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Arizona’s landscapes are nothing short of stunning. Towering buttes meet hills covered with saguaro cacti, and red rock canyons hide towering waterfalls. The otherworldly landscape — that often feels better suited for Mars than our planet — is grounded by what has become Arizona’s other great draw: the proof of human history found in the sites and settlements of Ancestral Puebloans. These archaeological sites, which include cliff dwellings, sandstone homes, and petroglyphs, dot the state, offering a reminder of the people who came before.
With both a deep human history and a stunning natural landscape, there is plenty to explore in the state of Arizona, including several national parks and monuments and a couple of rock features that are so incredible, they deserve their own entries on this list. Here are 21 of the best places to visit in Arizona.
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The spectacular blue-green water of Havasu Falls has captivated visitors for years. The falls, which sit on Havasupai lands near Grand Canyon National Park, are near the isolated Havasupai community of Supai Village. Accessing the village, the falls, and the spectacular — and carefully protected — scenery requires plenty of advance planning and a permit.
Grand Canyon National Park
It would be impossible to leave the Grand Canyon off this list — especially when it’s recognized as one of the Seven Natural Wonders alongside sites like the Great Barrier Reef and Mount Everest. The canyon, which is a must-see destination for many, is around a mile deep and an average of 10 miles wide, cutting through the state of Arizona for almost 300 miles.
Yayoi Kusama’s Fireflies Infinity Mirror Room
The Fireflies Infinity Mirror Room in the Phoenix Art Museum was envisioned by renowned Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Her work, which is titled “You Who Are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies,” is what it sounds like — a mixed-media installation that uses LED lights and mirrors to create the effect of being surrounded by fireflies in the dead of night. It’s magic.
Wupatki National Monument
Wupatki National Monument is a must for travelers who are fascinated with the ways ancient people survived and thrived in the hot Arizona desert. The monument sits within a beautiful landscape, but the remains of pueblos are what truly catch the eye. Three structures from the early 1100s still stand. The sandstone and limestone buildings pay homage to the thriving Pueblo communities that lived and traded there.
Grand Canyon Caverns and Grotto
The Caverns Grotto offers one of the most unique dining experiences around: a meal served 210 feet below the Earth’s surface in a 345-million-year-old cave network. The menu is simple, but the scenery is out of this world. Underground diners get 360-degree views of the ancient cave, which stretches 60 miles from Peach Springs, Arizona to the Grand Canyon.
Billed as “The World’s Largest Earth Science Experiment,” Biosphere 2 is a controlled environment that was created to understand Earth’s living systems and the impacts of climate change. The research facility, which is basically a 3.14-acre laboratory in Oracle, Arizona, holds several environments, including oceanic and desert landscapes.
The Wave, technically called Coyote Buttes North, is just one feature within the expansive 112,500-acre Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness — yet it has drawn thousands of travelers over the years. The Wave resembles a wave made of sandstone and is so stunning and photogenic that it has long drawn travelers and photographers willing to go through the competitive permit process and make the strenuous 6.4-mile round-trip hike to get there.
Petrified Forest National Park
There are just three national parks in Arizona, and while the Grand Canyon soaks up all the attention, the Petrified Forest National Park slips under the radar. The visually stunning park is best known for its Rainbow Forest, which showcases colorful petrified wood that is over 200 million years old. There are also petroglyphs and paleontology exhibits.
Like The Wave, Horseshoe Bend has become one of the most photographed sites in Arizona. It is a perfectly horseshoe-shaped bend in the Colorado River that sits within the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The bend is located near the town of Page, Arizona close to the sprawling Lake Powell.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Canyon de Chelly National Monument is vast and has been inhabited by several Native groups for millennia. Inside the stunning monument are 800-foot-tall spires, prehistoric rock art, towering sandstone cliffs, and a surprisingly lush desert canyon. The park sits on Navajo lands in the northeastern part of the state.
The slot canyons found in this corner of the state are on land that belongs to the Navajo Nation and require a tour guide to access. The advance planning is well worth the experience of hiking through a narrow slot canyon and watching the light play on the red rock. There are two sites, the Upper Antelope Canyon and the Lower Antelope Canyon; the former claims to be the most photographed slot canyon in the world.
Meteor Crater National Landmark
If you’ve ever wondered what it would look like if a meteor struck the Earth, make your way to the Meteor Crater National Landmark near Winslow, Arizona. The crater, which is about a mile wide and 550 feet deep, shows what happens when a 150-foot-wide meteor hits the Earth. Visitors can walk along the crater rim or view the devastation from the visitor center on the edge of the crater.
Saguaro National Park
This national park, which is split by the city of Tucson, has the important job of protecting the cactus-filled Sonoran Desert landscape. But beyond providing a place for the nation’s largest cacti to flourish, Saguaro National Park also has trails leading to petroglyphs and drives that provide a stunning view of the Arizona desert.
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park
Imagine it: An expansive valley dotted with towering sandstone pinnacles that seem to shoot out of the Earth, reaching heights of up to 1,000 feet. This is Monument Valley, a park within the Navajo Nation that offers some of the most stunning desert views in the world. When you’re done taking in the sights, visit the artisans selling handcrafted jewelry and other Navajo goods.
Montezuma Castle National Monument
This monument in Camp Verde, Arizona protects a set of dwellings built into a rock wall by the Sinagua people between approximately 1100 and 1425. The dwelling, which is a 20-room wonder, is beautifully preserved and showcases how ancient people survived in the unforgiving desert.
Desert Botanical Garden
The dry, desert landscape of Arizona supports a surprising number of plant and tree species, a fact that is celebrated at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. And while local flora is the focus of the 55-acre botanical garden, they also have thousands of species of flowers, trees, and cacti from all around the world.
Chiricahua National Monument
Utah isn’t the only state with bizarre-looking hoodoos and precariously balanced rocks. The Chiricahua National Monument in southeastern Arizona has been nicknamed the “Wonderland of Rocks” for its surreal rock structures, and it also protects the long human history of the area.
Coconino Lava River Cave
Within Coconino National Forest is a mile-long lava tube cave that was created almost 700,000 years ago by molten rock from a volcanic vent. The tube, which is the longest cave of its kind known to exist in Arizona, has icicles made of stone hanging off the ceiling and wave-like marks on the floor from the molten rock that once flowed from the cave.
Mystery Castle in Phoenix is more than a giant castle with 18 rooms and 13 fireplaces. It is an ode to the love between a father and daughter. The builder, Boyce Gully, built the castle for his daughter, Mary Lou, who went on to live in the space and offer tours of it until her death in 2010. The tours continue today and feature an impressive collection of Southwestern antiques perched in the castle’s many rooms and nooks.
Walnut Canyon National Monument
Walnut Canyon National Monument showcases one of the state’s geological wonders. The canyon, which dips 350 feet below the rim, is set southeast of downtown Flagstaff, Arizona. And while Walnut Canyon is a stunning site, the monument also protects the remains of ancient cliff dwellings, which were built into the rock.
Chapel of the Holy Cross
The Chapel of the Holy Cross is built among the vibrant red rock on the outskirts of Sedona, Arizona in the Coconino National Forest. The church draws pilgrims and tourists who come to worship in the space that was built on top of a natural rock formation and features stunning views over the desert landscape.