Off the Beaten Path in Arizona
In such a well-traveled southwestern state, it might seem tricky to get off the beaten path. From stunning red rock landscape and towering desert cacti to gorgeous mountains and abundant canyons, Arizona's diverse terrain is a treat to explore. Nothing can put a damper on a travel experience like trying to enjoy overrun attractions. Unearth hidden treasures away from the crowds by discovering both under-the-radar destinations and lesser-known spots within the popular ones. A camper van-style road trip is an incredible way to experience the less-crowded gems. Captaining your own camper puts you in charge of your own adventure, giving you the advantage to be the first to experience amazing locations for the day...because you slept there.
Outdoorsy is the perfect platform to find the best camper van or RV rentals suited for any type of road trip traveler. Travel a little lighter with a van, or snag extra space with a cute vintage trailer or spacious RV. Whatever you choose, this type of travel will grant you the freedom to explore Arizona on your own time.
Whether camping or stopping for a day trip, lose the crowds in these off the beaten path locales, and unearth the stunning beauty of peace and quiet in Arizona.
Lipan Point, Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is anything but off the beaten path; however, it is possible to marvel at this massive work of art by Mother Nature with a front-row seat and a fair amount of elbow room. The south rim draws large amounts of people due to its accessibility, but most venture only to a handful of viewpoints, usually requiring a ride on the park shuttle.
Pro Tip: slumber (for free) in the Kaibab National Forest's dispersed camping, which will position you in close proximity to south rim lookouts for sunrise views. Lipan Point is an underrated overlook that might just have you watching the sun come up over the iconic Grand Canyon, solo, while just miles down the road everyone else is crammed in the "perfect selfie spot."
Cathedral Wash Trail
Hiking is always a stellar way to get yourself off the beaten path, though popular trails can create crowded trekking conditions, making your outdoor experience a lot less enjoyable. Luckily, Arizona has plenty of great trails to explore the otherworldly landscape and interesting rock formations...without being overrun by other hikers. In northwestern Arizona, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument offers just that. Many flock to snag permits for the iconic "Wave," but there's a multitude of other trails accessible without permits that will still get you up close and personal to the unique landscape. The Cathedral Wash Trail is a little over three miles round trip and ventures through a canyon carved by water, eventually leading hikers to the edge of the Colorado River. Depending on when you go, you might encounter a handful of other people, but overall, this moderate trek is a lesser-known playground that delivers on the wow factor.
Stargazing in Sedona
Although Sedona is one of the most popular destinations in Arizona, you can soak up those striking red rock views and epic starry skies without any noisy neighbors. Direct your camper away from the highly-trafficked Sedona spots by heading to the wide-open forest lands just outside of town. Although dispersed camping doesn't provide access to amenities like power, bathrooms and showers, it does provide access to offbeat locations and the possibility to ditch those pesky nearby campers. Sedona is known to be an incredible stargazing destination almost year-round, with little to no light pollution and favorable weather conditions. The clear, dark skies allow for an awe-inspiring nightly show, a favorite for astrophotographers and astronomy enthusiasts alike. One spot to find free, dispersed camping with these views is along Forest Road 525. If you're interested in just a stargazing excursion, some other great locations include Dry Creek Road and Beaverhead Flat Scenic Overlook.
Pro Tip: if you can, plan your camping trip during the week, instead of on the weekend. You'll have more options for camp spots and ample room to spread out in peace and quiet.
Marvel at rock formations patterned with history and deeply carved canyons in northwestern Arizona, near Marble Canyon. While most travelers are forty minutes north, battling for a primo photo spot at the edge of the famed Horseshoe Bend in Page, you could be sipping coffee solo in the midst of a similar landscape. Marble Canyon offers views overlooking the Colorado River as well as equally scenic offshoot creeks. Stop at the historic Navajo Bridge, and consider exploring some of the Forest Roads for dispersed camping and little-known spots that deliver in a big way, all backed by the beautiful Vermillion Cliffs. Sunsets and sunrises are spectacular here; rays illuminate rocks and cliffs in an inspiring manner while casting mystical shadows in deep crevices created by nature.
The Salt River
Just a little over a half-hour from downtown Phoenix, you'll find an outdoor oasis to cool off from the Arizona heat. Oh, and some wild horses, too. This recreation area is a well-known respite for local city dwellers on the edge of the Tonto National Forest, but not as well-known for tourists. With numerous access points, it's possible to find your own little spot of riverside real estate; however, it's suggested to arrive early before it gets too busy. The lower Salt River is home to various bird species, as well as those beauteous wild horses that hang out in the Phon D Sutton Recreation Site. Dip your toes in the water, greet the horses, walk the riverside trails or hop in the river with a tube. River tubing, stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking are the most popular activities here. A day pass (Tonto Pass) is required for entrance into this nature park region.
Lover's Knoll, Sedona
One of the best views of Sedona's iconic Cathedral Rock and Courthouse Butte is hidden in plain sight. The Lover's Knoll overlook offers a panoramic scene right off the Upper Red Rock Loop Road and requires minimal effort. This is a fantastic vantage point for photographers looking to capture Sedona's most famous rock formation, particularly at sunset. Although this overlook is hardly off the beaten path, it's free to access and offers the opportunity to experience it without masses of other people. Try venturing to the knoll in the early morning, or even at sunrise. Since it's mostly known for sunsets, lacks parking for numerous cars and is not well-marked, you might just get it to yourself. Make sure to keep an eye out for the pull-off as there is no actual sign indicating "Lover's Knoll."
Fay Canyon Trail, Sedona
Although this easy hiking trail is one of the more well-trodden ones in the Sedona area, there's an offshoot portion that's less well-known and will land you at a breathtaking natural arch. (It's also not nearly as jam-packed as the popular Cathedral Rock or Boynton Canyon trails.) Marked by cairns only, the path to the arch branches off to the right, where you'll leave any crowds behind and start a short, but more difficult climb up to the natural rock formation. Once you reach the arch, you'll be rewarded with a sprawling vista of the surrounding red rock region in the Coconino National Forest. Stand under this massive arch and feel small amongst the natural splendor. Afterward, continue to the end of the Fay Canyon Trail where you can climb up the rock past the "end of trail" sign, for more impressive views.
Saguaro National Park
Just outside of Tuscon, Saguaro National Park is an ideal destination to explore the desert landscape, count giant cacti and witness incredible sunsets without hoards of people. The iconic Saguaro is the tallest cactus in the USA, and some are up to 200 years old! Two sides of the park, east and west, sandwich the city of Tuscon. With the west being the more popular portion, venturing into the eastern region (Rincon Mountain District) will get you off the beaten cactus path. Drive the east side's loop trail, or stretch your legs at the Javelina Rocks overlook. For a challenging hike, embark on the Tanque Verde Ridge Trail which will have you climbing Tanque Verde Peak and testing your endurance, too.
Camping Amongst Saguaro
Although there is no vehicle camping within Saguaro National Park (backcountry is by permit only), you can still find spots to slumber amongst the Saguaro cacti giants. The BLM (Bureau of Land Management) lands offer free or inexpensive, dispersed camping amongst the soaring Saguaros. Sleeping in the midst of the desert landscape dotted with cacti is a peaceful and memorable experience that defines "off the beaten path in Arizona." The opportunity to watch the sun tuck itself in for the night against a backdrop of Saguaros is certainly one for the books.