Arizona State Parks for Every Interest

Try new outdoor things this year

Arizona’s 34 state parks have something for everyone—from contemplative nature walks to stargazing to camping. Here’s my abbreviated look at some of the more niche offerings to add to your bucket list.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Arizona State Parks for hiking

Sedona‘s picturesque wonderland of red boulders is on display at Red Rock State Park, a 286-acre nature preserve. Hikers can pick from several trails—Eagle’s Nest Loop, Coyote Ridge, a guided nature walk, full-moon hike and more—many of which lead to Oak Creek and the iconic Cathedral Rock.

Located in the Superstition Mountains on the eastern edge of metro PhoenixLost Dutchman State Park offers hikers plenty of trails to explore, not to mention an opportunity to seek the gold supposedly hidden in the 1870s by German native Jacob Waltz, aka the Dutchman. You might not find gold but on the Native Trail you’ll spot cholla, prickly pear, and ocotillo cacti. Moderate trails like Treasure Loop or Prospector’s View are available for semi-seasoned hikers while advanced hikers will want to climb Siphon Draw Trail and Flatiron.

Note: Since trails often get overcrowded on the weekend aim to hike on a weekday for a better experience and even better views.

Check out Spring Is the Season to Hike Arizona State Parks for more hiking inspiration.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Arizona State Parks for wildflowers

As you travel I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson, you can’t miss the 1,500-foot distinctive rock formation of Picacho Peak State Park. The peak is obvious but hiking the trails especially during spring will be nature’s eye candy—a blanket of Mexican gold poppies as far as the eye can see.

For more wildflower viewing, Catalina State Park near Tucson is home to around 5,000 saguaros. Between February and April, lupine, desert chicory, penstemon, and more wildflowers bloom into vibrant color.

Read Beauty of the Desert: Arizona in Bloom and Wildflower Season Has Arrived in Arizona! and Where to See the Best Blooms? for more floral inspiration.

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

Best Arizona State Parks for family fun

For families who love the outdoors, Fool Hollow Lake Recreation Area is the perfect destination. With more than 120 campsites situated in a Ponderosa pine forest near Show Low plus boating, swimming, Junior Ranger activities, a park store, and a visitor center Fool Hollow offers plenty of opportunities for family fun.

For families not too keen on roughing it but who would still like to enjoy nature, Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood (30 minutes from Sedona) has cozy log cabins with heat and air-conditioning. Game night, anyone? Families can also sign up for guided horseback rides, go fishing in the lagoons, photograph birds, or spend an afternoon at the playground complete with a zip line.

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Arizona State Parks for water sports

Water activities reign supreme at Patagonia Lake State Park in southern Arizona. A sandy beach slopes down to the shoreline making it easy to dip in for a swim. To get on the water, rent a canoe, rowboat, or pontoon from the marina. You can also put in your own boat including motorized boats for water skiing at the ramp. Better still, the town of Patagonia lies near one of Arizona’s three wine-growing regions, Sonoita-Elgin. End your day at the lake or take some time away for a tasting room tour of the area’s award-winning wineries.

If you want to chill waterside, bring your yoga mat to the tranquil beaches of Cattail Cove State Park or ply the calm waters of the 45-mile-long Lake Havasu with a kayak or paddleboard, available for rent at the park. This Lake Havasu City-area park is renowned locally for its sandy beaches and gets quite popular during the summer months.

Best Arizona State Parks for stargazing

As of 2023, there are more than 200 places in the world designated official dark-sky places by the International Dark-Sky Association. In Arizona, two state parks hold this distinction: Oracle State Park and Kartchner Caverns. This means they “possess an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage and/or public enjoyment.”

Oracle State Park, located just north of Tucson earned its designation in 2014 thanks to star-studded skies so free of light pollution that you can see the Milky Way. Stargazers should head to the American Trailhead Parking Lot for celestial viewing opportunities. Since 2010, Kartchner has been hosting nighttime astronomy programs for visitors and has achieved 99 percent compliance with its Lightscape Management Plan which has improved outdoor lighting codes countywide.

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

Best Arizona State Parks for history

Fort Verde State Historic Park showcases the original buildings used in the 1870 and 1880s by General Crook’s army in the small north-central town of Camp Verde. History buffs will appreciate that this state park near Camp Verde is considered the best-preserved example of an Indian Wars period fort in Arizona.

At Tubac, in southern Arizona, the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park preserves the ruins of a Spanish Presidio site, San Ignacio de Tubac. The on-site museum houses interpretive exhibits, and nearby sits a Territorial school from 1885—the second oldest schoolhouse in Arizona.

Back up north near Winslow, Homolovi State Park is home to more than 300 American Indian archaeological sites from the Hopi people many sites dating to the 1200s. A paved trail to the ruins with interpretive signage makes this a particularly appealing accessible option, too.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Arizona State Parks for camping

Making its second appearance on this list is Patagonia Lake State Park for its camping options—pitch your tent, drive your RV, or reserve one of the furnished cabins. Campsites come with picnic tables and fire rings, some even have ramadas. Cabins boast porches from which you can spot blue heron or whitetail deer. Or, amp up the adventure level by booking one of the boat-in campsites.

