25 Epic Bucket List Arizona Adventures
Arizona is arguably one of the most iconic states, synonymous with the Wild Wild West and the American Southwest.
Aside from being stunningly beautiful and richly historic, Arizona is also insanely diverse. Seriously, how many other places can you go from sweating in triple digits in the harsh desert to needing a jacket in the high alpine forest in just two hours?!
Regardless of what draws you to the desert, whether you’re a first-time visitor or a longtime resident, there are plenty of Arizona adventures to keep you busy.
From its three national parks to the little-known and hard-to-reach places (and everything in between!), you’ll find endless opportunities to add to your Arizona bucket list. It is called The Grand Canyon State, after all!
One more thing: if you don’t already have an America the Beautiful Pass (AKA a national parks annual pass), you may want to consider getting one before embarking on your Arizona adventures. You’ll get lots of use out of it here!
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Jump ahead to:
- 25 Arizona Adventures for Your Bucket List
- 1. Tour Antelope Canyon
- 2. Climb the Bisbee 1000
- 3. Marvel at Hoodoos at Chiricahua National Monument
- 4. Stay at an Authentic Dude Ranch
- 5. Paddle Emerald Cove
- 6. Go Leaf-peeping in Flagstaff
- 7. Hike the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim
- 8. Go Whitewater Rafting in the Grand Canyon
- 9. Backpack to Havasu Falls
- 10. Kayak Horseshoe Bend
- 11. Summit Humphreys Peak
- 12. Get Spooky in Jerome
- 13. Camp at Lake Powell
- 14. Experience Monument Valley
- 15. Step Back in Time in Oatman
- 16. See Petrified Wood and Stargaze in Petrified Forest National Park
- 17. Hike Metro Phoenix
- 18. Climb Picacho Peak
- 19. Enjoy a Scottsdale Staycation
- 20. Explore ‘Hidden’ Sedona Caves
- 21. Hit the Slopes
- 22. Experience the Wild Wild West in Tombstone
- 23. Walk Through The Wave
- 24. Get Off the Beaten Path at White Pocket
- 25. Go Retro at the Wigwam Motel
- Arizona Bucket List Map
25 Arizona Adventures for Your Bucket List
1. Tour Antelope Canyon
Contributed by Emilie from Love Life Abroad
A visit to Arizona is not complete without a hike in a slot canyon. Near Page in northern Arizona, you’ll find a few options for slot canyon hikes. The most popular is Antelope Canyon.
While many people head to Upper or Lower Antelope Canyon, Antelope Canyon X should be the focus of your Arizona adventures. Quick side note: Page and Antelope Canyon X are great stops before heading to Zion or Bryce National Parks.
Taadidiin Tours is the only outfitter offering hiking and photography tours in Antelope Canyon X, which is at the start of Antelope Canyon (the same canyon from the famous Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon tour). It’s recommended to reserve your tour well in advance. Thankfully, Taadidiin Tours is a pretty new company, so you shouldn’t have a problem finding a timeslot that fits your busy travel schedule.
Insider tip: Antelope Canyon X is located on Najavo Nation territory. The Najavo Nation does observe Daylight Saving Time, while Arizona does not. Make sure to double-check your Antelope Canyon tour time so you don’t miss your reservation!
Check Antelope Canyon off your Arizona bucket list with one of these excellent guided tours!
2. Climb the Bisbee 1000
The Bisbee 1000, AKA “The Great Stair Climb,” is easily one of the most unique Arizona adventures. Nine staircases located throughout the city contain over 1,000 steps, for a total of 4.6 miles. Individual staircases range in length (and steepness!) from 73 to 181 steps.
Bisbee itself, a mining town established in the 1880s, is quirky and scenic, adding an especially interesting dimension to this urban hike. The town was built up into the mountains rather than spread out, and the Bisbee 1000 lets you experience that up-close and personal.
Between staircases, hikers walk on winding roads, up incredibly steep hillsides, through eclectic residential neighborhoods, and pass by some of the oldest and most historic buildings downtown. You’ll notice that several staircases are the very same ones residents use to access their homes from the street level!
Note that there’s an official race event every October, but you can hike the Bisbee 1000 on your own any time of year.
