Fancy a bit of mining lore, a gunslinger legend or two, pop-culture references galore, and a forest of 225-million-year-old petrified trees?
Well, there’s one place on Earth where you’ll find them all.
Arizona, with its extreme deserts, mountains, and canyons, has a culture all its own. And while every state has its own quirks and phenomena, Arizona lays claim to a host of natural features and activities that set it apart.
With elevations ranging from just 70 feet above sea level along the Colorado River to 12,633 feet in the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, Arizona spans five distinct climate zones and is home to a wide variety of landscapes.
Here are 15 truly unique experiences that you can only have in the Grand Canyon State.
1. Visit A Moonscape
Walk among the flat-topped mesas and sculpted buttes of the Petrified Forest National Park in northeastern Arizona, and you’ll surely feel like you’ve been transported to another world — or perhaps merely to the moon.
The park’s Blue Mesa Trail takes hikers into the heart of the otherworldly badlands — an eerie landscape dotted with mounds of petrified wood. The National Park Service describes the petrified wood as 225-million-year-old trees that have been fossilized and are made up of almost solid quartz.
2. Channel The Eagles
If the Eagles were ever your jam, or even if they weren’t, one of the 1970s/1980s rock band’s lines will probably ring a bell.
“Well I’m a-standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona” turned out to be a musical shout-out with staying power. The line from the band’s 1972 hit “Take It Easy” put the small northeastern-Arizona town on the pop-culture map.
Today, the community has immortalized the lyric with the Standin’ on the Corner Park, located along a section of the old Route 66 in downtown Winslow. Complete with a statue of a guitar-wielding man on the corner — and yes, a flatbed Ford — the park offers plenty of fun photo ops for Eagles fans.
3. Tour The Crater Made Famous By Starman
It’s nearly a mile across, more than 500 feet deep, and 50,000 years old. Meteor Crater, located about 37 miles east of Flagstaff, is so unusual that it has been featured in a number of science fiction movies. In the 1984 movie Starman, Jeff Bridges’s alien character famously made a run for Meteor Crater.
The crater is said to have formed when a nickel-iron meteorite struck the Earth. An interactive visitors center offers a crater-viewing area, a widescreen theater, and artifacts and exhibits. Guided rim tours are also available.
4. Cross A London Icon
As the story goes, a developer bought the real 1830s-era London Bridge from the City of London in the late 1960s. He then reassembled it in the Colorado River community of Lake Havasu City in a bid to entice tourists and prospective homebuyers.
The stunt paid off. The London Bridge, which crosses a channel of the river, is now one of Arizona’s top tourist attractions.
5. Search For Lost Gold
The search for gold was never easy, and the Lost Dutchman Mine in Arizona’s Superstition Mountains is a case in point. As perhaps the West’s most famous lost gold mine, it has inspired countless legends involving missing maps, treachery, and deathbed confessions.
Today, the fables come alive at Lost Dutchman State Park.
For many, the gorgeous desert terrain in the park and in the nearby Tonto National Forest is even more tempting than the prospect of gold. Routes such as the Peralta Trail take hikers deep into the stark and rugged area and offer glimpses of the famous Weavers Needle.
6. Plummet Down A Natural Waterslide
Sedona’s Red Rocks offer more than just stunning views. At Slide Rock State Park, the sandstone rocks also form an 80-foot-long chute that serves as the ultimate summer waterslide. Algae on the rocks creates a slippery slide for the adventurous.
The state park is located near Oak Creek at the site of an old apple farm.
7. Enjoy A Happy Hour Near A Natural Wonder
Both complementing and contrasting with the rugged terrain of the Grand Canyon is the historic El Tovar Hotel, a former Harvey House built in 1903.
While the restaurant offers elegant dining, another option is the hotel’s lounge, which features a small adjoining veranda overlooking the canyon — it’s the perfect spot for an after-hike happy hour as the setting sun illuminates the natural wonder.
8. Travel Back In Time To The Wild West
The Earps made Tombstone their own back in the 1880s, and now you can, too. The southern-Arizona community known as “The Town Too Tough to Die” offers nonstop Western action along its wooden sidewalks, including reenactments of the infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
9. Stay At A Historic Lodge
For decades the Phantom Ranch has served as a shady oasis for weary hikers and mule riders who have ventured deep into the Grand Canyon. The 1922 lodge offers a store with basic provisions, as well as a dormitory and cabins, and is located near the banks of the Colorado River.
10. Walk Among Giants
Known for its massive pipe-like trunks reaching toward the sky, the organ pipe cactus is unique to one isolated spot in the United States — the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, located in southern Arizona near the Mexican border. A walk among the spiky giants is sure to make you feel small, but in a good way.
11. Dine In An Asylum
Jerome was once known as “The Wickedest Town in the West,” and its Asylum Restaurant is a reminder of the days when the 1926 building served as a hospital for the raucous mining community perched on the side of a mountain.
Although never actually an insane asylum, the building that houses the restaurant and hotel has a slightly spooky vibe that makes it a popular destination for ghost hunters.
12. Browse A Navajo Flea Market
Navajo specialties such as frybread, kneeldown bread (Navajo tamales), and blue-corn mush don’t come any more authentic than they do at the Tuba City Flea Market. Along with an assortment of home-cooked Native American foods, the market offers a huge array of turquoise jewelry, colorful blankets, and native-inspired pottery.
Tuba City is located near the eastern edge of the vast Navajo Nation in northern Arizona, about 80 miles north of Flagstaff.
13. Refresh At A Route 66 Soda Counter
If it’s a vintage Route 66 experience you’re after, the Hackberry General Store will more than fit the bill. The former mining town in northwestern Arizona evolved over the years into a service station/general store featuring old signage and gas pumps, antique cars, and an authentic soda counter.
The general store is located on a scenic but isolated stretch of the old Route 66, about 30 miles northeast of Kingman.
14. Cliff Jump Into Spring Water
Perhaps no water feature in arid Arizona is more special than Fossil Creek. At a temperature of 70 degrees, water gushes from Fossil Springs at the bottom of a deep canyon on its way to the Verde River.
The calcium carbonate-rich water has a beautiful blue-green color, which adds to the appeal of the area. One of only two Wild and Scenic Rivers in Arizona, Fossil Creek attracts crowds of visitors despite its remote location. Many climb the cliffs above the falls to dive into the deep pools.
“Because of its beauty and year-round water, people are drawn to this area,” states the Coconino National Forest website. “The lushness of the riparian area strikes a sharp contrast to the dry and sparse desert vegetation that surrounds it.”
Permits are required to access the creek between April 1 and October 1.
15. Ride A Mule Through The Grand Canyon
Teams of mules provide a distinctly Arizonan mode of transportation to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. A local company offers overnight trips down the steep Bright Angel Trail and up the South Kaibab Trail the next day. The trips include a stay in the cabins at the historic Phantom Ranch.
A great alternative to hiking, the mule rides give visitors an opportunity to take in the cliffs of the canyon’s Inner Gorge, the Colorado River, and the panoramic views along the South Kaibab Trail. Space is limited.
Planning a trip to Arizona? See our other articles on the Grand Canyon State to learn more about the hiking trails, parks, petroglyphs, and natural wonders the area has to offer.