Arizona is a state that automatically conjures up a certain type of desert scenery for many travelers. But while Arizona is a naturally arid state, the climate, the ecosystems, and the topography of Northern Arizona can differ greatly from those of Phoenix and Tucson to the south. Believe it or not, the higher reaches of the Grand Canyon get snow every winter!
The Grand Canyon may be one of America’s most famous national parks, but there’s so much more to see and do beyond the visitor center and the gift shops. Here’s all you need to know about the region’s best hikes, some more adventurous ways to explore the Grand Canyon, the coolest college town you might not have heard of, the most mystical red rocks you’ve ever experienced, and the vibrantly beautiful Native American communities of Northern Arizona.
A Re-Introduction to Northern Arizona
There’s so much to love about Arizona and its natural beauty throughout the state. When you drive north on the I-17 Freeway and leave the saguaro cacti and rush hour traffic behind in Phoenix, you notice some interesting changes. Suddenly, you start to notice juniper and pine trees along the side of the road. You see majestic mountain peaks. When you make a pit stop, you feel the cooler air outside.
While the Grand Canyon may feel as synonymous with Arizona as Phoenix, it’s usually at least a three-and-a-half-hour drive from the Valley of the Sun to the Canyon’s South Rim. Though it’s possible to do a day trip to the Grand Canyon or Sedona while staying in Phoenix or Scottsdale, we highly recommend taking more time to experience Northern Arizona in all its glory. That’s why we’re taking you on a virtual tour through the region: If you can spare an extra day (or four!) to take your time to see more of Northern Arizona, you certainly won’t regret it.
Where to Stay
Just as Northern Arizona has a wide variety of landscapes, it also has a wide variety of locales offering different types of accommodations. If you’re looking to save money, consider staying in Flagstaff or Williams and using that area as your base camp to explore the wider region. If you’d rather splurge on a luxurious getaway, Sedona has most of the region’s posh hotels and resorts. If you’re really up for an adventure to explore the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, Lake Powell, and the area’s stunning national monuments, we recommend staying in Page for an easier commute.
Grand Canyon – South Rim
Bright Angel Lodge
If you want a good hotel that’s inside Grand Canyon National Park, this is probably your best bet. When you stay here, you’re staying in Grand Canyon Village’s historic district. You’re about a four-minute walk from the Bright Angel Trailhead, and walking distance from the rest of the village’s main attractions. The rooms aren’t super luxurious, but they’re plenty cozy, and you may not want to spend much time in the room anyway when you’re this close to the Grand Canyon’s best sights.
- Nearest airport: Phoenix Sky Harbor
- Time: 3.5 to 4 hours by car
- Distance: 235 miles
Red Feather Lodge
If you want a few more creature comforts and you don’t mind staying a little farther away from Grand Canyon Village, Red Feather Lodge has rooms with flat-screen TVs and (limited access) Wi-Fi internet, as well as laundry facilities, a heated pool and spa for the summer season, an ATM in the lobby, and a Mexican-American restaurant on the premises. Again, don’t expect big-city hotel-level amenities here, but do rest assured that what you need is probably available.
- Nearest Airport: Phoenix Sky Harbor
- Time: 3 to 3.5 hours by car
- Distance: 220 miles
If you’re looking for something a little nicer in Flagstaff, Little America may be the right hotel for you. As part of the Grand America hotel family, Little America has the extra special creature comforts you’re looking for: goose-down bedding, Ulster wool carpeting, custom furniture, a 55-inch LG LED TV, high-speed internet, and more. If you’re up for a nice morning hike, Little America has its own trailhead that connects to the local trail system. If you want a little more excitement, Little America is only two miles away from Downtown Flagstaff.
- Nearest Airport: Phoenix Sky Harbor
- Time: 2 to 2.5 hours by car
- Distance: 150 miles
L’Auberge de Sedona
If you want the crème de la crème, you’ve arrived at the right place. L’Auberge de Sedona offers a stunning Sedona red rock backdrop and ample luxury throughout the property. Every cottage has its own fireplace, patio with outdoor seating, a wood-burning fireplace, a big-screen TV, high-speed internet with complimentary New York Times and Financial Times digital access, L’Occitane toiletries, an Illy coffee machine, and premium bedding. L’Auberge has a gorgeous restaurant on site and on Oak Creek, and it has a full-service spa, the La Galerie Art Program that connects guests with the local art scene, a serene pool area, and even its own “Duck Beach” where you can say hello to some feathered locals and relax right by Oak Creek.
