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21 Incredible Outdoor Adventures In Arizona To Check Off Your Bucket List (From Someone Who Absolutely Loves The State)

Arizona is the best and I will not be taking further questions at the time.

It may be nicknamed the Grand Canyon State, but there is so much more to Arizona. In fact, there are amazing hiking trails, gorgeous landscapes, and outdoor adventure everywhere you look. Here are 22 ideas ‚ÄĒ featuring some of the best spots in the state ‚ÄĒ for taking advantage of the great outdoors.

1. Visit the Wave.

The Wave in coyote butte.
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If you're lucky enough to have the opportunity to see the Wave when you're in Arizona, seize it! Located right on the Arizona-Utah border, this sandstone rock formation (also known as Coyote Buttes North) has eroded over millennia into the shape of a wave. Due to conservation concerns, only 64 people per day can make the two-hour desert hike to see it. You can enter a daily ticket ballot online or in person at the Kanab Visitor Center. 

2. Stargaze in a dark sky park.

Stargazing in a dark sky park.
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Arizona is one of the best places in the US for stargazing thanks to its clear desert skies, mountainous geography, and plenty of rural areas that aren't affected by light pollution. Oracle State Park is only 20 miles south of Tucson, but the skies are shielded from the city lights by the Santa Catalina Mountains. It's a designated Dark Sky Park, which makes it your best bet for epic stargazing without having to venture too far. 

Another top spot is Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, which has an awesome campground set in the lush desert, perfect for a night of watching the sky light up. Plus, the area is home to one of the state's best hikes.

3. Tackle the Rim-to-Rim trail.

A view of the Grand Canyon at sunrise.
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The Rim-to-Rim Hike in the Grand Canyon is on many outdoor enthusiasts' bucket lists, and for good reason. It's a 22.7-mile trek from the north rim of the canyon to the south rim, and it usually takes two days. If you can, it's worth descending into the canyon to get away from the crowds and soak up the spectacular scenery. After all, fewer than 1% of visitors to the canyon actually go past the rim. 

There's a super-active Facebook group with plenty of useful info about the Rim-to-Rim Hike if you're planning to take it on. 


4. Kayak through slot canyons on Lake Powell.

Lake Powell antelope slot canyon.
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If you want to get out on the water, Lake Powell is the place to do so. Leave the speedboat on the coast and opt for a kayak or stand-up paddleboard instead. Then, weave your way into the back of the hidden sandstone slot canyons and do some exploring. 

5. See the biggest cacti in North America at Saguaro National Park.

Cacti at Saguaro National Park at sunset.
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Saguaro National Park boasts some absolutely huge cacti. They dominate the flat landscape and make for some very cool photo ops. Located in the Sonoran Desert, it's worth dedicating at least a couple of days to this park. Tackle the 1.5-hour¬†King Canyon ‚Äď Gould Mine Loop hike, walk the Signal Hill trail out to ancient petroglyphs, or go for some backcountry camping if you're looking for a real adventure.¬†

6. Cool off in the Crayola-colored Havasu Falls.

Havasu Falls at Havasupai Indian Reservation.
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Did you know there's a bright teal waterfall cascading at the bottom of the Grand Canyon? There are three ways to visit Havasu Canyon, where the falls are located: hike 10 miles, ride a horse along the trail, or take a helicopter. The canyon and falls are part of the Havasupai Indian Reservation, where the Havasupai tribe has lived for over 1,000 years. A dirt trail winds through the canyon and past natural swimming pools to the falls, which is truly a sight to behold. Spend the night in the campground but remember that reservations are essential.

7. Check out the mural walls around Phoenix.

mural walls around Phoenix
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For an adventure within the city, seek out the street art scene in Phoenix. The city is home to many beautifully painted murals and you can see them on a self-guided walking tour. Most are located in the arts district of Roosevelt Row so you can wander around on your own or follow this route plotted out by Phoenix Mag. 

8. Search for ancient petroglyphs near Prescott.

Ancient carvings on rock in Arizona.
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Arizona is home to many places where you can see ancient rock art, many of which have become big tourist attractions. One of the best, most low-key sites to see petroglyphs is Salida Gulch Trail near Prescott. Here you'll find still-intact drawings in rock that are known to be 1,000 years old. On this trail, you can forget about crowds of people and just soak up the history while enjoying the hike. 

9. Take in 360¬ļ views of Phoenix from Camelback Mountain.

views of Phoenix from Camelback Mountain
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You don't have to leave the city for an epic hiking experience. Camelback Mountain towers over Phoenix, and it's the perfect place for an afternoon walk. Yes, it can be challenging but the views looking over the city are well worth the sweat. There are two different trails that will take you up the mountain, one of which is shorter but steeper... So choose wisely.

10. Embrace the scenery at West Fork Trail.

A person hiking in a natural pool in Sedona.
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Most of the hiking trails in Arizona are rocky, dusty, and colored in red and orange. It's a desert state, after all. But the West Fork Trail, just north of Sedona, is perfect for a change of scenery. The path meanders through a leafy valley alongside a stream for about three miles before ending at a natural pool. Pack waterproof shoes if you want to keep hiking through the water to the end of the trail. The leaves during the fall months are especially beautiful. 

