Traveling to Arizona last week was quite last minute travel, even for us. I can quickly run home and pack a bag for any occasion to hop in the car and go, or even catch a flight (thanks to my packing checklist for long flights). Luke’s work brought him to Phoenix for a conference, and we decided to turn it into a trip to see the Grand Canyon and Sedona, also accompanied by two of his colleagues.
As for expectations, I wasn’t sure what to anticipate. I basically knew nothing about this state.
I know Arizona is hot. But so is Florida – what’s new? I know there’s cacti, and that’s pretty neat. And lastly, I know the Grand Canyon is there.
Other than that, I was basically guessing on what to bring for 4 days in the Southwest. I tried to plan some activities by consulting various travel sites, but I simply surrendered to spontaneity and decided to show up unprepared and embrace having no expectations.
From the little research I did, it seemed like there were countless opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, like hiking and visiting sinkholes. I threw a bunch of active gear in my carry on and called it day. I’d wear my “adventure hair” – a french braid that keeps my mane of hair neatly out of my way – and see what this trip brings us.
After having an amazing time, my biggest takeaway is this: hiking in Arizona is absolutely the way to spend your time there. We hiked every single day. When we returned to the city in Phoenix on the last day, I actually said to Luke, “I miss being covered in red clay.”
The red rocks in Sedona are breathe-taking. The layers of the earth in the Grand Canyon keeps your mind in a constant state of bewilderment.
It’s a very small percentage of people who actually go beyond seeing the Grand Canyon from either the northern or southern rim. Being determined to always get the most out of traveling, we were going to be part of the Hiking Arizona Elite and walk the winding paths into the massive canyon.
My only regret is that we did not allot more time for this; I could see the end of the path miles and miles beyond at a lower point, and still wish I could have stood at that peak and looked over the Colorado River. It’s my new travel goal to hike down to that point on the Bright Angel trail and camp in the Grand Canyon. I never wanted to leave that place.
The hiking in Arizona goes beyond just the Grand Canyon. In Sedona, the higher the climb, the better the views. It was brutally hot at times – that’s what we get for going mid-July – but completely worth gazing upon vast plains of desert life and being surrounded by the glorious red rocks Sedona is famous for.
Here’s what you need to know about hiking in Arizona:
The Bright Angel Trail, The Grand Canyon
The Bright Angel Trail is a popular hike among the hiking veterans. When we were making our way down in the late afternoon, many people were passing en route to the top. They told us that they began their day hiking down at around 8am. They would stop to take a nap in the small camp area, covered by trees when looking from above on the trail, and kept going towards the peak of a plateau (also visible from above) to overlook the Colorado River. You can, in fact, continue on and even raft the river.
Before hiking down the trail, we went to the touristy areas to overlook the Grand Canyon and take in the surreal scene. It looks like it goes on forever. We followed the signs towards where the lodge, El Tovar, is located and got ready for our hike near the trailhead. I wish I knew how far we went. It did not feel that far until we looked behind and above us and could really see the distance of winding trails we had covered. Since we weren’t prepared for hiking without sunlight, we made sure to be back by sunset.
Many hikers had hiking sticks with them. We were wishing we had those, as the extra stability would have been welcomed on such a steep trail downward. Those in our group wearing hiking boots were better off than those of us wearing sneakers, since they grip onto the rock and trail much better. The trail is not very wide, and the edges are steep, so the more stability you have during your hike, the better. Bottles of water and snacks came in handy, as well.
I was keeping my eyes peeled for wildlife sightings. Once we got to the point where we were about to run around, we spotted two mountain goats butting heads over what looked like a small water stream! It was amazing to see them canter up and down the area so easily, despite the steep ledges. As we drove away from the canyon, we also spotted an elk family peacefully grazing alongside the road.
Hiking the Grand Canyon takes a little more preparation than just going to see it, but it is completely worth it. Even if you just spend an afternoon hiking like we did, it is really something to experience it on a closer level. I hope to go back one day and spend a few days hiking and camping there.
Once you’re done with your incredible hike, you can stop at the lodge near the beginning of the trail and treat yourself with a prickly pear margarita!
Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona
This hike was one we came upon by accident. Needless to say, it was a super awesome mistake.
We originally wanted to go check out Slide Rock, a famous landmark in Sedona. It’s just what it sounds like – a big watering hole where you can slide down a natural water slide. Unfortunately, we weren’t the only ones with this big idea. The place was so lively that people were parking miles away and walking down to this state park.
As it can sometimes be an indicator of awesomeness when something is packed, we felt like Sedona had many options of things to do outdoors so we kept on driving north and found ourselves another beautiful area to explore – Oak Creek Canyon.
This place definitely didn’t disappoint. You can choose from a bunch of different trails to explore. The best part is that you can walk right through the creek instead of a trail alongside it, if you please. Shoes in hand, I trudged through the water and loved every minute of it.
The big red Sedona rocks engulf you from every angle and the trees stand very tall, making you feel smaller than ever. There were many other hikers when we went, but it was still quiet and peaceful, allowing us to take in the serene environment. Another bonus of these trails was that most of them are covered by the trees so you have plenty of natural shade.
Devil’s Bridge Trail, Sedona
This was my favorite hike in Arizona, by far. It was just 4 miles outside of the town of Sedona, a quick drive. Upon arrival, a big map greets you and gives you your easy, medium, and hard hike options. We didn’t have that much time, so we chose the easy hike – a 3.5 mile hike upwards to see the Devil’s Bridge, an epic landmark.
The Devil’s Bridge is comprised of two massive red rock entities connected by a smaller piece of rock. Plenty of people went to pose and get their picture taken on top of the bridge, but we gazed from a far. After hiking the trail so far upwards, you climb up to a good altitude!
The hike warns you that each person must bring a gallon of water with them. Don’t take this lightly. The trail is made of red clay and is surrounded by low-sitting cacti and other desert foliage, so there is no shade whatsoever. The last half a mile or so includes some pretty steep upwards climbs, as well.
The hard work pays off the second you turn to face the valley of natural beauty. I had never seen anything like it. Sedona is a unique place, and definitely for the lover of the outdoors. The hike to the Devil’s Bridge is rewarding, and one you won’t forget.