The Top 30 Places to Visit in Arizona

There are a lot of places to visit in Arizona—from admiring the Grand Canyon to experiencing cultural tourist attractions throughout its desert landscape

Arizona’s landscapes are nothing short of stunning. Towering buttes meet hills covered with saguaro cacti. The otherworldly landscape that often feels better suited for Mars than our planet is grounded by what has become Arizona’s other great draw: the proof of human history found in the sites and settlements of Ancestral Puebloans. These archaeological sites which include cliff dwellings, sandstone homes, and petroglyphs dot the state offering a reminder of the people who came before.

With a deep human history and a stunning natural landscape, there is plenty to explore in Arizona, including cities, national parks and monuments, and outdoor attractions. This guide is split into specific sections as Arizona has many different types of places to visit.

So let’s get started.

Best cities to visit in Arizona

Arizona isn’t all desert and canyons; the state has numerous cities that deserve visiting. The following cities are some of the best places to visit in Arizona.

Phoenix from Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Phoenix

Phoenix is the sunny state capital of Arizona. Located in central Arizona, Phoenix is surrounded by mountains and desert landscapes. Its location seems unlikely for a city with skyscrapers and luxury hotels shooting up from what (before 1881) was once sand and dust. However, its incongruous allure is all part of Phoenix’s charm.

Phoenix is the best place to visit in Arizona for a big-city experience. The city is bursting with creativity and attractions including more art galleries than you could see in a whole week.

Phoenix is also home to the Musical Instrument Museum, Natural History Museum, Phoenix Bat Cave, and Desert Botanical Garden.

Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Tucson

Tucson is another Arizona destination worth repeat visits with history, culture, and outdoor activities galore. Plus, its food game is beyond your wildest expectations. Tucson is a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. Tucson gave us the Sonoran dog—a bacon-wrapped street dog forged in nearby Sonora and packed into a bun filled with burrito toppings.

Home to the University of Arizona, the city nurtures a vibrant downtown arts scene with the contemporary Tucson Museum of Art forming the backbone of a flourishing community of painters, glass-blowers, and jewelers. When the heat drops at night, that same downtown comes alive with bars, breweries, and upscale restaurants embracing the uniquely Tucson convergence of Mexican and Arizona influences, a dose of green chiles, open-faced quesadillas (cheese crisps), and those exquisite hot dogs

View a great variety of plants and animals of the Sonoran Desert at the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum. Two miles of paths lead through 21 acres of displays. Live demonstrations and tours daily.

A desert oasis, Sabino Canyon Recreation Area is a hiker’s paradise. Tucked in a canyon in the Santa Catalina Mountains in the Coronado Forest, it is easily accessible from Tucson. Ride the narrated shuttle bus and you can get off and back on at any of the stops for a picnic, hike, or a walk back.

One of the top places to visit, San Xavier del Bac is a Spanish Catholic Mission. This national historic landmark was founded in 1692 and welcomes more than 200,000 visitors per year. The church is considered the finest Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States.

Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Cottonwood

If Phoenix is best for a big-city feel, Cottonwood is best for the opposite. Part river town, part wine trail, and part historic hub: Cottonwood offers a fun and lively scene that sets it apart from the arid desert to the south and the soaring mountains to the north.

Although it might be best known as a gateway to the nearby red rocks of Sedona, Cottonwood has plenty of charms of its own. They start with the quaint Old Town district and branch out to the banks of the lushly green Verde River and the nearby historic towns of Clarkdale and Jerome.

Any visit to Cottonwood should start with a stop in the Historic Old Town, a district that dates back to the early 1900s when it was a center for the area’s mining and smelter industry. Today, many of the buildings feature the rock and brick architecture of the 1920s and ’30s. Old Town antique stores, wine-tasting venues, six galleries, and three hotels!

Best National Parks to visit in Arizona

What would a trip to Arizona be without visiting a national park? Arizona’s national parks are renowned for their incredible attractions including the famous Grand Canyon.

You can explore the hiking trails, and biking trails, take off-roading tours, or book a scenic helicopter flight—it is up to you. These are the best national parks to visit in Arizona.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park is located just outside Tucson. It is a great place to visit for stunning scenery and hiking trails while visiting Southern Arizona.

The park is most known for its cacti. Indeed, in this national park, you’ll find some of the largest saguaro cacti in the U.S. Some of the cacti live up to 200 years old and grow at a very slow rate. The national park feels like an old American West movie scene and has over 90,000 acres to explore.

Valley View Overlook Trail is a short walk that should take around 20 minutes to complete while hiking to Signal Hill Petroglyphs, a must for anyone interested in ancient art and civilizations.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Petrified Forest National Park

If Petrified Forest National Park sounds fantastic, it’s because it is. However, if you arrive expecting a lush forest full of beautiful trees, you’ll be shocked. The national park is a barren landscape full of fossils and petrified, sliced tree trunks.

The petrified wood is scattered across the national park and you can drive the length of the park in around an hour or two—stopping at whatever spot catches your eye. Some not to miss places include Rainbow Forest Museum, Painted Desert, and Crystal Forest Blue Mesa hiking trails.

Wondering how this natural phenomenon occurs? Petrification of trees takes place when trees have been buried underground without oxygen for thousands of years. Over time, the decaying wood becomes mineralized and turns into fossilized stone creating a replica of the original form, just in a different material.

For a unique natural experience, Petrified Forest National Park is one of the best places to visit in Arizona. We recommend choosing this national park for anyone intrigued by natural mysteries and wanting a memorable experience in Arizona.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon! What can I say? The park is one of the best places to visit in the U.S., never mind Arizona. Visiting the Grand Canyon is at or near the top of most people’s bucket list.

South Rim and North Rim are the most popular areas to explore the Grand Canyon. The North Rim is the lesser-seen side of the Grand Canyon and is best for those who want a quieter place to experience this amazing wonder. South Rim is much busier and is packed with different hiking trails.

A popular hiking route is the Bright Angel Trail. The trail is well-maintained and relatively easy. It follows a side canyon, past cliff faces, and various switchbacks before finishing at Plateau Point. Plateau Point has stunning views of the canyon and the park’s scenery.

Of course, you can always splurge on a helicopter ride instead. Many tourists opt to view the canyon from above, which is one of the most exhilarating things to do in Arizona.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Canyon De Chelly National Monument

Canyon de Chelly National Monument is located in the Navajo Nation in the northeastern part of the state. For those who want to experience nature in the north, it is easily one of the best places to visit in Arizona.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument covers over 80,000 acres and is home to the Spider Rock spire. The spire is a 700-foot-high sandstone rock. Spider Rock spire gained its shape by gradual erosion over time and experts believe it was once connected to a ridge. Nowadays, it makes an unusual natural attraction and a great photograph.

You can drop by the Canyon de Chelly Visitor Center for expert local guidance on things to see and do. However, you should make sure to try a hiking trail or scenic drive.

Organ Pipe National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

The remote Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a gem tucked away in southern Arizona’s vast Sonoran Desert. Thanks to its unique crossroads locale, the monument is home to a wide range of specialized plants and animals including its namesake.

There are 28 different species of cacti in the monument ranging from the giant saguaro to the miniature pincushion. These cacti are all highly adapted to survive in the dry and unpredictable desert. They use spines for protection and shade, thick skin, and pulp to preserve water, unique pathways of photosynthesis at night, and hidden under their skin are delicate to sturdy wooden frames holding them together.

The monument’s namesake, the organ pipe cactus can live to over 150 years in age, have up to 100 arms, reach 25 feet in height, and will only produce its first flower near the age of 35.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Chiricahua National Monument

About 27 million years ago, this Land of Standing-Up Rocks was formed when a violent volcanic eruption spewed forth thick, white-hot ash. This eruption was a thousand times greater than the 1980 eruption of Mount Saint Helen in Washington. As the ash cooled, it fused into an almost 2,000-foot-thick layer of volcanic rock known as rhyolite. The Chiricahua Mountains were created as well during this time. Over the eons, wind, water, and ice sculpted what are today the formations that makeup Chiricahua National Monument.

There are hiking trails, both short loops and longer treks that take you back down the mountain and deep into the gorges and other splendors of this spectacular place. More than 20 miles of trails wind through the park. Duck on a Rock, Totem Pole, and Big Balanced Rock are a few of the more famous formations you will see.

Best State Parks to visit in Arizona

Arizona’s 34 state parks have something for everyone from contemplative nature walks to stargazing to camping.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Catalina State Park

With the Santa Catalina Mountains beckoning in the distance and canyons and seasonal streams dotting the landscape, Catalina State Park provides a delightful respite in the Tucson area. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The park’s 5,500 acres provide miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails that wind through the park and into the nearby Coronado National Forest.

More than 150 species of birds call the park home. This scenic desert park also offers equestrian trails and an equestrian center provides a staging area for trail riders with plenty of trailer parking. The state park offers 120 campsites with electric and water utilities suitable for RVs of all lengths. 

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. 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.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. 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.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. 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.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. 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 or cabins where the front porch makes for an ideal spot to spin yarns about the catch of the day.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. 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.

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.

Best Outdoor Attractions

After exploring the best national and state parks and cities, let’s look at Arizona’s largest category—its outdoor attractions.

Arizona is perfect if you love being outdoors and experiencing natural attractions. The state is full of things to see and do outdoors including visiting Antelope Canyon and Monument Valley. Ready to be inspired? Let’s take a look.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Monument Valley

Monument Valley is located along the Arizona-Utah border. If you want to visit easily, overnight at the Valley’s View Campground, and what a view you’ll enjoy especially at sunset. The valley is one of the most famous landscapes in the U.S. and easily one of the best places to visit in Arizona.

The valley is over 90,000 acres and is full of hiking trails and spectacular rock formations. It is most known for its towering sandstone buttes which you can experience on scenic drives or hiking trails. Don’t miss Forest Gump Point, the iconic viewpoint used in famous movies and is an important filming location in cinematic history.

The valley is a great place to cut through if you are planning an Arizona road trip. There are many things to see while driving through the valley and the scenery is perfect for memorable road tripping.

Lake Powell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. Lake Powell

If you are heading up to the Arizona-Utah border it is well worth detouring to Lake Powell. The lake is a stunning artificial body of water situated between Monument Valley and Grand Canyon National Park. It is a beautiful place to visit in Arizona. The lake’s bright blue water and orange sandstone surroundings cut a picture-perfect scene.

The lake is fed by the Colorado River and covers over 2,000 miles of shoreline. The Rainbow Bridge National Monument is a significant attraction on the lake and the vast stone arc is the largest natural bridge in the world. It is an excellent attraction to combine with enjoying the lake itself.

Many people spend a day or two staying along the shores of the lake. You may wish to visit on a day trip or book a campsite so that you can stay overnight. Full-service sites are available.

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

18. Montezuma Castle National Monument

Fascinated by ancient culture and archaeological sites of inhabitation? Montezuma Castle National Monument is the place to visit. The site is home to several cliffside dwellings, built and lived in by Indigenous People around 1100 to 1425 AD.

Sadly, access inside the dwellings has now been prohibited in an understandable attempt to protect the site from excessive damage. However, visitors can take a virtual tour inside the houses. They look incredible from the outside and you can enjoy numerous hiking trails for different views.

Desert Botanical Garden © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

19. Desert Botanical Garden

I mentioned the Desert Botanical Garden when discussing Phoenix. The garden is located in Papago Park in the center of Arizona’s capital city. However, the Desert Botanical Garden is worthy of a spot on our list in its own right.

Why is the Desert Botanical Garden so spectacular? The 150-acre garden has over 50,000 desert plants and is the ideal place to visit for a convenient desert experience. The botanical garden is an easy and fun alternative for those who don’t have time to visit major desert locations like Saguaro National Park.

Glen Canyon Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20. Glen Canyon Dam

Glen Canyon Dam is situated in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, a one million-acre reserve encompassing biking trails, hiking trails, and Lake Powell.

Planning a trip to Glen Canyon National Recreation Park to visit Lake Powell? I recommend taking a detour to visit the Glen Canyon Dam. The dam is a hydroelectric power plant and has become an iconic attraction along the Colorado River.

