoods and willows attract hundreds of migrating and nesting bird species.
After, head toward the "Yosemite of Arizona"—Cave Creek Canyon. Accessed through the small town of Portal, the canyon is a birder's paradise for five months of the year. The rest of the time, it's just paradise. Spend some time relaxing in nature, and when you're ready to rest and eat, head to the Portal Peak Lodge for inexpensive lodging and food.
Stay at a luxe resort in Phoenix or Tucson.
It's no secret—summer in the desert gets hot. And it's in the desert where you'll find two of Arizona's largest cities, Phoenix and Tucson. The upside, though, is that fewer people vacation here that time of year. So to attract guests, five-star desert resorts offer summer deals for savvy travelers.
Enjoy lavish accommodations, amenities and service, even luxury spas, at a fraction of the cost. And here's the beautiful part: Thanks to the wonders of air conditioning, room temperatures stay just as comfortable as in the winter. Get in a round of morning golf, take a dip in the pool, schedule an afternoon massage, do some shopping and then take time to marvel at a monsoon-touched sunset with a wall of clouds ablaze in hues of red and gold.
Float down the Colorado River in Yuma.
The winter visitors who flee sunny Yuma in April don't know what they're missing. Picture this: an inflatable tube, a lazy river and a cooler full of cold beverages. What else do you need? The Colorado River can be feisty in the upper canyons, but the Yuma portion is gentle and languid, making for a relaxing summer day. Tube down the river from April 1 through September 30 via Yuma River Tubing. They provide tubes, coolers and a shuttle ride up the river. All you have to do is just drift back downstream to your starting point.
Take an adventure tour in Sedona.
Perched at 4,500 feet elevation, Sedona's summer climate offers relatively cool mornings and evenings, with high heat hitting during the afternoon. While the warmer temperatures aren't for everyone, for travelers seeking summer savings, a Sedona getaway provides plenty to do at bargain prices. Resorts and hotels offer reduced rates, and many of the tour companies and attractions provide discounts after Sedona's busy spring season. When looking for a Jeep tour, vortex tour, helicopter ride, hot air balloon flight, tee time or mountain bike rental, ask about the available summer deals.
Enjoy these Arizona attractions that offer free fun no matter the season.
At Kitt Peak Observatory in southern Arizona, take part in self-guided tours, hands-on activities and exhibits—all for free. Special night-time tours and a Dark Sky Discovery program are also among the offerings.
In Mesa, the Mesa Arts Center is an architecturally striking arts campus that makes a great photo stop. Its contemporary art museum highlights work by local and regional artists, and many free concerts and festivals are held year-round.
Cities such as Flagstaff, Mesa, Tucson, Bisbee and Phoenix offer "First Friday" or "Second Saturday" events with sidewalk vendors, food trucks and performances by local musicians and artists. Nearby businesses often offer discounts or special sales, and galleries and museums will even offer free admission on those evenings.
At Scottsdale's McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park, let the little ones cut loose on expansive lawns and several playgrounds. Tickets are required for the train and carousel, but at $3 a ticket, it's affordable fun.
6 Tips for Savings
- Book early: Long-range planning (usually 60 to 90-plus days in advance) can land you deep discounts, especially if you're willing to prepay for your stay.
- Book late: Feeling like a spur-of-the-moment getaway? Hotels would rather book a room at a reduced rate than leave it vacant. The trick is to call for a same-day booking when no-show or cancellations are likely to have surfaced.
- Sweeten the deal: Many resorts are willing to waive resort fees or comp breakfast. Other properties will offer room upgrades, free parking, discounted spa treatments or a welcome amenity, such as a free round of drinks. All you have to do is ask nicely.
- Get social: It pays to "like" or "follow" your favorite resorts on their social accounts like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter for potential insider savings. Likewise, sign up for email newsletters and text alerts from your favorite spots to receive news about special offers.
- Travel midweek: Most of us are more likely to travel on the weekends when rates are higher. But if you are flexible with your plans, you can score significant deals and enjoy more privacy and attention during the Sunday - Thursday lull.
- Don't fear monsoons: Starting in July, Phoenicians and Tucsonans are treated to cooling monsoon showers, which bring much-needed, sweet-smelling (that's the creosote) rain and spectacular lightning storms. This time of year also yields late-season bargains. Even if you've researched deals in May or June, check back in July and August for special offers.