The rugged terrain and clear skies of Arizona attract millions of hikers each year and stretch far beyond the famous ridges of the Grand Canyon. World-class trails combined with equally impressive stargazing opportunities make Arizona an unparalleled hiking destination and distinguish it as a veritable “astrotourism capital” of the U.S. Dedicated to minimizing the harmful effects of light pollution, the dark-sky movement took hold in Flagstaff in the late 1950s before the city became the world’s first International Dark Sky Place in 2001. The Grand Canyon State is now also home to 17 certified Dark Sky Sanctuaries and many other dark-sky locations, continuing a legacy of preserving the majestic natural landscape and the night sky above.
Making the most of these especially starry nights, this five-day itinerary features hiking excursions and mountain-view drives during the day, followed by different dark-sky adventures each evening. This, all while journeying through diverse panorama that can only be found in Arizona.
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Itinerary / 5 DAYSPLAN YOUR TRIP
DAY 1Caves and Dark Skies
Once you’re ready to hit the trail, take a scenic 20-mile drive through the foothills of Humphrey’s Peak, Arizona’s highest point, to arrive at Lava River Cave. Make sure you come prepared with closed-toed shoes, a headlamp, and jacket since the trail runs through a mile-deep cavern where the temperature hovers at about 40 degrees year-round. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head back into downtown Flagstaff. Treats like homemade bacon and craft coffee at the casual and cozy Tourist Home All Day Cafe make it a great option for lunch. After nightfall, take in your first Dark Sky at the Lowell Observatory where Pluto was discovered in 1930. Scan the stars through several famous telescopes on informative guided tours and visit the new Giovale Open Deck Observatory, which offers VIP access to six advanced open-air telescopes.
DAY 2Sandstone Arch and a Starlight Train Ride
Head back into Sedona, another certified Dark Sky Community, and check into the El Portal Hotel, a luxury inn with authentic hometown charm. For a fresh take on Southwestern cuisine, stop at the nearby SaltRock Kitchen before driving over to Clarkdale (40 minutes). Once there, you’ll climb aboard the Starlight Ride’s vintage train car on the Verde Canyon Railroad to take in the sunset and moonlit views on this four-hour train ride through the Verde River valley. First-class service includes appetizers and a champagne toast, and all guests are welcome into the open-air viewing car to gaze out at the canyon as the stars sparkle overhead.
DAY 3Stay in a Dark-Sky Zone
The area’s first-ever luxury resort in a Dark Sky Community, perched high in the desert, Adero is a destination unto itself—so make some time to enjoy everything it has to offer. With two more days of hiking left to go, you can rejuvenate by treating yourself to the multiple outdoor pools, hot tubs, spa and massage services, and even desert meditation or spiritual guidance coaching to help you relax and reenergize. End your evening amidst spectacular nocturnal landscapes with a world-class dining experience at Cielo, the resort’s signature restaurant embodying their “farm-to-table-to-sky” philosophy.
DAY 4Sunset Stargazing in The Sonoran Desert
Before heading into Scottsdale for dinner, meander through Frank Lloyd Wright’s desert masterpiece, Taliesin West, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which sits just next door to the trailhead. Return to the resort in time for a hotel pickup, taking you deep into the Sonoran Desert for a Sunset Stargazing Tour. Along with knowledgeable guides and aided by high-powered telescopes in the vast quiet of the desert, you will embark on an intimate journey through the wonders of the Milky Way including Jupiter and its moons, Saturn’s rings, and much more.
DAY 5End With an Epic Hike
Celebrate your success with a drive south to the flatlands to tour the gourmet market at Queen Creek Olive Mill and grab a bottle of their world-renowned olive oil before ending your journey by watching the daylight fade at San Tan Flat, a lively local country bar and grill. After stacking your individual firepit with wood, take in some local music and kick back with a drink as you toast your own marshmallows for s’mores. From Queen Creek it’s very easy to continue traveling in the greater Phoenix area or fly out from the nearby Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.