If you want a riverfront campsite along the Colorado River, book early at Buckskin Mountain State Park in western Arizona near the California border. There are 80 spots, many of which sit at the water’s edge. While away the hours with picnics, swimming, watching wildlife, playing basketball or volleyball or simply enjoying the views along this 18-mile stretch of river between Parker and Headgate dams.

Overnight camping near Tucson is available at the 120 electric and water sites in Catalina State Park. 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.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Arizona State Parks for Fishing

Couched in the Bill Williams River Valley, 37 miles north of the town of Wenden, Alamo Lake State Park gives anglers an opportunity to catch largemouth bass, black crappie, or tilapia in the 3,500-acre lake.

For a lesser-known gem, Dankworth Pond State Park in Safford—about two hours east of Tucson and three hours east from Phoenix—features a fishing dock and quiet environs for a peaceful day of tossing in a line. You’ll likely snag largemouth bass or rainbow trout in the small but mighty pond.

BONUS: Most unique State Parks

Ten miles north of Payson Tonto Natural Bridge State Park showcases a true Arizona treasure: the world’s longest and largest travertine bridge. Most natural bridges found throughout the world are created from sandstone or limestone which makes the travertine aspect of Tonto especially unique. You can see the bridge from any of the four trails in the park.

Witness the underground beauty of Kartchner Caverns, a living cave that discoverers kept secret for years until they could ensure its preservation. The caverns are carved out of limestone and speleothems, which have been slowly growing for 50,000 years.

Worth Pondering…

The trip across Arizona is just one oasis after another. You can just throw anything out and it will grow there.

—Will Rogers

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

10 Amazing Places to RV in April 2023

If you’re dreaming of where to travel to experience it all, here are my picks for the best places to RV in April

April, dressed in all his trim, hath put a spirit of youth in everything.

—William Shakespeare

From time immemorial, spring’s awakening has signaled to humanity the promise of new beginnings. In William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 98, a love poem published in 1609, the prolific poet and playwright personifies the glorious month of April as the herald of youth, vitality, and hope. For the Bard, the coming of spring—the twittering birds, ambrosial flowers, and long-awaited sunny skies—brought with it all the delights of a fresh start.

We have made it to the fourth month of the year, the one we kick off by fooling acquaintances for sport. A warning to my readers: Watch out for tricksters in the RV travel realm.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in February and March. Also, check out my recommendations from April 2022 and May 2022.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Earth’s greatest geological showcase

Go into the great wide open. I’m talking about the Grand Canyon. The weather’s warmer, but not too hot, and the bugs—and masses of tourists—have yet to make an appearance. I call that the perfect Grand Canyon weather. Take a trip this spring to one of the seven natural wonders of the world to finally see the famous gaping red rock chasm in person. At 277 miles long, 18 miles wide, and one mile deep, it’s bigger than the state of Rhode Island and quite a bit more dramatic.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

‘But hey,’ you say, ‘that thing’s pretty big. I wouldn’t know where to begin.’ Fear not, I’ve got a comprehensive guide from how to get around, how to snag the Grand Canyon National Park Pass, where to camp, and much more. Even the best cities to use as base camp. Choose Sedona two hours away and soak in the energy of the vortexes while making it a red rock-themed vacation. But if you’re more inclined to park your RV and ride the rails, I’ve got you covered there too.

All this, plus gorgeous spring weather?

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Visit an often overlooked National Park

From one of the country’s most-visited national parks the Grand Canyon to one often overlooked. You might not even know it’s there: Theodore Roosevelt National Park appears as if out of nowhere where the plains meet the badlands, often inaccessible in the winter due to weather and unpredictable in the summer thanks to rainstorms. So, spring or early fall is your best bet. Broken into three parts: North, South, and Elkhorn Ranch come for the cabin where Roosevelt once lived and stay for the roaming bison and/, the Petrified Forest Loop.

Medora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And make sure you stop by Medora, the small Western town right outside the park which houses the visitor center. Every summer it produces a full-on open-air Broadway-style musical telling the history of Medora and the life of Theodore Roosevelt. But unlike Broadway, this one comes with deep fried things on sticks. This year the play runs from June 8 to September 10; tickets go on sale April 26.

Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Pick a perfect love at a tulip festival

Did you know tulips mean perfect love? The symbolism is derived from a Persian tale of deep romance. The name tulip is also derived from the Persian word for turban—because they kind of look like turbans. And all around the country there are festivals in their turban-esque honor.

In Washington, the Dutch have been planting tulips for over a century and the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival lasts all April with art shows, photo contests, brewery specials, petting zoos, cook-offs, and much more. Nearby in Woodburn, Oregon, the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival at the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm runs through May 1 and includes tractor rides, wooden shoemaking demonstrations, hot air balloon rides, and farm wine tours.

Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Throughout the last 92 years, millions of people have gathered to enjoy Tulip Time in Holland, Michigan (Don’t fly to Holland, drive your RV to Holland!). The festival is an eight-day experience like none other with over six million tulips blooming throughout the city and area attractions. Tulip Time has been heralded as the nation’s Best Flower Festival, America’s Best Small Town Festival, and even the 2017 – 2018 Tulip Festival of the Year!

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Red rock radiance in Sedona

Red Rock State Park, a Sedona-adjacent conservation park gives visitors a deeper look into the cultural and natural history of this popular area. Before you set out to explore the Oak Creek riparian zone or chase panoramic views from the trails stop by Red Rock’s Miller Visitor Center to gain a comprehensive understanding of the early human inhabitants of the area and the diverse birds and wildlife that call this park home. Hands-on exhibits are based on the theme of localized plant communities and help visitors understand the area before experiencing it.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll find breathtaking trail experiences here that lead to popular iconic views of Sedona’s famous rust-covered peaks. The family-friendly trail network that meanders through Red Rock State Park will inspire thought and discussion about the world around you. This is a great park for anyone looking to gain first-hand cultural and natural knowledge through beautiful outdoor experiences.

Frog mural in Rayne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Frogs love rain, but why does Rayne love frogs?

Out on the prairie in the heart of Acadiana sits the tiny old railroad town of Rayne. The little Cajun town has a population of about 8,000 as well as a big obsession with frogs.

Rayne loves frogs. Murals depicting the little amphibians are scattered throughout town from the interstate to the south side. Frogs grace the city’s official stationary and hang stylistically from the street lamps. Several businesses bear Frog City in their official names and little green figurines adorn coffee tables and bookshelves throughout the town. There is even an annually celebrated Frog Festival (51st annual; May 11-13, 2023).

Frog mural in Rayne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why does this love affair with the slimy, swamp-dwelling denizens exist?

This Louisiana town was once famous worldwide for supplying frogs to gourmet restaurants across the United States and even to the European continent. That bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana in scientific terms and ouaouaron in Cajun terms) inhabit the area around Rayne is no surprise since the amphibians thrive in bayous, rice fields, swamps, and ponds. What is surprising is that the Louisiana town was once famous worldwide for supplying frogs to gourmet restaurants across the United States and even to the European continent.

It seems natural that this bullfrog trade was initiated by Frenchmen and carried on by Acadians, two groups noted for their fondness for the tasty frog legs.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Born of Fire

Some 23 million years ago multiple volcanoes erupted, flowed, and slid to form what would become Pinnacles National Park. What remains is a unique landscape. Travelers journey through chaparral, oak woodlands, and canyon bottoms.

Rock climbers and the endangered California condor seem to love the spires of Pinnacles National Park, located about two hours south of San Francisco. The cliffs were shaped by multiple volcanic eruptions about 23 million years ago plus wind and water erosion over the millennia. But as old as all that is, Pinnacles is the newest national park in California joining the list in 2013.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A beautiful drive along Highway 101 or California State Route 25 gets you there past Big Sur, the coastal town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, and the wine region in Monterey County. Once there, canyon bottoms full of piney chaparral and oak woodlands provide over 30 miles of trails. The most popular hike is the High Peaks Loop. For other wildlife fanatics, the easy Balconies Cave loop to the Talus Caves includes sightings of 13 types of bats (including the endangered Townsend’s big-eared bat) and opens up to an incredible vista of pinnacles.

Skagit Valley Tulip Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. A fairytale destination

If walking through fields of blooming tulips isn’t on your bucket list, it certainly should be. Every April, the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival turns the landscape of northwestern Washington into a rainbow. Whether or not you’re a flower fanatic, the region’s brilliant blooms and staggering peaks will make you feel like you’ve found the proverbial pot of gold. The festival hosts numerous fun events all month long from bike tours to barbecues to chili cook-offs. Popular farms to tour include RoozenGaarde and Tulip Town but be prepared for large crowds on the weekend.

Lookout Mountain Incline Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. #VISITCHATT

Nashville may have country music and Memphis is home to Elvis but Chattanooga exudes a natural beauty that makes it a Tennessee gem. Located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains on the Tennessee River, Chattanooga effortlessly blends outdoor activities, art, history, and a vibrant restaurant scene guaranteed to indulge your inner foodie.

Ride the Incline Railway up Lookout Mountain to explore Civil War sites, grab a bikeshare to pedal along the 16.1 mile Riverwalk or check out the huge contemporary sculptures in Montague Park. At sunset, stroll the Walnut St. pedestrian bridge (one of the longest in the world) and take in the hip North Shore before settling down at one of Chattanooga’s many microbreweries.

Bryce Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. A great basecamp

If you have been considering a trip to see some of the National Parks of Utah but don’t know where to start, consider Kanab. Located at the southern border of the state, Kanab is just a 35-minute drive to Zion and an hour and 20 minutes to Bryce Canyon. But, the tiny town is a gateway to even more than Utah’s most famous national parks. The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Park is only 30-minutes east where you can explore Utah’s world-renown slot canyons like Buckskin Gulch or scramble up the balanced rock formations at The Toadstools.

