Arizona, for most people, brings to mind an image of dry, cactus-filled wasteland and perhaps one huge city splayed under endless sun. The desert, although indeed vast, is beautiful and surprisingly rich in life and color. But Arizona reveals even more--alpine peaks, rushing rivers, dense forests, and deep canyons--if you know where to look. Even in the midst of the cities, incredible adventures await. In fact, more than 90% of Arizona residents live within a mile of a hiking trail.
That's why Arizonans realize that picking 12 destinations just scratches the surface of the treasures of their state. This list serves simply to highlight a few of the best and to whet your appetite for everything this region has to offer.
Fossil Creek Falls and swimming hole. Photo by Outdoor Project Contributor Jesse Weber.
Piestewa Peak: A high point over the Valley of the Sun, this craggy mountain near downtown Phoenix is easy to get to but difficult to hike. Views on top are well worth the effort.
Camelback Mountain: Climbing Camelback is a staple Scottsdale adventure. Combining hiking and rock scrambling, Cholla Trail is the more intrepid route to the summit.
Lower Salt River: Just a short drive from the metropolis puts you in a wonderland of flowing water, desert scenery, and wild horses. Floating the Salt is a year-round favorite for locals and visitors alike.
Sunset Trail: Part of a network of trails in the mountains above Tucson, Sunset Trail winds through rocky pine forest on the sky island of Mount Lemmon.
Castle Dome Mines and Ghost Town: Arizona is riddled with ghost towns, but one of the most impressively well preserved lies in the Castle Dome Mountains of Southern Arizona.
Fossil Creek Waterfalls: A lush oasis can be found in Northern Arizona's Verde Valley, where a spring-fed stream gushes over numerous cascades, creating perfect swimming holes and thrilling cliff jumping.
Fall views near the Inner Basin Trail. Photo by Outdoor Project Contributor Jesse Weber.
Humphreys Peak: The highest point in the state rises to an astonishing 12,633 feet above sea level atop the San Francisco Peaks in Northern Arizona. Venturing into the alpine realm, you will quickly forget everything you thought you knew about Arizona as a hot desert.
Inner Basin Trail: Cradled within the crown of the San Francisco Peaks is the Inner Basin, the remains of an ancient volcano crater, now filled in with meadows and aspen groves that are famous for fall colors.
View along South Kaibab Trail in the Grand Canyon. Photo by Outdoor Project Contributor Daniel Sherman.
Colorado River in the Grand Canyon: Millions of people visit the rim of the Grand Canyon each year, but few venture to the bottom where the mighty river lies, and even fewer have traveled the tumultuous length of it through the most dramatic gorge on earth.
South Kaibab and Bright Angel Trails: These are the most popular hikes in the Grand Canyon because of jaw-dropping scenery at every turn and a relatively direct route to the bottom.
Havasu Falls: The Southwest's most famous waterfall, Havasu Falls, and other impressive cascades of turquoise water flow through Havasupai lands in the Grand Canyon.
Antelope Canyon: A true natural wonder hides just beneath the surface within Navajo Nation. This slot canyon is a photographer's fantasy, putting on a natural light show when the sun beams between undulating orange walls.