Between the ultra-hyped and highly visited National Park and Monument properties, there are thousands (millions?) of lesser-known spots that will equally take your breath away. Don't forget to get out and explore your back yard, state parks, and National Forest lands for the ultimate wildland adventure.
From 2012-2020, I lived in Arizona. While I had my 9-5 desk jobs, I spent as much of my 'free time' as I could getting out and exploring around my home in Gilbert. There are some obvious spots like Camelback, Piestewa, Hayden Butte, and South Mountain in Phoenix that you have to do at least once if you're going to call yourself a local. But there are loads of incredible spots all around the state that most local and tourists alike never visit or even know about.
Some of that comes down to a hesitation to explore. Nobody wants to be disappointed by not discovering anything. But I implore you to spend your weekends finding an unfamiliar dirt road and driving to the end of it. You won't believe the incredible places that NPS missed when cataloging parks and monuments. The best part? You'll have many of these spots all to yourself. You'll be able to get a sense of what our first nations people experienced thousands of years ago when they first came to the area.
You just can't believe the stuff they never puts signs on. This waterfall is probably about 30-40 feet high with blue water running over red rocks in southern Colorado. There is no parking lot, no signage, no name, and you can't even see it on Google Maps. You'll only know it's there if you know where to stop your car and start walking. The strangest part is, this is only about 1 mile away from an extremely popular campground. Everyone stops there and they refuse to keep driving past it. Explore more!
In fact, we probably wouldn't have found it if the campground we wanted to stay at wasn't completely overrun. We decided we'd head further up the road for some dispersed camping in the forest. Once we found a spot we could park our car, we set up camp. We could hear some rushing water in the canyon next to us, but didn't discover this beauty until the next day.
Visitors to places like Arizona may have no idea that the high country even exists. Despite what you've seen in the movies, about 1/3 of Arizona is covered by high altitude alpine forest. Up here, there are tons of woodland lakes, waterfalls, streams, and even 3 different skiing areas near Flagstaff, Tucson, and on the White River Apache Tribal Reservation near Pinetop-Lakeside.
Of course if you only paid attention to what the brochures tell you, you might think that the only things to see in Arizona are Sedona, Meteor Crater, and the Grand Canyon. While they are pretty spectacular, you would miss out on Mt. Lemmon, the Mogollon Rim, Hieroglyphics Canyon, Mt. Ord, Four Peaks, Sheep Bridge Hot Springs, Fossil Creek, Mt. Humphreys, Sunset Crater, Havasupai Falls, Tonto Natural Bridge, Salt River Canyon, Sierra Ancha Wilderness, and the seemingly endless list of other amazing places tucked away in the back country.
Plus, you never know when a wild horse, a river otter, a black bear, jaguar, cougar, javalina, rattlesnake, or a bald eagle will cross your path. When you leave the paved road and signage behind, you're entering a wild land. These are the places people don't tread, and nature has filled the void accordingly. You won't find the best photo spots being overcrowded, covered with trash, or limited parking. Instead, you'll find that you have an amazing waterfall, a herd of wild horses, or an unbelievable sunset view that nobody else even knows about.
These are the places that our majestic wildlife go to avoid the thousands of people that visit the most popular areas every day.
These kinds of places exist in nearly every state. You won't find them in any tourism brochure or on a top-ten list of best places in any state. It's up to you to find them.
This blog title shamelessly stolen from my friend Max at the Lesser Places blog. Give him a read if you're interested in seeing some of the most spectacular places you've never heard of.