The Ultimate Guide to Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Lake Mead National Recreation Area offers a wealth of things to do and places to go year-round. Its huge lakes cater to boaters, swimmers, sunbathers, and fishermen while its desert rewards hikers, wildlife photographers, and roadside sightseers.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area is a National Park Service (NPS) site with 1.5 million acres of mesmerizing landscapes, canyons, valleys, and two vast lakes of vibrant blue waters. This park is a playground for adventurers who love hiking, watersports, fishing, boating, scuba diving, and more.

This national recreation area offers a chance to see the Hoover Dam, enjoy the waters of Lake Mohave and Lake Mead, and retreat into nature in one of the park’s 9 designated wilderness areas.

Where Is Lake Mead National Recreation Area?

Lake Mead National Recreation Area is located in southeastern Nevada and northwestern Arizona. The closest major city to this park is Las Vegas, 26 miles away. 

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

Lake Mead National Recreation Area opening hours and seasons

This national recreation area is open year-round, 24 hours a day. The visitor center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. This facility is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. 

Driving to Lake Mead National Recreation Area

There are nine access points to this national recreation area so the route you choose will depend on the area from which you are coming and the entrance you want to utilize for your arrival. The best and most popular entrance is the one that takes you to the visitor center. U.S. Highway 93 is the main road used by those driving to the park. 

Getting around Lake Mead National Recreation Area

The best way to get around this park is by private vehicle. This vast recreation area has so many sites and attractions to explore; the best way to do this is by driving to the different areas and exploring on foot.

Of course, another good way to explore the park on the water is by boating or paddling on the bright blue waters of Lake Mohave and Lake Mead. The National Park Service offers printable and interactive maps to help you plan your itinerary. 

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What to see and do in Lake Mead National Recreation Area

This national recreation area covers 1.5 million acres of canyons, lakes, valleys, and mountains. There is no shortage of adventure at this park. Check out some of the most popular activities and sights at Lake Mead National Recreation Area. 

Boating

Over 290 square miles of waterways are within the boundaries of Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Lake Mead and Lake Mohave provide some of the best boating opportunities for those who love to explore the park on the water. Whether you want to speed through the open water or float in a private cove, there are many fun and relaxation opportunities here. 

Boat rentals are available at the marinas on Lake Mead and Lake Mohave. Many types of boats are available to rent, including sports boats, fishing boats, paddle boats, pontoons, and houseboats. These locations also rent out water skis and wakeboards for even more adventures. 

Tip: Be sure to read the park’s boating rules and regulations to ensure you have a fun, safe time.

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

Canoeing and kayaking

Thanks to all the water within the park’s boundaries, canoeing and kayaking are popular activities at this national recreation area. The views from the calm lake waters and majestic mountains surrounding them are breathtaking.

The Black Canyon Water Trail and Mohave Water Trail are the most popular trails for paddling but there are also many hidden coves throughout the park just waiting to be discovered.

Guided tours

A variety of guided tours are offered at this national recreation area. The park’s visitor center is a wonderful place to learn about the various tour options.

Some of the guided tour options include cruises, ranger-led hikes, and hunting and fishing adventures. The most popular tours include the Cruise to the Hoover Dam and the Float Down the Colorado River. There are also self-guided options should you choose to explore on your own. Taking advantage of the many tour options is a fantastic way to learn about and explore this impressive area. 

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

Hiking

Although most visitors are attracted to Lake Mead National Recreation Area because of lakes Mead and Mohave more than 87 percent of the park protects a vast area of the eastern Mojave Desert. Perhaps the best way to explore this diverse ecosystem is on foot, traveling across open expanses of rock formations that contain all the colors of the rainbow.

Which trail is right for you? There are a variety of hikes that vary in difficulty and length. These trails are in the Lake Mead and Lake Mojave areas. The hiking trails show off the park’s diverse ecosystems and take hikers past incredible rainbow-colored rock formations, canons, and washes.

Some of the favorite trails include the Historic Railroad Trail, River Mountains Loop, and Owl Canyon. The best time to hike here is from October to April. The temperatures are cooler during these months and the journey is much more enjoyable. Visitors are not recommended to hike during the summer months as the temperatures are dangerously high. 

Scenic drives

There are two main scenic drives in Lake Mead National Recreation Area: Lakeshore Road and Northshore Road. These drives travel through the mountains, canyons, and desert basins. Driving these roads offers visitors excellent opportunities to enjoy the views and capture photos of the bright blue waters and colorful mountains.

Visitors also enjoy stopping for picnics while driving along these roads. Cyclists, pedestrians, and wildlife use these scenic roads, so stay alert and mindful of those sharing the road with you. 

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Visitor center

The Lake Mead Visitor Center is an excellent place to visit before starting your park adventures. This facility is just a few miles north of the Hoover Dam and has so much to offer park visitors. 

Park rangers are stationed at the visitor center to help you plan a fantastic adventure or answer any questions. You can obtain park maps brochures, get a national park passport stamp, or turn in a Junior Ranger booklet to earn your Junior Ranger Badge.

There is also a store inside this facility that is run by the Western National Parks Association. This store offers guests a chance to buy books about the park, Native American arts, crafts, jewelry, posters, clothing, and postcards.

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

Best times to visit Lake Mead National Recreation Area

You’re guaranteed an unforgettable trip any time you’re able to visit this national recreation area. There are better times than others to plan a trip here especially if you hope to participate in particular activities. Take a look at the best times to visit this park.

Best time to visit Lake Mead National Recreation Area for summer fun

Lake Mead National Recreation Area is an exciting place for summer fun. The best time to visit during the summer months is in June. The high temperatures typically reach the upper 90s and the lows dip down to the low 70s. There is an average of 0 days of precipitation during the time making the summer adventure opportunities never-ending.

Best time to visit Lake Mead National Recreation Area to avoid the crowds

The best way to explore a new place is without having to worry about crowds and traffic. If you want to experience this national recreation area without crowds, plan to come in November. This time of year is the least busy making it a perfect time to enjoy the park at your own pace. 

Best time to visit Lake Mead National Recreation Area for ideal weather

Weather can make or break a trip, so planning around typical weather patterns is a great idea. If you want to experience this park when the weather is ideal, plan to come in April. The daily lows are in the mid-50s and the highs are in the upper 70s. It typically only rains an average of 1 day in April but it’s wise to come prepared for rain just in case.

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

Annual events in Lake Mead National Recreation Area

This national recreation area hosts several events on a regular basis throughout the year. Some of the regularly scheduled events include star parties, guided hikes through the wetlands, and hikes to Majestic Canyon. There are also some annual events.

National Public Lands Day Litter Cleanup

Each September, Lake Mead National Recreation Area participates in the National Public Lands Day Litter Cleanup. This free event is an excellent way for visitors to positively impact the park and help remove litter from the beaches and other areas. A benefit to visiting on this day is that participants will receive a voucher to visit a federal public land at no charge. 

Rage Triathlon

Each year in April, the Rage Triathlon takes place at Lake Mead National Recreation Area. This race has taken place since 2001 and offers a fantastic way to experience this park. It winds through beach campgrounds and along river and mountain trails. The Rage Triathlon is considered one of the region’s most scenic desert landscape triathlons.

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

Where to stay in Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Lake Mead National Recreation Area has an abundance of options for those who want to stay within the park’s boundaries or in a nearby town. Check out some of the best places to stay both in and near this recreation area. 

Inside the park

There are many options for accommodations within this national recreation area. From campgrounds to resorts and lodges, the options are many. Check out some of the different places to stay within this park.

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Campgrounds

Spend your next camping adventure on the lake. With over 900 camping and RV sites at 15 different locations, there is a variety of desert and lakeside landscapes sure to please everyone. Lake Mead National Recreation Area’s campgrounds offer restrooms, running water, dump stations, grills, picnic tables and shade. RVs and tents are welcome.

Most of the campgrounds can be reserved but there are a few that are only available on a first-come, first-served basis. Some of the campgrounds are operated by the National Park Service such as Boulder Beach, Callville Bay, Cottonwood Cove, Echo Bay, Las Vegas Bay, and Temple Bar.

Concessioner campgrounds including recreational vehicle hook-ups are also available within the park. These campgrounds include Katherin Landing and Willow Beach.

Bottom line:

If you prefer to set up camp and sleep under the stars, you will find so many options at Lake Mead that you may have difficulty narrowing down where to pitch your tent.

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

Cottonwood Cove Resort and Marina

Cottonwood Cove Resort and Marina is a beautiful option for those wanting to stay within the park’s boundaries. This Spanish-style resort is right off the shores of Lake Mohave and offers red-roofed motel rooms and lots of amenities for a comfortable stay. 

This lodging option features covered outdoor patios with tables and chairs for lounging and taking in breathtaking sunsets and lakefront views. There are also outdoor barbecues for those who prefer to cook outdoors. 

Another unique choice for visitors who want to get off the grid is renting a houseboat during your stay. This is a great way to experience the lake and take a break from the duties of home.

Lake Mohave Resort at Katherine Landing

Several types of accommodations are available at Lake Mohave Resort at Katherine Landing. Visitors can choose from mid-century-style rooms, a full hook-up RV or tent site, and even private homes. This resort has gorgeous views of the desert scenery and Lake Mohave.

The lodge offers standard double or standard king rooms. These rooms feature a private bathroom, air conditioning, coffee makers, and satellite televisions to make you feel at home. There is also a spectacular restaurant on-site to take care of any cravings you may have during your stay. 

Visitors who stay here can enjoy world-class boating, water skiing, scuba diving, wakeboarding, and fishing for largemouth, smallmouth, and striper bass. 

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Temple Bar Marina Resort

Temple Bar Marina Resort is located on Lake Mead on the Arizona side of the park. This resort offers lake view lodging, an RV park, access to hundreds of beaches and coves, an on-site store, gift shop, café, bar, and launch ramp. This is an incredible option for a home base when visiting this national recreation area. 

Temple Bar has standard motel rooms and cabins for those who want a more traditional type of stay. Visitors can choose from standard rooms with lake views or desert views, fishing cabins, or suites with kitchen access. Whatever type of stay you prefer this resort has a perfect solution for your travel needs. 

Towns near Lake Mead National Recreation Area

There are several towns near this recreation area for those who prefer to set up a base camp outside the park’s boundaries. Whether you seek a quiet, small town or a lively, larger city, there’s a perfect place for you in these towns.

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Boulder City, Nevada

Boulder City is a charming small town with a rich historical heritage, only 6 miles from the park. For those wanting to stay near the recreation area, this town has a variety of options for dining, lodging, and entertainment.

This city has a variety of accommodations including RV resorts, contemporary hotels, and budget-friendly motels. Whether you’re looking for a unique stay in a themed motel, a luxury stay in a hotel, or a relaxing visit to a resort, there are plenty of options in this city. 

Food enthusiasts are in for a treat in this city. A variety of restaurants, including cafes, sushi bars, diners, and Mexican taquerias are scattered throughout this town.

For recreation, there are incredible opportunities available in this town. From kayaking to golfing, visiting museums, and exploring several types of parks, there’s no shortage of fun here. You are also in the perfect location for exploring famous landmarks like the Hoover Dam. 

Boulder City is an ideal home away from home for those visiting Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Its proximity to the park and its incredible opportunities for food, fun, and lodging make the choice of where to settle an easy one. 

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Henderson, Nevada

Henderson is located approximately 19 miles from the national recreation area. This city is a great place to make a home base during a visit to this park. It has perfect options for those traveling with family, friends, or solo. 

The accommodations in this town range from luxury hotels to smaller, more affordable motels to 5-star luxury resorts. Whatever budget or type of stay you have in mind, you can find a perfect option for your vacation needs here. 

