10 best places to visit in Arizona in summer: Cool caves, lakes and mountain campgrounds

By Tetiana PavlichenkoSep 21, 2023 09:19 AMArizona
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10 best places to visit in Arizona in summer: Cool caves, lakes and mountain campgrounds
A summer trip to Arizona will provide plenty of entertainment even in the heat of the day. Source: Image Manfred Guttenberger/Pixabay

Arizona can provide an unforgettable summer adventure: it is always sunny and it has stunning nature and plenty of interesting outdoor activities. This state surprises travelers with a combination of deserts with impressive canyons, beautiful rivers, serene lakes and majestic mountains. Popular travel destinations in Arizona in the summer are places to escape the heat and enjoy the cool, crisp air.

Hike exciting trails, camp, go fishing, do water sports or explore famous landmarks: your Arizona summer vacation will be vibrant and fulfilling. Choose your dream vacation destination among the 10 best summer vacation spots in Arizona.

1. Explore Lava River Cave in Flagstaff

There is a Lava River Cave volcanic wonder formed from molten rock in the middle of the gorgeous Ponderosa pine forest. Bursting out of a volcanic vent as far back as 700,000 years ago, the lava solidified and created a ¾ mile long tunnel. Check out this ice-cellar-like cave: temperatures range from 35-42 degrees Fahrenheit in winter and summer.

If you are brave enough to explore the cave, take care of several light sources (at least 2-3), as the stone floors can be slippery and the darkness inside the cave is unprecedented. You should also wear sturdy stable shoes and bring warm clothes. Your cool adventure will start with a narrow passage at the beginning, squeezing through which you will have to wade the first 300 feet on slippery boulders. When going further into the cave, you will see low spots and uneven terrain, so good physical fitness is encouraged. The best time to visit the Lava River is in the summer. In winter, the access roads are closed, so you will need to snowshoe or ski from the parking lot.

2. Admire the flowers at the Arboretum

10 best places to visit in Arizona in summer: Cool caves, lakes and mountain campgrounds
The mission of the Arboretum is to enhance the understanding and conservation of the plant life of the Colorado Plateau. Source: Image Thearb.org

The complete opposite of the dark and cold Lava River Cave in Flagstaff is located on its west side in the middle of the Ponderosa Pine Forest. The arboretum sits on 200 acres and is a botanical garden, nature center and environmental education station. This cool place to visit in Arizona includes walkways between colorful flower beds with butterflies flitting over them, a dozen themed gardens, sunny meadows and wetlands. More than 700 species of plants are found here.

The peak blooming period falls between June and September. During the summer, there are various outdoor events, concerts and summer camps. From May to September, you can do yoga amidst the flowers to relax and feel the tranquility of this natural oasis.

3. Stay at a campground on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

Arizona's most famous North Rim Campground is located within the Grand Canyon National Park. This is a very popular place to camp in Arizona during the summer, so it is often crowded. If you can't get a site booked there or prefer a less crowded location, try the equally scenic DeMotte. This small campground is located in the Kaibab National Forest at an elevation of 8,700 feet.

The 38 single-family tent and RV sites are located 7 miles from the park boundary at the edge of a large meadow and surrounded by mixed conifer forest. Half of the sites are under reservation and the rest are filled on a first-come, first-served basis. This is a great place for summer outdoor recreations like outdoor activities and wildlife watching in Arizona, USA.

4. Swim in a mountain stream

Tonto State Park situated 10 miles north of Payson is home to the world's largest natural travertine bridge. You can get here by taking the Pine Creek Trail, which winds through the woods to the river that created this natural bridge. This is one of the best scenic routes in Arizona, popular in the summer due to the refreshing swim at the end of the trail. You may then travel downstream, observing a series of pools, delightful cascades and small waterfalls. The river surrounded by trees makes a scenic view, with secluded caves found along the shore.

To keep hikers on track, arrows are painted on the rocks to point the way until the trail ends at the cave tunnel under the bridge. Swimming is allowed downstream from the bridge. The water is cool, so this will be another nice way to cool off under the hot Arizona sun. You can return by the same route or climb the shorter but steeper Anna Mae Trail.

5. Settle into a cozy cabin on the water

10 best places to visit in Arizona in summer: Cool caves, lakes and mountain campgrounds
Arizona has many places for families to enjoy outdoor recreation in the great outdoors. Source: Image Greerlodgeaz.com

An unusual Eastern Arizona vacation option for fishing enthusiasts is offered by Greer Lodge Resort & Cabins in the quiet, beautiful town of Greer with a peaceful rural atmosphere in the White Mountains. All of its cottages are located near the shore or on the water, small trout ponds or the Little Colorado River.

