Mistakes Tourists Make While Visiting Arizona

The appeal of Arizona as a vacation spot is fairly obvious. The Southwest destination boasts abundant sunshine, stunning desert landscapes, national parks, bustling cities and more.

But as many locals have noticed, visitors to the Grand Canyon State tend to make a few missteps during their travels. We asked Arizonans to share some of the faux pas they’ve observed over the years.

From hiking blunders to missed food opportunities, here are 12 mistakes tourists often make while visiting Arizona ― and some advice for avoiding these errors during your travels.

1. Forgetting to hydrate

“Hydrate! Especially if you’re hiking. Tourists do not realize how essential water is in the desert and that heat can quickly creep up on you. Always having minimum a full water bottle with you could potentially be the difference between life and death. Especially during the summer.” ― Christina Nguyen, content creator at @h2ochristina

“We see visitors underestimate the sun exposure and heat, arriving to the trail with not enough water and little to no sun protection. It’s best to have too much water than to have too little and recommend about 16 ounces or 0.5 liters per mile, and more if it’s strenuous. Most trailheads don’t have running water.” ― Lauren Franklin and Owen Steinwall, bloggers at The AZ Hikeaholics

2. Taking parking for granted

“We see tourists getting to the trailhead too late! Locals will get there early because the weather is cooler, and parking spots will fill up quickly.” ― Franklin and Steinwall

“Make sure to research hiking spots and their parking lots before you go for it! Parking lots for hikes in Arizona are sometimes extremely small and don’t always have space for you.” ― Lacy Cain, founder of Wildjoy

3. Misjudging distances

“The Valley of the Sun (Phoenix) is huge! You could be an hour away from someone in Phoenix yet you are both still in Phoenix. Look at the map and plan accordingly.” ― Paloma Guerrero, blogger at Glitter Glucose

4. Visiting during the summer

“It might be obvious, but the biggest mistake is visiting between the months of May to September ― best to enjoy Arizona during the good months and all its glory of hikes, outdoor activities, brunch outside, etc.” ― Jessica Bui, blogger at The Orange Home

“If you want to experience all the beauty and nature here, travel to Arizona between October and April. It’s the best weather and you will actually enjoy the fun activities such as hiking! As a local, we do not like being outside during the summer months!” ― Aiesha Beasley, content creator and TikTok influencer

“We get a lot of tourists that show up in the middle of the summer when it’s hotter than you know what and decide to go hiking with little or no water and then of course need to get rescued because they are falling apart on top of a mountain suffering from heatstroke and dehydration. If you visit Arizona during the summer, be prepared.” ― Chanté Fox, designer and blogger

5. Spending the whole time in Scottsdale

“Scottsdale is a well-known city in the Phoenix area, but there is so much more to explore in the valley other than Scottsdale if they ventured out of that bubble.” ― Beasley

“Guests tend to underestimate all that downtown Phoenix has to offer. Sometimes even locals who are based in the suburbs miss out on all of the latest excitement in the downtown area. From new upscale dining to local breweries and unique cocktail culture to some of Arizona’s best museums and natural attractions such as the Desert Botanical Garden and a variety of hiking trails, there’s always something to see or do outside. Plus, nothing beats an opportunity to catch an Arizona sunset in real life!” ― Jon Erickson, market director of sales and marketing at Sheraton Phoenix Downtown

There’s more to Arizona than the major cities or tourist spots.

6. Mispronouncing the local flora

“Few things instantly identify a visitor more than mispronunciation of our beloved Sonoran Desert icon, the saguaro cactus. Take a stroll through any of our public gardens and you’ll hear all sorts of references to ‘cigarros,’ in which case locals are tempted to respond that this is a no-smoking area! (For the record, it’s pronounced ‘sa-WAR-o.’) On a related note, the cholla cactus is pronounced ‘choya’ and not ‘chola’ or ‘challah’!” ― Lori A. Johnson, nature photographer

7. Not taking desert drives

“Make sure to rent a car! One of the best things to do here is to take scenic drives around our beautiful mountainous ranges. From the Apache Trail to Route 66 to Sedona-to-Flagstaff Byway, you are bound to see breathtaking sights.” ― Cain

8. Being ill-prepared for hikes

“Another mistake tourists make is not understanding a lot of our trails are in rocky desert, meaning they’re uneven and strenuous on the feet and ankles. We see a lot of rescues on the news of hikers that were too injured to get down the mountain. We recommend wearing sturdy shoes or boots and to use hiking poles if you’re comfortable with them.” ― Franklin and Steinwall

“Tourists see our extensive urban hiking trail system with expansive views depicted in tourist brochures around the Phoenix area and prepare as if they’re out for a stroll in a typical city park, rather than a strenuous hike, by wearing inappropriate casual footwear, and failing to carry water, for starters. Almost every rescue that makes the evening news involves ill-prepared tourists, especially in summer when temperatures can reach 110 degrees or more, which is a dangerous time to hike for anyone, much less those not acclimated to the desert.” ― Johnson

9. Missing out on local food

“Don’t only eat at nationwide chains while you’re here. We have the best LOCAL food! When you’re here, make a stop at a food truck to try a Sonoran Hot Dog (hot dog stuffed with pinto beans, salsa, bacon, cheese, etc.) or some fresh tacos. If you can make it down to Tucson, it’s one of the gastronomy capitals of the world with people coming from all over to try the cuisine.” ― Cain

“Phoenix is the new LA. Make reservations ahead of time to all the hot spots! Some of my favorites are Glai Baan, Restaurant Progress, Fat Ox, and Vecina.” ― Bui

10. Failing to research

“People have to remember that Google isn’t a local. Most of the ‘best places’ listed on there are only listed because they’ve put more dollars in their SEO strategies, not because it’s a hole-in-the-wall concept or French culinary-trained chefs curating farm-to-table menus. Social media is huge now, so I would encourage tourists to navigate those platforms for the do’s & don’ts. When I’m traveling, I use bucket list Instagrams like @miamibucketlist or @sdbucketlist for recommendations. I even take it a step further by finding local influencer pages and read through their travel guides, etc.” ― Ashley Muzzillo, event planner and content creator

11. Expecting consistent cell service

“There are certain areas in Maricopa County with no signal (dead spots). One time coming back from Rocky Point, we got a flat tire and we got lucky. Somebody stopped and gave us a ride because there was no signal for miles in Maricopa.” ― Karla Lu, blogger and founder of The Polymath Mom

12. Creating an overly rigid itinerary

“Look, I’m an events planner, so I appreciate a schedule or thoughtful itinerary ― but don’t be afraid to veer from that if need be! Live in the moment and be open-minded, because not every box has to be checked. You might check new boxes that come along that were far cooler than your original list. Venture outside the ‘tourist zone’ too! That’s where supporting local gets real. Sure, visit the Grand Canyon or hike Camelback Mountain, but visit our farmers markets, that’s where you’ll find the hidden gems, native goods and local secrets!” ― Muzzillo

Quotes have been edited and condensed for clarity.

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