Insider tip: You can technically hike the Bisbee 1000 in any direction or out of order, but only the bottoms of the staircases are marked. It’s very easy to miss one of the numbered staircases (the city has over 350 sets of stairs!) if you vary from the map route.
Want to explore Bisbee, but not necessarily into hiking all those steps? Check out this guided e-bike tour!
3. Marvel at Hoodoos at Chiricahua National Monument
Contributed by Claire from The Detour Effect
Arizona’s most underrated playground for outdoor enthusiasts lies in the Sky Island region. This land of contrasts in the southeastern corner of the state spills into Mexico and consists of 17 mountain ranges.
A “sky island” is an abrupt burst of biodiverse mountains found in the middle of otherwise endless, flat desert. Imagine driving through miles of desolate lowlands until suddenly, out of nowhere, hoodoos, rock spires, and sharp peaks tower overhead as if you’d somehow launched yourself into another dimension.
While each sky island has unique features, it’s Chiricahua National Monument that should be on your Arizona bucket list. This is where you’ll find the theatrical Heart of Rocks Loop hiking trail, which weaves through a maze of abstract, Dr. Seuss-esque hoodoos while peering out at thousands more over the horizon.
Insider tip: There is only one campground in the national monument, Bonita Canyon, which you can reserve for $20. However, adventurous backpackers might consider hiking on unmaintained trails outside of the monument and into the larger Chiricahua Wilderness to find dispersed camping. Watch for jaguars!
Speaking of camping, check out our ultimate list of camping must haves!
4. Stay at an Authentic Dude Ranch
It doesn’t get much more “Arizona bucket list” than staying at a dude ranch! Whether you only have time for a quick weekend getaway or you stay for a week, an Arizona dude ranch is one of the best ways to get a true taste of the Old West.
Unplug from the daily hustle and bustle and spend your days riding horses, hiking, exploring the desert in an ATV, practicing your archery or shooting skills, or even helping out on the ranch. Many Arizona dude ranches offer hands-on guest experiences like cattle sorting and team penning.
All ranches also have nightly entertainment such as rodeos, live music, or cowboy poetry. And trust me when I tell you that you’ll never eat (or drink!) so good as at a dude ranch!
There are dude ranches all over Arizona and they each have distinct personalities, so it’s easy to find the perfect one. If you’re looking for a historical ranch, for example, Kay El Bar Ranch was the first-ever dude ranch in Arizona (opened in 1918!).
White Stallion Ranch offers guests rustic luxury, with upscale guestrooms and amenities including a pool and spa, while Tombstone Monument Ranch is great for families, located in the famous historical town that arguably put Arizona on the map.
Insider tip: Bring cash to tip the ranch staff (wranglers, waitstaff, tour operators) at the end of your stay.
5. Paddle Emerald Cove
Emerald Cove, also called Emerald Cave, is a very literal hidden “gem” when it comes to Arizona bucket list adventures (see what I did there?). Located along the Colorado River on the Arizona-Nevada border just south of Lake Mead, this natural wonder shines bright emerald green when the sun hits it just so.
Most people park at Willow Beach and paddle two miles upstream from the marina to reach Emerald Cove. It can be easy to miss, so assuming you’re paddling upstream, look for the old cable car hanging above and you’ll know the cove is just up ahead. When you see the large, noticeable cave on your left, Emerald Cove is directly across from it on your right.
Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have to turn back once you find Emerald Cove. If you paddle beyond it, you’ll find several stretches of sandy beaches, perfect for lunch or even camping overnight.
The river is calm here and doesn’t split at all, so this kayaking route is manageable even for beginners (yes, you can bring your own inflatable kayak!). Several local outfitters including Desert Adventures rent kayaks and will even meet you at Willow Beach Marina if you don’t have your own.
Insider tip: Time your arrival to Emerald Cove carefully. You want the sun almost directly overhead, or the water won’t look green. Depending on the time of year, the best time of day is generally between 1:00-3:00 pm.
If you prefer a guided tour to kayak Emerald Cove, here are a few great options!
6. Go Leaf-peeping in Flagstaff
Arizona may not be the first place that pops into your mind when you think of fall foliage — but hold that thought.
In the higher elevations just north of Flagstaff, Inner Basin Canyon in the San Francisco Peaks is home to a large, dense population of aspen trees. Every October, they transform into a blanket of gold before dropping their leaves for winter.
