If you are planning your next camping trip, don’t forget to look at state parks. You just might find your new favorite camping spot!
In today’s post, I shine the spotlight on state parks—thousands of facilities across the United States established and operated at the state level. They’ve been preserved for their natural beauty, historic interest, or recreational features—often all three in one location. In contrast to many iconic U.S. national parks, state parks just might be the unsung heroes of outdoor recreation.
State-operated facilities have much to offer. For working folks with minimal travel time, a nearby state park can make a great weekend destination.
Many RVers have a national park bucket list. If you’re one of them, have you also considered state parks, some of which could be in your backyard? State parks are great places to get outside and explore, and they typically are less crowded than national parks. Even if state parks are usually smaller, you still can find stunning views, great camping options, and fun activities. You also can learn more about local history while supporting the surrounding community.
State parks are not operated by the federal government as national parks are, so they rely on entrance and camping fees to maintain the land and facilities. By RVing to a state park, or even purchasing a day pass, you are helping to preserve the park for other visitors to continue to enjoy. These camping and entrance fees also may be less expensive than national park fees or those charged at a private RV park.
Whether you’re looking for a scenic area to visit for a day, a relaxing spot to spend a weekend, or a place to stay for a week or more, consider a state park. In Canada, the equivalent would be a provincial park of which there are many great options. For inspiration, peruse the info below.
Find a State Park
There’s nothing better than being out in nature enjoying its beauty; many would even say it is healing to the soul. Depending on where you live, this can be a beautiful time of year to take in the scenery, hike, fish, camp, leaf peep, or simply enjoy the sounds of nature. And what better place to do it than in a state park?
According to stateparks.org, there are 10,366 state park areas across the United States. They include 241,255 campsites and 9,457 cabins with over 40,000 miles of trails as well as countless waterways and rivers—all covering 18.6 million acres of land. That means RV travelers and others have numerous opportunities to explore a variety of places.
So, you may be asking yourself, “Where do I even begin to start exploring over 10,000 park areas?” For starters, here are articles on specific state parks you might find useful:
And let’s not forget Canada, also brimming with natural beauty and a vast number of provincial parks—nearly 1,200. Provincial parks in Canada are protected areas of land and water designated and managed by each province to encourage recreation and sustainable tourism and promote science and education. They range from ecological reserves with no facilities to day-use and overnight-stay parks with unserviced and serviced campgrounds including RV waste dumping, and toilet and shower facilities. Features include hiking trails, waterways, and beaches, and outdoor equipment rentals.
The province of Alberta ranges from fossil-filled flatlands to the jaw-dropping Rocky Mountains. The province currently manages more than 470 parks which provide cozy walk-in tenting options and roomy RV campsites.
Beachcombing, bird watching, or sunbathing—there is plenty to do in the 600-plus provincial parks of British Columbia. The park system boasts more than 10,700 vehicle accessible campsites and approximately 2,000 walk-in or backcountry ones. Of the parks, 230 have accessible facilities for those with disabilities. Winter activities and basic camping are popular in BC’s provincial parks.
To find more information on Canada’s provincial parks, check the individual website for each province.
Here are seven of the most enchanting state parks in America.
Lost Dutchman State Park – Apache Junction, Arizona
The Lost Dutchman State Park is located in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, about 40 miles east of Phoenix. RV camping is available at 138 sites, with 68 of them providing water and electric hookup services; restrooms and showers are located nearby. Hiking, mountain biking and year-round wildlife viewing opportunities are available for guests.
Located in the rugged Black Hills of South Dakota, Custer State Park protects 71,000 acres of terrain and a herd of some 1,300 bison – one of the largest publicly owned herds on the planet – who are known to stop traffic along the park’s Wildlife Loop Road from time to time. The park has nine campgrounds to choose from, including the popular Sylvan Lake Campground. Many sites include electric hookups and dump stations.
Vogel, one of Georgia’s oldest state parks, sits at the base of Blood Mountain inside Chattahoochee National Forest. The park is particularly popular during the autumn months when the Blue Ridge Mountains put on a colorful display of fall foliage. RV campers can choose from 90 campsites with electric hookups.
This Alabama state park promises that you’ll never be bored if your family brings their RV here to camp. Almost 500 improved RV sites are available at Gulf State Park, with pull-thru, back-in, waterfront, and ADA accessibility. All RV sites provide full hookups plus Wi-Fi. Eleven modern bathhouses are scattered throughout the park, and some sites are located near the pool, playground, tennis courts, and hiking trails.
Elephant Butte Lake State Park – Elephant Butte, New Mexico
The largest and most popular lake in New Mexico, Elephant Butte Lake State Park provides a setting for every imaginable water sport. The campground offers developed sites with electric and water hookups for RVs. The mild climate of the area makes this park a popular year-round destination. If you like camping, fishing, boating, or just being outdoors, Elephant Butte is for you. Elephant Butte Lake can accommodate watercraft of many styles and sizes: kayaks, jet skis, pontoons, sailboats, ski boats, cruisers, and houseboats.
At 37,000 acres, Myakka is one of Florida’s most complete outdoor experiences. Given you need ample time to see and do it all, you can camp in one of 80 camping sites. The road through the park is seven miles long and offers several great places to get out, enjoy the wildlife and scenery, and take a walk. The park road also makes an excellent bike trail. By bike, you enjoy the 360-degree view of the spectacular tree canopy over the road and the constant sounds of birds.
Listen to Onion Creek flowing over limestone ledges and splashing into pools. Follow trails winding through the Hill Country woods. Explore the remains of an early Texas homestead and a very old rock shelter. You can camp, hike, mountain or road bike, geocache, go bouldering, and picnic. You can also fish and swim in Onion Creek. Hike or bike nearly nine miles of trails. Stay at one of 81 campsites (all with water and electric hookups). 12 sites offer 50-amp electricity while the remaining 69 sites offer 30-amp electric service.
National parks, large areas of untouched nature, belong to all Americans. Because of this, any changes or developments in these parks require federal government approval. Essentially, every citizen has a say in how these parks are managed.
On the other hand, state parks are owned by the residents of a specific state and are managed by that state’s government. They are funded by the state which also sets the rules for the park’s use. This includes who can use the park and how it can be used. A recent example of this is a law in Florida that prioritizes state residents over visitors from other states when making camping reservations in Florida State Parks.
Considering these basic differences between the national and state park systems, it’s clear that each can offer a unique camping experience. Each type of park has its pros and cons, so understanding these can help you plan a great RV camping trip. Use this article as a guide in your decision-making process, helping you plan a wonderful camping experience.
State parks offer a host of appealing benefits for families seeking a retreat from the daily hustle without the need for a substantial road trip. With more than 6,600 state parks scattered across the U.S., chances are there’s one conveniently located near you. This proximity to home can often make camping at a state park more cost-effective than venturing to a national park. Additionally, state parks tend to charge lower fees and in some cases entrance is free.
In terms of amenities, state parks typically offer more developed facilities than national parks. You’re likely to encounter well-maintained camping sites, picnic tables, and multiple access points. What you probably won’t find, however, are massive crowds vying to witness one of the iconic natural wonders often protected within national parks.
On the downside, state parks, as a general rule, are smaller than their national counterparts. Their compact size and easy accessibility can make them popular camping destinations so depending on the park and the season you might need to book your spot several months or more in advance.
The smaller scale of state parks also means they house fewer unique ecosystems or natural attractions. Multi-day back-packing expeditions may be off the table but you can still expect a range of wonderful trails and spectacular sights that can be explored within a few hours.
All told, national parks span thousands of acres and sometimes cross multiple state borders. Depending on where you live, a national park may take longer to get to than a state park. However, chances are, it will have at least one or two spectacular and unique attractions within its expansive boundaries.
Because of their size, you’ll find amazing, epic experiences in national parks that you won’t find anywhere else. From wildlife viewing opportunities to multi-day hikes or horseback riding trips through a variety of ecosystems, national parks provide many activities that you won’t find in state parks.
U.S. national parks frequently make it onto the bucket lists of people from around the world. There’s a certain prestige to ticking a park such as Joshua Tree or Zion off your to-dos. Expect them to be popular and you won’t be disappointed.
If you are looking for a back-to-nature camping experience, you can find it in a national park. Campsites at national parks are basic so you can unwind in a beautiful and peaceful natural environment without interruption.
Undoubtedly, each national park with its unique features and attractions offers a spectacular and singular experience. However, it’s important to consider some potential drawbacks of these awe-inspiring locations.
For instance, they are typically more expensive to visit compared to state parks due to their remote locations resulting in greater travel distance and higher entrance fees. This distant placement could deter campers with limited vacation time.
Furthermore, the qualities that make national parks so endearing also render them exceedingly popular. This popularity can make securing a campsite during the busy season from May to October particularly challenging. National parks tend to offer limited camping, if at all.
Some campers may also perceive the lack of amenities at more rustic national park campsites as a disadvantage. If you’re hoping for comprehensive facilities such as hookups, you’re not likely to find it here.
What you should consider when choosing between state parks and national parks
How much time do you have?
Your choice between a state park and a national park for your RV camping trip will hinge on several considerations. Firstly, how much time can you allocate?
If you have only a week of vacation, the journey to a national park might not be feasible. In such cases, a local state park could present the perfect getaway. Conversely, if you have the luxury of several weeks or more, an RV camping trip to a national park can create memories that will last a lifetime.
What’s your budget?
Inevitably, money also has to factor into your decision-making process. What’s your budget including travel expenses, park entrance, and camping fees? If you’re on a tighter budget, camping at a state park makes better sense than traveling to a national park and paying higher fees when you get there.
What’s important to you?
What do you want from your camping experience? Are you simply looking for a base camp while you explore nearby attractions? Do you want to immerse yourself in the wonders of nature for a few days or a week? Do you want state park amenities like a playground or splash park for the kids or a cafe where you can enjoy an icy cold brew coffee or ice cream? State parks will give you more amenities while national parks offer a more immersive natural experience. Consider what’s important to you before you book a vacation at either a national or state park.
Choosing between national parks and state parks for your camping trip involves considering various factors. Let’s organize these considerations for each.
Size and experience: National parks are vast areas of protected land that provide unique and immersive experiences with nature. Despite a higher cost, the exceptional sights and features usually justify the expense.
Amenities: National parks generally offer fewer amenities than state parks.
Crowds: Popular park attractions often draw large crowds during the summer months leading to potential traffic jams and challenges in finding parking or a campsite.
