Down to the desert: Highlights of Arizona

Arizona is famous for two things: golf and the Grand Canyon. That being said, there is plenty more to do if you’re heading down to the desert—especially if the idea of 18 holes in the blazing sun isn’t your idea of a good time. Here are some of the highlights:

The red mountains of Sedona

Red rocks are what Arizona does best, and there is no lack of them here. Sedona is a stunning setting that is without question a tourist town, but still caters to adventure seekers and soul-searchers alike. As you travel the smooth, black highway towards the area, imposing orange mountains loom in the distance.

Drawing closer, you suddenly find yourself surrounded by so much beauty it’s hard to know where to turn your camera lens. The green foliage below offsets the bright rocks, and if you’re lucky a perfect blue sky completes the picture of everything a desert should be.

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There are a number of ways to spend your time in Sedona, and you can choose to spend the night in a luxurious lodge or simply head to the area for a day trip (about a two hour drive from Phoenix). If you don’t have access to a vehicle, there is a shuttle that goes between the Phoenix Sky Harbour Airport and Sedona for $47 each way. Many tourists spend their time simply walking through the picturesque town which is lined with souvenir shops selling Native American artwork, spiritual wares (they’re big on spirituality in this place!) and mouth-watering eateries. Sedona is also famous for its blissful retreats, so this is a great place to hit the spa and indulge in a massage if you’re so inclined. Otherwise, spend the day exploring some of the surrounding walking trails before heading back into town for some shopping.

Don’t miss: Snoopy Rock—if you look at it sideways, it looks like the famous Charlie Brown cartoon character!

The Grand Canyon

Warning: the Grand Canyon is deceivingly far away from the action!

Most tourists will stay in the Phoenix/Scottsdale/Glendale areas, which are a solid four hour drive away from the South Rim of this great divide. Accommodation is also extremely pricey, as there aren’t too many lodging options to choose from.

The North Rim has a shorter season due to the cold, and is open from mid-May to the middle of October. There are also a number of campsites in the area as well as the Kaibab National Forest and Jacob Lake. The Grand Canyon Lodge is the only accommodation offered in the North Rim, and prices range from $116-$192 per night.

The South Rim is open all day, year round. On that note, it’s important to dress warm if you’re heading there in the winter—it can get bitterly cold! Visitors arrive at the Grand Canyon Village Area, which hosts a number of lodges and restaurants. There is also a free shuttle bus to take people around the village.

The great thing about the Grand Canyon is it really has something for everyone, whether you’re into extreme adventures or want to simply kick back and enjoy the view. There are a number of tour companies in the area that offer mule rides down into the canyon, or you can venture down on your own two feet by hitting a hiking trail. Rafting through the canyon is also a popular option, though it’s important to note that time is of the essence here. Most rafting trips are a minimum of six days. Half-day or day trips are available, but you’ll actually head down the Colorado River—which is not technically in Grand Canyon National Park. You also won’t do any paddling, as it’s on a motorized boat. Expect to pay about $90 for a half-day trip, $350 for a full day, or a staggering $1700 for a five day trip.

One of the highlights of a trip to the canyon—after the stunning view, of course!—is hiking down to the famous Phantom Ranch.

Visitors can either take a mule down to the bottom of the canyon or hike down via the famous Bright Angel or Kaibab trails, and arrive at the rustic ranch near the Colorado River. This is the only lodging facility below the canyon rim—hence why it’s extremely popular! Reserve a room at least a year out if you want one of the private cabins which are furnished with bunk beds and a bathroom. Alternatively, you can pay for a bunk in one of the dorms which are separated by gender and have 10 bunk beds each. Sadly, the ranch is also quite pricey: dorms are $46 per person while a four-person cabin costs $150. Breakfast will set you back $20 while a steak dinner is $44.

Take a hike

The state of Arizona is blessed with hundreds of areas for outdoor enthusiasts, whether you want to go extreme by dangling off a rock face, or play it safe and go for a brisk walk along a hiking trail. If you’re in the Phoenix area, a nice way to spend the day is to head out to Lost Dutchman State Park. Just a 45 minute drive into the Sonoran Desert, it boasts several trails that wind through the park and into the Tonto National Forest. The landscape is made up of one large mountain with a number of peaks, while the base is surrounded with dusty trails and green foliage.

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Lost Dutchman is great because it caters to a number of skill levels, whether you choose to simply stroll through the Native Plant Trail (a 30 minute, easy walk that affords some great views) or really buck up and go for the gold by climbing to the top of Lost Dutchman.

If you go this route—be prepared with good shoes, water and snacks! I have this terrible habit of never planning to do the complicated route, thus am woefully unprepared when I impulsively start climbing, which happened to me again here. The day started out lovely and warm with clear skies, so we figured we’d just keep heading up. Unfortunately, the Siphon Draw Trail is actually quite the hike and involves a few scrambles as you navigate the rock face. Sure enough, when we got right near the top the weather took a turn for the worse, and we had to rush back down to try and beat out the dust storm.

Lost Dutchman also has a number of picnic and camping areas, and the reception area includes a gift shop. Entrance into the park is $3 per person, or $7 per vehicle. Click here for directions.

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Hit the greens

The reason Phoenix is a popular pick for ‘guys getaways’ is no doubt the plethora of greens in the state.

There are hundreds and hundreds of golf courses throughout Arizona, many world-class. Another benefit? It can be dirt cheap! Many courses offer deals such as a round of golf, cart rental and a steak dinner for as little as $40 per person. If you’re trying to save a few bucks, it might be cheaper to rent clubs instead of hauling yours on the plane, thanks to those pesky baggage fees. Click here for a list of some of the best courses in Phoenix, as chosen by Sports Illustrated.

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Shopping in Scottsdale

Finally, there is something for the girls! If you want to shop ‘til you drop, Scottsdale is the place to do it. The city is one of the ritziest in the state and boasts the beautiful Old Town, which is a great district to wander around. Artisans sell Native American crafts and jewelry. There are also a number of great restaurants and museums, and is the place to be for nightlife.  There is even a free trolley that stops nearly every single block, and takes about 40 minutes to do a full loop. Take that, San Francisco!

When it comes to plunking down your credit card, there are a plethora of malls to choose from. A great one is the Scottsdale Fashion Square mall which has hundreds of stores, including luxury retailers like Louis Vuitton and Barneys New York. If you’re watching your bottom line, you can save a bundle by heading out to the new Phoenix Premium Outlets in Chandler, which has 90 stores.

PRACTICALITIES:

Getting there: The Sky Harbor Airport is the main gateway to Arizona, located a few miles from Phoenix. The state is also sandwiched between California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Mexico, which makes it easy to drive to if you’re already in any of those areas.

Rent a car: Phoenix is basically built on a giant highway grid, and you would be charged an arm and a leg to get anywhere by taxi—if you can even hail one. Try a company like Enterprise or Budget, and pick one up from the Sky Harbor Airport.

Must eat: Anything Mexican. Being close to the Mexican border, there are some great restaurants to tantalize your taste buds. If you are in the Mesa area, try Rancho de Tia Rosa. Popular for good reason, the restaurant features beautiful tile décor, a quaint courtyard and even hosts weddings in its lush outdoor space.

Must pack: Sunscreen, it gets crazy hot here! And remember to slop some on as your cruise down the highway in a convertible—traffic jams are frequent, and can transform a quick drive into a sun burn.

YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY:

Unique and unexpected things to do in Phoenix, Arizona

5 reasons you need to stay at The Phoenician in Arizona

Goat Yoga: Where barnyard meets downward dog

GALLERY: Arizona

Viva Las Vegas!

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