Arizona is big — 113,998 square miles. It is the nation’s sixth largest state and the 15th most populous.
To help you get a general idea of the lay of the land, here’s an overview of the state’s five main regions.
Flagstaff and the North
North of Phoenix are a host of towns dotted around Arizona’s high country.
Flagstaff, a college town of 70,000, about 140 miles up the I-17 from Phoenix, debunks the notion that Arizona is a vast desert. The unofficial gateway to Grand Canyon Country, Flagstaff rests at an elevation of about 7,000 feet, nestled among hills of lush trees and peaceful meadows. Its climate is noticeably cooler than many other regions of Arizona. At the crossroads of Interstates 17 and 40, and the nostalgic Route 66, Flagstaff is a popular destination for vacationers and desert dwellers looking to escape the heat. Home to Northern Arizona University and one of the state’s three ski areas, the town has earned a reputation for its laid-back vibe.
All the beauty and adventures of Grand Canyon National Park await about an hour and a half northwest of Flagstaff.
To the right of the canyon are the town of Page and the famed Lake Powell – known for calm, clear waters and towering canyon walls.
Less than an hour south of “Flag” is Sedona, a town that draws visitors from around the world to hike among its red rock trails and seek spiritual healing.
In the eastern sections of Arizona’s high country are the mountain towns of Payson, high atop the Mogollon Rim and Show Low, not far from the base of the state’s largest ski resort.
Other charming towns that make up this region popular with tourists include Prescott, Cottonwood, Williams, and Winslow.
Tucson and the South
Tucson is the largest city in the southern third of Arizona, with a population of around a million.
Year after year, people are lured to Tucson for its climate, culture, and lifestyle. Resting at an elevation of 2,389 feet (approximately 1,300 feet higher than and 120 miles south of Phoenix), year-round temperatures are noticeably cooler in Tucson, yet consistent with a desert climate. Mild temperatures, with the rare wintertime freeze, means outdoor activities such as hiking, bicycling, and golf are favorites for people who live here.
The University of Arizona, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base join with the businesses they rely on and tourism suppliers, to form a healthy and diverse economy. Popular nearby attractions include Mt. Lemmon Ski Area, Biosphere 2, Old Tucson Studios and Saguaro National Park. The cities of Oro Valley and Marana are generally considered part of the Tucson metro area.
Tucsonans also enjoy weekend or day trips to historic Tombstone, Patagonia, Sierra Vista and cities in Mexico.
Other towns within a couple hours’ drive of Tucson include Casa Grande, Eloy, Oracle, Catalina, Green Valley, Nogales, Pearce, Bisbee, and Douglas.
In the rugged terrain of Eastern Arizona lies a collection of small towns built on mining and tourism.
Homes in this region tend to be older and less expensive than in some of the faster-growing parts of Arizona.
With populations of 10,000 or fewer, Eastern Arizona towns are void of most big city hassles and exempt of HOA rules.
In exchange for the lack of modern conveniences found in more populated cities, folks in these parts enjoy a slower pace and tight community bonds.
Arizona’s West Coast
Landlocked deep in the desert southwest, Arizona lays claim to zero oceanfront properties. However, the clean Colorado River and a series of manmade lakes have created what residents refer to as Arizona’s west coast, which offers a plethora of water-based activities.
Stretching some 200+ miles from Lake Mead in northwestern Arizona to the border of Mexico in the south, the Colorado River winds through cities popular with retirees and action seekers alike.
Resort-style communities have sprung up in the past few decades in towns along Arizona’s west border such as Kingman, Bullhead City, Lake Havasu City, and Parker.
Residents in these parts enjoy warm temperatures year round, beautiful scenery and ample recreation on the water, plus hiking, golf and off-road touring.
At the southern tip of the West Coast sits Yuma, a town made legendary by Hollywood Westerns and just as popular with migratory birds as it is with human snowbirds.
Phoenix and the Valley of the Sun
Phoenix is Arizona’s largest and most metropolitan city. Located slightly south of the center most point in the state, Phoenix is the capital city and home to approximately 1.5 million people, making it the sixth largest city in the United States.
Known for its warm temperatures year round, the occasional wintertime frost in Phoenix makes the headlines.
Having experienced most of its growth since 1960, Phoenix is a modern, urban metropolis with numerous corporate headquarters, major professional sports teams with world-class stadiums, as well as thriving cultural and recreational scenes.
Phoenix and the surrounding cities make up metro Phoenix.
As a whole, the metro is fondly called “the Valley,” short for Valley of the Sun.
About 4.3 million people live in the Valley, which includes the cities of Tempe, Glendale, Scottsdale, Sun City, Chandler and dozens of others.
Although the metro area sprawls across roughly 16,000 square miles, getting around the Valley is easy thanks to two interstate highways and an elaborate system of freeways or “loops.”