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Five Must-Do Magical National Natural Wonders in Arizona

1. Coconino National Forest. Located in northern Arizona, in the vicinity of Flagstaff and Sedona, this 1.8+ million acre forest contains diverse landscapes -- including deserts, mesas, flatlands, volcanic peaks, alpine tundra, and forests at altitudes from 2,600 feet to 12,633 feet (at San Francisco Peaks) -- is home to the largest stand of Ponderosa Pines in the world, and bordered four other national forests: Kaibab National Forest, Prescott National Forest, Tonto National Forest, and Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. Ten wilderness areas are within or partially within the national forest, including: Fossil Springs, Kachina Peaks, Kendrick Mountain, Mazatzal, Munds, Red-Rock-Secret Mountain, Strawberry Crater, Sycamore Canyon, West Clear Creek, and Wet Beaver Wildernesses. Favorite activities are hiking, horseback riding, fishing, boating, hunting, and scenic driving. Be sure and take the Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive, which starts just south of Flagstaff on Route 89A and takes you into a scenic, smaller cousin of the Grand Canyon. While in the area, visit Mogollon Rim, Montezuma Castle National Monument, Wupatki National Monument, Elden Pueblo Archaeological Site, Chapel of the Holy Cross, the Strawberry Meteor Crater, Fossil Creek, and Red Rock and Slide Rock State Parks. Learn more: Coconino National Forest.

2. Coronado National Forest. Located south and east of Tuscan in southeastern Arizona (with a bit in southwestern New Mexico, the 1.78-million acres of this national forest is spread across 12 mountain ranges that rise dramatically from the desert floor, with elevations from 3,000 feet to 10,720 feet, and includes eight Wilderness Areas: Chiricahua, Pajarita, Mount Wrightson, Pusch Ridge, Rincon Mountain, Galiuro, Santa Teresa, and Miller Peak. You experience spectacular views as you drive through these mountains and experience multiple changes in weather with changes in elevation and geography. Popular activities include hiking, camping, birding, horseback riding, picnicking, photography, driving, and visiting historic area. The area is named for Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, who journeyed in 1540 to the Zuni and Hopi villages once located in what is today the national forest. Some hikes to consider: Bear Canyon to Seven Falls Trail, Sabino Lake Trail, Mount Wilson Loop Trail, and Carr Peak Trail. While in the area, also visit Kartchner Caverns State Park and Catalina State Park, as well as the Chiricahua National Monument, Seven Falls, Tanque Verde Falls, and Sabino Canyon. Learn more: Coronado National Forest.

3. Grand Canyon National Park. Located in northern Arizona, about 75 miles north of Flagstaff, this 1.2 million -acre park contains one of the of the seven natural wonders of the world, a deep gorge formed (through millions of years) by the Colorado River that is 277 river miles long, from 4 to 18 miles wide, and 1 mile deep. Visitors are in awe of its size, depth, and colorful layers of rock -- which range from schist at the bottom at around 2 billion years old to limestone along the upper rim at around 230 million years old. Most visitors enter the park through the South Rim and Grand Canyon Village, which is open year-round, and can be reached by personal vehicle via Route 64, by hiking or biking via the Arizona National Scenic Trail, or by historic train from Williams via the Grand Canyon Railroad). Viewpoints along the South Rim Drive (which can be visited by shuttle, personal vehicle certain times of the year, and hiking via the Rim Trail) include Hermits Rest, Mohave Point, Mather Point, Yavapai Observation Station, Yaki Point, Grand View Point, Lipan Point, and Mary Colter's Lookout Studio (and Watchtower), among others. Lodging and camping both in the Village and in Williams. The North Rim entrance is more remote, accessed via Route 67, visited by fewer tourists, and only open May to October, but does offer some notable viewpoints, including Point Imperial, Roosevelt Point, and Cape Royal -- and offers lodging at the historic Grand Canyon Lodge. Learn more: Grand Canyon National Park.

4. Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument. Located on the northwestern area of Arizona, just west of the Grand Canyon, about 60 miles south of St. George, Utah, this 1,017,200-acre preserve is an amazing wild and isolated area offering scenic vistas of deep canyons, mountains, and lonely buttes -- and perfect for backcountry hiking and camping. It includes four wilderness areas, including: Grand Wash Cliffs, Mount Logan, Mount Trumbull, and Paiute. Travel long enough and you'll go from Mohave Desert flora to Ponderosa Pine forests -- and see animals ranging from mule deer to bighorn sheep, and four species of rattlesnake. Perhaps the best part of the park is when the sun goes down the stars come out, as it has been designated as the "Parashant International Night Sky Province" for its pristine and breathtaking night skies. When you go, be sure to visit Nampaweap, a passageway used by native peoples migrating from the Grand Canyon, that includes thousands of petroglyphs, and Hells Hole, a naturally eroded amphitheater amid a pinyon-juniper forest, that offers amazing topography. The monument is jointly managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service. Learn more: Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument.

5. Petrified Forest National Park. Located in northeastern Arizona, about 100 miles east of Flagstaff, and 25 miles east of Holbrook, this 146,930-acre national park is named for the large deposits of petrified wood -- from trees that lived in the Late Triassic Period, about 225 million years ago -- found within the park. While visitors will not see any living forests today, at one point, the area was one a tropical region filled with towering trees. You'll want to visit all four main areas of petrified forest: Blue Mesa, named for the bluish-grey mounds of clay the logs rest in; Jasper Forest, located in a large barren valley, which includes the Agate Bridge, a complete log spanning a dry creek bed; Crystal Forest, named because so many of the logs (that used to exist in this are before poachers took them) in this area contain clear quartz and purple amethyst crystals; and Rainbow Forest, which is where you can find the museum, as well as several trails leading to beautiful collections of fallen trees, as well as the Agate House, a petrified log hut built by 16th century Indians. Typical activities within the park include nature-viewing, photography, hiking, and backpacking. Besides the logs, you'll find amazing grasses, wild animals (such as birds, pronghorns, coyotes, bobcats, snakes, and more -- as well as petroglyphs. The northern part of the park extends into the Painted Desert, another must-see. Learn more: Petrified Forest National Park.

To see a list of all the national natural parks, monuments, and forests in Arizona, go to our sister site, EmpoweringParks.com: Arizona Natural Park Wonders.

EmpoweringSites.com CEO Dr. Randall Hansen Dr. Randall S. Hansen is an educator, author, and blogger, as well as founder and CEO of EmpoweringSites.com, a network of empowering and transformative Websites, including EmpoweringAdvice.com. Dr. Hansen has been helping empower people to achieving success his entire adult life. He is also founder of EnhanceMyVocabulary.com, MyCollegeSuccessStory.com, and EmpoweringRetreat.com. He is a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. Dr. Hansen is also an educator, teaching business and marketing at the college level for more than 25 years. Learn more by visiting his personal Website, RandallSHansen.com. You can also check out Dr. Hansen on Google+, as well as Dr. Randall Hansen on LinkedIn.



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