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 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 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The following early signs of dehydration are a tipoff that your fluid intake is insufficient:
Decrease in energy
More serious symptoms of dehydration:
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!
Plan ahead and gear up
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.
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.
Know where you’re going
Before you hike, make sure you have all of your trail maps and guides downloaded or printed.
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.
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:
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Fact Box
Size: 2,658 acres
Elevation: 3,804-4,200 feet
Established: April 1, 1975
Location: Southeastern Arizona, 15 miles northeast of Nogales
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.
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.
Picnic areas: Ramadas and picnic tables are scattered about the lake’s south shore with most clustered at the beach.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The park is open year-round
Entrance fee: $7 per vehicle (1-4 Adults)
Camping fee: $25 per vehicle per night
Day use hours: 5 am.-10 pm. daily
Visitor center/park store hours: 8 am.–5 pm. daily
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Park Entrance Fee: $15-$20 per vehicle; camping fee $27-$30 per night
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Park Entrance Fee: $7 per vehicle; camping fee $30 per night
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Park Entrance Fee: $7 per vehicle; no overnight parking is permitted
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Park Entrance Fee: $6 per vehicle; no overnight parking is permitted
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: 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: 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: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: 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.
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: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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: 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.
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.
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.
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.
In every walk with nature, one receives more than he seeks.
Shop from this list of Christmas gifts to find ideas that your RVing friend or family member will love
Have you put some thought into your holiday gift-giving this year? The way we shop and the intention behind gift-giving is changing. The global pandemic illuminated, for many of us, what is truly important and what our real needs are. This new way of viewing our lives may be reflected in how we give gifts—giving what is important and special over just giving to give.
With threats of supply issues leading to empty shelves at big box stores, the joy of finding that perfect gift may be a little harder this year. Just maybe, shopping local might be the way to find that joy in gift-giving this year. You’ll be putting money right back into your community and find unique gifts not available at big box stores.
Looking for the perfect Christmas gift for the RVer and outdoor enthusiasts in your life? Following are six gift ideas or you can even add them to your own Christmas wish list.
Gifts for National Park Travelers
Gifts for National Park enthusiasts do more than tap into the spirit of the great outdoors—they celebrate America’s longstanding tradition of preserving awe-inspiring landscapes. Decade after decade, new generations of visitors come to these stunning spaces, eager to experience the vastness of untouched scenery.
Wondering what to get a National Park fan for the holidays this year? Here are two gift suggestions for National Park visitors.
America the Beautiful Pass: The America the Beautiful Interagency Annual Pass offers free entry to all National Parks—including Joshua Tree, Olympic, and Arches—for the recipient and up to three other adults for 12 months. The pass also covers visitors at more than 2,000 federal recreation sites in total. $80 from recreation.gov.
National Parks Pocket Notebooks: These National Parks-themed memo books from Field Notes are a stylish and convenient spot for outdoor enthusiasts to journal about their experiences in nature. Packed in a set of three, each notebook features vintage-style art from a specific National Park, along with a brief history of that park printed inside of the front cover. Each notebook has a brief history of its park printed inside the front cover, followed by 48 pages of graph-rules paper for all your note-jotting needs. $13 for a set of three from bespokepost.com.
Set of three pocket notebooks currently available are:
Rocky Mountain, Great Smoky Mountains, and Yellowstone National Parks
Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree, and Mount Rainier National Parks
Yosemite, Zion, and Acadia National Parks
Texas State Parks Christmas Tree Ornaments
For 20 years, the annual park Christmas ornament has featured some of the most recognizable Texas State Parks landscapes. The metal ornament features photo-quality artwork in stunning color with rich, laser-etched textures and detail. This year, the ornament features a longhorn from the official state longhorn herd at Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site.
The annual Christmas ornament can be purchased exclusively on the new Texas State Park Online Store for $19.95 each, with free shipping. Purchase by Thursday, December 10 for likely arrival before Christmas. Taxes will be applied at check out.
Other items available for purchase include the Texas State Parks Pass which allows a carload of visitors into the park for free for a calendar year, a Bluebonnet metal bookmark, a wooden Texas State Park magnet and sticker, state park zipper pulls and key rings, hiking stick medallions, and ornaments from previous years.
Give the Great Outdoors: Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites Gift Cards
Give the gift of the great outdoors this holiday season. With no shortage of possibilities, gift cards are the perfect solution to the gift-giving conundrum. Gift cards are perfect for golfers, hikers, anglers, campers, history buffs, or anyone who enjoys being outdoors. The credit-card-sized card may be bought in any denomination starting at $5 and can be purchased at most Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites or online at gastateparks.org.
