Before taking a cross-country American road trip this past summer with my sister, I had a sneaking suspicion the West would surprise me. I had seen all the photos – the Rocky Mountains, the red rocks, the canyon walls that stretch on for miles…
But I had no idea just how much I would fall in love with it. In fact, even after devoting nearly 5 days to the state of Arizona (on a 20-day road trip, mind you), I hadn’t had nearly enough.
My sister and I only visited the northern half of Arizona. But let me be the first to tell you that this state certainly is not lacking when it comes to natural wonders.
So here are the top 5 must-see natural sites in Northern Arizona:
5. Glen Canyon/Lake Powell
Stunning Lake Powell
In the very northeastern corner of the state, and extending for miles into neighboring Utah, Glen Canyon and Lake Powell sit rather unassumingly, waiting to take visitors by surprise. Lake Powell – part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which is run by the National Parks system – was formed with the building of the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River. Today, it is the nation’s second-largest man-made lake, and offers up a multitude water-based activities, from jet skiing to canyon boat tours. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area covers over 1.2 million acres in Arizona and Utah, meaning there are endless possibilities here.
Sedona may be touristy, but it’s totally worth a visit
Almost in the very middle of the state, and only a half-hour drive along twisting mountain roads from Flagstaff, Sedona should be a mandatory stop on any road trip that passes through Arizona. Yes, it’s true that this city is extremely touristy and perhaps a bit pricey. But you absolutely cannot beat its location, with the red rocks of the West towering over the town. Take a hike in Red Rocks State Park, visit the Chapel of the Holy Cross, or (and this one is my favorite) head over to Slide Rock State Park to enjoy a natural water slide that’s fun for the whole family. While you’re there, you can also shop the many gift stores for a unique Sedona gift to take home with you or give away to friends and family.
3. Vermillion Cliffs
The Vermillion Cliffs – straight out of a Western movie
Who doesn’t love colorful cliffs and some cool rock formations? You’ll find them and more in the Vermillion Cliffs, which snake all across northeastern Arizona. If you’re headed to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, you’ll have the chance to get up close and personal with these cliffs during the drive. You’ll also have the chance to stop at Cliffdwellers, a little spot where giant chunks of rock lay haphazardly at the bottom of the cliffs – some of which have been turned into cave-houses.
2. Antelope Canyon
Incredible light formations make Antelope Canyon truly special
If you’re going to be in this part of Arizona, do not skip the town of Page. Located right down the road from Lake Powell and only about 2 hours from both rims of the Grand Canyon, Page is a great stop on any Arizona trip. But what Page is close to pales in comparison to what it has to offer. Page is home to both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon – slot canyons made famous in photos because of the dazzling beams of light that appear in the canyons at certain times of the day. Upper Antelope Canyon is the most-visited of the two, and is the must-see canyon if you’re hoping to snap some photos of those famous light beams. If you want to escape the tourist crowds, however, head across the street to Lower Antelope Canyon, which is less dramatic, but more adventuresome.
1. Grand Canyon
And, of course, no trip to Northern Arizona would be complete without a stop at the Grand Canyon. This work of art crafted by Mother Nature draws millions of visitors each and every year – and it is totally worth it. If you have time, I highly suggest visiting both the North and South rims of the canyon. The North, while a bit harder to get to, is much less crowded and more natural. It is also very colorful, even under cloudy skies. The South Rim is more popular with tourists, and so has more lookouts and rim-side trails. Get up early for a sunrise, or stay late for a sunset – the colors in the canyon are stunning when kissed by sunlight at both these times of day.
Most people only think of the Grand Canyon when they think of Arizona. But you know what? It’s only one of the many things this state has to offer.