Things to See and Do in Arizona

By: Tammy Landry

Located in southwestern United States, the state of Arizona is the sixth largest and 15th most populous state in the country. Being one of the four-corner states, it borders on New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, California and Mexico. It is most notable for its desert climate with very hot summers and mild winters. The northern half of the state is alive with Pine, Douglas Fir and Spruce forests, mountain ranges and canyons. It has much more mild temperatures in the summer than the southern part and significant snowfall amounts in the winter making it a great place for ski resorts. With such diverse landscape and climate, Arizona is a great destination for your vacation.


12. Big Surf

Located in Tempe, Big Surf is a waterpark that opened in 1969 and is reputed to have had the first wave pool in the United States. The Waikiki Beach Wave Pool was recognized for being “the first inland surfing facility in North America” and became the first waterpark to receive status as an ASME Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark.

Big Surf is the perfect destination for the entire family with the wave pool where you can surf, boogie board or raft. They even have surf boards, boogie boards and rafts on hand for your use. Bora Bora Bay is great for the kids who love to climb but adults must be accompanied by children to enter. The slides are incredible…with Otter Slides, Hurricane Slides, The Black Hole, Tornado Twisters and more. The park even has the Mauna Kea Zip Line which sends you zipping over the wave pool from one side to the other. Thrilling, safe and fun times will be had by all.

Photo by: Big Surf
Photo by: Big Surf


11. Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend is a horseshoe-shaped portion of the Colorado River located near the town of Page, Arizona. A hike of 1.5 miles (2.4 km) round trip off U.S. Route 89 will take you there, but there is also an access road available because it is part of a state park. You can also view the bend from the cliff above.

Venture out to Horseshoe Bend on foot or in your vehicle or you can see it via other means. There are helicopter tours where you can enjoy a spectacular view of the bend from above, showing you the full expanse and beautiful colors of the waters and land below. There is also the Horseshoe Bend & Antelope Canyon Tour where you can be picked up from your hotel in Flagstaff or Sedona, go north to Antelope Canyon after a walk through a slot canyon and then over to Horseshoe Bend for a hike to the rim overlook. Though there is some hiking involved, this trip is suitable for just about anyone.

Horseshoe Bend


10. Bird Cage Theater

Tombstone’s Bird Cage Theater was a theater, saloon, gambling parlor and brothel that operated from 1881 to 1889. The name actually referred to the fourteen cages or boxes that were situated on the two balconies on either side of the main central hall. The boxes were equipped with drapes that could be drawn while the ladies of the brothel entertained their customers. The main hall contained a stage and orchestra pit where live performances took place. It is now a tourist attraction preserving the old west.

It has a reputation for being one of the wildest and wickedest places in Tombstone during its eight year stint in the 1880s where it is said that 26 people were killed there. Over one hundred and twenty bullet holes remain as evidence of the wild and dangerous past of the building. The theater is full of authentic memorabilia from back then with photographs adorning the walls. I would take several days to really see and experience everything housed in this theater.

Bird Cage Theater


9. O.K. Corral

The O.K. Corral is located in Tombstone and was originally a livery and horse corral. Though best known for the infamous ‘Gunfight at the O.K. Corral’, the shootout actually took place in a lot six door west of the rear entrance to the corral. The 1957 movie, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral was responsible for making this particular shootout a classic movie moment engrained in the public’s memories.

The actual gunfight at the O.K. Corral lasted only about 30 seconds between outlaw cowboys and lawmen and is touted as the most famous gunfight in the history of the American Wild West. It was the result of a long-time feud involving Billy Claiborne, Ike and Billy Clanton, Tom and Frank McLaury and the opposing lawmen of the town – Marshall Virgil Earp, Assistant Town Marshall Morgan Earp and temporary deputy Marshalls Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday. Though Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne walked away unharmed, Billy Clanton and the McLaury brothers were not so fortunate and were killed. Virgil, Morgan and Doc Holiday were injured but Wyatt Earp walked away unscathed. You can experience this famous gunfight with entertaining re-enactments in an Old West setting.

Atomazul /
Atomazul /


8. Reid Park Zoo

The Reid Park Zoo is a 24 acre (97 hectare) non-profit city-owned zoo located in Tucson. With over 500 animals it consists of four zones organized by habitats and the animals housed there. The Adaptation Zone houses animals including grizzly bears and the Aldabra giant tortoise, the South America Zone houses animals like the jaguar and spectacled bear, the Asian Zone houses such animals as tigers and Malayan sun bear and the African Animals Zone is home to animals such as lions and giraffes. An expansion to the African Animals Zone is Expedition Tanzania which houses a herd of 6 African elephants. Flight Connection is a large aviary which serves as home to dozens of bird species from Australia, Africa and Asia.

The Zoo hosts summer camps, free workshops for teachers and even hosts a tour of South Africa. This very interactive Zoo is not only fun but also educational and exciting because of the many programs and activities always going on.



7. Oak Creek Canyon

Oak Creek Canyon, often referred to as the little cousin of the Grand Canyon because of its breathtaking scenery, is a river gorge located between Flagstaff and Sedona. You can enter the canyon via many hairpin turns on Route 89A and continue down until it reaches the bottom in Sedona. It’s about 12 miles (19 km) long, ranges in width from about 0.8 to 2.5 miles (1.3 to 4.0 km) and ranges in depth from 800 to 2,000 feet (240 to 610 m). Oak Creek runs through the bottom of the canyon.

Touted as one of the top 5 most scenic drives in America, the Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive is about 14 miles (22.5 km) long. You can ascend the canyon from Sedona or descend from Flagstaff since either route is equally beautiful. The red-faced cliffs, massive oak trees and evergreen pine trees make for a stunning vibrant panorama. A popular stop along the drive is Slide Rock where you can enjoy some aquatic recreation. Passengers have the advantage during the drive, since the driver’s full attention is needed for the hairpin turns, but there are many places to pull off and enjoy the view along the way.