With more than 60 state parks across Georgia, there are many ways to treat family or friends to a year of outdoor fun. State Park Annual ParkPasses are $50 and help fund trail work, dock maintenance, and shelter renovations. Half-off ParkPass discounts are available for seniors 62 and older, as well as 25 percent off for active-duty military and veterans.
Squeeze 18 outings into one little card with a Historic Site Annual Pass. Available passes include adult ($30) and family ($50).
Get Fido out in the great outdoors with the Georgia State Parks’ Tails on Trails Club. The quest challenges dog hikers to explore 12 specific trails at Georgia State Parks. Members get a bragging-rights t-shirt and matching bandana for Bailey. Finish them all and get a certificate of completion to show off on social media.
Most state parks have gift shops where you can snag an ENO hammock, KAVU pack, or blanket to snuggle up in as the colder weather creeps upon us. While browsing, pick up a gift with hometown roots including Georgia Grown items, local honey, nature-themed books, clothes, and toys.
Looking for a stocking stuffer or gag gift to get a laugh? Forget coal and throw in a bag of cricket chips or a scorpion lollipop. Many quirky white-elephant gifts are available inside state parks and historic site visitor’s centers.
Gift of Adventure: Arizona State Parks
Give the gift of adventure this holiday season with an Arizona State Parks and Trails Annual Pass or Gift Card for those hard to shop for outdoorsy friends and family members who love spending time in nature. An annual pass or Gift Card is a gift that keeps on giving, all year long.
The annual day use pass allows access for up to four people to state parks throughout Arizona. A day-use pass opens the door to exploring every corner of the state. History lovers can explore the stories of the past at the state historic museums. Pair it with Roger Naylor’s book, Arizona State Parks: A Guide to Amazing Places in the Grand Canyon State for a gift set they’ll use all year long.
Arizona State Parks Gift Cards may be purchased online (azstateparks.com) in denominations of $25, $50, $100, and $200. Gift Cards are accepted at Arizona State Parks for entry, camping, and reservations fees so your gift of the outdoors can be used all year long, all over the state.
Give the full Great Texas Wildlife Trails 9-map set for $25. Texas Parks & Wildlife is celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Great Texas Wildlife Trails. Order a special, newly updated 3-map set of the original coastal trails for $10. The full set of the Great Texas Wildlife Trail maps provides a guide to discover more than 900 of the best wildlife viewing spots in Texas. This is a gift that keeps giving year-round!
Order a full set of Great Texas Wildlife Trails for $25 or get a single map of your choice for $5. To order, visit https://tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/wildlife/wildlife-trails. Order by December 11 for likely arrival before Christmas.
A hug is a great gift—one size fits all!!!
Christmas is a tonic for our souls. It moves us to think of others rather than of ourselves. It directs our thoughts to giving.
It’s arguably the most iconic highway in the United States. But motoring down historic Route 66 isn’t the only sightseeing road trip you can enjoy in Arizona. Every corner of this state has things to see and do and ways to recreate. And most importantly in this era of COVID, you can experience it all without another soul around for miles.
One of the things that make Arizona a great destination is that they have the benefit of major metropolitan areas in Phoenix and Tucson while most of the state offers large areas of public lands to explore. You can find yourself alone in some of the most amazing landscapes with a little planning and knowing what you’re looking for.
The pandemic has severely impacted Arizona’s tourism. Airport traffic is down 55 per cent year to date while state park visitation is down 16 per cent. This is a state that before COVID in 2019 marked 6.1 million international visitors who spent $4.6 billion.
Arizona presents many opportunities for socially distanced travel in the great outdoors. For example, Aravaipa Canyon is one of the most beautiful canyons in Arizona and only 50 people are allowed in each day so it’s possible you won’t come across anyone else. Kofa National Wildlife Refuge attracts people for the same reason. It’s very rugged with little in the way of infrastructure and few visitors.
To really get away from it all get off the main highways onto the back roads of the state. There are many secondary routes with breathtaking scenery and quirky history such as centuries-old cliff dwellings, mining ghost towns, and still thriving cowboy bars. There are also three distinct wine-growing regions beckoning off the beaten path. Just be aware that some of these routes pass through tribal lands which at the time of writing were closed to travel due to the pandemic.
The hard part will be deciding where to go. There are 30 state parks, six national forests, 11 U.S. Fish and Wildlife refuges, dozens of national parks, national monuments, wildlife areas, and numerous certified Dark Sky Places.
