Winter in Arizona is a truly magical experience. For the price of 10 really cold days, you get the rest with a crisp fall feel in the morning with the option of wearing flip-flops and tank tops the rest of the day. While in other parts of the state, particularly the northern portion, there is actual, real-life winter.
Because of this phenomenon of sunny down under and snow up above, we really truly get the best of both worlds. It is no secret why the winter months are so popular for people to travel to. Remember the snowbirds? Yeah, this is why they love Arizona.
Knowing just how great it is here, we have compiled a list of 19 things to do in Arizona that you have to add to your winter bucket list. Things from outdoor Christmas light festivals to a totally legit Polar Express ride. Ready to explore? Let's go!
Polar Express / Grand Canyon Railroad Tour
Where: Williams, AZ
Whether you have young kids or consider yourself young at heart, Polar Expres is for you this winter. Start in Williams and make your way all the way up to the Grand Canyon on a normal tour, but the Polar Express tour is anything but normal.
For this special winter treat, you will board a holiday-themed train that serves sweet hot chocolate, encourages pajama wearing, and really embodies everything you want out of a winter experience. Book the right day in December and you might even get a little bit of snow.
Where: Flagstaff, AZ
What exactly is a Snowbowl? Well, it certainly isn't a shaved ice! It is 777 acres of skiable land carved out in Flagstaff, Arizona for your skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, lift riding, hottie-tottie drinking pleasure.
Snowbowl is a real treat in Arizona, and many residents will drop everything and drive when the first snow hits because, well, you never know when it might go away again and never come back.
Las Noches de las Luminarias at The Desert Botanical Garden
Where: Phoenix, AZ
Las Noches de las Luminarias at The Desert Botanical Garden is a night full of lights, live music, and incredible glowing art displays for the public. Thousands of luminiarias are lit up with a gorgeous desert backdrop that cannot be duplicated.
Even though it doesn't get freezing often in Phoenix, there is a significant temperature drop around all the lush vegetation, so don't forget your sweater!
Arizona Rock and Roll Marathon
Where: Tempe, Arizona
What could be a better check off your bucket list than running a full or half marathon? One of the largest turnouts happens every winter at the Rock and Roll Marathon, right here in Tempe, Arizona.
Phoenix Zoo Lights
Where: Phoenix, Arizona
There is a special tradition every year to light up the zoo like a Christmas tree and stroll through the zoo after hours. One of the most popular events in winter with one of the highest attendance rates year after year is absolutely Zoo Lights at the Phoenix Zoo.
We aren't even talking thousands of lights, we are talking MILLIONS of Christmas lights. See for yourself!
Climb to the top of Mt. Humphrey's
Where: Flagstaff, AZ
It takes 4.8 miles and 12633 feet of hiking to get to the highest peak in Arizona, but it is well worth the walk. This is a bucket list item for many Arizonians, avid hikers and adventurers alike. The trail is not easy, and the trek can be windy, cold, and long, but once you check this view off your bucket list, how great will it feel?
Humphrey's Peak can be accessed by its starting point at Arizona Snowbowl and on a clear day, you can even see the Grand Canyon. Take some practice hikes before taking on this beast, or you'll be huffing and puffing the entire way up.
Winterhaven Festival of Lights
This FREE, yes we said FREE, Tucson event is one of the biggest of the year, and you won't want to miss the Winterhaven Festival of Lights this year, because rumor has it, this is going to be the biggest and best yet. With a slew of lights, vintage cars, live music, entertainment, and local vendors serving food and drinks, is is the perfect evening out with the family, on a date, or with your best friends.
Take a hike up Camelback Mountain
Where: Phoenix, Az
One of the most hiked mountains in Phoenix comes alive with Christmas spirit starting right after Halloween. As legend has it, each and every year, a mysterious force of nature blows a Christmas tree up to the tip-top of the mountain for hikers to decorate with ornaments and items.
Go close enough to Christmas and you may even see the big man himself, and no, we aren't talking about Dwayne 'The Rock" Johnson, although, we wish we were...
Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon
Where: Page(ish), Az
It is ALWAYS a good idea to add these natural wonders to your bucket list. As the saying goes, when in Rome, eat pasta and drink wine, when in Arizona...visit Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon!
Aside from their natural beauty, these places are 100% show stoppers and you absolutely will never, ever, ever see a place quite like these two magical spots again. Even if you are in the general area, just go!
