In 2017 my husband and I packed our stuff and took off with our dog, Harper, in a DIY camper van conversion. We’ve since visited 48 states in the USA and have more than a few favorites. One place that I can’t get out of my mind is Northern Arizona.
I lived in Arizona for eight years so I’m probably a little biased, but this state is insanely beautiful.
The red rocks of Sedona, unforgettable overlooks at the Grand Canyon, and narrow walls of Antelope Canyon are some of the most unique landscapes in the world.
Northern Arizona is a truly picturesque location that I would urge anyone to add to their bucket list.
Top Things To Do in Northern Arizona
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Top Places to visit in Northern Arizona
When most people hear “Arizona,” they think of the Grand Canyon. It’s no wonder that this is the first thing that comes to mind because the canyon is overwhelmingly large. It spans 18 miles wide!
I would highly recommend spending more than one day here. There are so many lookouts and trails winding up and down the canyon that it can be hard to appreciate size from one angle.
The north and south rims of the Grand Canyon are also vastly different. The southern end is hotter, drier and has a more deserty feel. The north rim is cooler and less crowded; you’ll get a more secluded experience there.
Traveling between the north and south rim is a 4-hour drive. So they should be visited on separate days if you have the time.
The Colorado River formed the Grand Canyon, but it also snakes through Horseshoe Bend which is an insta-famous curve located north of the canyon.
The journey to Horseshoe Bend overlook is a short, 0.6-mile walk so anyone can participate. The path is mostly paved and flat. It leads to a breathtaking view with 1,000-foot walls.
Located on the edge of Arizona, right next to the Utah border is Antelope Canyon. This place is famous for its narrow canyon walls and photogenic beams of light.
Antelope Canyon can only be experienced with a tour group, and they sell out fast! If you don’t book ahead, you should plan to arrive early. There are only two tour companies that guide the journey.
For a more relaxed setting, spend the day paddling around Lake Powell. The reservoir is only 20 minutes from Antelope Canyon and a popular place to go boating, climbing, and hiking. If you’re up for a real adventure, you can rent kayaks or canoes and paddle around the base of Horseshoe Bend!
Traveling south of the Grand Canyon, you’ll find the picturesque Sedona, Arizona. Sedona is known for red rock buttes, art galleries, and small-town shops. This is the perfect place to go window shopping or cool off with an ice cream cone. There are a lot of great hikes in Sedona as well as jeep tours, mountain biking, and rock climbing are some of the most popular activities in the area.
Surrounded by ponderosa pine forests and mountains is Flagstaff, Arizona. This quirky college town has dozens of restaurants, breweries, and public art displays. Flagstaff is a 4-season vacation destination with skiing in the winter, hiking in the summer, and a variety of activities in-between.
Food In Northern Arizona
Arizona is a melting pot when it comes to food, but Mexican inspired dishes tend to dominate the others. Burritos, chimichangas, tacos, and spicy tamales are some of the local favorites.
If it’s your first time visiting the area, don’t miss trying these dishes:
Navajo tacos are made with Indian fried bread so they’re crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.
Sonoran hot dogs are bacon-wrapped and topped with pinto beans, onions, tomatoes, and jalapeno salsa.
Fresh, green corn tamales can only be served after harvest in late summer. The difference between these and regular tamales is the color of the husk. Green corn husks are moister and more delectable than traditional beige husks.
Northern Arizona Money Saving Tips
As someone who has spent years in a camper van, there There is nothing I love more than camping.
Arizona is a ridiculously easy place to camp. Not only is there a lack of mud and humidity, but there are also hardly any bugs! Camping in the desert southwest is a drastically different experience than overnighting on the east coast.
There are thousands of miles of National Forest run by the bureau of land management and anyone can go camping there for free. The Coconino National Forest and the Prescott National Forest are two of my favorite places to camp. Not only will this save you on the cost of a hotel, but there are boundless activities that can be done in the forest as well.
Northern Arizona cities are designed around the outdoors. The great thing about visiting Arizona is that most of the adventure can be done for free. Hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, canyoneering and going on scenic drives are fun and easy on the wallet.
At night, Arizona has some of the darkest skies around. The small cities and lack of clouds make it the perfect place for stargazing. Anyone can look at the stars for free, but Sedona Arizona also offers guided UFO tours that are bound to spark some interest.
Northern Arizona Packing Advice
Pack some shorts and a sturdy pair of hiking shoes! Arizona is a great place to go on some outdoor adventures! Dry, sandstone rocks are easy to walk on and you don’t have to worry about getting muddy which makes for perfect hiking.
Arizona also has very low humidity so you’re less likely to get sweaty like you would on the east coast. But there is rarely cloud cover so you’ll want something to block the sun.
Where to Stay in Northern Arizona
The best way to explore Northern Arizona is to rent a camper van (if you don’t already have one). There is an abundance of camping ground where you can park up for the night, or pitch a tent. There are even a lot of free campsites.
If you want to upgrade for a few nights here are a few unique accommodations you can stay in in Northern Arizona.
Getting Around Northern Arizona
By far the best way to travel around Northern Arizona is by car or RV. You can easily fly in and then rent a car, or a RV for the duration of your visit.
If you don’t want to drive, you will be very limited, however there is the option to fly between some cities or you can take the but. Greyhound, Trailways and Groome Transportation are the main companies.
Groome Transportation (was Arizona Shuttles) operates a shuttle service between most of the cities popular with tourists.
Northern Arizona Safety Advice
Northern Arizona is a very safe place to visit and I wouldn’t be concerned about traveling around the area. The only thing you’ll want to keep in mind is that gas stations can be far and few between as you get further north. Make sure that your gas tank is full!
Many people are afraid of seeing snakes or tarantulas while hiking but this is pretty unfounded. I’ve covered hundreds of miles of trails on foot and bike. So far, I’ve only come across a snake once. Snakes tend to be out during the hottest of temperatures and they avoid the popular trails.
The Best Time To Visit Northern Arizona
You’ll find surprisingly high elevation areas in Northern Arizona. Sedona sits at over 4,000 feet and Flagstaff is almost 7,000 feet! But that doesn’t mean that temperatures stay cool in the summer, it still gets HOT.
I would not recommend visiting Arizona in the summer if you can avoid it!
The best time of year to visit is in the spring or fall. In the spring, you might get lucky and catch some blooming wildflowers or experience the fragrant dessert after a rare rainfall. Autumn in Arizona is the perfect hiking weather with cooler, dry air.
Flagstaff, Arizona and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon can get heavy snowfall in the winter so it’s not a great time to visit unless you love the snow.
What to Read in Northern Arizona
If you’re looking for hidden gems in Arizona, one of the best resources is the complete guide to Arizona and the Grand Canyon. This book covers everything from hiking trails to restaurants and local breweries.
My favorite resource when it comes to itineraries is Fodors Arizona Guide. It has a pull-out map and trip planning tools that cover the entire state of Arizona. One of the most helpful features in this book is the “top picks” hiking trail chart for the Grand Canyon. It will help you plan your adventure based on length, activity level, and trail conditions.
There are hundreds of miles of scenic roads in Arizona and this book lays out some of the best. I’ve found it especially helpful when traveling on mid-summer days that are too hot for hiking. This book will show you some of the slower back roads that have less traffic and better views.