The Ultimate Guide to Arizona State Parks

Lakeside retreats! Historical gems! Secluded campsites!

From hiking and backpacking to birding and wildlife watching, this compendium of facts, figures, and travel tips about 14 Arizona’s state parks will inspire your RV adventures for months to come. The other 20 parks are on our bucket list. Founded in 1953, Arizona State Parks and Trails have evolved into an important part of the state outdoor recreation.

Arizona State Parks Dashboard

Fast Facts

Oldest State Park: Tubac Presidio State Historic Park, founded in 1958

Newest State Park: Rockin’ River State Park (due late 2021)

Closest to Downtown Phoenix: Lost Dutchman State Park (41 miles)

Closest to Downtown Tucson: Catalina State Park (15 miles)

Largest State Park: Oracle State Park (4,000 acres)

Smallest State Park: Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park (12,000 square feet)

Annual Visitors: 3.2 Million (2019)

Parks Pass

Arizona State Parks sells two annual passes to help you save money and time. The Standard pass ($75/year) allows day-use access for you and up to three adults at all parks except for Lake Havasu, Cattail Cove, Buckskin Mountain, and River Island. The Premium pass ($200/year) allows day-use access at all parks for you and up to three adults. 

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alamo Lake State Park

As far as lakeside parks go, this one in western Arizona has no beach and not much shoreline hiking. But! It’s considered one of the best bass fishing lakes in the country. Anglers: Pack your gear and reserve one of the 15 full-service camping sites ($25/night) or cabins ($65/night) where the front porch makes for an ideal spot to spin yarns about the catch of the day.

Location: From Wenden, take Alamo Road 33 miles north to the park entrance

Fees: $10 per vehicle; $3 per individual/bicycle

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park

Anchoring the rugged Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, this park sprawls through the Coronado National Forest’s wild backcountry. Trails dotted with hikers, bikers, and horseback riders trace the spines of high-elevation ridges and snake through deep canyons. One challenging trek, the Sutherland Trail, navigates the steep slopes to deliver determined hikers to Mt. Lemmon, the highest peak of the Catalinas. Another trail climbs 80 steps up to the stone and adobe ruins of a Hohokam village from 500 A.D. In the 19th century, Francisco Romero built a ranch on the land likely using this same stone to fortify his home from the Apaches.

Location: 11570 N. Oracle Rd., Tucson

Fees: $7 per vehicle; $3 per individual/bicycle

Western scrub jay at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bird Journal

Birding isn’t for everyone, we get it. But more than 170 diverse species inhabit the park, so you’re bound to spot a winged creature worthy of mention, whether you intend to or not. The 1-mile Birding Trail offers an easy loop for ambling. Bonus points for the signage with bird facts.

Notable Flora

The nearby Saguaro National Park boasts a lot (like, millions) of its namesake cactus, but Catalina is home to nearly 5,000 of them. Not too shabby. Throughout the state park, thick clusters of the mighty saguaro jut from the hillsides giving way to glittering city views of Tucson.

Colorado River State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colorado River State Historic Park

Over the years, the buildings at this park have served an oddball assortment of government agencies. Starting in 1864, the U.S. Army used them as a supply depot for forts in the Arizona Territory; later, the Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Customs, and the U.S. Weather Service were all tenants. Today, the buildings maintain exhibits on the rich history of the Colorado River region including a research library open to professionals and curious members of the public.

Location: 201 N. Fourth Ave., Yuma

Fees: $6 per adult; $3 per youth, ages 7-13; children, ages 6 and younger, free

Dead Horse State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Ranch State Park

Attention RV campers: More than 100 spacious sites ($20-$35/night) grace the grounds of this riverfront getaway in the Verde Valley. If you can’t snag a campsite or one of the park’s cabins, drive up for the hiking—nearly a dozen trails wind through the sprawling high desert environs along the Verde River.

Location: 675 Dead Horse Ranch Rd., Cottonwood

Fees: $7 per vehicle; $3 per individual/bicycle

Jerome State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome State Historic Park

This 2.5-acre property shows off the Douglas Mansion with its commanding views of the Verde Valley. James Douglas, owner of the Little Daisy copper mine, built it in 1916 as a hotel for mining investors. Today its luxurious rooms exhibit photographs and artifacts about Jerome’s mining history. But you can only look and browse—no overnighters.