You’ll see plenty of great fall color from the parking lot and campgrounds at Lockett Meadow, but to get the best views, hike Inner Basin Trail. I’m an avid hiker and it’s one of my favorite Arizona hikes! You can do Inner Basin Trail as a 5-mile loop or a 4-mile out-and-back hike.
As one of the only places in Arizona where aspens grow, Inner Basin Canyon attracts a ton of visitors. On October weekends, Forest Service rangers control traffic from 7:00 am to 5:00 pm. If you’re not in the parking lot before 7:00, be prepared to wait for up to a couple of hours. Weekdays are substantially less crowded.
Fall is incredibly short-lived in Arizona and some years, you may only be able to see the fall colors for a week or so. Peak color typically occurs in the first two weeks of October.
To give you an idea of how quickly it changes, in 2020 we were there on October 10th (when the photos above were taken) and again on October 13th. The trees were almost completely bare on the second trip!
Insider tip: Watch Flagstaff’s official LEAF-ometer starting in late September and when you see the colors change, plan to head to Inner Basin Canyon within a few days.
7. Hike the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim
Contributed by Natasha from Planes, Trains and Karcz
No compilation of epic Arizona adventures would be complete without mentioning the renowned Grand Canyon rim-to-rim hike.
Regardless of which route you opt to follow, know that you are in for a grueling yet once-in-a-lifetime trek through unspoiled and challenging desert terrain.
Most hikers who attempt the famed rim-to-rim hike do so only after ample training or alongside a qualified tour operator, as the demanding physical component is just one of many facets to consider on a hike of this length and difficulty.
If you’re someone who’s up to the challenge, know that you’re in for one of the most spectacular feats Arizona has to offer. After all, how often in life can you embark on a 20+ mile (one way!) trek through one of the seven natural wonders of the world?!
Think towering canyon walls, the rushing Colorado River, abundant canyon blooms, native wildlife, vivid sunsets, and more stars than the eye can behold. Just be sure to pack for an overnight hike accordingly and secure your permits well in advance for this Arizona bucket list adventure you’ll never forget!
Insider tip: While the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim hike can technically be completed in one day, it is recommended you spend at least one night along the way.
You can camp overnight (backcountry permits required), try your luck at the Phantom Ranch lottery, or book accommodations at either or both the North or South Rim. Note that reservations are extremely difficult to get, and they operate on a 15-month rolling period.
8. Go Whitewater Rafting in the Grand Canyon
Talk about Arizona bucket list activities! People wait anywhere from one to three years — at a minimum — for the opportunity to go whitewater rafting through the Grand Canyon.
Authorized river concessioners offer private guided trips ranging in length from 3 to 18 days. There’s a trip for every interest, experience level, and budget, with packages that include hiking, horseback riding, fishing, camping, helicopter tours, and stays at dude ranches.
On private trips, guides also take care of just about everything, such as setting up camp each night and cooking meals.
For people with advanced skills and experience who want to embark on one of the most epic adventures in Arizona with their peers, noncommercial/private permits are available for 2-25 day trips.
These permits are issued through a weighted lottery system and the trips run along a different stretch of the Colorado than guided whitewater trips. To be clear, these noncommercial trips are strictly DIY; you will not have a river guide.
Insider tip: Whitewater season in the Grand Canyon runs from April through October. Most private river concessioners take reservations 2-3 years in advance and often sell out within a few days of opening their bookings for the season. Plan (far) ahead!
Quick note: There’s no such thing as half-day or day trips inside Grand Canyon. If you’re interested in a shorter excursion, consider rafting or paddling the Colorado River through Horseshoe Bend, near Page (see #10!).
9. Backpack to Havasu Falls
Contributed by Michelle from The Wandering Queen
Havasu Falls is a fabulous bright waterfall near the Grand Canyon and should be added to everyone’s Arizona bucket list. The waterfall doesn’t look real!
The water’s color is a bright baby blue and the canyons are bright orange. The contrast in colors makes this one of the most beautiful and unique waterfalls in the world, and certainly one of the most epic adventures in Arizona.
