17 Best Arizona State Parks to Visit in 2024

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

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

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

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

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

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Alamo Lake State Park 

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

Nestled in the Bill Williams River Valley away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, Alamo Lake State Park offers outdoor fun, premier bass fishing, rest, and relaxation. For nature lovers, spring rains bring an abundance of wild flowers and the lake environment attracts a variety of wildlife year round including waterfowl, foxes, coyotes, mule deer, and wild burros. Stargazers are sure to enjoy the amazing views of the night sky with the nearest city lights some 40 miles away.

2. Kartchner Caverns State Park

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

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

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

3. Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park

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

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

4. Oracle State Park

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

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

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Catalina State Park

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

6. Slide Rock State Park

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

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

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Red Rock State Park

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

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

8. Fort Verde State Historic Park

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

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

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

9. Dead Horse Ranch State Park

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

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

Jerome State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Jerome State Historic Park

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

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

11. Tonto Natural Bridge State Park

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

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

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

12. Colorado River State Historic Park

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

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

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Patagonia Lake State Park

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

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

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

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

14. Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park

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

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

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Picacho Peak State Park

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

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

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Lost Dutchman State Park

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

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

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

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

17. Tubac Presidio State Historic Park

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

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

Arizona State Parks: FAQs

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

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

How many state parks does AZ have?

Visit Arizona reports that Arizona has 34 state parks.

What is the famous park in Arizona?

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

What is the main national park in Arizona?

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

Is there a yearly pass for Arizona State Parks?

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

To conclude

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

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

Plan your next road trip to Arizona with these resources:

Worth Pondering…

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

—Aldo Leopold, 1937

Yuma: Gateway to the Great Southwest

Plan for sunny and warm in Yuma, Arizona

The true Southwest awaits in Yuma. Immerse yourself in rich culture and heritage rooted in centuries of history. Soak in blue skies and sun that shines 310 days a year—perfect for outdoor excursions.

Yuma is the winter lettuce capital of America © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Yuma is known as the Winter Lettuce Capital—thanks to its abundant vegetable production—and it holds a Guinness World Record as the “Sunniest City in the World.” With a prime location overlooking the Colorado River and home to the well-preserved Wild West-era Yuma Territorial Prison, this destination is an ideal place to explore.

A river runs through it at Colorado River State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Your first stops should be the Yuma Visitor Center and the Colorado River State Historic Park, the former site of the Army Quartermaster Depot established in 1864. Stock up on brochures and maps and find the latest info on Visit Yuma’s food tours and specialty dinners which are a great way to experience the region’s agritourism.

The Yuma Quartermaster Depot was a U.S. Army supply distribution point for forts throughout the American Southwest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Park includes a visitor center, the office of the Depot Quartermaster, the officer’s quarters, the corral house, the storehouse, a passenger train car, and more. Visitors can learn about how supplies delivered by ship from the Sea of Cortez were distributed to Army forts throughout the Southwest.

Related Article: I Was Wrong About Yuma

Serving hard time in Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sitting on a bluff overlooking the Colorado River are the remains of Arizona’s famous Yuma Territorial Prison. On July 1, 1876, the first seven inmates entered the Territorial Prison at Yuma and were locked into the new cells they had built themselves. A total of 3,069 prisoners including 29 women lived within the walls during the prison’s 33 years of operation. You can tour the original cell blocks, guard tower, and solitary chamber. In the museum, browse prison artifacts and exhibits that tell the story of the prison staff and the notorious convicts.

Yuma as a Colorado River community © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore Yuma’s lush parks and perhaps spot a LeConte’s thrasher or the elusive black rail. Be sure to pick up a copy of Finding Birds in Yuma County AZ by local birder Henry Detwiler available at the Visitor Information Center. East Wetlands Park offers 400 acres of wetlands at the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area; it’s part of an environmental restoration effort that’s doubled the bird population and increased species diversity. There are paved pathways suitable for all abilities.

The old steam locomotive at Pivot Point Plaza © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

See a 1907 Baldwin steam locomotive, hear a “ghost train” travel along the original railroad alignment, and learn about the historic importance of the Yuma Crossing. The outdoor exhibit area opened in 2010 where Madison Avenue meets the river―the exact site where the first railroad train entered Arizona in 1877.

Yuma Territorial Prison is a living museum of the Old West © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Toast the survivors of the Territorial Prison at the Prison Hill Brewing Company with a craft beer and conversation. Then, continue a few blocks to Lutes Casino, a historic establishment dating back to 1901. Despite the name, there are no card tables or slot machines; however, you can shoot some pool, order food, shop, or eye the quirky décor: retro signage, vintage photos, and posters of iconic Hollywood stars.

