Ooo, you feel that? That winter chill has settled all across Arizona and the season is just getting started. Our state becomes a unique winter wonderland this time of year; some places are packed with snow while others are just warm enough to avoid wearing a jacket. If you’re looking to experience some seasonal cheer—whether through holiday festivities, to enjoy frolicking in the snow, or through a long hike—here are some incredible places to visit this winter.
1. Canyon de Chelly
Pretty any time of year, Canyon de Chelly is even less crowded in winter, the skies are clearer, and you'll occasionally find a dusting of snow in the canyon. It makes a pretty place even prettier.
2. Desert Botanical Garden for Las Noches de las Luminarias
An icon of the desert southwest, luminarias are paper lanterns often set up during the Halloween and Christmas seasons. Each year the Desert Botanical Garden hosts Las Noches de las Luminarias where they decorate the garden with luminarias, have live music, outdoor exhibitions, and food and drinks available for a southwest-style winter event.
Las Noches de las Luminarias is held from now until December 31 from 5:30pm to 9:30pm
on select evenings
. Tickets cost $30 for adults and $12 for children 3 to 12; discounts are available.
3. Fort Verde State Historic Park
Sitting near Camp Verde, this doesn't seem like an obvious choice to spend winter but don't be fooled. Each year, the historic park decorates for the holidays with a Victorian flair. They will hold a Victorian ornament workshop from 10am to 2pm on December 5. On December 11 and 12, the park will host a candlelight tour of the fort from 5pm to 8:30pm with refreshments.
The Fort Verde State Historic Park is open daily from 9am to 5pm. Entrance fees are $5 for adults and $2 for children 7 to 13.
4. Grand Canyon
In all honesty, any time of year is great to see the Grand Canyon but after a snowfall in winter the trip to see it becomes extra special. Just take precaution that some areas (such as the North Rim) are often closed in winter.
5. Mesa Mormon Temple
I grew up in Mesa and one of the main Christmas attractions there was seeing the light displays at the Mormon Temple. They play recorded music but also often feature live music from local performers. The grounds are open and touring is free.
6. Mount Lemmon
Snow in the Tucson area? Yes! Mount Lemmon has a ski area with lift rides and areas to play in the snow. At the very least, it makes for a great photo opportunity after a nice snowfall.
7. Nearly any downtown area or main street in the state
Why? These places tend to get decorated in the winter time with twinkle lights, making these areas look just a little bit more magical. Plus, they tend to have at least one or two winter festivities happening, such as parades, live music, and festivals.
8. The Phoenix Zoo for ZooLights
ZooLights actually opened a week ago and if you happen to be in the Phoenix area, this is a fun activity to do with the kids. They get to see the noctural creatures in their natural habitats, enjoy rides, and, of course, enjoy the beautiful light displays!
ZooLights at the Phoenix Zoo will be open from now until January 10 from 5:30pm to 10:30pm daily. Tickets cost $18 per person but discounts are available.
For an extra special holiday trip, you can take your kids to meet Santa on the Polar Express via the Grand Canyon Railway in Williams. This trip includes a train ride, meeting and interacting with Santa’s elves, and eventually meeting Santa all while enjoying cookies and hot chocolate in your pajamas.
Also known as our Christmas City this time of year, Prescott becomes even more charming and alive once the lights are lit. They have plenty of events going on this month, including their annual Christmas parade, concerts, light displays, and the lighting of the courthouse.
11. Rim Country
Want to see snow? You are almost guaranteed to come across it when you visit any place along the Mogollon Rim: Payson, Pine, Pinetop, and plenty of other little cities.
12. San Francisco Peaks
Since we're supposed to get a nice dosage of snow this year, visiting the San Francisco Peaks this time of year will hopefully make the area feel even more like a winter wonderland than it already is. Enjoy a day walking through the woods in the snow, sledding, and other snow-related activities.
13. Superstition Mountains
I have a photo sitting next to my work desk that has a picture of my family standing with a snow-covered Superstition Mountains peeking over our shoulders. Having snow appear that close to the desert is a lovely treat, even if it only lasts a day or two. Another perk to visiting the Superstitions this time of year is the temperatures: the long hike becomes a little easier when temperatures are lower and the sun feels less intense.
14. Tucson for the Winterhaven Festival of Lights
Since 1949, the Winterhaven neighborhood have decorated their homes with holiday displays, including plenty of lights. This is something the neighborhood has done yearly simply out of joy for the season. There are four ways to enjoy the views: via walking, a trolley, a wagon ride, or an interesting group bicycle.
The Winterhave Festival is held daily from December 12 to December 26 from 6pm to 10pm. The event is free but they do ask for a food or monetary donation to benefit the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona.
What a list! I hope that I can hit a couple of these places this winter. What is your favorite winter activity here in Arizona?