But (yep, there’s a “but!”) getting to Havasu Falls is difficult. It involves a 20-mile round trip hike! No matter your experience or fitness level, it’s challenging to hike that many miles in a day, so you must camp at the falls and carry all of your gear in.
To camp at the waterfall, you have to obtain an extremely hard-to-get permit from the Havasupai tribe. The permits go on sale every February, and they’re typically sold out for the entire season in a matter of minutes. Havasu Falls is a much sought-after permit, so paying attention to when the permits go on sale is crucial.
If you’re not much of a hiker, you can also pay for a helicopter ride, but the rides are offered on a first-come, first-served basis and can take as long as the hike. However you see them, the beautiful waterfalls at Havasupai should be at the top of everyone’s Arizona bucket list!
Insider tip: Finding them takes some digging, but there are social media groups for getting Havasu Falls permits at the last minute. You have to reserve one over 18 months in advance, so it’s fairly common for people to not be able to go on their original date. In these cases, people sometimes offer their permits to group members.
10. Kayak Horseshoe Bend
Synonymous with Arizona, Horseshoe Bend is one of the most iconic natural features in the state — not to mention one of the most recognizable sites in the world!
Visiting Horseshoe Bend doesn’t have to involve simply walking up to the rim, snapping some photos, and heading home, though.
For a truly memorable Arizona bucket list experience, kayak Horseshoe Bend! You will never forget gliding through Glen Canyon on the Colorado River, looking up at the tourists standing at the overlook 1,000 feet above. If you’re lucky, you may even encounter wild horses!
In order to kayak Horseshoe Bend, you must utilize a backhaul service. In case you’re unfamiliar, a backhaul is essentially a boat shuttle.
You kayak the river several miles downstream, so without the backhaul company, you’d end up far away from your vehicle. The backhaul boat takes you and all your gear, including your kayak, upstream and drops you off at your starting point. Then you kayak back to your vehicle!
The two main Horseshoe Bend backhaul services are Kayak Horseshoe Bend and Kayak the Colorado (we used Kayak the Colorado). Both offer kayak rentals in addition to backhaul services, as well as several day and overnight trip options.
We did a 10-mile day trip from Petroglyph Beach back to Lee’s Ferry, which took us almost exactly six hours. This is the route all the guides recommend, and we absolutely loved it! I’ve lived in Arizona for over 20 years and kayaking Horseshoe Bend ranks among my favorite Arizona adventures.
Insider tip: Stay overnight in either Marble Canyon or Page. Lee’s Ferry is remote and it will be an extremely long day if you have to travel before and after kayaking Horseshoe Bend. Both Kayak Horseshoe Bend and Kayak the Colorado offer convenient, affordable lodging options in Marble Canyon.
Did you know that Zion National Park is less than two hours away from Horsehoe Bend?!
11. Summit Humphreys Peak
Contributed by Danielle from Danielle Outdoors
If you’re looking for an Arizona bucket list adventure, summiting Humphrey’s Peak is a must! Mt. Humphrey is the tallest point in Arizona, standing at 12,633 feet. It’s located in Flagstaff, about 2.5 hours north of Phoenix.
The hike itself is 10.7 miles and you will ascend 3,395 feet in elevation. I would say this is the hardest hike I’ve been on — it’s definitely not for the faint of heart! It is rewarding, however, as you go through multiple terrains ranging from thick alpine forest to almost no vegetation whatsoever up top.
The views are incredible, and you can even see the Grand Canyon on a clear day! Humphrey’s does get quite a bit of snow, and I do NOT recommend hiking during these conditions.
The best month to summit this peak is between May-September. You don’t want to miss this challenging adventure!
Insider tip: After you accomplish the Mount Humphreys hike, stop at a local brewery in downtown Flagstaff to refuel. My personal favorites are Dark Sky Brewery and Historic Brewing Company. It’s not one of the most epic adventures in Arizona without a beer!
12. Get Spooky in Jerome
Contributed by Timpani from Like the Drum
Jerome, also known as the “Wickedest city in the West,” is about two hours north of Phoenix. Once a huge mining community built into the side of a mountain, this small town is now a tourist destination, particularly for those into the paranormal.
Between the violent clashes that occurred among residents over a century ago and tragic mining accidents, Jerome is no stranger to death.
