Arizona Natural Wonders—Most Beautiful Natural Places in Arizona

Arizona Natural Wonders—Most Beautiful Natural Places in Arizona

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So, you think you know Arizona? Well, if you believe it’s all low desert, like in Phoenix, then you are missing out on some of the most beautiful places in Arizona!

We’ll start our tour of the top Arizona natural wonders in the north of the state and work our way south. Most people know iconic places like the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley, and this list will share some that you may be less familiar with.

As a Phoenix, Arizona local for nearly 20 years, I have seen my share of the many Arizona natural wonders. Though the cities in Arizona are lots of fun, these natural spots are some of the most beautiful places in Arizona.

Here is my list of the top natural spots to visit in Arizona. From unique and one-of-a-kind sites to stunningly beautiful areas, check these out when you come to this state!

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1. Havasupai Canyon

It won’t be any surprise to anyone who has visited Havasupai Canyon that this is on the list of Arizona natural wonders. Havasupai Canyon is home to the Havasupai Native American tribe and incredibly stunning turquoise waterfalls.

The falls are in a very remote area in northern Arizona only accessible by foot. (There is a helicopter, but that would be cheating out on the experience of getting there!) You travel through this area with permission from the Tribe, and passes are limited.

The Canyon is a branch off of the Grand Canyon, though it takes several hours to drive between the two. From the trailhead, you hike for ten miles to the campground, where the two largest falls are, Havasu Falls and Mooney Falls.

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During the hike, you’ll enjoy stunning red rock. It’s a steep hike down, then you walk along the silty dry riverbed to the village. Here you can get water and supplies, and you pass two of the smaller falls on your way down to the campground.

The campground is like an oasis in the middle of this barren area. There are mature trees and two of the most stunning waterfalls you may ever see. Plan for at least three days to enjoy this magical place.

To learn more about this hike, you can read my post on hiking to the Havasupai Falls.

2. Grand Canyon

It wouldn’t be a list of Arizona natural wonders without the Grand Canyon. It’s one of the seven natural wonders of the world, and with good reason! It seems to go on forever.

If you’re a hiker, the Grand Canyon is a great place to be. there are a lot of different hikes ranging in difficulty you can do. You can hike down to the Colorado River if you’re up for it and stay at Phantom Ranch.

There is also a rim trail where you can wander along the edge of the canyon to enjoy the different views. And, there are areas where you can walk out on wide rock ledges over the canyon.

The Grand Canyon has three areas you can visit. The South Rim trail is the most popular for road trips. You can also go to the North Rim, which has less amenities and is less popular. However, if you’re doing a trip with Zion and Bryce National Parks, the North Rim makes sense.

The West Rim is also popular and has been built out the most recently. the Grand Canyon Skywalk is there, for the brave. It’s a ten-foot wide horseshoe-shaped glass bridge that is 70 feet out over the rim of the canyon. Here, you’ll get views of the canyon you can’t get anywhere else.

Read more about the Grand Canyon in the 7 best road trips in Arizona.

aerial view of the grand canyon
Grand Canyon

3. Monument Valley

Another striking Arizona natural wonder on Native American lands is Monument Valley. It’s a beautiful and incredibly desolate area on the border with Utah.

This area was featured in a number of old westerns. It has been in famous movies and it’s very identifiable.

In Navajo, the name of this area means “valley of the rocks.” You’ll see a cluster of large red sandstone buttes, some of which are as high as 1,000 feet tall (300 meters).

You’re able to ride around the 17-mile dirt road loop on your own and it takes a couple of hours, depending on the number of stops you make. However, to visit some areas, you do need a permit from the Tribe.

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It’s an area unlike any other and well worth visiting. Read more about Monument Valley in the 7 best road trips in Arizona.

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Monument Valley

4. Grand Falls (a.k.a “Chocolate Falls”)

You have probably heard of Niagara Falls as it’s one of the tallest waterfalls in North America. Grand Falls is actually a few feet higher! However, it doesn’t flow consistently.

Grand Falls is located northeast of Flagstaff on the Navajo Reservation. It occurs when monsoon season hits the area when the snow melt is at its peak from winter snowstorms in the area.

The silt from the Little Colorado River gives Grand Falls a rich chocolate color that looks like those chocolate fountains that you might see at a party. It’s a sight to be seen, and the reason why they are sometimes called the “chocolate falls.”

You’ll only find these falls during the springtime when the water level gets high enough. And, it’s for a short time only. You can check the water level on this website, and , visit Grand Falls within a day or two to see this spectacular vision.

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Grand Falls, photo courtesy of Anmarie Booge

5. Horseshoe Bend

Chances are, you’ve seen a picture of the striking Horseshoe Bend, even if you didn’t know what it was. It’s one of the most picturesque spots in Arizona and is shown on a lot in travel images.

Horseshoe Bend was carved by the massive Colorado River. Yes, the same one that carved out the Grand Canyon.

It can be accessed by a path just off of the I-17 highway and you can walk all the way around it. If you’re traveling to Lake Powell and Page, Arizona, you won’t want to miss it.

Read more about the Page area in the best Arizona road trips.