- Nearest Airport: Phoenix Sky Harbor
- Time: About 2 hours by car
- Distance: 120 miles
Once you arrive here, you can see for yourself why Enchantment Resort has its name. They’ve recently redesigned their casita rooms and suites, so you’re in for some sweet treats: plush beds, a private deck with outdoor seating, a flat-screen TV, WiFi internet, and plush robes. Suites come with an oversized bathroom, a working fireplace, a kitchenette and dining area, and even an outdoor grill. If you don’t feel like cooking, Enchantment Resort has three restaurants on-site. For even more relaxation, enjoy the resort’s pool with stunning red rock views, a sports complex with tennis and pickleball courts, a full-service spa and fitness center, and access to the members-only Seven Canyons Golf Club.
- Nearest Airport: Phoenix Sky Harbor
- Time: 2 to 2.5 hours by car
- Distance: 126 miles
Home2 Suites by Hilton Page Lake Powell
Like the Grand Canyon, keep in mind that Page is the biggest town in the area — and Page is not that big of a town, so don’t expect a ton of big-city amenities around here. Nevertheless, a stay at Home2 Suites means you can enjoy WiFi internet, a hot breakfast, a kitchenette with a coffee maker and a refrigerator, an outdoor pool, and a business center during your stay.
- Nearest Airport: Harry Reid – Las Vegas
- Time: 4.5 to 5 hours by car
- Distance: 280 miles
Where to Eat
Again, please keep in mind that much of Northern Arizona is very rural. While larger towns like Flagstaff and Sedona feature wider varieties of restaurants, smaller towns and more remote outposts might only have a handful of culinary offerings. Here are some of our favorite places to stop and chow down while we’re trekking across the region.
- “$” = budget-friendly or cheap
- “$$”= average
- “$$$”= expensive
Sky View Restaurant
If you’re heading out to Grand Canyon West to check out the Skywalk, you might as well dine out here. The menu is limited — it mainly consists of burgers and salads with a few beer and wine options. With that said, the views seem endless — the floor-to-ceiling windows looking out to the Skywalk and the Grand Canyon itself are so spectacular that the drive will feel totally worthwhile once you’re seated here.
- Best for breakfast and lunch
El Tovar Dining Room and Lounge
Located inside the historic and grand El Tovar Lodge in Grand Canyon Village, the dining room features amazing canyon views and some of the best cuisine you’ll find anywhere on the South Rim. The kitchen serves carnivorous, vegetarian, and vegan dishes, and the drink menu includes some tasty mules (as in the boozy mules) that are perfect for rewarding yourself after a long day of walking and hiking.
- Best for breakfast, lunch, and dinner
Fat Olives Flagstaff
Not only does Fat Olives serve Vera Pizza Napoletana-certified pizzas, but these pizza pies are also quite tastefully creative. If you want “What Guy Ate” on Food Network, try the Kenai and Belgio Dolce pizzas. If you prefer the classic, you can’t go wrong with the Margherita D.O.C. or the Di Fungi. If anyone in your group is not in the mood for pizza, Fat Olives also has some pasta options on the menu.
- Best for lunch and dinner
Shift Kitchen & Bar
Chef and Owner Dara Wong has made it so clear that she wants to shift the perception of “mountain food” that she opened her own restaurant with this verb as its name. While Shift serves some classic Mountain West favorites, such as burgers and venison, you’ll also find more inventive options, including mole lechon, escolar, and ravioli with basil chimichurri. If you really want to be blown away, stay for dessert — you’ll thank us later.
- Best for dinner
Hideaway House has not one, not two, but three open-air patios for you to enjoy the ideal al fresco dinner with gorgeous Sedona red rock views. The pizzas may be the best in town, but they also serve a boatload of fresh seafood and heavier meat dishes as well. They have a full bar with a wide selection of drinks, so you might as well stay to enjoy one of the world’s most beautiful sunsets.
- Best for lunch and dinner
If you want some really good comida mexicana en Sedona, you have to come to Elote Cafe. It’s very conveniently located in Uptown, and features an extensive menu full of not only Mexican-American favorites, but also some off-the-beaten-path dishes. Come for the elote and goat cheese balls, stay for the buffalo mole poblano or the vegetable mole verde, and linger a little longer for the Mexican chocolate pie.
- Best for dinner
What to Do
Though we’d never say there’s too much to do anywhere, it’s hard to deny that there’s an abundance of exciting outdoor activities throughout Northern Arizona. The Grand Canyon tends to be the star attraction, but don’t ignore the region’s other public lands. You may be surprised by what you find.