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

With a population of just under 5,000 people, there are a surprisingly large number of accommodations in Kanab including outstanding RV resorts. Consider visiting in the off season when the crowds are low and the experiences are unique compared to the warmer months.

Here’s a tip—Zion and Bryce are both open year round and neither is particularly treacherous in the winter. In fact, according to the U.S. National Parks Service, even after a winter storm, snow usually melts within a few hours at lower elevations in Zion.

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Georgia State Parks

Whether you are a first-time camper or an experienced backpacker, Georgia’s state parks have a campsite for you. Forty-one parks offer more than 2,700 campsites including tent-only areas, RV pull-through sites, primitive camping, and group camping areas. Rates average around $30–$35 per night. Most state parks have laundry facilities and sell camping supplies. If you’ve never camped before, don’t let that stop you. Several parks offer glamping yurts (a cross between a tent and a cabin).

The developed sites offer electrical and water hookups, grills or fire rings, and picnic tables. Some are specially designed just for tents while others have curved pull-throughs for large RVs. Modern comfort stations with hot showers, flush toilets, and electrical outlets are conveniently located. All campgrounds have dump stations and several offer cable TV hookups.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

My favorite Georgia State Parks include:

  • Vogel (Blairsville): 34 cottages, 90 tent, trailer, and RV campsites, 18 walk-in campsites, and 1 pioneer campground. Plus, there is a general store on-site and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Museum is open seasonally. There are miniature golf and kayak, paddleboard, pedalboat, and aquacycle rentals available depending on the season. Read more from RVing with Rex on Vogel State Park.
  • Laura S. Walker (Waycross): 6 cottages, 44 tent, trailer, and RV campsites (site-specific), 4 group shelters (sleeps 75-165), 1 group camp (sleeps 142), and 1 pioneer campground. Read more from RVing with Rex on Laura S. Walker State Park.
  • Stephen C. Foster (Fargo): 9 cottages, 63 tent, trailer, and RV sites (some seasonal), and 1 pioneer campground. Read more from RVing with Rex on Stephen C. Foster State Park.

Worth Pondering…

Spring is the time of the year when it is summer in the sun and winter in the shade.

—Charles Dickens, Great Expectations 

The Ultimate Arizona Road Trip: 25 Places You Must Visit

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.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon

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!

>> Get more tips for visiting the Grand Canyon

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bisbee

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 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

>> Get more tips for visiting Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona

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.

>> Get more tips for visiting Sedona

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. The state park offers 120 campsites with electric and water utilities suitable for RVs of all lengths. 

>> Get more tips for visiting Catalina State Park

Globe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Globe

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.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apache Trail

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. 

>> Get more tips for driving Apache Trail

Williams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Williams

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.

>> Get more tips for visiting Williams

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park

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.

>> Get more tips for visiting Lost Dutchman State Park

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

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).

>> Get more tips for visiting Organ Pipe National Monument

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park

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.

>> Get more tips for visiting Picacho Peak State Park

Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hoover Dam

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 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

>> Get more tips for visiting Montezuma Castle National Monument

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alamo Lake State Park

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.

>> Get more tips for visiting Alamo Lake State Park

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome

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 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

>> Get more tips for visiting Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock State Park

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.

>> Get more tips for visiting Red Rock State Park

Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucson

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.

>> Get more tips for visiting Tucson

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley

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.

>> Get more tips for visiting Monument Valley

Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prescott

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.

>> Get more tips for visiting Prescott

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park

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.

>> Get more tips for visiting Saguaro National Park

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oatman

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.

>> Get more tips for visiting Oatman

Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park

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.

>> Get more tips for visiting Petrified Forest National Forest

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone

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.

>> Get more tips for visiting Tombstone

Ajo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ajo

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.

Verde Canyon Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

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

Best Bird-watching Trail in Arizona

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.

Mourning dove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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-Sonoita Creek Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Vermillion flycatcher at Paton Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Acorn woodpecker at Ramsey Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Mexican jay at Ramsey Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Ramsey Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. 

Lesser Goldfinch at San Pedro House

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.

Curved bill thrasher near San Pedro House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Sandhill cranes at Whitewater Draw © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Sora at Whitewater Draw © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Green teal at Whitewater Draw © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Details: Open 7 days a week, 24 hours a day

Related article: Southeast Arizona Birding Hotspot: Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Green Valley: Madera Canyon

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.

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Old Baldy Trail at Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Details: $8 day-use pass for Madera Canyon is sold on site.

Related article: Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains

Read more: Now is the Time to Discover Madera Canyon, a Hiking and Birding Paradise

Gambel’s quail at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oro Valley: 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 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.

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

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. 

Gilded flicker at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Related article: Catalina State Park: Sky Island Gem

Read more: Flooding Strands Campers at Catalina State Park

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona: Red Rock State Park

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.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. 

Related article: Color Your World at Red Rock State Park

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Sedona

Conclusion

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.

