And while it’s surely advertised as an adventure capital – and more than lives up to the hype – camping insiders know the state is equally ideal for chill hikes that lead to big payoffs, and quiet evenings tucked under a blanket of stars.
Talk about an elephant in the room. You can’t discuss camping in Northern Arizona without talking about the granddaddy of all natural attractions, the Grand Canyon. This is bucket list material if there ever was one – but go before 9 a.m. or after 4 p.m. to avoid the crush of tourists. After checking this kingpin off your list, switch gears and head to lesser known Mooney Falls, where an intense hike lands you with the reward of a shockingly beautiful blue waterfall and deliciously warm swimming hole.
Moving northeast along the state line, you’ll find Lake Powell in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Now here’s the bucket list item you didn’t know you needed, but will be talking about for years to come. The electric blue reservoir winds 186 twisty miles through beautiful pink red rock formations created by the Glen Canyon Dam, replete with sandy beaches, ancient petroglyphs and slot canyons. To say it’s a breathtaking vision is an understatement.
But wait: there’s more alien beauty ahead. Tucked away on the Hopi Reservation, just east of Tuba City, the surreal Blue Canyon is a natural sandstone formation of balanced rocks, hoodoos and arches that look almost painted with huge swaths of white. Back on the Northwest state line, hugging Nevada, the Colorado River beckons, and kayakers who explore the Emerald Cove are treated to beautiful iridescent green waters.
Sedona is almost universally described as “otherworldly”, an adjective you’ll find hard to replace when you see it for yourself. From natural sandstone waterslides to brilliant red sandstone buttes that pierce the sky and twisted juniper trees, Sedona is like the world’s greatest outdoor playground tucked inside a chic bohemian art town. Oh, and there’s that whole collection of sacred vortex sites, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Nearby, in Prescott, you can take a trip back in time to find 100 year-old saloons and Victorian homes; or set your sights on Apache-Sitgreaves, Tonto or Coconino National Forests. Near the latter, don’t miss the one-of-a-kind Grand Falls, a splendid muddy waterfall on the Little Colorado River that tops Niagara in height, earning itself the perfectly apt nickname “chocolate falls”.
Anchored by the easygoing college town of Tucson, Southern Arizona is all bright blue western skies and cartoonish stalks of saguaro cacti peppering the desert floor. Hikers will want to check out Tumamoc Hill, where a well-timed late afternoon hike earns them a sunset brushed in dreamy pastel hues. For another shockingly pretty view, try the Linda Vista trail in Oro Valley.
You can’t help but feel like you’ve stepped into the Wild West in this part of the state, but a visit to Tombstone, southeast of Tucson, will really drive it home. You can meander through the streets of the Old West or jump on a stagecoach to give your gams a rest. Heading west, Fort Bowie National Historic Site walks hikers through an abandoned stagecoach stop and a spooky old cemetery on their way to the 19th century fort.