Visitors can take boat tours to view Glen Canyon Dam up close or even fly over the dam for a flight experience. The 710-foot infrastructure is incredible from a distance and even more impressive up close. Of course, to save a bit of money, you can always walk across Glen Canyon Dam Bridge where you’ll still have great views over the dam.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

21. Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Lake Mead is another impressive artificial attraction. The lake has the highest water capacity of any U.S. reservoir and sits on the Nevada-Arizona border. If you love water activities and lakeside living, Lake Mead is one of the best places to visit in Arizona to unwind and relax.

Allow time to take a Lake Mead cruise as the contrast between desert and an oasis-like body of water is striking and best experienced from the water itself. You can also fish and boat on the lake.

If you are planning a road trip, Lake Mead is ideally located en route to Las Vegas. It is worth detouring to enjoy the lake and consider combining it with a visit to the nearby Hoover Dam.

Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

22. Hoover Dam

Once the tallest dam in the world, the Hoover Dam has a nostalgic kind of power. While it no longer holds that grand title, it is still one of Arizona’s best places to visit. Visitors quickly appreciate its power and strength. It is said that the dam could withstand the force of Niagara Falls which gives you an excellent perspective on how strong it is.

You can view the Hoover Dam from afar or drop by the Hoover Dam Visitors Center to book a guided tour. Tours typically include access to the Hoover Dam tunnels, an elevator ride to the top, and special access to functional rooms throughout the building.

If you are interested in architecture or just want to see a national historic landmark up close, the dam is great to visit. It is also combined with a trip to Las Vegas as the dam sits on the Nevada-Arizona border.

Jerome State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

23. Jerome State Historic Park

Fancy indulging in a bit of history? Jerome State Historic Park is a fantastic place to visit in Jerome. The state park has a couple of acres surrounding Douglas Mansion which has been transformed into a quirky mining museum.

Visitors can wander through two floors of informative exhibits plus outdoor gardens. The museum balances general mining stories and the local town’s history. You can learn about region-specific minerals and mining processes through various mediums including cinematic videos.

Superstition Mountain Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

24. The Superstition Mountains

The Superstition Mountains cover 160,000 acres and are full of gorgeous mountainous and desert scenes. That is not what makes this place famous, though; it is the lost gold mines.

Legends of gold have kept mining companies and independent hunters searching the mountains for years. Many hunters have hit the jackpot and found lots of riches. You can join the crowds or find non-gold-related entertainment in the mountains.

You can visit the Superstition Mountains Museum, explore the surrounding Tonto National Forest, or hike along one of the various trails. These mountains are one of the best places to visit in Arizona for adventure.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

25. Sedona

A magnet for outdoorsy types, Sedona enjoys a picturesque location at the base of Oak Creek Canyon surrounded by 1.8 million acres of national forest land. You could easily get swept away in all the activities to be enjoyed nearby from hiking and biking to rafting and fishing but the town itself is also well worth exploring. Thanks to its longstanding connection to the art world—surrealist painter Max Ernst and his wife Dorothea Tanning moved here in the 1940s—there are more than 80 galleries to explore as well as street art and performing arts centers.

More places to visit in Arizona

These destinations are special additions to my guide on the best places to visit in Arizona. Whether they are a museum or sacred tribal lands they don’t fit into the outdoor tourist attraction category. I’ve given them a category of their own.

Here is my final subsection, my special list of more places to visit in Arizona.

Chapel of the Holy Cross © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

26. Chapel of the Holy Cross

The Chapel of the Holy Cross is one of the most unique places to visit in Arizona and there’s no way we couldn’t add this unique church to my list.

While I’m not placing the church in the outdoor attraction category, its exterior is a beautiful sight. The church is wedged between two sandstone buttes and has large, plain glass windows that give it a modern, chic design. The Chapel of the Holy Cross is not your typical church.

You can enter the church to look around or join a service if you wish. The church is near Sedona and plenty of other attractions so it isn’t too much of a detour to make.

Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

27. Arizona Sonora Desert Museum

Arizona Sonora Desert Museum is situated on the outskirts of Tucson. However, the museum deserves a place on this list in its own right.

The museum is a bit of everything from a natural history museum to a zoo and a botanical garden. Arizona Sonora Desert Museum covers 98 acres and includes an aquarium section and live animal exhibits plus flora displays in the botanical garden section. There is also an art gallery for visitors to enjoy.

You could easily spend a whole day at the museum. The museum is a chance to experience multiple attractions at once.

Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

28. Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway

Looking for a scenic drive? Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway is an incredible, relatively short scenic drive that you can enjoy from Tucson. Short enough to comfortably squeeze into a day yet long enough to provide diverse scenes and attractions, this scenic byway is a great place to drive.

Mount Lemmon Highway starts near the outskirts of Tucson.

I recommend stopping at Babad Do’ag Scenic Overlook, Molino Canyon Vista, Thimble Peak Vista, Windy Point Vista, and Geology Vista Point. There are quite literally dozens of hiking trails and trailheads along the highway as well. You can easily park up and take a detour on foot.

Allow extra time again once you reach Mount Lemmon’s peak. There is Mount Lemmon Ski Valley, Mount Lemmon Sky Observatory, and a Fire Lookout Station to visit. Mount Lemmon has a small town near the mountain top where you can grab refreshments and do some light shopping.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

29. Tombstone

A relic of the Wild West that refused to become relegated to the history books, Tombstone has a legacy stretching back some 140 years. The Cochise County town started life in 1877 when prospector Ed Schieffelin arrived here in the hunt for silver. He struck lucky discovering huge reserves of the stuff—as well as large gold deposits—and the town boomed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Unlike many similar places, Tombstone didn’t become a total ghost town. Today, it’s filled with everything from saloon-style restaurants to Western boutiques, all paying homage to the days when prospectors and merchants ran riot here. 

Watson Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

30. Watson Lake

Although it may not be as well-known as big hitters like the Grand Canyon and the Petrified Forest, Watson Lake is certainly up there with Arizona’s most beautiful landscapes. This stunning natural lake situated just four miles from downtown Prescott provides a breathtaking backdrop for several outdoor pursuits including swimming, hiking, boating, and kayaking. For the best all-round tour, hike the six-mile Peavine Trail which loops around its granite boulders and follows along the route of the former Santa Fe Railway providing plenty of scenic vistas along the way. 

The Grand Canyon State is packed with wonderful activities and tourist destinations. Visiting Arizona is guaranteed to be memorable and you’ll stay well entertained throughout your stay. The state has so much to offer, whether you want a typical desert experience, a quirky tourist attraction, or a cultural immersion.

Have a fantastic trip. I hope you manage to experience at least a few of these best places to visit in Arizona.

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.

Arizona State Parks for Every Interest

Try new outdoor things this year

Arizona’s 34 state parks have something for everyone—from contemplative nature walks to stargazing to camping. Here’s my abbreviated look at some of the more niche offerings to add to your bucket list.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Arizona State Parks for hiking

Sedona‘s picturesque wonderland of red boulders is on display at Red Rock State Park, a 286-acre nature preserve. Hikers can pick from several trails—Eagle’s Nest Loop, Coyote Ridge, a guided nature walk, full-moon hike and more—many of which lead to Oak Creek and the iconic Cathedral Rock.

Located in the Superstition Mountains on the eastern edge of metro PhoenixLost Dutchman State Park offers hikers plenty of trails to explore, not to mention an opportunity to seek the gold supposedly hidden in the 1870s by German native Jacob Waltz, aka the Dutchman. You might not find gold but on the Native Trail you’ll spot cholla, prickly pear, and ocotillo cacti. Moderate trails like Treasure Loop or Prospector’s View are available for semi-seasoned hikers while advanced hikers will want to climb Siphon Draw Trail and Flatiron.

Note: Since trails often get overcrowded on the weekend aim to hike on a weekday for a better experience and even better views.

Check out Spring Is the Season to Hike Arizona State Parks for more hiking inspiration.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Arizona State Parks for wildflowers

As you travel I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson, you can’t miss the 1,500-foot distinctive rock formation of Picacho Peak State Park. The peak is obvious but hiking the trails especially during spring will be nature’s eye candy—a blanket of Mexican gold poppies as far as the eye can see.

For more wildflower viewing, Catalina State Park near Tucson is home to around 5,000 saguaros. Between February and April, lupine, desert chicory, penstemon, and more wildflowers bloom into vibrant color.

Read Beauty of the Desert: Arizona in Bloom and Wildflower Season Has Arrived in Arizona! and Where to See the Best Blooms? for more floral inspiration.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Arizona State Parks for family fun

For families who love the outdoors, Fool Hollow Lake Recreation Area is the perfect destination. With more than 120 campsites situated in a Ponderosa pine forest near Show Low plus boating, swimming, Junior Ranger activities, a park store, and a visitor center Fool Hollow offers plenty of opportunities for family fun.

For families not too keen on roughing it but who would still like to enjoy nature, Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood (30 minutes from Sedona) has cozy log cabins with heat and air-conditioning. Game night, anyone? Families can also sign up for guided horseback rides, go fishing in the lagoons, photograph birds, or spend an afternoon at the playground complete with a zip line.

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Arizona State Parks for water sports

Water activities reign supreme at Patagonia Lake State Park in southern Arizona. A sandy beach slopes down to the shoreline making it easy to dip in for a swim. To get on the water, rent a canoe, rowboat, or pontoon from the marina. You can also put in your own boat including motorized boats for water skiing at the ramp. Better still, the town of Patagonia lies near one of Arizona’s three wine-growing regions, Sonoita-Elgin. End your day at the lake or take some time away for a tasting room tour of the area’s award-winning wineries.

If you want to chill waterside, bring your yoga mat to the tranquil beaches of Cattail Cove State Park or ply the calm waters of the 45-mile-long Lake Havasu with a kayak or paddleboard, available for rent at the park. This Lake Havasu City-area park is renowned locally for its sandy beaches and gets quite popular during the summer months.

Best Arizona State Parks for stargazing

As of 2023, there are more than 200 places in the world designated official dark-sky places by the International Dark-Sky Association. In Arizona, two state parks hold this distinction: Oracle State Park and Kartchner Caverns. This means they “possess an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage and/or public enjoyment.”

Oracle State Park, located just north of Tucson earned its designation in 2014 thanks to star-studded skies so free of light pollution that you can see the Milky Way. Stargazers should head to the American Trailhead Parking Lot for celestial viewing opportunities. Since 2010, Kartchner has been hosting nighttime astronomy programs for visitors and has achieved 99 percent compliance with its Lightscape Management Plan which has improved outdoor lighting codes countywide.

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

Best Arizona State Parks for history

Fort Verde State Historic Park showcases the original buildings used in the 1870 and 1880s by General Crook’s army in the small north-central town of Camp Verde. History buffs will appreciate that this state park near Camp Verde is considered the best-preserved example of an Indian Wars period fort in Arizona.

At Tubac, in southern Arizona, the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park preserves the ruins of a Spanish Presidio site, San Ignacio de Tubac. The on-site museum houses interpretive exhibits, and nearby sits a Territorial school from 1885—the second oldest schoolhouse in Arizona.

Back up north near Winslow, Homolovi State Park is home to more than 300 American Indian archaeological sites from the Hopi people many sites dating to the 1200s. A paved trail to the ruins with interpretive signage makes this a particularly appealing accessible option, too.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Arizona State Parks for camping

Making its second appearance on this list is Patagonia Lake State Park for its camping options—pitch your tent, drive your RV, or reserve one of the furnished cabins. Campsites come with picnic tables and fire rings, some even have ramadas. Cabins boast porches from which you can spot blue heron or whitetail deer. Or, amp up the adventure level by booking one of the boat-in campsites.

If you want a riverfront campsite along the Colorado River, book early at Buckskin Mountain State Park in western Arizona near the California border. There are 80 spots, many of which sit at the water’s edge. While away the hours with picnics, swimming, watching wildlife, playing basketball or volleyball or simply enjoying the views along this 18-mile stretch of river between Parker and Headgate dams.