Plan your trip:

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

Avoiding National Park Crowds the Easy Way

These underdogs can hold their own against the national parks any day

In a year that many national parks are bursting at the seams with record-setting traffic consider camping at a state park instead.

America’s 63 national parks may get all the glory and the Ken Burns documentaries but nearly three times as many people visit the country’s 10,234 state parks each year. In total, they span more than 18 million acres across the US—or roughly the size of South Carolina.

Those spaces have always been invaluable but became even more important over the past several years as visitation at the national parks has exploded. State parks have served as extensions of our backyards offering up adventures both large-scale and intimate. And, they remain alluring entry points to nature, often with fewer crowds than their better-known, big-name cousins. 

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For the RV traveler, many state park campgrounds offer amazing facilities often offering 50/30-amp electric and water and on occasion even sewer. On the other hand, most national park campgrounds lack these amenities and in most cases are unsuited for larger RVs.

Below you’ll find the cream of the state-park crop from hidden beaches to expansive hikers’ playgrounds. It’s time to get outside and here’s how to do it right.

Here are some of my favorite state park campgrounds.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Sprawling out across a stark expanse of 600,000 acres about an hour south of Palm Desert, California’s largest state park (and second-largest in the lower 48) is a crown jewel of America’s state park system. By day Anza-Borrego Desert has 110 miles of hiking trails to explore and 12 designated wildlife areas and by night the huge desertscape delivers some of the best stargazing in America. The park is also a site of great geological importance, as it has been found to contain over 500 types of fossils that are up to 6 million years old. If you can’t picture the prehistoric vibes on your own, 130+ giant metal animal sculptures pop up out of nowhere as you roam the park’s unforgiving terrain.

Borrego Palm Canyon Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping is available at Borrego Palm Canyon, Tamarisk Grove, Bow Willow, and Vern Whitaker Horse Camp; numerous sites at Borrego Palm Canyon offer full hookups.

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

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

Although it’s not a household name, Dead Horse rides coattails in the best way possible: It’s situated near two of Utah’s Big Five—Arches and Canyonlands—and basically the Grand Canyon’s long-lost twin. Mountain bike the badass Intrepid Trail but the more relaxed can simply gaze open-mouthed from 2,000 feet in the air down at the deep-red rocks, glorious hues, and panoramic vistas of the Colorado River. The park gets its name from horses that died in this unforgiving landscape.

Kayenta Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled within a grove of junipers, Kayenta Campground offers a shaded respite from the surrounding desert. All 21 campsites offer lighted shade structures, picnic tables, fire rings, and 50/30/20-amp electric service. New in 2018, Wingate Campground sits atop the mesa with far-reaching views of the area’s mountain ranges and deep canyons. This campground contains 31 campsites, 20 of which have electrical hookups that support RVs 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. The Wingate Campground also holds four yurts. 

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park: Arizona

Located in the Tonto National Forest near the old mining town of Superior, Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park is Arizona’s oldest and largest botanical garden. Boyce Thompson is a surprising spot for fall color, given that the high-desert garden is about 1,000 feet higher in elevation than nearby metro Phoenix.

There are no camping facilities at Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah River State Park, Virginia

Just 15 minutes from the town of Front Royal, Virginia awaits a state park that can only be described as lovely. This park is on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River and has more than 1,600 acres along 5.2 miles of shoreline. In addition to the meandering river frontage, the park offers scenic views of Massanutten Mountain to the west and Shenandoah National Park to the east.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A large riverside picnic area, picnic shelters, trails, river access, and a car-top boat launch make this a popular destination for families, anglers, and canoeists. Ten riverfront tent campsites, a campground with water and electric sites, cabins, camping cabins, and a group campground are available. With more than 24 miles of trails, the park has plenty of options for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and adventure.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina

It may be South Carolina’s most visited state park but that doesn’t stop this secluded barrier island located 15 miles east of Beaufort from being one of the most picturesque destinations in the South thanks to its famous lighthouse, pristine beaches, and a popular fishing lagoon. Climb to the top of Hunting Island lighthouse to survey the palm-studded coastline. Bike the park’s trails through the maritime forest to the nature center, fish off the pier, and go birdwatching for herons, egrets, skimmers, oystercatchers, and wood storks. Camping is available at 100 campsites with water and electrical hookups, shower and restroom facilities, beach walkways, and a playground.

Elephant Butte Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico

Enjoy camping, fishing, and boating at Elephant Butte Lake, New Mexico’s largest state park. The lake can accommodate watercraft of many styles and sizes including kayaks, jet skis, pontoons, sailboats, ski boats, cruisers, and houseboats. Besides sandy beaches, the park offers developed camping sites with electric and water hookups for RVs.

Myakka Canopy Walkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Myakka River State Park, Florida

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 park features three campgrounds with 90 campsites equipped with 50 amp electrical service and water; some sites also have sewer hookups.

