Are you an adventurous soul looking for more places to explore? If you happen to live in the southwest or traveling through the area, you’re in luck, because there are many many hidden gems in Arizona!
There are several beautiful lakes, national parks like the Grand Canyon, mountain ranges, and campgrounds that will entice you to live in the scenery for several days. Arizona is an underrated state when it comes to the outdoors—you’ll quickly understand why!
Arizona travel tips: Keep in mind that the climate in Arizona is very dry and prone to extreme temperatures, both hot and cold. During the summer, aim to explore these hidden gems early in the morning so you can escape the heat. And make sure you keep plenty of water, snacks and sunscreen in your car.
The Best Hidden Gems in Arizona for Experiencing the Outdoors
Add these locations and jaw-dropping hikes to your itinerary—they are excellent options for an extraordinary road trip across Arizona!
1) Lost Dutchman State Park
Lost Dutchman State Park has many unique rock formation and some of the best views of the sunset! A ranger station favorite, Siphon Draw Trail has epic views ranging from wildflowers to waterfalls and even the cityscape below. This challenging trail is best for seasoned hikers, but there are also plenty of great beginner trails and day use areas (plus amenities!) all around this park.
2) Saguaro National Park
The city of Tucson is nestled in the middle of this national park. There is plenty to see on the east and west sides of the park, but you should consider staying at The Joshua Tree House on the western side.
It’s definitely a romantic getaway right in the middle of the Sonoran Desert. 🙂
3) Painted Desert
Located within the Navajo Nation and Petrified Forest National Park, the Painted Desert is filled with beautiful colors and scenery.
You can go on a short hike at the Painted Desert Rim near the visitor center to see some of the petrified trees and the badlands.
4) White Mountains
This is probably the most secluded, scenic place you can go in all of Arizona. If you head to the White Mountains, be sure to find the Black River because the area is absolutely beautiful.
You can stay at a campground on Hawley Lake for an off the grid adventure.
5) Mogollon Rim
In the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest, there is a fabulous spot that’s nicknamed “The Rim”. The camping spots here are simply some of the best places in the state so it’s definitely my favorite hidden gem. You get to see beautiful views of the mountains and wildlife. This is such a unique place to experience the famous Arizona sunsets.
6) The Wave
There are travel restrictions on this one but The Wave is certainly an amazing place to add to your list. So serene, you’ll forget about all the hassle it takes to get permits to visit. The sights are truly out of this world!
Curved, colorful, sandstone formations that have been smoothed and sculpted over thousands of years make for the most epic hike you can imagine.
7) Lake Powell
Who knew that Arizona had so many lakes? Lake Powell is technically an artificial reservoir but it’s such a cool area to visit. There is so much to do in the area like kayaking, hiking trails and campgrounds!
My favorite spot in the area was Lone Rock (although this is technically across the state line in Utah!).
8) Horseshoe Bend
A few miles south of Lake Powell, you can see this interesting trail next to the Colorado River. It’s a short hike from the parking lot before you see the famous horseshoe.
While you’re in the area, also be sure to plan to visit Antelope Canyon, a popular tourist destination in the area (reservations required).
9) White Tank Regional Park
There are plenty of hiking trails here that are relatively easy to go across. Take a good look at the petroglyphs and take a picture in front of a giant cactus. The waterfall is also by far the most popular spot.
This park is very family friendly because there are several playgrounds for the kids to enjoy!
10) Willow Beach
Just a few miles from Las Vegas and the Hoover Dam is the small and secluded Willow Beach area along the Colorado River. You can go on an amazing kayak trip to Emerald Cove. The air is hot but the water here is very cold!
11) Echo Canyon Trail at Camelback Mountain
Technically this really isn’t a hidden gem at all, but living in Phoenix, I have to mention the iconic Camelback Mountain. My favorite trail is Echo Canyon because it’s one of the most scenic and challenging hiking trails in the area. When you make it to the top, you can see some stunning views of the city below!
12) Fossil Creek Waterfall
Looking for a challenge? It requires a high clearance vehicle with 4 wheel drive to make it to the trailhead. But the hike to the waterfall is pretty short and you can enjoy the day swimming in the water!
13) Saguaro Lake / Salt River
Really you can’t go wrong with any of the lakes along the Salt River. You can also stay at a campground or resort near Canyon Lake, Apache Lake, or Theodore Roosevelt Lake.
The further east you drive, the more secluded the area gets! The main road becomes a narrow dirt road so it’s best to head this way with a high clearance all wheel drive vehicle.
14) Lockett Meadow
You may have heard about Sunset Crater but there is a less traveled option nearby: Lockett Meadow. The stunning views give you a glimpse of Sugarloaf Mountain. The area is full of aspen trees, so it feels like you’re in another state while you’re here.
15) Boyce Thompson Arboretum
Do you love wildflowers? Then you absolutely need to check out this desert botanical garden! This is a great place to visit even if you’re bringing kids with you. They’ll love the butterflies and hummingbirds!
16) Canyon de Chelly National Monument
If you’re a history buff, it’s worth checking out this monument because you can see the dwellings and petroglyphs up close! A few miles east, you can also see Spider Rock which is another rock formation that makes Arizona unique.
17) Chiricahua National Monument
The rock formations defy gravity and are so mesmerizing to look at. Each of the campsites are like a little oasis in the middle of the desert.
If you’re interested in a low key day trip, then check out Jermone, the most well known former mining town. This makes it quite the hidden gem in Arizona, if you know what I mean.
The Mine Museum can tell you all about the town’s rich history and give you an idea of what it was like living in the wild west.
This place was once considered America’s largest ghost town but a number of artists revived the town over the last 40 years.
Now home to several highly rated wineries, it’s worth a weekend stay. Plus, it’s quite the scenic drive to get there, on 89A.
On the same day trip, you can also drive to Prescott. This town has a lot to offer including beautiful scenery since it’s nestled into the Bradshaw Mountains.
The historic downtown is pretty monumental too. Watson Lake is really beautiful with its unique rock formations and especially enjoyable if you bring your kayak.
20) Havasupai Falls
Note: The village and trail leading to the falls have had multiple closures due to the pandemic. You can check for the latest information on closures here.
Saving the best for last because it’s epic and definitely not for the faint of heart. But it’s definitely a thrill and a challenge for the adventure seekers!
To see Havasu Falls, you have to go on a very long hike on Havasupai. It has some tough terrains and scary climbs. It’s recommended that you bring at least a gallon of water and plenty of snacks and ways to keep yourself cooled off.
But the waterfall is AMAZING! Definitely one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world. With that being said, this trail requires a RESERVATION which you have to get your spot reserved months in advance. But there is great camping and even a lodge down in the canyon.
Fun fact: The Supai Village still has their USPS mail delivered by mule.
Exploring the Hidden Gems in Arizona
I don’t know about you but I’m ready to pack my bag and head to these hidden gems in Arizona. There are some seriously beautiful places here that shouldn’t be missed. Hopefully you’re adding these underrated places to your bucket list too.
New to hiking or need a refresher on how to hike safely? I’ve got you covered!