In 2016 we had the opportunity to travel across the US, from Oregon to Florida and back again, in our 1994 Ford Bronco. We camped, hiked, explored, and found that our favorite area for outdoor adventures was in Northern Arizona, right along the Utah border.
The bright orange sandstone formations dotting the rugged landscape of Northern Arizona conjures images of life in the Wild Wild West. When cowboys and Native Americans roamed the land on horseback in a lawless land. Where people traveled for hundreds of miles over these barren lands in search of a new life. When you visit Northern Arizona today it still feels like that – barren, rugged, remote. Much of the beauty in this area has remained untouched and is relatively easy to access and enjoy by all.
You could spend months exploring all of the spectacular areas of Northern Arizona (and you should) but we’ve listed our favorites here so you can ensure you see the highlights. And the best part about these amazing destinations is that although many of them are popular, the areas are vast so you can find your own piece of paradise to enjoy all to yourself!
Arizona Outdoor Adventure Basics
What to Pack
Read all about road trip packing essentials here!
Where to Stay
Most of the epic adventures below are relatively close to Kanab, Utah, Page, Arizona, and Sedona, Arizona. Check out our favorite hotel options in each below:
In Kanab, Utah, The Flagstone Boutique Inn and Suites is reasonably priced and conveniently located near the BLM office (in case you want to try for The Wave in-person lottery). Rooms are clean and spacious and offer nice views of the surrounding mountains. You’ll feel right at home here!
Country Inn and Suites by Radisson in Page, Arizona is right near both Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon. Offering large, comfortable, clean rooms and an indoor pool and jacuzzi, you may never want to leave! They offer a buffet breakfast as well to get you fueled for a day of exploring the area.
Sedona Springs Resort is a moderately priced hotel surrounded by the beautiful nature of Sedona. Offering a large outdoor pool and a gym for guests to use, it’s the ideal place to spend a few days in-between exploring all that Sedona has to offer. Rooms are large and well-equipped.
Weather in Northern Arizona
Arizona is known for having an extremely hot climate, especially in the summer months when it’s not uncommon for temperatures to rise about 100 °F for days or even weeks at a time. Much of Northern Arizona sits at a higher elevation so summer temperatures are milder and it can be quite cold in the winters. Snow is common in several of the destinations outlined below. If you visit during the winter be sure you have warm clothes and chains for your vehicle, just in case.
Sedona is an exception as it is closer to central Arizona and typically experiences summers that are quite hot and mild winters.
Epic Adventure Destinations
1. Havasu Falls
Havasu Falls is an area of land in the Grand Canyon that belongs to the Havasupai Indian Tribe. It is deep inside the Grand Canyon, 10 miles from the nearest road. In order to access the area you must plan on camping at the Havasu Falls Camground for at least one night and you’ll either need to hike in, take a helicopter, or ride a horse.
The main attraction, Havasu Falls, is one of the most picturesque waterfalls in the entire United States. Milky turquoise blue water cascades down orange limestone cliffs that appear as if they are melting. But Havasu isn’t the only beautiful waterfall in the area. Closer to the Supai Village you’ll find Little Navajo Falls and a few lovely swimming holes at the top of the falls.
Further down the river (the descent is tricky and not for the faint of heart) you’ll find the massive Mooney Falls. It is similar to Havasu Falls only more difficult to access and much taller. And a few miles further is Beaver Falls which is ideal for swimming. The entire area is surrounded by massive cliff walls, lush vegetation, and travertine sentiment which gives the water the milky effect. It is truly spectacular and an area that should be on everyone’s bucket list!
2. Antelope Canyon
The area of southern Utah and northern Arizona is full of vibrant, colorful sandstone rock formations, some of which have become slot canyons through centuries of erosion. The most famous of those is Antelope Canyon. Located on Navajo land just east of Page, Arizona, there are actually two canyons here – Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon.
Both are on Navajo land so the only way to visit is by guided tour. Upper Antelope Canyon is a very narrow slot with towering canyon walls stretching high above you. Some areas are so tight that it’s difficult to pass the people going in the opposite direction. It is a popular spot with photographers as the midday beams of light filtering into the canyon create a gorgeous effect on the sandstone. If you don’t visit at the right time the canyon is actually rather dark and not ideal for photographing.
Lower Antelope Canyon requires climbing down a set of metal stairs to enter and the opening in the top is much larger than its counterpart. So the vibrant, swirling sandstone is illuminated all throughout the day. It is also less popular than the upper canyon so you’ll enjoy fewer crowds and not feeling as rushed by your guide.