This city has fantastic restaurants including pizza parlors, formal dining rooms, authentic cultural cuisine, diners, and cafes. This city has something to offer every palate. 

If you’re looking for fun, this is the right place. Henderson has countless opportunities for outdoor recreation including hiking, playgrounds, splash pads, skate parks, and bicycle trails.

Where to eat in Lake Mead National Recreation Area

There are eight different restaurants within the boundaries of Lake Mead National Recreation Area. These restaurants serve a variety of cuisines and are located in or near the marinas. Here are two popular choices.

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Harbor House Café and Lounge

The Harbor House Café and Lounge is a floating restaurant and bar right on Lake Mead. This dining option serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and drinks daily. 

The menu seems endless at this restaurant. From freshly tossed salads to stacked sandwiches, breakfast specialties, and fish and chips, there’s something for every palate here. Some of the most popular menu items include the classic club sandwich, buffalo chicken wrap, and the Harbor Burger.

Be sure to stop by this café and lounge when visiting Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Not only will you enjoy a fantastic meal but you can also take in the gorgeous views of the surrounding slips, lake, and mountains. 

Temple Bar Café

Temple Bar Café is located at the Temple Bar Marina. This restaurant is open Thursday through Sunday and serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Breakfast burritos, stacks of fluffy pancakes, signature sandwiches, juicy burgers, and sizzling pizzas are just some of the items on the menu here. Customers rave about patty melt, Rueben sandwiches, homemade biscuits and gravy, and home-cooked weekly specials. 

For a delicious meal in this recreation area, you won’t regret a stop at Temple Bar Café. It’s a great place to rest up and refuel for more adventures in the park.

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Lake Mead National Recreation Area facts

1. Lake Mead National Recreation Area was established in 1964. This was America’s first national recreation area. 

2. Lake Mead National Recreation Area is the third largest NPS area other than the parks in Alaska. This recreation area covers 1.5 million acres. 

3. This area was occupied by desert Indian cultures that existed 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. It’s believed that the ancestral Puebloan people were the first to inhabit this land. These people group hunted game, gathered edible plants in the area, and practiced farming.

4. Lake Mead is a large reservoir on the Colorado River. This lake was formed by Hoover Dam located in Black Canyon. Lake Mead is the largest U.S. reservoir by volume coming in right before Lake Powell. 

5. An abundance of animals call Lake Mead National Recreation Area home thanks to its diverse ecosystems. These animals have special adaptations that help them survive the harsh environment. Some commonly seen animals here include the Desert bighorn sheep, mountain lions, desert tortoises, Gila monsters, and 19 species of bats. 

Final thoughts

Whether you seek outdoor adventure or solitude in nature, Lake Mead National Recreational Area is a bucket list location. With so many options to hike, fish, boat, view wildlife, attend a guided program, and tour amazing places, it’s easy to spend several days exploring this beautiful park. Book your trip to Lake Mead today and discover what brings in millions of visitors from around the world each year.

Details

  • Area: 1,495,806 acres
  • Established: October 13, 1936
  • Recreation visits in 2023: 5,798,541
  • Entrance fee: $25 per vehicle, valid for 7 consecutive days

Worth Pondering…

Most travelers hurry too much…the great thing is to try and travel with the eyes of the spirit wide open … with real inward attention. …you can extract the essence of a place once you know how.

―Lawrence Durrell

Memorial Day 2024: Best Arizona Road Trips for the Long Holiday Weekend

Each year, the summer road trip season kicks off with Memorial Day weekend

Memorial Day weekend changes things. The calendar claims that weeks of spring still remain on the books. But for all intents and purposes, it’s hello, summer. The holiday also provides a chance to get out of town for a wonderful stretch. 

While backyard barbecues and pool parties are great, there’s a whole lot of Arizona just waiting for you. Take this opportunity to head someplace cool or wet or both. For a few glorious days, you can refresh and recharge. Now you’re ready to face the summer. At least until the July 4 break.

Here are some of Arizona’s best Memorial Day getaways. 

Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Verde Valley adventure: Tigers, a zip line and a historic train ride

Cottonwood and the Verde Valley are your destinations for an action-packed holiday weekend.

Nestled in the high desert of Camp Verde, Out of Africa Wildlife Park provides sanctuary for hundreds of exotic animals and features dozens of large predators. The preserve spreads across 100 acres of rolling terrain. Tiger Splash is the signature show. There is no training and no tricks.

The daily program is spontaneous, just animals frolicking with their caretakers. Visitors can also take a narrated African Bush Safari and attend the Giant Snake Show.

Outside the park is Predator Zip Line which offers a two- to three-hour zip line tour across five lines and a suspension bridge high above the animals. Tours are $99.95; you can save $10 by booking online. 

For a ground-based journey, climb aboard the Verde Canyon Railroad and rumble into scenic backcountry. The train departs from the station in Clarkdale and travels into a high-walled canyon carved by the Verde River and lined by cottonwood trees. Such a rich riparian habitat lures a variety of wildlife, notably eagle, hawk, heron, mule deer, javelina, coyote, and beaver.

By the way, I have a series of posts on the Verde Valley:

Verde Canyon Railroad © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Celebrate Wupatki National Monument’s centennial

On the quiet prairie northeast of Flagstaff the pueblos of Wupatki National Monument rise like red-boned ghosts above swaying grasses.

The eruption of Sunset Crater in 1085 covered the dry basin with volcanic ash and cinders creating arable terrain. Soon afterward, Ancestral Puebloans moved in and built the freestanding dwellings that appear almost as natural rock formations.

This year Wupatki celebrates its centennial as a national monument. Short pathways lead to up-close encounters with a handful of these ancient structures. Behind the visitor center, a paved trail leads to Wupatki Pueblo, the largest dwelling in the park. The sprawling three-story ruin contains nearly 100 rooms and straddles an outcropping of sandstone.

Admission is $25 per vehicle and covers both Wupatki and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, connected by a scenic road.

Tackle the Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course

After your visit to Wupatki and Sunset Crater, you’ll have the rest of the weekend to experience Arizona’s summer capital. Why not sample the tree-top thrills of Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course at Fort Tuthill County Park?

Conquer rope swings, climbing walls, hanging nets, wobbly bridges, and ziplines. There are multiple circuits on the adult playground plus a course designed for children ages 7-11. Adult course costs $60 as does the zipline adventure or combine the two for $99. Children’s course is $30.

Ax throwing and laser tag in Flagstaff

If you prefer indoor activities, FlagTagAZ offers ax and knife throwing, laser tag, darts, arcade games, and more. They also serve beer, wine, and mead in their pizza café.

Flagstaff Brewery Trail

Speaking of beer, there’s something supremely satisfying about a day spent walking around Flagstaff’s historic downtown and Southside neighborhoods with their eclectic collections of shops, galleries, restaurants and, yes, craft breweries.

There are eight breweries to be exact, all waiting to quench your thirst with a cold craft beer. You can download a digital passport and score a free commemorative pint glass.

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

You really should see Canyon de Chelly. Here’s how.

At Canyon de Chelly National Monument in northeastern Arizona, sheer cliffs plunge hundreds of feet to lush bottomlands lined with crops, pastures, and cottonwood trees.

It’s a staggering blend of high drama and pastoral beauty. The scenic canyon shelters thousands of archaeological sites while dozens of Navajo families still live and farm there during warmer months.

Take one day to travel the rim drives for the stunning vistas. The North Rim Drive is 17 miles with three overlooks at prominent cliff dwellings and is best in the morning. The South Rim Drive is 19 miles with seven viewpoints is even more spectacular and is especially exquisite when afternoon light floods the canyon. 

Then take another day to explore the inner canyon with a Navajo guide. Private operators offer jeep, horseback, or hiking outings. Park admission is free; there are fees for tours.

Tours also leave daily from Thunderbird Lodge within the park.

Navajo Nation Parks & Recreation also manages Cottonwood Campground near the Canyon de Chelly visitor center. The campground has grills, picnic tables, and restrooms. No showers or hookups are available. Maximum RV length is 40 feet.

Here are some helpful resources:

Fool Hollow Lake: Fish, hike, or take a swim 

Nestled in the pines outside of Show Low, 149-acre Fool Hollow Lake Recreation Area contains one of the loveliest bodies of water in the White Mountains which is high praise indeed. There’s big open water and isolated coves, quiet marshes, and long channels.

This is the kind of lake that makes you want to jump in a kayak and go exploring. Fortunately, you can. Canoe, kayak, and paddleboard rentals are available from J&T’s WildLife Outdoors at the east boat launch ramp. They also offer a guided pontoon boat tour. You can learn about Adair, the town submerged beneath the water.

Landlubbers can hike the 1.5-mile trail running along the edge of the lake. Anglers try their luck landing rainbow trout, bass, walleye, northern pike, and more. And yes, swimming is permitted. Fool Hollow also has campsites for tents and RVs. Park admission is $7 per vehicle Mondays-Thursdays and $10 per vehicle Fridays-Sundays and on holidays.

Prescott Courthouse Plaza © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore art shows in Prescott

When artists display their work on the big grassy lawn of Prescott’s Courthouse Plaza, you know summer has arrived. Spend a day browsing, listening to music, and enjoying the mild temperatures.

The Phippen Museum holds its popular Western Art Show and Sale on the plaza May 25-27. More than 100 artists will have booths set up beneath the big elm trees. Hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday. A Quick Draw Challenge will happen on the north steps of the courthouse from 2-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

With a little planning, you can double your art show fun in Prescott. The Prescott OffStreet Festival is May 25-26 at its new home, Pine Ridge Marketplace, formerly the Gateway Mall. There will be fine art, photography, handmade crafts, and food. The fun starts at 9 a.m. both days and ends at 5 p.m. on Saturday, and 4 p.m. on Sunday.

Scenic drive: Traverse more than 460 curves on the Coronado Trail

A segment of U.S. 191, the Coronado Trail National Scenic Byway twists and turns for 123 miles between Morenci and Springerville in eastern Arizona. The road parallels the New Mexico state line and is the nation’s curviest and least-traveled federal highway.

Expect a 6,000-foot elevation change as the Coronado Trail climbs from cactus-strewn desert to lush alpine meadows and aspen-clad mountains with more than 460 curves along the way. Francisco Vasquez de Coronado is thought to have followed this route centuries ago as he searched for the Seven Cities of Gold.

The road passes the mining towns of Clifton and Morenci and curves around one of the world’s largest open pit mines. It snakes its way up narrow Chase Canyon and switchbacks through scrubby woodland that gives way to dense pine forests as you climb.

The Coronado Trail skirts the edge of the Blue Range Primitive Area where Mexican gray wolves roam. Stop at the high perch of Blue Vista Point for incredible views and to breathe the cool mountain air. Oxygen at 9,100 feet just seems to have a fragrance all its own.

Beyond Hannagan Meadow Lodge, the road softens its tone. The curves are lazier as it winds through forest to alpine ringed by mountains. From here, continue past brush-covered plateaus and the shimmering waters of Nelson Reservoir to the towns of Springerville and Eagar nestled in Round Valley, an idyllic spot to land on Memorial Day weekend.

Queen Mine © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bisbee Queen Mine Tour

Back in the days when copper flowed like a river from the hills of Bisbee, the Queen Mine was one of the richest producers in town. The mine operated for nearly a century before closing in 1975.

Today, retired miners lead tours 1,500 feet deep into the dark cool tunnels gouged from the Mule Mountains. Visitors outfitted in yellow slickers and hard hats with headlamps get an up-close look at mining conditions, techniques and dangers. You’ll emerge from the Queen Mine Tour with a whole new appreciation of your current job.

Tours depart several times throughout the day and reservations are required.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Old Bisbee Ghost Tour

When you’re above ground again in this mile-high town, sign up for an Old Bisbee Ghost Tour.

