Headed to Arizona this year? We’ve got all the tips!
Hi there! My name is Shay and I work at Flytographer HQ on the marketing team. This year my family decided to spend Christmas in the desert in Arizona! What we thought was going to be a warm escape from the Canadian winter turned out to be a bit chillier than expected thanks to an Arctic cold front. But it turned out for the best because *spoiler alert* Sedona’s brilliant red rocks in the snow are insanely beautiful.
For two weeks we traveled around beautiful Arizona discovering all the dazzling landscapes it has to offer, and there are many! I’ve listed some of our favorite stops with a few insider tips to help you make the most of your time in this diverse and stunning state.
We started our trip at Lost Dutchman State Park under the Superstition Mountains (45 minutes east of Phoenix). When the sunset light shines on the mountains in the evening, they turn a brilliant red colour (delicious paired with red wine). We stayed at the state park in our RV and fell asleep at night listening to the coyotes howl.
We had a Flytographer shoot one morning with Annelise, the beautiful Superstitions behind us, the iconic Saguaro cacti (which look like real-life cactus emojis), and prickly Cholla trees. It was so fantastic, and we love having these images. It’s an annual tradition for us now. Last year we had a shoot with Wendy in Maui.
We aren’t able to get together as a family as often as we’d like anymore. I had been living in Europe for most of the year, and my sister lives in Texas. So when my parents bought an RV recently and started road tripping through the Southwestern United States for a few months, my sister and I flew in to join them.
After our shoot, we hiked up in the Superstition Mountains and took the Praying Hands loop. Highly suggest! It wasn’t too difficult and offered some glorious views. After we celebrated our Christmas surrounded by Saguaro cacti (we tried to put Christmas lights on one, it didn’t go well), we drove up to Northern Arizona to Sedona.
If you take only one thing away from this entire article, GO TO SEDONA. Don’t walk, run! I’ve been around the world and back again, and I can honestly say it’s one of the most incredible places I’ve ever been. We stayed at Dead Horse Ranch State Park for a few days. It was wonderful and about a 30-minute drive from Sedona. When I go back to Sedona (which I will), I will try to find a cute Airbnb or hotel in the heart of town that has views of the red rocks so I can wake up to that scene.
First of all, the energy in Sedona is sensational. It just feels good. The red rocks are said to have energies, and there are various ‘vortexes’ that you can visit. There are so many hikes in Sedona, and we didn’t know which one would be best. But we got a tip from a park ranger who said to take the Airport Loop Trail Hike. I was skeptical, as hiking around an airport didn’t sound…scenic. I could not have been more wrong!
We had a panoramic view of Sedona for the entire 5.5km hike. There wasn’t one spot on the trail that didn’t have a spectacular outlook. It took us about 4 hours, but we stopped many times and took many photos. You can basically see all of Sedona’s beauty from this hike so if you are short on time, then this is the hike for you! I’ve also heard good things about Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock.
On New Year’s Eve, it snowed in Sedona! We couldn’t believe it and neither could the residents. They said they hadn’t had snow like that (5 inches in 4 hours) in 10 years! We walked around town and browsed all the cute shops and enjoyed the winter wonderland. We stopped in for a wine tasting flight and cheese board at Winery 1912. It had great wine, a cozy atmosphere, and an amazing view of the red rocks! Well…we couldn’t see the landscape then because of the snow and clouds, but it was still relaxing to watch the snow fall knowing there was nice scenery there 99% of the time.
We woke up New Year’s Day to brilliant clear blue skies, and we just knew Sedona would be stunning with the snow-capped red rocks. We headed there straight away, cameras in hand. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. It was simply breathtaking and something very rare to see.
Of course, we had to go to the Grand Canyon. I don’t think a road trip to the American Southwest would be complete without it! I had never been before, but I was prepared to be overwhelmed and blown away. In reality, that’s putting it lightly. There are no good words to describe it except other-worldly and awesome (in the literal sense of the word).
The same lovely park ranger who told us about the Sedona Airport hike also told us the best way to see the Grand Canyon. If you’re approaching from the south (from Flagstaff, Sedona, or Phoenix), your default is to go to the South Entrance of the Canyon. The tip we got is to enter from the East Entrance of the Grand Canyon as there are far fewer people and lineups, and you actually get to drive along the rim of the canyon. You come up the same way from the south but follow the signs/Google maps to the East Entrance.
The first stop you’ll hit once in the park is the Desert View Watchtower lookout. It’s worth getting out of the car for this one, and you may cry (as my mom did) since it will be your first time seeing the canyon. From there, you’ll be able to drive the 25 miles along the rim, stopping at various viewpoints along the way. You don’t need to stop at all of them, but try at least 5-7 to get different perspectives of the canyon.
You’ll follow a circular route and exit through the South Entrance back towards Flagstaff. When we arrived at the South Rim parking area, it was jam-packed with hundreds of people, which was the opposite of the experience we had just had on the East Rim (5-30 people at each lookout).
While Arizona does have the things you expect: the desert, cacti, and lots of sunshine, it’s really much more than that! We found as we drove that it has so many varied landscapes, some of it looking other-worldly (are we on planet Mars?!). Just remember that many places in Arizona are actually quite cold in the winter months due to elevation and desert climates, so be sure to check average temperatures before you pack your bikini and flip-flops! Other than that, if you’re up for a beautiful adventure, and Arizona isn’t on your list, it should be!
Planning a trip to the American Southwest? You won’t be able to capture the beauty with selfies – so make sure you book a Flytographer in Phoenix, Scottsdale or beautiful Sedona!