Mitigation strategies: You can avoid the crowds by traveling during off-peak seasons or using less crowded access points. Additionally, consider exploring less popular attractions within the park.
Accessibility and variety: State parks are generally easier to access than national parks and can offer a wide range of natural experiences at a lower cost.
Park rules: Since each state manages its parks differently, rules can vary from park to park.
Amenities: If amenities are a priority, state parks usually offer a broader selection. It’s recommended to check with the specific park for available facilities.
One of the fantastic aspects of the U.S. is the ability to choose from diverse camping experiences. The vast expanses of national parks offer unforgettable adventures while state parks provide convenience and a distinctly regional experience. Exploring both allows for a broad spectrum of camping experiences, each with its unique charms.
State parks to visit
When most people think about America’s parks, they think of national parks like Zion and the Grand Canyon but many state parks can rival even some of the best national parks. The U.S. is home to more than 6,600 state park sites which protect over 14 million acres of diverse landscapes from arid deserts to coastal forests and soaring mountains. If you were to explore one every day, it would take you over 18 years to see every state park. Don’t know where to start? Check out these five standout state parks around the country and the features that make them well worth the visit.
Custer State Park, South Dakota
Many visitors come to Custer State Park—covering over 70,000 acres in South Dakota’s Black Hills—to swim, paddle boat, fish, or simply admire the view of the incredibly picturesque Lake Sylvan. However, the park is perhaps best known for its herd of approximately 1,500 free-ranging bison, one of the world’s largest bison herds. Drive the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road and there is a good chance you’ll come to a halt when bison cross in front of you. Watch out for wild turkey, deer, elk, wild burros, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats, too.
My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Kentucky
One of Kentucky’s more quaint state parks, this site centers around the former plantation that inspired the imagery featured in My Old Kentucky Home which is recognized as the official state song and arguably best known for its ties to the Kentucky Derby.
My Old Kentucky Home State Park offers tours of the historic Federal Hill mansion, though tickets are required ($16/adult; $14/senior). Guests can also hit the links on the park’s 18-hole golf course and in the summer visit the outdoor theater to catch a production of The Stephen Foster Story music which features more than 50 songs from the creator of My Old Kentucky Home.
Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina
Hunting Island State Park is a popular vacation destination located in the South Carolina Lowcountry and attracts nearly one million visitors a year. The park features five miles of beachfront, a saltwater lagoon, and the state’s only publicly accessible lighthouse.
Located on 5,000 acres of the barrier island, Hunting Island State Park offers a variety of activities. In addition to the beach, you can enjoy hiking trails, fishing, and boating. The park also includes a visitor center, a theater, and interactive exhibits.
Hunting Island State Park campgrounds feature full hookups, water, and electricity. Some sites feature gravel pads while others are paved. There are also cabins available. There are also restroom facilities, a shower house, a grocery store, and a dump station.
The campground has an excellent range of sites with campsites able to accommodate RVs from 28 to 40 feet. However, a two-night minimum is required. Most sites are located near the beach and are easy to maneuver.
Hunting Island State Park also features a fishing pier. The pier extends 1,120 feet into Fripp Inlet. You can fish in the saltwater lagoon, Johnson Creek, and the harbor river.
There are a few short hikes around the edge of the mesa with stunning views into the deep canyons. The Intrepid Trail System offers 16.6 miles of hiking and biking trails with varying degrees of difficulty.
Nestled within a grove of junipers, the Kayenta Campground offers a peaceful, shaded respite from the surrounding desert. All 21 campsites offer lighted shade structures, picnic tables, fire rings, and tent pads. All sites are also equipped with RV electrical hookups (20/30/50 amp). Modern restroom facilities are available, and hiking trails lead directly from the campground to various points of interest within the park including the West Rim Trail, East Rim Trail, Wingate Campground, or the Visitor Center.
New in 2018, the Wingate Campground sits atop the mesa with far-reaching views of the area’s mountain ranges and deep canyons. This campground contains thirty-one 31 campsites, 20 of which have electrical hookups that support RV campers while 11 are hike-in tent-only sites. RV sites will accommodate vehicles up to 56 feet and there is a dump station at the entrance to the campground.
Catalina State Park, Arizona
Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invite camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. The park provides miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails that wind through the park and into the Coronado National Forest at elevations near 3,000 feet.
The park is located within minutes of the Tucson metropolitan area. This scenic desert park also offers equestrian trails and an equestrian center provides a staging area for trail riders with plenty of trailer parking. Bring along your curiosity and your sense of adventure as you take in the beautiful mountain backdrop, desert wildflowers, cacti, and wildlife.
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
Arizona hikers with no water rescued at Catalina State Park as scorching temps expand across Southwest
Catalina State Park in Tucson, Arizona celebrated its 40th anniversary in May. The park serves as one of Tucson’s most popular hiking and camping destinations and is well-known for its trails and saguaro-studded scenery.
With temperatures reaching the 110s and an excessive heat warning in place, knowing how to keep yourself safe if you choose to hike is important. This time is the year is the most common time for heat-related illnesses and hiker rescues. Two hikers were recently rescued and officials say the pair failed to bring enough water as excessive heat scorches the Southwest.
Catalina State Park is home to many common hiking trails. Park officials say that if you so want to enjoy these hiking trails, it’s best to come as early as possible to avoid the triple-digit temperatures.
“They were about six to seven miles out on some very rugged terrain. They didn’t have enough sun protection and they became exhausted and needed an extraction,” says George Graham, the senior ranger at Catalina State Park.
The rescue was no easy task and required three separate groups to rescue the hikers. Graham says the area the hikers were at could only be reached on foot and doing so at 105 degrees was “a very very difficult task.”
Graham says the three most important tips to remember when hiking is pack a lot of water, hike with a partner, and go early in the morning.
Catalina State Park was signed into legislation in 1974 and over the next three years its Master Development Plan was formed by students of the School of Renewable Natural Resources at the University of Arizona and completed by a citizen’s planning committee.
After a series of land trades, leases, a land purchase, and initial construction, Catalina State Park was dedicated by Governor Bruce Babbitt on May 25, 1983.
“Just in terms of visitation, Catalina is our third-busiest park in the state,” said Bob Broscheid, executive director of Arizona State Parks and Trails. “We know there are members of the community who visit there daily to hike the trails and enjoy the calming surroundings. Part of what makes this park special is the dedicated staff and volunteers who ensure everyone has a great visit.”
The park offers 120 campsites, an equestrian campground with horse pens, picnic areas, and an expansive network of multi-use trails leading into the Coronado National Forest.
In summer 2020, the park was impacted by the Bighorn Fire which was started by a lightning strike in the Catalina Mountains. The fire burned nearly 120,000 acres before being extinguished.
In late 2020, a new Master Development Plan was approved for the park. Additionally, Catalina State Park has received $5.8 million in funding for fiscal year 2024 to design and build a bridge spanning the Cañada del Oro wash that separates the entrance of the park from the campground. Since the fire, this wash has been more prone to flooding from rain and runoff in the mountains.
First responders were called to Catalina State Park located at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains in Tucson after the pair of hikers wandered off trail, Golder Ranch Fire District wrote on Twitter. Officials said the hikers were found without water.
The fire district urges hikers to stay on trail, bring plenty of water, and start hiking early before the heat spikes.
“Keep in mind temperatures are dangerously hot now through this upcoming week,” fire officials said.
The National Weather Service in Tucson issued an excessive heat warning for six counties through Tuesday evening for most of Southeast Arizona. Over the weekend, the temperature at Tucson International Airport had hit 111 degrees.
Hot temperatures have been expanding across the Southwest with parts of Texas seeing above-average temperatures for the 12th straight day.
The heat wave in Texas has offered little reprieve. For two straight weeks, high temperatures in Del Rio have exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit each day—rising at its highest to 115 F.
At least 13 people have died as a result of the heat in Texas. Eleven of those deaths were in Webb County. The city of Laredo has recorded 16 consecutive days of 105+ temperatures.
During this heat wave a 31-year-old Florida man and his 14-year-old stepson died in Big Bend National Park in Texas after hiking in extremely hot conditions, according to park officials.
The teen had become ill on the Marufo Vega Trail around 6 p.m. and lost consciousness as temperatures hit 119 degrees.
The teen’s 21-year-old brother attempted to carry him back to the trail head as the stepfather left the two to go back to the vehicle and find help. The stepfather’s vehicle was later found crashed over an embankment at the Boquillas Overlook.
Both the 14-year-old and the stepfather were pronounced dead when officials arrived at the scenes.
Hiking in the heat
Planning your hot weather hikes is an important factor in staying cooler when hiking in the heat.
1. Choose a location that will provide some shade. Hike in the woods or canyons that are not exposed to direct sunlight. Higher altitude hikes will also be cooler.
2. Choose a hike near water. Sometimes the slight breeze from the ocean or lake can be a little refreshing. If you will be hiking near a creek or river, you’ll have access to the water to cool off by splashing some water on you or dipping a hat, neck gaitor or shirt in the water.
3. Check the forecast. Obviously you know it will be hot but if they are calling for record highs it is during a brutal heat wave or humidity levels are going to be extremely high, you may want to reconsider and hike on a different day. Humidity levels play a huge factor in the heat index making it feel hotter than it is. It can seem like you are walking in a steamy fog!
4. Hike in the early morning or late evening. Don’t hike in the hottest part of the day which is usually between 11:00 am to 3:00 pm.
5. Choose light colored clothes. Dark colors absorb the heat making you even hotter. Select light colors like white, tan, or pastels to help reflect the sun and heat.
6. Wear a wide-brimmed hat. A UV-protected, wide brimmed hat is best, but even a ball cap will help protect your head and face.
7. Start hydrating before your hike. Don’t start your hike dehydrated. Begin drinking more water several days before your hike. Better yet, just get in the habit of drinking at least 64 ounces of water every day!
8. Drink plenty of water during your hike. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty. Sip on your water though out your hike. Take plenty of water plus water purification if you will be hiking near a water source.
9. Know the signs and treatment of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Both are usually caused by dehydration when exposed to high temperatures. One of the first signs of dehydration is dark colored urine.
Arizona is an outdoor-lover’s dream with deep canyons, dramatic landscape, and a host of adventures where the land formations are the star of the show
Arizona is well-known for its beautiful landscapes and scenery. These beautiful, must-experience places are bucket-list worthy; some are well-known while others are hidden gems you might not have known about. From national landmarks to historical towns and breathtaking outdoor landscapes, here are 25 places to visit on your next Arizona road trip.