Related Article: The Beating Heart of Yuma

The Yuma area is one of the largest date producing areas outside of the Middle East © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Never had a date shake? Now is your chance. You’re in date country after all. At Martha’s Gardens sip on a Medjool shake, a sweet and creamy concoction made from Medjool dates grown right on-property. While indulging take a tour of the grounds to find out how these dates are cultivated in the desert (offered November–March only).

The Peanut Patch is nuts for you. Stop for a visit. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Converted from a vaudeville house, the Yuma Art Center features a pottery studio, an artists’ gift shop, four visual-art galleries, and a 1912 theater. Before you leave, pick up a map for a self-guided tour of Yuma’s public murals and sculptures. Don’t forget to snap some photos!

Yuma’s historic downtown offers a wide variety of shopping, dining, and old-fashioned street fairs and festivals © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now it’s time to stroll Yuma’s downtown center. Stretch your legs without stretching your wallet as you shop for handmade wares and agri-centric souvenirs at Brocket Farms, Colorado River Pottery, and Desert Olive Farms.

E.F. Sanguinetti helped transform the economy of Yuma heading into and through the start of the 20th century © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Round out the day with a stop at the historic Sanguinetti House Museum and Gardens and Jack Mellon Mercantile. Named after the “Merchant Prince of Yuma” and a riverboat captain, respectively, these charming abodes are full of memorabilia and antiques, and frequently offer events such as tea time and haunted ghost tours.

Related Article: Yuman Nature

The Sanguinetti House Museum is a stop not to be missed © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now an Arizona Historical Society museum, Sanguinetti House Museum chronicles E. F. Sanguinetti’s (1867-1945) life as the Merchant Prince of Yuma. Visit the museum and hear stories of how Sanguinetti came to Yuma as a penniless young man at just 15 years old. He quickly grew to become a civic-minded businessman whose various enterprises—electricity, ice house, ranching, farming, merchandising, banking, and real estate—advanced his own well-being and that of the community he loved.

Related Article: Of Yuman Interest: Top 7 Attractions In and Around Yuma

Gateway Park is Yuma’s downtown riverfront park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Three national wildlife refuges in the Yuma area—Cibola, Imperial, and Kofa—make up one of the country’s largest contiguous protected areas for wildlife. With more than 1,000 square miles between them, their ecosystems include desert, desert upland, riparian, grasslands, and forest.

Worth Pondering…

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

I have loved the red rocks, the twisted trees, and sand blowing in the wind, the slow, sunny clouds crossing the sky, the shafts of moonlight on my bed at night. I have seemed to be at one with the world.

—Everett Ruess

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

A southern Arizona State Parks road trip

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

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

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia Lake State Park

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

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Arizona State Parks

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

Sonoita Creek Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sonoita Creek State Natural Area

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

Sonoita Creek Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Sonoita Creek Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park

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

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

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

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Related: Focus on Birding in Arizona State Parks

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

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

Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park

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

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Boothill, Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Boothill, Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

Colorado River State Historic Park

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

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

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

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

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

Related: Winter Hiking in Arizona State Parks

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

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

Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worth Pondering…

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

—Aldo Leopold, 1937

Of Yuman Interest: Top 7 Attractions In and Around Yuma

You will find it all in Yuma

On the banks of the Colorado River, Yuma is tucked in Arizona’s southwest corner and shares borders with California and Mexico. About halfway between San Diego and Tucson, Yuma is a great destination for RVing snowbirds. Whether you’re a history buff or have a curious interest in how Yuma became the Gateway of the Great Southwest, we’ve got a list to help you get to some of the area’s top attractions.

Yuma Territorial Prison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get Locked Up — Fans of Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures know it as “Hell Hole Prison” for the dark and twisted tales which linger long after the last inmates occupied this first prison of the Arizona Territory. For many others, the 1957 and 2007 films “3:10 to Yuma” are what bring this “Hell Hole Prison” to mind and, today, Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park is open, welcoming convicts of another kind. Turn yourself in for a fascinating experience, which includes a look into “The Dark Cell” and a look back at the men AND women who served hard time in Yuma. Parole include with the price of admission. For more information, click here.

Colorado River Crossing at Gateway Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A River Runs Through It — Yuma’s storied history as a Colorado River crossing point is only scratching the surface. The Yuma Quartermaster Depot was a U.S. Army supply distribution point for forts throughout the American Southwest, established in the 1860s. Believe it or not, steam wheel boats came up the Colorado River from the Gulf of California to drop those supplies off, making Yuma the ideal point along the river to get goods to personnel, until the Southern Pacific Railroad was finalized in the 1870s. Today, Colorado River State Historic Park preserves the history of the facility while providing more information about Yuma as a Colorado River community and the engineering behind one of its impressive canal systems. For more information, click here.

