10 Arizona oases that will make you forget you’re in the desert

Lifestyle

It’s no wonder most people refer to Arizona as desert. After all, it’s the only state where parts of four North American deserts – Great Basin, Mojave, Chihuahuan and Sonoran – can be found. 

But, surprisingly, Arizona has a much more diverse landscape than you may think. In addition to – wait for it – lush gardens, tropical plants and forests, there are lakes, waterfalls and vineyards. Oh, and there’s even a white sand beach. 

Here are ten unexpected spots that will change the way you think of Arizona. 

Havasu Falls

Havasu Falls is a true oasis in the desert — Photo courtesy of Joel Grimes

This striking waterfall in Havasu Canyon is simply breathtaking, and it’s even more of a treat because it’s the equivalent of an oasis in the desert.

For the past 800 years, the Grand Canyon has been home to the Havasupai Tribe. Because the falls are on tribal land, you need a permit to visit. Getting there requires a challenging 10-mile hike each way, and you have to stay overnight at the campground or lodge. But once you’ve reached this Oz and swam in its turquoise water, you’ll understand why the Havasupai consider it sacred space. 

Taliesin West

Taliesin West is Frank Lloyd Wright's Arizona masterpieceTaliesin West is Frank Lloyd Wright’s Arizona masterpiece — Photo courtesy of Andrew Pielage

Frank Lloyd Wright was deeply inspired by nature, and his winter home and school in Arizona is a gorgeous example of how he amplified and complemented the beauty of the natural environment. 

At Taliesin West, colorful plants blossom alongside towering saguaro cacti and there’s water everywhere, thanks to the seven pools and fountains that grace the campus. You might admire Wright’s eye for adding unexpected touches to his designs but the truth is you should also admire him for his practicality.

Having experienced two devastating fires at Taliesin in Wisconsin, he added the pools and fountains as a safety precaution to serve as a makeshift fire department. They’re filled by an onsite well, reflecting – and becoming part of – the beauty all around.  

Sunset Beach at Fairmont Scottsdale Princess

The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess is home to Arizona's only white sand beachThe Fairmont Scottsdale Princess is home to Arizona’s only white sand beach — Photo courtesy of Fairmont Scottsdale Princess

Arizona’s only white sand beach is located in the heart of the AAA Five-Diamond Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, which, to travelers, is synonymous with luxury. And what a luxury it is to have a beach in the middle of the desert! 

No, there’s no ocean to swim in but there is a pool – the resort’s largest – so you can cool off after lounging around on oversized chairs or playing in the 830 tons of white sand. Surrounded by sweeping palm trees, this family-friendly area is dubbed Sunset Beach but you’ll likely want to spend all day there. 

Schnepf Farms

There's always something growing at Schnepf FarmsThere’s always something growing at Schnepf Farms — Photo courtesy of Visit Mesa

Something’s always growing in the U-Pick Organic Gardens at Schnepf Farms, where the fun is in picking your own fresh veggies and herbs.  

Schnepf Farms is especially renowned for its luscious peaches, and their season lasts between six and seven weeks, during which you can enjoy eight different varieties of the juicy fruit. The Schnepfs have been growing peaches – all organic and pesticide-free – for more than 50 years and are the largest growers in the state.

Come for the Peach Festival, where cinnamon rolls and pancakes are filled with fruit and everything is peachy.  Or go in fall for the Pumpkin and Chili Party, hosted every weekend in October.

Hermosa Inn

The flowers are always in bloom at Hermosa InnThe flowers are always in bloom at Hermosa Inn — Photo courtesy of Hermosa Inn

The gardens at this boutique hideaway are so stunning, you’ll have to remind yourself you’re still in Arizona. 

Tons of colorful flowers border the path to your casita at Hermosa Inn, welcoming you with a warmth and vibrancy that set the tone for your stay. Take a painting class with Artist in Residence Carrie Curran to capture the rainbow-hued scenery so you can attempt – probably unsuccessfully, sorry – to replicate it at home. 

Polar Play Ice Bar

Chill out with a cocktail on ice at Polar PlayChill out with a cocktail on ice at Polar Play — Photo courtesy of Polar Play

On a triple-digit temperature day, this is definitely the place to chill out. Don a parka and gloves (which are included in the admission price), channel your inner Elsa and enter this frozen world where everything from the bar to games like cornhole are made of ice. 

Polar Play is kid-friendly until 6 p.m., but at night it’s 21 and over, with drinks served – how else? – on the rocks. 

Tonto National Forest

Arizona's Tonto National Forest is the fifth largest forest in the countryArizona’s Tonto National Forest is the fifth largest forest in the country — Photo courtesy of USDA Forest Service, Tonto National Forest

Covering almost three million acres, Tonto National Forest is the fifth largest forest in the country. 

This spectacular forest is so diverse, filled with everything from mountains to lakes to pine trees. With elevation ranging from the 1,400-feet Sonoran Desert to the Mogollon Rim at 7,400 feet, it’s a unique place to take a hike and see a whole different side of the state.

Joya Spa, Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia

Experience a Morocco hammam at Joya SpaExperience a Morocco hammam at Joya Spa — Photo courtesy of Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia 

Open the door to the Joya Spa at this lovely, Spanish-inspired resort and, magically, you’re transported to a Moroccan hammam. A very elegant Moroccan hammam.  

The hamman, a bathing ritual that’s been around for centuries, is taken to a whole new level at Joya Spa. Start with the 20-minute experience, which involves lounging on a heated seat in the aromatherapy room, being scrubbed with an herbal black soap, then alternating between the hot and cold circuit of steam, whirlpool, sauna and cold deluges.

Follow this with a body treatment while the Hamsa Hand, a revered symbol of protection, hangs outside your room to bestow power and strength on you. The Hand of Fatima represents healing, which your therapist’s own hands will skillfully bring to life. 

Butterfly Wonderland

It's a joy to become a landing pad for butterflies at Butterfly WonderlandIt’s a joy to become a landing pad for butterflies at Butterfly Wonderland — Photo courtesy of Butterfly Wonderland

The largest indoor rainforest conservatory in the country, Butterfly Wonderland is home to more than 3,000 butterflies who flutter freely from one lush plant to another, often landing on guests’ heads, arms and shoulders. Stand still and keep your camera ready for the best shots.

Be sure to also visit the emergence gallery, where you can watch chrysalises hatch into beautiful butterflies and make their debut flight into the conservatory.  

Sedona Wine Tour

The Sip, Cycle and Soar Experience through Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale takes you to the vineyards of Page Springs CellarsThe Sip, Cycle and Soar Experience through Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale takes you to the vineyards of Page Springs Cellars — Photo courtesy of Arizona Outback Adventures

Sip, cycle and soar on this day-long escape from the desert. Offered exclusively to guests of Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale, the experience created by Arizona Outback Adventures takes you on an aerial tour of the region’s dramatic landscape before landing in Sedona.

You’ll then take a guided road bike tour to Page Springs Cellars vineyards and winery, where you’ll be treated to a wine tasting and outdoor lunch by the tranquil waters of Oak Creek. Away from the arid desert, you’ll toast the fact that, in these beautiful vineyards, “dry” only refers to red or white.

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