The most obvious landmark and Arizona road trip (and the most breathtaking of them all) is the Grand Canyon. If you have never experienced the sight of this outstanding view you absolutely must add this to your bucket list. You can check into El Tovar Hotel which is a historic property that opened its doors in 1905 and has entertained celebrities and presidents for over 100 years. Just steps away from the Grand Canyon’s edge, El Tovar has breathtaking views from every window and the resort’s dining room is as close to the canyon as you can get with cuisine that’s almost as memorable as the views as well as several hiking trails that will leave you speechless. Plus many photo opportunities!
What seems to be one of Arizona’s best-kept secrets is the interesting town of Bisbee. The former mining town is a small, unique community that sits high in the mountains near the Mexican border and in the far southeast corner of Arizona. With plenty of things to do, activities, events and festivals, shops, galleries, and nightlife plus birdwatching, gallery-gazing, dining, or pub-crawling, Bisbee will offer you a plethora of choices to keep you entertained.
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
Home to Lake Powell, The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is a stunning region of blue water with a desert landscape and dramatic stone walls. One of the largest manmade lakes in the United States, this area is known for land- and water-based recreational activities.
This gorgeous lake is located in northern Arizona, stretches up into southern Utah, and is part of the Colorado River in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area with nearly 2,000 miles of shoreline. You can enjoy a summer’s day with perfect weather, cool water, amazing scenery, and endless sunshine. This is the perfect place to escape to and rent a houseboat, stay at a campground, or enjoy the lodging and hop aboard a guided expedition.
Due to its distinctive culture, Sedona is truly a place unlike any other. Visitors can navigate remote canyons, rejuvenate at an energy vortex site, and experience the ancient culture of the Sinagua people. Throughout the red rock are multitudes of secluded viewpoints, cliff dwellings, and well-preserved petroglyphs. In downtown Sedona, you’ll find a vibrant art community dense with unique shops and galleries. Hikers and adventurous types will enjoy the various trails and renowned Pink Jeep off-road adventure tours.
With the Santa Catalina Mountains beckoning in the distance and canyons and seasonal streams dotting the landscape, Catalina State Park provides a delightful respite in the Tucson area. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The park’s 5,500 acres provide miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails that wind through the park and into the nearby Coronado National Forest. More than 150 species of birds call the park home. This scenic desert park also offers equestrian trails and an equestrian center provides a staging area for trail riders with plenty of trailer parking. The state park offers 120 campsites with electric and water utilities suitable for RVs of all lengths.
In the foothills of the Pinal Mountains sits the former mining camp known as Globe. Founded in 1876 and incorporated in 1907 this lovely town is brimming with century-old buildings, cottages, and hillside houses. The Besh-ba-Gowah Archeological Park features stunning partially restored ruins of a Salado pueblo along with an accompanying museum. The historic downtown area is perfect for strolls and shopping for antiques while the Cobre Valley Center for the Arts is a great spot to explore and experience the talent of some incredible artists.
As scenic drives go, the 40-mile Apache Trail (Highway 88) winds through the Southwest’s most stunning scenery. It’s a rugged ribbon of hairpin turns and stark drop-offs that meanders past three lakes and carves through canyons and over the Superstition Mountains before concluding at Roosevelt Dam.
Highway 88 runs northeast from Apache Junction passing through Tortilla Flat along the way to Roosevelt Lake. While you can still access the road to Tortilla Flat, the portion north of the town is temporarily closed.
The opium dens, bordellos, and other landmarks of Williams, Arizona’s rough-and-tumble past are long gone. But some kinder, gentler vestiges of this town’s Wild West era remain. Today, the town’s Main Street is a National Historic District. Its storefronts house curio shops, an old-fashioned soda fountain, and classic diners and motels which preserve a bygone era. The town of 3,000 residents, considered the gateway to the Grand Canyon is also home to the Grand Canyon Railway an excursion between a historic depot and the canyon.
Since the 1840s, many have claimed to know the location of the Peralta family’s lost gold mine in the Superstition Mountains but none of these would-be fortune-seekers became more famous than “the Dutchman” Jacob Waltz. The German prospector purportedly hid caches of the precious metal throughout the Superstition Wilderness. Fact or fiction, Waltz’s windfall gave the park its name. You might not find gold during your visit but other treasures include great hiking and biking trails and 138 RV camping sites (68 with electric and water) with sunset views.
Right along the U.S.-Mexico border, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument has the kind of scenery you’d expect when you picture the desert. The monument’s tall, skinny namesake cacti abound in every direction. Instead of growing with one massive trunk like the saguaro, the many branches of the organ pipe rise from a base at the ground. Take a ride down Ajo Mountain Drive for great views of the “forests” of Saguaro (another species of cactus native to the area).
Picacho rises from the desert seemingly out of nowhere, its sharp buttes like lighthouses guiding travelers home. It wasn’t always a sight for road-weary eyes, though. In 1862, Confederate and Union soldiers clashed here in the Battle of Picacho Pass, a fight marked in history as the westernmost battle of the Civil War. These days during the spring, vibrant wildflowers carpet the ground; come winter, the challenging trails that ascend the sunny peaks draw thrill-seeking hikers.
Linking Arizona and Nevada, Hoover Dam is one of America’s great engineering marvels to date and a fantastic Arizona road trip. Completed in 1935, this massive and hard-to-miss structure crosses the Colorado River and sits at a total of 726 feet high and 1,244 feet long. You can drive or walk across the dam for free or take a tour of the dam. The visitor center provides information on the tours and has a café where you can stop for some basic grub.
Montezuma Castle National Monument
With its impressive location tucked in the limestone cliffs in the desert of Camp Verde, Montezuma Castle is sort of like an ancient skyscraper. Towing some 80 feet above the valley floor, the 20-room residence was built by the Sinagua people beginning in around AD 1100 and served as an important shelter to escape floods. It was among the first four sites given the designation of National Monument back in 1906 with the site also including further dwellings around Montezuma Well, six miles from the castle.
As far as lakeside parks go, this one in western Arizona has no beach and not much shoreline hiking. But! It’s considered one of the best bass fishing lakes in the country. Anglers: Pack your gear and reserve one of the 15 full-service camping sites or cabins where the front porch makes for an ideal spot to spin yarns about the catch of the day.
An old mining town-turned ghost town-turned tourist attraction, Jerome sits on a mountainside just above the desert floor. Jerome is unique and quirky, to say the least with the Sliding Jail in Jerome that was originally built around 1928 and was built on a clay slick; it soon began to slide and now sits 2,500 feet from its original location. While you’re there, you can visit the town’s most appreciated historical landmarks including the Gold King Mine Museum and the Jerome State Historic Park.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument
A comparatively little-known canyon, Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “de shay”) has sandstone walls rising to 1,000 feet, scenic overlooks, well-preserved Anasazi ruins, and an insight into the present day life of the Navajo who still inhabit and cultivate the valley floor. This park is owned by the Navajo Nation and is managed cooperatively. A few Navajo families still live, raise livestock, and farm in the park. For the most memorable experience take a canyon tour with a Navajo guide. It’s a truly authentic, welcoming experience you’ll remember forever.
Oak Creek runs for nearly 2 miles throughout this 286-acre state park adorning the sandstone mesas and red boulders with leafy riparian habitats. If we’re judging Sedona hiking hot spots, it doesn’t get much better than the park’s juniper-studded trails and vortex-framed vistas. Red Rock State Park is one of the most ecologically diverse parks in Arizona which is why it makes sense that it serves as an environmental education hub. From the Visitor Center’s interactive exhibits and film presentations to guided nature walks and full moon hikes, programming offers insight into Sedona’s majestic landscape.
Surrounded by mountains, Tucson is a beautiful city set in the Sonoran Desert and is the second-largest city in Arizona. With many historic sites and cultural attractions, Tucson is a place to unwind and explore. Highlights include the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Saguaro National Park, El Presidio Historic District, and Sabino Canyon. You will also discover hiking trails and afterward find a bite to eat at one of the many wonderful restaurants Tucson has to offer.
Along a 17-mile self-drive route along a one-way gravel road, you will find the heart of the valley, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. While visiting this area which straddles the border between Arizona and Utah, you’ll experience the true Arizona desert feel with miles and miles of beautiful landscape and scenery of mesas and buttes, shrubs and trees, and windblown sand, creating all the wonderful and majestic colors of the Valley.
With its small-city feel and defined seasons, Prescott has tall Ponderosa pine trees, lakes, and the occasional sprinkle of snow. This charming town has much to offer including the Courthouse Plaza, Sharlot Hall Museum, Smoki Museum, Elks Theatre Opera House, Watson Lake, and numerous hiking areas including Thumb Butte Trail. You can grab a bite to eat at one of the downtown restaurants or spend a night at one of the beautifully restored bed and breakfasts or hotels.
One of Tucson’s most popular attractions is Saguaro National Park which is a great place to experience the desert landscape around this well-known town and see the famous saguaro cacti up close. With an east and west portion, the park has two sections approximately 30 minutes apart. Both sections of the park offer great opportunities to experience the desert and enjoy hiking trails.
Once a gold-mining boomtown, Oatman hunkers in a craggy gulch of the Black Mountains, 28 miles southwest of Kingman along Route 66. Rising above the town is the jagged peak of white quartz known as Elephant’s Tooth. Often described as a ghost town, Oatman comes close to fitting the category considering that it once boasted nearly 20,000 people and now supports just a little over 100 people year-round.
Though Oatman is only a shadow of its former self, it is well worth a visit to this living ghost town that provides not only a handful of historic buildings and photo opportunities but costumed gunfighters and 1890s-style ladies as well as the sights of burros walking the streets.
Petrified Forest is known for its treasure trove of fossilized logs exposed after eons of erosion by wind and water. About 60 million years ago tectonic action pushed the Colorado Plateau upwards exposing the layers of rock containing the park’s Triassic fossils. The park is composed of two sections: the north section is a colorful badlands called the Painted Desert, and the southern section contains most of the petrified wood.
The park consists of a 28-mile road that offers numerous overlooks and winds through the mesas and wilderness. Visitors can also choose to hike a variety of trails ranging from easy to difficult.