Besides fishing and interesting accommodations, this Arizona resort provides many other ideas for things to do in the summer. It is on the border with a national forest, so you can hike the scenic trails and see elk and deer grazing in the meadows or ride bikes or ATVs. The resort has basketball and volleyball courts, as well as the longest zipline in Arizona. The lodges offer accommodations for multiple travelers or companies of up to 12 people.

6. Climb to the top of the San Francisco Peaks

When you tire of the hot desert scenery, head to the region north of Flagstaff to Snowball Resort. A few weeks after ski season comes the opportunity to get to the San Francisco Peaks on the Arizona Gondola, which goes up there daily. The journey will reveal incredible bird's eye views of Sedona's Red Rocks, volcanic field and, if the weather is on your side, the Grand Canyon.

Enjoy the beautiful views and cool mountain air as you climb to 11,500 feet and back. Don't forget to take beautiful photos. On Fridays and Saturdays, the gondola lift provides late afternoon rides. This is an opportunity to see spectacular Arizona sunsets: the thin air at the top makes the colors more intense. A gondola ride is one of the best ideas when visiting Arizona in the summer for those who are not hikers but want to admire the beautiful panorama of Northern Arizona scenery. Temperatures at the foothills range from 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit. It's even cooler at Mt. Agassiz.

7. Climb to the summit of southern Arizona

Mount Graham is the highest peak in the southern part of the state. Climbing to its summit will be an interesting adventure. You will follow Highway 366 on a winding road for 35 miles. It's best to choose a high-clearance vehicle for this, as the last 12 miles are on a narrow, winding road dotted with gravel. You'll see various beautiful places to visit in Arizona in the summer along the way, including pass creeks, campgrounds and picnic areas. You can also relax in the alpine meadow of Hospital Flat covered with wildflowers.

After reaching an elevation of 9,000 feet, you can stop by one of the most beautiful lakes in the mountains, Riggs Flat. It is small (11 acres) and is surrounded by pine forest and alpine meadow.

8. Explore Lyman Lake State Park

A list of the best places for a cool summer vacation in Arizona is sure to include scenic sparkling lakes. Lyman Lake State Park is located in eastern Arizona, 19 miles from Springville. It is home to another beautiful body of water in the White Mountains, Lyman Lake. It has 1,500 acres of land with a huge variety of recreational activities. There is an excellent covered swimming beach, a quiet fishing area, plenty of space for speed boaters and water skiers, as well as winding canyons for kayakers to practice their skills. Fishing enthusiasts can buy all their fishing equipment in a small store nearby.

There is a 56-site campground near the lake. 38 sites are connected to water and electricity. For travelers who choose more comfortable accommodation, the park also has 8 air-conditioned cabins with large bunk beds and verandas.

9. Visit the coldest lake in the world

10 best places to visit in Arizona in summer: Cool caves, lakes and mountain campgrounds
Hawley Lake is located at 8,200 feet above sea level. Source: Image By Lucario298 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0/Wikimedia.org

This body of water in the middle of the mountain peaks is on the White Mountain Apache Tribe's territory. It gained notoriety in January 1971 when the lowest temperature in the state was recorded here, which was minus 40 degrees. It's the coldest lake in Arizona, so put it on your list of things to see in the summer.

The 300-acre Hawley Lake is located on State Route 473. The many trees along the shores and views of the majestic White Mountains in the distance provide the perfect backdrop for an outdoor getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city. It is a popular destination for fishermen who come here to catch rainbow, cutthroat or brown trout. A permit is required to fish in this area. You can stay at the lake in a campground, cabin or shack or rent a boat.

10. Explore the Chiricahua National Monument on foot

One of the landmarks of Arizona, USA, is the magnificent 12,000-acre park located southeast of Willcox. It features many monolithic rock formations called hoodoos. Come here to see exotic massive columns, slender stone spires and balancing boulders. There are miles of hiking trails through the unusually shaped rocks. You can also take a guided tour of Faraway Ranch, an 1880s homestead.

There is a campground among the woods in Bonita Canyon. If camping doesn't suit you, you can stay at a hotel in Willcox, 35 miles from the park. This small town is popular with wine lovers for its many wineries and tasting rooms.

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