Of the many reasons to journey to Arizona’s magnificent parks and monuments—educational to relaxing experiences, and time to bond with friends and family while taking in the sites—science links the wonders of nature to increased positivity. Researchers at UC Berkeley showed that experiences of awe, which the Grand Canyon State has in spades, lead to all kinds of good stuff. From greater altruism and more community-oriented behavior, in addition to potentially serving as a crucial ingredient in nature’s healing powers on the body, visiting the national sites that make this region of the southwest so amazing makes it easy to reap the benefits.
This trip guides travelers through breathtaking views on the rim of the Grand Canyon to the Dr. Seuss-like landscape of Chiricahua National Monument to the painted deserts and ancient tree trunks in the Petrified Forest National Park and beyond. You’ll have every opportunity to bear witness to wonder all throughout this 10-day journey, which will take you to Arizona’s greatest natural hits. (While visiting these magnificent sites, take care to treat them with the respect they deserve by employing the helpful tips on sustainable practices of Visit Arizona’s “Leave No Trace” approach.) Get ready for an awesome time that gives new meaning to the word.
The Arizona Office of Tourism is continuing to monitor the evolving COVID19 situation. Before traveling to or throughout Arizona, check VisitArizona.com/COVID-19 for important travel and tourism updates.
Itinerary / 10 DAYSPLAN YOUR TRIP
DAY 1Chiricahua: The Wonderland of Rocks
The area is one of southern Arizona’s most beloved hiking destinations, with popular trails such as Echo Canyon, the Upper and Lower Ryolite canyons, and the Heart of Rocks Loop. Wildlife viewing is best along Bonita Creek Trail, where you might spot deer, coatimundis, and flocks of migrating birds. In the Faraway Ranch Historic District on the east side of the monument, you’ll see the restored, rough-log Stafford Cabin which gives a birds-eye view of pioneer life in this rugged territory. [Note: tours are currently cancelled.]
Part of what makes this destination so fascinating is how isolated it is, but many visitors combine a trip here with a tasting tour of the Willcox wine region. Book a stay in an 1873 historic adobe building at nearby Dos Cabezas Retreat, located off Highway 186 just south of Willcox, about 40 minutes from Chiricahua.
DAY 2Saguaro: Marvels of Time
It’s a great place to view wildlife too. Take the Freeman Homestead Trail into a desert wash to try and spot great horned owls nesting in the cliffs above. In spring, hike the Hope Camp and Ridgeview Trails for some of the park’s most vivid wildflower displays and expansive views into the Box Canyon, which is sometimes studded with waterfalls after a rain.
Drive 90 minutes to Phoenix, en route to your next stop at Montezuma Castle National Monument in Camp Verde, to break up the drive. On your way to Phoenix, stop for a visit at the Casa Grande National Monument if you have time. Then check into the Gila River Indian-owned Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass and sample James Beard Award-nominated chef Ryan Swanson’s imaginative southwest cooking at Kai on the premises. Bison Crème Brulee, anyone?
DAY 3Montezuma Castle: An Historic First Monument
The grounds also incorporate nearby Montezuma Well, a spring-fed travertine pool that once provided water for Sinaguan communities. Here, you’ll see more humble dwellings and the remains of an irrigation system, parts of which still irrigate local farmers’ fields. National Park Service rangers lead guided bird walks twice a month along a shady trail through the oasis that’s popular with birders.
Flagstaff, about an hour away, is the nearest city en route to the next leg of the trip. Your home for the night will be Little America, a luxurious retreat set in a 500-acre forest. For dinner, try The Northern Pines, which offers elevated family-friendly fare with 15 beers on tap.
DAY 4Walnut Canyon: Ancient Cliff Dwellings
From the foot of the stairs, a trail leads to one of the simple pueblos. Step inside and a world opens up: through the window you can see into the neighboring homes all the way across the chasm. Look down, and hundreds of feet below is Walnut Creek, from which the residents would have sourced their water. Hike along the Rim Trail for overlooks with good views of the cliff dwellings below. The fertile lands atop the mesa were once farmed by the Sinagua. In summer, visit a demonstration garden to taste the corn and other staples that once fed these ancient communities.