You can’t come to the Wild West and not truly experience the Wild West with staged gunfights in the streets and characters walking through town in period costumes to recreate the glory days of this small Arizona town that is great as an Arizona road trip. With top-rated attractions such as OK Corral, Allen Street, Boothill Graveyard/Gift Shop, and Courthouse State Historic Park, each shop, restaurant, and attraction is designed with tourists in mind and gives you the chance to see and soak in the town’s history.
With its rich tradition as a former copper mining hub, Ajo is a casual town with relaxed charm. Enjoy its mild climate, low humidity, and clear skies. Take in the historic Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, Sonoran Desert flora and fauna, and panoramic views. Step back in time at the Historic Plaza and railway Depot. Gaze at Spanish Colonial Revival architecture in the downtown Historic District.
Bonus trip: Verde Valley Railway
Park the RV and board the train as you embark on a spectacular journey accessible only by rail. Powering the train are two EMD FP7 diesel locomotives built in 1953 for the Alaska Railroad. They were painted in 2019 with an apropos American bald eagle motif. Alert passengers may spot the U.S. national bird soaring in the canyon. From December to March, visitors have a greater chance of seeing these special raptors since migrating and resident bald eagles share the canyon during nesting season.
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.
As far as wildflowers are concerned, a lot of things have gone right so far this winter in Arizona. Widespread rains came early and often. The moisture has been well-spaced so there were no extended dry periods. Temperatures have stayed moderate. All those factors matter for how many and what types of flowers are likely to bloom.
There are no guarantees when it comes to wildflowers but the 2023 season seems full of promise. The Arizona deserts may be teetering on the edge of a superbloom. It’s still too early to say but no matter how things play out during February, the desert should be filled with a colorful array of poppies, lupines, and other flowers this spring.
This is a wildflower season that should not be missed. Here are seven Arizona wildflower hotspots worth exploring and which blooms you are likely to see.
Estrella Mountain Regional Park
Overview: This big park in Goodyear always seems to get a jump on some of the other spots in the Valley and it flashed lots of blooms in January. Visitors will find a nice medley of brittlebush, Mexican goldpoppies, globemallows, rock daisies, and fiddlenecks among others.
What to look for: Some of the best sightings can be found along the Rainbow Valley Trail sprinkled with poppies, scorpionweed, and brittlebush. On the Gadsden Trail, the blue/purple lupines are already blooming and noted for being “extra heavy and extraordinary in color and expanse.” Poppies of varying hues sway on both sides of Flycatcher Trail. Stop at the Nature Center for the exhibits and to get the latest info.
When to go: Right now if you want. Abundant blooms should continue through February and into March.
Camping: Unless a Park Host site is available, there is no camping in the park.
Location/address: 14805 W. Vineyard Ave., Goodyear
Overview: Good to excellent. They’ve had plenty of rain and poppy plants are out in force on the lower slopes of the mountains although few flowers are visible yet. Joining the poppies will be lupines and a healthy mix of perennials including some rare globemallows with lilac-hued flowers.
What to look for: This is a good park to visit even for folks with limited mobility. Visitors will be able to enjoy plenty of color from the park roadway and adjacent picnic tables. For a closer look, good showings of color can be found on the easy Nature Trail, Children’s Cave Trail and the moderate Calloway Trail.
When to go: Mid- to late February. The season often starts early at Picacho Peak although a late January cold snap could delay it a bit this year. Colorful blooms should continue into March.
Camping: Picacho Peak State Park’s campground has a total of 85 electric sites for both tent and RV camping. Four sites are handicapped-accessible. No water or sewer hookups are available. Access to all sites is paved. Sites are fairly level and are located in a natural Sonoran Desert setting. High speed Wi-Fi internet access is now available at all campsites provided by Airebeam. Additional fees required for access.
Overview: Park rangers are cautiously optimistic predicting an above average year while hoping for a stellar one.
What to look for: In some recent years, the poppies at Lost Dutchman have been drastically reduced by late season freezes. So that is always a possibility. Yet even if that does happen, hardier perennials like brittlebush, globemallow, and chuparosa should still flourish. If poppies show up to the party, it makes for an unforgettable sight with the steep ramparts of the Superstition Mountains rising directly from a sea of shimmering yellow and orange. For some of the best flower viewing, start up the Siphon Draw Trail and then circle back on Jacob’s Crosscut and Treasure Loop.
When to go: End of February through mid-March.
Camping: The campground has 135 sites and three group camping areas: 68 sites with electric (50/30/20 amp service) and water and the remainder non-hookup sites on paved roads for tents or RVs. Every site has a picnic table and a fire pit with an adjustable grill gate. There are no size restrictions on RVs. Well-mannered pets on leashes are welcome, but please pick after your pets.
Park entrance fee: $10 per vehicle
Location/address: 6109 N. Apache Trail, Apache Junction
Overview: If not a superbloom, something very close to it. Conditions seem pretty close to ideal at this remote park in southwestern Arizona. While poppies will bloom at Organ Pipe, they are not as predominant as at some other locations. Here visitors will enjoy a mixed bouquet of lupines, chuparosa, ocotillos, fairy dusters, brittlebush, globemallows, and more.
What to look for: In the monument, take the 21-mile Ajo Mountain Drive (a well maintained mostly dirt road) looping into rugged country for a colorful mix of flowers. Or hike the Palo Verde and Victoria Mine trails for a closer look. If the season develops like they expect, rangers may schedule some guided wildflower hikes. Check the website or call the visitor center for details.
When to go: March is the prime time. Heading south on State Route 85 from Gila Bend, travelers are treated to big pools of Mexican goldpoppies in good years.
Camping: Twin Peaks Campground is located just over one mile away from the Kris Eggle Visitor Center and each campsite is surrounded by beautiful desert plants. It has 34 tent-only sites and 174 sites for RVs. Several sites can accommodate RVs up to 45 feet in length. Restrooms have running water and a three have free solar-heated showers. Hookups for electricity, water, or sewer are not available
Park entrance fee: $25 per vehicle, good for seven days
Location/address: About 150 miles southwest of Phoenix off SR 85
Overview: Good to excellent. After a couple of disappointing years there are high hopes for a colorful season at Bartlett Lake.
What to look for: The road to the reservoir quickly leaves suburbs behind and winds past rolling hills to the sparkling reservoir cradled by mountains. Poppies and lupines grow in profusion on the banks above the water. Be sure to keep an eye peeled for 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.
When to go: March. Peak color should be in the middle of the month but much will be determined by temperature.
Camping: Campground fees at various sites around Bartlett Reservoir might be separate from the Tonto Day pass. Call Cave Creek Ranger District (480-595-3300) for specific details.
Park entrance fee: An $8 Tonto Day Pass is required. Buy one before you go; purchasing options are listed on the website.
Location/address: Bartlett Lake is about 57 miles northwest of Phoenix.
Overview: Good to excellent. All winter the rains have pounded this scenic park on the north side of Tucson. It even led to flooding of the big Cañada del Oro wash in January. All that moisture has greened up the saguaro-clad foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains and the lush garden is thick with flowering plants.
What to look for: The Sutherland Trail offers the best assortment of flowers with fields of poppies, cream cups, lupines, penstemon, and desert chicory. 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 a week.
When to go: Mid-March through early April.
Camping: The campground offers 120 electric and water sites. Each campsite has a picnic table and BBQ grill. Roads and parking slips are paved. Campgrounds have modern flush restrooms with hot, clean showers, and RV dump stations are available in the park. There is no limit on the length of RVs at this park.
Overview: Moderate to good. This rocky mesa on the San Carlos Apache Reservation east of metro Phoenix is known for some of Arizona’s best poppy displays, stretching across a broad hill and sweeping down the slopes.
What to look for: Sharp-eyed visitors will spot lupines, desert chicory, and blue dicks mingled among the blaze of orange. But the hillsides blanketed in poppies are the absolute showstopper. With the cooler temperatures this winter, peak bloom isn’t expected until later. The mesa is down a dirt road a short distance off U.S. 70 east of Globe. The road can normally be managed in a passenger car.
When to go: Late March into early April. If temperatures heat up, the season could develop sooner.
Camping: The closest camground is Apache Gold Casino RV Park, 12 miles east of Peridot Mesa.
Park entrance fee: Since the Peridot Mesa is located on San Carlos Tribal Lands, visitors will need to purchase a permit to travel to the wildflower spot. Permits are $10 each and can be purchased at the Circle K in Globe (2011 U.S. 70), or the San Carlos Recreation & Wildlife Office in Peridot.
Arizona offers some of the very best bird watching in the United States
Blame it on the state’s remarkable diversity. Soaring mountains, warm deserts, deep canyons, and rolling grasslands provide welcoming habitats for a wide range of birds. Arizona’s species list of around 550 is the highest of any state without an ocean coastline.
Important Bird Areas, identified by the National Audubon Society, can be found throughout Arizona but there’s an especially high concentration amid the sky islands in the southeastern corner of the state. These forested mountaintop habitats are surrounded by seas of desert and grasslands creating tightly stacked ecosystems, distinct and isolated. This is the Arizona rainforest, a hotbed of life.
To enjoy an assortment of feathered friends grab your binoculars and cameras and hit some of Arizona’s best birding trails. And these are birding trails, not birding hikes. Birding is hiking interrupted. Finish the trail or don’t finish; it doesn’t matter. Birding is all about the pauses—the stopping and listening and, most importantly, the discovery.
Patagonia: Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve
The Nature Conservancy protects a stretch of Sonoita Creek at the edge of Patagonia and the verdant floodplain adjacent to the stream as its first project in Arizona.
More than 300 bird species migrate, nest, and live in this rare and beautiful Fremont cottonwood-Goodding’s willow riparian forest where gray hawks like to nest. Over 20 species of flycatchers have been recorded in the preserve along with the thick-billed kingbird and Sinaloa wren.
There are several gentle paths including one along the old railroad grade, another that follows the creek, and a one-mile connector to the Paton Center for Hummingbirds. If you want to stretch your legs a little more, the Geoffrey Platts Trail makes a 3.2-mile loop through mesquite-covered hills with views of the mountains and valley.
Details: Hours and hiking access points vary; closed Mondays and Tuesdays. 150 Blue Heaven Road, Patagonia. $8, free for age 12 and younger.
Patagonia: Paton Center for Hummingbirds
The Paton family began welcoming strangers to their backyard feeders swarming with hummingbirds in the 1970s. After Marion Paton died, neighbors kept the feeders stocked until the Tucson Audubon Society took over.
