While most people think of the desert as barren flatland or dusty sand as far as the eye can see, that’s hardly an accurate picture. You may not know it, but Northern Arizona used to be completely volcanic, which actually made it the most geographically diverse region in the world. The area is blessed with colorful canyons and rainbow rocks primed for picture-taking. If you’re looking for epic landscapes, pack up the car and head out of Phoenix on an Arizona photography trip.
Watson Lake – Prescott
One of my favorite places on the planet, Watson Lake is one of those magical destinations you don’t know how it’s managed to stay a secret as long as it has. 1.6 billion-year-old rock dells you can explore on foot, bike, kayak, or SUP, its crazy its neither a designated state or national park. Prescott, in general, is a totally underrated city and worth exploring for it’s Old West charm and 450 miles of trails.
Pro Tip: Don’t miss the neighboring Granite Gardens for even more epic views.
Plan Your Trip: Where to Stay in Prescott
The Grand Canyon
One of two national parks with its own zip code, the Grand Canyon’s beauty is not exactly a secret, but that doesn’t make it any less of a must-see. No one knows exactly how it was formed and the sheer mystery makes it that much more intriguing. If you don’t feel like driving, the Grand Canyon Railway is a classic 1920s steamer train and a unique way to arrive in style. The two-hour train departs from Williams and includes entertainment the whole way from fiddlers to a Wild West show along with snacks for the ride. Once at the Canyon, there’s a free shuttle bus (the red route) to take you to all the scenic viewpoints along the South Rim, but if you’re up for hiking and have the time, Bright Angel Trail (7.8-miles) is one of the best to take you zig-zagging down into the inner canyon.
Plan Your Trip: Where to Stay Near the Grand Canyon
Antelope Canyon – Page
The most scenic and photographed slot canyon in the Southwest, Antelope Canyon is revered for its crazy light that peeks through the sandstone walls at various points throughout the day. You can tour both the upper and lower canyons with a guide (you can’t go solo), but the lower is the more photographed of the two. It does get very crowded and groups are shuffled through single file. Make sure to angle your camera upwards to crop out any unintentional photo bombers.
Pro Tip: The light beams are most frequent late March through early October so plan your trip accordingly.
Plan Your Trip: Where to Stay in Page
The London Bridge – Lake Havasu City
The London Bridge was brought to Lake Havasu as part of a master plan to attract visitors to the desert. It worked like a charm and is now the second most popular tourist attraction in Arizona. While most people assume it’s a replica, it was actually transported brick by brick across the pond and lovingly rebuilt piece by piece like a number puzzle. The Visitor’s Center offers a 90-minute guided tour of the bridge’s harrowing history.
Pro Tip: Lake Havasu is Spring Break central, but the off-season is lovely. The hottest city in America (literally) is perfect for winter snowbirds to soak up the sun.
Plan Your Trip: Where to Stay in Lake Havasu City
Wupatki National Monument – Flagstaff
One of three national monuments you can hike in Flagstaff, follow the dusty red road to Wupatki, an 800-year old pueblo home. Nestled between the Painted Desert and the Ponderosa Pines, these ancient outcroppings are a throwback to the way life used to be.
Pro Tip: For the best sunset shot in Flagstaff, take the gondola up to Arizona’s second highest peak at Snowbowl ski resort, which is open year-round.
Plan Your Trip: Where to Stay in Flagstaff
Horseshoe Bend – Page
The place where the Colorado River bends in the shape of a natural horseshoe, many think Horseshoe Bend is part of the Grand Canyon, but in fact it’s a standalone attraction and part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. An easy ¼ mile walk from the parking lot, the vistas are best seen and shot the higher up you can scramble (so I hope you’re not afraid of heights).
Pro Tip: While midday is generally the harshest light to photograph, at Horseshoe Bend the shadows reflect off the river differently throughout the day so there really is no “best time to visit” – it’s always a sight to behold.
Plan Your Trip: Where to Stay in Page
Havasupai / Havasu Falls
Located on a private Native American Reservation, the stunning Havasupai Falls is on many a bucket list. A limited number of permits (300-400) are released each year around February for the following summer season. One of the most coveted outdoor passes in the country; the hike is hard (10-miles each way) and requires at least one night of overnight camping.
Pro Tip: A limited number of helicopter seats and pack mules are available to assist, but it’s best not to count on that as an option as they cannot be reserved in advance.
Devil’s Bridge – Sedona
The largest natural sandstone arch in the Coconino National Forest, Devil’s Arch is one of the best hikes in Sedona and may look like a wicked romp through the red rocks (especially if you don’t like heights). But looks can be deceiving and the heavenly views are totally #worthit. At just 4.2-miles, it’s actually fairly short considering the payoff, accessible year-round, and only rated as moderate for the last .25-miles of elevation gain.
Pro Tip: Devil’s Bridge is a major tourist attraction so plan on arriving early or late in the day to avoid the crowds. Keep your eyes peeled for coyotes!
Plan Your Trip: Where to Stay in Sedona
The Wave – Kanab, Utah
Marbleized Navajo sandstone, the Wave is part of the Coyote Buttes on the Arizona-Utah border in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness. Managed by the BLM lands, a lottery system permits just twenty visitors a day, which is designed to protect the sensitive environment. Essentially, you can apply for three potential dates six months in advance (with about a 14% success rate) or try your luck at getting one of the 10 walk-up permits. May the odds ever be in your favor.
Pro Tip: While the Wave is certainly the most famous rock formation in the area, there are dozens of other similar looking places on the Arizona – Utah border that do not require as much pre-planning. A few worth checking out are White Pocket, Paw Hole, Waterholes Canyon, and Coyote Buttes South (the Wave is in Coyote Buttes North).
Plan Your Trip: Where to Stay in Kanab
The Wild Burros – Oatman
Oatman is one of those places that feels like a fantasyland created in the image of what one might have imagined the Wild West to look like. In fact, it’s very much the opposite. One of the original Route 66 towns, it actually served as Disney’s inspiration for Cars. A symbol of frontier lawlessness, beyond gunfights and ghost hunts, the former gold rush town is most well-known for its unique four-legged residents – the wild burros that roam the streets in search of food. Local vendors sell bags of pellets and carrots for a few bucks and the animals could literally eat all day if you let them before ambling back to the hills at night.
Pro Tip: Don’t try to feed the baby donkeys or the burros with special symbols shaved on their heads. Those are marked by the townspeople because they’re on special diets. Keep in mind these are also wild animals and have been known to buck or bite. If they seem ornery, use common sense and back off immediately.
Plan Your Trip: Where to Stay in Oatman
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