Narrow down the experience you want whether it’s a road trip to see iconic landmarks or a more active trip away from the crowds. First, decide what you want your road trip to include. To minimize the number of people around you take the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and other iconic destinations off your list and focus on off-the-beaten-path places—and Arizona has plenty of these. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
You don’t have to go far from civilization to immerse yourself in a stunning landscape. The Superstition Mountains lie just east of Phoenix but are a world away. The Siphon Draw trail gains 2,500 feet over 3 miles before it reaches the top of Flat Iron (gulp). But wait, don’t let that stop you! Of all the Superstition Mountains hiking trails, Flat Iron may be the most demanding in the shortest distance but also the most rewarding.
A much more doable hike for the average joe is in Kofa National Wildlife Refuge off U.S. Highway 95 between Quartzsite and Yuma. Two mountain ranges dominate the 665,400-acre refuge of which more than 80 percent is designated as wilderness. The Palm Canyon Trail is a mile-long stroll through the desert. You’re pretty much on your own out here and may spot more bighorn sheep and mule deer than fellow humans. This area does attract serious climbers though to Signal Peak, Ten Ewe Mountain, and Castle Dome Peak.
The Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness area 85 miles north of Wilcox is another good bet for isolated hiking and backpacking. The area is a great mix of all of what makes Arizona so unique: canyons, cliffs, caves, deserts, and rivers. The entire canyon hike which can be accessed at either end takes 10 hours but take your time for side forays.
Two well-known areas that still have plenty of open space to explore are Monument Valley and Chiricahua National Monument. Monument Valley on the northeast Arizona-Utah border is one of the most photographed places on earth and the site of many a western film shoot due to its towering sandstone buttes. Chiricahua is in the extreme southeast near the border of New Mexico. Hiking here will take you from massive rock formations through pine forests to the Sonoran desert.
With so many national forests, there are dozens of options for both on and off-road cycling. For mountain bikers, the pinnacle might just be the Rainbow Rim Trail at the Grand Canyon. Located on the north rim in Kaibab National Forest, it’s the only single-track in the canyon and runs for about 20 miles through meadows and forests. Arizona Outback Adventures recommends bikers acclimatize first however as the route traverses between 7,500 and 9,000 feet elevation.
At the other end of the spectrum is the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument way south in the Sonoran desert bordering Mexico. This is a UNESCO biosphere reserve that attracts few visitors. So you’ll have the roads to yourself. Just be aware that bikes are not allowed on hiking trails or after dark.
Road riders will want to head for Mount Lemmon, an hour north of Tucson. At 9,000-feet-high, it’s the tallest peak in the Santa Catalina Mountains and attracts both cyclists and longboarders (a type of skateboard popular with downhill racers). But it’s a hard climb of almost 7,000 feet of twists and turns although the incredibly fast downhill makes it worthwhile for many. Just be aware that you’ll be sharing the road with motoring sightseers.
Depending on whether you want a lazy float trip, a thrilling whitewater adventure, or something in between, there are options in Arizona.
On the California border, Lake Havasu is adventure central with all manner of watersports, offroading, cycling, hiking, and golfing. It’s one of the more popular areas of Arizona but with 400 miles of coastline and 40 miles of navigable waterways, you can still find space of your own.
Another popular lake lies along the border with Utah. Lake Powell, a man-made reservoir attracts upwards of two million people a year. But follow the Colorado River south to Lees Ferry and you’ll find exception kayaking through the Grand Canyon. Various outfitters run trips here for those too inexperienced to navigate on their own.
The global pandemic has changed the way people view travel. For many, it’s now about really experiencing a place and finding space for themselves. There is no better way to do that than exploring the outdoors. Arizona stacks up well with options in every corner of the state.
The trip across Arizona is just one oasis after another. You can just throw anything out and it will grow there.
Attention hikers! If you’re looking for a great way to get outdoors any time of year here are some tips about the best hiking trails in Arizona’s state parks. Explore these diverse options throughout this amazingly beautiful state and cross these hikes off your bucket list.
These hiking trails offer a variety of amazing sights and experiences that range from easy to difficult and encompass a wide array of scenery, topography, and temperatures. Some of the best hikes in Arizona can be found right here. Learn more about each state park then hit the trail and have some fun!
