7 Ways to Explore Natural History in Northern Arizona
Adventurers are perpetually drawn to Arizona’s otherworldly beauty—and the northern part of the Grand Canyon State seems to fit natural wonders into every square mile. From the world’s best-preserved meteorite impact site to pristine red rock formations, this ancient, majestic place is full of many of Arizona’s most stunning and culturally rich attractions, each with its own story to tell.
The best way to see Northern Arizona’s treasures? On a week-long road trip. You can experience the history of these lands and connect with the Indigenous people who first lived there through tours, parks, and museums. Here’s how to slow down, enjoy the ride, and dig into this fascinating destination’s heritage.
Kick off your journey in Flagstaff
Located along historic Route 66, Northern Arizona’s largest city serves as an ideal jumping-off point for exploring many of the state’s more far-flung natural treasures. While you’re in town, enjoy Flagstaff’s laid-back, creative vibe. Raise a glass at a craft brewery, catch some live music at the monthly First Friday ArtWalk, or gaze at the night sky from Lowell Observatory, one of the oldest observatories in the US and where Pluto was discovered in 1930.
Grab a Bite: A favorite in downtown Flagstaff, MartAnne’s Burrito Palace is known by locals as “the house that chilaquiles built.” Dig into traditional Mexican dishes with a Southwestern spin like green-chili pork posole (a hearty hominy stew).
Immerse yourself in American Indian heritage
Navajo Rug Weaving In Monument Valley
The largest community on the Navajo Nation, Tuba City boasts rich cultural significance. Visit the Explore Navajo Interactive Museum—created by leading Navajo scholars—which features exhibits about Navajo land, language, history and ceremonial life, as well as a life-size hogan (home) and hands-on weaving and basket-making displays. Before leaving Navajo Nation, stop at the Tuba City Trading Post for a handmade souvenir. Artisans have been selling authentic arts and crafts, clothing, jewelry, pottery, Kachina dolls, and textiles there since 1906.
Grab a Bite: Right next door you’ll find Hogan Family Restaurant, a popular spot where you can try Navajo recipes such as mutton stew and chili with fry bread.
Take the scenic route
To see Northern Arizona’s ultimate panoramic views, take a slight detour on Highway 89A, a two-hour stretch of road that runs from Bitter Springs, Arizona, to Kanab, Utah. Along the way, you’ll pass by the green-blue waters of the Colorado River, red rock formations at Vermillion Cliffs, and charming, rural towns like Jacob Lake. Stop as much (or as little) as you like at fascinating sites, such as Marble Canyon’s Navajo Bridge, an engineering marvel that’s considered the beginning of the Grand Canyon by many.
Grab a Bite: Nestled at the base of towering cliffs, Cliff Dwellers Restaurant offers one of the best views around. Snag a table outside a fill up on fare including baby back ribs and ribeye steak.
Experience the magic of Antelope Canyon
A pristine slot canyon located on private land in Navajo Nation, Antelope Canyon earned its name for the herds of pronghorn antelope that once roamed the area. Discover this spectacular destination, shaped by millions of years of water and wind erosion, alongside a member of Navajo Nation on Mystical Antelope Canyon Tours as you learn about Navajo traditions, language, history, and nature.
Grab a Bite: Bring your appetite to BirdHouse, a casual restaurant dishing out crispy fried chicken and a rotating menu of beer. Simple and satisfying, it’s exactly what you want after a day of driving or hiking.
Explore a sacred valley
Found in a seldom-visited corner of Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Mystery Valley can only be accessed with a guide. Book a 3.5-hour expedition of this hidden treasure with Dinah Bekeyah Tours to uncover the ancient ruins, petroglyphs, and artifacts of Puebloan settlements (from roughly 100 BC to 1300 AD) with a Diné (Navajo) guide whose ancestors took over the land after it was abandoned.
Grab a Bite: Overlooking the jaw-dropping red rock formations of Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, The View Restaurant offers a taste of traditional Navajo cuisine. Don’t miss the red-chili pork posole, mutton stew, and Navajo tacos.
Marvel at nature’s artistry
Petrified Forest National Park
Inhabited by indigenous people for thousands of years, the Painted Desert is a kaleidoscopic dreamscape shaped by violent earthquakes, floods, and volcanoes. While the colorful hills, flat-topped mesas, and sculptured buttes of these striated badlands extend roughly 150 miles, the portion in the northern section of the Petrified Forest National Park is easiest to navigate—so head there first to check out the visitor center’s interpretive exhibits and get your bearings.
Grab a Bite: Grab a Bite: Pull up a chair and savor contemporary Southwestern cooking at La Posada’s Turquoise Room, one of Route 66’s most historic dining rooms.
Discover the power of space
At Meteor Crater National Landmark, visitors can get up close to where a meteorite hit to see the most well-preserved such place in the world. The result of a collision that devastated the Southwest nearly 50,000 years ago with a force 150 times greater than an atomic bomb, the spectacular cavity is nearly a mile wide. After a guided rim tour, stop by the Meteor Crater Visitor Center for hands-on exhibits and displays and the 4D experience room.
Grab a Bite: Complement your visit with a sweet note at Sipp Shoppe, a soda fountain located in a former bank building dating back to 1904. The homemade ice cream also comes in extra-thick shakes and malts.
Where to stay along the way
Arizona Nordic Village
A 30-minute drive from downtown Flagstaff, Arizona Nordic Village provides travelers with outdoor adventure that’s not too far from the comforts of town. Spend the night in a yurt and watch the stars from the window-like bubble at the top of your tent.
Lee’s Ferry Lodge
Step back in time at Lee’s Ferry Lodge, housed in a rustic building right near the Vermillion Cliffs. Kick back on your patio each morning and soak up the breathtaking views.
Shash Diné Eco Retreat
Located on a working sheep farm 12 miles south of Page, Shash Diné Eco-Retreat introduces guests to Navajo culture. For your accommodations, choose from canvas bell tents, covered sheepherder wagons, a cabin with handmade furniture, and traditional hogans.
The View Hotel
A Navajo-owned business and the only hotel in Monument Valley, The View Hotel features rooms with private balconies facing the park’s towering, sandstone wonders. Accommodations on the top floor boast “StarView” windows, ideal for long exposure photography.
With a guestbook full of names like Albert Einstein, John Wayne, and Amelia Earhart, La Posada in Winslow hosted some of the world’s most celebrated politicians and celebrities during its heyday. Stay at this national treasure for a taste of history.