Location: 100 Douglas Rd., Jerome

Fees: $7 per adult; $4 per youth, ages 7-13; children, ages 6 and younger, free

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park

Since the 1840s, many have claimed to know the location of the Peralta family’s lost gold mine in the Superstition Mountains but none of these would-be fortune-seekers became more famous than “the Dutchman” Jacob Waltz. The German prospector purportedly hid caches of the precious metal throughout the Superstition Wilderness. Fact or fiction, Waltz’s windfall gave the park its name. You might not find gold during your visit but other treasures include great hiking and biking trails and 138 RV camping sites (68 with electric and water) with sunset views.

Location: 6109 N. Apache Trail, Apache Junction

Fees: $7-10 per vehicle; $3 per individual/bicycle

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia Lake State Park

South of Sonoita, the blue waters of Patagonia Lake glisten for 265 acres. Unlike the craggy escarpments that border many desert lakes, here it’s all rounded corners and gentle slopes. The surrounding hills ease down to the tall grasses that line the shore. A trail meanders from the beach to Sonoita Creek which formed the lake when it was dammed. And a marina provides boat rentals: canoes, pontoons, rowboats, and paddleboats. In a former life, this land was the home of the Sobaipuri and Papago tribes, both related to the Pima Indians. Today, it’s the home away from home for campers, birders, swimmers, sunbathers, boaters, and anglers.

Location: 400 Patagonia Lake Rd., Patagonia

Fees: $15-20 per vehicle; $3 per individual/bicycle

Where to Stay

You’ll find 105 developed RV campsites and 12 boat-in campsites at Patagonia Lake. Accessible by boat only, each comes with a picnic table and a fire pit and not much else—except for a remote spot with uninterrupted water views.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park

Picacho rises from the desert seemingly out of nowhere, its sharp buttes like lighthouses guiding travelers home. It wasn’t always a sight for road-weary eyes, though. In 1862, Confederate and Union soldiers clashed here in the Battle of Picacho Pass, a fight marked in history as the westernmost battle of the Civil War. These days during the spring, vibrant wildflowers carpet the ground; come winter, the challenging trails that ascend the sunny peaks draw thrill-seeking hikers.

Location: I-10 at Exit 219, Eloy

Fees: $7 per vehicle; $3 per individual/bicycle

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock State Park

Oak Creek runs for nearly 2 miles throughout this 286-acre state park, adorning the sandstone mesas and red boulders with leafy riparian habitats. If we’re judging Sedona hiking hot spots, it doesn’t get much better than the park’s juniper-studded trails and vortex-framed vistas. Red Rock State Park is one of the most ecologically diverse parks in Arizona which is why it makes sense that it serves as an environmental education hub. From the Visitor Center’s interactive exhibits and film presentations to guided nature walks and full moon hikes, programming offers insight into Sedona’s majestic landscape.

Location: 4050 Red Rock Loop Rd., Sedona

Fees: $7 per adult; $4 per youth, ages 7-13; children, ages 6 and younger, free

Animal Encounters

When it comes to Arizona wildlife, you’ll see the usual suspects—javelina, mule deer, maybe a coyote—but to meet the cutest, most playful creatures ever, hike the Apache Fire Trail. It leads to Oak Creek where the resident river otters frolic. Cross Kingfisher Bridge to glimpse them below.

Before You Go

Due to the park’s popularity, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind before your visit. Of note: Most of the trails are off-limits to cyclists; there is no swimming or wading in Oak Creek; don’t climb the rocks; and keep your four-legged buddy at home.

Sonoita Creek State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sonoita Creek State Natural Area

The perennial stream of Sonoita Creek feeds this natural area’s bounty of trees: cottonwood and willow, ash and walnut, mesquite and elderberry. Hike 20 miles of remote trails where you’ll likely encounter no one save for the dozens of species of dragonflies and butterflies. You’ll access the natural area by Patagonia Lake State Park.

Location: 400 Lake Patagonia Rd., Patagonia

Fees: $15-20 per vehicle; $3 per individual/bicycle

Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park

Get to know Wyatt Earp. Stand in a reproduction of the gallows where convicted baddies met their demise. And learn all about the other gunfight at the OK Corral. The museum inside the courthouse exhibits interpretive displays on all of this and more including the history of Tombstone and Cochise County.

