Rugged, majestic, and wild. Those are three words Arizona practically lives by, and the northern half of the state is saturated with riveting activities and stunning scenery to set your inner adventurer loose.
Kicking off “3 days in…”, a brand new Jetsetter-in-Training series, here’s a high-energy itinerary loaded with three days’ worth of hiking, climbing, driving, and dare-deviling through northern Arizona.
Start your Arizona adventure in Phoenix, home to the heavily-trafficked Sky Harbor International Airport and an excellent jumping-off point for all that the Grand Canyon State has to offer. You’ll definitely be needing a set of wheels to navigate, so grab a rental and get going!
First, head north through a sea of saguaros to the stunning and sumptuous resort town of Sedona. Nestled amongst red-rock buttes (like the famous Cathedral Rock), dramatic forests, and picturesque canyons, Sedona is a fascinating contrast of spiritual understatement and overt extravagance.
Whether you’re an adventure-junkie or simply looking to treat yo-self, Sedona’s got you covered. If you’re the latter, venture into the town’s residential lanes and admire the discreet desert-inspired architecture and Range Rover-manned driveways of the villas you’ll find along the way.
Grab lunch at one of the hotspots in town, like The Hudson or Mariposa, then wander the boutique candle shops and art galleries on Main Street. Spend the afternoon indulging in a spa treatment at one of the luxe resorts in town, before ending the day with a round of gourmet margs and out-of-this-world guac at 89Agave Cantina.
Alternately, adventure-seekers can spend the day hitting the trails at beautiful Red Rock State Park, before signing up for an afternoon thrill ride from Red Rock ATV Rentals. (Literally) off-road it to the Devil’s Bridge trailhead, where you can navigate the rocky terrain and briefly test your climbing skills to make it the trail’s stunning and mind-bending finale. Reward yourself back in town with cactus tacos and watermelon margaritas at Oaxaca Restaurant.
Hit the road for the scenic drive out of town via State Route 89A. Head due north for just under two hours to Arizona’s biggest draw (and best feature): Grand Canyon National Park. Whether you’re a first-timer or veteran, prepare to be wowed by the stunning vastness and jaw-dropping spectacle of this world wonder.
The best way to experience the Grand Canyon is at the edge of the action; book a room in one of the national park’s lodges – the most popular (and more accessible) option is the South Rim. Stay budget-conscious in the likes of Maswik Lodge or ball out at the glorious El Tovar. Either way, you’ll be in the thick of things, and easily able to enjoy all the activities and amenities available inside the park.
(Jetsetter-in-Training hack: If you’re planning your Arizona adventure and all the national park lodges are sold out – as they often do months in advance – try calling a few days prior to your arrival and inquiring about last-minute cancellations. It’s worked for me twice!)
Spend the afternoon hitting the Rim Trail or perhaps venturing into the Bright Angel Trail, which winds all the way down to Phantom Ranch at the canyon floor. (Keep in mind that depending on the time of year, it may be too hot to attempt any hiking past noon in the Grand Canyon – and also remember that you can’t get to the bottom of the canyon and back up again in one day.)
In the evening, have your camera handy as you board one of the park’s natural-gas-powered shuttle buses to catch the sunset at Mohave Point or Yavapai Point, two of the best places to take in the spectacular spectrum of color dancing off the canyon ridges. Keep in mind that both spots are extremely popular – if you’re hoping to skirt the crowds, check out Powell Point or Yaki Point.
Head back into the village for dinner at Bright Angel Restaurant and pick up some prickly pear licorice at the gift shop for a sweet treat. Then call it an early night – you’ll need plenty of rest for your final day!
The last hurrah kicks off with sunrise over the South Kaibab Trailhead. Note that access to the trailhead is restricted to the park’s shuttle buses, which run every 30 minutes before sunrise. Make sure to catch the first bus of the day so you have ample time to take in golden hour.
Once you’ve marveled over the pastel lighting for a while, get your tennies dirty with a morning hike down the South Kaibab Trail. I actually prefer this trail to Bright Angel; though both are the main arteries to the canyon floor, I’ve found that South Kaibab is slightly less trafficked (likely due to its location further from the village). Additionally, its route along ridges provides stunning panoramic views of the canyon, something I feel isn’t as prevalent in Bright Angel.
If you’re visiting during the summer, a good turnaround point is Cedar Ridge, located about 1.5 miles down the South Kaibab Trail and offering postcard views that’ll have you beaming through your breathlessness. If you’re in the Grand Canyon past the summer months, aim to reach Skeleton Point, a 6-mile roundtrip journey that provides the trail’s first glimpse of the Colorado River.
Regardless which turnaround you choose, make sure to hike smart – follow all National Park Service guidelines and study up on any trails you plan to attempt prior to visiting. Be prepared with proper gear, salty snacks, and plenty of water!
A post-sunrise hike will have you out of the canyon just in time for a well-deserved breakfast at Bright Angel Restaurant (Southwest omelette and craft latte, anyone?).
Take a quick nap if needed before hitting the road. Follow the rim along scenic Desert View Drive as you chase the canyon into its northeastern-most reaches. Once there, you’ve made it to Page, a spunky little adventure town that brushes the Utah border.
Make a pit stop at dramatic Horseshoe Bend, an astonishing feat of natural wonder. Whether your fear of heights is mild or maximal, prepare to have it tested by the sheer 1,000 foot drop to the canyon floor. And be sure to bring a wide-angle lens – the Colorado River’s dramatic horseshoe sculpting of the canyon is nearly impossible to capture in its entirety without one.
Horseshoe Bend is easily accessed from a sandy trail, 1.5 miles roundtrip. There’s no shade on the trail and the sun gets brutal, so bring water.
Next, it’s on to the famed Antelope Canyon, located on Navajo Land about 10 miles east of Horseshoe Bend. Divided into two sections (Upper Canyon, or “The Crack” and Lower Canyon, or “The Corkscrew”) this slot canyon is simply unbelievable – and another epic photo op. The Upper Canyon is a bit more crowded, so I’d recommend visiting Lower. Guided tours are required, so reserve your spot ahead of time through Ken’s Tours.
Once inside the slot canyon, you’ll find yourself marveling with every glimpse. The stunning colors and narrow sculpted walls simply beckon for adventure – and with each bend comes an echo of the American Southwest spirit.
After you’ve finished journeying through the sandstone, jump back into the car for one final scenic drive to Flagstaff. The old lumber town’s strategic placement on Route 66 as well as its proximity to the Grand Canyon means it’s a well-traveled hub for millions of adventurers every year – and will win you over with its charm.
Depending on how long you spent in Page, you’ll be hitting Flagstaff pretty late in the afternoon, limiting the daylight you have to continue exploring. If you have any energy left, consider checking out Walnut Canyon, located about 12 miles outside of central Flagstaff – it’s like a (very) miniature Grand Canyon, and has some lovely trails.
If not, it’s safe to say you’ve earned a brew or three at Historic Brewing Barrel + Bottle House. The eclectic, atmospheric brewery is nestled amongst the shops and scenic views of Flagstaff’s quaint downtown, and will have you reminiscing on an adventure well accomplished over pickle chips and coffee stouts.
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Have some other northern Arizona hotspots you’re obsessed with? Share them in the comments below! And don’t forget to follow Jetsetter-in-Training’s IRL adventures on Instagram.