Grand Canyon West
The Hualapai Tribe has run this reservation since 1883. More recently, they embarked on an ambitious plan to bring more visitors to this side of the Grand Canyon by building their one-of-a-kind Skywalk and inviting them to stay and learn more about Native American life in the Southwest. Not only can you walk the signature Skywalk over the Grand Canyon, but you can also do some whitewater rafting, a helicopter tour, a zipline, and set aside some time for learning and shopping at Hualapai Point.
Grand Canyon Village and the South Rim
As the historic heart of the Grand Canyon, the village on the South Rim offers a wide variety of trails for avid hikers and museums and shops for travelers who prefer to stay on top of the rim. If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can find multiple trailheads along the main Rim Trail that will take you down and around, including the famed Bright Angel Trail that takes you all the way down to the Colorado River and the historic Bright Angel Campground. If you insist on doing an extended day hike or backpacking journey, please make sure to come prepared. Trust us: It’s perfectly fine to stay up, walk along the Rim Trail, and work on your photographic skills if you’re not ready to invest a whole day or more for such an epic hike.
The North Rim
Here’s the road less traveled… literally. This side of the Grand Canyon is much harder to reach and is only open to visitors during the warm season. If you’re determined to be among the ten percent of Grand Canyon visitors who actually make it to the North Rim, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views, less crowded paths, higher elevation, and a greater sense of peace and quiet. If you’re up for some amazing hiking, take the North Kaibab Trail. Casual hikers will enjoy the gorgeous scenery at Supai Tunnel, while hard-core adventurers can try heading all the way down to Bright Angel Campground at the Colorado River.
Coconino National Forest and the Kachina Trail
Come hike among quaking aspens, ponderosa pines, Douglas firs, and gorgeous mountain views… in Arizona?! Yes, indeed, the Coconino National Forest is great for hikers, bikers, and nature lovers who want alpine scenery in Northern Arizona. You’ll find convenient trailheads across the Flagstaff area. For some truly spectacular scenery, catch the Kachina Trail north of Flagstaff for maximum aspen exposure and views of the San Francisco Peaks.
Tucson and Tempe aren’t Arizona’s only major college towns: Flagstaff is home to Northern Arizona University (NAU), where Olympic-level athletes train and some 21,000 students study. Downtown Flagstaff essentially starts at the north end of the NAU campus. The Amtrak train station serves as Downtown’s historic heart — and the visitors’ center where you can find answers to any other questions you have about traveling through the region.
During the summer season, you can enjoy First Friday ArtWalks, outdoor movie screenings at Heritage Square, the community farmers and artisan market, and Saturday outdoor yoga sessions. Throughout the year, Downtown Flagstaff has many of Northern Arizona’s most ambitious restaurants, most creative artisan boutiques, and most extensive entertainment options.
Marg’s Draw, Munds Mountain, and Schnebly Hill Trails
Schnebly Hill is the closest trail to Uptown Sedona, and it’s not only convenient, but it also offers a moderately challenging hike up to some incredible red rock views. You can catch Marg’s Draw on Schnebly Hill Road, and this trail features amazing views of the iconic Snoopy Rock, Capitol Butte, and Steamboat Rock. You can also catch the Munds Mountain Trail on Schnebly Hill Road for even more jaw-dropping red rock views. If you want even more hiking, you’re in luck: Sedona has over 400 miles worth of trails, many of which offer stunning red rock scenery.
Sedona Arts Center
If you want a pleasant introduction to Sedona’s thriving local arts scene, start here. Stop at Sedona Arts Center’s Uptown Gallery to view works by local artists, check out their selection of classes and workshops where you can create your own art, and see which special events are coming up. It’s a great launchpad to explore more local art. Sedona has over 80 art galleries, and the most walkable stretch is here in Uptown.
Located a short walk, ride, or drive from Uptown, Tlaquepaque offers a very Sedona twist on the classic shopping mall. You won’t find any huge chain stores or major designer labels here, but you will discover a lovely collection of art galleries featuring local artists, as well as some interesting specialty shops and fun restaurants. Even better, Tlaquepaque is situated right next to Oak Creek, so you can also come here for a scenic impromptu Instagram photo shoot or TikTok session.
