A woman and man hold hands and smile as they hike together in the woods
Flagstaff's wooded areas are a perfect setting for outdoor exploration.

Leave No Trace

Spend a Week Practicing Your Outdoor Skills in Northern Arizona

Put your outdoor knowledge to good use on the ultimate road trip in Northern Arizona.

This nine-day road trip takes you through some of Arizona's most unique and spectacular destinations. From hiking the rim of the Grand Canyon to viewing a 200-million-year-old petrified forest, you'll return home a verified outdoor expert who knows how to handle things like trail etiquette, trash management, and more.

GETTING STARTED

For those who are new to exploring the outdoors, the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace (LNT) can seem overwhelming at first.

Why can't we just camp here?
Why did those horseback riders give me a dirty look?
Can we have a campfire tonight?


There is truly a lot to consider! We walk you through each principle in this epic road trip that takes you through some of the most famous and fantastic sights in northern Arizona—all while educating you at the same time.

DAY 1: Get Prepared in Flagstaff

People walk along a small-town street during the day.

Downtown Flagstaff (Credit: Geoff Gourley)

Tie the primary principle of Leave No Trace, "Plan Ahead and Be Prepared," into your first day in Arizona. While many visitors will typically catch a direct flight into Phoenix and then drive to their destination, there is another option—taking a connecting flight straight to Flagstaff, Arizona! (Pro tip: travelers from Dallas and Denver can fly direct to Flagstaff.) The airport is located only 5.6-miles away from historic downtown and Route 66, making this an especially stress-free way to start your trip.

Once you've secured your rental car, spend your first day getting prepared. At 7,000-feet feet elevation, it's no wonder Flagstaff is an outdoor mecca. You can find craft breweries on almost every corner, great eateries, and a solid number of options for stocking up on outdoor supplies for your upcoming trip. (You'll find staples like sunblock and bug spray at Mountain Sports Flagstaff.) That evening, settle down with a map and a local IPA and plan the details of your trip.

DAY 2: Explore Flagstaff's National Monuments

A forest under cloudy skies

Coconino National Forest

The next day, embark on your journey right in Flagstaff's backyard, and remember "Stick to the Trails." There are a nearly overwhelming amount of options in Flagstaff to discover: Wupatki National Monument, Oak Creek Canyon, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, San Francisco Peaks, Coconino National Forest, and Walnut Canyon National Monument are all within reach. Craft your perfect day by picking two or three of these natural wonders—just be sure you include either Walnut Canyon or Wupatki national monuments. Here, you'll discover the ancient cultures of the Pueblo people.

It can be particularly tempting to wander beyond the pathway to more closely inspect the petroglyphs and ancient sites, but please refrain! These are incredibly sensitive areas. By protecting them during your visit, you ensure they will remain intact for generations to come. For an even closer look at why Leave No Trace principles are important, view the short video at the visitor center at Walnut Canyon National Monument.

DAY 3: Journey to Petrified Forest National Park

Sandy rock formations sit behind reddish stumps of petrified wood under a cloudy sky

Petrified Forest (Credit: National Park Service)

1 HOUR, 43 MINUTES – 115 MILES / 185 KM

Anyone on a road trip has surely noticed the disappointing number of discarded items on the side of the road. Plastic bags strung up on barbed wire fences and in cacti, empty soda cans rolling by like tumbleweeds, the odd armchair. As you journey from Flagstaff to Petrified Forest National Park, this is a great time to think about principle number three: "Trash Your Trash." We think it's great to have a road trip organization system in your vehicle so that the trash is collected and ready to be sorted out for recycling, if possible, at your destination.

Petrified Forest National Park is hands-down one of America's most unique natural areas. Home to a 211-million-year-old petrified forest, this place is not to miss! In addition to the beautiful and fragile petrified wood, you have the opportunity to hike through a stark landscape where wildflowers bloom each spring. Remember to stay on the trail during your visit, of course!

DAY 4: Avoid the Curse of the Petrified Forest

After overnighting in nearby Holbrook, return to Petrified Forest National Park for another opportunity to stretch your legs. Puerco Pueblo Trail takes you to an ancestral Pueblo site, while Giant Logs Loop takes you to some of the largest and most colorful logs in the park. All the trails are relatively short, so you can spend a quiet morning sauntering on a handful of them.

This park offers a terrific example of the fourth Leave No Trace principle: "Leave What You Find." A crucial principle for all of Arizona, this is especially relevant at a place like Petrified Forest National Park. We understand it can be tempting to stash a piece of petrified wood in your pocket—especially for the kids! But there is a minimum $325 fine for removing wood from the park.

