Between the red rock towers of Sedona and the majesty of the Grand Canyon, the otherworldly terrain of Arizona can be enjoyed all year long. But it’s even better in the fall — when the summer’s heat has passed and temperatures are more comfortable. Autumn is also when there’s a bevy of wine, beer and arts festivals, not to mention Halloween. Here you can celebrate in an old ghost town with a haunted restaurant, where the back deck offers spectacular views of the Verde Valley. One look and you’ll understand why the sky really does seem bigger in the Copper State. There’s plenty to do and view; here are eight suggestions.
THE GRAND CANYON
This mile-deep wonder carved by the Colorado River is fascinating for its sheer size: about 277 miles long and 18 miles wide. With walls that change color by the hour, revealing 2 billion years of geological history, it’s no surprise the Grand Canyon is in “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.” Pictures and words just don’t do it justice, so this is a must-see ($30 per carload, or $15 a head to walk in, free if you’re 15 or younger; 928-638-7888, nps.gov/grca). You also can experience the canyon by rafting, biking or mule tour, or by air in a small plane or helicopter. Stay overnight at the historic El Tovar Hotel, just steps from the canyon’s South Rim (rooms from $263 a night; 928-638-2631, grandcanyonlodges.com).
TAKE A HIKE
When it comes to hiking and fall foliage, Flagstaff’s Lockett Meadow is best for viewing the vibrant leaves of the aspens. Another option is the winding drive through Oak Creek Canyon between Flagstaff and Sedona; stop at Sedona’s West Fork Trail (866-488-3754, visitarizona.com). Hiking is also captivating at Montezuma Castle National Monument near Camp Verde, where you’ll see a five-story cliff dwelling with 20 rooms. About 900 years old, it was built by people known as the Sinagua. Visitors are no longer allowed inside the ruins, but tour guide Sam Sharp says engineers inspect the site regularly, in efforts to preserve it ($10 ages 16 and up, kids free; 928-567-3332, nps.gov/moca).
VISIT A HISTORIC TOWN
Arizona is filled with historic sites, including Tortilla Flat, once a thriving stagecoach stop on the Apache Trail. Flooded in 1943 and damaged by fire in 1987, “the town too tough to die” still stands. Folks love it for its Old West charm, including the Superstition Saloon, known for its “Killer Chili,” served in a bread bowl ringed by tortilla chips and topped with grated cheese, sour cream and hot chili peppers. Saddles serve as bar stools here, and the walls are covered by thousands of dollar bills. Ranchers and prospectors started the tradition; tourists keep it going (there are bills from 67 countries). The town also has its own post office, a country store and an old schoolhouse that’s home to a museum (480-984-1776, tortillaflataz.com).
SEE THE STARS
An astronomer’s dream, Arizona is home to the densest grouping of dark-sky communities in the world — designated by the International Dark Sky Association as communities dedicated to “responsible” outdoor lighting — so it’s great for viewing autumn’s meteor showers. They start with the Orionids (associated with Halley’s comet), Oct. 21-22. Tour the night sky with astronomer Dennis Young (928-282-7501, sedonabystarlight.com) or Walker Remington’s Moon Rising Tours (480-215-0027, arizonaterritorialadventures.com). A simple camping trip works, too; stargaze at Lost Dutchman State Park, known for its fabled gold mine (480-982-4485, azstateparks.com/lost-dutchman.com). Legend has it that a prospector called the Dutchman found extraordinary riches there. He died in 1891, without revealing the mine’s location. People still search for it. Learn more at Lost Dutchman Museum (adults $5, kids free with adult; 480-983-4888, superstitionmountainmuseum.org).
CATCH A BALL GAME
Major League Baseball created the Arizona Fall League so each team could send its six hottest prospects, 180 players in all, to a place where they could train and be monitored. AFL teams such as the Scottsdale Scorpions play Oct. 10-Nov. 18 at stadiums in Peoria, Mesa, Glendale, Surprise and Scottsdale. Games are fun and affordable ($8 for adults, $6 for kids), and they offer fans a peek at players who could very well be starring in the big leagues as early as next year. Former Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter and ex-Mets catcher Mike Piazza are in the AFL Hall of Fame (480-990-1005, mlbfallball.com).
HALLOWEEN WITH A TWIST
Jerome was home to a flourishing mining community before the mines (mostly copper) played out and it became a ghost town. Built into the side of a mountain, it’s become a hangout for artisans. Among its galleries and restaurants is The Haunted Hamburger, known for its delectable burgers and spooky history. A former boardinghouse for miners, it closed during the Great Depression and became a private home where each of its four floors housed a different generation, before changing hands again. There are stories of eerie events, including unusual images in an upstairs mirror (928-634-0554, thehauntedhamburger.com).
BEER AND WINE
Grape harvesting season (yes, grapes are grown here) is followed by events such as the Sedona Winefest, Sept. 23-24 ($40 at door, $30 online, includes six tastings; sedonawinefest.com) and the Willcox Wine Country Festival, Oct. 21-22 (free admission, tasting glasses and tickets $20-$25; willcoxwinecountry.org). Prefer beer? Try one of several Oktoberfest celebrations (funtober.com) or Tucson’s new Old Pueblo Brew Tours, offered Saturdays. A van takes you to three or four craft breweries over a three- to four-hour period ($65 includes a flight of four beers at each stop; 520-789-0849, oldpueblobrewtours.com).
FOR ART LOVERS
From turquoise and silver jewelry to paintings of fiery sunsets, Arizona’s artwork often reflects the area’s natural beauty. Several events showcase local artists and their works. The 10th annual Prescott Area Artists’ Studio Tour, Oct. 6-8, is free and self-guided. Featured are 60 juried artists in 40 private studios, plus an additional 38 artists in four art centers (928-445-2510, prescottstudiotour.com). Or catch Prescott’s “4th Friday Art Walk,” including Oct. 27 and Nov. 24 (artthe4th.com). The art scene also is celebrated in cities such as Scottsdale and Bisbee, not to mention Sedona, where galleries seem to be everywhere. And don’t forget Tucson, with its annual Tucson Meet Yourself folklife festival, Oct. 13-15. Hundreds of artisans will be there, plus dancers, musicians, traditional food and special exhibits. Admission is free (520-621-4046, tucsonmeetyourself.org).