Overnight camping near Tucson is available at the 120 electric and water sites in Catalina State Park. Each campsite has a picnic table and BBQ grill. Roads and parking slips are paved. Campgrounds have modern flush restrooms with hot, clean showers, and RV dump stations are available in the park. There is no limit on the length of RVs at this park.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Arizona State Parks for Fishing

Couched in the Bill Williams River Valley, 37 miles north of the town of Wenden, Alamo Lake State Park gives anglers an opportunity to catch largemouth bass, black crappie, or tilapia in the 3,500-acre lake.

For a lesser-known gem, Dankworth Pond State Park in Safford—about two hours east of Tucson and three hours east from Phoenix—features a fishing dock and quiet environs for a peaceful day of tossing in a line. You’ll likely snag largemouth bass or rainbow trout in the small but mighty pond.

BONUS: Most unique State Parks

Ten miles north of Payson Tonto Natural Bridge State Park showcases a true Arizona treasure: the world’s longest and largest travertine bridge. Most natural bridges found throughout the world are created from sandstone or limestone which makes the travertine aspect of Tonto especially unique. You can see the bridge from any of the four trails in the park.

Witness the underground beauty of Kartchner Caverns, a living cave that discoverers kept secret for years until they could ensure its preservation. The caverns are carved out of limestone and speleothems, which have been slowly growing for 50,000 years.

Worth Pondering…

The trip across Arizona is just one oasis after another. You can just throw anything out and it will grow there.

—Will Rogers

17 Best Arizona State Parks to Visit in 2024

From escaping city life at Lost Dutchman State Park to the unique vistas at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, there are so many amazing Arizona state parks to visit

It is a known fact that Arizona is home to some beautiful areas of nature—it has some of the best national parks and hiking trails in the U.S. Arizona is famous for its desert scenery and iconic red rocks especially in its national parks.

But instead of just focusing on the significant national ones and swaying towards the most popular attractions, don’t miss out on Arizona’s state parks. The government protects and manages these stunning albeit much smaller regions as areas of extreme natural beauty or historical significance. While they often get substantially less foot traffic from tourists, these are some of the prettiest ones in Arizona. 

Arizona state parks have many recreational opportunities whether you head horseback riding through red rocks or into the Sonoran Desert for hiking trails. Small but mighty state parks are the way to go if you want to immerse yourself in Arizona’s natural beauty.

In this article, I will introduce you to the best Arizona state parks you can squeeze into an itinerary. You could be biking through forests, hiring a boat to go boating with the family on a picturesque lake, or walking up mountains just outside Tucson. And that’s not to mention the plethora of historical sites including Jerome State Historic Park with its fascinating mining museum. You’ll have an amazing time visiting these Arizona state parks so sit tight and get ready for some serious inspiration.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Alamo Lake State Park 

Alamo Lake State Park is one of the best places to fish for bass in Arizona. The crystal clear lake is surrounded by mountainous terrain speckled with brush, wildflowers, and cacti making for a visually pleasing experience. The park has good wildlife viewing opportunities and you may spot a bald or golden eagle.

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. For nature lovers, spring rains bring an abundance of wild flowers and the lake environment attracts a variety of wildlife year round including waterfowl, foxes, coyotes, mule deer, and wild burros. Stargazers are sure to enjoy the amazing views of the night sky with the nearest city lights some 40 miles away.

2. Kartchner Caverns State Park

If you want a more unique park experience, Kartchner Caverns State Park is the one. Visitors take guided tours through a massive cave complex and the park has the longest soda straw stalactite formation in the world—some serious bragging rights. There are also the tallest columns in Arizona to see. Kartchner Caverns State Park is a stunning park to add to your list. It is situated in southern Arizona just a short drive from Benson outside of Tucson. It is a brilliant family site but equally awe-inspiring for adults.

It is more than just underground attractions to see in Kartchner Caverns State Park too. There are above-ground trails to enjoy, too. However, for me, the cave element is what really sells this park. If you are brave, you can even book a night-time Kartchner Caverns bat experience.

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

3. Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park

Cochise County was created by a vote of the citizens in 1881 with Tombstone serving as its county seat. The two-story courthouse designed in the Victorian style was constructed of red brick in 1882. The courthouse, a splendid example of territorial architecture continued to serve as a county facility until 1931 when the county seat was moved to Bisbee.

Today, visitors can enjoy a museum full of authentic interpretive exhibits on the history of Tombstone and Cochise County including period sheriff’s office, artist drawings and interpretations of the Gunfight at the OK Corral, Wyatt Earp, mining exhibit area, saloon and gaming room, period lawyers office and courtroom, ranching, and residents of Tombstone.

4. Oracle State Park

Oracle State Park is the state park to choose if you want to explore forest trails by walking or biking. Many of the Arizona state parks involve desert terrain or oasis-style lake scenery so this park is unique; the main thing that caught my eye. The 5,000 acres are fantastic for hiking trails and visitors have excitingly high chances of spotting whitetail deer. Similarly, it is an exhilarating park for cycling with shady tracks that create a welcome break from the scorching Arizona heat on more exposed trails. There’s also the Kannally Ranch House and its preserved family collection artwork where visitors can experience a more historical element of Oracle State Park.

Despite these amazing things about this park, the major winning characteristic is its forest trails. As I said, these trails are a hot commodity so make the most of these leafy, shaded biking and hiking trails. Oracle State Park is less than an hour from Tucson’s city center making it an accessible addition to your itinerary.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Catalina State Park

Catalina State Park is a gorgeous top contender amongst the best Arizona state parks. It is most famed for its almost 5,000 saguaros—iconic cacti associated with the Sonoran Desert. Catalina State Park spreads over 5,500 beautiful acres and is connected by a network of scenic trails with campgrounds should you want to stay overnight and wildlife-watching opportunities galore. You can even go horseback riding or cycling if it takes your fancy. Catalina State Park is just a 20-minute drive from Tucson and sits on the slopes of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Nothing quite hits like views of saguaros and the Santa Catalina Mountains; you’ll see why Catalina State Park made our list just from a few pictures.

6. Slide Rock State Park

Slide Rock State Park is the best family park to explore thanks to its natural waterslide, aka Slide Rock or the most loved rock in Arizona. Out of all the Arizona state parks, Slide Rock is one of the most blessed with fun attractions especially for swimming. A popular family day out consists of hiking to Slide Rock and spending half a day picnicking and slipping down the rock into the plunge pool below. It is a brilliant place for light-hearted fun—how could we miss a reserve with a natural waterslide out of this guide?

Of course, there are animals to spot, too, and trout further up the river. However, the waterslide and the potential of Slide Rock State Park as a top camping and family site won us over. It is also just a 15-minute drive from Sedona to get here making it an accessible day out.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Red Rock State Park

Red Rock State Park is a leading park in Arizona for experiencing the aestheticism of red scenery. Nature doesn’t get much better than at Red Rock State Park and while the southern US is world famous for its red rock formations, Red Rock State Park is extra special. Situated just outside Sedona it is easily accessible from one of the world the most popular tourist areas taking just 15 minutes by car. You can check out local wildlife—including animals and plants—and hike the numerous trails to snap photos of the iconic red surrounds.

This iconic destination made my list easily and it is one of the most famous Arizona reserves to experience. Enjoy varied walking routes and abundant nature, all just 15 minutes away from central Sedona in northern Arizona.

8. Fort Verde State Historic Park

Fort Verde State Historic Park is different from your classic walking or cycling type of reserve. Instead, it offers history and a great experience whisking you back to the early 19th century with a fort that dates back to the Apache Wars era. Think of Fort Verde as an immersion in the 19th century old west. It has 10 acres of preserved buildings and exhibits and is located in Camp Verde. If you get lucky, you can even catch re-enactments. It is essentially an open-air museum with state park status.

Fort Verde State Historic Park is just 40 minutes from Sedona and is well combined with a visit to Montezuma Castle National Monument—an 8-minute drive away.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Dead Horse Ranch State Park

Dead Horse Ranch State Park is quite morbidly named after the soon-to-be-owners viewing multiple ranches that arrived at the park’s original ranch to find a dead horse in the field. Don’t let that put you off, though, because now the park is full of life and is most popular for its river activities and camping. Dead Horse Ranch State Park is sliced in half by the beautiful Verde River which is brilliant for fishing and has a hiking trail or two to enjoy. This reserve is where to go to experience a slower pace of life. You can also go riding on horses if you fancy something a bit different.

A 423-acre reserve this park is a generous area of protected natural beauty. It is just a 10-minute drive or 40-minute walk out of Cottonwood situated near Sedona above Phoenix. If you are staying in the Sedona area, it is within easy driving distance and it’s well-combined with other things to do in Sedona.

Jerome State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Jerome State Historic Park

Jerome State Historic Park is one of the most historical reserves and addresses Arizona’s once-thriving mining industry. The park is entirely centered around Douglas Mansion which was built in 1916 by a family in the mining industry and now runs as a museum. Tourists stop by Jerome Park to see it and enjoy the numerous trails around the park. It is a brilliant place to learn about and educate yourself on the past stories of Arizona’s mining.

The reserve is just a 25-minute walk outside of the town of Jerome and is situated in that popular Sedona area sandwiched between the Utah border and Phoenix. It is on the tourist trail already and a super easy attraction to squeeze into a popular getaway.

11. Tonto Natural Bridge State Park

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park has the longest natural travertine bridge in the world; needless to say it attracts a fair few visitors. It is one of the most impressive reserves for hiking trails and wildlife and if you want a wow factor from a natural attraction, Tonto Natural Bridge gets definite brownie points. The bridge was found in the 1800s but nobody knows exactly how old this natural structure is. It has a lot of mysterious geological history; moreover, it is lovely to look at. You can hike to and actually under the bridge and there are plenty of other walking routes to enjoy as well.

To reach Tonto Natural Bridge, it is a 2-hour drive from Phoenix or a 1.5-hour drive from Sedona. It is located in a somewhat isolated region surrounded by small towns and minor attractions so you’ll need to be happy driving long distances.

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

12. Colorado River State Historic Park

The Colorado River State Historic Park is another of the Arizona state parks that are more museums than traditional parks. You will find little in the way of trails and hiking here. Still, this little protected area in southwest Arizona is home to restored buildings that tell the story of its settlement past. At Colorado River Park, you can learn all about the importance of the river, see a restored army supply depot, and see the Yuma Quartermaster Depot.

The reserve is located just outside of the city of Yuma—just minutes away by car or around an hour’s walk depending on where in Yuma you stay. It is located as far west as possible along the California border. Keep it in mind if you plan road-tripping west or onward to California.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Patagonia Lake State Park

Patagonia Lake State Park is—as you may have guessed—entirely situated around a lake. You can expect classic lake activities and scenery across the 265-acre reserve. You can go boating if you have a boat or alternatively rent kayaks or SUPs. Patagonia Lake State Park is an ideal family-friendly site especially if you want that wholesome go fishing by the lake experience with your children.

This park is also ideal for an overnight getaway with waterfront camping areas, stunning cabins overlooking the lake, and boating activities. If the campgrounds caught your eye note that you can camp all year round thanks to Arizona’s mild weather. Patagonia Lake State Park is a beautiful site to visit in the fall and winter not just spring and summer.

This reserve is just an hour and 20 minutes from Tucson’s city center by car. It is located in southern Arizona near the Mexican border so it is easiest to reach for those already in the south.

Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park

Sitting on a bluff overlooking the Colorado River, three miles west of the confluence of the Colorado and the historic Gila River stand the ruins of Arizona’s famous Territorial Prison and a short distance west are the remaining buildings that served as a part of the Yuma Quartermaster’s Depot. 

In 1876, ground was broken and some of the prisoners were pressed into service to build their cells. The first seven inmates moved into the facility on July 1, 1876. The Prison held a variety of law violators including the legendary stagecoach robber Pearl Hart. The Prison continued in operation for 33 years when due to overcrowding all inmates were moved to a new facility in Florence.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Picacho Peak State Park

Picacho Peak State Park is one of my favorite contenders for Arizona’s state parks. In short, it has everything from historical battlefield sites to beautiful stargazing and a peak hike for the ultimate Arizona mountains experience. Oh, and it is approximately just an hour’s drive from Phoenix or Tucson’s city center. Picacho Peak State Park is a beautiful place to hike, stargaze, and learn about the state’s role in the Civil War. Honestly, what more could you ask for from a reserve?

