The Southwestern state of Arizona offers a stunning range of landscapes, and an equally impressive mix of outdoor adventure opportunities.
Hiking the Havasu Canyon trail
Three thousand feet beneath the rim of the Grand Canyon, the five waterfalls of Havasu Canyon are a nearly impossible blue-green shade. One of the most incredible outdoor adventures in the States—whether you decide to hike, ride a horse, or take a helicopter to the falls—the strenuous 8-mile trip between Hualapai Hilltop and the water forces you to earn the spectacular views that await. Once in the canyon, a dirt trail will take you over two small bridges to turquoise swimming holes and waterfalls that reach up to 200 feet high.
For at least the last 800 years, the Havasupai (“People of the Blue-Green Waters”) tribe has lived here and cared for the falls and land around them. When you visit, keep in mind that this isn’t just a tourist destination—it’s a place central to the identity of the Havasupai people.
Mountain biking in Prescott
The northern Arizona town of Prescott has gone the extra mile to make itself a premiere destination for mountain bikers. The town has 250 miles of trails that range from the biker’s equivalent of bunny slopes to the painfully tough and rugged. The mountain bike scene is anchored by the annual Whiskey Off-Road every April, a 3-day endurance race and event that includes tons of live music and—you guessed it—whiskey.
What makes Prescott so appealing to cyclists is the variety of trails. In a relatively small area, you can find yourself tackling a smooth downhill slope, muscling cross-country, or navigating a technical hill. The Willow Dells Slickrock Trails are some of the most challenging and rewarding, circling through the otherworldly Granite Dells—outcroppings that protrude from the earth like castles. In the early mornings and evenings, the still water of Willow Creek reflects the mounds, adding to the surreal feel.
Whitewater rafting through the Grand Canyon
The only way to truly experience the Grand Canyon is to float through it. For the last six million years, the Colorado River has been at work eroding the canyon into its current superb existence and, by extension, creating one of the most epic whitewater routes anywhere.
Grand Canyon rapids predate the modern Class VI rating scale, so this is one of the few places in the world where, technically, you can see Class 10 whitewater. Crystal and Lava Falls, two of the most aggressive on the Colorado, can be rated as such depending on water conditions. But regardless of when you go and what section you raft, you’ll be treated to rushes worthy of the best amusement parks, and views you can see in Arizona and nowhere else.
Off-roading in Sedona
During the evening, the massive outcroppings of Sedona turn a shade of red so intense and worthy of contemplation that they feel like massive antennae signaling messages to the New Agers who flock from across the planet to admire them.
Like so much of Arizona, Sedona is a place that holds onto its secrets. Many beautiful views are accessible from the road, but an entire world opens up when you have an off-road vehicle and a knowledgeable guide. To accommodate, there are several companies offering jeep tours to remote locations among the red rocks. Trips typically last between two and three hours and will take you to sweeping desert views and the ruins of ancient Native American dwellings.
Hot-air ballooning over the Sonoran Desert
Hot-air balloon tours operate across the state, but the opportunity to see southern Arizona’s Sonoran Desert from the sky make those in the Phoenix and Tucson areas especially appealing. Start early in the morning to take in one of the most arresting sunrises on the planet. Once the sun’s up, keep your eyes trained on the ground to catch glimpses of Sonoran pronghorns, coyotes, and javelinas.
If the hot-air balloon didn’t get you high enough, head into the air by plane. Thanks to Arizona’s warm climate and clear skies, the state has developed a robust skydiving scene. Hardcore skydivers come over from Europe to make desert jumps at several sites between Tucson and Phoenix. Whether you’re a first timer going on a tandem jump or a long-time veteran of the air, skydiving in Arizona provides the ultimate adrenaline rush.
Staying on a dude ranch and riding off into the sunset
Staying on a dude ranch in Arizona provides both (family-friendly) outdoor adventure and the amenities usually found in all-inclusive resorts. Ranches typically offer guided horse tours of the surrounding land and, depending on the particular ranch, you may find yourself herding uncooperative cattle, going on a desert hike, or even playing on a world-class golf course. Evenings involve huge dinners and nights staring up at the stars. You’ve never experienced the Southwestern outdoors quite like this.