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The Textured Walls Of Lower Antelope Canyon In Page, Arizona

4 Off-the-Beaten-Path Arizona Adventures

Most first-time visitors to Arizona find adventure on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon or explore the red rock country of Sedona. Fans of urban activities spend their time gallery hopping, playing golf on desert courses or hiking the city park trails in Phoenix, Scottsdale or Tucson.

But look what there is to experience in the Grand Canyon State if you’re willing to go off-the-beaten-path. Four Arizona adventures are described.

Updated April 2020. This post includes some affiliate links. If you make a purchase via one of these links, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

Cliff dwellings and Navajo culture at Canyon de Chelly National Monument

On the Navajo land near Chinle, visitors to Canyon de Chelly discover ancient cliff dwellings recessed into pink sandstone cliffs in a canyon where the Navajo still bring their sheep for summer grazing.

The North and South Rim drives offer scenic vistas and there’s also a self-guided hike down the canyon side to White Horse ruins. However, being “in” the canyon rather than looking at it from above is worth the bumpy ride to get there.

Entrance requires the presence of a Navajo guide and the purchase of a tour ticket from the Visitor’s Center. The tour travels in open vehicles known as “shake and bakes.” Instead, I recommend hiring a private Navajo guide for a more thorough exploration. You might spot wild horses splashing by as your four-wheel-drive vehicle lumbers along Chinle Wash and up a muddy bank before viewing Mummy’s Cave or stopping at Spider Rock to hear the story of how the rock got it’s name.

For the hardy adventurer, consider a horseback ride in the canyon on an overnight camping trip guided by a Navajo. Imagine the stories you’ll hear at night around the campfire.

Where to stay: Best Western, Holiday Inn and the historic Thunderbird Lodge are located within 3 miles of the park entrance.

Arizona adventures to Canyon de Chelly
Looking down at the central room of the Mummy’s Cave at Canyon de Chelly – Photo credit: Aline Dassel from Pixabay

Arizona adventures in the slot canyon at Lower Antelope Canyon

Have you explored an Arizona slot canyon?  At Lower Antelope Canyon, located on Navajo land near Page, Arizona, you’re in for a photogenic treat. An entrance fee is required but the experience is oh so worth it.

Imagine walking along a crack in a parched desert, only to find the crack opening wider and wider until you come to a set of stairs that leads inside the crack. Congratulations, you’ve just entered Lower Antelope Canyon .

I like to call it nature’s fun house due to the narrow, twisting path through the slot canyon where the walls are grooved from thousands of storms that have washed through on their way to the Colorado River. Light seeps in from above coloring the sandstone walls pink, gold and purple. You’ll be amazed at the vibrant scenes your camera will capture in the darkened canyon. The going is tight at times so beware if you’re claustrophobic.

A word of caution: slot canyons are dangerous during rainstorms or monsoons that can occur far upstream. Before your visit, check the weather.

If you’re looking for an easier experience, Upper Antelope Canyon offers more level footing and a less claustrophobic experience.

Where to stay: Numerous hotels are available in Page, the closest town. Why not rent a condo or houseboat at Lake Powell for a more in-depth stay? There’s plenty of hiking and exploring to keep you busy. One that offers a view of Lake Powell is the Best Western View of Lake Powell Hotel – rated very good.

Arizona adventures must include a trip to Lower Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona
Arizona adventures must include a trip to Lower Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona – Photo credit: Henkb67 from Pixabay

Walking with the stone soldiers of Chiricahua National Monument

Imagine a hike that winds through rhyolite formations towering above your head like giant stone soldiers. That’s what you’ll discover on the 3.3-mile Eco Canyon Loop Hike in Chiricahua National Monument .

Located in southeastern Arizona, this off-the-beaten-path corner of the state is ripe for exploring on foot, by horseback or on a four-wheel-drive adventure. And, you’ll be following in the footsteps of the Apache who called this part of their homeland, “Land of Standing-Up Rocks.”

If Eco Canyon Loop sounds too short for your adventuresome spirit, park the car in the Visitors Center lot, take the 8:30 a.m. shuttle to the top of Bonita Canyon Drive near Massai Point (6870 ft.) and start the downhill trek along Echo Canyon Trail (4.2 miles) all the way back to the Visitors Center. For a glimpse of homestead life, wander the grounds at Faraway Ranch near Bonita Canyon Campground. Swedish immigrants built the ranch in the 1880′s.

