Discover Arizona in Uncommon and Unique Ways

From touring ancient dwellings and rafting adventures to Wild West shootouts, here are 10 must-do uncommon and unique experiences in the Grand Canyon State

We previously took a look at facts of Arizona you didn’t know—from burros running Oatman and altitude meeting attitude to hummers and more hummers. Now, we bring you even more ways to discover the state in uncommon and unique ways.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Explore the Grand Canyon in Winter

No matter how many photos you’ve seen, nothing compares to actually perching on the rim of the Grand Canyon and taking in the immense view before you. Summer crowds can be formidable but during winter, fewer visitors, snow-covered trees, and a quiet hush that falls over the canyon make the trip downright magical.

Skiing Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Ski above the Saguaros

Skiing in Arizona? Yep, down south and up north. Tucson’s Mount Lemmon in the Santa Catalina Mountains is home to the southernmost ski runs in the U.S. And north of Flagstaff the Arizona Snowbowl offers 700 acres of slopes and runs in the San Francisco Peaks.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Gaze at the Milky Way

Arizona is a premier destination for studying the skies. The International Dark-Sky Association has its worldwide headquarters in Tucson for good reason. Clear air and low light pollution provide out-of-this-world stargazing. See the celestial sights from the state’s certified Dark-Sky Parks including as Kartchner Caverns, Sunset Crater, and Petrified Forest.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Tour Ancient Ruins with a Tribal Guide

In Canyon De Chelly National Monument, cottonwoods grow tall and horses roam free. One of the longest continuously inhabited places in North America this stunning network of gorges, sandstone cliffs, petroglyphs, and ancient cliff dwellings has been called home to generations of Navajo, Hopi, and others. There are trails in and out of the canyon, but to access the deeper reaches join a tour with a Navajo guide.

O.K. Corral © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Witness a Shootout at the O.K. Corral

A visit to this National Historic Landmark wouldn’t be complete without watching a heart-racing, Wild West shootout at the O.K. Corral. The streets of Tombstone offer daily reenactments of the famous 30-second gunfight. Afterward, take pictures with the gunfighters, visit haunted landmarks, or the historic courthouse.

6. Raft the Colorado River

Raft the Colorado

See the world-famous Grand Canyon from a new perspective as you float along the Colorado River. On a one-day rafting tour or a two-day paddle-rafting trip enjoy a riverside lunch while taking in the scenery, wildlife, and history of the canyon.

7. Historic Destination for the Arts

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Tubac” is the English spelling of the original Tohono O’odham name “Cuwak,” which translates as “rotten.” But the town is anything but. Tubac has a rich history dating back to Spanish colonization of the land in the 18th century. The Tumacácori National Historic Park is home to the ruins of three Spanish mission communities. Tubac features over 100 eclectic shops and world class galleries situated along meandering streets with hidden courtyards, and sparkling fountains.

8. Meander Oak Creek Canyon

Oak Creek Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This gorgeous gash in the landscape has a spectacular feature: you can drive through it! The forested canyon floor ranges from a mile wide at the top end to 2.5 miles at the mouth and up to 2,000 feet deep from the creek to the tops of the highest sheer red cliffs. A wonderful road built in 1929 it runs the entire 13-mile length of the canyon.

9. Explore a Thriving Hilltop Pueblo

Tuzigoot National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visit Tuzigoot National Monument and witness the incredible legacy of a people who lived in the Verde Valley 1,000 years ago. The pueblo was built by the Sinagua people who thrived in this arid region for nearly 10 centuries. Built in AD 1125, Tuzigoot was a communal home occupied by Sinagua farmers for close to 300 years.

10. Madera Canyon

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madera Canyon is a north-facing valley in the Santa Rita Mountains with riparian woodland along an intermittent stream, bordered by mesquite, juniper-oak woodlands, and pine forests. The canyon offers hiking trails that vary from walking paths in the lower canyon, to steep, expert trails leading to the top of 9,453-foot Mt. Wrightson. The creekside trail that begins at Whitehouse Picnic Area is fantastic for spotting birds—more than 250 species have been documented.

Worth Pondering…

To my mind these live oak-dotted hills fat with side oats grama, these pine-clad mesas spangled with flowers, these lazy trout streams burbling along under great sycamores and cottonwoods, come near to being the cream of creation.

—Aldo Leopold, 1937