The best way to experience Picacho Peak Park is on foot. You can enjoy the summit trek and even extend your experience by booking a permit to camp. The scenery is stunning with cacti and mountain ridges with sweeping panoramas. And that’s not to mention the stargazing opportunities at night. The lack of light pollution makes it a dream. Picacho Peak State Park is a brilliant reserve for anyone wanting a raw and authentic experience in Arizona’s natural environments.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Lost Dutchman State Park

It makes sense that when looking for Arizona parks you want to experience the desert that the state is so famous for—and if that’s the case, Lost Dutchman State Park is ideal. This reserve perfectly introduces Arizona’s desert regions with tons of classic plants and animals like Sonoran Desert birds.

The park actually gets its name from a legendary lost gold mine and is set in the beautiful Superstition Mountains. You can enjoy paths like Native Plant Trail and Siphon Draw Trail or, alternatively, cycling on the newly added 4-mile bike track. Lost Dutchman State Park is a legendary place to visit with many brilliant opportunities to enjoy the outdoors and impressive trails.

Reaching Lost Dutchman State Park is less than an hour’s drive from Phoenix. The reserve is located in the shadow of Tonto National Forest and just in Phoenix’s outskirts. It is a surprisingly accessible park and one of Arizona’s most convenient desert experiences.

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

17. Tubac Presidio State Historic Park

Tubac Presidio has the distinction of being Arizona’s first state park. Tubac played an interesting and exciting role from archaeological times through the Spanish contact and colonization, Mexican occupation, and the westward and territorial expansion periods.

The park’s primary purpose is to preserve the ruins of the oldest Spanish Presidio site in Arizona, San Ignacio de Tubac, established in 1752. Tubac Presidio State Historic Park is the home of the first fort in Arizona, the first European settlement in Arizona, the first American mining community in Arizona and the first printing of a newspaper in Arizona.

Arizona State Parks: FAQs

Mountains or lake, southwest or northern, there’s so much variety in this state and its beautiful reserves that you’ll always have outdoor entertainment. With so many beautiful reserves in southwest Arizona, it’s easy to see why so many people like to plan Arizona road trips.

However, before you rush off on your Arizona park mission check out these common FAQs. Who knows, maybe these will hold the answers to the burning questions lingering in your mind.

How many state parks does AZ have?

Visit Arizona reports that Arizona has 34 state parks.

What is the famous park in Arizona?

Red Rock is a 286-acre park famous for its bright red rocks and serene hiking trails. Grand Canyon National Park is the most famous of the national parks in Arizona.

What is the main national park in Arizona?

Grand Canyon National Park is the leading national park in Arizona and attracts millions of visitors a year—come prepared to explore and outsmart crowds with shoulder season visits and early morning starts.

Is there a yearly pass for Arizona State Parks?

Yes, there is an Annual Pass that you can purchase for Arizona’s parks. You can just head to the official State Parks website for more information. As of 2023-2024, prices range from $75-200.

To conclude

Whether you choose to explore the Sonoran Desert or the mountains these Arizona parks promise a serene experience in natural environments. It is no wonder that Arizona is world-famous for hiking trails and natural scenery.

With these reserves, you’ll see how there are many more top places to visit in Arizona outside of just the—albeit mesmerizing—Grand Canyon’s grandeur. Visiting parks is one of the best things to do in Arizona so pick a few from this guide and guarantee yourself memories you’ll replay for the rest of your life. Arizona is a paradise if you love hiking and history.

Plan your next road trip to Arizona with these resources:

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

Catalina State Park: Celebrating its 40th Anniversary + Hiking Safely in 110-degree Heat

Arizona hikers with no water rescued at Catalina State Park as scorching temps expand across Southwest

Catalina State Park in Tucson, Arizona celebrated its 40th anniversary in May. The park serves as one of Tucson’s most popular hiking and camping destinations and is well-known for its trails and saguaro-studded scenery.

With temperatures reaching the 110s and an excessive heat warning in place, knowing how to keep yourself safe if you choose to hike is important. This time is the year is the most common time for heat-related illnesses and hiker rescues. Two hikers were recently rescued and officials say the pair failed to bring enough water as excessive heat scorches the Southwest.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park is home to many common hiking trails. Park officials say that if you so want to enjoy these hiking trails, it’s best to come as early as possible to avoid the triple-digit temperatures.

“They were about six to seven miles out on some very rugged terrain. They didn’t have enough sun protection and they became exhausted and needed an extraction,” says George Graham, the senior ranger at Catalina State Park.

The rescue was no easy task and required three separate groups to rescue the hikers. Graham says the area the hikers were at could only be reached on foot and doing so at 105 degrees was “a very very difficult task.”

Graham says the three most important tips to remember when hiking is pack a lot of water, hike with a partner, and go early in the morning.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park was signed into legislation in 1974 and over the next three years its Master Development Plan was formed by students of the School of Renewable Natural Resources at the University of Arizona and completed by a citizen’s planning committee.

After a series of land trades, leases, a land purchase, and initial construction, Catalina State Park was dedicated by Governor Bruce Babbitt on May 25, 1983.

“Just in terms of visitation, Catalina is our third-busiest park in the state,” said Bob Broscheid, executive director of Arizona State Parks and Trails. “We know there are members of the community who visit there daily to hike the trails and enjoy the calming surroundings. Part of what makes this park special is the dedicated staff and volunteers who ensure everyone has a great visit.”

Camping at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park offers 120 campsites, an equestrian campground with horse pens, picnic areas, and an expansive network of multi-use trails leading into the Coronado National Forest.

In summer 2020, the park was impacted by the Bighorn Fire which was started by a lightning strike in the Catalina Mountains. The fire burned nearly 120,000 acres before being extinguished.

In late 2020, a new Master Development Plan was approved for the park. Additionally, Catalina State Park has received $5.8 million in funding for fiscal year 2024 to design and build a bridge spanning the Cañada del Oro wash that separates the entrance of the park from the campground. Since the fire, this wash has been more prone to flooding from rain and runoff in the mountains.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

First responders were called to Catalina State Park located at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains in Tucson after the pair of hikers wandered off trail, Golder Ranch Fire District wrote on Twitter. Officials said the hikers were found without water.

The fire district urges hikers to stay on trail, bring plenty of water, and start hiking early before the heat spikes. 

“Keep in mind temperatures are dangerously hot now through this upcoming week,” fire officials said.

Cañada del Oro wash floods at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The National Weather Service in Tucson issued an excessive heat warning for six counties through Tuesday evening for most of Southeast Arizona. Over the weekend, the temperature at Tucson International Airport had hit 111 degrees.

Hot temperatures have been expanding across the Southwest with parts of Texas seeing above-average temperatures for the 12th straight day.

The heat wave in Texas has offered little reprieve. For two straight weeks, high temperatures in Del Rio have exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit each day—rising at its highest to 115 F. 

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At least 13 people have died as a result of the heat in Texas. Eleven of those deaths were in Webb County. The city of Laredo has recorded 16 consecutive days of 105+ temperatures.

During this heat wave a 31-year-old Florida man and his 14-year-old stepson died in Big Bend National Park in Texas after hiking in extremely hot conditions, according to park officials.

The teen had become ill on the Marufo Vega Trail around 6 p.m. and lost consciousness as temperatures hit 119 degrees.

The teen’s 21-year-old brother attempted to carry him back to the trail head as the stepfather left the two to go back to the vehicle and find help. The stepfather’s vehicle was later found crashed over an embankment at the Boquillas Overlook.

Both the 14-year-old and the stepfather were pronounced dead when officials arrived at the scenes.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking in the heat

Planning your hot weather hikes is an important factor in staying cooler when hiking in the heat.

1. Choose a location that will provide some shade. Hike in the woods or canyons that are not exposed to direct sunlight. Higher altitude hikes will also be cooler.

2. Choose a hike near water. Sometimes the slight breeze from the ocean or lake can be a little refreshing. If you will be hiking near a creek or river, you’ll have access to the water to cool off by splashing some water on you or dipping a hat, neck gaitor or shirt in the water.

3. Check the forecast. Obviously you know it will be hot but if they are calling for record highs it is during a brutal heat wave or humidity levels are going to be extremely high, you may want to reconsider and hike on a different day. Humidity levels play a huge factor in the heat index making it feel hotter than it is. It can seem like you are walking in a steamy fog!

4. Hike in the early morning or late evening. Don’t hike in the hottest part of the day which is usually between 11:00 am to 3:00 pm.

5. Choose light colored clothes. Dark colors absorb the heat making you even hotter. Select light colors like white, tan, or pastels to help reflect the sun and heat.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Wear a wide-brimmed hat. A UV-protected, wide brimmed hat is best, but even a ball cap will help protect your head and face. 

7. Start hydrating before your hike. Don’t start your hike dehydrated. Begin drinking more water several days before your hike. Better yet, just get in the habit of drinking at least 64 ounces of water every day!

8. Drink plenty of water during your hike. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty. Sip on your water though out your hike. Take plenty of water plus water purification if you will be hiking near a water source.

9. Know the signs and treatment of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Both are usually caused by dehydration when exposed to high temperatures. One of the first signs of dehydration is dark colored urine.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Check this out to learn more:

Worth Pondering…

“‘Heat, ma’am!’ I said; ‘it was so dreadful here, that I found there was nothing left for it but to take off my flesh and sit in my bones.”

—Sydney Smith

How to Hike Safely During Arizona Summers

Water, water, water! The magical liquid that keeps us alive!

Arizona is known for many things like hiking, beautiful scenery, wildlife, and history. 

However, during the summer months it’s known for one thing: heat. 

“It’s very serious,” said Arizona Fire and Medical Authority Division Chief Ashley Losch. “It will kill you if you aren’t paying attention to the signs.”

Hiking Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Last year, Arizona saw the highest number of heat-related deaths in some time so as temperatures start to rise, so does concern for safety.

Heat-related emergencies can creep up quickly so it can be life-saving to know when there’s a problem.

We get used to being outside and enjoying the nice weather and it hits you out of nowhere. Complacency is a problem when it comes to heat.

Heat exhaustion can cause dizziness, excessive sweating, nausea/vomiting, and/or cool and clammy, pale skin.

And that’s time to get inside, sit down, and drink some water. Don’t chug the water though, take small sips.

Hiking Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heat stroke is much more serious. Signs include severe headache, confusion, and a change in behavior. The body also stops sweating and will feel hot to the touch (heat stroke can present itself when the body reaches at least 103 degrees). If the person is in an altered state, don’t give them water; instead call 911 to get help on the way.

Get them inside, cooled down, and that means active cooling. So, ice packs in the groin, armpits and something behind the neck. Maybe even a cool compress on the head.

Every minute counts. Every minute your body is above that critical temperature it’s causing damage—damage to your kidneys, damage to your liver, your brain.

Hiking Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Staying hydrated is one of the most important things someone can do during the scorching temperatures. How much to drink depends on the person, so experts say a good rule of thumb is to drink when thirsty. 

Even better is to drink constantly throughout the day (as much as you can) and if you’re headed outside, be sure to hydrate before, during, and after. 

Phoenix has already experienced its first 100-degree day and temperatures are going to keep climbing. Here are some tips from Arizona State Parks on staying safe on the trail.

>> Related article: Excessive Heat Warnings: Safety Tips for RVers

Hiking is one of Arizona’s most popular weekend activities. But the days are getting longer—and hotter. Every year, over 200 hikers are rescued from Phoenix alone, according to Arizona State Parks and Trails (ASPT).

But there are numerous ways to get out on the trails and enjoy Arizona’s gorgeous summers without becoming one of those hikers in distress. 

Hiking North Mountain Park near Casa Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hydration is a journey, not a destination

I can’t stress this one enough: Always bring more water than you think you’ll need! 

You should be drinking water before, during, and after a hike, according to ASPT. You may not feel like you’re sweating a lot because of the dry weather but you’ll be losing water even faster in the heat.

“When you’ve finished half of your water supply, it’s time to turn around—no matter where you are on a trail,” the department said. 