The city’s rowdy past led to some hard deaths among the citizenry and Bisbee maintains a healthy population of lingering ghosts. You’ll learn about them all on this tour that departs at 7 p.m. each evening and lasts about an hour and 45 minutes.

Guides dress in period garb and spin sinister tales of the restless spirits as you roam the twilight streets of Bisbee. Even ghostly skeptics will enjoy the great history and fascinating stories.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3 ways to see Monument Valley: Hike, drive, guided tour

Straddling the Arizona-Utah border, Monument Valley draws visitors from around the world.

Within the tribal park are a restaurant, gift shop, campground, and the Navajo-owned View Hotel. The rooms with private balconies are a great place to watch one of Monument Valley’s lavish sunrises.

Historic Goulding’s Lodge sits just outside the park and also offers a full range of services including guided tours.

The scenic 17-mile drive that winds through the heart of the valley reveals stunning views of the buttes. If you want more of an outdoor experience, hike the 3.2-mile Wildcat Trail that loops around the West Mitten butte.

Yet the best way to experience the beauty of this iconic western landscape and learn about the culture and history of the people who inhabit it is by signing up for a Navajo-led tour. Tours leave daily from the View Hotel and Goulding’s Lodge.

If you need ideas, check out:

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

The Otherworldly Wonderland of Rocks: Chiricahua National Monument

Chiricahua National Monument is recognized by its whimsical rock gardens with pinnacles that reach hundreds of feet skyward. This is the homeland of the Chiricahua Apache who relied on the natural resources in the area as far back as the 1400s.

A Wonderland of Rocks is waiting for you to explore at Chiricahua National Monument. The 8-mile paved scenic drive and 17-miles of day-use hiking trails provide opportunities to discover the beauty, natural sounds, and inhabitants of this 12,025 acre site.

About 120 miles east of Tucson, Arizona lies a sea of monolithic wonders forged in volcanic fury. Here, thousands of rocky hoodoos twist skyward under a vivid blanket of stars. The Martian-like landscape is crawling with rare creatures and abstract natural phenomena unlike any you’ve ever seen.

The Chiricahua Mountains stand shoulder to shoulder rising over 6,000 feet in silent solidarity from the surrounding Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts. Driving south from Willcox, Arizona, Highway 186 is sun-faded and snaked with cracks. Beyond barbwire fences, cattle graze on what grass they can find. A solitary pickup passes us, heading to town.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We are entering Chiricahua National Monument named for the Chiricahua Mountains, homeland of the Chiricahua Apache people who lived here for generations.

Driving down the monument’s main road, I glimpse green and shady Bonita Canyon Campground at the base of a redrock wall. This is my first view of the area’s stone columns and pinnacles. The Apache reportedly called this region, The Land of Standing-Up Rocks.

Twenty-seven million years ago, a series of volcanic eruptions rapidly covered 1,200 square miles with ash. The hot ash deposits (tuff) compressed into rock—welded tuff—and as it cooled, it contracted and cracked allowing wind, water, and freeze/thaw cycles to erode these towering cylindrical shapes.

Dubbed the The Land of Standing-Up Rocks by the Apache, Chiricahua’s iconic rhyolite pillars earned it national monument status back in 1924. These otherworldly oddities—reminiscent of the orange-hued hoodoos of Utah’s Bryce Canyon—number in the thousand and were formed millions of years ago by a volcanic eruption 1,000 times more powerful than Mount St. Helens. Adding to the mystique, Chiricahua is one of Arizona’s sky islands, a prodigious mountain range that emerges from the desert like a hazy mirage.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The unique geological features of sky islands result in some pretty unpredictable climate conditions; think t-shirts at the lower elevations and winter coats closer to the highest peaks. And as the elevation changes, so do the ecological communities.

Located at the convergence of the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Madres, the Sonoran Desert, and the Chihuahuan Desert, Chiricahua is home to five world biomes that range from deserts and grasslands to chaparral, deciduous, and coniferous forests. It’s basically the Grand Central Station of ecosystems and it’s teeming with innumerable desert-dwelling critters and creepy crawlies.

Here’s how to best experience the starry skies, ancient lava flows, and wildlife of this Southwestern dreamscape.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cruise through Bonita Canyon

Seeing the best of Chiricahua doesn’t necessarily mean lacing up your hiking boots: Bonita Canyon Scenic Drive serves as the perfect gateway to adventure. This eight-mile drive provides access to scenic pullouts, trailheads, and Bonita Canyon Campground. Enjoy the scenic drive as it rambles through cypress, oak, and pine forests and climbs to Massai Point where you’ll gaze over a sea of trippy hoodoos, distant mountain ranges, and surrounding valleys from a 6,880-foot vantage.

Be sure to stretch your legs along the paved half-mile Massai Nature Trail. The path is outfitted with informative signs about the natural history of the area so you can depart Chiricahua with some impressive facts that give context to your photos. Oh, if you want to catch a sunset, this is the place.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be wowed under a blanket of stars

Unparalleled sunsets are a highlight in Chiricahua but that little ball of fire dropping behind distant mountain ranges is just the opening act. Chiricahua is a premier destination for astronomy tourism and it wows with spellbinding views of the crystal-clear night sky.

In 2021, Chiricahua added International Dark Sky Park status to its resume making it the 12th such stargazing destination in Arizona. Definitely stay up past your bedtime for a chance to glimpse the Milky Way in all its glory.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore hidden grottoes and towering volcanic rocks

Overall, there are 17 miles of day-use hiking trails snaking through the monument ranging from easily accessed to knee-shaking. For a panoramic view, Sugarloaf Mountain should be first on your list. The 1.8-mile moderate hike rises 7,310 feet above canyons to one of the highest points in the monument. It winds through carved tunnels and culminates at a fire lookout that offers far-reaching views in every direction.

Echo Canyon Loop is your best bet for stellar photo ops. Spanning 3.3 miles and best hiked counterclockwise (trust me on this one), Echo Canyon Loop leads you through rock pinnacles and popular areas of the monument including the grottoes and through the narrow rock wall corridors known as Wall Street.

The ultimate physical test has to be The Big Loop. Landing at the top of the list of the most strenuous trails in the monument, the 9.5-mile loop twists through mazes of rhyolite formations and it’s peppered with scenic outlooks which make the trek through those elevation changes worth the sweat. Tackling the Big Loop gets you up close and personal with the monument’s most notable (and aptly named) geologic formations like Camel’s Head, Kissing Rock, and Big Balanced Rock.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Encounter some truly wild wildlife

From falcons and finches to swallows and swifts, southeastern Arizona is renowned for its avian diversity. In fact, close to 200 bird species have been documented throughout the monument. Each year, thousands of migrating birds funnel through Chiricahua highlighted by massive migrations between mid-April and mid-May.

Far from simply a birder’s paradise, Chiricahua is one of the northern hemisphere’s most biologically diverse areas. Javelina, black bear, jaguar, ocelot, whitetail deer, and the white-nosed coati (the cuter cousin of the common raccoon) are among the 71 species of mammals in the monument.

There are also 46 species of reptiles—including the western box turtle and venomous banded rattlesnake—and eight amphibian species including the smirking, striped tiger salamander that inhabits Chiricahua’s wetland areas.

Like the fauna, the flora in Chiricahua abounds. Experts cite that 1,000 plant species flourish throughout the monument including an eye-popping, sinus-destroying superbloom of desert wildflowers. For the best wildflower peeping, plan your trip for late spring or early summer.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Things to know before you go

Chiricahua’s busiest months are March and April but ultimately the best time to visit is between March and June or from October to November. Just remember as a rule to expect the unexpected. In Chiricahua, weather events like unpredictable thunderstorms are common in the summer monsoon season and snowstorms are a normal occurrence during winter months.

Road tripping in? Campers and RVers are allowed inside the monument boundary and in the campground but all vehicles longer than 24 feet are prohibited on Bonita Canyon Scenic Drive. The closest services are in Sunizona and Wilcox, 24 miles and 34 miles away, respectively. That’s a long way to walk for gas—especially with ocelots watching—so fuel up before you enter and keep an eye on the gauge.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping

Bonita Campground is the only area where camping is permitted in the monument. It has 26 individual sites and they go fast. Reserve campsites through recreation.gov. Vehicle length limit is 29 feet. The campground is equipped with flush toilets and running water but that’s about it. There are no hookups, showers, or laundry facilities and cell service is nonexistent.

Chiricahua does have a visitor center and a bookstore, but it’s not a big-box grocery store by any means. Some food items are stocked but you probably won’t see any spirulina-dusted artisan popcorn on the shelves here. There are no restaurants, either. So bring plenty of provisions and water for your trip and prepare to be awed.

Worth Pondering…

Most travelers hurry too much…the great thing is to try and travel with the eyes of the spirit wide open … with real inward attention. …you can extract the essence of a place once you know how.

―Lawrence Durrell

The Grand Circle Tour

11 days, 1,500 miles, 6 National Parks, Monument Valley, adventure towns, lakes in the desert, and something about a Dead Horse Point? Yes, please. Strap your seat belts on for this one.

Millions of years of erosion have created a spectacular display of cliffs, canyons, arches, natural bridges, red slickrock, hoodos, and mountains that you will experience during your two-week travels.

The canyons, sunsets, trails, colors, and rock formations will keep your camera busy so bring lots of flash memory and batteries. And don’t forget your hiking boots.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day One: Zion National Park

Drive from Las Vegas (168 miles) or Salt Lake City (314 miles) to Springdale, gateway to Zion National Park.

Park Fees: I recommend that you buy the $80 America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Lands Pass that covers entrance fees at lands managed by the National Park Service (NPS) and US Fish & Wildlife Service and standard amenity fees (day use fees) at lands managed by the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and US Army Corps of Engineers.

Hike Canyon Overlook Trail (1 hour, 1 mile round trip)

This short moderate hike on a well-marked trail leads to an overlook offering incredible views of lower Zion Canyon. If you time it right, the sunset will light up the whole canyon. The trailhead is at the parking lot just beyond the east entrance of the tunnel. Cross the road and begin the easy 1 mile hike. This hike is great for people who want to see a beautiful overlook of Zion that don’t necessarily like long hikes and it’s great for kids.

Return back to your accommodations by following State Route 9 back into Springdale.

Check into your campground in or near Zion National Park.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 2: Zion National Park

Stop at the local market to get water and (healthy) snacks for the day. You will want a day pack to carry things in since you will be gone for the entire day.

Explore Zion Canyon (all day)

During the summer months, the shuttle runs from 6:30 am to 11:00 pm. Since parking at the Visitors Center inside the park can be difficult from May-October, riding the shuttle from Springdale is a better option. November through March you can actually drive in the canyon.

Shuttle stops:

  • Court of the Patriarchs (5 minutes, 0.1 mile)
  • Zion Lodge: Emerald Pools trailhead (1-3 hours; lower, 1.2 miles; middle, 2 miles; upper, 3 miles)
  • The Grotto: Angels Landing trailhead (4-5 hours, 5 miles)
  • Weeping Rock: Weeping Rock trail (½ hour, 0.4 mile)
  • Big Bend: View the Angels Landing ridge trail
  • Temple of Sinawava: Riverside trail, gateway to the Narrows (1.5 hours, 2 miles)

Add a little extra adventure and incredible scenery by walking up the Virgin River Narrows a mile or two. You might want to bring an extra pair of shoes and a walking stick. The trail is the river and you are walking on slippery rocks as you go up the Narrows.

Find my complete guide to Zion National Park here.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 3: Bryce Canyon National Park

Leave for Bryce Canyon National Park (86 miles). Enjoy the scenic drive through Utah State Route 9 and U.S 89. Pass through historic towns and the beautiful Red Canyon.