Location: 223 Toughnut St., Tombstone

Fees: $7 per adult; $2 per youth, ages 7-13; children, ages 6 and younger, free

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park

As part of the expansion of “New Spain” throughout Mexico and the Southwest, the Spanish Empire built Catholic missions along with forts, or presidios, to protect them. At Arizona’s first state park, dedicated in 1958, see the ruins of the oldest Spanish presidio in the state, San Ignacio de Tubac, established in 1752.

Location: 1 Burruel St., Tubac

Fees: $7 adult; $2 per youth, ages 7-13; children, ages 6 and younger, free

Along the Verde River Greenway Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Verde River Greenway State Natural Area

This natural area’s raison d’être is preservation of the Verde River’s delicate riparian ecosystem, so although swimming, fishing, and hiking are allowed, a “light footprint” is encouraged. Connect with the riverside trails from Dead Horse Ranch State Park.

Location: 2011-B Kestrel Rd., Cottonwood

Fees: None

Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park

After 33 years housing hardened criminals, the Yuma Territorial Prison gained new life as Yuma Union High School in 1910. Cellblocks became classrooms and the hospital held assemblies. I’m sure there’s a joke to be made likening school to jail but the truth is the history of this prison is so darn fascinating. Take Pearl Hart, for example. In 1899, she chopped off her hair, donned men’s clothing and, armed with a revolver, robbed a stagecoach bound for Florence. She became a national media sensation for the crime and even though she was sentenced to five years in the all-male Yuma Prison she got out in two thanks to what’s politely been described as “deft use of her feminine wiles.” The prison’s preservation today is impressive; you’ll see the guard tower, original cellblocks, and a museum displaying artifacts and stories of notable convicts. Plus: Great gift shop.

Location: 220 N. Prison Hill Rd., Yuma

Fees: $7 per adult; $4 per youth, ages 7-13; children, ages 6 and younger, free

Worth Pondering…

To my mind these live oak-dotted hills fat with side oats grama, these pine-clad mesas spangled with flowers, these lazy trout streams burbling along under great sycamores and cottonwoods, come near to being the cream of creation.

—Aldo Leopold, 1937

Alamo Lake State Park: Fishing, Camping, Wildflowers & More

38 miles north of Wenden, Arizona off Arizona State Highway 60 one finds a rare oasis in the otherwise arid Sonora Desert

Offering a scenic, cacti-studded landscape with a mountainous backdrop, Alamo Lake is tucked away in the Bill Williams River Valley. In addition to picturesque desert scenery, Alamo Lake State Park has much to offer its visitors recreationally. The area is known for its exceptional bass fishing opportunities, as well as canoeing, kayaking, and camping.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For nature lovers, spring rains bring an abundance of wildflowers and the lake environment attracts a variety of wildlife year round, including bald and golden eagles, waterfowl, foxes, coyotes, mule deer, and wild burros. Stargazers too will be in awe when the sun sets and the desert sky becomes aglow with stars, uninhibited by nearby city lights or smog.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alamo Lake, located on the Bill Williams River where the Big Sandy River and Santa Maria River come together, was created with the completion of Alamo Dam in 1968. The Army Corps of Engineers designed the earthen dam primarily for flood control. During flood events, the lake basin is capable of handling large amounts of water in a relatively short time. The lake has been recorded rising 11 vertical feet in one night! Unusually high flows during the late 1970s and through the 1980s have increased the average size of the lake, helping to create one of Arizona’s best fishing holes.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The lake is enclosed to the south, west, and north by low hills and beyond by mountain wilderness areas, and is a good place for a few days relaxation, or as a base from which to explore the surrounding lands.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled in the Bill Williams River Valley away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, Alamo Lake State Park offers outdoor fun, premier bass fishing, rest and relaxation.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Despite its rather remote location, Alamo Lake State Park receives relatively large numbers of visitors in the mild seasons of spring, winter, and fall, mostly because of the good fishing it offers—bass and catfish are especially plentiful. The desert setting and low elevation (1,230 feet) result in uncomfortably hot conditions in summer.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fishing tournaments are common at the lake and anglers have an excellent opportunity to catch bluegill, largemouth bass, channel catfish, and black crappie.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Individual and group camping is available at Alamo Lake State Park. There are 19 full hook-up RV sites with 50 amp electric, water, and sewer located in the Main Campground. Each site has a picnic table and a fire ring. There is no limit to maximum RV length at these sites. Additional sites have 30/50 amp electric and water at each site. 