Adirondack Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Adirondack Park, New York

Part state park, part forest preserve, and part privately owned land encompassing 102 towns and villages; Adirondack Park is massive. Totaling 6.1 million acres, America’s largest state park is larger than Yellowstone and Yosemite combined. Nearly half of the land is owned by the State of New York and designed as “forever wild” encompassing all of the Adirondacks’ famed 46 High Peaks as well as 3,000 lakes and 30,000 miles of river. So pack up the canoe or kayak, get ready to scale Mount Marcy, or simply meander about its 2,000 miles of hiking trails. You’re gonna be here a while.

Adirondack Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This six-million-acre park offers thousands of campsites and hundreds of campgrounds from state-owned and operated to private campgrounds with family-friendly amenities. Camping is the perfect way to relax after hiking one of the 46 Adirondack High Peaks and preparing for the next!

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park, Custer, South Dakota

Located in South Dakota’s fabled Black Hills region, the state’s first and largest state park is most famous for its photogenic herd of 1,500 wild bison that freely roam the land as well as other Wild West creatures like pronghorns, bighorn sheep, and mountain lions. The scenery is everything you think of when you close your eyes and picture the great American West laid out before you amidst 71,000 acres of vast open vistas and mountain lakes. The place is so cool that even Calvin Coolidge made it his “summer White House,” so that has to count for something, right?

Custer State Park offers nine campgrounds all with a variety of scenic sites. 

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park, Alabama

Gulf State Park’s two miles of beaches greet you with plenty of white sand, surging surf, seagulls, and sea shells, but there is more than sand and surf to sink your toes into.

Located 1.5 miles from the white sand beaches, the Gulf State Park campground offers 496 improved full- hookup campsites with paved pads and 11 primitive sites.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock State Park, Arizona

High desert meets the riparian zone of Oak Creek in this wonderfully serene Sedona area park. There are plenty of trails that facilitate your adventure through a colorful park experience—all you have to do is lace up your boots and start hiking. Trails near the creek show off an absolutely beautiful display as you pass under a canopy of colorful leaves, or you can hike up the Eagle’s Nest Trail to get a top-down view of the fall splendor. Get lost in the sounds and sights of an Arizona fall at Red Rock. Chances are this will be an annual destination for you to collect beautiful long-lasting memories!

This day-use park has no camping facilities. Nearby Dead Horse Ranch State Park offers excellent camping facilities.

Worth Pondering…

Recently I ran across a few lines by Pierre de Ronsard, a 16th-century poet: “Live now, believe me wait not till tomorrow. Gather the roses of life today.” Maybe it’s time to stop dreaming about that trip you’ve always wanted to make—and just do it!

Why Sedona?

Sedona has the uncanny ability to seem familiar yet mysterious at the same time

As you look into the wilderness, it may seem vaguely familiar. The familiar part is no surprise. Sedona’s distinctive red-rock landscape and renowned scenery has been featured in nearly 100 films, plus numerous videos and commercials.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop by the Sedona Heritage Museum and you’ll be treated to exhibits that highlight the region’s movie power. Beginning in 1923 with the silent film The Call of the Canyon, based on a novel by Zane Grey, through the golden age of American Westerns in the 1940s and ’50s, Sedona has had a distinguished role in film. During the peak years, virtually every major movie studio and big-name movie star worked there. Streets in a Sedona subdivision are even named after movies made in the area.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The strata that contain the famous Sedona red rock were created when a warm, shallow sea brought vast expanses of sand. When those sand grains became covered with thin coatings of iron oxide, they began taking on that red color we see today.

Cathedral Rock, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most famous views in Sedona revolve around Cathedral Rock. Oak Creek flows past the base of the formation to create a much-photographed image. That scene is most often captured from Crescent Moon Picnic Area, known locally as Red Rock Crossing.

Red Rock Crossing, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Outdoor adventure fills the Sedona area. Hiking and biking trails abound. Whether you take the easy ½-mile Allens Bend Trail, the 5.6-mile Wilson Mountain Trail with a 2,300-foot elevation change, or any of the numerous other trails, you’ll be treated to fabulous scenery and famous landmarks like Submarine Rock or Vultee Arch.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walkthrough the desert in the coolness of the evening when it’s aglow with moonlight to put a fresh spin on exploring Sedona’s terrain. You don’t need to wander alone. Naturalists at Red Rock State Park offer guided interpretive hikes during the full moon. The tour covers two miles and you’ll learn about Sedona’s fascinating geology, history, and plant life.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Long before T.C. and Sedona Schnebly arrived in Red Rock Country, American Indians considered this land to be sacred. Sedona continues to be regarded as a special place because of its vortexes. Described as intersections of natural earth energy, Sedona’s vortexes are said to inspire meditation and healing. They are usually found on or near a rock formation.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spirit seekers or those just curious about the metaphysical world can hike to one of Sedona’s vortex sites. These natural areas are said to radiate energy (considered masculine, feminine or a balance of the two) from the earth, drawing people to meditate, practice yoga, or engage in other spiritual and wellness activities.

Bell Rock, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although all of Sedona is considered to be a vortex, rock shapes called Airport Mesa, Bell Rock, Boynton Canyon, and Cathedral Rock are all sites where the energy is reportedly more intense. Some say that Chapel Rock is the site of a fifth vortex, but less powerful than the others.