At Bryce Canyon, visit some of the scenic overlooks. If you’re looking to relax a little, stay in or near the park. There are three options located inside the park: the North Campground (open year-round), Sunset Campground (high season), and the 114-room Bryce Canyon Lodge which was built from local timber and stone in 1924-25. 

Any non-park related activity—sleeping, eating, shopping, fueling up, or learning about the local history—will almost surely bring you to Ruby’s legendary roadhouse.

For sunset, I recommend Inspiration Point, Paria View, or Sunset Point and plan to arrive one-and-a-half hours before sunset for the best lighting. If you want to see mostly all of Bryce Canyon, drive or take the shuttle on the scenic loop. Its 38 miles (one way) of pure beauty and you will cover many viewpoints.

View points of the Scenic Loop:

  • Swamp Canyon
  • Piracy Pointe
  • Fairview Point
  • Aqua Canyon
  • Natural Bridge
  • Ponderosa Canyon
  • Black Birch Canyon
  • Rainbow Point
  • Yovimpa Point

Check into your campground in or near Bryce Canyon National Park.

Eat at Ebenezer’s Barn and Grill and enjoy great Cowboy Entertainment. Or check out other restaurants in the area.

Find my ultimate guide to Bryce Canyon National Park here.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 4: Bryce Canyon National Park and Scenic Byway 12

Get up early and see the sun rise over Bryce Canyon. The two most popular viewpoints for sunrise are Sunrise Point and Bryce Point.

Hike the Navajo Loop Trail (1.3 miles round trip)

This is hands-down the greatest way to see the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon from the canyon floor. You start by hiking down Wall Street a narrow canyon with high rock walls on either side.

Drive All American Road Scenic Byway 12 (4 hours)

This drive cuts through a corner of Bryce Canyon National Park and then follows a breathtaking scenic route through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It is a good, paved highway but steep in spots. It descends into the Escalante Canyons region and then climbs over Boulder Mountain. From Boulder Mountain you can see the Waterpocket Fold section of Capitol Reef National Park. Stop at scenic turnoffs as time permits. Scenic Byway 12 ends in Torrey near the Capitol Reef National Park entrance.

Highlights of Scenic Byway 12:

  • Mossy Cave, a sneak peak of Bryce (drive past Bryce toward Tropic and there is a pullout on the right; play in the small cave and waterfall down a short half mile path
  • Kodachrome Basin (22 miles from Bryce)
  • Escalante State Park (44 miles from Bryce)
  • Calf Creek Falls (67.6 miles from Bryce)
  • Anasazi Indian Village (80.8 miles from Bryce)

Check into an RV park in Torrey or the 71-site Fruita campground in Capitol Reef National Park.

Check out the restaurants near Capitol Reef too. Torrey is so small that all you need to do is drive down the main road (SR 24) and you’ll see all of the restaurants.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 5: Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef is amazing in its own special way. The formations you see here you won’t find anywhere else in the world.

Drive the scenic drive south from the Visitor Center.

The Scenic Drive is a 10 mile mostly paved road with dirt spur roads into Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge that weather permitting are accessible to ordinary passenger vehicles. In every direction the views are fascinating. From the road you can see sheer sandstone cliffs, uniform layers of shale and rocks that have been lifted and folded and carved into shapes that stir the imagination. The Scenic Drive is not a loop, so you must return on the same road. Entrance fees of $5 per vehicle are charged for the Scenic Drive.

Find my ultimate guide to Capitol Reef National Park here.

In the afternoon begin your drive to Moab, Utah’s Adventure Capital (144 miles).

Check into an RV park in Moab or Devils Garden Campground in Arches National Park.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 6: Arches National Park

In the morning, pack a lunch and plenty of water and drive to Arches National Park to watch the sunrise over the world’s largest concentration of natural stone arches (2,000 and counting). Drive North on U.S. Highway 191 from Moab for 5 miles. The turnoff for Arches will be on the East side of road. For the more adventurous, get up 1 hour before sunrise and hike the 1.5 mile trail to Delicate Arch and watch the sun rise.

Main points of interest:

  • Park Avenue
  • Balanced Rock
  • Windows Section
  • Delicate Arch Viewpoint
  • Devils Garden
  • Landscape Arch

Eat lunch in route.

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

In the afternoon drive to Dead Horse Point State Park and to the scenic overlooks in Canyonlands National Park.

Dead Horse Point State Park offers spectacular vistas with views of Canyonlands National Park and the Colorado River. From Arches, drive back to U.S. 191 and head north for about 6 miles to State Route 313 and take the signed turnoff to Dead Horse Point. Follow SR 313 for about 22 miles as it winds to the top of the plateau and then south to Dead Horse Point.

Tour Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky District (2-3 hours)

Island in the Sky comprises the northern portion of Canyonlands National Park. From Dead Horse Point, return north on SR 313 for 7 miles to the junction with the Grand View Point Road and then drive the Grand View Road south into Canyonlands. Stop at the Visitors Center to pick up a map and information before continuing to the lookout points.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Main Points-of-interest:

  • Mesa Arch
  • Grandview Point
  • Upheaval Dome
  • Green River Overlook

Return to Devils Garden Campground (Arches National Park) or Moab for the night.

Here are some helpful resources:

Day 7: Moab

Engage in one of Moab’s many adventure activities; whitewater rafting on the Colorado River, horseback riding among the red cliffs, mountain bike the slick rock trails, take a Hummer 4×4 ride over red rock trails or hike to Corona and Bow Tie Arches.

If you need ideas, check out: Moab’s Scenic Byways

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 8: Monument Valley

Drive to Monument Valley (150 miles)

This is a scenic drive; plan to stop at the historic towns and viewpoints and take some pictures.

Eat lunch en route. Drive to the Visitors Center and sign up for a Navajo guided tour through Monument Valley at Sunset. Check out the amazing overlooks East and West Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte. Unique sandstone formations, red mesas and buttes surrounded by desert were used in hundreds of western movies. There is only one hiking path called Wildcat Trail (3.2 miles) that starts at the Visitors Center and loops around West Mitten Butte. At night the stars are absolutely amazing because of the remote area and no city lights.

Check into The View Campground or lodge at Monument Valley and eat dinner.

For more tips on exploring this area, check out these blog posts:

Lake Powell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 9: Lake Powell

Leave for Lake Powell (132 miles) in the morning. Lake Powell offers one of the most beautiful views of water and red rock cliffs. Take a boat tour to Rainbow Bridge, the largest natural stone bridge in the world. I recommend bringing hiking shoes for the trail to Rainbow Bridge (3 miles round-trip). Click here for more information on boat tours: Eat lunch before the tour in Page, Arizona or pack one for the boat tour.

Check into Wahweep Campground and RV Park centrally located at Wahweap Marina about ¼ mile from the shore of Lake Powell. Wahweap offers plenty of fun with a wide variety of powerboats and water toys from which to choose. You can also enjoy the restaurant, lounge, and gift shop at the Lake Powell Resort. 

Read more: Glen Canyon National Recreation Area: Lake Powell and So Much More

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 10: Kanab and the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park

Drive 110 miles to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The North Rim has the most spectacular views and is surrounded with forest of Ponderosa Pines. The North Rim averages 1,000 to 1,500 feet higher than the South Rim! Perfect for hiking and great photos! Eat lunch and enjoy the view at the North Rim Lodge. Be aware that that State Highway 67 leading to the North Rim closes from about mid-October to mid-May due to heavy snow.

From here you can drive to Las Vegas (266 miles) for the night or stay in lodging near the Grand Canyon (77 miles).

Points of Interest on North Rim:

  • Point Imperial is often considered the greatest viewpoints on the North Rim. It overlooks the Painted Desert and the eastern end of Grand Canyon and different than other viewpoints.
  • Bright Angel Point, south from the visitor center, can be reached via a 1 mile round trip hike with a grand view of the canyon.
  • Cape Royal (0.6 miles round trip) is a long peninsula extending from the North Rim out over the Grand Canyon. It offers a phenomenal view perhaps the most sweeping view of any Grand Canyon vista. You can see much of it from your vehicle but the best views await those who take the short, easy stroll to the end of the cape.

Check into accommodations near the Grand Canyon.

Day 11

Drive to Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, or destination of your choosing. Need ideas?

Worth Pondering…

RVing and imagination—both take you anywhere you want to be.

Here’s what a million-plus visitors a year mean to Saguaro National Park

The cactus crush continued at Saguaro National Park in 2023

Stand tall.
Reach for the sky.
Be patient through dry spells.
Conserve your resources.
Think long term.
Wait for your time to bloom.
Stay sharp!

—Advice from a Saguaro

For the third time in the past five years, annual visitation topped 1 million at the park bracketing Tucson.

The 1,010,906 recreation visits logged by the National Park Service (NPS) last year were the third most in Saguaro’s 90-year history, first as a national monument, then a national park. Until 2019, the park had never seen more than 1 million visitors in a single year.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The impact is easy to see. Just drive out to the east end of Broadway or Speedway on a sunny day in spring and try to find a space in one of the trailhead parking lots.

There are cars parked on the street that go half a mile in both directions. You can definitely see the need for increased parking and increased opportunities for people to access the park.

Congestion is also increasingly common at Saguaro’s east and west visitor centers especially in March, typically the busiest month at the park.

Though it varies year-to-year, visitation has increased by almost 50 percent overall since 2013 when Saguaro saw fewer than 680,000 recreation visits. The current surge to 1 million visitors and beyond began in 2017 though it was briefly interrupted by the pandemic which sent the figure back down below 765,000 in 2020.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nationwide, 2023 ranked as the fourth busiest in Park Service history with 325,498,646 visitors at 394 sites managed by the agency from California to Florida and Alaska to Hawaii.

So far, though, Saguaro appears to have avoided many of the problems plaguing other popular parks close to urban areas. The sharp rise in visitor volume has not resulted in an increase in crime, vandalism, or even litter.

The community takes a lot of pride in the park and they’re not going to let things fall apart.

Recent feedback from the public seems to back that up.

As part of a larger visitor use study early last year, officials conducted a survey in the park to find out where people were coming from and what they were there to see and do. More than 1,500 visitors were interviewed at various locations and a sizable majority of them said they found Saguaro to be clean, safe, and not too crowded.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Helpful Friends

Even as attendance has exploded in recent years, Saguaro has seen its federal funding flatline preventing the park’s workforce from growing along with its visitation. According to a park’s spokesperson, Saguaro has roughly the same number of uniformed staff now as it did a decade ago.

That’s where the Friends of Saguaro National Park come in.

Since it was founded in 1996, Saguaro’s nonprofit fundraising partner has provided $12 million in support to the park. They are able to provide funding for things the park wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.

For example, the park’s environmental education programs are entirely paid for by the Friends, according to Fred Stula, executive director of the nonprofit group.

Last year alone, the group and its donors supplied Saguaro with $671,000, its largest yearly contribution to date. And that figure did not include the hundreds of volunteers and thousands of hours of work the Friends have provided for trail maintenance and other work.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then there is the group’s Next Generation Ranger Corps Internship Program which has placed more than 100 paid temporary workers at the park since 2015.

The goal of the program is to supply Saguaro with some much needed personnel while helping “diverse young people to get their foot in the door” at the park service and other federal agencies

(58 percent of interns are women and 76 percent come from Latino, Indigenous, or other historically underserved communities).

Nearly every graduate of the program has gone on to work in the environmental field including 38 who have landed jobs with federal agencies. Eighteen former interns are now on the permanent staff at Saguaro.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Upgrades coming

The Park Service hopes to address some of its congestion issues starting next year with a major construction project at the Rincon Mountain Visitor Center.

