When you think of Arizona, it’s likely these things pop into your head: The Grand Canyon. Saguaro cacti. Hot summers. Golf. Hiking.
And you’re certainly not wrong. These are all things that Arizona is well known for. And they are all things that make this state a great place to visit, and nearly 44 million people will agree with you.
Though the highlights that make this state such a hot spot (both figuratively and literally) are things we love, we also love the idea of finding some things that are a bit more under-the-radar and haven’t been explored by millions of other people every year.
There is a certain excitement in going off the beaten path and exploring things that get your adrenaline rushing a bit more, right?
Thus, we have worked to uncover some of Arizona’s best kept secrets that will have you rushing here to check them out before they become the new “it” things of the Grand Canyon State.
This secret is one that is going to take some work to see, but we promise it is worth it. And by work we mean that you’ll have to enter into a lottery almost 5 months ahead of your planned trip for the hopes you’ll get one of the winning tickets: a hiking permit from the Bureau of Land Management.
Or, if you want to risk it a bit more or you didn’t plan far enough in advance, you can enter the lottery in-person, and hope that you’re one of the lucky 20 people that get to enter the site.
Before the difficulty of entry makes you deem this secret spot not worth the effort, let us share some info about the Wave with you. This place borders Utah in the Paria Canyon Wilderness Area and we can say, without a doubt, it is unlike anything you’ve ever, or will ever see.
The red sandstone structures that make up the Wave were created by the calcification of rocks both horizontally and vertically, thus creating this unique patterned appearance. A hike through these views will have you feeling fabulous, especially when the exclusivity of gaining entry means they’ll be very few people on the trail.
Monument Valley KOA Journey
Known as one of the most well-preserved cliff dwellings in the entire country, Montezuma Castle is worth a little visit.
This wonder dates back to the 12th century, when the Sinagua Indians built this massive castle right into the rocks. They carved out of the limestone cliffs nearly 20 rooms over 5 stories that all face the south (doing this lets them get warmth from the sun to heat the living spaces).
Though its name says otherwise, this castle is not affiliated with the Aztec culture. Rather, European settlers mistook that it was, hence the name.
As one of the first national monuments in the world, Montezuma Castle is certainly a sight to see.
Architect Paolo Soleri started this unique place in the middle of seemingly nowhere was an experiment. He wished to create an urban development where people could live and thrive in the middle of seemingly nothing land, without destroying mother nature.
He termed this concept “arcology.”
Though this space has not quite lived up to Soleri’s original hopes and expectations, it does still thrive in its own way here in Arizona. Visitors can pop in to see where people live, and how they sustain their lives at Arcosanti. They can also check out the collection of incredible bells that are built here, designed by Soleri himself.
These bells are well-known and bring crowds from all over, and they are truly unique, just like everything else here. As part of the Arcosanti development there are a number of apartments, a beautiful visitor center, a swimming pool, and an outdoor auditorium.
Stop in for a fascinating look at a different concept of living.
Say hello to the world’s largest telescope in Safford, Arizona. You’ll be surprised to learn that it can see even better than the renowned Hubble Space Telescope.
This behemoth of a telescope was constructed at one of the only places on this planet that is able to build something like this: the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab. This LBT (Large Binocular Telescope) is made up of two 27-foot-long mirrors that weigh in at nearly 2 tons each.
On your trip to Arizona you can see this thing up-close-and-personal during a weekend tour that takes you up Mount Graham to learn not only about the telescope, but about the mountain and its other wonders.
So the thought of visiting a place where a bunch of trees used to live may not sound too thrilling at the offset.
However, these aren’t just any old trees. These petrified remains are from trees that are upwards of 218 million years old. Yes, you read that right. 218 MILLION YEARS. It’s hard to wrap your head around something that old, and the fact that remnants of it still exist today.
Some of the trees are just little pieces, and some of them are massive 6-foot-wide trees.
So, head to the Petrified Forest National Park to dive deep back into history and see more than just pieces of old trees.
In addition to the trees here, there are also geological formations and ancient art that are an archeologist’s dream come true.
You can discover all the park has to offer by taking a hike through one of its trails. They are all fairly easy and family-friendly, just be ready to be in the sun and have no cover for shade.
And if you’re limited with time, the National Park Service has actually put together sample itineraries that give you great guidance on how to do the park depending on how much time you’ve got.
We love a secret spot that has “secret” in the name. Especially when it could be mistaken for its much more popular and overcrowded twin, Antelope Canyon.
There is no doubt in our minds you’ve seen the photos from Antelope Canyon, and they’ve all been stunning. It’s impossible to take a bad picture when that scenery is what you’re working with.
However, due to its beauty, the word of Antelope Canyon has spread and it can be quite overwhelming to try and visit.
Thankfully, we’ve found a great plan B: Secret Canyon. With no more than 15 people at a time, you’ll get an intimate look at one of these beautiful canyons, and a chance to photograph it without the risk of photobombs right and left.
Though you will pay a bit more than Antelope Canyon, it is well worth it in our book to have a more quiet and personal experience.
Monument Valley KOA Journey
Touring a cave is always an exciting event, but how about you make it even more exciting (and exclusive) by needing a key to get in?
Due to its fragile nature, Cave of the Bells is an underground wilderness area that is protected literally by a key. Though you don’t have to pay to get into the caves, you do have to put down a deposit for the key.
And it’s worth it. Unlike other caves, as you get deeper, it actually gets warmer. Lake Tunnel is the most popular passageway, and that leads to a lake deep underground whose water temperatures run nearly 80 degrees!
Spelunking aficionados and newbies alike will enjoy this exploration, though it is crucial to always keep in mind the fragility of this area, and to be careful with every step you take.
If you want to stand on a place with some history, head to Sunset Crater National Monument. What exists today is a dark spot that once was a dormant volcano that suddenly erupted nearly 1000 years ago. And over the next few hundred years, continued to erupt to create what you see in Arizona now.
In fact, you can actually still see some of the volcano’s bubbling lava frozen in stone. The trail that takes you through the crater’s area is great for all, and boasts some seriously stunning views, including the Ice Cave lava tube. There are a number of other trails worth checking out here, if time allows.
It’s quite surprising to find the number of lakes that exist in Arizona, but there are a number of them, all with their own beauty. Though some really take the cake in terms of visitors, there is one that is possibly the most beautiful, and at which you’ll find the fewest number of people: Watson Lake.
Just outside of Prescott, this lake is home to tons of granite dells that make not only for stunning pictures alongside the water, but also provide a great way to walk around the lake and do some exploring.
And there is no shortage of exploring to do. From fishing to hiking; rock climbing to kayaking, there is more than a day’s worth of fun to be hat at Watson Lake.
Now you’ve got a great mix of the big tourist attractions you’ve already heard about as well as some off-the-beaten-path sites to see on your next trip to Arizona. As you can see, this state has quite a bit to offer, so we suggest taking your sweet time to explore all the excitement of the Grand Canyon State.
Leslie, a.k.a. Copy Girl, is a copywriter who gets butterflies from telling stories through words.
Her voice comes from a place filled with passion, dreams, and lots of sugar. “Cake over steak” is her go-to motto.
With over 10 years of experience in crafting words, and years of embarking on travels that have taken this Montana girl to some incredible places, Leslie love the adventures of both body and mind her writing takes her on.
Everywhere she goes, she takes this advice with her:
“Hold on to your divine blush, your innate rosy magic, or end up brown.” – Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume
To see what Leslie’s up to in the writing world, visit her website here.