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Campground B has 27 electric sites. The Ramada Area has 12 electric sites. Cholla Campground area has 41 electric sites with 30 amp service. Each site has a picnic table and a fire ring. 

Dry camping is also available in Campgrounds D and E. Also Campground A has 21 sites while Campground B has 15 sites. Site reservations are available.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ideal for snowbirds, Long Term Camping Sites are available from October 1 through March 31 with the minimum length of stay 28 days (4 weeks) and the maximum 48 days (12 weeks).

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A great time to visit Alamo Lake State Park is during spring because of the profusion of wildflowers and cactus blooms beside the lake and in the desert along the 33 mile Alamo Lake Road. Starting at the small and rather forlorn town of Wenden on US-60, the route heads north, climbing gradually into the Harcuvar Mountains.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Passing a few mines and side tracks, the road enter the wide Butler Valley. The land along this long straight road is undeveloped with numerous wildflowers and cacti including saguaro and distant mountain scenery.

At the far side of the valley, the road curves around the edge of the Buckskin Mountains and gradually descends towards the lake.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The main route leads to the dam and an overlook just before winding eastwards between distant shores and even more remote hills in the distance. The very end of the road is private but open to foot travel, and from here begins the hike down the Bill Williams River Canyon.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Alone in the open desert,

I have made up songs of wild, poignant rejoicing and transcendent melancholy.

The world has seemed more beautiful to me than ever before.

I have loved the red rocks, the twisted trees, the sand blowing in the wind, the slow, sunny clouds crossing the sky, the shafts of moonlight on my bed at night.

I have seemed to be at one with the world.

—Everett Ruess

A Wintry Desert Wonderland

These HOT parks evoke a sense of adventure in Arizona’s wintery desert wonderland

Arizonans and seasonal visitors know that winter temperatures don’t stand a chance of stopping outdoor pursuits. Compared to the rest of the country, the mild temps and low seasonal precipitation create the perfect formula for outdoor adventure throughout the state.

Many national, state, and regional parks are primed for winter fun. The trails are perfect throughout the day, wildlife is active this time of year, additional birds have migrated into Arizona, and you just can’t beat the sunrise and sunset at your camping site.

Come along and we’ll expose HOT parks that will evoke your sense of adventure in Arizona’s wintery desert wonderland! 

Catalina State Park

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invites camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. Commonly encountered species of wildlife include javelin, coyote, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and various reptiles.

Usery Mountain Regional Park

Usery Mountain Regional Park, one of 13 Maricopa County Regional Parks, is a 3,648 acre preserve at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains, adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. Located on the Valley’s east side, Usery Mountain contains a large variety of plants and animals that call the lower Sonoran Desert home.

Usery Mountain offers over 29 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Park trails range in length from 0.2 miles to over 7 miles, and range from easy to difficult. These trails are very popular because they have enough elevation to offer spectacular vistas of surrounding plains.

Alamo Lake State Park

Nestled in the Bill Williams River Valley away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, Alamo Lake State Park offers outdoor fun, premier bass fishing, rest and relaxation. The crystal clear lake is surrounded by mountainous terrain speckled with brush, wildflowers, and cacti making for a visually pleasing experience. Stargazers are sure to enjoy the amazing views of the night sky, with the nearest city lights 40 miles away.

Picacho Peak State Park

Visitors traveling along I-10 in southern Arizona can’t miss the prominent 1,500-foot peak of Picacho Peak State Park. Enjoy the view as you hike the trails that wind up the peak and, often in the spring, overlook a sea of wildflowers.

The park and surrounding area are known for its unique geological significance, outstanding and varied desert growth, and historical importance. The unique shape has been used as a landmark by travelers since prehistoric times. One of the first recordings was in the 1700s by the Anza Expedition as it passed through the area.

Organ Pipe National Monument

Crazy symphonies of prickly arms—nowhere else in the United States can you find these unique living sculptures, Unlike their more familiar Saguaro cousins, Organ Pipe cacti branch out from ground-level. Organ Pipe National Monument sits on the Mexican border. From November through April, the weather’s nearly perfect for hiking, camping, or just driving along the scenic loop road. This is one of the most stunning, and least-visited, corners of the Sonoran Desert—and worth the drive!

