9 Spectacular Places to Visit in Arizona

9 Spectacular Places to Visit in Arizona

Heat, sand, and cacti—that’s Arizona in the popular imagination. But the state has much more to offer for a moto traveler who knows where to point their front wheel.

Arizona sports a huge variety of Southwestern environments, from its famous sun-scorched desert to tranquil lakes, awesome (in the classic sense) mountains, and majestic pine-filled forests. Combine all that with good riding roads, and you have a location that’s ripe for motorcycle adventuring.

Here are nine fantastic sites no rider rolling through Arizona should miss.

9 Spectacular Places to Visit in Arizona

Grand Canyon National Park

Let’s address the thing in the room that’s much bigger than an elephant. If you’re visiting the Grand Canyon State, surely you can’t ignore the Grand Canyon.

Carved by the Colorado River over a longer time than I dare comprehend, the 277-mile-long canyon’s walls expose almost two billion years of geographical history. To put that somewhat into perspective, the most advanced life form back then had just figured out how to have more than one cell.

The Grand Canyon National Park and the adjacent Kaibab National Forest are every outdoorsman’s dream. Some of the best hiking trails in the country snake through the area, including those descending to the bottom of the canyon. There are also helicopter, ATV, and horseback tours available.

For a fun riding experience, do a “loop” around the canyon along SR 64, US 89(A), and SR 67. You can almost close the loop—if not for those pesky, awe-inspiring 12 miles of canyon in between.

9 Spectacular Places to Visit in Arizona

The Wave (Coyote Buttes North)

The Wave is one of the most alien sights you’re likely to see. Located in the Coyote Buttes area of the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, this unique sandstone formation’s bright colors and rippling, undulating shapes are a sight to behold.

Wind and water have carved this bizarre formation out of the rock wall over millions and millions of years. One of the most striking characteristics of The Wave is its changing appearance—with the play of light and shadows, it looks totally different depending on the time of day.

You can’t ride your motorcycle to The Wave, though. It’s only accessible through a trail-less hike through undeveloped wilderness that is not for beginners.

Additionally, visiting without the appropriate non-transferable BLM permit is strictly prohibited to protect the fragile natural monument. Only 64 daily permits are available and they’re distributed through a lottery system. If you want to see The Wave, I recommend planning well in advance.

Petrified Forest National Park

The Petrified Forest National Park is a unique location. Here, you’ll find two ecosystems laid on top of one another—one long gone and the other thriving.

On the bottom lie the fossils of a 200-million-year-old forest that stood in this area during the Triassic period. The abundant slabs of petrified wood are what give the Petrified Forest National Park its name.

Above these remnants of a bygone era, the Painted Desert stretches out with its current flora and fauna. You’ll find fantastic hiking and horseback riding trails in the area that take you to see the area’s nature, both living and dead. You can also immerse yourself in the cultures and crafts of the local Navajo and Apache Native Americans.

Motorcyclists don’t need to get out of the saddle, though, as you can ride through the park along Petrified Forest Rd (which also features a memorial to Route 66). This location is well worth the $20 entry fee for motorcycles.

Horseshoe Bend

If you’ve decided to visit the Grand Canyon, I wholeheartedly recommend setting aside some time in your itinerary to also go see the Horseshoe Bend. This glorious meander of the Colorado River is close to the canyon and absolutely worth your while.

A short and easy hike (more of a walk, really) takes you from the parking lot to the bend’s steep rim. The rock wall plunges almost vertically down 1,000 feet into the flowing river below.

Horseshoe Bend is stunning at any time of day, but it has a particular magic just before sunset. Just note that others will want to see the bend in the dying light of day, too, so be prepared for crowds.

An easy and relaxing cruise will get you to the Horseshoe Bend. Simply ride north from the Grand Canyon on US 89 and it’ll be on the left—you can’t miss it.

Oh, and while you’re there, check out the nearby petroglyphs as well.

Saguaro National Park

Arizona is more than desert, but that desert is (arguably) at its best in the Saguaro National Park. Within easy access from Tucson, this park is split into two sections to the east and west of the city.

The stars of the show in the park are its namesake cacti. The towering, protected saguaro are the largest cacti in the U.S. and a unique part of Arizona’s wildlife.

Multiple excellent hiking trails take you through the parks, but you can also simply motor through it on your bike. Staying on your motorcycle offers you a different perspective of the region, so I recommend seeing it both on foot and on two wheels.

Just pick your riding destination according to your bike. The eastern section features a fully paved one-way road, while the roads in the western section are graded dirt roads.

9 Spectacular Places to Visit in Arizona

Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon is the place to be if you’re looking to experience the ancient mystique of the Southwestern desert. Water has carved this slot canyon’s walls into flowing, almost organic shapes that make you feel like you’ve been swallowed by some enormous living creature.

The beams of sunlight filtering in from above paint the sandstone walls in vivid and otherworldly colors. Dark shadows mingle on the walls with the pink, red, yellow, and gold sandstone.

You can access Antelope Canyon only on Navajo-guided tours. The canyon is in the land of the Navajo Nation, after all.

But the tours are also there for your safety. Potentially dangerous flash floods can occur in the canyon, so stick with the group, especially if it has rained recently.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

Before European settlers or even modern Native Americans settled in Arizona, the Hohokam culture thrived by the state’s rivers for around 1,000 years. The Hohokam built intricate irrigation channels and constructed stone houses—like the Casa Grande Ruins.

The archeological site is named after its largest building, a four-story structure dating back to the Hohokam civilization’s classic period. According to researchers, it was likely abandoned by the year 1450.

Visitors can’t enter the protected and fragile structure itself. You can walk right up to its outer walls, though, to admire the construction skills of a people that vanished mysteriously some 500 years ago.

The Casa Grande Ruins National Monument is easily reachable by motorcycle. It lies roughly halfway between Tucson and Phoenix, making for a great day-trip location if you’re staying in either city.

Desert Botanical Garden

The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix lets you marvel at the fauna of the desert in a structured environment. Along the garden’s trails, you’ll find cacti, agaves, succulents, flowers, herbs, vegetables, and many other kinds of plants.

Each of the trails carries a certain theme. For example, one of them displays the native plants of the Sonoran Desert, while others cover edible plants that can be grown in the region and display how the Native Americans interacted with local nature.

In addition to showcasing plant life, the Desert Botanical Garden hosts various exhibits, classes on desert landscaping, and more.

Chapel of the Holy Cross

Arizona’s nature is breathtaking, but the state also has gorgeous man-made structures. The Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona combines the two, bringing human architecture together with natural beauty.

The chapel is built directly into the red rock buttes of the Coconino National Forest. The structure blends surprisingly well into the surrounding sandstone formations, while still standing out for its own merits.

Inside, the main feature is the 90-foot-tall iron cross, which serves both as a crucifix and a structural support for the building. The textured concrete walls make visitors feel like the chapel is a naturally occurring formation instead of an artificial structure.

You can ride your bike to the chapel and leave it in the parking lot while you visit. Another option is to hike the Chapel Trail, which leads you right to the structure.