Focus on Birding in Arizona State Parks

Hit the trail and search for your favorite birds in Arizona State Parks

Many Arizona state parks are considered world-class birding destinations, and, depending on migrations, hold literally hundreds of species to watch throughout the year.

Come along as we hit the trail and search for our favorite feathered friends in some of Arizona State Park’s best birding locations and get to know the birds of Arizona. 

Species lists are available from each park and give birders a preview of what they might encounter on a trip. Simply decide which type of habitat you would like to explore and hit the road!

Oh, yes—don’t forget your camera and telephoto lens.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park

This great blue heron snags his dinner at Dead Horse Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Long celebrated as a world-class birding destination, Dead Horse Ranch State Park offers varied opportunities for birders of all levels. The riparian zone trails flanking the Verde River give birders a chance to see nesting black hawks, numerous waterfowl species, plus the chance of seeing a majestic bald eagle in its native environment. Near the lagoons, great blue herons can often be seen snagging a fish lunch near the shore, and seasonally, the hummingbirds buzz around hurriedly in search of sweet nectar.

Picacho Peak State Park

Gambil quails are often seen in the desert parks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Desert birds abound at Pichaco Peak State Park, enjoying the cooler weather among the saguaros as winter visitors. Hawks, falcons, quail, and hummingbirds are commonly seen at the park, and if you look closely, you’ll catch sight of woodpeckers, curve-billed thrashers, flycatchers, and warblers. Ask for a bird list at the park’s Visitor Center to guide you as you experience the incredible wildlife within the park.

Red Rock State Park

Cactus wren © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Red Rock State Park trails offer a peek into the habitats of myriad bird species. The riparian area along Oak Creek offers a cool spot for wrens, swallows, hawks, and eagles. Some waterfowl species use this portion of the park seasonally. House finches and lesser Goldfinch offer a splash of color for visitors within the native vegetation.

Pair of house finches © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The park also features a feeding area for birds where you can sit with your binoculars or camera as birds come to eat and enjoy the park themselves. The Visitor Center roof is also a great place for spotting birds, and offers a gorgeous view of the park. 

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park

Hummingbird at Boyce Thompson Arboretum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserv

Founded in the 1920s as a botanical garden, the 323 acres of Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park serve as a wildlife preserve. The main trail is 1.5 miles and begins at the Visitor Center. Allow yourself at least two hours as you will encounter numerous trails that branch off from the main trail.

The fast-running greater roadrunner is a common sight in the Southwest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Arboretum’s irrigated gardens and protected grounds are a magnet for birds. With more than 250 species the Arboretum has been designated as an important bird area. Gambel’s quail, canyon wren, curved-billed thrashers, and black throated sparrows are among the most abundant species. Bird lists are available at the Visitor Center.

A nesting hummer © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Black-chinned, Anna’s, Costa’s, broad-tailed, and broad-billed are among the species of hummingbirds that find nectar in the diversity of flowering plants.

Patagonia Lake State Park

Vermillion flycatcher © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Patagonia Lake State Park and the adjacent Sonoita Creek State Nature Area hosts vultures, owls, and roadrunners in sight of visitors daily, and that’s not all. Occasionally, birders will experience the Gould’s turkeys, white-faced ibis, warblers, vermillion flycatcher, and the elegant trogon! Waterfowl species abound here as well and can often be seen cruising around the lake or flying around looking for a place to land.

Catalina State Park

Western scrub jay at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Set against the Santa Catalina Mountains, Catalina State Park consists of 5,500 acres of high Sonora Desert habitat with eight trails traversing a landscape dominated by ocotillo, cholla, and saguaro cactus. This Sonoran life zone includes seasonal streams providing habitat for mesquite, desert willow, cottonwood trees, and walnut groves.

Mourning dove at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Ladder-backed woodpeckers, greater roadrunners, Gambel’s quail, Say’s phoebes, and Harris’s hawks call the park home year-round. Migrants and seasonal residents include the vermilion flycatcher, black-headed grosbeak, and 10 species of migrating warblers.  

Worth Pondering…

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.

—Papyrus

6 Scenic Lakes for Camping in the Southwest

Enjoy waterfront camping at these six scenic lakes in the arid Southwest

Since the Southwest is known for its iconic desert landscape, you may be surprised by the many scenic lakes where you can enjoy waterfront camping.

These lakes are an oasis for activities like swimming, fishing, and kayaking, and have camping facilities that can accommodate RVs.

1. Lake Pleasant, Arizona

The cool blue Lake Pleasant is located in a regional park about an hour north of Phoenix. The recreation area is open year-round and has campsites, hiking trails, boat ramps, and a Discovery Center where you can learn more about the area’s plants and wildlife.

The developed sites are complete with water and electricity, a covered ramada, picnic table, barbecue grill, fire ring, and access to a dump station. If you don’t mind dry camping, the semi-developed sites have similar features except for utilities.

2. Patagonia Lake State Park, Arizona

Patagonia Lake is well known for its great fishing, hiking, and bird watching. This southern Arizona state park also has a beach, boat ramp, and a picnic area with tables and grills. If you don’t have your own watercraft, canoe, pontoon boat, row boat, and paddle boat rentals are available.

The campground has over 100 sites with electric hookups, picnic tables, and fire rings. Waterfront cabins can also be rented on the southeast end of the lake. The park can get crowded, but it’s usually more peaceful during the off-season and middle of the week.

3. Parker Canyon Lake, Arizona

Parker Canyon Lake is off the beaten path and not as easily accessible but it is usually much less crowded than Patagonia Lake. The US Forest Service campground is open all year; in the summer boat and paddleboard rentals are available.

Lakeview Campground overlooks the lake with 65 campsites (maximum length 36 feet) on top of a hill. There are no hookups, but there is potable water, a general store, and restrooms.

4. Lake Mead and Lake Mohave, Nevada/Arizona

Lakes Mead and Mohave are both on the Colorado River and worth a visit in the RV. The two reservoirs are located within the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, a short day trip from Las Vegas.

There are several campgrounds and RV parks along the shores of the two lakes. The National Park Service sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. These include Las Vegas Bay Campground, Callville Bay, Boulder Beach Campground, and Echo Bay. Lake Mead RV Village offers pull-through and full hook-up sites.

5. Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico

The largest state park in New Mexico surrounds the state’s biggest reservoir. Elephant Butte Lake has beach access, a fishing pier, marinas, and boat rentals. The park has 15 miles of hiking and biking trails as well as several picnic areas where you can enjoy lunch overlooking the lake.

There are about 170 RV sites in Lions Beach, Desert Cove and South Monticello campgrounds. Primitive beach camping, group sites, and boat-in camping are also available.

6. Alamo Lake, Arizona

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. The crystal clear lake is surrounded by mountainous terrain speckled with brush, wildflowers, and cacti making for a visually pleasing experience. Stargazers are sure to enjoy the amazing views of the night sky, with the nearest city lights 40 miles away.

Campground A offers 17 basic sites with both back-in and pull-through sites. Campground B has expanded to 27 mixed-amenity sites. Campground C offers 40 water and electric sites 15 full-hookup sites. Dry camping is located in Campgrounds D and E and each site has a picnic table and fire ring.

Worth Pondering…

A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature.

It is earth’s eye, looking into which, the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.

—Henry David Thoreau