Visitors travel from all over the world just to sit quietly in a small Arizona backyard and watch clouds of hummingbirds. It’s a lovely, small town way to spend an hour.
Details: Open dawn to dusk daily. 477 Pennsylvania Avenue, Patagonia. Free; donations are appreciated.
Sierra Vista: Ramsey Canyon Preserve
Almost 200 species of birds have been seen in high-walled Ramsey Canyon, a lush defile in the Huachuca Mountains south of Sierra Vista that’s managed by the Nature Conservancy.
A single trail starts from the back of the visitor center past several hummingbird feeders buzzing with activity. After all, Sierra Vista is known as Arizona’s Hummingbird Capital where 15 species of small winged jewels have been sighted.
The path moseys alongside Ramsey Creek for about a mile beneath a canopy of shade. Big sycamore trees drape the stream with oaks and pines filling the canyon. Summer avian visitors include the painted redstart, black-headed grosbeak, and black-throated gray warbler. Surprise visitors like the flame-colored tanager and Aztec thrush are occasionally seen.
Past the small ponds that provide habitat for the threatened Chiricahua leopard frogs, the trail turns into the woods and switchbacks up to an overlook with nice views.
Details: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursdays to Mondays from March 1 through October 31; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. the rest of the year; Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 27 E. Ramsey Canyon Road, Hereford. Parking is limited; try to arrive early. $8 per person, free for ages 12 and younger.
Sierra Vista: Brown Canyon Trail
If the small parking area at Ramsey Canyon is full, the trail to historic Brown Canyon Ranch makes a nice alternative. Meander through rolling grasslands dotted with manzanita and oak in this shallow canyon.
Resident birds include the Mexican jay, bridled titmouse, and Montezuma quail. Look for elegant trogon and Scott’s oriole in the summer. A small pond at the old ranch site attracts many water loving species. Trailhead is on the north side of Ramsey Canyon Road, two miles from State Route 92.
Sierra Vista: San Pedro River
The San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area protects a 40-mile stretch of the San Pedro River. This slender forest of cottonwood and willow trees creates some of the richest wildlife habitat in the Southwest.
Start at the historic San Pedro House and, as with all birding trails, go only as far as you like. Follow the path through the grassy meadow to the river.
A network of trails follows the bank of the San Pedro in both directions skirting oxbows and loops around a pond named for the elusive green kingfisher. Other sightings might include vermilion flycatchers, lesser goldfinch, summer tanagers, and yellow-breasted chats.
Details: San Pedro House, operated by The Friends of the San Pedro River, is nine miles east of Sierra Vista on SR 90. It will be open 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Wilcox: Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area
A 1,500-acre wildlife habitat, Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area is famous for the large population of sandhill cranes during the winter season of October through February. Whitewater Draw lies in the Chiricahua desert grassland habitat of the Sulphur Springs Valley.
The Sulphur Springs Valley, west of the Chiricahua Mountains between Bisbee and Douglas to the south and Willcox to the north, is great for bird watching. The valley’s highways and back roads offer access to a variety of habitats including grassland, desert scrub, playa lake, and farm fields. A wide variety of birds winter here alongside permanent residents.
Located in the southwestern part of the valley, the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area lies within a desert grassland habitat. Nearly half of the Wildlife Area falls within a floodplain. Over 600 acres of the area is intermittently flooded wetland with two small patches of riparian habitat. The surrounding agricultural community of the valley enhances feeding opportunities for wintering birds.
Whitewater Draw has a one-mile boardwalk trail that takes you around cattail marshes, shallow ponds, and eventually to several viewing platforms. Here you can use permanently-mounted spotting scopes to observe the wintering sandhill cranes and the flocks of snow geese and tundra swan that share the sky with the cranes. This is also a great place to see avocets, stilts, and yellowlegs. Wetland birds include egrets, great blue heron, black-crowned night heron, ibis, soras, terns, and other shorebirds.
Overnight camping is allowed in designated areas only, for no more than three days within a seven day period. Camping is free; however, no utilities are available. There is a vault toilet on site. Open fires are allowed in designated areas only.
South of Tucson and west of Green Valley, Madera Canyon is carved from the Santa Rita Mountains. The road into the narrowing gorge climbs from desert grasslands to mixed woodlands shading a seasonal stream.
More than 250 species of bird have been documented in these varied habitats. Favorite sightings include elegant trogon, elf owl, sulphur-bellied flycatcher, and painted redstart.
The Madera Creek Trail follows the stream and has multiple access points. The Carrie Nation Trail branches off from Old Baldy Trail, tracing the creek bed deeper into the canyon. It’s a good place to see elegant trogons in April and May.
Non-hikers can enjoy the picnic areas and the free viewing area at the Santa Rita Lodge, filled with hummingbirds and other desert species.
Details: $8 day-use pass for Madera Canyon is sold on site.
Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invites camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. The park provides miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails which wind through the park and into the Coronado National Forest at elevations near 3,000 feet.
Because of the high diversity of bird species, the National Audubon Society has designated the park as an Important Bird Area (IBA). The species count has reached 193 and includes several much sought-after birds such as Gilded Flicker, Rufous-winged Sparrow, and Varied Bunting.
The makeup of birds in the park varies with the seasons. Spring and summer birds include noisy Brown-crested Flycatchers, beautiful Blue Grosbeaks, and the tiny Lucy’s Warblers. In the early fall, waves of migrants pass through including Lazuli Buntings, Western Tanagers, and several kinds of warblers. Winter brings in a variety of birds that nest in the north such as Red-naped Sapsucker, Green-tailed Towhee, and several species of sparrows. Permanent residents include Great Horned Owls, Red-tailed Hawks, and many other Sonoran Desert species.
The many trails in the park provide great opportunities to see birds. In addition, there are regular bird walks from October into April led by local experts. The park is located within minutes of the Tucson metropolitan area.
Red Rock State Park is located 5 miles west of Sedona off State Highway 89A on the lower Red Rock Loop Road. A bird list is available upon request. This park makes a great introduction for novice birders. Guided bird walks take place at 8 a.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays.
The park has an abundance of resident and migratory birds that can be appreciated by park visitors. A five-mile network of trails loops through this park. The Kisva Trail and Smoke Trail are easy strolls along the banks of Oak Creek beneath the shade of cottonwood, sycamore, velvet ash, and alder trees where you might spot wood ducks and common mergansers.
Non-hikers can settle in on the patio beside the visitor center. It’s with hummingbird feeders.
Details: 4050 Red Rock Loop Road, Sedona. $7, $4 for ages 7-13. Pets are not allowed.
No matter if you’re new to bird watching or are an avid birder looking to check rare species off your life list, Arizona is your place. A day pack will help stow your creature’s comfort items: snacks, water, a sweater or light jacket, a birding field guide, binoculars, and camera. Bring enough gear to ensure your stay in the field is as comfortable as possible.
The last piece of the birding equation is totally up to you. Just get out there and enjoy nature. Hike around while peering into the brush, on the water, or in trees for Arizona’s diverse bird species.
Legends say that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying our hopes for love, joy, and celebration. The hummingbird’s delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection has meaning and that laughter is life’s sweetest creation.
The park, located north of Tucson was closed last week after rains caused a wash to flood
Some 300 campers were stranded at Catalina State Park last week after heavy rains caused the Cañada del Oro wash to overflow. The park is located next to the Town of Oro Valley, 6 miles north of Tucson.
They headed back to dry land on Wednesday (January 18, 2023) as park rangers helped campers walk across the receding wash at the park’s entrance. The only road out of the campground was filled with wet sand making it impossible to drive across.
What stops people isn’t the water. It’s the sand.
“Doesn’t matter if you have four-wheel drive, you are going to get stuck,” said Catalina State Park manager Steve Haas. “You are going to get stuck. It is not the water that is going to stop you. It is about 4 to 5 feet of sand from the bottom of the road that is stopping people.”
The park reopened Friday, January 20 as crews continued to clear flooding debris and create a safe path to drive across near the park entrance. Visitors were requested to observe all rules distributed by rangers when entering the park and to use caution as flooding is still possible. Parking is only allowed in designated parking spots.
In addition, Catalina State Park released the following Facility Information, available on its website:
Significant rain and weather events may require day-to-day decisions on remaining open. The fire caused significant runoff and debris that can be dangerous to staff and the public.
Many areas of the park look different than they did prior to the Bighorn Fire. The burned areas host hazards such as fallen rocks, trees, debris, and potential flash flooding, and visitors enter these areas at their own risk.
Roads near campsites may face flash flooding which could prohibit campers from leaving the park until flooding subsides.
We encourage advance reservations for overnight camping and RV sites.
Please maintain awareness of your surroundings and the weather at all times while visiting the park.
Fortunately, this was the only flooding in the park and the campground was not affected. It would be really bad if there was this obstacle plus a whole bunch of flooding where people are located. That was not the case.
Many campers had been at Catalina since the holiday weekend. Some had been making the trek across the wash by foot to get food and supplies in Oro Valley.
A lot of people’s lives were interrupted but they were in a good spot.
Crews worked on Wednesday to try and dig out the sand and waiting for the water level to go down before letting people drive through. Haas said the campers aren’t in any danger. “They are totally safe on the campgrounds. It is outside the floodplain,” said Haas.
Rangers said the flooding happens regularly during the summer monsoons. But campgrounds aren’t as busy during the summer.
“This past summer, we were closed 20 nights because of this,” said Haas.
The Big Horn Fire in 2020 took out a lot of vegetation making runoff from rainwater more extreme. The Canada del Oro arroyo and its tributaries carry runoff from the Santa Catalinas during rain storms—a common occurrence that can and does often lead to flooding during monsoon but something that occurs less frequently in the winter.
We found ourselves in a similar situation in February 2010 when we were campimg at Catalina State Park. Since we were self-contained and planned to spend a week camping in the park we were basically unaffected by the flooded wash. The photos in this article were taken at that time.
Campers were eager to get home but grateful to be safe. “We have bathrooms over there, we have fresh running water. This is Arizona, it doesn’t get cold. So, we are fine, but we are ready to go,” said one camper.
Arizona State Parks officials said there are plans and a budget to build a bridge over the wash in the coming years so flooding won’t continue to be a common occurrence. Funding has been approved and the bridge is a work in progress in collaboration with ADOT (Arizona Department of Transportation).
Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invites camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 170 species of birds call the park home.