The work will more than double the current number of parking spaces and add spots large enough for buses and recreational vehicles. It should also improve visitor safety by rerouting the entrance road between Old Spanish Trail and the fee stations to separate it from the parking lot.

The project represents the first major upgrade to the visitor center parking lot since the early 1950s when fewer than 80,000 people a year visited what was then a national monument limited only to the Rincon Mountains.

President John F. Kennedy expanded the monument to include portions of the Tucson Mountains in 1961 and Congress elevated the land to national park status in 1994.

The final designs and cost estimates for the visitor center upgrade have not been released but according to park officials the work will be funded in part with the additional entrance fee revenue Saguaro has received as a result of its increased visitation.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No changes would be made to Cactus Forest Drive, the iconic, one-lane scenic loop through the Rincon foothills that dates back to the earliest days of the national monument in the 1930s and is considered “part of the historic character” of the park.

The Red Hills Visitor Center in the Tucson Mountains is far newer—and so is its parking lot—but it is also due for its first major renovation since it was built in the 1990s.

The Park Service just launched the design process for that project which will focus on a new layout and all new exhibits for the inside of the building.

Park officials have no immediate plans to expand the parking lots at Saguaro’s most popular hiking spots, namely the Broadway and Douglas Springs trailheads on the east side of the park and the King Canyon trailhead on the west side.

Best advice is come early in the day. By 9:30 or 10 a.m. parking at some locations can be hard to come by.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cactus and crowds

The three busiest years in the history of Saguaro National Park have all come since 2019. Here are the annual recreation visits for the past 10 years, according to the NPS:

  • 2023: 1,010,906
  • 2022: 908,194
  • 2021: 1,079,786
  • 2020: 762,226
  • 2019: 1,020,226
  • 2018: 957,405
  • 2017: 964,760
  • 2016: 820,426
  • 2015: 753,446
  • 2014: 673,572
  • 2013: 678,261
Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Packing the parks

Of the 21 NPS sites in Arizona only two are among the nation’s 10 busiest—and the Grand Canyon isn’t one of them. Here’s where park sites in Arizona ranked on the list of America’s most visited parks in 2023:

1. Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina and Virginia: 16,757,635 recreation visits

2. Golden Gate National Recreation Area, California: 14,953,882

3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee: 13,297,647

4. Gateway National Recreation Area, New York and New Jersey: 8,705,329

5. Gulf Islands National Seashore, Florida and Mississippi: 8,277,857

6. Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C.: 8,099,148

7. George Washington Memorial Parkway, Virginia: 7,391,260

8. Natchez Trace Parkway, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee: 6,784,853

9. Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Arizona and Nevada: 5,798,541

10. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona and Utah: 5,206,934

Others sites in Arizona:

13. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona: 4,733,705

75. Saguaro National Park: 1,010,906

117. Petrified Forest National Park: 520,491

146. Montezuma Castle National Monument: 367,239

154. Canyon de Chelly National Monument: 333,349

190. Wupatki National Monument: 215,703

194. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument: 186,601

209. Walnut Canyon National Monument: 152,548

214. Coronado National Memorial: 140,089

228. Casa Grande Ruins National Monument: 111,392

232. Tuzigoot National Monument: 102,936

250. Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument: 81,519

262. Chiricahua National Monument: 62,582

276. Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site: 54,187

287. Navajo National Monument: 44,180

300. Tumacacori National Historic Park: 37,872

314. Tonto National Monument: 31,216

329. Pipe Spring National Monument: 24,016

370. Fort Bowie National Historic Site: 8,333

Worth Pondering…

A 40-foot saguaro strikes an invincible pose: bristling with defenses, assertively towering over every other living thing in the landscape, seemingly confident in its life span of 200 years or longer.

—Larry Cheek, Born Survivor

Discover Native American Cultures on the Trail of the Ancients

The Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway traverses a portion of the American Southwest that once experienced cannot easily be forgotten

The Trail of the Ancients is the ultimate American Southwest road trip into the Native American history of the region running through four states.

Long before the United States existed there were many civilizations throughout the lands that now make up the country. Today, visitors can learn about the history and heritage of these lands in the Four Corners region on the Trail of the Ancients. The route is found in the states of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona.

The Trail of the Ancients explores many of the state parks, Indian reservations, national parks, and national monuments of the region. On this trail, travelers can see some of the best landscapes of the region along with some of the land’s deepest history. But it’s not all about history; you will also see the enduring traditions and practices of the Ancient’s living descendants today.

The Trail of the Ancients is a collection of Scenic Byways that highlight the archeological history of the region. Along this route, visitors can delve into the cultural history of the Native American peoples of the Southwest.

Here are some helpful resources:

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Trail of the Ancients Byways

  • Utah: Trail of the Ancients National Scenic Byway
  • Colorado: Trail of the Ancients Scenic and Historic Byway
  • New Mexico: Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway
  • Arizona: Dine’Tah Among the People Scenic Road and Kayenta-Monument Valley Scenic Road

The Trail of the Ancients connects historic points of interest of the Navajo, Utes, and early Puebloan peoples. Along the way, visitors see snow-capped mountains, red rock landscapes, green valleys, canyons, and some of the most iconic landscapes of the Southwest.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Trail of the Ancients-Colorado

The Colorado section of the Trail of the Ancients has been a National Scenic Byway since 2005. It traverses the arid and cultural terrain of the Ancestral Pueblo. This is a land with cliff dwellings, rock art, and broken pottery sherds.

The scenic drive starts on US 160 at Mesa Verde National Park, home to over 4,000 archeological sites and 600 cliff dwellings built by the Anasazi People between 450-1300 AD. Mesa Verde is a World Cultural Heritage Park designated by UNESCO and you can spend days here exploring over 4,500 archaeological sites and extraordinary setting. 

From the park, the drive heads to the town of Dolores by following the US 160 west and CO 145 and CO 184 north. The premier archaeological museum, Anasazi Heritage Center honors the history of the Anasazi People and other Native cultures in the Four Corners region with exhibits on archaeology, local history, and lifestyle including how they weaved and prepared corn. A short trail will bring you to two pueblos. The Anasazi Heritage Center is also the visitor center for Canyons of the Ancients National Monument which protects more than 6,000 ancient ruins.

From Dolores, head west on CO 184 and then north on US 491 passing pastoral farmland with mountain peaks in the distance. As you approach the town of Pleasant View, turn right onto Country Road CC. Heading west for 8.5 miles, you arrive at Lowry Pueblo, an Anasazi ruin constructed around 1060 AD. It housed approximately 40-100 inhabitants who subsisted as farmers and made elaborately decorated pottery.

Retracing back a few miles, you arrive at Country Road 10 which heads southwest towards Utah for 20 miles on a dirt road. After crossing the border into Utah, stop at the Hovenweep National Monument. Along the canyon rim stand two, oddly-shaped stone towers created by the master builders of the Anasazi’s people, the meaning of which are still unknown.

The Monument also has a total of six groups of ruins and is known for its square, oval, and D-shaped towers. Explore the Square Tower Group by walking the two mile loop trail from the Visitor Center. Stargazing is a wonderful way to immerse yourself in this peaceful and moving setting. Make a night of it with camping which is open year-round on a first-come, first-served basis.

The scenic drive comes to an end as you arrive at the US 191. 

Here are some helpful resources:

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Trail of the Ancients-Utah

The Trail of the Ancients National Scenic Byway enters Utah east of Monticello on US Highway 491 and travels to the junction in Monticello with US Highway 191. Turn south onto US 191 and travel to Blanding where you find Edge of the Cedars State Park and Musuem, a good stop for an introduction to the Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) pre-history of the area.

From Blanding the route follows US 191 south to the junction with Utah Highway 95 and west on US 95 to Utah Highway 261 passing Butler Wash Ruin, Mule Canyon Ruin, and Natural Bridges National Monument along the way. It then turns south at the junction with UT 95 and UT 261 and proceeds to the top of the Moki Dugway, a 3 mile stretch of gravel road that descends the 1,000 foot cliff from Cedar Mesa to Valley of the Gods. Along the way you will find access to Grand Gulch Primitive Area and hiking trails on the mesa top. Just before dropping off the Moki Dugway is County Road #274 leading to Muley Point and views into Johns Canyon.

Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the bottom of the Dugway the route continues past the entrance to Valley of the Gods and on the junction with Utah Highway 316 which leads to Goosencks State Park. At Goosenecks you encounter a view of the largest entrenched river meander in North America.

UT 261 continues to the junction with US 163 and the town of Mexican Hat. At the junction turn right to enter Mexican Hat or turn left to drive to Bluff. Turning right will take you to Mexican Hat and on to Monument Valley; turning left will take you to Bluff and back to Blanding.

Along US 191 between Bluff and Blanding is the junction with Utah Highway 262 where you turn east and follow the signs to Hovenweep National Monument OR you can access Hovenweep from Bluff on US Highway 162 and follow the signs.

Moki Dugway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here are some helpful resources:

Aztec Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Trail of the Ancients-New Mexico

The Trail of the Ancients passes through the unique geology of the Colorado Plateau high desert offering a rich but fragile mix of natural resources. The stunning rock formation, Shiprock, is a central scenic point that is visible from most places on the Trail of the Ancients. Shiprock provides a focal point for the interpretive theme of the landscape and helps to integrate the trail stops. The visible cultural heritage of the Four Corners area boasts numerous archaeological sites, modern communities, and Indian lands.

Chaco Culture National Historic Park, a USESCO World Heritage Site, is the centerpiece of the New Mexico segment of the byway. Occupied at the height of Ancestral Pueblo culture between around 850 and 1250 AD, it served as a major center of the ancestral Puebloan civilization. Remarkable for its monumental public and ceremonial buildings, engineering projects, astronomy, artistic achievements, and distinctive architecture, it was a hub of ceremony/trade for the prehistoric Four Corners area for 400 years.

The Navajo people arrived late on the scene. Their roots trace back to the Athabascan people of northwestern Canada. Spanish explorers first used the name Navajo. The Navajo call themselves Dine’ meaning The People. Contact with other groups and the introduction of farming and ranching brought lasting changes to the lives of the Dine’. The Navajo reservation is the largest in the continental United States both in size and population.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic turnouts along the Trail of the Ancients reveal vast valleys, towering mountains, badlands, clear blue lakes, raging rivers, and gentle streams.

The route traces a massive hook shape on the New Mexico northwest as it explores some of the loneliest parts of the state. Sites along the way include the El Morro National Monument, Chaco Culture National Historic Park, Crownpoint (stop here for the monthly Navajo Rug auction), Casamero Pueblo, El Malpais National Monument, Zuni Pueblo, and Aztec Ruins National Monument.

Here are some helpful resources:

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

Trail of the Ancients-Arizona

In Arizona, Trail of the Ancients consists of two distinct roads, The Dine’Tah Among the People Scenic Road and Kayenta-Monument Valley Scenic Road.

The Dine’Tah Among the People Scenic Road consists of two sections of a single road. The road crosses the state line between New Mexico and Arizona. The official scenic road is only on the Arizona side of the line. The southern section runs from Lupton north through the Navajo Nation capital of Window Rock to the state line. Then it picks up again further north in the Lukachukai Mountains when the road crosses back into Arizona wraps around the north side of Canyon de Chelly National Monument and turns southwest to end at Chinle. At no point does the route leave the Navajo Nation.

The Kayenta-Monument Valley Scenic Road is a 27-mile route along US Highway 163 from Kayenta to the Utah state line. Monument Valley is known as Tse’ Bii’ Ngzisgaii (Valley of the Rocks) among the Navajo.