Hiking Fountain Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How much to drink?

How much you need to drink depends on a number of factors such as the activity you’re doing, intensity level, duration, weather, your age, your sweat rate, and your body type. A good general recommendation is about one pint (16 fl. oz.) of water per hour of moderate activity in moderate temperatures. You may need to increase how much you drink as the temperature and intensity of the activity rise. For example, strenuous hiking in high heat may require that you drink one quart (32 fl.oz.) of water or more per hour. As you gain experience, you’ll be able to fine-tune how much you drink.

Hiking Old Baldy Trail at Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Preventing Dehydration

Dehydration occurs when the loss of body fluids usually through sweating exceeds the amount taken in. If you don’t counteract this by drinking water, you risk becoming dehydrated.

>> Related article: Heat Alert: The Hidden Symptoms of Extreme Heat

The following early signs of dehydration are a tipoff that your fluid intake is insufficient:

  • Dry mouth
  • Decrease in energy
Hiking Montezuma Well © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More serious symptoms of dehydration:

  • Cramps
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • The umbles (stumbling, mumbling, grumbling, and fumbling)
  • Dark or brightly colored urine with less volume (Note that certain foods and drinks like those containing B12 vitamins can cause urine to be bright yellow so urine color isn’t as reliable as other symptoms)

The remedy for dehydration is simple: Drink water. Drink the moment you feel thirsty. Try to take frequent sips of water rather than chugging large amounts after your thirst grows intense.

So know what to look for and stay on top of your hydration game!

Hiking Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan ahead and gear up

Hydration tips

Drink often: Rather than chugging water infrequently take many smaller sips to continually hydrate.

Don’t forget to snack: When you sweat, you lose electrolytes which can sap your energy. If your activity lasts for only an hour or less, this usually isn’t an issue but when you’re out for longer it’s important to compensate for the loss. Snack foods with sodium and potassium can help as will foods with calcium and magnesium. For an extended, high-intensity activity, also consider bringing an electrolyte replacement sports drink.

Hiking Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drink more at altitude: Doing any activity at higher altitude can lead to dehydration. You’re less likely to crave water and feel thirsty at higher elevations so it’s important to drink frequently.

Rehydrate: Drinking after exercise gets your fluid levels back to normal and can help with recovery. This can be as simple as drinking a glass of water when you get home or if you want to get scientific about it, drink 16–24 fl. oz. of water for every pound you lost while exercising.

Plan your route: Water weighs a lot (16 fl. oz. is just over a pound), so if you want to avoid carrying extra weight on a run or bike ride, plan a route that will take you by a water fountain where you can drink or refill a bottle. Another option is to use your car like an aid station and plan an outing that does loops from your vehicle. You can stop at your car to refill a water bottle and grab a quick snack.

Wear sun protection: Getting a sunburn can expedite dehydration, so lather up with sunscreen and wear sun-protection clothing before heading out.

Set a timer: If you tend to lose track of the last time you drank set a timer on your watch to sound an alarm about every 20 minutes as a reminder to take a sip.

Hiking Thumb Butte Trail at Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Know where you’re going

Before you hike, make sure you have all of your trail maps and guides downloaded or printed.

>> Related article: Stay Safe this Summer by Using These Outdoor Heat Hacks

You can find plenty of trail information at AZStateParks.com/Arizona-Hiking or third-party organizations like AllTrails or Gaia GPS. When you’re heading out, it’s a good idea to take a GPS with you and make sure your phone is fully charged.

Keep an eye on emergency alerts. The National Weather Service will issue a heat warning if the temperature poses a threat.

Hiking Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And if you’re hiking alone, tell someone you know where you’re going and how long you expect to be gone. 

And make sure you have the right gear. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Wise-brimmed hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Long lightweight sleeves
  • Light-colored, moisture-wicking, breathable clothing
  • Sturdy, comfortable footwear
  • Insect repellent
  • Salty snacks
  • Plenty of water
Hiking Paralta Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Know your limits

As so many people like to say: It’s a dry heat. And I would add, so is an oven! And that dry heat will sneak up on you. Make sure you know the warning signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Heat exhaustion can cause dizziness, excessive sweating, nausea, and vomiting as well as cool and clammy, pale skin.

Heat stroke which is much more serious can cause severe headaches, confusion, and changes in behavior. A person suffering from heat stroke will stop sweating and feel hot to the touch.

At that point, it’s time to call 911. 

Hiking Ramsey Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But it’s always best to avoid the problem entirely. There’s no shame in calling off a hike and turning around! 

>> Related article: Traveling To a National Park this Summer? Prepare For High Temperatures!

During a hike, check in with yourself and see how you’re doing. How are your energy levels? Do you still have enough water? What’s the temperature?

Questions like those are the key to having a fun-filled weekend on Arizona’s beautiful trails.

As ASPT puts it, “Every trail can be your favorite if you have a great time.”

Worth Pondering…

As soon as he saw the Big Boots, Pooh knew that an Adventure was about to happen, and he brushed the honey off his nose with the back of his paw and spruced himself up as well as he could, so as to look Ready for Anything.

—A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Patagonia Lake State Park: A Southern Arizona Oasis for Boating, Fishing, and Camping<

Whether you are interested in birding, fishing, camping, water sports, or just enjoying one of the favorite lakes in southeastern Arizona, make a stop at Patagonia Lake State Park

When a sign suddenly popped up along a two-lane highway carving through Arizona’s wine country I wondered if it was a mistake. It pointed to a back road leading into the desert foothills promising an unlikely destination. Is there really a lake amid these gentle rolling hills covered in desert brush?

Taking that turn we traveled a road whose route is dictated by the landscape almost doubling back on itself as it follows the path of least resistance. The drive took us through semi-desert grasslands and rolling hills studded with ocotillo, yucca, and scrub oak. After four miles it ended at small lake tucked within the contours of rolling hills.

Road to Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birding and fishing in winter

The first glimpse of water at Patagonia Lake State Park came through the tents and RVs that crowd the campground. On a winter morning early risers walk their dogs nodding to their fellow campers taking leisurely strolls through scenery that demanded attention.

The 2½-mile lake plays hide and seek throughout its length ducking around bends and into coves. On this day, anglers are the first ones on the water, prowling for bass, catfish, crappie, and even rainbow trout which are stocked during the winter. Fishing opportunities abound from both shore and boat, and anglers typically do fairly well in their pursuit of whichever species they are targeting.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Later on they will be joined by kayakers who cruise silently along the placid surface. Two-thirds of Lake Patagonia’s 265 surface acres are devoted to no-wake zones, the perfect playground for those who prefer to explore in a canoe or kayak.

Patagonia Lake also draws those who have binoculars and know how to use them. More than 300 species of birds have been spotted and the area has a national reputation among birdwatchers.

More on Arizona State Parks: Spring Is the Season to Hike Arizona State Parks

Many head to the east where the Sonoita Creek Trail leads to a riparian area perfect for the area’s full-time avian residents as well as those stopping briefly during migration. Birders have reported seeing such common species as the broad-billed hummingbird and great horned owl as well as the harder-to-find vermilion flycatcher, elegant trogon, and spotted towhee.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sonoita Creek

Sonoita Creek flows for two-and-one-half miles along the edge of the park providing some of the richest riparian habitat in the area.

Sonoita Creek courses its way through Coronado National Forest between the Santa Rita Mountains in the north and the Patagonia Mountains in the south and is notable for its extensive, well preserved riparian corridor which harbors many rare species of plants and animals, especially birds. The creek creates a band of greenery in the otherwise arid mountains in a transition zone between the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts and which stretches for 15 miles from the village of Patagonia to the low elevation foothills east of the Santa Cruz Valley where the waters evaporate or seep below ground.

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

A dam over the creek (constructed in 1968) formed Patagonia Lake, a small but scenic reservoir. Its blue waters are surrounded by a narrow band of trees and bushes set beneath barren, rocky hillsides bearing cacti and yucca. Below the dam, several miles of the creek and an area of hills on both sides are further protected as the Sonoita Creek State Natural Area (see the above photo).

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RV and tent camping

One hundred five developed campsites with a picnic table, a fire-ring/grill, and parking for two vehicles. Select sites also have a ramada. Sites have 20/30/50 amp voltage. Sites tend to fill up in the evening from May until November. Campsite lengths vary but most can accommodate any size RV. Quiet hours (no generators, music, or loud voices) are from 9 p.m.–8 a.m. 

More on Arizona State Parks: The Ultimate Guide to Arizona State Parks

There are also two non-electric campsites available. They have a picnic table, a fire-ring/grill, and parking for two vehicles with a ramada for shade. These two sites are 22 feet long and are suitable for camper vans and short trailers.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boating and swimming in summer

As the weather warms, Patagonia Lake becomes an altogether different beast. The park is no secret to the thousands who come each summer to splash along its beach or carve rooster tails on its western third where wakes are to be jumped rather than shunned.

People from all over the area come to escape the heat. Summer weekends can get pretty crazy.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most summer visitors settle in at the beach finding a seat among the dozens of picnic tables shaded by a ramada or playing in the gentle water of the protected cove as parents make sure their children don’t venture past the line of buoys protecting the area from passing boats.

About a mile away on the lake’s western portion motor boats dominate, most of them towing skiers in an orderly counter-clockwise circle. At the end of the day some will head to the handful of camping sites available only by boat enjoying sunset from their secluded nooks.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A history of recreation

The lake’s popularity nearly killed it when local citizens first dammed Sonoita Creek 50 years ago to attract recreational enthusiasts. Members of the Patagonia Lake Recreation Association built facilities to make the area popular with those who wanted to fish, water ski, or simply have a picnic. Visitors flocked to the lake in the late 1960s and early ’70s so much so that owners couldn’t safely keep up with the demand.

More on Arizona State Parks: The Most (and least) Popular Arizona State Parks

Eventually the area was acquired by the state and on April 1, 1975 it was opened as Patagonia Lake State Park.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia Lake State Park Fact Box

Size: 2,658 acres

Elevation: 3,804-4,200 feet

Established: April 1, 1975

Location: Southeastern Arizona, 15 miles northeast of Nogales

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Directions: From Tucson, take Interstate 10 east to Vail (Exit 281); south on SR 83 to Sonoita; west on SR 82 past Patagonia to the Patagonia Lake State Park turnoff (distance is 177 miles one way)

Nearest services: In Patagonia, 10 miles away.

Park entrance fee: $15/vehicle Mondays-Fridays; $20/vehicle Saturdays-Sundays.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best time to go: Summer, if you want to cool off; Winter, if you want to kayak or fish when crowds are gone and the lake is calm.

Trails: There are more than 25 miles of hiking trails. All but a half-mile of them are within the adjacent Sonoita Creek State Natural Area

Visitor center: This should be your first stop for maps and a list of boating and swimming rules. Wakes are prohibited along two-thirds of the lake and rangers keep a close eye to make sure everyone is enjoying responsibly.

More on Arizona State Parks: Focus on Birding in Arizona State Parks

Picnic areas: Ramadas and picnic tables are scattered about the lake’s south shore with most clustered at the beach.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Campground: There are 105 sites with electricity and room for two vehicles. Sites with electricity are $25-$30 per night; non-electric sites are $20-$25. The 12 boat-in campsites ($20-$25 per night) have no power or bathrooms. Cabins have a queen-size bed, two sets of bunk beds, table and chairs, mini-fridge, microwave, ceiling fan, heating and air conditioning. Bring your own bedding and supplies. Cabins cost $119 per night, $129 on holidays with a three-night minimum. Campsites and cabins can be reserved at azstateparks.com.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Supplies: The Lakeside Market sells food, drink, and other common provisions and also offers boat rentals, fishing licenses, and bait.

Worth Pondering…
Patagonia is a tiny hamlet located in the Sonoita Valley in southeastern Arizona. A few blocks from the main street through town, on the edge of The Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, lies a non-descript ranch house that is no less than one of the most famous bird watching sites in the world.

―Mathew Tekulsky, National Geographic News, 2004

Flooding Strands Campers at Catalina State Park

The park, located north of Tucson was closed last week after rains caused a wash to flood

Some 300 campers were stranded at Catalina State Park last week after heavy rains caused the Cañada del Oro wash to overflow. The park is located next to the Town of Oro Valley, 6 miles north of Tucson.