Sanguinetti House Museum and Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Jewel of Historic Yuma — As with so many stories about Yuma’s past, it isn’t just about the where or the what, but also who. E.F. Sanguinetti was a man who helped transform the economy of Yuma with his business acumen heading into and through the start of the 20th century. The Sanguinetti House and Gardens stands to honor his contributions and provide a deeper look into Yuma’s past.

1907 Baldwin locomotive at Pivot Point © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All Aboard! — The very first train to enter into Arizona did so at Yuma, crossing over the Colorado River from California in 1877. And, although that original crossing point no longer exists, a 1907 Baldwin locomotive sits on the very spot where the tracks entered town. At the Pivot Point Interpretive Plaza, visitors will find a revitalized park adorned with plaques detailing the railroad, the nearby tribal communities, and river history.

Cloud Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get Lost Looking at Stuff — You’ve seen the shows on television of “pickers” visiting vast collections of stuff, oftentimes many decades old. At the Cloud Museum, you’ll find one of those places neatly organized into an outdoor display of vintage cars, trucks, tractors, power tools, hand tools, household equipment, boat engines, wheels, and items from local businesses. The Museum, located just north of Yuma in Bard, California, is nearly 30 years of stuff assembled by its owner Johnny Cloud.

Historic Old Town Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the Town At the end of the Gila Trail, Main Street has always been the heart of “old Yuma.” In 1849, more than 60,000 California-bound gold-seekers followed this path to the rope ferry across the Colorado River. But being so close to the river, downtown often flooded and its adobe buildings melted back into mud. Because the last “big one” was in 1916, most Main Street buildings now date from the 1920s. 

Today, Yuma’s historic downtown offers a wide variety of shopping, dining, and old-fashioned street fairs and festivals.

Martha’s Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fruit of Kings — A food tour will enhance any visit to Yuma. The Yuma area now totals about 10 million pounds of Medjool dates a year, a $30 to $35 million dollar industry that employs more than 2,000 people annually. Since Yuma is a top producers of gourmet Medjools be sure to take a tour at Martha’s Gardens. After the tour ends, you’ll return to the farm store for samples and a delicious date milkshake, and we simply had to purchase a box of jumbo dates.

The Peanut Patch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We’re Nuts about You! The Peanut Patch has become a rich tradition in Southwest Arizona. A trip to Yuma simply would not be complete without stopping by for a visit. You will be a welcome guest of the George family. Inside the store are hundreds of different candies and natural snacks that, when combined make great gift baskets, boxes, and tins suitable for any gift-giving occasions. Free tours are available.

Worth Pondering…

One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.

—Henry Miller

The Yuma Crossing

Discover Yuma’s storied history as a Colorado River crossing point

The Colorado River State Historic Park (formerly Yuma Crossing State Historic Park) sits on the bank of the Colorado where river captains once sailed from the Gulf of California to unload supplies then kick up their heels in the bustling port of Yuma.

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

The park is located on a portion of the grounds of the old U.S. Army Quartermaster Depot established in 1864. This site is significant in the history of the Arizona Territory. The City of Yuma, through an Intergovernmental Agreement, supports operational costs at this Park. The purpose of the Park is to protect its historic structures and interpret the diverse history of the site.

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

Ocean vessels brought supplies around the Baja Peninsula from California to Port Isabel, near the mouth of the Colorado. From there, cargo was loaded onto smaller steamships and brought upstream to Yuma. The depot operated from 1864 until 1883, when the arrival of the railroad made the long steamship route unnecessary.

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

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

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

Colorado River State Historic Park tells the history of the Crossing from prehistoric times until the present set in the backdrop of the old Quartermaster’s Depot. The area is also recognized as a key location in the cultural development of western history by the National Endowment for the Arts. Through the eyes of the Native Americans, entrepreneurs, steamboat captains, fortune seekers, and the military, it answers the questions of how the early emigrants survived or failed, living in one of the most rugged and isolated places in the world.

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

Hernando de Alarcon, who accompanied Coronado on his search for the Seven Cities of Cibola, passed this site in 1540. Padre Kino saw the present location of the Quartermaster’s Depot in 1683, and Padre Graces established a mission directly across the river and was later killed there by the Indians in 1781.

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

Yuma began to experience the American westward surge when countless immigrants crossed by ferry from Yuma on their way to the California gold fields in 1849. In 1850, a military post was established at Yuma, and when rich placer gold strikes on the Colorado River precipitated a gold rush in 1858, Yuma experienced a boom. In 1871 Yuma incorporated and became the county seat of Yuma County.

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

Major William B. Hooper established the Quartermaster Depot on a high bluff overlooking the Colorado River. Supplies were brought from California by ocean-going vessels traveling around the tip of the Baja Peninsula and then north as far as the mouth of the Colorado River.

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

At this point supplies were transferred to river steamboats and brought up river to the Quartermaster Depot which served as a storage yard and a military supply center for fourteen military posts in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Southern Utah, and West Texas. The Depot maintained a six months’ supply of ammunition, clothing, and food at all times.