Forrest Gump Road in Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arguably, Monument Valley offers one of the most iconic drives of the entire American Southwest with Route 163 (featuring the Forrest Gump Road) being one of its most scenic. This area has been the backdrop of countless Western movies (as well as where the character Forrest Gump in the famous namesake movie decided to give up running as the road’s nickname suggests). These roads in Arizona are not designed as national scenic byways but they are of immense cultural and scenic value.

Worth Pondering…

We didn’t inherit the earth; we are borrowing it from our children.

—Native American Proverb

The Complete Guide to Saguaro National Park

Iconic giant cacti are the stars in this photo-ready Southwestern desert preserve

A 40-foot saguaro strikes an invincible pose: bristling with defenses, assertively towering over every other living thing in the landscape, seemingly confident in its life span of 200 years or longer.

—Larry Cheek, Born Survivor

A sea of towering columnar saguaro cacti stretches out before you like a brigade of soldiers guarding the desert landscape. Formidable with their spiny armor, it’s hard to imagine America’s largest cactus is the species that needs safeguarding.

Found exclusively in the Sonoran Desert, this enduring symbol of the Southwest which requires just the right amount of heat and moisture to survive faces threats such as invasive species. The 91,327 acres that comprise Saguaro National Park in southeast Arizona provide the perfect climate as well as protection for vast forests of saguaro (pronounced Sa-WAH-ro) cacti to thrive.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These desert monarchs can grow upwards of 60 feet tall, weigh more than two tons, and live for two centuries. But while they’re certainly the park’s stars they’re far from the only reason it attracts more than a million visitors annually. For one thing, there are 24 other cactus species ranging from the fuzzy-looking teddy bear cholla to the pancake-shaped Engelmann’s prickly pear.

Despite the harsh desert environment an abundance of flora and fauna flourish here including such native species as the roadrunner, horned lizard, kangaroo rat, and the prehistoric-looking Gila monster. At the park’s higher elevations topping out at 8,666 feet, you’ll find oak woodland and pine forests that are home to black bears and the elusive coati which resembles a raccoon.

Saguaro National Park’s two distinct districts—the western Tucson Mountain District and the eastern Rincon Mountain District—are separated by the city of Tucson. The western district is lower in elevation, has denser patches of saguaro, and is known for its iconic Southwest landscape. The eastern section larger and more mountainous contains six biotic zones and 6,000 plant species and it’s second in biodiversity to the Amazon rainforest.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

President Herbert Hoover established the area as a national monument in 1933 and during the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) laid the groundwork for tourism by building walking paths and installing picnic benches and visitor shelters. It wasn’t until 1994 that the area earned national park status.

Today the park’s proximity to Tucson combined with recently installed handicap-friendly amenities ranging from paved walking paths to picnic tables with overhanging ends for wheelchair access makes it one of the nation’s most accessible national parks.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your trip ​

Approximately 30 miles apart, Saguaro National Park’s eastern and western districts hug Tucson, Arizona’s second-largest city with a population of 541,482. From downtown, you can drive to either park entrance in 20 minutes. The western district gets twice as many visitors as the eastern district thanks in large part to its proximity to the bucket-list Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (see below).

Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each district has its own visitor’s center open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Both offer accessibility features including designated parking spaces, accessible restrooms and drinking fountains, paved paths, and captioned orientation programs. Both also have bookstores, information centers, and water-filling stations.

The National Park Service recommends drinking at least one gallon of water per day and during hot summer months at least one quart per hour when hiking. Be sure to have a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and a pack with clothing layers since it can get cold at higher elevations. Neither visitor center has Wi-Fi and cellphone service is spotty throughout the park.

The Red Hills Visitor Center (also called the West District Visitor Center) hosts a daily educational program on the Native American perspective on the saguaro that’s well worth the time.

The Rincon Mountain Visitor Center (the East District Visitor Center) serves as the starting point for the scenic Cactus Forest Loop Drive, an 8-mile, cacti-lined road that you can drive or bike. To reach the hiking trails from the visitor center you must drive into the park on the Loop Drive. The first trailhead with parking is about 2 miles along the drive and begins at the Mica View Picnic Area.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Bajada Loop Drive is the best way to explore the western district’s foothills providing plenty of photo ops at pullouts and picnic areas plus access to trailheads. Although the 6-mile loop is unpaved you certainly don’t need a four-wheel-drive vehicle. It begins at Hohokam Road, a mile and a half west of the visitor center.

Since the park has no concessions pack a picnic lunch. Six picnic areas are accessible by vehicle—two in Saguaro East and four in Saguaro West—and each has a charcoal grill, a wheelchair-accessible pit toilet, and paved ground surfaces.

Saguaro is open daily except for Christmas Day. Annual visitation would almost certainly be higher if the summer months weren’t unbearably hot with triple-digit daytime temperatures. If you do visit in the summer, plan activities for early morning or the end of the day. This may be the desert but June 15 through September 30 is monsoon season so expect severe afternoon thunderstorms and even flash floods.

Cool temperatures ranging from the high 50s to the mid-70s make November to March prime time to visit.

And in spring—specifically the last two weeks of April through the first week of June—the park is a photographer’s paradise with cacti sprouting vivid blooms in hues of white, fuchsia, and canary yellow. June is a favorite time in the park. The flowers are usually at their peak. It’s an amazing sight to see but this isn’t the time of month to hike. Take in the blooms on a scenic drive.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to stay and eat ​

You won’t find any lodging options in Saguaro National Park or even camping options in the park’s western section. To experience the desert, reserve one of the eastern district’s six designated backcountry campsites ($8 a night) which can be accessed only on foot and require a base level of fitness to reach. Limited facilities include vault toilets. Water is unreliable, so you should pack your entire water supply for your trip, carry a filter, and check current water reports at the visitor center (520-733-5153).

Manning Camp, the home of former Tucson mayor Levin Manning that sits atop the Rincon Mountains is a tough uphill day hike but worth the effort. To do this hike in a day takes a solid eight hours but you go from seeing saguaro forest and Gila monster lizards to aspen groves and owls in one day. It’s a unique ecosystem up there.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can take the Douglas Spring Trail or the Arizona Trail both of which have campgrounds along the way if you prefer to break the trek up into two days. The original Manning cabin built in 1905 now hosts trail crews and researchers, and from April through September a ranger is stationed here. The six tent sites are nestled in a conifer forest at nearly 8,000 feet and temperatures rarely exceed 85 degrees—a welcome relief from the valley floor’s sweltering heat. A waterfall fed from a large pond makes this one of the rare sites with a reliable water source.

The amenity-rich Gilbert Ray Campground sits just outside the west entrance to the park close to the Brown Mountain Loop trail. It features 130 RV sites ($20 per night) and five designated tent sites ($10 per night) plus picnic tables and modern restrooms with handicap accessibility.

RV parks ranging from luxury resorts to the basic are less than a 30-minute drive away in Tucson.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Things to do ​

Hike

With 192 miles of marked hiking trails, Saguaro National Park offers treks for visitors of all abilities. No matter your fitness level, be sure to plan your hikes to avoid the midday desert heat and pack plenty of water. And remember, those photogenic cacti are covered in spines so keep to the trail to avoid getting pricked.

For an easy stroll that doubles as an intro to the desert ecosystem walk the quarter-mile Desert Ecology Trail along the Cactus Forest Drive in the East District or the half-mile Desert Discovery Trail off of Kinney Road in the West. Both paved trails include resting benches and interpretive exhibits on the park’s plants and animals.

The 0.7-mile Mica View Trail in the east which begins at the Mica Picnic Area parking lot was recently flattened and hardened to meet ADA standards and support wheelchairs. On this hike, you’ll likely glimpse Gila woodpeckers and gilded flickers in their saguaro nest holes and you’ll take in views of Tanque Verde Peak and Mica Mountain.

If you want to challenge yourself, try the eastern district’s Tanque Verde Ridge Trail by the Javelina Picnic Area off of the Cactus Loop Drive. The strenuous 18-mile hike gains 4,750 feet of elevation and passes through all six of the area’s biotic zones.

On the west side, access the King Canyon trailhead outside of the park off of Kinney Road and zigzag up to the summit of 4,687-foot Wasson Peak, the highest point in the Tucson Mountain Range. Approximately 7 miles round trip with 1,939 feet of elevation gain, this moderate hike passes rock walls carved with ancient petroglyphs and an old stone miner’s hut.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bike

In this, one of the country’s most bike-friendly national parks, take your pick of four excellent scenic loops for road cyclists and mountain bikers. The popular and aptly named Cactus Forest Loop next to the East District Visitor Center runs for eight miles on a paved, rolling road that you’ll share with vehicles. On the park’s west side, the six-mile Bajada Loop Drive off of Kinney Road, a gravel path passes a giant forest of saguaros.

Watch the sunset

The desert sunset may rival the saguaros as the park’s most Instagrammed natural wonder. As dusk falls, the setting sun turns a brilliant red that paints the sky in pinks and oranges worthy of a Monet painting. On the easy-to-access Desert Discovery Trail off of Kinney Road in the West District, catch sunset views through a forest of saguaros. On the east side, the Cactus Forest Loop Drive remains open until 8 p.m. giving you plenty of time to pull off and savor sunset at the Javelina Rocks Overlook near the loop’s end.

Learn

Rangers typically lead four to six different daily talks and interpretive tours that explore topics including desert survival, the lifespan of a saguaro, and misunderstood predators such as the mountain lion. Both park visitor centers have cactus gardens with interpretive signs you can explore on your own or with a ranger. Also, both districts co-host monthly stargazing nights with a local astronomy group. Participants must sign up in advance.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

View petroglyphs

Most of Saguaro National Park’s rock art dates back to the prehistoric Hohokam culture. Abstract designs including spirals and squiggly lines as well as drawings of animals, humans, and astrological objects have been etched onto the surface of sandstone and other rocks throughout the park.

The best place to view the petroglyphs is along the Signal Hill Trail which starts at the Signal Hill picnic area off of Hohokam Road in the West District. Starting at the Signal Hill Picnic area, the 0.3-mile trail gently climbs to a hill with more than 200 petroglyphs believed to have been created between 550 and 1,550 years ago.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gateway towns​

Tucson is flanked on either side by Saguaro’s western Tucson Mountain District and the eastern Rincon Mountain District making it an ideal base for day trips. A dream destination for fit foodies, Tucson owns bragging rights to being one of America’s most bike-friendly cities as well as having America’s first and only UNESCO City of Gastronomy designation.

On the Loop, a network of 131 miles of paved bicycle paths you can access Saguaro National Park as well as a plethora of other parks, shops, and restaurants on two wheels. Transit Cycles and Bicycle Ranch are the city’s go-to bike shops.

For a hearty breakfast before hitting the park, head to Prep & Pastry’s east side location on Grant Avenue and order the oven-roasted sweet potato hash and breakfast sandwich with avocado. After working up an appetite biking or hiking in the park reward yourself with a prickly pear mojito and a braised lamb tostada at Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails run by James Beard Award-winning chef Janos Wilder.

Head to Penca, an upscale Mexican eatery in the heart of downtown for the best happy hour in town: two tacos for $5 and $5 sangria.

Two not-to-miss open-air shopping centers anchor downtown’s hip Mercado District on the west end of the city’s modern streetcar line: Mercado San Agustín and the MSA Annex. At the latter, a collection of 10 indie businesses housed in repurposed shipping containers pick up nostalgic Saguaro National Park-inspired gear at Why I Love Where I Live and home goods crafted by local artisans at Mesa.

The burgeoning town of Marana, an alternate gateway to the West District is located about 15 miles north of the visitor center. Don’t miss the pork carnitas at La Olla Mexican Café and stop by Catalina Brewing Co. to try craft ales brewed with local ingredients such as prickly pear fruit and mesquite flour.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

En route ​

Located down the road from the West District Visitor Center, the Arizona–Sonora Desert Museum ranks as the state’s second-most-visited attraction behind the world-famous Grand Canyon. Part natural history museum, part desert botanical garden, and part zoo, this 98-acre, indoor-outdoor attraction showcases more than 55,000 plants from 1,200 native species along 2 miles of gravel and paved trails.

