When you think of Arizona, you probably envision vast deserts, cactus-studding landscapes, and red rock formations. And while this is definitely true in some parts of the state, you might be surprised to learn that Arizona is also home to dense forests, lush lakes and rivers, and snowy mountain peaks (yes, it snows in Arizona). In fact, Arizona has the world's largest ponderosa pine forest and one of the highest major summits in the contiguous United States. On this trip, we're exposing these leafy secrets and highlighting some of the most beautiful green spaces across the state.
Yes, these gorgeous, otherworldly waterfalls are in Arizona. Havasu Falls is located on the Havasupai Indian Reservation at the bottom of the Grand Canyon (the name Havasupai actually means people of the blue-green waters). Set against the rust-colored canyons, the turquoise water appears extra striking compared to the surrounding landscape. Havasu Falls is a very popular destination for both hikers and sightseers, but it’s not exactly easy to get to. To visit, you need to buy a permit from the Havasupai Tribe. Permits for the season go on sale every February 1st, and it's not uncommon for them to sell out within hours. Havasu Falls is currently closed for the rest of 2021 but is expected to fully reopen in 2022, so be sure to check the website for updates.
Located in the northern part of the state in Coconino National Forest, Humphreys Peak is the perfect place to escape the summer heat and explore a forested winter wonderland. Hikers can climb to the top of Humphreys Peak by taking the Humphreys Summit Trail—a 10.7 mile out and back trail that cuts through some incredible ponderosa pines. It’s a steep hike but on clear days you can see all the way to the Grand Canyon. If you’re not a hiker, there are plenty of other outdoor activities around to enjoy. In winter, the Snowbowl Ski Resort offers skiing and snowboarding. In the summer, you can ride the Arizona Gondolas up the mountain for scenic views of the surrounding terrain. And in fall, the aspen groves lure visitors from all over, providing a fiery show of yellow and orange foliage.
From the rocky boulders of Granite Basin Lake to the pine forest surrounding Lynx Lake, Prescott National Forest is a real treat for any outdoor enthusiast. Stretching for over 100,000 acres across the middle of Arizona, this national forest is home to nearly 450 miles of hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding trails. There is also plenty of fishing, kayaking, and boating opportunities for water lovers. Ready to start exploring? The city of Prescott is the perfect basecamp for your visit. From the historic Whiskey Row, with its numerous restaurants and bars, to the Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza, which hosts events, festivals, and concerts throughout the year, you’ll find plenty to do in this historic and charming city.
You probably wouldn’t expect to see a tranquil garden in the middle of a bustling desert city, but the Japanese Friendship Garden is exactly that—a peaceful retreat tucked away in downtown Phoenix. The 3.5-acre garden is named RoHoEn and features an authentic Japanese teahouse, flowing streams, a koi pond, and over 50 varieties of meticulously manicured plants. Wondering about the name? It was carefully chosen to connect the city of Phoenix with its sister city in Himeji, Japan. Ro means heron in Japanese, which is the symbol of Himeji, Ho means phoenix, and En means garden. Not only can guests wander the serene space and take in the cherry blossoms and stone bridges, but the garden also hosts tea ceremonies, special events, and outdoor classes such as Tai Chi and yoga.
Over in Northeastern Arizona near the White Mountains, the Black River provides plenty of outdoor recreation. This 114-mile long river cuts through some wild and scenic country. Certain stretches are difficult to access, so be prepared to drive on unpaved roads if you visit. Due to its more remote location, the Black River isn't nearly as crowded as some others in the state, making it an ideal spot to fish, see wildlife, or simply enjoy some uninterrupted time in nature. The nearby towns of Eagar, Alpine, and Fort Apache are all great places to start your adventure on the Black River. Eagar is located right at the base of the White Mountains and is close to Sunrise Park, a popular winter ski destination. Alpine is surrounded by multiple streams and mountain lakes if you choose to continue your water adventuring. Fort Apache has an incredible historic park full of local, indigenous history.
Spread across the southern part of the state lies Coronado National Forest, home to the Sky Island mountain ranges. These isolated peaks are almost 10,000 feet high and separated by miles of vast desert, making for some pretty unique and epic landscapes. Both the peaks and surrounding forest have become popular filming locations for major motion pictures (if you don't believe us, go watch Three Amigos!). The whole area offers visitors plenty of thrilling adventures, including hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, and canyoneering. The real highlight of Coronado National Forest is that it lends itself to so many diverse ecosystems in a relatively short distance. In just one trip you can see both snow and cacti, forests and grasslands, and still make it back to Tucson before dinner.
If you find yourself in Coronado National Forest, then definitely make a stop at Chiricahua National Monument. This beautiful place is one of the most popular Sky Islands and is best known for its balancing rocks, hoodoos, and epic night skies. The starry nights are so impressive here that the park been certified by the International Dark Sky Association as an official Dark Sky Park. But it’s not just impressive in the evenings, Chiricahua National Monument is also home to numerous hoodoos, which can be enjoyed by car from the 8-mile scenic drive or on foot from one of the many hiking trails. If you plan to stay the night to witness the stars or just want to extend your stay and explore more of the park, be sure to check out Willcox, Arizona. In addition to being the closest city to the park, it also happens to be a pretty big player in Arizona's wine industry and has several different wineries and tasting rooms to enjoy.
The warm, sunny weather may initially bring visitors to Arizona but the wide range of outdoor activities and landscapes will keep them here. The state boasts six national forests, dozens of tranquil lakes, and 4.5 million acres of unspoiled wilderness areas—aka there is a lot of green space to explore here, so get planning!
Banner Photo Credit: Tom Tietz
Explore sun-kissed vistas, dark-sky country, and larger-than-life adventures in Arizona.