The park provides miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails that wind through the park and into the Coronado National Forest at elevations near 3,000 feet. The park is located within minutes of the Tucson metropolitan area. This scenic desert park also offers equestrian trails and an equestrian center provides a staging area for trail riders with plenty of trailer parking.
One hundred twenty campsites are available that have electricity, and water, and are either tent or RV ready. The campground is located in the shadows of the famed Catalina Mountains. Native birds and wildlife abound and help make any camping trip a memorable experience. Two RV dump stations are available in the park.
Bring along your curiosity and your sense of adventure as you take in the beautiful mountain backdrop, desert wildflowers, cacti, and wildlife.
The park is open year-round
Entrance fee: $7 per vehicle (1-4 Adults)
Camping fee: $25 per vehicle per night
Day use hours: 5 am.-10 pm. daily
Visitor center/park store hours: 8 am.–5 pm. daily
This was as the desert should be, this was the desert of the picture books, with the land unrolled to the farthest distant horizon hills, with saguaros standing sentinel in their strange chessboard pattern, towering supinely above the fans of ocotillo and brushy mesquite.
State parks contain the magic of life. Pass it on.
National Parks are a treasure and worth putting on your travel list. But while you’re dreaming, consider adding State Parks, too. It takes a little planning (every state has a different reservation system) but well worth the effort.
It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a well-developed RV site with all the bells and whistles or a wooded tent spot far from any sort of road or development, there’s a state park campsite for you. To lend a hand—there are over 10,000 state parks, after all—I’ve profiled a list of some of the best campsites in state parks that are known for their popularity and unique beauty.
No matter your level of camping expertise, spend the night beneath a canopy of stars and awake to a wondrous landscape when you park your RV or pitch a tent at some of America’s beautiful campgrounds from the beaches to the desert to the mountains.
Before I dive in, take a moment to review the following state park camping tips.
State Park Camping Tips
State parks may not see the heavy traffic of national parks but in most cases you’ll still want to plan ahead to secure your camping spot. Each state runs its own reservation system which may be online, via phone, or even in-person. And some parks are first-come, first-served, so you won’t want to show up too late in the day.
Before you pack up and head out, make sure to research the available amenities— some state park campgrounds are extremely primitive requiring you to pack in your own water and pack out your trash while others have full RV hookups, hot showers, and laundry.
And finally, be sure to respect any wildlife you encounter, manage your campfire responsibly, and follow the principles of Leave No Trace.
State Park Camping Reservations
Making reservations at state parks, especially when planning a trip that crosses multiple states, can be both complex and frustrating. Each state, and in some cases, individual parks, make its own rules for when and how they’ll take reservations for camping sites.
Georgia State Parks allow for reservations up to 13 months in advance and require a 50 percent deposit for most reservations. Reservations can be made over the phone or online. Mississippi’s state parks have one of the most generous reservation windows and can be booked 24 months in advance. The parks also welcome walk-ins when there is availability. The vast majority of Alaska State Park campgrounds are first-come, first-served, with a few exceptions.
Gulf State Park, Alabama
White-sand beaches might not be what comes to mind when you think of Alabama but a visit to Gulf State Park might change your perspective. From the Gulf Coast’s sugar-sand shores, you can kayak, bike (28 miles of trails), swim, bike (rentals available), play pickleball or volleyball, or do absolutely nothing.
Located 1.5 miles from the white sand beaches, Gulf State Park Campground offers 496 improved full – hookup campsites with paved pads and with 11 primitive sites. All full hookup camping pads are large enough for RVs with pullouts and have picnic tables and pedestal grill tops. There are 11 modern, air-conditioned bathhouses throughout the Campground.
This 1,327-acre park is situated in the wetlands of north Mobile Bay and is a day-use, picnicking, and scenic park with modern camping hook-ups for overnight visitors. Meaher’s boat ramp and fishing pier will appeal to every fisherman and a self-guided walk on the boardwalk will give visitors an up-close view of the beautiful Mobile-Tensaw Delta.
Meaher’s campground has 61 RV campsites with 20-, 30-, and 50-amp electrical connections as well as water and sewer hook-ups. There are 10 improved tent sites with water and 20-amp electrical connections. The park also has four cozy bay-side cabins (one is handicap accessible) overlooking Ducker Bay. The campground features a modern bathhouse with laundry facilities.
Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invite camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. The park provides miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails that wind through the park and into the Coronado National Forest at elevations near 3,000 feet. The park is located within minutes of the Tucson metropolitan area.
Catalina offers 120 campsites with electric and water hookups. Each campsite has a picnic table and BBQ grill. Roads and parking slips are paved. Campgrounds have modern flush restrooms with hot, clean showers, and RV dump stations are available in the park. There is no limit on the length of RVs at this park, but reservations are limited to 14 consecutive nights.
Located near the Superstition Mountains and about 40 miles east of Phoenix is Arizona’s Lost Dutchman State Park. As you might suspect, the park is full of towering red rock formations, cacti, and enough hiking trails to keep you occupied for days.
The campground has 135 sites and three group camping areas: 68 sites with electric (20/30/50 amp service) and water and the remainder of non-hookup sites on paved roads for tents or RVs. Every site has a picnic table and a fire pit with an adjustable grill gate. There are no size restrictions on RVs. Well-mannered pets on leashes are welcome but please pick after your pets.
Campsite reservations are available. There is a $5 non-refundable reservation fee per campsite.
Spanning more than 600,000 acres, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is California’s largest park and one of the best places for camping. A diverse desert landscape the park encompasses 12 wilderness areas rich with flora and fauna. Enjoy incredible hikes, crimson sunsets, and starlit nights, and view metal dragons, dinosaurs, and giant grasshoppers.
Finding accurate and complete information on Anza Borrego camping can be difficult to track down. There are two ways to camp in Anza Borrego: 1) in established campgrounds which come with varying degrees of amenities and cost, or 2) in dispersed camping areas where you can set up camp where you like in accordance with a few rules set by the state park system.
There are a dozen established campgrounds in Anza Borrego Desert including eight primitive, first-come, first-served campgrounds that are free but offer few amenities, and four developed campgrounds that offer more amenities to varying degrees.
Borrego Palm Canyon Campground is divided into three sections. Two of the sections offer tent and RV camping with no hookups. The third section offers full hookups.
Tamarisk Grove Campground offers 27 camping sites. The campground’s amenities include coin-operated showers, non-potable water (don’t drink it), flush toilets. Each site has a picnic table with a shade ramada as well as a fire pit with a metal grill.
Seven miles of paved road wind through shady hammocks, along grassy marshes, and the shore of the Upper Myakka Lake. See wildlife up-close on a 45-minute boat tour. The Myakka Canopy Walkway provides easy access to observe life in the treetops of an oak/palm hammock. The walkway is suspended 25 feet above the ground and extends 100 feet through the hammock canopy.
The park offers 76 campsites with water and electric service, most sites have 30 amps. A wastewater dump station is located near Old Prairie campground. All campsites are located within 40 yards of restroom facilities with hot showers. All sites are dirt base; few sites have vegetation buffers. Six primitive campsites are located along 37 miles of trails.
Supporting a beautiful yet delicate ecosystem, central Florida’s Highlands Hammock possesses a unique collection of plant and animal life. With more rare and endemic species than any other Florida State Park, Highlands Hammock is a place where wilderness and history are preserved. The park features 15 distinct natural communities in its more than 9,000 acres with a diversity of habitats for wading birds, raptors, songbirds, migratory birds, and ducks.
Eight of the nine trails are located on the loop drive and visitors can easily extend their walks as several connect via a bridge or catwalk. Trails run through the hydric hammock, cypress swamp, hardwood swamp, and pine Flatwoods. Be sure to travel the 3-mile bike loop or take the tram for those who prefer to sit back and leisurely take it all in.
The family campground offers water and electric hookups, a dump station, access to restrooms with shower facilities, laundry, and dishwashing areas. Campsites have picnic tables and fire rings. Sites vary from being open and sunny to partially or fully shaded and range in length from 20 to 50 feet. Reservations can be made up to 11 months in advance. In addition, primitive tent camping and youth camping areas are available.
Buccaneer State Park, Mississippi
Located on the beach in Waveland (west of Bay St. Louis), Buccaneer is in a natural setting of large moss-draped oaks, marshlands, and the Gulf of Mexico. The use of this land was first recorded in history in the late 1700s when Jean Lafitte and his followers were active in smuggling and pirating along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The French Buccaneer, Lafitte, inhabited the old Pirate House located a short distance from what is now the park.
The park site, also known as Jackson’s Ridge, was used as a base of military operations by Andrew Jackson during the Battle of New Orleans. Jackson later returned to this area and built a house on land that is now Buccaneer State Park.
Buccaneer State Park has 206 premium campsites with full amenities including sewer. In addition to the premium sites, Buccaneer has an additional 70 campsites that are set on a grassy
Goose Island State Park, Texas
Brown pelicans, whooping cranes, camping, fishing, and the waters of Aransas, Copano, and St. Charles bays draw visitors here. Fish from the shore, boat, or the 1,620-foot long fishing pier. The CCC built Goose Island, Texas’ first coastal state park. It sits on the southern tip of the Lamar Peninsula. Dramatic wind-sculpted trees dominate the park. Be sure to visit the Big Tree which has been standing sentinel on the coast for centuries. In 1969, it was named the State Champion Coastal Live Oak.
Choose from 44 campsites by the bay or 57 sites nestled under oak trees all with water and electricity. Every camping loop has restrooms with showers. The park also has 25 walk-in tent sites without electricity, and a group camp for youth groups.
Falcon State Park provides refuge from the cold for both humans and wildlife. But that’s not its only draw. Anglers come here to access one of the best freshwater fishing lakes in South Texas.
At Falcon State Park you can fish, swim, camp, bird watch, water ski, boat, geocache, hike, or just relax and enjoy the mild climate. Anglers mainly catch largemouth bass and channel catfish here. Bird-watch along the lakeshore and in the brushy areas away from shore. Besides the common bird species of the American Southwest, many tropical species also visit the park. Explore 2.8 miles of trails, visit the recreation hall for a snack or domino game, or rent the hall for a family gathering.
Stay at a campsite, shelter, or cabin. Falcon offers pull-through campsites, half with water and electricity, and half with full hookups. The water-only sites are non-reservable.
31 full hookup campsites with 30/50 amp electric (sites # 201-231) are available in the Cactus Loop. 31 sites with 30/50 amp electric and water (sites # 101-131) are available in the Cenizo Loop. 36 sites with water (sites # 43-79) are available in the Javalina. Other amenities vary by loop and may include a covered picnic table, fire ring, barbecue pit, and waist-high grill.