Visitors can take a ghost tour with one of the local tour companies to learn all about Jerome’s sordid past and the ghosts that walk its streets. The tours tend to get spookier and more “adult “the later they are in the evening, so keep that in mind when booking.
After some frights, grab a bite at Haunted Hamburger for a delicious burger or Bobby D’s BBQ for some pulled pork tacos with house-made jalapeno molasses barbeque sauce.
Not into ghosts? Head to the Gold King Mine & Ghost Town to see a cool collection of historic buildings and vintage vehicles.
Insider tip: Jerome is a short distance from both Prescott and Sedona (and yes, those red mountains the town overlooks are Sedona!), making it a perfect day trip add-on to many other Arizona adventures.
Oh, and fair warning: the road up to Jerome is as windy as they come! If you’re prone to getting car sick, consider taking Dramamine or wearing a motion sickness band.
13. Camp at Lake Powell
Contributed by Sarah from Roadmaps & Restaurants
Camping at Lake Powell should definitely be included in your Arizona adventures! Lake Powell is a popular vacation spot along the Colorado River that straddles the Arizona-Utah border.
While it’s very warm during the summer, it’s one of the best times to visit Lake Powell, as the days are longer and you can take in all of the exciting activities! From camping and boating to swimming and playing golf, Lake Powell has something for everyone. Summer is also the best time to enjoy the lake’s Utah beaches!
There are a variety of campgrounds around Lake Powell, but Wahweap (on the Arizona side) is conveniently located near beach access, boat rentals, and Lake Powell Resort, where there’s a pool and restaurant!
You can also rent a houseboat — another Arizona bucket list item! — if you’d rather swap your tent for a boat. Whether you’re camping or enjoying the resort, be sure to check out the onsite restaurant, the Rainbow Room.
Insider tip: Rent a kayak to explore more of Lake Powell while staying cool on the water. Don’t forget to pack a lunch and drinks to take with you!
14. Experience Monument Valley
Contributed by Daria from The Discovery Nut
One of the most famous landmarks in the American Southwest, Monument Valley is a spectacular vista on the border of Utah and Arizona that draws photographers from all over the world.
The area is characterized by the bright sandstone buttes that range from 400 to 1,000 feet, surrounded by wispy clouds casting shadows over the desert floor.
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is managed by the Navajo Nation, a North American tribe that calls this area home. To enter the park, visitors are required to pay a $20 cash fee.
To see the spectacular red rock formations, visitors typically drive around the scenic loop. However, there are also several Monument Valley hikes that make for epic Arizona adventures.
Monument Valley is located in the Four Corners region and to get there, you have to either road-trip or drive from one of the nearest major airports such as Salt Lake City or Phoenix. If you’re traveling from Arizona, consider combining a stop at Monument Valley with a visit to Antelope Canyon.
Accommodations and restaurants are limited in the area, so many tourists end up staying in one of the nearby towns in Utah, slightly north of Monument Valley.
Insider tip: Late fall and early spring are the best times to visit this Arizona bucket list destination, thanks to mild temperatures and fewer visitors compared to the busy summer season.
15. Step Back in Time in Oatman
Contributed by Debbie Fettback from World Adventurists
Located in western Arizona along historic Route 66 is the flourishing Oatman ghost town. This Old West town is one you won’t want to miss checking off your ultimate Arizona bucket list!
Once a mining camp that struck gold in 1915, today Oatman welcomes half a million visitors every year. See the wild burros (that’s donkeys, for anyone unfamiliar) roam around town, watch the Gunslingers Wild West shootout, and wander the cheeky western-themed shops, like Classy Ass and Jackass Junction.
Learn some of the town’s history at the Oatman Mine Museum, where you can walk through part of an old mineshaft. Don’t forget to stop in the saloon at the Oatman Hotel, to hear ghost stories and see the interior — it’s covered with signed one-dollar bills! Back in the day, miners attached their money to the walls for use on a rainy day.
Insider tip: You can feed the wild burrows in town! You must purchase some alfalfa cubes to feed the burros; what they are fed is strictly enforced.
Want to visit Oatman and hit a few highlights on Route 66? Check out these half-day guided tours!
