We Midwesterners tend to stereotype Arizona as a wasteland of heat, sand, and cactuses, but that is very far from the truth! Arizona, simply put, is stunning, with numerous mountain ranges, pine trees, extremely hot weather, and even snow; so much snow that they have closed the north side of the Great Canyon for the winter. This list is just a small taste of Arizona, but it is a great start to a lifetime of must-sees and places to take photography in Arizona.
1. The Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon may seem like an obvious location but trust us when we say that no number of pictures does it any justice. Your eye can see for miles out into the vast mountainous ranges and valleys with 360 views that change with the position of the sun throughout the day – one of the absolute best places for photography in Arizona.
We strongly recommend spending at least 2 days here, dedicating one day to hiking into the canyon and one to driving and walking along the rim. Truth be told, you can spend weeks in the Canyon without running out of things to do. The park has every kind of adventure option from camping, hiking, water rafting, riding mules, and flying on a helicopter, to simply enjoying the sunset and sunrise.
Travel Photography Tips: When we visited in the fall, the nights were nearly freezing at 34F and the days were a temperate 70-90F. But we quickly learned, with much agreement from locals, that October is a perfect time to visit, whether you are traveling by or planning to camp (just bring plenty of sweaters and a rain jacket).
Go to the park early in the morning to avoid crowds and the heat as much as possible. Hiking the Canyon is very difficult, even for professionals because you first descend into the canyon and then ascend when hiking back; meaning that after a day of walking you must climb back up thousands of feet which can be exhausting. Be sure to know your limits and carefully plan the hike. The Canyon has many helpful information and details on its website about every hike, its difficulty, and how to prepare with water, food, and gear.
Hiking down to the bottom requires you to camp a few days and obtain permits, especially if visiting Navajo Nation locations of the Canyon. We did not know this when visiting so plan and research if this is your goal (and yes, the descent is worth it). If hiking isn’t your thing riding a cute mule to see the bottom of the Canyon might be the perfect and fun way to spend the day. Whatever you decide, be sure to go for a long drive along the rim to stop at every viewpoint to really intake the Grandness of this Canyon beauty. Must see spots: South Kiabab Trail, East Rim Drive.
Between the Grand Canyon and Sedona, we can’t choose which was our favorite. Sedona is a beautiful mix of rich clay mountains and lots of desert greenery and a must-stop kind of place for photography in Arizona. This is the perfect place for light enjoyable hikes, though some places do require significant climbing with hands and feet. However, conquering those climbs pay off because the views are breathtaking, expanding far into the mountains and overlooking the tiny Sedona city. Unlike a National Park is a free-range city, hiking, and exploring are full of pleasant surprises and climbing adventures much different than the famous Canyon.
Travel Photography Tips: Even in the fall, this place can heat up to extremely hot temperatures and cool off just as quickly with nightfall or rain so be prepared with sunscreen and sweaters. Again, take advantage of mornings, not only will you avoid crowds but also use your energy wisely – hike all morning to have a nice and relaxing evening. Also, be ready to drive around quite a bit, many trails are thrown all around different unexpected corners of mountains. Plan to visit for a least two days here to fully enjoy the little city life as well all the main trails. Must-see hikes: Soldier Pass, Cathedral Rock.
3. Lower Antelope Canyon
You may have heard of the Antelope Canyon and its cousin Lower Antelope Canyon, but there is a higher chance that you have even seen pictures of it. This canyon happens to be the host of the world’s most famous pictures, featured in Apple’s and Window’s wallpapers as well as National Geographic. Unlike the other canyons, this one has smooth line textures in it walls sculpted perfectly by wind and water over hundreds of years. Besides being a stunning beauty for Arizona photography, it’s a place for imagination! The unique patterns make out recognizable shapes ranging from animals to famous people.
There are two very similar Canyons both belonging to the Navajo Nation. While they do allow visitors you must book ahead of time to get a tour. Be sure to do so a few weeks ahead of time because they only allow a limited number of visitors at a time. Try to also visit midday during summer and early fall months to see the sunlight on the winding caves in their full glory. I also recommend going twice, once to take pictures and the second time to just fully enjoy the experience. It’s a worthwhile destination that attracts hundreds of worldwide visitors every year.
4. Seguaro National Forest
The National Park for which Arizona is known is the Saguaro Cacti – a classic Arizona photography spot. It’s the state’s favorite plant, if you don’t believe us, just check out the locals’ license plates. The more south you drive down the state the more likely you are to encounter these towering plants of every shape imaginable.
Though you may see them while driving you simply must pay a visit to the National Park, it’s just an hour east of Phoenix. The park is located at the center of mountainous horizons providing gorgeous views, especially at sunset and sunrise, the coolest part of the day, we might add. Take a little hike and then just relax,enjoying the views while being amazed by the sheer size of these plants.
Bonus! 5. White Sands National Park, New Mexico
When we visited Arizona, it was not just a visit, it was a full road trip. On the way there from Chicago we drove on the more northern I-40 road, on the way back when we were just about done photographing Arizona we took the southern route where White Sands National Park was on the way.
Located near the border of Mexico this is not what you would expect in the middle of this remote location. After driving for hours, you suddenly run into very white mounds of what looks like snowy sand. In reality, its gypsum is believed to have appeared there when the land was the sea. Cool to the touch early in the morning the dunes slowly warm up with the day’s heat. It’s a very place for pictures and you better believe it – sledding! So, grab your favorite sled and go for a ride, or if you are there early enough take off your shoes and go for a cool walk of pure white bliss.
Photography in Arizona, Conclusion
There you have it, the 4 best places to take amazing photography in Arizona with a bonus location in the neighboring state. If you have the chance to road trip through these areas, we absolutely recommend it. Not only do you have the freedom to stray off the main course to visit small, unexpected gems but it’s also easier to have all your gear. We one hundred percent are planning to come back so if we discover more places, we’ll add them to the list!
Hi! I'm Mariya Maximtsev - a published Chicagoland portrait photographer. I love taking pictures of amazing families, and creating custom sessions for women and business owners!