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Horseshoe Canyon

6. Lake Powell

Lake Powell is a man-made reservoir created on the Colorado River. Though most of it is in Utah, there is a large part in Arizona as well. It’s second in size only to Lake Mead.

It’s a popular vacation spot for tourists and locals alike, seeking a cooler area in the summer. Lake Powell offers beautiful sandy beaches and blue waters. You’ll find visitors enjoying this lake by boat, and many rent houseboats and stay on the lake.

There are some gorgeous areas you can see only by water. Rainbow Bridge National Monument is one of these areas, and it’s a stunning natural rock bridge.

As you might expect, water sports are quite popular. You can rent kayaks, canoes, boats, and paddleboards. You’ll see people waterskiing, wakeboarding, and fishing as well.

Hiking and camping are also very popular in the Lake Powell area. Read more about this beautiful area.

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Lake Powell sunset, photo credit: Keri Hohm

7. Antelope Canyon

For something uniquely southwestern, a visit to Antelope Canyon is a must-see. It’s a slot canyon carved by water and wind in the striking red sandstone near Page, Arizona. It has narrow passageways that are several hundred feet high.

What makes slot canyons special is that the sloping angles of the walls create incredible shifts of light. Seeing it at different times during the day creates an entirely different experience.

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It’s hard to capture their true beauty with a camera, especially as many of the passageways are quite narrow. As such, it’s really something you need to see to believe.

You can visit the Upper or Lower Antelope Canyon, though you are required to have a Navajo Nation guide as it’s located on Native American land. The lower portion is typically less busy, and the guide will help you to secure the required permit.

When you visit, consider the time of year and time of day to optimize the sunlight. Lucky for you, the sun shines often in this area throughout much of the year.

Learn more about visiting Antelope Canyon and Page Arizona.

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Antelope Canyon

8. Lake Mead

Another famous and beautiful reservoir that is partially located in Arizona is Lake Mead. It was created by the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River, and it’s located just 24 miles east of Las Vegas.

Lake Mead is huge, and it’s the largest reservoir in the US. It provides water to Arizona, California, Nevada, and Mexico for nearly 20 million people.

Most people do visit from Las Vegas, though it’s only a few hours from Phoenix and an easy (though rather boring!) drive. There are a lot of activities in and around Lake Mead including hiking, camping, water skiing, fishing, and more. It’s also one of the best freshwater lakes for scuba diving.

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Lake Mead

9. Sedona

One of the most popular day trips from Phoenix is to visit the rugged red landscape of Sedona. It’s a much-beloved area by hikers and spiritualists alike. Most people would agree that Sedona is near the top of the list of Arizona natural wonders.

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There are hundreds of hiking trails meandering through the rugged red sandstone buttes. You can also hike around the Oak Creek Canyon area for a different side of town.

There are so many other things to do here. Enjoy the many galleries featuring local artists and Native American art. Enjoy some great dining with an assortment of restaurants to choose from.

Feed your spiritual side by browsing in the crystals shops. Or, see if you can feel the energy at one of the many energetic vortex sites. If you love nature and the outdoors with a touch of woo-woo, Sedona may be just what you’re looking for.

To learn more about Sedona, check out this post on the best Phoenix day trips. And if you want to do a tour, check this Sedona tour out.

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10. San Francisco Peaks

The San Francisco Peaks are a volcanic mountain range just north of Flagstaff. The highest peak, Humphreys Peak, is the highest point in the state of Arizona at 12,633 feet (3,851 meters).

They are a dormant volcanic field, and the last eruption was at Sunset Crater almost a thousand years ago. However, they could erupt at some point in the future.

It’s a popular area to go for hiking, and the Arizona Snowbowl ski area is on Humphreys Peak. It offers great skiing through the winter, and you can ride the lift in the summertime.

This area is not only beautiful and special, but the mountain range is a sacred site for 13 of the local Native American Tribes in the Four Corners area.

For more about the Flagstaff area, check out my post on the best day trips from Phoenix.

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San Francisco Peaks, Flagstaff

11. Canyon de Chelly

If you want a real treat that’s a bit off the beaten path, check out Canyon de Chelly. It’s in Northeastern Arizona in a remote area on Native American land. It’s just as beautiful as the Grand Canyon, but much smaller and with a lot fewer people.

This gorgeous red rock canyon has a green tapestry on the floor. There is a loop road that runs around much of the canyon with a lot of pull-outs for great views. Don’t miss Sliding House Overlook, Face Rock Overlook, and Spider Rock Overlook, home to the beautiful Spider Rock spire.

Don’t miss the opportunity to go into the canyon with a guide. Not only do you get to learn more information about the local People, but they point out some of the more interesting and beautiful areas in the canyon.

To learn more, read the best road trips in Arizona.

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Spider Rock, Canyon de Chelly

12. Petrified Forest National Park

Everyone should see the Petrified Forest at least once in their lifetime. It’s the largest area of fossilized trees anywhere in the world. You’ll also see some fossilized plants and reptiles.

