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Arizona is a lot more than the desert, or the Grand Canyon. It’s got plenty of eye-popping destinations that make it ideal for a summer vacation, from Sedona’s red rocks to historic mining towns where spirits are said to often linger, along with luxurious resorts with gorgeous pools and opportunities for pampering spa treatments. If you need some ideas, these are the state’s best destinations for a summer vacation.
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One of the top destinations in the U.S. can’t be overlooked either. The Grand Canyon is up to a mile deep, 18 miles wide, and stretches for 277 miles and while you could simply head to one of the South Rim overlooks, hiking is really the thing to do here with everything from easy treks to challenging multi-day hikes. The Rim Trail is one of the most popular as it’s easily accessible with many possible starting points. To get away from the crowds, head to the North Rim or the remote Havasu Canyon region, home to famous Havasu Falls and stunning turquoise pools. When the heat gets too intense, they can provide a swim of a lifetime, surrounded by surreal scenery.
Two hours north of Phoenix, Sedona enjoys a more mild climate. It’s known for its magnificent red rock formations and its mysterious vortexes, swirling centers of energy that are said to be conducive to meditation, healing, and reconnecting with nature. As such, you’ll find plenty of New Age shops in town, along with art galleries featuring paintings of this stunningly beautiful area. It’s a place ripe for outdoor adventure, with opportunities for Jeep tours, mountain biking, hiking, or even yoga on the rocks.
A man-made reservoir on the Colorado River, Lake Powell sits on the border of Arizona and Utah, created when the construction of Glen Canyon Dam caused flooding of the Glen Canyon. Today it’s one of the most popular destinations in the state, providing opportunities for fun on the water and enjoying pristine beaches. Many come to rent a houseboat and spend their nights floating, although there are plenty of things to enjoy during the day no matter where you stay in this desert oasis, including water skiing, swimming, and fishing.
Lake Havasu is one of Arizona’s favorite lake destinations, with many visiting in the summer to enjoy boating, swimming, and fishing. It’s also famous for its London Bridge, with the original arriving from the U.K., delivered piece by piece in the late 1960s. While it draws plenty of tourists from around the globe, the lake itself is the place where Arizonans often come to beat the heat.
Located just east of Phoenix, from a distance the 2,000-foot-high red cliffs of the Superstition Mountains look rather unhospitable. But they offer a wide range of activities for a fun weekend or week-long getaway, from hiking to horseback riding, just be sure and bring the sunscreen and plan to stay hydrated. Outdoor activities are best in the early morning or evening hours. One can even come to search for the Lost Dutchman’s Goldmine, which was buried here according to legend. People have been seeking it at least since 1892 and some have even died. Visitors can also enjoy everything from short, easy strolls in the desert to strenuous climbs to dramatic volcanic peaks while watching for wildlife like coyotes, bobcats, and black bears, as well as learn more about the gold at the Superstition Mountain Museum.
Located in northern Arizona, Flagstaff is a small mountain town where you can enjoy the fresh, cool air and the scent of pine trees. While the historic downtown offers locally-owned shops, galleries, and restaurants to explore, it’s all about the outdoors here. In the summer and well into the fall, hiking, climbing, mountain biking, disc golf, and boating are all popular. With the Grand Canyon being about a 90-minute drive away, it’s also possible to visit the national park on a day trip from here.
The small town of Jerome, founded in the late 19th-century, was once a booming town with a population of 15,000, mostly made up of residents who hoped to strike it rich in the copper mines. It sits on Cleopatra Hill overlooking Verde Valley in northern Arizona, enjoying a cooler climate. It nearly disappeared after the mines closed down but today’s it’s a state park and America’s largest ghost city. Beyond the allure for ghost hunters, it has lots of charms with an artistic appeal and steep, winding streets lined with independent shops, wine bars, eateries, and ruins from its past, like the famous traveling jail. From here, one can easily access hiking trails in the forested Woodchute Wilderness just a few miles west or explore the ancient cliff dwellings at Montezuma Castle about a 40-minute drive southeast.
Scottsdale is the place to go if you’re looking to enjoy great golf, swim in beautiful pools, dine on a wide range of delicious eats, and perhaps relax with a spa treatment or two. Not only will you find lots of luxurious resorts for indulging in all three, but the city also has its own Wine Trail in Old Town. If you head out early in the morning, you may be able to take advantage of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve’s five major trailheads that connect to over 200 miles of desert trails. On Salt River, there are kayak tours and opportunities for tubing, the perfect way to cool off in the summer’s heat.
Relive the days of the Old West in Tombstone where the legendary gunfight at the O.K. Corral took place back in 1881. Find out who won the 30-second gunfight that pitted the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday against Billy Clanton and the McLaury brothers, and even meet the man behind the legend, Wyatt Earp, who continues to walk the wooden boardwalks today. Taking Dr. Jay’s walking tour is a great way to learn more about the town’s authentic history and a visit to the Boothill Graveyard can provide an interesting experience with specters often seen wandering through the old wooden grave markers.
Surrounded by ponderosa pines and lakes just two hours from Phoenix, Prescott provides a fabulous respite from the heat in a nature lover’s paradise with opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, kayaking, and fishing. Once the capital of the Arizona territory, the historic downtown area is filled with Victorian-era homes and buildings with fun shops and saloons along Whiskey Row. Learn more about Prescott’s history at the open-air Sharlot Hall Museum.
One of the most beautiful natural wonders in Arizona, Monument Valley has long been known as one of the most striking areas of the Southwest, featured in countless Westerns and other films like “Forest Gump” and “Back to the Future Part III.” It’s part of a Tribal Park owned by the Navajo Nation that straddles the Utah and Arizona border. Navajo-operated tours can bring you to see ancient Anasazi petroglyphs, rock formations and arches like Thunderbird, Sleeping Dragon, and Ear of the Wind while learning about the area’s history. As it can get very hot during the summer, if the heat is too much, a 17-mile-loop self-drive tour is a good way to do it while enjoying the a/c.
Bisbee is a quirky, artsy town with a rich history located a mile high in the Mule Mountains of southern Arizona. A former mining town, the streets are lined with Victorian-era homes perched precariously on the steep hillsides. Unique art is spread throughout, including murals, mosaic walls, and even cars that have been transformed into fantastical works. In between the art galleries and artist studios are antique shops, museums, bars, and eateries. The Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum does a great job of revealing the town’s past and the Queen Mine Tour will take you into an underground mine.
Petrified Forest National Park offers a wonderful getaway for those who want to time in the great outdoors and delve into ancient history. In early summer, in particular, temperatures are often pleasant while few others are here to interrupt the views. An over 200,000-acre park, it’s home to one of the largest concentrations of petrified wood along with colorful cliffs and animal fossils. The “trees” are fragmented, fossilized logs and at least one spans a ravine, forming a natural bridge. At 225 million years old, they’re as ancient as the first dinosaurs that roamed the planet in the Late Triassic period. It’s a great place to hike, bike, or horseback ride and also features historical exhibits displayed at the Rainbow Forest Museum and the historic Painted Desert Inn.
The picturesque eastern Arizona town of Pinetop-Lakeside is tucked among cool woodlands offering scenic hiking trails that lead from the White Mountain Nature Center to gorgeous Woodland Lake Park. Horseback riding through the forested hills is possible through Porter Mountain Stables and the family will also find plenty of fun at White Mountain Fun Park which hosts miniature golf, go-karts, a laser maze, and arcade games.