16. See Petrified Wood and Stargaze in Petrified Forest National Park
Contributed by Shelly from Almost There Adventures
The most famous spot to see petrified wood is Petrified Forest National Park in northeastern Arizona. Petrified wood is actually a fossil that forms over 200 million years. The petrified wood found in the park is made up of almost solid quartz. Each piece is like a giant crystal, often sparkling as you hike through the park on your Arizona adventure.
Petrified Forest National Park is also an International Dark Sky Park, but only a fraction of visitors get to stargaze here. The park closes at 5:00 pm, unlike most parks that are open 24 hours.
The park hosts some ranger-led stargazing events throughout the year when the park stays open longer, and those who choose to backpack into the park’s backcountry wilderness overnight can also view the dark skies.
There are campsites nearby or hotels in the town of Holbrook, 20 miles from the park. The area is fairly remote, so staying in Flagstaff and doing a day trip is another great option.
Insider tip: Don’t miss the ancient village and petroglyphs at Puerco Pueblo in the park. Also, if you want to visit another national park, the South Rim of the Grand Canyon is only three hours away.
17. Hike Metro Phoenix
Contributed by Brittany from Travel by Brit
No matter where you live in Greater Phoenix, you’re never more than a few miles away from a fantastic hike. Phoenix is considered one of the country’s top cities for urban hiking, with nearly 250 trails in the metro area!
Some of the best hikes in Phoenix include Piestewa Peak, Camelback Mountain, and Tom’s Thumb — and all of these hikes should be on your Arizona bucket list!
The Piestewa Peak Summit Trail is a challenging 2.2-mile hike with an elevation gain of 1,337 feet, but at the end, you’ll be able to admire fabulous views of Metro Phoenix.
Perhaps most famous of all Phoenix hikes, Camelback Mountain’s Echo Canyon Trail is a steep, uphill 2.5-mile scramble with sprawling views of Phoenix and Scottsdale.
Tom’s Thumb Trail, in North Scottsdale, is a rugged four-mile hike with large boulders and gorgeous views of the untamed desert.
Insider tip: Bring plenty of water and sunscreen when hiking in Phoenix. During the warmer months, finish hiking in the early morning when it’s cool outside to prevent heatstroke.
Bonus: Many of the best hikes in Phoenix are dog-friendly! That’s just one reason why Phoenix is one of the most dog-friendly cities in the U.S.
18. Climb Picacho Peak
Picacho Peak, located just off I-10 between Tucson and Phoenix, is one of the most difficult hikes in the state, topping many people’s Arizona bucket list.
And to be clear, “hike” should be used very loosely when referring to Picacho Peak. It’s truthfully more of a rock climb, gaining nearly 2,000 feet in elevation in just two miles.
There are two options, 2-mile Hunter Trail and 3.1-mile Sunset Vista Trail. Hunter Trail is shorter and considered a bit more technically challenging, but Sunset Vista Trail is completely exposed with no shade whatsoever.
Regardless of which option you take, both trails converge about halfway up. From this point, known as the “saddle,” there’s only one route — and it’s difficult. You descend a few hundred feet before ascending, and this part of the trail has several sections with steel cables because it’s so steep.
The cables are intimidating at first, but take your time and you’ll be fine. A ranger gave us the excellent advice to step each foot down as flat as possible instead of trying to climb on our tiptoes, which apparently most people do. This gives you more surface contact, particularly where there’s a lot of loose rock.
Once you’re at the top, have a snack and crack a summit beer in celebration. Mentally prepare yourself for going down the cables and head back the way you came.
Insider tip: Bring gloves for the cable sections on the trail. Look for a lightweight pair with some grip on the palms.
19. Enjoy a Scottsdale Staycation
Contributed by Sydney from A World in Reach
If you’re in need of a relaxing Arizona bucket list experience, consider spending a weekend at one of Scottsdale’s world-class resorts.
Scottsdale is home to more than 70 hotels and resorts, literally all of them posh. No matter your budget or travel style, you’ll be able to find the perfect resort for your trip.
Unsurprisingly, Scottsdale staycations are wildly popular mother daughter trip ideas, as well as for couples and bachelorette parties.
One of the best resorts in town is the Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Bungalows, which features a gorgeous pool, a spa, and breathtaking views of Camelback Mountain.
After checking into your resort, get ready to have the perfect Scottsdale staycation. Spend hours soaking up the sun at the pool, treat yourself to a massage or a facial, and enjoy a delicious dinner at the resort restaurant, Weft & Warp.