Read: Chiricahua National Park Hiking – On a Snowy Day

Where to stay: Lodging is available in Wilcox, almost an hour’s drive to the North. Numerous bed and breakfasts are scattered through out the area. My favorite was Sunglow Guest Ranch.

Rhyolite formations at Chiricahua National Monument
Arizona adventures include a visit to see the rhyolite formations at Chiricahua National Monument
Were getting into a very interesting landscape
Within 20 minutes we’re into a full snow on the trail while Chiricahua National Monument hiking

Arizona Adventures – The North Rim of the Grand Canyon

For a less crowded experience, plan your trip for when the North Rim is open (May to November). Adjacent to the Kaibab National Forest, the North Rim offers forested hikes where you’re apt to spot wildlife like turkey and mule deer before reaching the canyon’s edge.

Be sure to return to the back deck at Grand Canyon Lodge in time for the sunset show that sets the Grand Canyon ablaze in a rosy pink glow.

Where to stay: The only lodging is available at Grand Canyon Lodge, which is a collection of pioneer cabins and a few motel rooms and campgrounds. The lodging is basic but who cares? A luxury lodging experience is not why you visit the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Arizona adventures to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon
North Rim of the Grand Canyon – Photo credit: Steve Barone from Pixabay

Further reading on things to do in Arizona

Donna Hull is exploring the world one activity at a time. Besides writing and publishing My Itchy Travel Feet, The Baby Boomer’s Guide to Travel, she writes about boomer travel for My Well-Being Powered by Humana. 

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

4 off the beaten path Arizona adventures that will take you across the state


Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 30 Comments

  1. I’ve been to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, but not the North Rim. I remember wishing I had a lot more time to spend in Arizona. I was only there for a day, and there was a lot more I wanted to see.

    1. @SandinmySuitcase The Antelope Canyon is on the wish list of most landscape photographers. I’d have to visit Jordan to substantiate your claim – and would love to do so but for now I’ll take your word for it that it looks like the entrance to Petra. Beautiful is what it is in my mind.

    2. You are right, Lower Antelope Canyon does resemble the photos that I’ve seen of the Siq entrance to Petra. It’s amazing how so many areas of the world look similar when we think about it. Whenever I see the Australian outback, I’m reminded of the Arizona desert.

    1. Italian Notes, the cave dwellings in Canyon de Chelly are amazing. This photo shows only one of them (the best ruin in my opinion) but the others are just as interesting. And there’s nothing like roaming through the twists and turns of a slot canyon like Lower Antelope.

    1. Billie, there are actually two Antelope Canyons – lower and upper. The Upper Canyon is easier to explore as it’s not underground. However, I think Lower Antelope Canyon is more exciting to explore. The Native American history in the Chiricahuas is especially interesting. And, you’re almost at the Mexican border.

  2. I love “discovering” off the beaten path places like this. I have a photo of Lower Antelope Canyon which is one of my favorite photos of all time. It looks like an incredible place!

  3. Was Canyon de Chelly worth the visit? I looked into going last year and was told you’re not allowed to get anywhere near the dwellings. How close were you able to get?

  4. James, I think Canyon de Chelly is definitely worth the visit, especially if you hire a private guide. I was part of a jeep jamboree that toured the canyon for 2 days. We traveled in convoys with one Navajo guide to every 4 jeeps. You cannot walk among the dwellings. Most of them are built high into the canyon walls. I’m not good at estimating distances to say exactly how close you come to the dwellings. Some are right next to the road. In the case of Mummy’s Cave (the photo in this article), visitors can walk a trail toward the cave, but again, you can’t walk among the dwellings.

    Canyon de Chelly is so much more than the Anasazi dwellings. There are petroglyphs, Navajo tending to sheep near their hogans and stories from the guides that make the canyon come alive. And, there are actually two canyons – Canyon de Muerte and Canyon de Chelly.

  5. Happy to say that I’ve been to all of these except the Chiricahua….but I’m sure I’ll be back there!

  6. Those textured walls are incredible and your photos are amazin! Hope that I’ll make it to Arizona soon.

  7. Don’t forget the Paria Canyon hike. I did White House (Utah) to Lee’s Ferry (AZ). There is a place where the Paria river takes a tight bend and the canyon is so high above that the wall arches directly overhead. Nothing like it on planet Earth! The scenery is way “too big” to photograph…just take in the “I am so small” feeling like a drug!

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