Look no further than Sedona’s Red Rock Country for one of the best hikes in Arizona. The 5-mile trail network consists of interconnecting loops which lead you along the lush greenery of Oak Creek and the famed red rocks of Sedona. The Eagle’s Nest Loop and the Apache Fire Loop are joined together by the Coyote Ridge Trailwhich creates one of the best trails in Arizona for family enjoyment. Eagle’s Nest is the highest point in the park (4,102 feet) with an elevation gain of 300 feet and offers amazing views of the red rock escarpments that have helped make Sedona into a worldwide destination. The park offers hikes for every skill level whether you’re going for a relaxed stroll or looking to break a sweat.
The diverse wildlife, birds and plant life you’ll encounter on a Sedona hiking adventure offer unique perspectives of this gorgeous area. While in the park, keep an eye out for the local javelina and mule deer. Numerous bird species also call Red Rock State Park home especially hummingbirds. Pick up a current bird ID list at the visitor center. Be sure to take tons of scenic photos while at this epic destination, this park lends itself very well to creative shots.
Dead Horse Ranch State Park
Southeast of Sedona in the Verde River Valley of Cottonwood, Dead Horse Ranch State Park offers more than 20 miles of the multi-use trail system for visitors to enjoy. This park just might offer some of the best day hikes in Arizona for beginners and advanced hikers. Distinct scenic options are available for users who desire new and exciting experiences while exploring these premier Arizona hiking trails. Choose to enjoy either the higher desert scenery of the Lime Kiln trail which follows a historic route between Sedona and Cottonwood or the more densely vegetated Verde River Greenway trail.
Completed in 2006, the Lime Kiln Trail connects Red Rock State Park with Dead Horse Ranch State Park. The Lime Kiln Trail traverses a 15-mile section of Arizona’s high desert and is dedicated as a shared-use, non-motorized trail experience.
The Lime Kiln leg follows a portion of the historic Lime Kiln Wagon Road. Originally the Lime Kiln road provided access to a Kiln that was constructed in the 1800s. The Kiln was used to burn limestone to create lime used as an ingredient of the mortar needed to construct fireplaces and chimneys. Soon after the construction of the kiln, the road was extended and used as a route between Sedona and Jerome. The remains of the kiln can still be seen beside the trail.
Named after the fabled lost gold mine, Lost Dutchman State Park is located in the Sonoran Desert at the base of the Superstition Mountains. Several trails lead from the park into the Superstition Mountain 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.
There are accessible trails like Native Plant, moderate trails like Treasure Loop or Prospector’s View, and trails for advanced hikers such as Siphon Draw and Flatiron. Regardless of hiking ability, there is a trail for everyone at Lost Dutchman State Park.
Four miles round trip, the Siphon Draw Trail winds up into a canyon known as Siphon Draw. It is possible to hike up the Flatiron (5.8 miles roundtrip) although it is not a designated, maintained trail all the way. It’s advised that only experienced hikers attempt to hike to the top as the climb is steep and difficult to follow.
Because of the close proximity to the Phoenix Metropolitan area, various Arizona hiking groups use the trails at Lost Dutchman for weekly hikes and meetings. There’s a path for every view, timeframe, and difficulty level, so pick a trail and take a hike.
Visitors traveling along I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson 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. There are trails for every skill level. Wear suitable hiking boots. Gloves and plenty of water are strongly recommended.
Dive in to Hunter’s Peak for a strenuous two mile hike up the rocks, twisting up the iconic mountain and challenging even the most seasoned hikers or take a stroll up Calloway Trail for a less strenuous hike to an overlook as you appreciate the scenery of the Sonoran Desert. Picacho Peak offers two easy trails for families that children enjoy: the Nature trail, a 0.5-mile hike and the Children’s Cave trail, just 0.2 miles and near the park’s playground.
Catalina State Park just outside of Tucson is a well-known, incredibly beautiful and diverse natural area that creates a feeling of remoteness despite the close proximity to Tucson’s metropolitan center. You can hike, take a horseback ride, and bicycle on the trails surrounded by the towering Santa Catalina Mountains. There are eight trails in the park varying in length and difficulty but all with amazing views.
You never know what you’ll run into at Catalina from gorgeous desert plant life to desert tortoises and bighorn sheep; Catalina’s landscapes are always showing off and waiting to be explored. Plus, as an Audubon Society Important Bird Area (IBA), Catalina State Park is a bird-watchers’ paradise.
Alone in the open desert, I have made up songs of wild, poignant rejoicing and transcendent melancholy. The world has seemed more beautiful to me than ever before.
I have loved the red rocks, the twisted trees, and sand blowing in the wind, the slow, sunny clouds crossing the sky, the shafts of moonlight on my bed at night. I have seemed to be at one with the world.