Chapel of the Holy Cross, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Appearing to rise out of the red rock formations, the Chapel of the Holy Cross towers in a panorama of buttes, valleys, and sky—all a source of inspiration inviting rest and reflection. An eye-catching architectural wonder, the Chapel is built into a 250-foot-tall twin-pinnacled red rock spur. Both the chapel and its 90-foot concrete cross built into the front façade (it functions as both symbol and structural support) are visible from the Red Rock Scenic Byway (State Route 179). Yet thanks to its modernist design, there are no sky-piercing spires or ornate embellishments detracting from its dizzying position. Peek inside the 1956 chapel for a look at the 33-foot bronze crucifix commissioned by a local artist which was installed in 2018. 

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a unique experience, stop at Slide Rock State Park and cool off. You can slide down the slippery creek bed, cruise down the creek in a tube, or take a dip in the natural swimming pools. Listed on the Travel Channel’s “10 Top Swimming Holes in the United States,” this natural waterpark is 7 miles north of Sedona along 89A in Oak Creek Canyon.

Tlaquepaque, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Nestled on the banks of Oak Creek is Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village, a collection of Spanish-style buildings reminiscent of a Mexican hamlet. Cobblestone walkways meander past splashing fountains, vine-covered walls, and beneath picturesque stone archways. Flower-bedecked courtyards frame a complex of 15 specialty shops, 16 galleries, six jewelry stores, and four clothing stores—plus several restaurants.

Tlaquepaque, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Named after a suburb of Guadalajara, Mexico, Tlaquepaque is pronounced “Tlah-kay-PAH-kay.” This internationally renowned art and shopping destination mimics Old Mexico and is covered by the refreshing shade of giant Arizona sycamore trees along the banks of Oak Creek.

Sedona Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The galleries feature one-of-a-kind art in a range of media and styles, including contemporary and abstract works, American Indian, and classic Southwestern fine art. You can find everything from wildlife bronzes to Navajo rugs, wind sculptures, and traditional ceramics.

Yet, Tlaquepaque has so much more. Musicians and dancers celebrate special fiestas throughout the year, bringing the sights and sounds of Old Mexico to Sedona.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why Sedona? Perhaps the meaning of Tlaquepaque contains the most fitting answer. It means the “best of everything.”

Plan your trip: 

Worth Pondering…

There are only two places in the world

I want to live—Sedona and Paris.

—Max Ernst, Surrealist painter

The Ultimate Guide to Sedona

The most beautiful place on Earth

With a population just north of 10,000, Sedona has a reputation that far outweighs its size. It is, after all, one of the most beautiful small towns in the United States. Plus, there are enough things to do in Sedona, that you’ll want to push back the visit to the nearby Grand Canyon to spend extra days enjoying its scenery.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The town’s innumerable hiking trails bring you to stunning vistas and iconic destinations like Cathedral Rock. Forget traditional museums. Those visiting Sedona will have museums without walls with Mother Nature leading the exhibition. The town is surrounded by incredible scenery punctuated by vortex sites and rock formations that will have you scratching your head. Plus, after a big day of exploring, you can kick back at the many local wineries before enjoying the iconic desert sunset.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the many things that I love about Sedona is that it has the perfect mixture of outdoor adventure, interesting history, and iconic landscapes. All of which are spread out throughout the region so it is a good idea to understand how the area is laid out so you can plan the best itinerary and get the most out of your time in Sedona.

A Quick Look at Sedona

Before we explore the top things to do, let’s get our bearings.

Uptown Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Uptown Sedona

Uptown Sedona lies north of the major intersection of Highway 89A and 179, also known as the Y. This part of town is more built up with a number of local attractions including the Sedona Visitor Center, Sedona Heritage Museum, and several galleries. With its central location, you’ll have everything within a few minutes’ drive.

West Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

West Sedona

On Highway 89A it feels a little more rural; however, you’ll still have the full range of amenities including hotels and restaurants. From West Sedona, you’ll have a short drive to Cottonwood while being close to the red rocks.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Surrounding Towns

The Village of Oak Creek is a popular alternative to Sedona and has several cheaper mid-range hotels plus the Sedona Golf Resort. Further west is Cottonwood found along the Verde Valley with Camp Verde to the south. There’s an excellent choice of campgrounds and RV parks along this corridor (see below for details). You’ll have a further drive to the sights in Sedona but will be near a number of great wineries along the Verde Valley Wine Trail.

Related Article: Sedona’s Red Rock Energy

Now that you have some idea of the layout of Sedona, let’s dive right into my recommended experiences and activities in and around Sedona.

Sedona trolley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

My Recommended Sedona Experiences

The Sedona Trolley

For first-time visitors, there are few better things to do in Sedona right off the bat than a trip on the Sedona Trolley. The trolley runs two distinct tours, labeled Tour A and Tour B, to keep things simple.