Perhaps even more convincing is the well-known and documented "Curse of the Petrified Forest." It's known to be terribly bad luck to remove anything from the park—a superstition we wholeheartedly support. Desperate to take a piece of your experience home? You can purchase petrified wood from private landowners and gift shops just down the road.

DAY 5: Continue on to Monument Valley Tribal Park

A single hiker can be seen amidst the backdrop of giant rock formations

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

2 HOURS, 58 MINUTES – 186 MILES / 299 KM

With ever-increasing wildfire danger in the West, it’s always a good idea to "Be Careful with Fire," which happens to be the fifth Leave No Trace principle. This is true even in the desert. Continue on to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, one of the most beloved destinations for many who visit the American Southwest. (Please check current travel regulations before planning your trip!)

Upon pulling into the park you will surely think, "Ah, this seems familiar." Indeed, the sandstone masterpieces within the valley are some of the most photographed points on earth. In fact, many iconic movies have been filmed here, including "The Searchers" featuring John Wayne! Make your own movie magic as you drive the 17-mile scenic loop throughout the park. Those who elect to camp overlooking the famous formations are almost guaranteed to enjoy a stunning sunset, but no campfires are allowed.

DAY 6: Onwards to Page, Arizona

1 HOUR, 56 MINUTES – 121 MILES / 195 KM

The following day, head onwards to Page, Arizona. This is the town made famous by iconic Southwestern destinations including Horseshoe Bend and Lake Powell and Antelope Canyon. It's also a great place to practice the sixth Leave No Trace principle, "Respect Wildlife."

While visiting Arizona, you aren't likely to encounter much large wildlife, but this landscape is home to a number of smaller, more camouflaged creatures. Pronghorn antelope, rabbits, scorpions, lizards, owls, bobcats, coyotes, and porcupines are all residents of this landscape and can be spotted by the discerning eye (or ear). The best way to respect their habitat is to remember to stay on the trail, not make campfires in undesignated areas, and pack out your trash. It really goes to show how all the principles of LNT come together for the ultimate lesson in human-wildlife reciprocity!

DAY 7: Sightsee Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend



Horseshoe Bend (Credit: Rick Triana)

Page is a treasure trove of outdoor adventure—so spend the day exploring! We recommend beginning the day with a tour of Antelope Canyon followed by sunset at Horseshoe Bend. Of course, it can be ideal to avoid peak tourist times so that you get to enjoy these scenic areas in their most natural state.

Antelope Canyon takes reservations (all tours are guided); whereas, Horseshoe Bend is a short walk from the parking lot and can be visited anytime during daylight hours. If the lot is full, consider returning at a different time for the best experience possible and to prevent off-trail use. See some trash on the side of the trail that doesn't belong to you? Extra points for picking it up and throwing it away in an appropriate bin.

DAY 8: Grand Finale in the Grand Canyon



Sunrise colors at Grand Canyon (Credit: John Weatherby)

2 HOUR, 25 MINUTES – 134 MILES / 215.6 KM

Finally, show off your Leave No Trace knowledge by putting the seventh principle to use: "Share the Outdoors." There are many different types of trail users in Arizona, and the Grand Canyon offers a prime example of this. Here, outfitters take travelers down from the rim of the canyon by mule. There are also bike paths (although no singletrack mountain biking is allowed within the park), which can make for confusing encounters to those who are just getting familiar with trail etiquette in the outdoors!

It goes like this: horses or mules always have the right-of-way, followed by hikers, then lastly, cyclists. This applies to all trail situations, whether you're in a national park or on your local trail. (In addition, remember that downhill bikers yield to uphill bikers.)

DAY 9: Return to Flagstaff

1 HOUR, 29 MINUTES – 78.8 MILES / 126.8 KM

Enjoy a morning hike on the southern rim of the Grand Canyon with staggering views. The Rim Trail is paved and travels 13 miles along the edge, while Mohave Point or Monument Creek Vista offer sub-2-mile excursions. Once you've spotted a California Condor soaring on the thermals rising out of the canyon (bring your binoculars!), you can check the Grand Canyon off our list. Journey southwards towards Flagstaff, a mere hour and a half away. You're sure to have a lifelong grasp of the Seven Leave No Trace Principles after this tremendous northern Arizona road trip!


The Arizona Office of Tourism is continuing to monitor the evolving COVID19 situation. Before traveling to or throughout Arizona, check Visit Arizona.com/COVID-19 for important travel and tourism updates.

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.