So you’ve braved the Grand Canyon Skywalk, hiked to Havasu Falls, and sought enlightenment at the Sedona mystical vortexes. Now it’s time to escape the crowds and book an Arizona vacation rental that takes you off the beaten path. Whether you opt to check out a chocolate waterfall; fish in a lake at 9,000 feet; zip-line in a ghost town; or kayak in a cave, Arizona has it all. Check out the top hidden gems tucked away in this scenic Southwestern state.
1. Grand Falls, Leupp
For chocolate lovers, it doesn’t get any better than a visit to Grand Falls. This chocolate waterfall in northern Arizona runs only in the spring, depending on rain and snowfall for the year. This milk-chocolate-colored waterfall measures 185 feet tall, making it taller, more remote, and more unique than Niagara Falls. You navigate a trail down the side of the waterfall to get the best views and photos. You will have to walk down a trail to see the views of the falls, and find yourself mesmerized by the sound of water roaring through the desert. Visit the Leupp Chapter House to ask about getting a permit to visit Grand Falls.
2. Hubbell Trading Post, Ganado
Hubbell Trading Post opened in 1878 in Ganado on the Navajo Nation and eventually spread as a chain of more than 24 trading posts throughout the southwest. Navajo families learned that trading with white settlers aided their survival, and trading posts gave them ideal locations to sell handmade items. This site welcomes you with creaking, plank floors and supplies that include groceries and ranching goods. You also find homemade Navajo and Hopi goods, including dolls, rugs, pottery, and jewelry. A guided tour of John Hubbell’s homestead and farm, lead by a ranger, lets you see the house and other buildings while learning about the origins of the site.
3. Little Painted Desert, Winslow
Once a park, Little Painted Desert sits about 15 minutes off State Route 87. An almost forgotten scenic overlook, this hidden gem is easy to miss unless you watch for the sign. The colorful landscape looks otherworldly, making it quite unique. This natural area makes a beautiful and interesting place to hike, look for wildlife, and take pictures. The overlook includes two picnic shelters with benches and tables that give you a place to take a rest and enjoy a snack after your hike.
4. Goldfield, Apache Junction
Swagger into the saloon and order lunch in the restored ghost town of Goldfield just outside Apache Junction. Experience gunfights, join a gold mine tour, ride the horses, or stroll about the town to explore the bakery and mercantile shops. There’s a 20-minute train tour, old buildings from the gold rush days, and a modern touch or two, including a zip line, jeep tours, and a mystery house. Pan for gold and learn about mining lore.
5. Lake Powell, Page
Lake Powell stretches across northern Arizona and southern Utah and includes incredible views and clear water. Serene and peaceful, with jaw-dropping vistas in all directions, the lake mirrors the colors of the surroundings. To explore the canyon walls, join a boat cruise to see the interesting formations and learn about the history of the area. There’s a rock beach for sunbathing and swimming, and the marina rents power boats and jet skis.
6. Slide Rock State Park, Sedona
Once a homestead, Slide Rock State Park includes ample restroom facilities, an old farmhouse, an apple orchard, hiking trails, and a rock slide for a dip in Oak Creek. The water depth varies, allowing for daring high dives off the rocks and exciting slides down the lower, slippery red rocks. A paved path and three nature trails give hikers great views of the vegetation, the creek, the rock formations, and the old apple farm. The trails go out about a quarter of a mile and include Pendley Homestead Trail, Slide Rock Route, and Clifftop Nature Trail.
7. Emerald Cave, Black Canyon, Boulder City
Your guided kayaking tour along the Colorado River through Black Canyon takes about four hours and includes a couple of amazing caves. You put in near Boulder Dam and hike to the sauna cave, which features natural hot springs that give you a 30-minute, steamy spa experience. You return to your kayak, and as you float along the river, watch for big horn sheep, bald eagles, and other wildlife. Near Willow Beach, you enter Emerald Cave to explore the exotic emerald-green waters.
8. Keet Seel, Shonto
Navajo National Monument, in northern Arizona, preserves three ancestral cliff dwellings of the Puebloan People. Visitors view Keet Seel from a lookout using the viewer on site or with their own binoculars. Alternatively, a visit to Keet Seel requires a reservation and a hiking permit. This rugged hike on a primitive trail features steep switchbacks, steps, and loose rocks over the 17-mile round-trip. As the hike allows only 20 people per day, check with the visitor center about getting your permit several months before your trip. Shorter, easier, self-guided hikes at the Navajo National Monument include Broken Pottery, Ledge House, and Inscription House.
9. Mount Graham, Safford
Mount Graham in the Coronado National Forest sees few visitors annually, which makes a visit a real treat to enjoy crisp, fresh air and lush forests high above the desert. From Safford, you drive about 23 miles to reach the 12-mile gravel road that leads to Riggs lake, a crystal lake at almost 9,000 feet above sea level. Along the drive and around the lake, you see giant old-growth pines, creating thick, shady, pristine forests that impart an almost spiritual feeling. As you round each curve in the winding road, another breathtaking view rises before you, including creeks and streams with colorful vegetation all around. It’s an easy hike around the lakeshore path, and other hiking trails sprawl out in all directions. Whether you choose to go trout fishing or simply enjoy the wildlife, the cool air and tranquility make this a haven away from the jangling noise of the city.
10. Mystery Valley, Oljato-Monument Valley
In a remote corner of Monument Valley stands Mystery Valley. No one knows what happened to the Anasazi inhabitants who disappeared long ago in this area that dates back to about 1300. You need a Navajo guide to enter this valley as the tribe considers this sacred territory, and it remains under their tribal law. One of the most stunning sights, the House of Many Hands, features 1,000-year-old ruins, petroglyphs of animals and humans, and the imprints of many hands. Tour guides often pause to give guests opportunities to climb through ancient dwellings, arches, and caves that many tourists to Monument Valley never see.
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