by guest author Jayson Goetz
Arizona is the land of desert, boulders, rock climbing, cacti, sunshine, golf, ski resorts, hot air balloons plus a few world-class professional baseball spring training camps. If you’re planning a visit and want to know top tourist attractions and places to go, you’ve come to the right place.
The state has an overwhelming amount of appealing destinations and many are located in off-the-beaten path, less populated towns such as Sedona and Page. To get a grasp on the big picture, we will start with National Parks and monuments, then list main attractions in the five largest cities followed by those in smaller towns. Read all of them then decide what strikes your fancy the most.
National Monuments, Parks & Historic Sites in Arizona
There are 12 national monuments in Arizona, five historic sites, three national parks (Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, Saguaro) and two recreational areas (Lake Mead, Glen Canyon). The most famous of these is Grand Canyon National Park, that receives close to six million visitors per year (5,969,811 in 2016).
Grand Canyon National Park is approximately 277 miles long (as the river flows), 18 miles wide and a mile deep. There are two main entrances to the park. South Rim with its panoramic views and elbow to elbow crowds is accessible year-round. The North Rim has fewer visitors (remote, no freeways close by) and is only open May through October.
For entrance fees, permits required (backcountry camping, river trips), list of campgrounds, trail maps and suggested hikes throughout the canyon, click here: National Park Service: Grand Canyon.
Located close to the Grand Canyon and as popular is the Lake Mead Recreation Area. More than seven million (7,175,891) national and international tourists visited the area in 2016. The spectacular Hoover Dam is located here. You can take a 3.7 mile hike on the Historic Railroad Trail from the dam to the lake. This recreational area is shared with Arizona’s neighbor to the North – Nevada.
To see a full list of all 24 National Park Units in Arizona with information on each click here: National Park Service: Arizona.
Five Largest Cities in Arizona & Main Attractions
Below are the five largest cities in Arizona with highlights for each. Population estimates are from the U.S. Census Bureau website and were gathered July, 2016. More popular attractions in smaller cities and towns are highlighted in the section that follows.
Phoenix – Population 1,615,017. It’s a large metropolitan area, and in general there are many things to do in Phoenix for visitors from all backgrounds. You can splurge on more expensive activities such as taking a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon or ride in a hot air balloon but there is plenty more on offer. Hike Camelback Mountain, visit recently-opened SEA LIFE Aquarium or watch a ballgame at Chase Field.
Main Attractions: Musical Instrument Museum (rated one of the top 20 museums in the U.S., 6500 instruments on display, concerts and events), Desert Botanical Garden (learn about plant biology and how to design, install and maintain a desert landscape), Papago Park (archery range, fishing lagoons, Phoenix Zoo, softball fields, 10 minutes from downtown).
Tucson – Population 530,706. Sunny weather year-round and lots to do. Savor Mexican food delicacies, hike the Bear Canyon Trail to Cascades of Seven Falls and cool off in the refreshing water spray or learn about astronomy at the Kitt Peak National Observatory.
Main Attractions: Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (all things Sonora Desert, 21 acres of walking paths, 230 animal species and 1,200 types of plants), Sabino Canyon (located in Coronado National Forest, South Catalina Mountains, guided tours available), Pima Air & Space Museum (largest privately-funded aircraft museum, view planes and learn the history of aviation).
Mesa – Population 484,587. Learn about the Apache Trail, hike the the Wind Cave Trail at Usery Mountain Regional Park or pick oranges, pink grapefruit and tangerines at the Orange Patch.
Main Attractions: Superstitious Mountains (rock climbing, hiking, museum), Apache Trail (unpaved desert roads, Theodore Roosevelt Lake, Lost Dutchman State Park), Saguaro Lake (boat tour, wildlife), Salt River (float on an inner tube).
Scottsdale – Population 246,645. Major League Baseball spring training camps at Salt River Fields. Want to come watch? Find dates and prices of tickets here: Major League Baseball. Many locations for 4WD, ATV and off-road adventures.
Main Attractions: Salt River Fields (baseball, taco festival, collector automobile auction), Taliesin West (Frank Lloyd Wright’s former winter home, architecture and art programs), Pinnacle Peak Park (trails through the Sonoran Desert, rock climbing, 150 acres).
Glendale – Population 245,895. Nine miles from Phoenix and a place where football is a main part of the culture. The 2015 Super Bowl was held here at the University of Phoenix stadium. The stadium was the first in North America to have a fully retractable roof (made of glass). If you haven’t experienced a drive-in movie in a while, you may enjoy watching a film at the Glendale 9 Drive-In Theater.
Main Attractions: University of Phoenix Stadium (opened in 2006, can seat 72,200 people), antique shops in the Historic District (80 of them!), Sahuaro Ranch Park (late 1800s ranch, rose garden, festivals), Thunderbird Conservation Park (nature and wildlife areas).
More Top Tourist Attractions in Arizona
Some of the attractions visitors and locals rave about are in the smaller cities and towns. These include: Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock and the Red Rock Scenic Byway (all in Sedona); Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon (both in Page) and Walnut Canyon National Monument (Flagstaff).
The cities Sedona, Page and Flagstaff are tourist highlights in and of themselves. Sedona is famous for its red rocks and abundant hiking trails. Page is a small town close to the border with Utah and has the Glen Canyon Recreation Area as well as the state’s second largest manmade lake: Lake Powell. If watersports entice you, come for a visit.
Flagstaff is a college town with Northern Arizona University and Arizona Snowbowl (winter sports, summer fun) its main highlights. Great spot to hit the slopes in winter or go hiking and beat the stifling heat of summer.
Best Time to Visit Arizona
Arizona has a varied climate dependent on altitude. The weather is scorching hot during the summer months in low altitude areas and can be deadly. In Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa, Tucson and the town of Yuma near the border with Mexico it is often over 100 degrees. Recently in the summer of 2016 record-high temperatures of 120 degrees were recorded.
Yet the state also has lakes and rivers and higher elevation areas that remain comfortable year-round such as Prescott and Flagstaff. Find what attractions you would like to see then research weather patterns and monthly temperatures for that specific city or town to find the best time to visit.
Guest Author: Jayson Goetz
Jayson is a strong believer that you don’t have to be wealthy to live a rich and full life and wants to share tips on how to do exactly this. Whether its saving money tips, smart everyday hacks, or budget travel, he hopes to inspire others to do more with less.