Or choose a screened shelter or cabin.
Sand Hollow State Park, Utah
With its warm, blue waters and red sandstone landscape, Utah’s newer state park is also one of its most popular. Boat, fish, and dive at Sand Hollow Reservoir, explore and ride the dunes of Sand Mountain on an off-highway vehicle. A favorite destination for local off-highway vehicle (OHV) enthusiasts, Sand Mountain provides 15,000 acres of perfectly sculpted dunes. The red sand is an incredible backdrop for Sand Hollow reservoir. Sand Hollow offers boating and other water recreation in a spectacular setting.
Sand Hollow offers three campground areas ranging from full hookups to standard camping. Camp in the full hookup Westside Campground or stay close to the action and ride your OHV from your site to the dunes in the new Sandspit Campground. Choose from 43 full hookup sites, 17 standard sites including six with partial hookups, and 60 camp-vehicle primitive sites.
Boasting some of the warmest waters in the state and a mild winter climate, Quail Creek lures boaters and anglers year-round. Quail Creek reservoir was completed in 1985 to provide irrigation and culinary water to the St. George area. Most of the water in the reservoir does not come from Quail Creek but is diverted from the Virgin River and transported through a buried pipeline.
Two dams form the reservoir. The main dam is an earth-fill embankment dam. The south dam is a roller compacted concrete dam, constructed to replace the original earth-fill dam that failed in the early hours of New Year’s Day 1989.
The maximum depth of Quail Creek can reach 120 feet, so it is cold enough to sustain the stocked rainbow trout, bullhead catfish, and crappie. Largemouth bass, which is also stocked, and bluegill thrive in the warmer, upper layers of the reservoir.
Quail Creek offers nine partial hookup sites, 13 standard sites, and one group camping area.
Explore this guide to find some of the best places to camp in Arizona
The state of Arizona is an ideal destination for anyone who loves to travel and camp with an RV. Known as the Grand Canyon State, Arizona is famous for its low amount of rainfall, stunning natural scenery, and plenty of sunshine. Temperatures stay relatively warm throughout most of the year, even in January and February making the state a prime escape from the winter weather elsewhere.
A key factor in planning an RV road trip is selecting RV campgrounds. Choices for RV parks include public campgrounds, luxurious RV resorts, activity-filled family destinations, 55+ parks, secluded natural settings, and basic parks conveniently located for an overnight stay. The quality varies from budget to high-end resorts. And prices also run the gamut.
Here are my top 21 picks for Arizona RV parks, campgrounds, and resorts.
Vista Del Sol RV Resort, Bullhead City
This area needed a new 5-star RV resort and in November 2015 a new Roberts resort opened with paved streets. The 88-wide concrete sites are terraced both back-ins and pull-ins in the 65-foot range with paved sites and patios.
The pull-in sites face the west-northwest with views of the hills and mountains as well as Bullhead City, Laughlin, and the Colorado River. 50/30/20-amp electric service, water, sewer, and cable TV are conveniently located. Resort services include Wi-Fi, two pools, one spa, a fitness room, a billiards/game room, daily activities, Doggie Park, gated entry, and a clubhouse with a commercial kitchen and serving area for groups. Within this gated 55+ community, one can also purchase a 400 sq. ft. model home or a manufactured home in varied sizes.
Catalina State Park, Oro Valley
Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invite camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. The park provides miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails that wind through the park and into the Coronado National Forest at elevations near 3,000 feet.
The camping area offers 120 electric and water sites with a picnic table and BBQ grill. Amenities include modern flush restrooms with hot showers and RV dump stations. There is no limit on the length of RVs at this park
Eagle View RV Resort at Fort McDowell, Fort McDowell
Eagle View RV Resort is far enough away from the hustle of Phoenix and Scottsdale but still close to numerous attractions. The resort has 150 full hookup sites with beautiful views of Four Peaks, part of the Mazatzal mountain range. Amenities include a swimming pool, dog run, fitness center, complimentary pastries and coffee in the mornings, and a clubhouse with an HDTV, pool table, computer room, and library.
If you feel like trying your hand at blackjack or poker, Fort McDowell Casino is less than a mile up the road. The park is also a short drive from the city of Fountain Hills which is home to golf courses and one of the largest fountains in the world.
Canyon Vistas RV Resort, Gold Canyon
Canyon Vistas RV Resort is nestled at the base of the Superstition Mountains in the Gold Canyon area southeast of Phoenix. Here you’re beyond the noise and congestion of the city, yet minutes from shopping and entertainment. Enjoy a morning walk or bike ride amid a stately hundred-year-old Saguaro cactus or keep in shape at the state-of-the-art Fitness Center.
Meet your friends for a round of golf at the pitch and putt course followed by a cool drink on the covered veranda. Go hiking, boating, and horseback riding in the nearby mountains. Other amenities include ceramics, wood carving, lapidary, pickleball, computer lab and classes, quilting and sewing room, pools and spas, tennis courts, and a pet area.
Grand Canyon Railway RV Park, Williams
Set in the mountain community of Williams—Gateway to the Grand Canyon—the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park is the ideal place to unwind and relax. The park has three types of RV spaces: select from pull-through, buddy spaces, or back-in sites. All spaces are 50-amp and large enough for big rigs. Each space comes with high-definition digital TV provided by DirecTV, wireless Internet, and access to the indoor swimming pool and hot tub at the adjacent Grand Canyon Railway Hotel. The property has coin-operated laundry machines and a common picnic area with gas grills and a fire pit.
Located on the Colorado River in Ehrenberg, Arizona Oasis RV Resort is a perfect RV park getaway spot. Just across the state line from Blythe, California, Arizona Oasis is just 20 minutes from Quartzsite. Big-rig friendly the resort has over 150 RV sites on or near the Colorado River. The gated resort offers 50/30 amp service, water and sewer hookups, full-through and back-in sites, 1,000 feet of Colorado River beach, a boat launch, heated pools and a spa, a dog park, free Wi-Fi, and a clubhouse.
Tucson/Lazydays KOA, Tucson
Tucson/Lazydays KOA Resort features citrus trees throughout the park and offers pull-through RV Sites with full 30/50-amp hookups, grassy luxury sites, and new RV sites with a patio and fireplace. Whether you want to relax by one of the two pools, soak in the hot tubs, play a round on the nine-hole putting green, or join in the activities, this park has something for everyone to enjoy.
Two solar shade structures allow guests to camp under a patented structure that produces solar energy. The structures shade more than two acres of the campground giving visitors room to park RVs on 30 covered sites. Lazydays, a full-service RV dealership with a service department is located next door. Other campground amenities include a bar and grill, meeting rooms, fitness center, three off-leash dog parks, and complimentary Wi-Fi.
Butterfield RV Resort and Observatory, Benson
A 5-star park, Butterfield RV Resort, and Observatory is a 55+ park with pull-through and back-in sites. Our back-in site (#120) is 55 feet in length and over 30 feet in width. 50/30-amp electric service, water, sewer, and cable TV are located near the rear of the site. The park is clean and well-maintained. Interior roads are asphalt; back-in sites are gravel with pull-through sites asphalt. The park is easy-on easy-off (I-10 at Exit 304, south one-half mile on Ocotillo Avenue) and is conveniently located immediately behind Safeway and near downtown. The highest-rated park in Benson we’re pleased with Butterfield and would return.
Palm Creek Golf & RV Resort, Casa Grande
All RV sites at Palm Creek are back-ins with a minimum of 50 feet in length and 40 feet in width. All sites come equipped with patio pads and full hookups, including 50-amp electric service, cable TV, water, sewer, and Wi-Fi service. Amenities include a championship Par-3 golf course, 4 swimming pools, Jacuzzi tubs, an on-site bistro, pickleball, and tennis courts, lawn bowling, a softball field, a fitness center, a ballroom, 4 laundry facilities, and 9 dog parks.
La Quintas Oasis RV Resort, Yuma
Big-rig friendly, La Quintas Oasis RV Resort is a 55+ park with 460 full-service sites. Easy-on easy-off (I-8; Exit 12 on North Frontage Road) the park has wide paved streets. Pull-through sites are in the 70-foot range with ample space. Back-in sites are 60+ feet in length and 35 feet wide. La Quintas Oasis has a heated pool, hot tub, horseshoes, recreation hall, game room, planned activities, shuffleboard, exercise room, pickle ball courts, and mini golf.
Sonoran Desert RV Park, Gila Bend
After a day of rolling through the dramatic and diverse Sonoran Desert, you can roll your rig right into this oasis in the desert. It’s so convenient with the easy-on/easy-off access from both I-8 and SR-85. Formerly, Gila Bend KOA, the campground was built for RVers by RVers and it shows! You’ll find roomy, 100-foot full-hookup pull-through sites throughout the park—all big rig friendly.
Relax by the heated pool or just soak up the desert views and dark evening skies from your site. Fido will love the 4,000-square-foot Canine Corral with three separate corrals (two with grassy areas). Amenities include Wi-Fi throughout the park, a laundry facility, a putting green, a heated pool, and a recreation hall Ranch House with a 2,500 sq. ft. veranda that’s perfect for savoring a brilliant sunset at day’s end.
Picacho Peak State Park, Eloy
Visitors traveling along I-10 in southern Arizona can’t miss the prominent 1,500-foot peak of Picacho Peak State Park. Enjoy the view as you hike the trails that wind up the peak and, often in the spring, overlook a sea of wildflowers. The park offers a visitor center with exhibits and a park store, a playground, historical markers, a campground, and picnic areas. Many hiking trails traverse the desert landscape and offer hikers both scenic and challenging hikes.
The campground has a total of 85 electric sites suitable for RVs and/or tents. Four sites are handicapped-accessible. No water or sewer hookups are available. Access to all sites is paved. Sites are fairly level and are located in a natural Sonoran Desert setting.
Rain Spirit RV Resort, Clarkdale
Overlooking Tuzigoot National Monument and Verde River, Rain Spirit RV Resort is a new park with 63 full-service sites including 30/50-amp electric service, cable TV, and the Internet. Amenities include private restrooms/showers, a fitness room, laundry facilities, a recreation room, a library lounge, a pool and spa, and a dog run. This 5-star resort is a great home base from which to explore the historic town of Jerome, Sedona Red Rock Country, and Old Town Cottonwood, and book an excursion on the Verde Valley Railway.
