Into The Valley(s). The “Other” Canyons of Arizona.

Discover Arizona's hidden natural treasures beyond the Grand Canyon. Explore the scenic beauty of Sabino Canyon, Canyon Lake, Oak Creek, and more. Uncover the best trails, stunning vistas, and unique wildlife in Arizona's lesser-known but equally breathtaking canyons.

Arizona is the Grand Canyon State. You will know this as it says so on your rental car’s number plate. Breathtaking as the Grand Canyon is, it’s a long drive for a day trip from the population centres in the south.

Fortunately there are numerous other spectacular Arizona canyons that are more accessible. Some of which you can drive (or be driven) into, where the road is part of the landscape — a little like Cheddar Gorget, if a little more dramatic than the pride of Somerset.

These are not the only other canyons in the state, but they are within easy reach of Flagstaff, Phoenix and Tucson.

Into The Valley(s).  The “Other” Canyons of Arizona.
West Fork, Sedona

Oak Creek Canyon descends from the high desert plateau of the Coconino Forest south of Flagstaff down through the ponderosa pines to the red rocks of Sedona. This is a stunningly beautiful drive, and is best enjoyed early in the morning, down the hill with windows down taking in the upland air and the scent of the trees.

Sedona itself is always busy with only three roads in and out of the town, so if a twenty mile crawl down (or up) the hill is not your idea of fun then it’s worth getting up early to make the trip.

At the bottom of the canyon Oak Creek is best experienced on two feet. There are a number of popular trails on the route, the most popular being West Fork, which is an inviting shaded, wooded walk along and across the fork of the creek with the canyon wall rising high above you. The trail is particularly stunning in the Autumn as the forest canopy transforms to red and gold.

For hiking in Sedona, the short ramble down the Huckaby Trail takes you to the canyon floor and the cool water of the Oak Creek itself. Here among the rocks and riparian trees you can enjoy the cool of the creek, looking up at the bridge over the canyon you crossed a little earlier.

Into The Valley(s).  The “Other” Canyons of Arizona.
Superstition Mountains

Further south, Canyon Lake and the other valleys of the Tonto National Forest are within easy reach of Phoenix. The Apache Trail (AZ 88) shimmies its way through the Superstition Mountains to the lake, with its sheer red-orange walls and clear fish-filled water.

A wildfire and subsequent rockfall in 2019 has closed the full loop of the Apache Trail and the road currently only extends a short distance past Canyon Lake to Tortilla Flat. However, Fish Creek and Boulder Canyon are still reachable on foot — ideally in hiking boots.

These hikes off the Apache Trail, particularly the ten miles of Boulder Canyon, are challenging and can include some clambering and orienteering should you venture deep into the mountains. The good news is that the first four miles of Boulder Canyon offer the most spectacular views back down to Canyon Lake and across the Superstition Mountains to Weavers Needle. You don’t have to complete the whole hike to experience the beauty of the Tonto National Forest.

Into The Valley(s).  The “Other” Canyons of Arizona.
Sabino Canyon, Tucson

Further south still, on the northeastern edge of Tucson, Sabino Canyon is Arizona’s goldilocks destination: It encapsulates everything that is unique and beautiful about the Arizona desert. It combines soaring, saguaro-studded canyon walls, rugged desert and an (almost) year-round flowing creek.

Its higher elevation and precipitation make it more accessible in the warmer months, and gives the canyon amazingly varied plant and animal life. Here you might see the relatively rare “crested” saguaros, coati, bobcats and even mountain lion.

Tucked into the foothills of the Santa Catalinas, Sabino genuinely offers something for everyone: there are 30 miles of hiking trails of varying difficulty — the most rewarding being the Bear Canyon to Seven Falls Trail, rising a moderate 1000 feet over its eight mile length.For a less strenuous Sabino Canyon visit, you can ride the hour-long electric shuttle up the paved road, winding through the landscape, crossing stone bridges, pools and waterfalls.

Beloved by Tucsonians and attracting over a million visitors annually, Sabino Canyon cannot not be called a hidden gem, yet along with Canyon Lake and Oak Creek, it remains somewhat overshadowed by the global allure of the Grand Canyon. These more accessible destinations promise you a more intimate and personal connection with Arizona's natural wonder, and give the famed giant of the Colorado a run for its money.

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About the Author

Jon Stone

Jon is a native of England, but has lived in Phoenix since 2005 where he writes about technology, marketing and travel. If you are in Phoenix, you might see him on the trails or out on his bike. He can be reached at


Cities & Regions

From the abundance of Saguaro cactuses and unique wildlife in the Sonoran Desert to the high country and forests of the White Mountains to the breathtaking Grand Canyon, Arizona’s regions are full of experiences that don’t disappoint.