They headed back to dry land on Wednesday (January 18, 2023) as park rangers helped campers walk across the receding wash at the park’s entrance. The only road out of the campground was filled with wet sand making it impossible to drive across.

Catalina State Park crews clear a path through the flooded wash © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What stops people isn’t the water. It’s the sand.

“Doesn’t matter if you have four-wheel drive, you are going to get stuck,” said Catalina State Park manager Steve Haas. “You are going to get stuck. It is not the water that is going to stop you. It is about 4 to 5 feet of sand from the bottom of the road that is stopping people.”

The park reopened Friday, January 20 as crews continued to clear flooding debris and create a safe path to drive across near the park entrance. Visitors were requested to observe all rules distributed by rangers when entering the park and to use caution as flooding is still possible. Parking is only allowed in designated parking spots.

Catalina State Park crews clear a path through the flooded wash © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition, Catalina State Park released the following Facility Information, available on its website:

  • Significant rain and weather events may require day-to-day decisions on remaining open. The fire caused significant runoff and debris that can be dangerous to staff and the public.
  • Many areas of the park look different than they did prior to the Bighorn Fire. The burned areas host hazards such as fallen rocks, trees, debris, and potential flash flooding, and visitors enter these areas at their own risk.
  • Roads near campsites may face flash flooding which could prohibit campers from leaving the park until flooding subsides. 
  • We encourage advance reservations for overnight camping and RV sites.
  • Please maintain awareness of your surroundings and the weather at all times while visiting the park.
Catalina State Park crews clear a path through the flooded wash © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fortunately, this was the only flooding in the park and the campground was not affected. It would be really bad if there was this obstacle plus a whole bunch of flooding where people are located. That was not the case.

Many campers had been at Catalina since the holiday weekend. Some had been making the trek across the wash by foot to get food and supplies in Oro Valley.

Catalina State Park crews clear a path through the flooded wash © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A lot of people’s lives were interrupted but they were in a good spot.

Crews worked on Wednesday to try and dig out the sand and waiting for the water level to go down before letting people drive through. Haas said the campers aren’t in any danger. “They are totally safe on the campgrounds. It is outside the floodplain,” said Haas.

Catalina State Park crews clear a path through the flooded wash © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rangers said the flooding happens regularly during the summer monsoons. But campgrounds aren’t as busy during the summer.

“This past summer, we were closed 20 nights because of this,” said Haas.

The Big Horn Fire in 2020 took out a lot of vegetation making runoff from rainwater more extreme. The Canada del Oro arroyo and its tributaries carry runoff from the Santa Catalinas during rain storms—a common occurrence that can and does often lead to flooding during monsoon but something that occurs less frequently in the winter.

Catalina State Park crews clear a path through the flooded wash © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We found ourselves in a similar situation in February 2010 when we were campimg at Catalina State Park. Since we were self-contained and planned to spend a week camping in the park we were basically unaffected by the flooded wash. The photos in this article were taken at that time.

Campers were eager to get home but grateful to be safe. “We have bathrooms over there, we have fresh running water. This is Arizona, it doesn’t get cold. So, we are fine, but we are ready to go,” said one camper.

Catalina State Park crews clear a path through the flooded wash © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona State Parks officials said there are plans and a budget to build a bridge over the wash in the coming years so flooding won’t continue to be a common occurrence. Funding has been approved and the bridge is a work in progress in collaboration with ADOT (Arizona Department of Transportation).

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 170 species of birds call the park home.

Catalina State Park crews clear a path through the flooded wash © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park provides miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails that wind through the park and into the Coronado National Forest at elevations near 3,000 feet. The park is located within minutes of the Tucson metropolitan area. This scenic desert park also offers equestrian trails and an equestrian center provides a staging area for trail riders with plenty of trailer parking.

One hundred twenty campsites are available that have electricity, and water, and are either tent or RV ready. The campground is located in the shadows of the famed Catalina Mountains. Native birds and wildlife abound and help make any camping trip a memorable experience. Two RV dump stations are available in the park.

Bring along your curiosity and your sense of adventure as you take in the beautiful mountain backdrop, desert wildflowers, cacti, and wildlife.

Catalina State Park crews clear a path through the flooded wash © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park Details

The park is open year-round

Entrance fee: $7 per vehicle (1-4 Adults)

Camping fee: $25 per vehicle per night

Catalina State Park crews clear a path through the flooded wash © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day use hours: 5 am.-10 pm. daily

Visitor center/park store hours: 8 am.–5 pm. daily

Worth Pondering…

This was as the desert should be, this was the desert of the picture books, with the land unrolled to the farthest distant horizon hills, with saguaros standing sentinel in their strange chessboard pattern, towering supinely above the fans of ocotillo and brushy mesquite.

—Dorothy B. Hughes

Spotlight on Arizona: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

From alpine forests to saguaro-framed sunsets, the landscape is inescapable in Arizona—and the Grand Canyon is just the beginning

Few places in America offer such startling variety of natural features as Arizona. Deep canyons give way to rugged snow-capped mountains. The world’s largest contiguous forest of Ponderosa pines merges into the arid Sonoran Desert.

Arizona’s nickname may be the Grand Canyon State, and that namesake national park may draw more than six million visitors a year and rank as the second most popular in the country. But the canyon is just one of many natural wonders in a state unusually rich in them. In fact, with petrified forests, volcanic cinder cones, saguaro-studded deserts, and Anasazi cliff dwellings, no state in the country can boast as many National Park Service sites as Arizona.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Land of sprawling burnt red and orange deserts and other-worldly rock formations that have to be seen to be believed, Arizona is seemingly made for lovers of the great outdoors and scenic road trips. It’s also home to villages dating back thousands of years of history, sacred sites, world-famous protected areas, and endless skies, yep this US state has soul! Here are the best—and most beautiful—places to visit in wonderful Arizona…

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Grand Canyon National Park

I’d have to start my Arizona list with one of the most popular and famous national parks to visit in the country. This beautiful national park is the home to the majestic Grand Canyon which houses layers and layers of red rocks. These divulge in millions of years of geological history.

Some of the popular viewpoints which will give you a stunning and up-close view of the Grand Canyon are Mather Point, Yavapai Observation Station, and the renowned architect Mary Colter’s Lookout Studio and her Desert View Watchtower.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona

If you delight in gazing at towering red rocks or driving through rugged canyons, then go to Sedona. If you admire exquisite art or are captivated by amazing architecture, then go to Sedona. If you want to see ancient cliff dwellings, hear tales of Hollywood cowboys or thrill to outdoor adventures, then (you guessed it) go to Sedona. Sedona is a must-stop.

Related Article: The Ultimate Arizona Road Trip: 16 Places to See & Things to Do

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley

One of the most iconic and enduring landmarks of the American Wild West, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park has isolated sandstone mesas, buttes, and a sandy desert that has been photographed and filmed countless times. The landscape overwhelms, not just by its beauty but also by its size. The fragile pinnacles of rock are surrounded by miles of mesas and buttes, shrubs, trees, and windblown sand, all comprising the magnificent colors of the valley. All of this harmoniously combines to make Monument Valley a truly wondrous experience.

Mount Lemmon Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Lemmon Highway

Climbing more than 6,000 feet, Mount Lemmon Highway begins with forests of saguaro cacti in the Sonoran Desert and ends in a cool, coniferous forest in the Santa Catalina Mountains. Prepare yourself for breathtaking views and a climate change that would be similar to driving from Southern Arizona to Canada in a mere 27 miles. Every thousand feet up is like driving 600 miles north offering a unique opportunity to experience four seasons in one trip. This scenic drive begins at the northeastern edge of Tucson.

Navajo Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vermilion Cliff National Monument

Easily one of the most beautiful places to explore in Arizona this wonderful national monument is located in Coconino County. It protects the Vermilion Cliff, Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon, and Paria Plateau. You can drive by the U.S Highway 89A between Jacob Lake and Marble Canyon in the state to reach this picturesque location. Some of the top sights to check out include White Pocket, Buckskin Gulch, Waterholes Canyon, Navajo Bridge, and The Wave.

Cave Creek, a Maricopa County Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Maricopa County Parks in Arizona

Maricopa County Parks offer hiking and biking trails, picnicking and camping, educational programs, and guided hikes. Some parks also offer horseback riding, golf, boating, fishing, and archery. There are 11 parks in Maricopa County, which ring around the Phoenix metro area. 

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock Scenic Byway

Just outside of Sedona, the Red Rock Scenic Byway boasts everything from breathtakingly beautiful rock formations to ancient Native American cliff dwellings. If you’re a believer in the supernatural, you’ll find the Byway is sprinkled with what like-minded folk refers to as “vortexes” of spiritual energy—two of the biggest are Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock, formations which are stunning regardless of your personal beliefs.

Related Article: What Makes Arizona Such a Hotspot for Snowbirds?

Organ Pipe National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument 

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument celebrates the life and landscape of the Sonoran Desert. This is a showcase for creatures who have adapted themselves to the extreme temperatures, intense sunlight, and little rainfall that characterize this Southwest region. Twenty-six species of cactus live here including the giant saguaro and the park’s namesake. This is the only place in the U. S. where the organ pipe cactus grows wild.

Tuzigoot National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tuzigoot National Monument

The Sinagua people began building the limestone and sandstone hilltop pueblo around the year A.D. 1000. They expanded the settlement over the next 400 years to involve 110 rooms housing more than 200 people. Then, in the late 1300s, the inhabitants began to abandon the pueblo. By the time the first Europeans arrived, Tuzigoot had been empty for nearly 100 years. It’s believed the citizens joined what are now the modern Hopi and Zuni tribes or stayed nearby and became the ancestors of people now belonging to the Yavapai-Apache Nation.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park

While many national parks around the country are home to vast forests this preserve comes with a twist—the trees here have all been dead for hundreds of millions of years transformed into colorful slabs of stone. A broad region of rocky badlands encompassing more than 93,500 acres, the Painted Desert is a vast landscape that features rocks in every hue—from deep lavenders and rich grays to reds, oranges, and pinks.

Courthouse Plaza, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prescott

Prescott is surrounded by ponderosa pine forests and enjoys a cooler climate that’s perfect for experiencing all four seasons in the outdoors. This is a nature lover’s paradise with lots of opportunities for camping, horseback riding, fishing, kayaking, and mountain biking. Check out the downtown historic area as well as Watson Lake, the Lynx Lake Recreation Area, and Whiskey Row.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock State Park

Red Rock State Park in Arizona offers a classic Southwestern outdoor experience for visitors around Sedona. The beautiful red rocks and local wildlife can be viewed and enjoyed as you hike the 5-mile trail network around the park. You can arrive at this 286-acre park in less than 20 minutes driving from downtown Sedona which makes for a convenient stop when in the area. Nearby attractions include Slide Rock State Park, Oak Creek Canyon, Coconino National Forest, and Prescott National Forest.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park

Warm days and cool nights make winter an ideal time to visit Saguaro. The park has two areas separated by the city of Tucson. The Rincon Mountain District (East) has a lovely loop drive that offers numerous photo ops. There’s also a visitor’s center, gift shop, and miles of hiking trails. The Tucson Mountain District (West) also has a scenic loop drive and many hiking trails, including some with petroglyphs at Signal Mountain.

Related Article: The Most Beautiful Places in Arizona (That Aren’t the Grand Canyon)

Oak Creek Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oak Creek Canyon

This gorgeous gash in the landscape has a spectacular feature: you can drive through it! A wonderful road built in 1929 runs the entire 13-mile length of the canyon. During the 2,500-foot elevation drop into Sedona, the pine trees fade in your rearview mirror as brilliant orange-and-red sandstone bluffs and steep canyon walls appear on your right. The forested canyon floor ranges from a mile wide at the top end to 2.5 miles at the mouth and up to 2,000 feet deep from the creek to the tops of the highest sheer red cliffs.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone

The spirits of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the Clanton Brothers live on in the authentic old west town of Tombstone, home of Boothill Graveyard, Birdcage Theatre, and O.K. Corral. After getting its start as a silver mining claim in the late-1870s, the settlement grew along with its Tough Nut Mine becoming a bustling boomtown of the Wild West. From opera and theater to dance halls and brothels, Tombstone offered much-needed entertainment to the miners. The “Town Too Tough to Die” town contains many preserved buildings from the 1870s and 80s.