View native animals such as coyotes, raptors, hummingbirds, ocelots, and piglike javelinas in re-created habitats. Learn about the area’s geology in the Earth Sciences Center and view nature-inspired exhibits throughout the year at two on-site art galleries.

Geology fans detour to 2,400-acre Colossal Cave Mountain Park, a 15-minute drive southeast of Tucson in the community of Vail to explore its extensive underground cave network. One of North America’s largest dry caves it took more than two years to map the 2 miles of passageways open to visitors.

Guided tours, which range from 40 minutes to 3.5 hours, require a decent fitness level, as you’ll be descending 350-plus stairs, scrambling down ladders, and crossing rock bridges to view stalactites and stalagmites sculpted throughout millions of years.

Back above ground, you can mount a horse at the park’s La Posta Quemada Ranch for a guided trail ride.

If you’re a fan of art and history, visit the village of Tubac, 40 miles south of Tucson. Established in 1752 as a Spanish presidio, Tubac has emerged as a destination for artists with top-notch galleries and studios. For tasteful souvenirs, this is your one-stop shop for turquoise and silver jewelry, Navajo blankets, and mesquite furnishings. 

Tumacacori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tumacácori National Historical Park, less than a 10-minute drive from the village explores the region’s Spanish colonial past. The expansive grounds include a museum, the ruins of three Spanish mission communities, and the state’s second-oldest church.

Saguaro National Park offers a unique and unforgettable experience. I hope this guide helps you plan your adventure and that you’ll soon discover the magic of this park.

Here are a few more articles to help you do just that:

Fact box

Location: Southeast Arizona

Size: 91,327 acres

Trails: 192 miles

Elevation: 2,180 to 8,666 feet 

Main attraction: The iconic saguaro cactus

Entry fee: $25 for a 7-day vehicle pass including all passengers; $20 for an annual Senior Pass (62+)

Best way to see the park: On foot or by bike along the Bajada Loop Drive or the Cactus Forest Loop

When to go: Winter and spring

Worth Pondering…

Stand tall.
Reach for the sky.
Be patient through dry spells.
Conserve your resources.
Think long term.
Wait for your time to bloom.
Stay sharp!

—Advice from a Saguaro

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument: Ajo Mountain Drive

Arguably the best way to get a representative view of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, the Ajo Mountain Drive is a 21-mile scenic drive into, you guessed it, the Ajo Mountains, located within the park’s boundaries. Sometimes called the Ajo Mountain Loop Road, this drive takes visitors on a journey through rugged mountains while offering breathtaking views of the surrounding desert. And, yes, on this drive you’ll see plenty of Organ Pipe cacti!

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument covers 516 square miles of Southern Arizona, so you could spend a month there and not see all of this isolated, biodiverse jewel of the National Park System (NPS). But most people spend significantly less than a month there—and Ajo Mountain Drive is for them.

Careful drivers can navigate this 21-mile loop in most vehicles and it traverses much of what makes Organ Pipe great including unique desert flora, steep mountains, and dramatic views.

Ajo Mountain Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s no surprise that the Ajo Mountain Drive is the most popular scenic drive in the monument. It takes you through an excellent overview of the monument’s landscape bringing visitors through desert washes and up into the Ajo Mountains. For those wanting some good views and photographs of cacti, the drive provides ample opportunities to see large stands of its namesake cacti, the organ pipe cacti, as well as saguaros, cholla, and barrel cacti.

The Ajo Mountain Drive is a 21-mile graded, one-way dirt road. The drive takes approximately 2 hours and has been designed so that a passenger car driven with caution may be taken over it safely. Trailers, buses, and motorhomes over 25 feet are prohibited on the drive. After the first mile, the drive becomes a one-way road, so be prepared to finish the entire 21-mile loop.

Ajo Mountain Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before you embark, stop at the monument’s visitor’s center to pay your entrance fee and pick up a guide to the route; numbered stakes along the road correspond to entries in the guide.

You can also follow along with the audio tour/written guide on the NPS App or download a PDF version of the guide.

There are four picnic sites provided on the drive. Stops #6 has a shaded picnic area and Estes Canyon after stop #11 has a ramada and backcountry restrooms. The Ajo Mountain Drive also provides access to the trailheads for the Arch Canyon, Old Pima County Road, and Estes Canyon/Bull Pasture trails. 

By the way, I have a series of posts on Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument:

Ajo Mountain Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Leaving the visitor’s center, head east on Ajo Mountain Drive which is across State Route 85 from the visitors center.

In the early going, you’ll see plenty of Sonoran Desert staples such as saguaros, chollas, and ocotillos along this wide, washboarded dirt road. Straight ahead, to the east, are the craggy peaks of the Ajo Range which is topped by 4,819-foot Mount Ajo. You’ll get a closer look at the mountains later but for now enjoy the view along the road—which splits and becomes a narrower, one-way route at Mile 2.

Two miles past the split, you’ll spot your first organ pipe cactus (Stenocereus thurberi), and a mile later these aptly named, many-limbed columnar cactuses line both sides of the road. The monument harbors most of the U.S. population of this species—which, like the saguaro, tends to grow on south-facing slopes. While there are 30 other cactus species at the monument, the organ pipes are among the most visible and dramatic and you can enjoy them over lunch at the shaded Diablo Canyon Picnic Area, just ahead.

Ajo Mountain Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Past the picnic area, a paved section of road, one of several on this drive, winds into the foothills of the Ajo Range offering lovely panoramas around every corner. Healthy organ pipes proliferate on seemingly every hillside—on average, these cactuses’ stems grow about 2.5 inches per year.

Also, watch for a natural arch high above the road; from the Arch Canyon Trailhead, at Mile 9, you can hike a short, easy trail that offers good views of the rock formation. (An unmaintained and much steeper extension of that trail will take you up to the arch, but it isn’t for the faint of heart.)

The road then curves to the south and around the mountains providing nice views of the cliffs on the left. Past the Estes Canyon-Bull Pasture Trailhead which leads to another lovely hike, you’ll pass through a forest of healthy organ pipes and tall saguaros.

Ajo Mountain Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Around Mile 13, the organ pipes fade away as the road rolls into a flatter area that isn’t as ideal for those cactuses and numerous chollas, ocotillos, and prickly pears take their place. But the monument’s crown jewels return a few miles later offering one more look at a plant you aren’t likely to see elsewhere.

Eighteen miles in, you’ll return to the two-way road you took at the start of the drive. Turn left and retrace your route for 2 miles back to SR 85 where you can think about which of Organ Pipe’s 516 square miles you’ll explore the next time you visit.

Some reminders

Water is not available anywhere along the drive so carry plenty with you. Fires and camping are not allowed on the drive. Pets are not allowed on trails or in the backcountry. They must be leashed at all times. Please do leave pets unattended.

Do not cross washes when flooded. Do not pick up hitchhikers. Report any suspicious activity to park staff immediately. Do not contact any suspicious persons. If you see them in distress, contact a ranger for help. Remember that you’re only a few miles from Mexico.

Ajo Mountain Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tour guide

  • Length: 21-mile loop
  • Directions: From Ajo, go south on State Route 85 for 33 miles to Ajo Mountain Drive. Turn left (east) onto Ajo Mountain Drive and continue 21 miles around the loop and back to SR 85.
  • Vehicle requirements: A high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle such as an SUV or truck is recommended, but the route is passable in a standard sedan in good weather.
  • Special consideration: NPS fees apply. Additionally, while the monument is safe to visit, crossings and other illegal activities do occur along the U.S.-Mexico border. Stay on maintained park roads, do not pick up hitchhikers, and report any suspicious behavior or distressed people you encounter to the monument’s staff or the Border Patrol.
  • Warning: Back-road travel can be hazardous so be aware of weather and road conditions. Carry plenty of water. Don’t travel alone and let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.

Worth Pondering…

Alone in the open desert, I have made up songs of wild, poignant rejoicing and transcendent melancholy. The world has seemed more beautiful to me than ever before.

I have loved the red rocks, the twisted trees, 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.

—Everett Ruess

Father Kino: A Legendary Figure who Founded 8 Missions in Southern Arizona

Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, a 17th-century Jesuit priest founded 21 missions in what is now Northern Sonora and Southern Arizona

Born Eusebio Chini (the Spanish version of his last name is Kino) to a noble family in Italy, Father Kino became a legendary figure during his era in the New World.

After surviving a serious illness young in life, he thanked God by adopting Francisco as a second name in honor and devotion to St. Francis Xavier. He vowed to become a priest and dreamed of missionary work in China. He became a well-educated mathematician and cartographer, often teaching math and science during his training to receive Holy Orders and be ordained as a priest.

However, his first mission was to lead an expedition to Baja, California, controlled by New Spain, to create maps. Kino is attributed with proving that the area was a peninsula, not an island. Later, he was commissioned to convert the natives living along the Rio Grande to Catholicism.

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Soon Padre Kino had a strong following among the tribes, but he didn’t just focus on conversion. Nicknamed the Padre on Horseback, he traversed the unfriendly territory to help the lives of the American Indians. Father Kino worked hard to oppose forced labor on the native people by the Spanish in the silver mines.

Contrary to his fellow priests who followed Spanish law, Father Kino was considered a rebel whom the indigenous people trusted. He gained fame as a peacekeeper among the people, homesteaders, and governments.

Father Kino possessed many other interests as well such as astronomy and became a prolific writer, authoring books on many subjects—including religion. As he traversed the territory, he drew numerous maps including the sky. Father Kino was instrumental in the Vatican establishing one of the largest telescopes in North America near Tucson, the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT) at Mount Graham International Observatory.

Father Kino spent the last 24 years of his life in the Pimeria Alta—modern-day Sonora, Mexico, and southern Arizona. He established 21 missions and country chapels, many at the request of the local tribes as they slowly felt safe enough to build villages and farms close to the missions. With a stable food source, the tribes began to recover from the brutality and discrimination they endured from the influx of foreigners to their land. Thus, Father Kino is still honored and loved today.

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dying of a fever at the age of 65, Kino was buried in a shrine designated a National Monument of Mexico, located in the present-day town of Magdalena de Kino in Sonora. His funeral was attended by dignitaries from Mexico City and the local area.

The unveiling of a Padre Kino postage stamp and presentation of his original travel diary was held in March of 2011. The United States Capitol displays a life-size statue from every state of a person who was chosen to portray the state’s heritage and beliefs. Arizona chose Father Kino.

Last year Pope Francis approved that Father Kino be declared a venerable person which is two steps away from sainthood. The pope’s formal approval recognized Kino’s life of “heroic virtue,” said Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson.

“Padre Kino is especially recognized as an extraordinary example of evangelization, science, and respect for the dignity of the poor,” wrote Weisenburger in an email to parishioners.

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The bishop said since Kino was a member of the Jesuit order with provincial headquarters in Trent, Italy, the joyous announcement affects the people of Trent and also the “faithful of the Archdiocese of Hermosillo, Mexico, the Catholic peoples of Arizona, and all who recognize the holy life of Venerable Padre Kino.”

“For Kino to be advanced to the next stage of the canonization process a miracle attributed to him is necessary. The faithful are encouraged to seek his intervention in time of need,” Weisenburger said.

In March 2011, descendants of Kino from Italy gathered outdoors in front of Mission San José de Tumacácori south of Tucson to celebrate a tricentennial commemorative Mass of Kino’s death. His visible skeletal remains are in a crypt at La Plaza Monumental, about 50 yards from María Magdalena Church.

