|Monument Valley on the Arizona-Utah border has served as the backdrop for Western films "Stagecoach" and "Fort Apache."|
If you're looking for jaw-dropping scenery, northern Arizona has more than its share of vistas, whether you're up for a strenuous hike or prefer to stay in your car. The obvious place is Grand Canyon National Park, which celebrated its 90th birthday on Feb. 26. But there's more to explore within hours of this marvel, ranging from the budget-friendly to the super-luxurious.
There's Canyon de Chelly National Monument (pronounced "de SHAY") in Chinle, Ariz. This park isn't as widely known as the Grand Canyon, but it offers equally breathtaking canyons, rock formations the size of skyscrapers and ancient pueblos. Two canyons come together in a "V" to form Canyon de Chelly. Visitors can explore by car the remote South Rim, where they can gaze at Spider Rock, an 800-foot sandstone spire, from an overlook. The North Rim drive resembles a typical highway, but is rich with history. Canyon de Chelly is on Navajo land. While there's no entrance fee, access comes with restrictions. You can drive along the park's rims on your own, but visitors can only hike the 2.5-mile White House Trail unescorted. That trail takes you to the canyon floor, where you can see cliff dwellings. You must engage a Navajo guide to tour the rest of the monument. You can do that at the Thunderbird Lodge, the only place to stay in the park. It's more motel than hotel, but it's clean and comfortable, and its cafeteria serves a cheap, tasty breakfast. Rooms start at $105 from March to October.
For iconic Southwest scenery, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park's towering sandstone and limestone buttes are hard to beat. You'll feel tiny as you look up from the ground at these rock edifices, which erode a millimeter every year. This is where famed director John Ford shot the Western films Stagecoach, Fort Apache and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. Monument Valley spans the Arizona-Utah border and is also part of the Navajo nation. Unescorted, you can hike the 4-mile Wild Cat Trail, which descends 900 feet and wraps around rock formations called "the mittens" for their rounded shape. You can drive along a 17-mile unpaved road to get a closer look. Although you're allowed to use your car, a vehicle with four-wheel drive can handle the bumps better. Consult with a Navajo guide for more hiking and horseback-riding options. Spend a night among the rock formations at the View Hotel, a new pueblo-style lodge near the park's visitor's center. The hotel's rooms offer close-up views of the valley for about $100 a night. Its restaurant serves Navajo specialties. If you prefer a more cosmopolitan setting, spend some time in Sedona. Red-rock mountains surround this small city, enabling visitors to take in the views while walking around town. You can also explore by car on one of the U.S. Forest Service's scenic routes. Try to take in a sunset from an overlook point. Hikers can hit the trails at Red Rock State Park, seven of which are less than two miles round-trip from the visitor center. Cyclists can take in the striking terrain from the park's bike routes. You don't have to trade comfort for scenery in Sedona. Head down to Oak Creek and stay at luxury hotels Amara or L'Auberge de Sedona. Guests of these sister properties can take advantage of amenities at either resort. Amara offers an urban vibe that befits a younger crowd. Stay for $405 a night, and you'll receive a $260 spa credit, which covers the cost of its Four-Handed Indulgence, a massage from two therapists. L'Auberge's exudes rustic luxury with its fireplace-centric lodge and creek-facing cottages. Be sure to ask for a renovated cottage, which have bigger windows, expanded seating outside and an outdoor shower. Special packages start at $295 a night and include jeep tour credits and other perks.