Wandering Arizona

Arizona offers great options for different types of starry-eyed-travelers – especially for the high-brow set always looking for a unique experience, not simply pampered indulgence.

It’s where the Great Outdoors and the Old West met, wed and settled down—a state where one finally understands that the desert can be as rich and colorful as any oil painting. The terrain will melt into a natural ceiling of twinkling stars practically every night, but each day will be different in Arizona—perhaps a roadrunner will zip by a dusty trail or birds will cajole each other into song at the Yuma West Wetlands. Arizona delivers an eyeful of Americana each time, always with a tiny hint of nostalgia.

Here are some distinctive travel options in Arizona that offer some of the best sightseeing in the state with a no-nonsense approach to good service and perhaps a small twist to the usual, cookie-cutter tour alternatives.

for studious travelers Canyons, Badlands, and Mesas: A Southwestern Adventure from Smithsonian Journeys is the quintessential exploration of the region’s landscapes, landmarks and Hopi and Anasazi cultures—an ideal option for lovers of Native American or general U.S. history. Led by ethnogeologist Steven Semken from May 9-15, the tour gives clients the opportunity to stay at La Posada Hotel, one of the last great railroad hotels in the country. Located in historic Winslow, the property opened its doors in 1930 and has its original flagstone floors as well as lots of Southwestern art in guestrooms, a large library and a few acres of pretty gardens in which to roam. La Posada is also home to the Turquoise Room, considered one of the best restaurants in the region.

Travelers will also visit a working cattle ranch (no shades of “City Slickers” here) that is home to Anasazi petroglyphs, a Hopi village, the Petrified Forest National Park, the Painted Desert (where clients will discover human history dating back thousands of years) and the Meteor Crater, the best-preserved impact site on earth, where they can also see the 1,400-pound meteorite fragment on display. Still another stop is a visit to the 4,000-acre Homolovi Ruins State Park and a thoroughly enjoyable ride on theGrand Canyon Railway from Williams to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim.

The trip involves leisurely hikes of one or two miles, so clients should be in fairly good physical condition. Canyons, Badlands, and Mesas is priced at $2,395 pp dbl, with most meals included.

active wanderers Clients who want a bit more activity in their travel than light walks without neglecting to see many of the state’s most beautiful areas, have a number of options specifically designed for more sporty travelers. Backroads’ Arizona Biking: Saguaro National Park & the Sonoran Desert caught our eye for its combination of exertion, nature and culture.

The 6-night itinerary includes visits to both the eastern and western areas of Saguaro National Park, home to towering cacti; biking through the Tucson Mountains and exploring the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, home to hundreds of animal and plant species. They’ll spot the 7,730-ft. Baboquivari Peak and spend some time on horseback if they wish, maybe spotting a few of the many animals in the area. Once they pedal through the picturesque Sonora Desert and its small ranch towns, they’ll get the chance to spend some time in the art colony of Tubac, perhaps visiting its ancient mission, which dates back to 1691, or shopping for pottery.

Another highlight of this trip is its accommodations. Loews Ventana Canyon plays host on the first two nights, adding more luxury to the getaway with a huge spa, incredible views of the Catalina Mountains and two 18-hole golf courses. In Tubac, clients stay at the Tubac Golf Resort & Spa, where brick archways and beehive fireplaces add flair to the land’s history. And in Sasabe, they’ll stop for two nights at Rancho de La Osa, an authentic guest ranch with just 18 rooms that’s well recognized for its rustic beauty and excellent Southwestern cuisine.

The 6-night adventure starts at $2,698 pp dbl, with dates in March, April, October and November.

family frolickers Clans looking for a taste—and tales—of the Old West can tap into their pioneer spirit as they explore some of Southern Utah and Northern Arizona’s magnificent canyons and parks on Natural Habitat Adventures’ Family Canyons Adventures. Travelers who book this trip will get the chance to see some areas that are not as frequented by tourists as others in the region so that they’ll be that much closer to the natural beauty and resources around them. Whether it’s discovering the magnificence of the Grand Canyon (clients 10 and up can ride down on mules) for the very first time, enjoying s’mores around a campfire or exploring mazes of pinnacles in Bryce Canyon’s exotic landscape (a fantastic place for kids), this tour is a blast of fun for the whole family.