Lost Dutchman State Park 

Named after the fabled lost gold mine, Lost Dutchman State Park is located in the Sonoran Desert, a few miles east of Apache Junction. Several trails lead from the park into the Superstition Wilderness and surrounding Tonto National Forest.

Depending on the year’s rainfall, you might be treated to a carpet of desert wildflowers in the spring. Enjoy a weekend of camping and experience native wildlife including mule deer, coyote, javelina, and jackrabbit. A four mile mountain bike loop trail has opened at the park.

Worth Pondering…
Newcomers to Arizona are often struck by Desert Fever.

Desert Fever is caused by the spectacular natural beauty and serenity of the area.

Early symptoms include a burning desire to make plans for the next trip “south”.

There is no apparent cure for snowbirds.

6 Scenic Lakes for Camping in the Southwest

Enjoy waterfront camping at these six scenic lakes in the arid Southwest

Since the Southwest is known for its iconic desert landscape, you may be surprised by the many scenic lakes where you can enjoy waterfront camping.

These lakes are an oasis for activities like swimming, fishing, and kayaking, and have camping facilities that can accommodate RVs.

1. Lake Pleasant, Arizona

The cool blue Lake Pleasant is located in a regional park about an hour north of Phoenix. The recreation area is open year-round and has campsites, hiking trails, boat ramps, and a Discovery Center where you can learn more about the area’s plants and wildlife.

The developed sites are complete with water and electricity, a covered ramada, picnic table, barbecue grill, fire ring, and access to a dump station. If you don’t mind dry camping, the semi-developed sites have similar features except for utilities.

2. Patagonia Lake State Park, Arizona

Patagonia Lake is well known for its great fishing, hiking, and bird watching. This southern Arizona state park also has a beach, boat ramp, and a picnic area with tables and grills. If you don’t have your own watercraft, canoe, pontoon boat, row boat, and paddle boat rentals are available.

The campground has over 100 sites with electric hookups, picnic tables, and fire rings. Waterfront cabins can also be rented on the southeast end of the lake. The park can get crowded, but it’s usually more peaceful during the off-season and middle of the week.

3. Parker Canyon Lake, Arizona

Parker Canyon Lake is off the beaten path and not as easily accessible but it is usually much less crowded than Patagonia Lake. The US Forest Service campground is open all year; in the summer boat and paddleboard rentals are available.

Lakeview Campground overlooks the lake with 65 campsites (maximum length 36 feet) on top of a hill. There are no hookups, but there is potable water, a general store, and restrooms.

4. Lake Mead and Lake Mohave, Nevada/Arizona

Lakes Mead and Mohave are both on the Colorado River and worth a visit in the RV. The two reservoirs are located within the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, a short day trip from Las Vegas.

There are several campgrounds and RV parks along the shores of the two lakes. The National Park Service sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. These include Las Vegas Bay Campground, Callville Bay, Boulder Beach Campground, and Echo Bay. Lake Mead RV Village offers pull-through and full hook-up sites.

5. Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico

The largest state park in New Mexico surrounds the state’s biggest reservoir. Elephant Butte Lake has beach access, a fishing pier, marinas, and boat rentals. The park has 15 miles of hiking and biking trails as well as several picnic areas where you can enjoy lunch overlooking the lake.

There are about 170 RV sites in Lions Beach, Desert Cove and South Monticello campgrounds. Primitive beach camping, group sites, and boat-in camping are also available.

6. Alamo Lake, Arizona

Nestled in the Bill Williams River Valley away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, Alamo Lake State Park offers outdoor fun, premier bass fishing, rest and relaxation. The crystal clear lake is surrounded by mountainous terrain speckled with brush, wildflowers, and cacti making for a visually pleasing experience. Stargazers are sure to enjoy the amazing views of the night sky, with the nearest city lights 40 miles away.

Campground A offers 17 basic sites with both back-in and pull-through sites. Campground B has expanded to 27 mixed-amenity sites. Campground C offers 40 water and electric sites 15 full-hookup sites. Dry camping is located in Campgrounds D and E and each site has a picnic table and fire ring.

Worth Pondering…

A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature.

It is earth’s eye, looking into which, the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.

—Henry David Thoreau