Emerald Cove, Willow Beach
There’s a glittering secret hiding just two miles upstream of Willow Beach on the Colorado River. Found on the border of Arizona and Nevada, Emerald Cove is home to a cave with 5,000 to 7,000-feet-high walls. When the sunlight hits just right, the reflection off the cave walls make the river appear vibrant green.
Because of the remote location, kayaks and canoes are the only way to explore this hidden phenomenon. But those who venture out have a chance to spot a waterfall, ducks, bighorn sheep, and birds along the way. Park at Willow Beach (about an hour from Kingman, Arizona) for the quickest journey to the cove. From here, it takes approximately two hours to paddle to Emerald Cove. Ideally you want to visit midday when the sun is the brightest to see the water’s bright green color. While the reflection is strongest in spring and summer, winter offers the opportunity to explore the small cave in peace—the space can only accommodate a few kayaks at a time—and comfortable paddling temperatures that typically range from 64 to 74 degrees. While you can do a self-guided tour, a tour company will take care of the transportation and directions for you.
Saguaro National Park
Split in two by Tucson, Saguaro National Park rewards visitors with up-close access to towering Saguaro cacti. While both sides are worthy of a visit (it takes roughly an hour to get between the two), the eastern side features scenic overlooks, including the Javelina Overlook, which showcases the Tucson Basin. If you’re short on time, drive the 8-mile Cactus Forest Drive loop through the eastern side to access trailheads, take in scenic vistas, and crane your neck at the Saguaro that can tower more than 40 feet high.
Stretch your legs and wander among the giants that only grow in this region on the 1-mile Freeman Homestead Trail or the 3.8-mile Loma Verde Loop. It can still be hot in the winter, so come prepared with sunscreen, plenty of water, and a hat. Keep an eye out for native fauna, including hummingbirds, roadrunners, and javelinas—be careful, these animals are territorial and may attack if you get too close. End the day with a stunning sunset picnic at the Javelina Rocks pull out or the Javelina Picnic Area, but bring warm clothes as evening temperatures can quickly drop into the 40s.