If you’re up for exploring, Old Town Scottsdale should be part of your Arizona adventures. It’s home to world-class shopping, museums, fantastic nightlife, and the Scottsdale Wine Trail.
Insider tip: Summer is low season in Scottsdale due to the hot temperatures, so the resorts slash their rates. If you can handle the heat, visit during the summer for the perfect budget-friendly Scottsdale vacation.
20. Explore ‘Hidden’ Sedona Caves
Sedona is a hiking mecca, with over 200 named trails spanning more than 400 miles. Each of them is unique and out-of-this-world scenic, but for the ultimate Arizona adventure, look beyond the surface to Sedona’s mystical caves.
Some of the Sedona cave hikes are easier to find than others, but all require a great deal of research, some wayfinding, and probably a bit of rock scrambling. Hey, the journey is the destination, right?
One of the most popular and accessible caves in Sedona is Soldier Pass Cave, reached via a 3.5-mile hike from the Soldier Pass Trailhead. It’s far from secret, but still worth it because you pass must-see Sedona sights including the Seven Sacred Pools and Devil’s Kitchen sinkhole.
Another popular secret Sedona cave is “The Subway,” or Boynton Canyon Cave. Thanks to social media, it’s hardly a secret anymore, but The Subway is still challenging to find. Getting to it requires a 6-mile roundtrip hike and the cave itself is 1/3 of a mile off the trail.
If you want to visit a few Sedona caves in one trip, the Birthing Cave and Kachina Tree Cave are close to the Boynton Canyon Trailhead.
Insider tip: Most Sedona hiking trails and parking areas require a Red Rocks Pass. You can purchase a daily, weekly, or annual pass online or at many gas stations and retail stores in Sedona.
As an added bonus, there are a couple of awesome retreats in Sedona, just in case you want to combine your outdoor adventures with some well-deserved recharging!
Interested in exploring Sedona on foot and by Jeep? Check out these awesome tours!
21. Hit the Slopes
Similar to leaf-peeping, Arizona doesn’t immediately come to mind when most people think of skiing. And yet, snow sports are some of the most epic adventures in Arizona.
Arizona has three main ski areas: Arizona Snowbowl in Flagstaff, Sunrise Park Resort in Greer, and Mount Lemmon Ski Valley in Tucson. Flagstaff is also home to Arizona Nordic Village, offering cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Snowbowl and Sunrise are both surprisingly large, each offering a little something for everyone. Flagstaff’s popular resort has over 50 groomed trails, three terrain parks, and eight lifts, while Sunrise has 65 runs, a terrain park, a tubing hill, and specially-designated areas for children, snowboarding, and cross-country skiing.
Mount Lemmon is unique in that it’s the southernmost ski area in the U.S., so it has a rather short season. The resort’s terrain is primarily made up of intermediate and advanced terrain, but there are a handful of trails for beginners.
Insider tip: Wear sunscreen, even if you don’t typically burn. Arizona’s perpetual bluebird days and crazy high UV index mean the sun is actually more likely to burn you when it reflects off the snow.
22. Experience the Wild Wild West in Tombstone
Known as “the town too tough to die,” Tombstone proudly celebrates its 1880s outlaw heritage — Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, O.K. Corral and all.
Tombstone has been remarkably well-preserved. Today, visitors enjoy uniquely Arizona adventures including gunfight re-enactments, mine and cemetery tours, and having a drink in the same saloons where outlaw legends once did.
The town is also said to be full of paranormal activity, and brave souls can choose from several (potentially) haunted tours.
The most famous of Tombstone’s haunted places is the Bird Cage Theatre, a former brothel, saloon, gambling hall, and yes, theater.
Living up to its reputation as “wild and wicked,” the Bird Cage was open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It was the site of at least 16 gunfights and 26 deaths, and there are more than 140 bullet holes (and some bullets!) still in the walls, ceilings, and furniture!
The Bird Cage Theatre is also one of the only truly original buildings in Tombstone, as most others were destroyed in fires. It’s no wonder this Arizona bucket list destination attracts paranormal investigators from all over, including Ghost Hunters. There are late-night ghost tours in the Bird Cage, as well as more family-friendly tours during the day.
