Picture a sprawling desert: sand dunes, dust devils, mirages. No people or animals in sight.

This is not Arizona.

Though we do have deserts, they are filled with critters such as jackrabbits, coyotes, and even deer. Saguaro, cholla, and palo verdes appear at every turn of the trail.

And this is just my own slice of AZ, the Sonoran Desert. We have many more awesome landscapes and environments: pine forests in Flagstaff, red rocks in Sedona, and (of course) the Grand Canyon

Seeing the vast amount of wildness Arizona holds awes and humbles me, and has solidified my connection to the American West. Here are eight essential Arizona experiences for nature lovers like me. 

1. Brown's Ranch

Hannah Bernier

Brown's Ranch is a beautiful area full of trails to hike, bike, and explore. A wide array of scenes exist here, from the ranch-style Corral Trail to the looping Whiskey Bottle Trail to the sunset view on Granite Mountain. 

This area is best in the spring, when poppies bloom along the trail along with a host of other plants ready to show their colors. If you're in Scottsdale and looking for a gorgeous place to enjoy the desert, come see what Brown's Ranch has to offer.

2. Sabino Canyon

Hannah Bernier

Located near Tucson, Sabino Canyon is a lush desert oasis tucked away in the Santa Catalina Mountains. Take a tour bus up the canyon and then walk down on the road or the trails winding along the mountains. This is the perfect place to appreciate the many wonders of the Arizona desert. 

3. West Fork Oak Creek Trail

The West Fork of Oak Creek Canyon is a famous Sedona trail and is perfect for those looking to see the red rocks in a forest setting. Hiking along Oak Creek is an amazing experience, especially during autumn when the fall colors present themselves in red and gold. 

4. Kachina Trail

Flush with aspen groves and ferns, Kachina trail is a sight to behold. Not only are there unique flora and fauna, but also spectacular views of the mountains of Flagstaff.

During spring, this forest is filled with delicate flowers, and during fall it's coated in yellow aspen leaves. No matter what season it is when you visit, this scenic area is sure to be a spellbinding walk in the woods. 

5. Horton Creek

One word: paradise. Nestled away on the base of the Mogollon Rim, waterfall after waterfall present themselves on every turn on the hike at Horton Creek, ending in a spring at the end of the trail.

Full of columbines and all manner of greenery, Horton Creek is the ultimate experience for those who just can't get enough of waterfalls. 

6. Woods Canyon Lake

grass, pasture
Hannah Bernier

This beautiful lake is full of people kayaking and swimming during the summer and it's easy to see why. A beautiful lake and a gorgeous forest are the perfect recipe for a good time with friends and family.

Looking to get away from the crowd? The hike around the edge of the lake promises quiet spots with valleys like the one above, and will give you a moment to appreciate this slice of beauty on the Mogollon Rim. 

7. Antelope Canyon

spaghetti, pasta
Hannah Bernier

Heading further north, Antelope Canyon is the most famous slot canyon in the Southwest. The sandstone shaped by erosion stands tall above hikers as they make their way through canyon on a guided tour.

If you're looking to experience a great geologic wonder that's close enough to touch, look no further than this magnificent canyon right underneath the ground. 

8. Grand Canyon North Rim

Hannah Bernier

And finally, Arizona's crown jewel: the Grand Canyon. As an Arizonan, I can tell you it's worth the hype. Seeing the vastness of this land is inspiring and humbling. There are many great spots to enjoy the view, and those brave enough can even hike from end to end.

Though most visitors see the Grand Canyon from the South Rim, the North Rim has a grand lodge overlooking the vista and a pine forest just off the edge. With a more laid-back feel and some great elk chili, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is a truly remarkable place.

These eight essential Arizona experiences for nature lovers will let you see why so many are inspired by this state, and why I am proud to call Arizona my home. 

I can easily list dozens more spectacular places in Arizona to visit, and hope that I discover even more spots that help me learn more about my state. But if you're looking to see all of the landscapes that the Grand Canyon State has to offer, these slices of paradise will give you a good start.