Globe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Globe

In the foothills of the Pinal Mountains, sits the former mining camp known as Globe. Founded in 1876 and incorporated in 1907, this lovely town is brimming with century-old buildings, cottages, and hillside houses. The Besh-ba-Gowah Archeological Park features stunning partially restored ruins of a Salado pueblo along with an accompanying museum. The historic downtown area is perfect for leisurely strolls and shopping for antiques while the Cobre Valley Center for the Arts is a great spot to explore and experience the talent of some incredible artists.

Verde Canyon Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Verde Canyon Railroad

Park the RV and board the train as you embark on a spectacular journey accessible only by rail. Keep your eyes on the scenery as the engineer takes you on a four-hour, 40-mile round-trip excursion between two national forests through a 680-foot tunnel and past ancient ruins and towering red rock buttes. Gaze at the remote wilderness through large windows as you sit comfortably in climate-controlled passenger cars complete with restrooms. Or choose to enjoy the open-air viewing car for fresh canyon air and an amazing 360-degree panorama.

Related Article: Snowbirding in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bisbee

For a few years, Bisbee was the “it” destination, named Arizona’s prettiest small town by a number of travel sites. That level of attention may have dwindled but the former mining town is as beautiful as ever. A stroll down Main Street reveals buildings that look much as they did a hundred years ago, now occupied by restaurants and boutiques rather than miners and speculators. If you head 3 miles south to Lowell, you’ll find a strip of former service stations and garages repurposed as stores and restaurants.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apache Trail

A National Scenic Byway, the 44-mile paved and gravel Apache Trail crosses the rugged northern part of the Superstition Mountains offering access to three reservoirs and gorgeous desert scenery. Just off U.S. Highway 60 near Mesa, designate a driver to keep their eyes on curves and hairpin turns while passengers “ooh” and “ahh” over the lakes, mountains, and canyons in Tonto National Forest’s wilderness areas. The road begins near Goldfield Ghost Town, a re-created Wild West town, complete with gunslingers. You’ll pass Canyon Lake, where you can cruise on the Dolly Steamboat.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oatman

Once a gold-mining boomtown, Oatman hunkers in a craggy gulch of the Black Mountains. Rising above the town is the jagged peak of white quartz known as Elephant’s Tooth. A shadow of its former self this living ghost town offers a handful of historic buildings and photo opportunities, costumed gunfighters, and 1890s style ladies. Burros from the surrounding hills wander into Oatman daily and mosey around town blocking traffic, greeting visitors, and chomping alfalfa cubes sold by the local shop owners.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. Enjoy the beauty of the desert and the amazing views.

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montezuma Castle National Monument

An ancient civilization carved clever dwellings into the sturdy rock of what is now a famous monument. A lot more than Montezuma attracts people to the site—Wet Beaver Creek, a flourishing spring and interesting wildlife are just a few things to put on the list when stopping through.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park

Named after the fabled lost gold mine, Lost Dutchman State Park is located in the Sonoran Desert, 40 miles east of downtown Phoenix. Several trails lead from the park into the Superstition Wilderness and surrounding Tonto National Forest. Take a stroll along the Native Plant Trail or hike the challenging Siphon Draw Trail to the top of the Flatiron.

Related Article: Why Arizona is the Ultimate Road Trip Destination

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chiricahua National Monument

Situated in southeastern Arizona, Chiricahua National Monument spans an elevation of 5,124 feet at the visitor center to a peak of 7,310 feet at the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. That elevation makes it a cool mountain getaway where you can hike amid wildly eroded rock formations.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tubac

Colorful architecture and mountain backdrops define Tubac’s Southwest scenery. See both at Tumacácori National Historical Park, where O’odham, Yaqui, and Apache people once dwelled. Tubac Presidio State Historic Park offers a glimpse at 2,000 years of Arizona history. Tubac features over 100 eclectic shops and world-class galleries situated along meandering streets with hidden courtyards and sparkling fountains.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

See just how lush the desert can be at this oasis of more than 3,000 types of Sonoran Desert vegetation. At 392 acres, Boyce Thompson is Arizona’s largest and oldest botanical garden founded in the 1920s. There are 3 miles of trails and the most popular is the 1.5-mile main loop that offers a perfect overview. 

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome

A charming National Historic Landmark on Cleopatra Hill, Jerome is a former mining town. Meandering around the hilly, winding streets, visitors will discover galleries and art studios. Not forgetting its past, Jerome offers history buffs a wealth of experience through the Mine Museum, displaying artifacts representing the town’s past and present, and the Jerome State Historic Park, home to the Douglas Mansion.

Whitewater Draw © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Willcox

This up-and-coming town in southeastern Arizona is attracting visitors who come for its wineries and tasting rooms, but you’re here to hike in Chiricahua National Monument and see the sandhill cranes. The majestic birds winter in the Sulphur Springs area and Willcox is the perfect hub. Thousands of cranes roost in Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, a shallow lake that is a flurry activity at sunup and sundown when birds depart and return in a swirling cloud of feathers.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park

To experience the magic of the giant saguaro cacti up-close, look no further than Catalina State Park near Tucson. There are easy nature trails here and also longer and more challenging trails for experienced hikers. The park spans 5,500 acres of foothills, streams, and canyons and is home to over 150 species of birds. RV camping is available.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyon De Chelly National Monument

From the mesa east of Chinle in the Navajo Nation, Canyon de Chelly is invisible. Then as one approach, suddenly the world falls away—1,000 feet down a series of vertical red walls. You can drive along the rim and take in the views from above, but the best way to experience Canyon de Chelly is to take a guided tour of the canyon. You’ll learn the history of the canyon, from the Anasazi who left behind cliff dwellings to the current Navajo residents who still farm there.

Read Next: The Most Exhilarating Drives in Arizona

Worth Pondering…

The trip across Arizona is just one oasis after another. You can just throw anything out and it will grow there.

—Will Rogers

Now is the Time to Explore Southern Arizona’s Gorgeous State Parks

A southern Arizona State Parks road trip

Southern Arizona is not only about saguaro cacti and desert sunsets. Somewhat unexpectedly, the arid region also features several lakes and wetland areas teeming with fish and migratory birds. Add in majestic mountain ranges and fascinating historic sites and you have the makings of a wonderful southern Arizona state parks road trip.

In all, Arizona has 31 state park units. While much of the attention centers on high-profile parks including Red Rock and Slide Rock near Sedona and the Phoenix-area Lost Dutchman, the parks near the southern Arizona community of Tucson along with those in the southwestern corner of the state shine brightly as well. A number of southern park beauties seemed to be fairly unknown to the rest of the state.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia Lake State Park

Beaches in Arizona are admittedly few and far between and for a sandy swimming beach less than a half-hour drive northeast of the Arizona/Mexico border town of Nogales locals flock to Patagonia Lake State Park. Considered a hidden treasure of southeastern Arizona, Patagonia Lake is a manmade body of water created by the damming of Sonoita Creek. The 265-acre lake cuts a vivid blue swath through the region’s brown and amber hills.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along with swimming which is popular throughout the warm-weather months, Patagonia Lake offers boating, fishing, waterskiing, a picnic area with ramadas, tables, and grills, a creek trail, boat ramps, a marina, and bird-watching. Its unique arched bridge that rises over a lake channel is a great place to spot birds in the reeds along the shoreline or just enjoy the warm breeze. Hikers can also stroll along the creek trail and see birds such as the canyon towhee, Inca dove, vermilion flycatcher, black vulture, and several species of hummingbirds. 

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a unique place to stay in the area, the park features a campground and seven camping cabins with beautiful views of the lake. The 105 developed campsites offer a picnic table, a fire ring/grill, and parking for two vehicles. Select sites also have a ramada. Sites have 20/30 amp and 50 amp voltage. Campsite lengths vary but most can accommodate any size RV.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Arizona State Parks

Park Entrance Fee: $15-$20 per vehicle; camping fee $27-$30 per night

Sonoita Creek Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sonoita Creek State Natural Area

Located downstream from Patagonia Lake along the lower Sonoita Creek, the Sonoita Creek State Natural Area is its own entity within the Arizona State Parks system and has an identity of its own as a world-class birding area. The lower Sonoita Creek, a perennial tributary of the Santa Cruz River has a well-developed riparian forest that fosters a great diversity of birds and other wildlife. The Sonoita Creek State Natural Area consists of thousands of acres and includes a trail easement that connects it to Patagonia Lake State Park.

Sonoita Creek Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Twenty miles of trails are available for hiking and eight miles of trails are shared with equestrians.  A 1.5-mile hike of moderate difficulty called the “Overlook Trail” is close to Patagonia Lake State Park and is a great way to see 360 degrees of spectacular scenery. Most of the trails are more remote and the shortest round trip hike to the creek is three miles on the Sonoita Creek Trail. At all times of the year, boots with good traction, sun protection, food, and water are recommended. The minimum elevation change on any route is 300 feet.

Sonoita Creek Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Sonoita Creek State Natural Area has been designated an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society. During the spring migration from late January through early April, a guided bird walk could yield sightings of more than 60 species and the complete bird list consists of more than 300 species. One of the most sought-after birds is the elegant trogon which might be seen between November and March. Ducks, rails, raptors, and flycatchers are commonly sighted. Other animals in the area include creek squirrels, coatis, raccoons, skunks, deer, snakes, javelina, jackrabbits, and an occasional bobcat or mountain lion.

The Sonoita Creek State Natural Area’s visitor center is located within Patagonia Lake State Park and entry fees for the lake include the use of the natural area.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park

With the Santa Catalina Mountains beckoning in the distance and canyons and seasonal streams dotting the landscape, Catalina State Park provides a delightful respite in the Tucson area. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The park’s 5,500 acres provide miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails that wind through the park and into the nearby Coronado National Forest. More than 150 species of birds call the park home. This scenic desert park also offers equestrian trails and an equestrian center provides a staging area for trail riders with plenty of trailer parking.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located within minutes of the Tucson metro area, Catalina State Park makes a convenient place to camp while exploring the city and its iconic national park, Saguaro National Park. The state park offers 120 campsites with electric and water utilities suitable for RVs of all lengths. The campground is located in the shadow of the Santa Catalina Mountains and offers birding opportunities and spectacular dusk and dawn views.

Related: The Most (and least) Popular Arizona State Parks

Park Entrance Fee: $7 per vehicle; camping fee $30 per night

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

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park

From military conquests to ranching endeavors to mining claims, the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park runs the gamut of early Arizona history. The story of New Spain’s presidios (forts) is a unique one and Tubac’s primary purpose is to preserve the ruins of the oldest Spanish presidio in Arizona—San Ignacio de Tubac established in 1752. Tubac is one of few such sites that remain and its historic significance is heightened by the rarity of presidio sites.

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

Today, a walk through the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park includes not just the history of the New Spain fort but also of the people who came afterward to live and work in the region. Along with the ruins of the fort the park preserves the 1885 Territorial Schoolhouse, the second oldest schoolhouse in Arizona.

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

The Tubac Presidio Museum houses interpretive exhibits with many original artifacts and the original Washington Printing Press that printed Arizona’s first newspaper in 1859. The Visitor Center contains Spanish/Mexican-influenced furnishings and an artist mural of the Presidio, a model of the Presidio, historic maps, and a seven-minute video presentation that gives a brief history of the village of Tuba.

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

A variety of birds can be spotted on the grounds, including roadrunners. Although large mammal sightings at the park during park hours are rare, the Anza Trail passes through the park, and visitors can catch glimpses of javelinas, deer, and coyotes.

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

The Tubac Presidio State Historic Park is just one aspect of the artsy community of Tubac. The village of about 1,500 people has over 100 galleries, studios, and shops, all within easy walking distance of each other. You’ll find an eclectic and high-quality selection of art and artisan works that include paintings, sculpture, pottery, metalwork, hand-painted tiles, photography, jewelry, weaving, and hand-carved wooden furniture.