Usery Mountain Regional Park, Mesa
Usery Mountain Regional Park is set at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. The park contains a large variety of plants and animals that call the lower Sonoran Desert home. Along the most popular feature of the park, the Wind Cave Trail, water seeps from the roof of the alcove to support the hanging gardens of Rock Daisy. The Wind Cave is formed at the boundary between the volcanic tuff and granite on Pass Mountain. Breathtaking views from this 2,840-foot elevation are offered to all visitors.
The park offers a campground with 73 individual sites. Each site has a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45-foot RV and is a developed site with water and electric service, a dump station, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, and a fire ring. The park provides restrooms with flush toilets and hot water showers.
Lost Dutchman State Park, Apache Junction
Lost Dutchman State Park is your gateway to amazing Sonoran Desert experiences and memories. Named after the fabled lost gold mine, Lost Dutchman State Park is located at the base of the Superstition Mountains on Apache Trail (SR-88), 5 miles northeast of Apache Junction.
The campground has 138 sites: 68 sites with electric (50/30/20 amp service) and water and the remainder of non-hookup sites on paved roads for tents or RVs. Every site has a picnic table and a fire pit with an adjustable grill gate. There are no size restrictions on RVs. Well-mannered pets on leashes are welcome. Five camping cabins are situated perfectly so visitors can take advantage of both the sunrise and sunset right from the porch.
Leaf Verde RV Resort, Buckeye
Leaf Verde RV Resort offers spacious back-in and pull-through RV sites with full hookups including 20/30/50-amp electric service. Enjoy gravel pads with concrete patios, complimentary Wi-Fi to keep you connected, and a picnic table for your outdoor enjoyment. Other amenities include a swimming pool, shuffleboard, game room, clubhouse, pet area, laundry facilities, restroom, and shower facilities. Located in the West Valley off Interstate 10 at Exit 114.
White Tank Mountains Regional Park, Waddell
Nearly 30,000 acres make this the largest regional park in Maricopa County. Most of the park is made up of the rugged and beautiful White Tank Mountains on the Valley’s west side. The range, deeply serrated with ridges and canyons, rises sharply from its base to peak at over 4,000 feet. Infrequent heavy rains cause flash floodwaters to plunge through the canyons and pour onto the plain. These torrential flows, pouring down chutes and dropping off ledges, have scoured out a series of depressions, or tanks, in the white granite rock below, thus giving the mountains their name.
White Tank Mountain Regional Park offers 40 individual sites for RV camping. Most sites have a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45-foot RV and all offer water and electrical hook-ups, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, a fire ring, and a nearby dump station. All restrooms
Destiny RV Resort, Goodyear
A walled and gated community, Phoenix Destiny RV Resort offers 20/30/50-amp service on every site, a heated pool and spa, fitness center, laundry facility, shuffleboard courts, horseshoe pits, pickleball courts, putting green, billiard room, and fenced-in pet areas and a shaded turf dog run. The RV resort is clean, well-maintained, and attractively landscaped with an abundance of citrus and other trees and shrubs. Interior roads and sites are asphalt; the picnic table is conveniently located on concrete. Destiny offers a quiet, peaceful, and friendly atmosphere with easy access to I-10 (Exit 123; Citrus Road). Our pull-through site (#263) is in the 55-foot range.
Blake Ranch RV Park and Horse Motel, Kingman
Easy-on easy-off (I-40, Exit 151), Blake Ranch RV Park is a convenient location to overnight and for a longer stay to explore the area. The RV park offers long and wide and level pull-through and back-in sites with 30/50 electric, water, sewer, cable TV, and Wi-Fi. Amenities include a park store, private showers and bathrooms, laundry facilities, a dog run, a recreation room, and a horse motel. There’s plenty to do and see in the area. The park is 12 miles east of Kingman and Historic Route 66 and the ghost towns of Chloride and Oatman are easy day trips.
Twin Peaks Campground, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Stop by Twin Peaks Campground, and you’ll feast your eyes on a fantastic collection of plants and animals of the Sonoran Desert as well as some stunning vistas. You’ll find a showcase of nature’s creatures who have adapted to the extreme temperatures, intense sunlight, and little rainfall that characterize this region. Thirty-one species of cactus have mastered the art of living in this place including the park’s namesake and the giant saguaro. The location comes with a 360-degree view of gorgeous desert scenery including a broad valley to the south and small hills to the north and west, all packed with huge cacti. It is a perfect setting for colorful sunrises and sunsets.
The main campground at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Twin Peaks Campground is a sprawling outfit that boasts 208 sites. January through March is the peak season for the campground and reservations are required. Sites don’t offer hookups (but do allow generators) but with all the spectacular scenery, you won’t miss that convenience at all.
Distant Drums RV Resort, Camp Verde, Arizona
Distant Drum RV Resort is conveniently located along I-17 (Exit 289) across the Interstate from Castle Cliff Casino and a short distance from Montezuma Castle National Monument. The interior roads and sites are paved and the park is well maintained but many sites are not level.
The park features 157 spacious RV sites with concrete pads. Each site comes with full hookups, including 30/50 amp electrical service, cable TV, and Wi-Fi throughout the park. All brand new amenities include an events center, lending library, heated pool and Jacuzzi, laundry facilities, exercise room, spacious dog run, and country store.
Newcomers to Arizona are often struck by Desert Fever.
Desert Fever is caused by the spectacular natural beauty and serenity of the area.
Early symptoms include a burning desire to make plans for the next trip “south”.
The Tucson area has so many excellent bird-watching spots that I can’t list them all but here are a few favorites to get you started
Tucson, Arizona, isn’t just a haven for snowbirds. It also is known as a birdwatcher’s and nature lover’s paradise.
Tucson is for the birds, or maybe better said, Tucson is for birders. With the area’s desert, mountains, forests, mild winters, and proximity to tropical Mexico, sightings of more than 500 species of birds have been recorded.
There’s a surprising diversity of birds here, thanks to what Tucson Audubon calls a perfect storm: varied elevations; generally mild climate; Sky Island ranges linking the Rocky Mountains to the Sierra Madre; influences from Sonoran, Mojave, and Chihuahuan deserts; migratory flyways; and tropical areas south of the border.
I enjoy capturing photos of everything from butterflies and dragonflies to reptiles and mammals and that includes birds. As a person who likes being out in nature and one who appreciates observing and photographing wildlife, here are five of my favorite nature spotting and birding locations in and near Tucson.
Sabino Canyon Recreation Area is located in northeast Tucson at 5700 N. Sabino Canyon Road. This picturesque canyon in the Santa Catalina Mountains, part of Coronado National Forest, is one of the premier natural areas in southern Arizona. Although no private vehicles are permitted in the canyon, a tram service is available. Visitors can take an enjoyable and educational 45-minute, 3.8-mile narrated tram ride through the canyon. Trams stop at several trailheads, providing access to 30 miles of trails throughout the canyon.
In addition to the wide variety of mammals in the canyon, birders might spot vermilion flycatchers, pyrrhuloxias, gray hawks, western tanagers, phainopeplas, and peregrine falcons.
Saguaro National Park
Many folks picture the saguaro cactus (the largest cactus in the United States) when they think of Tucson. One great place to see a vast collection of these majestic plants is another of my favorite spots, Saguaro National Park which actually is two parks in one. One district lies east of Tucson (Rincon Mountain District) and the other is to the west (Tucson Mountain District); approximately 30 miles separate them. Both have well-maintained roads and numerous hiking trails. Note that vehicles more than 8 feet wide and trailers longer than 35 feet are not permitted on Cactus Forest Drive (east park) or Bajada Loop Drive (west).
Each of the districts has distinctive characteristics. The west park has the greatest number of saguaro cacti, as well as an ancient petroglyph site. Visitors may spot birds and other wildlife in both parks. Keep your eyes open for the distinctive Gambel’s quail, Gila woodpecker, American kestrel, northern goshawk, and cactus wren, among many other species.
Catalina State Park
Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invite camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home.
Catalina provides miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails that wind through the park and into the Coronado National Forest at elevations near 3,000 feet. The park is located within minutes of the Tucson metropolitan area and Saguaro National Park West. This scenic desert park also offers equestrian trails and an equestrian center provides a staging area for trail riders with plenty of trailer parking.
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
On my “must visit list” is the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum at 2021 N. Kinney Road in Tucson (adjacent to Saguaro National Park West and Tucson Mountain Park). The gardens at the museum have walking paths through a vibrant Sonoran Desert ecosystem that is home to native plants, butterflies, and birds. The museum also has natural enclosures (not traditional zoo enclosures) with mountain lions, bobcats, Mexican gray wolves, gray foxes, and other mammals native to the area, plus a free-flight bird aviary and a hummingbird aviary.
A highlight of this is the raptor free-flight demonstration which provides an up-close look at hawks, falcons, and owls native to this part of Arizona. It was such an amazing display and photo opportunity that you plan to return a second day to take more photos.
The fifth location is widely known among birders—Madera Canyon in the Coronado National Forest and the Santa Rita Lodge. Madera Canyon lies south of Tucson in the Santa Rita Mountains. Santa Rita Lodge (located at 1218 S. Madera Canyon Road in Madera Canyon) offers overnight accommodations, as the name would suggest, but it also has a bird feeding area that is open to the public. Free parking is available for those visiting the viewing area which has limited seating and is wheelchair accessible.
Here, you can view and photograph a wide variety of birds in a natural setting. A telephoto lens in the 400mm to 500mm range works well. Among the wide variety of birds attracted to the area are the yellow-eyed junco, flame-colored tanager, painted redstart, Mexican jay, crescent-chested warbler, and 15 species of hummingbirds. You might also get a glimpse of an elegant trogon, a prized sighting for birders in southern Arizona.
Coronado National Forest offers several trails in the area with limited parking at the trailheads.
Tucson boasts a wide array of natural and man-made attractions with something to interest everyone, including those who enjoy getting outdoors in nature. It is a renowned birding destination for visitors from far and near. It also is popular among snowbirds and other RVers, and RV campgrounds and resorts abound in the area.
As mentioned earlier, the Tucson area has so many excellent bird-watching spots that I can’t list them all. In addition to the five birding locations listed above, you may wish to explore the following:
Legends say that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying our hopes for love, joy, and celebration. The hummingbird’s delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection has meaning and that laughter is life’s sweetest creation.