Bold, big and beautiful, Arizona has plenty to brag about. Framed by New Mexico, Utah, Nevada and California, and with Mexico at its southern reaches – the state gets more than 300 days of sunshine a year and has four distinct seasons, so you can bask in summer, hike and bike in spring and fall and ski in winter.
Arizona’s sprawling deserts and massive mountains provide a range of weather conditions year-round, so there’s always plenty to do, but hotel rates soar or plummet at certain times of the year. Spring and fall typically have the mildest weather, which draws crowds statewide. Summer can be scorching in the south, but low humidity and monsoon rain showers from June to September help keep the heat in check.
Famed as the gateway to the Grand Canyon, Arizona has plenty of high-elevation hiking trails and mountain wineries, set in locations where the climate is often cooler. Phoenix is Arizona’s top winter destination, luring travelers chasing the sun, but the state also has some great skiing at Arizona Snowbowl near Flagstaff and other mountain resorts.
Whether you’re here for summer heat, spring and fall trekking or winter snow, here are the best times to visit Arizona.
There’s a special magic to the Grand Canyon in winter © Andrei Stoica / EyeEm / Getty Images
Fall and winter are perfect seasons to visit Arizona
Arizona’s diverse climate means that temperatures can climb above 100°F in places such as Tucson and Phoenix, while higher-altitude areas such as Flagstaff and the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park still haven’t cracked 70°F. Although spring brings the fragile beauty of desert flowers, fall brings optimum hiking weather, though both seasons are sublime for outdoor activities. Since these months are also the best times to visit Arizona, they’re also the busiest and hotels can be pricey.
Arizona has a thriving wine scene, with some great tasting rooms in the Verde Valley, Sonoita and Willcox (the latter two are in the south). Taste local drops during local wine and food fests in September, and maybe explore a corn maze or two. Gorgeous weather means accommodations and restaurants can get busy, so book well ahead to avoid disappointment.
Winter temperatures in the state’s northern reaches can dip as low as 42°F, but the brisk weather brings dustings of snow to higher-elevation cities such as Sedona and Flagstaff, kicking off a ski season that lasts until spring.
It might seem strange to see Santa in the desert in December, strings of lights adorning cactuses and snow in the desert, but Arizona embraces holiday revelry to the max.
You might find moderate rates in less touristy places, and even Sedona is at its quietest in December. Although people chasing the weather (warmth in the south, skiing in the north) can drive up costs at weekends and during the winter holidays. Come January, it’s also idyllic for hopping aboard one of the hot-air balloons that drift over London Bridge during the annual festival at Lake Havasu.
Plan your trip carefully to find the best time of the year – and the best time of the day – to hike along the Colorado River © IlexImage / Getty Images
Spring is the best time for outdoor enthusiasts
Spring in Arizona is perfect for sports, whether you’re an outdoors enthusiast or an armchair participant. In March, Major League Baseball’s spring training season is in full swing in Phoenix. If baseball isn’t your thing, head to balmy and beautiful Sedona to check out its 400 miles of multi-use trails and annual mountain biking festival.
Warmer days bring spring blooms to the desert, with the wildflower season peaking in May, depending on where you are. In Saguaro National Park, for example, Arizona’s iconic cactuses are crowned with white flowers that later produce deep-red fruit. May is also a prime time for learning about nature by attending a birding event or taking in an eco-conscious film.
Much of Arizona is covered by the Sonoran, Mojave and Chihuahuan deserts. More moderate temperatures in the state’s central and northern regions entice visitors, as well as southern Arizonans escaping the punishing heat. Huge crowds head to parks, forests and mountain peaks, so camping spots and hotels can fill up quickly. Arizona is also home to hundreds of miles of rivers and lakeshore, so wherever you wander, it’s easy to find some refreshing water to cool off.
In the state’s south, temperatures range from the high 60s to the high 80s. Phoenix, Tucson and Tombstone are ideal bases for exploring these unique, arid ecosystems. Get up early to beat the midday heat and increase your chances of spotting wildlife.
The historic city of Flagstaff is an iconic stop on a road trip along Route 66 © canadastock / Shutterstock
June is the last chance to explore before the summer heat
Temperatures haven’t started to soar just yet, making June a good time to hit one of Arizona’s historic highways on a road trip. Check out everything from artsy towns to desert sanctuaries. Before you set off, get primed for framing the state’s unmatched landscapes with your lens at Sedona’s annual PhotoFest.
It’s not unusual for Arizonans to be on the move in July, seeking cooler weather or planning getaways near the water for activities such as fishing and waterskiing. Weekends are especially busy, with kids out of school and day-trippers contributing to the crowds. Hotel rates are high, but it’s still worth heading north to expand your cultural knowledge. Visit Flagstaff during its annual celebration of Indigenous heritage or take Route 66 to Williams, which hosts an annual Celtic festival complete with Scottish-style games and bag-piping. Summer temperatures in Flagstaff average around 70°F.
Almost everywhere in Arizona is reliably hot in August, but it’s rarely humid, and the desert tends to cool down at night. Stayed chilled out by going on a moonlit night hike, visiting museums and art galleries and retreating to one of Arizona’s spas for some R&R. Or just head for the hills and pine forests, where temperatures can be 10 to 20 degrees cooler.