11. Gaze at the Colorado River from Horseshoe Bend.

Looking onto the Colorado River from Horseshoe Bend.
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You've probably seen this natural phenomenon on Instagram but nothing can compare to seeing it in person. At Horseshoe Bend, you'll stand at the top of a cliff looking down onto a hairpin turn in the Colorado River below. And it's easily accessible from the car park so you don't need to take a strenuous hike to get there. To make things more interesting, access Horseshoe Bend on the ground level and float or kayak around.

12. Geek out over fossilized wood at Petrified Forest National Park.

Blue Mesa Trail in Petrified Forest National Park.
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The Petrified Forest National Park is easily one of the coolest places in Arizona. It gets its name because the area is dotted with fossilized wood tree stumps that have become hard as rock over time. Don't miss the Rainbow Forest in the south of the park, where the elements have turned the wood into a multicolored, natural work of art.

Consider exploring the park on a bike (or e-bike) because you'll be able to cover a lot of ground while still soaking up the outdoors. If you're into the idea of a long hike though, it's worth venturing into the Petrified Forest National Wilderness Area, which is far more remote but unlike anything you've seen before. 

13. Go camping at Coconino National Forest.

camping at Coconino National Forest
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There are thousands of excellent camping spots scattered across Arizona but if you have to choose just one, don't miss Coconino National Forest. You could park there for a week and never get bored. It's a wonderfully diverse park with rocky desert areas, pine forests, high mountains, an ancient archeological site, lakes, rivers, and plenty of hiking and biking trails. With over 15 campgrounds, you'll be able to find the perfect one for your needs. If you're not into camping, go ahead and rent a cabin.

14. Or camp on the beach at Lake Havasu State Park.

Campers parked on Lake Havasu State Park.
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Beach camping doesn't sound like something you'd do in Arizona...but then again, you probably haven't heard of Lake Havasu State Park. This is the place to be if you're into boating and fishing. But it's also a great spot just to chill out and relax along the white sand beaches, grassy walking trails, and waterfront camping. 

15. Trek through massive rock formations at Chiricahua National Monument.

Rhyolite Formations of Chiricahua National Monument
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At Chiricahua National Monument¬†‚ÄĒ a bit off the beaten path ‚ÄĒ you'll find one of Arizona's most spectacular hikes. Echo Canyon Loop Trail winds through massive sandstone canyons and rock formations, between boulders and through gulches. It's only 3.3 miles long but it can be pretty steep. In fact, most people recommend doing it¬†counterclockwise.

16. Explore the Sedona outskirts on horseback.

Horseback riding in Sedona.
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All around Sedona, there are plenty of opportunities to ride horses. If you've got your own horse, your best bet is to head to Red Rock, where there are dozens of trails for all abilities. Otherwise join a guided trail ride, sit back, and enjoy the scenery.

17. Soak in the historic Verde Hot Springs.

A woman soaking in hot springs.
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There's nothing much better than easing into some hot springs after a good hike. Verde Hot Springs are the remnants of an old thermal resort built in the 1920s. Today, only a few graffiti-covered concrete walls remain but you can still soak in the naturally warm water. They're located at the end of a long dirt trail and depending on how rainy the weather has been, you might need a high-clearance vehicle to get there. 

18. Mountain bike down the incredible trails in Prescott National Forest.

trails in Prescott National Forest
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If you're an avid mountain biker or even just a novice, you have to get out on the trails in Prescott National Forest. They're in ideal condition year-round since it rarely snows in this part of the state. There are so many trails, you could spend weeks trying them all out. If you're planning on staying overnight, camp at White Spar Campground, which is right across the road from Wolverton Pass trailhead, one of the best trails in the area.

19. Whitewater raft in the Colorado River.

Grand Canyon rafting on the Colorado River.
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It's easy to marvel at the beauty of the Colorado River from above, but nothing compares to actually being on the water. And sure, you could rent a kayak or a speedboat, but whitewater rafting is a whole other experience entirely. You can actually raft within the Grand Canyon, where you'll find some of the best rapid routes in the world. Do a day trip or go all in with a weeklong camping and rafting excursion.

20. Take a lazy tubing ride down the Salt River.

lazy tubing ride down the Salt River
Flickr: joelstine / Creative Commons / Via Flickr: 37946593@N02

If you're looking for a more chill experience than whitewater rafting, head to the Salt River, which runs through Tonto National Forest just outside Phoenix. For the perfect lazy afternoon activity, rent an inner tube, take a shuttle bus to the start point, then float down the river while knocking back a couple of drinks. The route takes two to four hours and all the while, you'll be able to gaze at seriously amazing desert landscape. Don't forget that it gets HOT so pack your cooler with water, in addition to the cold beer.

21. Stay on a dude ranch.

Horses on a dude ranch
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Maybe the term "dude ranch" makes you think of Wyoming or Montana, but there are some great experiences here in Arizona too. It all revolves around leaning into the vibes of the Old West, horses and all. Book your stay at a ranch with tons of resort amenities (like Tucson's Tanque Verde Ranch) or keep it rustic and low-key (like the historic Rancho de la Osa near the Mexican border, which is oozing with quaint charm). There are hundreds of options!

What's your favorite outdoor adventure that Arizona has to offer? Tell me in the comments!