Where: Phoenix, Az
Dust off your ice skates (if you even own them) and head downtown to the once in a lifetime opportunity to transport yourself someplace cooler, and skate around a gigantic Christmas tree. This fully adorned with Christmas spirit location is for the entire family, and you can enjoy the winter vibes alongside the hip downtown opportunities.
The rink is open beginning with the grand opening November 23rd, and you will be able to enjoy it all winter long.
Stop in at The Grand Canyon
Where: Flagstaff, Az
Arizona wouldn't be Arizona without The Grand Canyon, so you'd be doing yourself a real disservice not stopping in and checking it out all white and blanketed with snow.
This is not the most popular time to visit, so you will enjoy better, less crowded views, cheaper hotel prices, and more availability to simply decide on a whim that today is the day you visit the most treasured national park in all of Arizona.
Head up to Sedona
Where: Sedona, Az
Hiking Devil's Bridge, getting a tarot card reading, fishing in Oak Creek, or simply relaxing at any of the incredibly zen resorts in Sedona is always a choice worth making. Why is this a winter bucket list item?
Well to start, Sedona is a one of a kind city that you will never see the same side of twice. Even if you've been to Sedona in the summer, it is magically different in the winter. With snow-dusted mountain tops and sweater weather, we can't not go this winter...
The Fiesta Bowl
Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Az
If you have a favorite college football team that you know is headed to the Fiesta Bowl, or are just a college football fan in general, don't waste another second thinking about whether or not you should go to the Fiesta Bowl at the University of Phoenix Stadium this year...just go!
The Barret Jackson Car Show
Where: Scottsdale, Arizona
You don't have to know a thing about cars to appreciate the annual Barrett Jackson Car Show in Scottsdale, Arizona. However, if you do know a thing or two about cars, this event is all the more special.
From historic cars to cars featured in movies, the rarest of the rare, the fastest cars in the world, the most interesting hybrids, and overall badass vehicles from across the world coagulate here for bidding in the millions of dollars. If nothing else, grab some of that auction energy and get pumped up! This event starts January 14th and runs through the 20th, so get your tickets now!
Visit the Painted Desert Trail
Where: Navajo Nation
The Painted Desert Trail is a geologist's wet dream and a millennial's selfie playground; and yes, you can have both, too. Over millions of years this 944 acre National Preserve in northern Arizona has been hounded by the elements including violent volcanic eruptions, flooding, severe heat, and earthquakes.
Nonetheless, The Painted Desert Trail is only 1.3 miles long, beautiful to photograph, and expansive to say the least. You can head up to the Grand Canyon after or simply head on back home.
Stay the night at an Eco-Resort
Where: Navajo Nation
An eco-resort? You ask... What is that? Ideally, an eco-resort is a resort that generates zero (or close to) waste, doesn't impede on the environment, respects boundaries, and ecosystems within it. For some, an eco-resort is solar powered everything. For the Shash Dine' Eco-Resort, glamping is a little more than that.
This type of eco-resort in the winter is as close to camping as you can get, only more comfortable. You can choose from a hogan or covered wagon for the night (or two), bundle up in woven blankets, light a hogan fire, and be one with nature.
Where: Tucson, Az
Ahhhh, the great outdoors! Nothing feels quite as good to an Arizonian as getting out of the heat and exploring the mountains, hills, and everything in between once again. Mt. Lemmon in Tucson is the perfect example of Arizonians clamoring for fall and taking endless selfies in a place where the leaves ACTUALLY change color.
But, why on your bucket list? For starters, this location is one of the most photographed in southern Arizona, and for good reasons. The leaves change as rapidly and beautifully as they do back east. There are lakes, trails, peaks, and camping yielding activities for just about anyone. So, get out there and breathe it in folks!
Skydive in Eloy
Where: Eloy, Az
Yep, skydiving... the make you wanna vomit item on every bucket list, but did you know in Arizona you can skydive higher than almost anywhere else in the world? It's true! Eloy, Arizona hosts the highest altitude for skydiving thanks to our temperate weather, lack of large mountain ranges, and generally flat topography.
Grab your instructor, fly up into the sky and let go of your cares and woes as you freefall from over 13,000 feet! You're welcome!
Ghost hunt in Bisbee
Where: Jerome, Az
Just because it isn't Halloween anymore doesn't mean we don't still want to get a little jumpy. Jerome is the perfect town to get scared out of your mind while staying at one of their haunted hotels, or opting into a nighttime ghost hunt. If you haven't ever been to this ghost town, add it to your winter bucket list!