Nature on a grand scale: hike trails, scale peaks and explore dramatic landscapes in Arizona
Arizona is the gateway to some of the most awe-inspiring nature in the world – a playground for those who yearn to be in the great outdoors. It’s the sort of place where the never-ending desert, colossal canyons and bold bursts of colour will have you feeling incredibly humbled and incredibly small.
Though you likely can’t cover this Western state in one trip, you can be selective about where you choose to visit, so you can experience this utterly enticing slice of America in the best way possible. Diverse climates and landscapes make Arizona the ideal year-round destination to explore; just plan accordingly whilst sticking to the single most important rule: be respectful of land, animals and cultures.
As one of the world’s seven natural wonders, the Grand Canyon welcomes more than 6 million visitors every year. Most people traverse the South Rim viewing platforms, which means there are hundreds of unexplored miles of magnificent monoliths and rusty red rims.
The North Rim is an uncrowded, quieter way to get to know the Grand Canyon (open seasonally May to October), whilst the West is suitable for shorter visits – it also houses the Skywalk, a glass rim that hovers 4,000 feet above the canyon floor. If you have the time and are seeking a little more thrill, consider hiking on the canyon floor. Trailheads will lead you into the canyon, between formations carved over millions of years by the Colorado River.
Sprawling 27,000 miles of vast desert around the Four Corners region in northeast Arizona, The Navajo Nation is home to the largest American Indian tribe and is chock full of some of the state’s most breathtaking landscapes.
Straddling the border between Arizona and Utah, Monument Valley is an inarguably beautiful slice of the state. Ancient, rugged and dotted with red-hued sandstone buttes shaped by years of extreme weather. It’s a must-visit for photographers, budding geologists and cowboy film fanatics – Wild Wild West and Stagecoach were filmed here.
When you’re not busy reimagining ranch life in Hollywood blockbusters, hike the Wildcat Trail, a reasonably even route that loops around West Mitten Butte and takes around three hours to complete – past spiky bursts of yucca and between red rock pinnacles.
Antelope Canyon sits two hours west of Monument Valley, a pristine slot canyon shaped by millions of years of water and wind erosion. Guided tours are required if you want to hike between the deep martian red walls, where some parts of the canyon require stairways, ladders and expert skill to reach.
When you’ve finished exploring Antelope’s ruby-red cliffs, hop in the car and head 12 minutes west to Horseshoe Bend, one of the most photographed wonders of Arizona. Take the short 1.25-mile roundtrip hike around the snake-like trail, ending at the cliff that overlooks the Colorado River. Or, if you want a different view from the river, rent a kayak and paddle around the Bend.
Take a trip back in time to Canyon de Chelly National Monument, the stuff of Wild West dreams, where ancient Pueblo ruins are sheltered and American Indians have lived for more than 5,000 years. Hike or bike the 130-mile loop around the canyon and take in views of the canyon from above, dotted with green cottonwood trees and tiny homes.
Drive the north or south rim routes and stop off to snap photos from various viewpoints along the way. Or, hire a Navajo guide armed with mind-blowing geological and historical knowledge, filling your ears as you traverse the canyon floor, by foot or Jeep, between Puebloan ruins and crimson-red walls.
One of the best ways to get acquainted with the Sonoran Desert is to clock up your steps hiking in Saguaro National Park and Chiricahua National Monument.
Located in southern Arizona, Saguaro National Park flanks the city of Tucson to the east and west, providing a kaleidoscope of landscapes home to all kinds of Arizonan flora and fauna.
Here, keep your eyes peeled for Mexican spotted owls, gila monsters, desert tortoises and more than 200 species of birds. There are more than 170 miles of trails to explore for all levels of hikers, which take you among the undisputed kings of the Sonoran desert – the giant saguaro cacti, iconic spiky symbol of the American Southwest.
You’ll find the Chiricahua National Monument one hundred miles east of Tucson, an ethereal sky-island landscape dotted with ancient rock spires and sky-high pinnacles. For those who thirst for adventure, embark on any of the 17 miles of hiking trails that’ll lead you through balanced boulders and between towering hoodoos, retracing the footsteps of Chiricahua Apaches and early American adventurers.
To find out more about Arizona, discover incredible experiences, unmissable events and festivals, get travel inspo and plan your trip, head to Visit Arizona. You can fly to Arizona direct via British Airways or American Airlines – find out more here