3. Horseshoe Bend
Horseshoe Bend is the section of the Grand Canyon where the river does a complete 180 around a bend in the rock (resembling a horseshoe) and the view from the top is spectacular. The overlook is 4,200 feet above sea level and the dizzying drop from the sheer cliffs would be about 1,000 feet. There are no guardrails and nothing is off-limits so you can wander around and check out the view from all angles.
The turquoise blue water of the meandering Colorado River with the giant orange rock formation raising from the center is truly a breathtaking view. It’s easy to get to and definitely worth the trip to see it in-person. Plus it’s right near Antelope Canyon and Lake Powell!
4. Coyote Buttes: The Wave
This area of Northern Arizona has gained notoriety because of one small, specific area of the Buttes known as The Wave. This rock formation is indeed truly stunning as the orange and white swirls are perfectly aligned to form a shape that really closely resembles an ocean wave. But what most people don’t realize is that the area surrounding The Wave is vast and equally as beautiful (and also much easier to access).
The orange and yellow swirling sandstone covers the entire area and creates a fascinating landscape. You’ll get lost wandering around while admiring the colors and textures. And since only 20 people are allowed to visit each of the Buttes every day, you’ll pretty much have the entire area all to yourself!
5. White Pocket
White Pocket is a small, compact area located in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument area (near the Coyote Buttes) where the rock formations resemble what you’d imagine Venus or Mars to look like. Strange layers of foam-looking white rock mixed with bright orange swirled formations will have you mesmerized.
There are no rules here, you can scramble up and down and around to your hearts delight. It’s a magical place to get lost exploring.
The entire area is only about one square mile in size so it’s easy to explore by foot. It’s incredibly difficult to get to which is why it only attracts a few daily visitors. You probably won’t see another soul the entire time you’re there!
6. Grand Canyon National Park: South Rim
The Grand Canyon was formed by many years of erosion by the Colorado River, snaking its way around and taking layer after layer of sediment with it. Today the canyon is 277 (river) miles long, 18 miles wide at points, and a mile deep. Standing at the top of one of the many viewpoints in the park, it’s still difficult to wrap your mind around the sheer size and vastness of it. It leaves you in awe of Mother Nature and the power that one river had to create such an amazing place.
There are several hiking trails, hotels, restaurants, and museums sprinkled throughout the park but the most popular activity is to explore the many viewpoints of the area to take in all of the beauty that the canyon has to offer. Sunrise and sunset are especially beautiful here as the colors of the rock are hazy-looking and pastel-colored against the soft sky.
Don’t miss the Desert View Watchtower which is one of the classic iconic sights of the park. You can climb to the top for even better views of the canyon below. Or visit at night when the tower is lit up against the night sky.
7. Monument Valley
The massive rock formations jutting up from the valley floor in Monument Valley are an iconic symbol of the American West. No doubt you’ve seen cowboys riding through them on horses in countless country Western movies. In fact, famed director John Ford filmed parts of 9 different western films here including Stagecoach and The Searchers.
And when you’re here it even feels like you’ve traveled back in time to the wild wild West, bumping along the dusty dirt road of this rugged and desolate terrain.
The entire valley is filled with towering sandstone formations that rise 400 to 1,000 feet above you. The colors of the stone change from bright orange during the day, to softer pinks and purples during sunset.
One of the best views of the park is from The View Hotel which is where you can book a tour or a campsite as well. Spend a few hours exploring the park in your car, but be sure to make it to a viewpoint for sunset, it’s truly breathtaking!
8. Devil’s Arch
Devil’s Arch is one of the many hikes that you can do in the darling little town of Sedona in Northern Arizona. Sedona is truly an outdoor adventurer’s ideal vacation spot as the weather is amazing and the landscape is spectacular. Plus there are so many delicious restaurants, cute boutiques, and lively breweries, you’ll never want to leave!
The hike to Devil’s Arch is 4.2 miles round trip and is moderate in difficulty. It gets fairly steep near the end but once the view of this natural sandstone arch comes into view you’ll know that all of that huffing and puffing was well worth it. The bridge is easy enough to walk across assuming you’re not afraid of heights. Or simply sit for a while and gaze at the beauty that surrounds you.
Want more adventures in Northern Arizona? Check out our favorite travel guides!
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