The depot operated from 1864 until 1883, when the arrival of the railroad made the long steamship route unnecessary.

Today, Colorado River State Historic Park preserves the history of the facility while providing additional information about Yuma as a Colorado River community and the engineering behind one of its impressive canal systems.

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

While visiting the park we found Back in Time, a delightful little pie shop and tea room tucked away in one of the buildings. We bought a whole pecan pie to enjoy back in the motorhome. The pie was incredible with an amazingly flakey crust. Sandwiches, a mixed greens salad, and three tier tea service are also available. The lady that runs the shop is very friendly and helpful, not to mention that she is also an excellent cook!

Worth Pondering…

Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.

—René Descartes

I Was Wrong About Yuma

I owe Yuma an apology

Pleasant temperatures, plenty of sunshine, outdoor recreation, tasty food, musical entertainment, local history, and natural wonders make Yuma a popular destination for winter visitors.

Yuma is located near the confluence of the Gila and Colorado Rivers in the southwest corner of Arizona, on the border with California and near the border with Mexico.

Today, Yuma has about 150 acres of public parkland along the river, connected by miles of paved biking and walking paths, plus hundreds of acres of easily accessible wildlife habitat just steps from downtown. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Home to almost 100,000 residents, the population nearly doubles with the arrival of sun-seeking snowbirds during the peak travel months of January, February, and March.

We first visited Yuma in the late 1990s and found nothing to hold our interest. The swap meets were cool. I like any swap meet I can find a bargain and Old Town was beginning to hold promise. Otherwise I disliked Yuma.

Here was a desert town blessed with a river and you couldn’t even find the river, just a place of overgrown brush and littered garbage. I revisited Yuma a few years later and nothing changed. The town felt rundown and having a trashy core seemed to impact everything.

Fair or not, I was done with Yuma.

With 250,000 native trees and grasses planted enjoy nature and wildlife viewing, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, or strolling along the riverfront trails at Yuma East Wetlands. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Or so I thought. Eventually I thought I’d give Yuma another try.

And what a difference! The transformation was amazing. Where there had been piles of garbage, there was a park. Where there had been a tangle of overgrowth, there were lighted pathways, picnic tables, sandy beaches, and groves of cottonwood trees.

The river existed. And it flowed right through the heart of town. And I realized what had been missing. The Colorado River is more than a waterway. It is the beating heart of Yuma.

Using La Quintas Oasis RV Resort as our home base we recently spent a month exploring the Yuma area. Big-rig friendly, La Quintas Oasis is a 55+ park with 460 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 good feel and the neighbors are friendly.

Big-rig friendly, La Quintas Oasis is a 55+ park with 460 sites. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yuma has a rich history which dates back more than a century, to the days of the Wild West where the streets were dusty and the Colorado River flowed untamed. Whether you’re a history buff or have a curious interest in how Yuma became the Gateway of the Great Southwest, we have a list to lead you to some of the area’s top attractions.

The story of water and its impact on the people and land is the key to understanding the history of Yuma. Sitting at the narrows of the Lower Colorado River is the oldest city established on the river.

Today, Yuma has about 150 acres of public parkland along the river, connected by miles of paved biking and walking paths, plus hundreds of acres of easily accessible wildlife habitat just steps from downtown. Two historic state parks—Colorado River and Yuma Territorial Prison—anchor the historic North End while public and private investment has helped to spark downtown development.

Located under the iconic Ocean-to-Ocean Bridge lies Yuma’s largest riverfront beach including picnic ramadas, multi-use pathways, and stretches of tree-covered lawns. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The catalyst for change was the creation of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, an independent nonprofit corporation authorized as a federal heritage area by Congress in 2000.

The Colorado River State Historic Park (formerly Yuma Crossing State Historic Park) sits on the bank of the Colorado where river captains once sailed from the Gulf of California to unload supplies then kick up their heels in the bustling port of Yuma.

The Yuma Quartermaster Depot was a U.S. Army supply distribution point for forts throughout the American Southwest, established in the 1860s. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is the site of the U.S. Army Quartermaster Supply Depot, a supply house for the military posts in the Southwest. Ocean vessels brought supplies around the Baja Peninsula from California to Port Isabel, near the mouth of the Colorado. From there, cargo was loaded onto smaller steamships and brought upstream to Yuma. The depot operated from 1864 until 1883, when the arrival of the railroad made the long steamship route unnecessary.

Yuma’s storied history as a Colorado River crossing point is only scratching the surface. It seems like we never run out of things to see and do in Yuma. So let me state for the record. I was wrong. Yuma is truly a remarkable and interesting town for snowbirds to explore. And I’m glad to be back in Yuma.

Gateway Park is Yuma’s downtown riverfront park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.

—Miriam Beard