Insider tip: Tombstone and Bisbee are just 30 minutes from one another, so be sure to visit both while you’re in southeastern Arizona!
23. Walk Through The Wave
Winning a permit through The Wave lottery is at the top of many people’s Arizona bucket list, and it’s easy to understand why. The Wave itself, contained within the Coyote Buttes North section of the vast Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, is an absolutely spectacular geological wonder.
The otherworldly rock formations are so stunning and remote that they seem almost mystical. And because of the super-restrictive permit system, The Wave stays that way. I’ve had the incredible fortune of hiking it twice and we only saw a few other hikers on each trip.
In order to get a permit to hike The Wave, you must either apply for the online lottery four months in advance or show up in Kanab, Utah, in person the day before your intended hike. Only 64 people per day are allowed to hike The Wave and those permits are divided up by 48 online and 16 in person.
If you do manage to win a permit (congrats!), you’ll be tasked with actually hiking The Wave. The 6-ish-mile roundtrip hike isn’t particularly difficult, but because it’s a wilderness area, there are no marked trails — at all.
There’s also a lot more to see in this area besides The Wave itself, so you may end up hiking substantially more than six miles. We did a little over 14 on our first trip, and nearly 16 on the second. Do plenty of research and look into finding “The Window,” “The Room,” the “Mini Wave,” and sand dunes.
Insider tip: The trailhead for The Wave, Wire Pass Trailhead, is also the trailhead for Buckskin Gulch, a slot canyon far bigger than Antelope Canyon. The slot canyon starts 1.7 miles from the parking lot and spans over 20 miles.
You can easily reach the mouth of the canyon on the same trip if you’re doing The Wave, but if you want to explore it more, stay overnight in nearby Page, Arizona, or Kanab, Utah.
24. Get Off the Beaten Path at White Pocket
Contributed by Meg from Fox in the Forest
Hands down, a trip to White Pocket should be on any Arizona bucket list. Not only is it a great alternative in the Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness area if you can’t get a permit for the uber-famous Wave, but it’s easily one of the best hikes in Arizona.
Essentially, White Pocket is a large outcropping of white-capped rocks in the middle of the desert that seems to come out of nowhere. Along the way, you’ll be treated to awesome views of weirdly wonderful rock formations.
White Pocket also has a really fun history since it was actually “discovered” by some rogue cows that were just looking for a drink of water. In fact, you can still see their hoofprints in the stone here!
Enjoy an easy half-mile hike to the main rock formations and take in the stellar scenery around you. Just be really careful, since a lot of the rocks here are super delicate and can be easily damaged.
Insider tip: You’ll need a 4WD vehicle to get to White Pocket since it’s about 60 miles from any major highway.
Also, because White Pocket is really close to the Utah border, you’ll need to adjust your clock when you pass the South Coyote Buttes parking area (did you know Arizona doesn’t observe Daylight Savings Time?!).
25. Go Retro at the Wigwam Motel
Contributed by Kirsty from Lost on 66
Traveling along Route 66 gets you used to seeing all sorts of weird and wonderful sites. The Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, though, is something else and staying there should definitely be included in your Arizona adventures.
Built in the 1950s, the Wigwam embodies the classic retro Americana that Route 66 is known for. Each motel room is a standalone teepee and there are a number of them around the parking lot.
The Wigwam’s parking lot itself is anything but ordinary — it’s filled with classic cars! This makes for a great photo op and when the sun sets and the neon lights come on, the Wigwam is an incredibly atmospheric place.
Children and big kids at heart love the Wigwam in Holbrook because it’s one of the real-life Radiator Springs locations from the Disney movie Cars. Remember the Cozy Cone Motel?! The Wigwam inspired it!
Insider tip: The Wigwam Motel often books out in high season, so if you actually want to stay there, book well in advance! It’s basic inside, but definitely a memorable experience.
You’re also welcome to visit the motel and see the classic cars and retro neon, even if you’re not staying onsite.
Whew — now that is an Arizona bucket list! I’d love to hear your thoughts, so leave a comment or connect with me on social media and let me know which of these epic adventures in Arizona are your favorite (and which I need to add!).
Don’t forget to pin this post for planning out your Arizona bucket list trip! Have fun!