This is a small park that you can easily see in a day if you’re short on time. There are a lot of hiking trails and you can hike to the fossilized forest and touch them. However, please be respectful and leave them where you find them. (You can purchase small fossils at the nearby gift shops if you’re interested in a souvenir.)

There is also a striking area of badlands known as the painted desert that runs through the park. It’s stunning at sunrise and sunset when the light casts shadows on the rocks painting them an array of colors.

For another interesting spot near the Petrified Forest, check out the Meteor Crater. It’s from a meteorite impact from around 50,000 years ago and is one of the best-preserved in the world.

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Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert

13. Watson Lake

I absolutely love Watson Lake. In fact, it’s my favorite escape from Phoenix that’s within a day trip of the city. When I am in need of cooler weather and a striking landscape, it’s where I go. This is my vote for one of the best Arizona natural wonders to visit.

Watson Lake is a reservoir at the Granite Dells, a geological formation made of large boulders of granite. They have been eroded by the elements over the years and are now smooth, sloping rocks. You’ll see great colors and they are especially striking at sunrise and sunset.

The rock formations around the lake are stunning. It’s a lot of fun to hike around the lake, and there is a nearly five-mile trail you can take. Or, go kayaking to see the lake from the inside.

Watson Lake is within a couple of hours of Phoenix, and it’s ten minutes from the historic Prescott Center. For more information about Prescott and Watson Lake, read this article on the best day trips from Phoenix.

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Me and my Dutchess at Watson Lake

14. Fossil Creek

Another fabulous day trip that is a way off the beaten path is Fossil Creek. It’s a fun and refreshing short hike to small waterfalls and pools just begging to be enjoyed.

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The water is a gorgeous turquoise color, similar to the Havasupai Falls. The calcium carbonate resulting from the springs’ water creates travertine dams and deposits, giving them their striking color.

It’s located near the community of Camp Verde. You do have to drive a way down an unpaved road that isn’t always well maintained, and a 4-wheel drive car is recommended.

You also need to secure a permit and parking is limited. there are three fairly small lots.

On hot summer days in the Phoenix Valley, heading to the refreshing cool water of Fossil Creek may be just what you need!

waterfall at fossil creek

15. Superstition Mountains

One of the most beautiful and striking mountain ranges in the Phoenix Valley is the Superstitions. It’s located to the east of the downtown Phoenix area and is around an hour away.

As the story goes, the Lost Dutchman’s gold mine is hidden somewhere in this area. It has lured treasure hunters for centuries, though to date, it has never been found.

There are some incredible hikes in this area, including one of the most difficult in the area, Flat Iron. Definitely stick around to enjoy sunset here as it’s gorgeous!

If you visit, don’t skip a stop at the gorgeous Canyon Lake. You can take a lovely paddleboat ride on the Dolly Steamboat to enjoy the views. You might even get to see some animals in the area.

This is one of the easiest of the Arizona natural wonders to visit given its proximity to Phoenix.

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Superstition Mountains

16. Chiricahua

The Chiricahua Mountains are a large mountain range located in southeastern Arizona. It’s pretty remote and located near the towns of Willcox and Douglas.

For the drive, you get to see this majestic and unique-looking area filled with mountains, mountain spires, and hoodoos. It’s such a striking area and really beautiful.

There are several areas, including Chiricahua National Monument, with the rock spires created by the Turkey Creek Volcanic eruption millions of years ago.

The Chiricahua Wilderness has a large diversity of plants and animal life. And the Southwestern Research Station is run by the American Museum of Natural History since 1955. It’s used by geologists, anthropologists, and biologists studying this rich, diverse, and interesting environment.

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17. Saguaro National Park

If you want to see some of the most beautiful southwestern landscapes in the country, check out Saguaro National Park. It’s home to a massive population of saguaro cacti, the largest cactus in the world.

You can drive through the park on two scenic drives. However, get out of your car and explore by foot to really take in the beauty of the desert. There are over 165 miles of trails in this large park.

Saguaro National Park is only around ten miles from the city of Tucson in southern Arizona. If you visit Tucson, it’s a must-see and a special place you won’t want to miss.

Read more about Saguaro National Park and the Tuscon area in my post on the best day trips from Phoenix.

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18. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

This national monument is in the far southeastern area of the state of Arizona, bordering on Mexico. We pass it every year on our way to Puerto Penasco (a.k.a. Rocky Point) for our beach time!

This park is a UNESCO biosphere reserve and the only place in the United States where organ pipe and senita cactus grow wild. Visit the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument to see these interesting cacti. This is one of the unique Arizona natural wonders to see.

This area is quite remote, and the closest town is Lukeville, Arizona. The southern border of the park is in Sonoyta, Mexico. To the east is the Tohono O’Odham Indian Reservation and to the northwest is the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife refuge.

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Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Why You Should Visit these Arizona Natural Wonders

Arizona is such a diverse and interesting state, with low valley desert, high-elevation forests, mountains, rivers, and lakes. There are so many interesting and beautiful places to visit in this state.

You could spend weeks driving around and never get to see it all! If you want to learn more of Arizona—beyond the cities, and really see the beauty of Arizona, here’s your list of Arizona natural wonders to beat!

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