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you are interested in exploring more of the area around Tubac, Tumacácori National Historic Park preserves the ruins of three Spanish mission communities and is less than five miles from Tubac. These abandoned ruins include San José de Tumacácori, Los Santos Ángeles de Guevavi, and San Cayetano de Calabazas.

Related: Focus on Birding in Arizona State Parks

Park Entrance Fee: $7 per vehicle; no overnight parking is permitted

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

Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park

For most, the name Tombstone conjures up images of the Wild West and the gunfights that occurred there. Certainly, Tombstone is known as the site of a bloody gunfight that occurred at the O.K. Corral Livery & Feed in 1881 that killed three and wounded three others. The legend of the shootout has lasted through the centuries and spawned numerous Hollywood movies.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But a deeper understanding of the town and the region is available at the Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park. The two-story courthouse designed in the Victorian style was constructed of red brick in 1882. The courthouse, a splendid example of territorial architecture, continued to serve as a county facility until 1931 when the county seat was moved to Bisbee.

Boothill, Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, the old courthouse houses information on the gunfight at the O.K. Corral along with artifacts from Tombstone’s mining past including a saloon and gaming room, a period sheriff’s office, and a period lawyer’s office and courtroom. Outside in the courtyard is a reproduction gallows—the site where many convicted murderers met their fate.

Boothill, Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Schieffelin Monument is the last resting place of Ed Schieffelin, the prospector who discovered the mineral deposits that triggered the Tombstone silver boom in 1877. Located in the beautiful high desert 3 miles northwest of Tombstone, the Monument is now part of the Tombstone Courthouse State Park. It is a place where you can feel a direct connection to the Old West days of Tombstone, “the town too tough to die.”

Park Entrance Fee: $7 per vehicle; no overnight parking is permitted

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

Colorado River State Historic Park

Located in the far southwestern corner of the state, the Colorado River State Historic Park (formerly Yuma Crossing State Historic Park) sits on the bank of the Colorado where river captains once sailed from the Gulf of California to unload supplies then kick up their heels in the bustling port of Yuma. Ocean vessels brought supplies around the Baja Peninsula from California to Port Isabel, near the mouth of the Colorado. From there, the cargo was loaded onto smaller steamships and brought upstream to Yuma. The purpose of the depot was to store six months’ worth of supplies for the forts in the area. The depot operated from 1864 until 1883 when the arrival of the railroad made the long steamship route unnecessary.

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

Many of the original structures from that time are still standing. Made of adobe, essentially mud and plant material, they have survived well in Yuma’s dry climate. In fact, since their original construction, the buildings have been used by the Weather Service, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Signal Corps, the Border Survey, and the Yuma County Water Users Association as recently as the late 1980s.

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

Today, Colorado River State Historic Park preserves the history of the facility while providing additional information about Yuma as a Colorado River community and the engineering behind one of its impressive canal systems. The park’s visitor center features an exhibit on the military history of the Yuma Quartermaster Depot and includes a model depicting the depot’s appearance in 1872. The park is closed Monday and Tuesday.

Related: Winter Hiking in Arizona State Parks

Park Entrance Fee: $6 per vehicle; no overnight parking is permitted

Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park

Sitting on a bluff overlooking the Colorado River, 3 miles west of the confluence of the Colorado and the historic Gila River, stand the ruins of Arizona’s famous Territorial Prison.

Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fans of Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures know it as “Hell Hole Prison” for the dark and twisted tales which linger long after the last inmates occupied this first prison of the Arizona Territory. For many others, the 1957 and 2007 films “3:10 to Yuma” are what bring this “Hell Hole Prison” to mind.

Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park is open, welcoming convicts of another kind —those guilty of having a curiosity for what it was like to work and live inside the prison walls. The cells, main gate, and guard tower are still standing providing visitors with a glimpse of convict life in the Southwest over a century ago. Turn yourself in for a fascinating experience, which includes a look into “The Dark Cell” and a look back at the men AND women who served hard times in Yuma.

Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And, you don’t have to wait until 3:10; the park is open from 9 am -5 pm so stop in and take a walk through a big slice of the history of the Old West. The park is closed Tuesday and Wednesday.

Park Entrance Fee: $8 per vehicle; no overnight parking is permitted

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

Take a First Day Hike on New Year’s Day

First Day Hikes are a healthy way to start 2022 and a chance to get outside, exercise, enjoy nature, and connect with friends

Usher in 2022 with other outdoor lovers at one of the many First Day Hikes offered on January 1 at state parks and forests across America.

On New Year’s Day, park rangers across the country are inviting Americans to start 2022 with inspiring First Day Hikes. First Day Hikes are part of a nationwide initiative led by America’s State Parks to encourage people to get outdoors.

Babcock State Park, West Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On New Year’s Day, hundreds of free, guided hikes will be organized in all 50 states. Families across America will participate in First Day Hikes, getting their hearts pumping and enjoying the beauty of a state park. Last year nearly 55,000 people rang in the New Year, collectively hiking over 133,000 miles throughout the country.

America’s State Parks will help capture the collective strength and importance of the great park systems developed in the 50 states. With 10,234 units and more than 759 million visits, America’s State Parks works to enhance the quality of life.

Deadhorse Point State Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

First Day Hikes originated more than 20 years ago at the Blue Hills Reservation, a state park in Milton, Massachusetts. The program was launched to foster healthy lifestyles and promote year-round recreation at state parks.

Related: Elevate Your Hiking with Mindfulness

First Day Hikes are led by knowledgeable state park staff and volunteers. The distance and rigor vary from park to park but all hikes aim to create a fun experience for the whole family. People are invited to savor the beauty of the state park’s natural resources with the comfort of an experienced guide so they may be inspired to take advantage of these local treasures throughout the year.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona State Parks

Spend the first day of the year in a state park and kick off the year on a healthy note. There are fun activities for all including hikes, tours, boat rides, and even s’mores! Remember to wear the appropriate shoes, bring plenty of water, a camera, and your sense of adventure.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Ranch State Park: Meet at the West Lagoon parking lot. The guided 3-mile birding and nature hike will go along the riparian area of the Verde River and around the edges of the lagoons to look for evidence of beaver, otter, waterfowl, and other wildlife found in the park. Enjoy cookies prior to the hike.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park: Start the year off right with a moderate hike on Treasure Loop Trail. Be ready for rocky terrain with a 500-foot elevation gain over 2.4 miles. Bring your water bottle, sturdy shoes, and cameras. A guiding ranger will answer questions you’ve always wanted to ask about the landscape around you.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park: Hike the Calloway trail up to an overlook below the face of Picacho Peak. This trail is moderately difficult. Wear sturdy hiking shoes and bring water. Elevation gain will be 300 feet, 1.5 miles round-trip, and roughly 1.5 hours. Meet at Harrington Loop.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock State Park: Learn about Sedona’s diverse and beautiful bird species while taking a stroll through this gorgeous park with a veteran bird enthusiast. Bring binoculars to get the most out of the experience. The hike lasts approximately two hours. Meet at the Visitor Center rooftop.

Related: Hiking Arizona

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California State Parks

More than 40 state parks and over 50 guided hikes will take place across the state in this National-led effort by the First Day Hikes program which encourages individuals and families to experience the beautiful natural and cultural resources found in the outdoors so that they may be inspired to take advantage of these treasures throughout the year.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park: Starting at the Visitor Center, explore desert plants, crypto-biotic crust, and signs of animals as you walk cross-country to the ½-mile Panorama Overlook Trail. Ascend by switch-backs about 200 feet up the moderate-strenuous trail to a scenic overlook of the Borrego Valley and Fonts Point. At the viewpoint, reflect on your new year with a lighthearted introspection guided by a Park Interpretive Specialist. Walk down the mountain as the sun sets on your first day of 2022.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgia State Parks

In Georgia’s state parks and historic sites, more than 40 guided treks will encourage friends and families to connect with nature and each other. Outings range from a kid-friendly stroll through Mistletoe State Park’s campground, a hike along the banks of the Suwanee River in Stephen C. Foster State Park, a 3-mile hike through Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon, and even a night hike at Reed Bingham State Park.

Related: Best Hikes for National Hiking Month

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During winter, hikers will notice interesting tree shapes, small streams, and rock outcrops that are normally hidden by summer’s foliage. Many guided hikes are dog-friendly and visitors are welcome to bring picnics to enjoy before or after their adventure. First Day Hikes are listed on GaStateParks.org.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Carolina State Parks

Kick-off the New Year with fresh air and family-friendly fun on a First Day Hike in South Carolina State Parks. More than 40 ranger-led hikes are scheduled across the state with most parks offering half-mile to 3-mile guided adventures for all ages and skill levels.

Edisto Beach State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All participating hikers will receive an official First Day Hike sticker.

First Day Hikes will also jumpstart a new initiative in South Carolina State Parks. Beginning January 1, use #StepsInSCStateParks to share your walking, hiking, or other active adventures any time you’re visiting a park. The year-long promotion aims to encourage more visitors to get moving in South Carolina State Parks.

Related: Best Places to Plan a Hiking Trip

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For the park enthusiasts who want to visit as many parks as they can on January 1, you can squeeze in four hikes by following the First Day Dash schedule:  

  • Start the day at 9:00 a.m. with a hike on the 1.25-mile Interpretive Trail at Lake Warren State Park
  • Head north to the Battle of Rivers Bridge State Historic Site for an easy 1-mile hike on the Battlefield Trail at 11
  • Cruise over to Barnwell State Park for a 1.5-mile hike along the Dogwood Nature Trail at 1:00 pm
  • Finally, finish your day on the 1.5-mile Jungle Trail at Aiken State Park at 3:00 pm
Edisto Beach State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other First Day Hikes include a wildflower walk at Oconee Station State Historic Site, stepping into Revolutionary War history on a walk at the Battle of Musgrove Mill State Historic Site, and hunting for fossils and shells during low tide at Edisto Beach State Park.

Other events happening at parks around the state on January 1 include a ranger-guided walk on the beach at Edisto Beach State Park and an easy 1.5-mile ranger-guided hike before along the lagoon at Hunting Island State Park.

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas State Parks

As New Year’s Eve merriment gives way to New Year’s Day, start 2022 in the great outdoors. Over the years, First Day Hikes have become a tradition at Texas State Parks and across the country.

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area: Enchanted Rock hosts three guided summit hikes at 9:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m., and 4:45 p.m. The park is located at 16710 RR 965 between Llano and Fredericksburg. The two-hour hikes will be led by a park ranger or knowledgeable volunteer. Meet at the gazebo at the start of the Summit Trail.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reservedts

Pedernales Falls State Park: Located east of Johnson City at 2585 Park Road 6026, Pedernales Falls offers two guided hike options. The first is the Pedernales Falls and Beyond hike which starts at 9 a.m. in the Falls Parking Lot. It’s a 2-mile, moderate hike. The half-mile, moderate Twin Falls Nature Trail hike starts at noon from the Twin Falls trailhead. The park is also hosting a First Day Campfire at 3 p.m. at Campsite 68.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Virginia State Parks

Set the tone for a fantastic 2022 with a New Year’s Day hike in one of Virginia’s State Parks. First Day Hikes are a great opportunity to improve one’s physical, mental, and social health, and what better way to start the New Year than by connecting with nature. State parks offer iconic and beautiful outdoor places that support healthy, affordable, physical, and social activities.

Related: How Much Time Should You Spend in Nature?

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah River State Park: Join the Friends of Shenandoah River for a hike celebrating the New Year. Bring your family and leashed pets to Shenandoah River State Park for a hike on the Cottonwood Trail. The Cottonwood trail is about 1.5 miles long with little change in elevation. The loop at the end of the trail is a raised boardwalk but the rest can be muddy in wet weather. The Friends Group will lead the hike and provide light refreshments in the Massanutten Building. The parking fee is waived on January 1.

Conquering a challenging trail on the first day of the year will keep you motivated towards tackling even the toughest goals throughout the year.

Worth Pondering…

In every walk with nature, one receives more than he seeks.

—John Muir, Steep Trails, 1918