While Monument Valley may be as instantly recognizable as the Grand Canyon, fewer visitors tend to brave the longer drive out this way. If you’re ready for something different, head out here to see for yourself the world-famous “Mitten Buttes” and Merrick Butte, and sign up for a guided tour if you’d like to see sacred sites like Ear of the Wind. Since Monument Valley is on Navajo tribal land, this is a unique opportunity to learn directly from the indigenous community why this place is so special. If you want to extend your stay here and support local Native American businesses, you can book a room at The View Hotel and stop at The View Trading Post for one of the region’s largest selections of Native American handcrafted kachinas, rugs, jewelry, and many more works of art.
Lake Powell and Northern Arizona’s National Monuments
Situated about 135 miles north of Flagstaff and 270 miles northeast of Las Vegas, Nevada, Lake Powell is the stretch of the Colorado River in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. As the weather starts to warm up, and as the mountains’ winter snowpack begins to melt, spring is a great time to head out here.
For quality time on the water, head to Wahweap Marina on the Arizona side of the lake to rent a houseboat and water toys for the ultimate boating trip. If you want to switch it up and investigate some dry land, head to Rainbow Bridge National Monument to explore one of the world’s most famous natural bridges and a sacred Navajo tribal landmark, or hop over to Horseshoe Bend for jaw-droppingly gorgeous river scenery.
Another nice perk of staying at Lake Powell is that it’s a convenient launchpad to explore more public lands in Northern Arizona and Southern Utah. About 50 miles southwest of Wahweap Marina, you’ll discover Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, where you can see some endangered California condors and hike the world-famous swirled sandstone at Coyote Buttes. About 24 miles northwest of Wahweap Marina, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is chock full of historical treasures spanning from dinosaur fossils to Anasazi and Fremont tribal rock art.
Tips for Survival, and for Planning a Better Trip
How to Save Money
First off, know where you want to go. With gas prices as high as they are, you may not really be “saving money” if you’re staying a very long drive away from most of the places you want to visit.
If you’re planning to spend more time in Sedona, consider booking accommodations in Sedona or Flagstaff. If you and your crew want to do more at the Grand Canyon (South Rim), then Grand Canyon Village, Tusayan, and Williams are probably your best bets for lodging. If Lake Powell and the national monuments north and west of the Grand Canyon are your main destinations, consider making Page, St. George (Utah), or Las Vegas (Nevada) your base camp. If you insist on doing a little of everything, you probably need a central location like Flagstaff.
How to Get Around
Speaking of driving, Northern Arizona is much more rural and spread out than the rest of the state, so don’t expect a whole lot of mass transit options here. If you prefer train travel, Amtrak does serve Flagstaff, and you will find some shuttles from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon. In addition, local bus service in Flagstaff and shuttles serve Grand Canyon Village and Sedona. Beyond the most popular tourist hubs, your transit options become far more limited.
We completely understand the current angst over high gas prices, and at least we can say that Kayak can help you with your rental car costs. Make sure to check Kayak first when shopping for a rental car, so you’ll have a little more money in your pocket to spend on things you actually want to spend money on.
How to Beat the Heat
While most of Northern Arizona tends to avoid the sizzling summer highs of Phoenix, triple-digit temperatures are common in the lower elevations (such as the Grand Canyon floor), and even an extended time out in more seemingly manageable heat can lead to serious problems if you don’t take care of yourself.
If you’re planning a lot of outdoor activities, please make sure to pack enough water, food, sunscreen, navigation equipment, and other basic necessities to get you through the day. If you want to hike to the Grand Canyon floor and/or check out the rock formations around Lake Powell, get your hiking in early, as in before the thermometer soars well above 100. If you’re hiking or biking high in the mountains, keep in mind that lower air pressure can lead to lower blood oxygen levels, so pay attention to your body’s needs and don’t try to climb even higher if you start to feel fatigued and/or breathless.
Finally, Enjoy the Trip
Northern Arizona has such beautiful scenery and beautiful communities that it’s easy to fall in love with these places once you begin to experience them for yourself. While you’re here, go ahead and enjoy the experience. If you’re on a tight schedule, don’t try to squeeze too much into one or two days. If you have more time, take full advantage of it by planning at least a full day for the Grand Canyon, at least a full day for Sedona, and enough time to enjoy wherever else you want to go.
We hope you appreciate this grand tour of the Grand Canyon and Northern Arizona. For more amazing content that might inspire your future travel plans, check out our favorite pieces of lightweight luggage, our favorite neighborhoods to stay in Barcelona, our Iceland travel guide, and our Jackson Hole (Wyoming) travel guide. Cheers to safe and happy travels.
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