Stay over for the next two nights at La Posada in nearby Winslow (about an hour drive away), which will break up the drive to the Petrified Forest the next day. It has the historic charm of an 18th century Spanish hacienda. Load up on breakfast burritos or replenish at lunchtime with Navajo tacos or Vegetarian Tepa Burgers (made with Sonoran Tepary beans) at Painted Desert Diner.
DAY 5Petrified Forest: Jaw-dropping Fossilized Beauty
Continue on another night at La Posada in Winslow and eat on premises at The Turquoise Room, for regional contemporary cuisine like Bison short ribs and Navajo-Churro lamb or a locally grown vegan salad.
DAY 6Wupatki: Step 1,000 years back in time
Check back into the Little America Hotel for the next two nights. Try the Tinderbox Kitchen, one of Flagstaff’s most beloved restaurants, which will delight both carnivores (braised beef shoulder with parsnip, black garlic and horseradish) and omnivores (ancient grains with mushroom, turnip and kale). After dinner, hit the Flagstaff Ale Trail to quench your thirst and give your mouth a taste of awe from Flagstaff’s excellent breweries.
DAY 7Sunset Crater Volcano: Like Walking on the Moon
Then continue on to the Lava Flow Trail, which hugs the base of the volcano below cinder fields that sparkle in the sun. While it’s not possible to climb to the top of Sunset Crater (it’s been closed since 1973 to protect it from erosion), a one-mile trail up 7,250-foot Lenox Crater provides awe-inspiring views of Sunset Crater and the surrounding Bonito lava flow. It’s here in Sunset Crater where Neil Armstrong and other astronauts trained for the Apollo Mission. Indeed, you may feel like you’re walking on the moon when visiting.
DAY 8Monument Valley: An Icon of the Wild West
Don’t be surprised if it all feels very familiar—it’s the living embodiment of the Wild West with several cinematic moments filmed here over the decades: John Wayne rode out from between the park’s famous red rock buttes, The Mittens, in Stagecoach and The Searchers; and Michael J. Fox—as Marty McFly—zoomed past them in a time-traveling car. Thelma and Louise even ran out the final leg of their journey here.
Whether you choose the lodge, RV park, or campgrounds at Gouldings for the night (just 10 minutes from the park), expect endless views with resort-style amenities. Relax and rejuvenate in the indoor pool or on the sun deck, and feast on authentic southwestern and Navajo flavors in the Stagecoach Dining Room.
DAY 9-10Grand Canyon: A Grand Record of Geological Time
Hike a historic trail like Bright Angel, Hermit, or Kaibab, and be sure to enjoy a sunset or sunrise from the rim. On your travels throughout the canyon, see how much wildlife you can spot, keeping your eyes peeled for bighorn sheep, and California condors (look for them flying high overhead at Yavapai and Yaki points and Lookout Studio on the South Rim). The canyon is home to thousands of species, many of which are endemic or very rare—such as the California condors, which are making a comeback after near-extinction, due to careful wildlife management. Ride bikes on Hermits Trail, take a Jeep or Hummer tour, and plan ahead to arrange a ride on a mule to the bottom or along the rim on horseback.
You’ll want to stay at El Tovar Hotel at the South Rim, considered the crown jewel of the National Park Lodges. Eat on premises at El Tovar Dining Room for fine dining at dinnertime (order the roasted duck entree with chipotle cherry demi-glace), and creative Southwestern breakfast foods, such as polenta corn cakes with prickly pear pistachio butter. The El Tovar Lounge has stunning views of the Grand Canyon to enjoy over Navajo nachos and duck confit sliders. Fly or drive out of Flagstaff on your last day, with eyes and heart opened wide after the awe-inspiring journey.