The Tumacácori mission was established by Kino in 1691 but later built under Franciscan missionaries. In 1700, Kino laid the foundation for a mission at the village of Bac on the Santa Cruz River near Tucson. Mission San Xavier del Bac—also known as the White Dove of the Desert—was completed in 1797 also by Franciscan missionaries.

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“I am happy to hear the news about Padre Kino being declared venerable because we have been waiting for this announcement since 2016,” said Rosie Garcia, president and founding board member of the Kino Heritage Society.

“Padre Kino was a missionary who brought Christianity to Northern Sonora and Southern Arizona. He was an advocate for social justice and he certainly deserves this honor,” she said of the sainthood process.

“His legacy lives on,” said Garcia. “We see it today in the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales, Sonora, a Jesuit-run shelter and an advocacy center for migrants. Truly, Padre Kino was meant to be a man for all seasons and for all ages.” She said the process to canonize Kino began in the 1960s and it started in Hermosillo, Sonora.

Manny Martinez, a Tohono O’odham Nation member who works closely with O’odham at Mission San Xavier del Bac, said Kino was “an ally to tribal peoples of this area. According to his writings and what we know about him, he worked to be a bridge between Native Americans’ spirituality and the Catholic faith.”

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“He went beyond the European’s perceptions of native people at that time and he really saw us as people of the creator. He validated the first people of this land,” said Martinez. “His journey to sainthood would put him in a league of other Catholic saints who spoke up for those who did not have a voice,” he said.

Big Jim Griffith, a well-known local folklorist and a founder of Tucson Meet Yourself, reminds us that we honor Padre Kino’s legacy every time we enjoy carne asada since the padre introduced wheat and beef in the late 17th century into the area.

Worth Pondering…

A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.

—Basil of Caesarea, Ancient Greek theologian (330-379)

Wildflowers in Arizona: Best Spots to See the Color (2024)

Because don’t we all belong among the wildflowers?

You belong among the wildflowers, you belong in a boat out at sea. You belong with your love on your arm, you belong somewhere you feel free.

 —Tom Petty

Springtime in the Arizona desert means wildflowers—lots and lots of wildflowers. Roadsides streaked with purple scorpionweed, vivid orange globemallow peeking out from rocky soil, mango-bright poppies snuggling with prickly cactus. 

The Arizona wildflower season of 2023 proved to be one for the ages. For several weeks last March and April the desert was submerged beneath a sea of golden poppies. The landscape shimmered with color as if a giant rainbow had toppled and splintered across the ground. Flowers outnumbered cactus spines. For petal peepers, this was the Super Bowl, Christmas morning, and Mardi Gras rolled into one long vibrant season.

Check this out to learn more: 2024 Wildflower Season is coming soon. Will it be a Superbloom?

Could there possibly be a repeat performance this spring? What are the chances of back-to-back super blooms? It’s hard to imagine since so many things must go right to create those magnificent displays. But hey, sometimes dreams do have a way of coming true.

Here’s what to expect from Arizona’s 2024 wildflower season.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Will there be a superbloom in 2024?

It’s unlikely. The 2024 spring wildflower season will likely be average to above average which is still a pretty spectacular sight.

It will be showy in spots but color will not be as widespread as last year. Blame that on a late-starting and sputtering El Niño which doused some areas and left others wanting.

But the season won’t be a bust either.

With a dry autumn and only sporadic moisture in the early weeks of winter, fewer poppies will emerge. Poppies, lupines, and owl’s clover are annuals meaning they need enough moisture to create an entire plant from a seed that’s buried in the soil. It all starts with a triggering rain—a rain of an inch or more in fall or early winter to rouse the sleeping seeds.

That never developed. There will still be poppies; they just won’t blaze across the desert floor in a brilliant yellow mass like they did last year.

Yet it should be a good year for perennials. Brittlebush is already blooming along roadways. (They like the extra heat generated from the asphalt.) And I’ve seen Goodding’s verbena, globemallow, chuparosa, and fiddleneck budding and blooming as well. The storms that finally developed in January and February are perfect for them.

Mexican poppies © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is the best month for wildflowers?

It will depend on how long rains continue to fall and how fast temperatures rise. March is generally the best month for desert wildflowers. If cool weather lingers (like in 2023), the blooming period will begin later and then stretch into April.

Yet when the flower show starts winding down, different varieties of cactus take center stage to unfurl their surprisingly lavish blossoms. The gaudy purple of the hedgehogs; the yellow, orange, and peach of the prickly pears; and finally the ivory cream of the saguaros add their touch of drama. Cactus blooms peak from April into May helping to extend the desert’s most colorful season.

After that, the cycle repeats to a lesser degree at higher elevations with late spring blooms popping up in the Verde Valley and Mogollon Rim Country where more rain fell during the winter creating some interesting potential for an amazing year.

In early summer, look to the alpine meadows of Flagstaff and the White Mountains adorned with fleabane, blue flax, paintbrush, and columbine. Monsoons bring out a yellow phase with goldeneye, golden crownbeard, yellow coreopsis, and sunflowers. The tall flower-topped stalks can often be seen nodding in autumn breezes.

So when you consider the length of the season, every year is a superbloom in Arizona.   

Where are the best places to see wildflowers in Arizona?

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park

Looking like a giant stone sail, the distinctive profile of Picacho Peak was the belle of the ball during the 2023 superbloom. Poppies devoured the flanks of the mountain, an invasion that went on for weeks as a line of cars snaked into the park for the show. Sadly, it won’t be like that this year.

Due to dry conditions, poppy displays will be spotty. Joining the scattered poppies will be some lupines and a mix of perennials including some rare globemallows with lilac-hued flowers.

Even in underwhelming years, Picacho Peak is a good park to visit especially for folks with limited mobility. Visitors will be able to see most of the flowers from the park roadway and adjacent picnic tables. For a closer look, the best color can be found on the easy Nature Trail, Children’s Cave Trail, and the moderate Calloway Trail.

Here are some helpful resources:

Details: 15520 Picacho Peak Road, Picacho; $7 per vehicle

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park

Perched at the edge of the towering Superstition Mountains, Lost Dutchman makes for great hiking any time. But when wildflowers spill down the slopes, it is truly dazzling.

Park rangers are expecting poppies to be scarce this year.

Perennials like brittlebush and globemallow have roused from their winter nap and should peak sometime around mid-March unless temperatures stay cool. Last year’s display of brittles was stunning and they should be out in force once again.

For the best flower viewing, start up the Siphon Draw Trail and then circle back on Jacob’s Crosscut and Treasure Loop.

Details: 6109 N. Apache Trail, Apache Junction; $10 per vehicle

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bartlett Lake

This is one of the few places expecting a good wildflower season. Look for showings of color on Bartlett Dam Road as it winds past rolling hills dotted with clumps of brittlebush and stands of poppies. Poppies and lupines grow on the banks above the water. Be sure to keep an eye peeled for rare white poppies; this is a good spot for them.

Some of the best flower sightings are along the road to Rattlesnake Cove. The Palo Verde Trail parallels the shoreline, pinning hikers between flowers and the lake, a wonderful place to be on a warm March day. The wildflower medley along Palo Verde often includes a supporting cast of fairy duster, blue phacelia, evening primrose, yellow throat gilia, and cream cups to go along with the poppies, lupines, and brittles.

Peak color should be around the middle of March.

An $8 Tonto Day Pass is required to hike or park at Bartlett Lake. Buy in advance online or at an authorized retailer; passes are not sold on site.

Read more about this oasis in the desert: Bartlett Lake: A Sonoran Desert Oasis

Details: Bartlett Reservoir Lake is about 57 miles northeast of central Phoenix in Tonto National Forest

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park

Rangers are cautiously optimistic at this scenic park on the north side of Tucson. Late-season storms should make things interesting.

Being situated on the slopes of the Santa Catalina Mountains and intersected by a big wash that often flows with water creates a cooler environment so the park has a slightly later blooming season. Look for peak color from mid-to-late March possibly stretching into April barring a heat wave.

No matter what, you won’t see much color from the road in Catalina. You’ve got to get out and hike which makes the blooms you do find all the more rewarding.

Mexican poppies © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Sutherland Trail offers the best assortment of flowers with poppies, cream cups, lupines, penstemon, and desert chicory. The best color can be found near the junction with Canyon Loop and continuing for about 2 miles on the Sutherland across the desert.

For those looking for a quick outing a good wildflower spot is on the Nature Trail. The path climbs a low hill that’s often carpeted with an array of blooms. Guided hikes and bird walks are offered several days of the week.

If you need ideas, check out:

Details: 11570 N. Oracle Road, Tucson; $7 per vehicle

Peridot Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Peridot Mesa

Peridot Mesa, about 20 minutes east of Globe, is one of Arizona’s hot spots for wildflower viewing and one of the very first places in the state to kick off the spring wildflower season.

Just past mile marker 268, turn left on a dirt road marked by a cattle guard framed by two white H-shaped poles. It is recommended that you drive a half-mile down this road toward the color. Expect to see poppies, lupines, globemellows, desert marigolds, phacelia, and numerous other flowers along the road and sweeping down hillsides.

Peridot Mesa is on San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation which encompasses 1.8 million acres of pristine land spanning across three regions of mountain country, desert, and plateau landscapes. 

That’s why I wrote Exploring San Carlos and Peridot Mesa.

Details: About 20 miles east of Miami-Globe on Highway 70; $10 Recreation Permit

Mexican poppies © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Black Canyon National Recreation Trail

With poppies in short supply, seek out the most reliable of desert flowers, the brittlebush. You’ll find a good selection of brittles on portions of Black Canyon National Recreation Trail in Rock Springs north of Phoenix.

The trail winds through open desert reaching a split at 0.7 mile. Bear left for the Horseshoe Bend segment or right for the K-Mine segment. Both are moderate trails that support a mix of cactus and wildflowers on rocky slopes with an abundance of brittles. Peak color should be mid-to-late March. And both segments descend quickly to the Agua Fria River in about 2 miles.

Details: About 45 miles north of central Phoenix, take Exit 242 off Interstate 17 at Rock Springs and turn west to the frontage road. Turn north and drive about 100 yards to Warner Road and turn west. Follow Warner Road 0.3 mile to the trailhead parking.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Pleasant Regional Park

The rolling hills above Lake Pleasant are often shaggy with bouquets of brittlebush. If poppies do make an appearance, most can be found on Pipeline Canyon Trail especially from the southern trailhead to the floating bridge a half-mile away along with brittles, blue dicks, blue phacelia, and globemallows.

A nice assortment of blooms also lines the Beardsley, Wild Burro, and Cottonwood trails.

Check out Lake Pleasant, an Oasis in the Sonoran Desert for more inspiration.

Details: 41835 N. Castle Hot Springs Road, Morristown; $7 per vehicle

Along SR 79 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best wildflower drives

State Route 79 north of Florence

Florence is small town that’s a pleasant day trip from Phoenix. While this is true anytime of the year it’s especially enjoyable in spring when the drive puts on a colorful show featuring globemallow and poppies.

Saguaro Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beeline Highway (State Route 87) near Saguaro Lake

This road that heads northeast out of Phoenix toward Payson sports some stunning scenery any time of year as the desert floor gradually gives way to saguaro-studded hills and eventually the trees of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.

The area near Saguaro Lake sports a Sonoran Desert landscape that yields up plenty of Arizona wildflowers in the spring.

Apache Trail (State Route 88) between Apache Junction and Tortilla Flat

This roughly 17-mile stretch of road winds into the base of the Superstition Mountains past Canyon Lake with plenty of petal-peeping and viewpoints along the way.

Worth Pondering…

But pleasures are like poppies spread: You seize the flower

—John Bunyan