Oak Creek Canyon


6. Hoover Dam

The Hoover Dam, formerly known as Boulder Dam, is located on the Colorado River between the borders of Arizona and Nevada. Constructed during the great depression, the dam was built at the cost of over one hundred lives. The concrete arch-gravity dam holds back Lake Mead and produces hydroelectric power for public and private utilities in Nevada, Arizona and California.

The view from the dam is awe-inspiring and no trip to Arizona would be complete without stopping there. Even if you have time constraints, driving over the dam just to experience its massive size and amazing view is well worth the trip. There are many viewpoints around the dam too where you can just stop for a few moments to take it all in and snap some pictures. If you have more time, there are power plant tours which offer presentations and exhibits on how the dam operates and will allow you to see some of the lesser known areas of the dam. There are many accommodations close to the dam including hotels and campgrounds if you want to stay in the area a little longer.

Hoover Dam


5. Phoenix Zoo

Opened in 1962, the Phoenix Zoo is a privately owned non-profit zoo and has been designated a Phoenix Point of Pride. There are over 1,400 animals who call the zoo home and has 2.5 miles (4.0 km) of walking trails. The trails are divided into four distinct theme areas: The Arizona Trail, the Africa Trail, the Tropics Trail and the Children’s Trail.

The Arizona Trail features the wildlife and plants native to the state of Arizona which include coyotes, the collared peccary, mountain lion and bobcat to name a few, as well as plants including the saguaro cactus. The Africa Trail showcases animals like African wild dogs, mandrills, ostriches, white rhinos, meerkats, giraffes, African lions, Sumatran tigers and more. The Tropics Trail has two parts with the inner trail following the lake and home to Tropical Flights aviary as well as ring-tailed lemurs, and Monkey Village. The outer trail runs by the Land of the Dragons exhibit, Asian elephants, anteaters and many different kinds of tropical birds. The Children’s Trail features a petting zoo at the Harmony Farm and lets children get up close and personal with small mammals from around the world.



4. River Rafting

If you are the adventuresome type, there are opportunities for river rafting all over the state of Arizona. The natural beauty and rivers all over this state are abundant just about everywhere you go. You can go to Phoenix, Scottsdale, Flagstaff or Marble Canyon for rafting adventure with one of the many river rafting adventure companies.

You can contact Arizona River Runners for a Grand Canyon adventure of a lifetime. You will see the soaring canyon walls, Indian ruins, wildlife and of course the amazing white water guided by knowledgeable professionals. Salt River Rafting runs guided white water rafting trips through Salt River Canyon and is family-friendly…a safe and fun adventure for everyone. You can take half-day, one-day or multi-day and camp-out raft trips which include wetsuits and great guides. Arizona Raft Adventures specialize in 6 to 16 day raft trips through the Grand Canyon if you are a die-hard rafter. No matter what your skill/fear level, the professionals can assure that you enjoy a safe and amazing experience.

rafting grand canyon


3. Saguaro National Park

The Saguaro National Park is divided in two districts with Rincon Mountain District lying approximately 20 miles (32 km) east and the Tucson Mountain District lying 15 miles (24 km) west of the center of Tucson, Arizona. There are two visitors’ centers, one in each district and are both easily accessible by car but there is no public transportation available into the park. The name Saguaro comes from the name of a cactus native to the area though there are many other kinds of cacti abundant in the park as well.

In 1933 the Saguaro National Monument was erected. If you travel in the heat of summer, you can find some great deals at local resorts but in the winter months when the weather is milder, prices tend to rise significantly. The park has some amazing trails like the narrow, rocky and steep Tanque Verde Ridge Trail in the east district featuring a spectacular view of the Tucson Basin and King Canyon Trail in the west which leads to the summit of Wasson Peak, the highest point in the park.

Saguaro National Park


2. Desert Botanical Garden

The Desert Botanical Garden is a 140 acres (57 hectares) botanical garden in Phoenix, Arizona. The garden houses more than 21,000 plants, of which one third is native to the area and 139 are endangered or threatened and very rare. It has been designated as a Phoenix Point of Pride.

You can tour the Botanical Gardens independently on their scenic trails or take a tour and join in on some of the special family-friendly activities hosted there. There is an Ask a Gardener held on weekends where you can get hints and advice from professionals for your own garden. The Garden Flashlight Tours are Thursday and Saturday evening events where you get to see, hear and feel the desert night. It’s a self-paced tour and perfect for all ages. Other activities include Garden Discovery Stations, Talks in the Garden, Birds in the Garden, audio tours and activities specially designed for children. The Music in the Garden Concert Series is held from October to June and allows you to stroll through the garden to the Ullman Terrace where you can sit and listen to the Valley’s premier musicians.

Sue Stokes /
Sue Stokes /


1. Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the United States. The central feature consists of the Grand Canyon and is considered one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. The park covers 1,217,262 acres (492,608 hectares) in two counties. Though the landmark was well known long before, it wasn’t declared a National Park until 1919.

You can visit the South Rim which has close to two dozen vantage points giving you the most common views over the canyon as seen on TV and movies. Grand Canyon West is a little harder to get to so requires some prior planning but is well worth the effort with its three blue-green waterfalls. Grand Canyon East is home to two of the canyon’s hidden treasures, the Little Colorado River Tribal Park and Horseshoe Bend where you can have your photo taken with the Colorado River in the background and The North Rim, though part of the same canyon, feels like a totally different area where you can hear the echoes of canyon wren in the peace and tranquility all around you.

Grand Canyon South Rim