Editor’s note: These spots are all taken directly from travelstoke®, a new app from Matador that connects you with fellow travelers and locals, and helps you build trip itineraries with spots that integrate seamlessly into Google Maps and Uber. Download the app to add any of the spots below directly to your future trips.
Learn about local wildlife.
Great horned owls are just one of the species that claim Arizona as their home. Though few would be surprised to hear that bald eagles, giant lizards, mountain lions, and snakes roam free across the state, large populations of deer, antelope, elk, and black bears also occupy territory in the more temperate climates of central and northern Arizona. The aforementioned Coconino National Forest is an obvious spot to see a wide variety of both flora and fauna, as are Vermilion Cliffs National Monument and the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge (among many others).
Go skiing above the saguaros.
Skiing in Arizona? Yep, both down south and up north. High above Tucson in the Santa Catalina Mountains, Mt. Lemmon Ski Valley is home to the southernmost ski runs in the U.S., and after a day among the Douglas firs, it’s an easy drive down to a poolside, palm-framed view of those same mountains.
And just outside one of the snowiest cities in the country, Flagstaff, is Arizona Snowbowl, where more than 700 acres of slopes and runs sit 9,500 feet above sea level on the volcanic San Francisco Peaks — the highest points in the state.
Hit up Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course.
Experience Horseshoe bend with them for the first time.
Enjoy an afternoon fishing at Watson Lake.
An early twentieth-century dam on Granite Creek in central Arizona created the landscape above. So abnormally beautiful, the city of Prescott bought it in the late ’90s, preserving it as recreational land. Spending hours just sitting on the rocks is a completely acceptable activity, though the area is also prime for fishing, climbing the granite cliffs, and, obviously, photography.
Make all their friends jealous with a family photo at Cathedral Rock.
Only a few places scream “Arizona” as loudly as Cathedral Rock in Sedona, rising to nearly 5,000 feet above sea level and found in the ridiculously diverse Coconino National Forest. While most people stop to take photographs from a distance, you can hike the Cathedral Rock Trail (from the Back O’ Beyond trailhead) to explore the gaps in the structure, pictured above. It’s a short, steep ascent that’s much more rewarding than snapping the photograph from miles away.
Pack some supplies and head for Cape Royal Picnic Area.
Cape Royal Picnic AreaNorth Rim, United StatesThe North Rim of the Grand Canyon makes for some fun night sky photography looking out over the canyon. This shot was taken from the Cape Royal viewpoint.
Sleep under the stars at Havasupai Campground.
Astronomers around the world recognize Arizona as a premier destination for studying the skies — the International Dark-Sky Association has its worldwide headquarters right here in Tucson for good reason. Venture up to Kitt Peak National Observatory for public night programs, or reserve an overnight private telescope viewing package, which will include meals and a place for the night — not that you’ll want to do much sleeping when you have access to this high-powered scope, and the wide-open night sky waiting for you.
Up in Flagstaff, Lowell Observatory is one of the oldest in the country — it’s where Pluto was discovered back in the 1930s. For less-high-tech sky-watchers, there’s no shortage of quiet mountainsides and desert stretches where you can just park, put a blanket on the hood, and stare up into the marvels of space. The clarity of the air and the dark skies of Arizona provide, literally, out-of-this-world viewing conditions.
Hike Siphon Draw, Apache Junction.
Hit the skate board park in Rio Rico.
Being active in the Grand Canyon State doesn’t always mean going for a hike or climbing a mountain. Recreational activities are commonplace throughout Arizona, and this snapshot of a skateboarding competition in Rio Rico is just one well-timed example. It’s also easy to catch air skydiving, hang gliding, cliff jumping, hot air ballooning, or helicopter touring, too.
Discover remote swimming holes on Red Rock Crossing Trail.
Red Rock Crossing TrailSedona, United StatesThe Red Rock Crossing Trail is a unique environment with swimming holes along Oak Creek and small cities of stack stones left behind by meditators, artists, tourists, and the full moon dancers. #redrockcrossing #sedona #travelarizona #travelphotography #christollettephotography #dogfriendly #hiking #parks #stones
Encounter ruins, petroglyphs, and history with a Navajo guide in Canyon de Chelly.
Sandstone cliffs a thousand feet high, pre-Columbian petroglyphs, ancient cliff dwellings, groves of cottonwoods, horses roaming free beneath fiery red spires — it sounds like a dreamscape, but it all comes together in reality in Canyon De Chelly National Monument.
It’s one of the longest continuously inhabited places in North America, as generations of Navajo have called this stunning network of gorges home, and before them Hopi, Pueblo, and others, going back nearly 5,000 years. In more recent centuries, encounters with newly arrived Spaniards and U.S. soldiers led by Colonel Kit Carson have resulted in not-always-peaceful endings, but these compelling canyons are tranquil today. To access the deeper reaches of the monument’s 83,840 acres, join a tour with a ranger or Navajo guide.
Visit during winter.
No matter how many photos you’ve seen, nothing compares to being perched, in person, on the rim of the Grand Canyon and experiencing the immensity of the scene before you.
The summer crowds can be formidable, but from December through February you can drive your own vehicle west of Grand Canyon Village instead of lining up for a shuttle bus. Stop at any of the overlooks on your own schedule, hike a bit, and peer down into the play of shadows on the nearly two-billion-year-old rock and Colorado River, a vertical mile below you. Set your alarm and dress in layers for a sunrise from the edge, and watch, through your breath, the light pouring into these chasms of geological time.
Go Canyoning, Lower Antelope Canyon, LeChee.
Kayak on the Colorado River.
Many people walk the top of the Grand Canyon and consider it crossed off the list—fewer realize what lies at the bottom. You can take the Bright Angel Trail (or the North Kaibab Trail if you happen to be starting from the North Rim) all the way down to the Colorado River, or you can kayak or raft the waters anywhere from one to 25 days. Commercial trips are widely available, but with a much-sought-after permit you can take a “noncommercial” trip and set out on your own.