With 114,000 square miles of mostly rugged terrain, Arizona is the sixth-largest state in the nation, and it is full of unique sites that brought in over 39 million tourists in 2013, ranking Arizona as among the most-visited U.S. states.
For those who wish to get away from the metro Phoenix area to explore the less populated parts of the state, we have listed these 10 “off the beaten path” destinations. Add one of these unique destinations or add them all to your Arizona travel itinerary.
The Ghost Town near Jerome
Just west of I-17, between Phoenix and Flagstaff, lies an abandoned; little mine, just a mile from the city of Jerome. Once, over 300 people worked the mine, but now it is a relic from a time long forgotten. Additionally, the owner (“Don”) will show you his large collection of classic automobiles, making for an interesting “combo tour.” Make sure to take your camera.
On a hill outside Cottonwood, a few miles from Jerome, is an old Sinaguan Indian ruin known as the Tuzigoot Stone Monument. The Sinaguan people vanished around 1400 A.D., but you can learn about them at the on-site Sinagua Museum. The monument was originally a large, two-story building that provided an ideal escape from the oppressive desert heat.
The Out of Africa Wildlife Park
Not far from Cottonwood, is Camp Verde, where you will find a full-fledged African wildlife park with all-day tours. You will see lions, giraffe, zebras, and other African animals. Check out the zip line and stop to feed the tigers.
Mon – Fri: 9:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Sat – Sun: 9:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.
3505 W State Route 260, Camp Verde, AZ 86322
Chapel of the Holy Cross
Further north, halfway between Camp Verde and Flagstaff, is the town of Sedona. Here, in the midst of red rocks and sandwiched between slabs of sandstone, is a small, Catholic chapel. There are multiple crosses and rosaries made out of rock. The scenic views from the patios are incredible, especially at sunset.
780 Chapel Rd, Sedona, AZ 86336
Slide Rock State Park
Also near Sedona is Slide Rock State Park, where you can swim or wade on a natural, sandstone “water slide.” The rock formation continues for about a half mile in a creek bed. This is a popular spot for people that are trying to beat the headt in Phoenix and cool off in the cold water. Be aware, however, that there is no on-duty lifeguard and the area can get very crowded.
6871 Arizona 89A, Sedona, AZ 86336
Hoover Dam and Lake Mead
Just 30 miles from Las Vegas, straddling the Arizona-Nevada border, is an 890-foot-high bridge that runs within eye-shot of Hoover Dam. There are small round-about roads and pedestrian walkways that give you an excellent view of the dam and of the 112-mile-long reservoir, known as Lake Mead, that the dam created. There are tours of the dam. It’s worth the time to stop, walk along the dam and take the dam tour.
You can enter Grand Canyon National Park and view the panoramic South Rim by taking AZ-64 west off of US-89. You will want to stop at Cameron Trading Post before entering, where you can eat lunch, admire the Native American artifacts, and buy a few souvenirs. Take a short hike down the Bright Angel Trail but be careful, as it takes twice as long to hike out than it does to walk down. Make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes or boots.
You might see the mules as they take the mail and visitors to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. They have the right of way on the trail.
For more information about the park and hiking the South Rim, click here.
Grand Canyon Railroad
While in the Canyon area, you can take a ride on the old-style locomotive that travels from the Canyon’s edge to the town of Williams near Flagstaff. The railway originally operated from 1901 till 1968, but it was restored as a tourist attraction in 1989. Find out more about riding the train.
Forty miles north of Tucson, in Oracle, is a three-acre, man-made ecosystem known as “Biosphere 2.” This was a project designed to test the possibility of space colonization, and people were actually locked inside during the 90’s. It has five bio-zones inside, including the Amazon and Floridian mangrove-swamps. The Biosphere 2 visitor house includes a multi-media display, bookstore and café. Make sure to see the movie that describes the project and walks you through the concept, and the future of the biosphere.
32540 S Biosphere Rd, Oracle, AZ 85739
On Tohono Reservation lands, just 50 miles south of Tucson, is the Kitt Peak National Observatory. Here, you will find the most extensive collection of optical telescopes on the planet. There are guided tours, and you can bring your own telescope to stargaze in designated areas.