Tour A takes visitors to the south side of town. Along the way, you’ll see the renowned Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village, amazing views, and the Chapel of the Holy Cross.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tour B takes guests to West Sedona and Fay Canyon with expert narration. Along the way, you’ll be able to see several famous sights such as Thunder Mountain and Chimney Rock. You’ll also enjoy a 15-minute photo stop within the red rock walls of Fay Canyon.

Both tours last around an hour and cost $24 per adult and $16 per child. You can also combine both tours and save.

Oak Creek Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oak Creek Canyon

The Grand Canyon may be the most famous gorge in Arizona but Sedona’s Oak Creek Canyon is ready to surprise. It’s here that you’ll find some of the best views in town where the red rocks rise out of the green-yellow valley forming bright beacons.

Oak Creek Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The drive between Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon is also one for the books. This scenic byway follows State Route 89A all the way to the scenic Oak Creek Vista. In fact, if you’re driving from Flagstaff, take this route on your way to Sedona.

Oak Creek Canyon is packed with exciting things to do. The canyon is where you’ll find the West Fork Trail. You can also head down to the river to fish for trout or camp out underneath the stars.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock Scenic Byway

The Sedona Trolley may be a great way to get acquainted with the town. But getting your hands on your own set of four wheels is a must for any visit. This will allow you to venture down Sedona’s three scenic byways. These are the Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Road, Red Rock Loop Road, and big down, the Red Rock Scenic Byway, an All-American Road.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All of them are must-do. In fact, you’ll likely experience them anyway as you hit up the best things to do in Sedona. However, you should give yourself enough time to intentionally enjoy the experience from every winding turn through the desert valley to the memorable landmarks along the way.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Highlights of the Red Rock Scenic Byway include Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, and the Coconino National Forest. As its only 8 miles long, you have plenty of time to stop and explore in great detail. Don’t forget to stop at the Chapel of the Holy Cross which is just beyond the terminus of the Byway.

Schnebly Hill Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Schnebly Hill Road

Schnebly Hill Road is a steep, twisty, unpaved, and wonderfully scenic route that drops more than 2,000 feet from a wooded mesa into the wonderland of Sedona. Begin the drive off Interstate 17. (You could do the drive the other way—bottom to top—but starting at the top is more dramatic.) The first stretch takes you through a lovely forest of tall ponderosa pines. Once you reach the rim, the vistas are breathtaking.

Cathedral Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona Vortex Sites

There are four major vortex sites in Sedona. Each is a part of a powerful phenomenon that is meant to inspire and uplift the spirits of all who stand within its energetic boundaries.

Related Article: Sedona Is One Huge Psychic Vortex (Supposedly)

Sedona, as a whole, is thought to be entirely within a vortex. But the four major sites hold the key to its power. The four vortices are found at Airport Mesa, Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, and Boynton Canyon.

Each offers a different type of power. They’re either masculine, such as the Airport Vortex, feminine like at Cathedral Rock with the Boynton Canyon Vortex being a balance of both. Interestingly, the Bell Rock Vortex is a mix of all three.

Cathedral Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cathedral Rock Trail

In a town with many photography hot spots, the fact that Cathedral Rock may be the most popular says something. You’ll spot the rock formation as you explore Sedona but you can’t beat getting an up-close view of the amazing site.

Cathedral Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although it’s only a single mile-long loop, the Cathedral Rock Trail will get your heart pumping. Starting at the Cathedral Rock Trailhead, the steep incline grows ever more challenging as you go. Bring along sturdy shoes and try to avoid climbing soon after rain.

Cathedral Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The initial trek to the viewpoint will be over in the blink of an eye, so make sure to take time to admire the towering red rock formations along the way. Eventually, the trail stops in a saddle, providing one of the most spectacular vistas in the Grand Canyon State.

Look along the valley floor to see a vibrant mix of orange, reds, and lush greens flowing into the distance until they reach the horizon and the bright blue sky above.

Tlaquepaque © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tlaquepaque Arts And Crafts Village

Hiking and four-wheel-driving aren’t the only things to do in Sedona. The town, which is synonymous with outdoor pursuits, also has a firm grasp on a creative one. One of the best examples of Sedona’s thriving art community can be found at the Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village. Housed within a series of Spanish colonial buildings, the village is a labyrinth of shops and art galleries connected by cobblestone streets.

Tlaquepaque © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arrive early (it opens at 10 am) to explore before it becomes too crowded. You’ll then have a front-row seat for some of the most memorable window shopping as you peruse eclectic boutiques and watch master craftsmen and women ply their trade.

It’s a living breathing village with many of the art galleries having artists in residence which means there is a consistent evolution of art on display. Plus, like any good village, you’ll have several delightful restaurants to enjoy before continuing your exploration.

Chapel of the Holy Cross © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chapel of the Holy Cross

The architectural tree of Frank Lloyd Wright can be seen throughout the United States. Sedona is no different. One of the best things to do in Sedona is to pay a visit to the Chapel of the Holy Cross. Now, you may not have envisioned placing a chapel on the itinerary but you’ll be glad you made that choice.

The mesmerizing Roman Catholic chapel was designed by Marguerite Brunswid Satude. The creation ascends out of the red rocks, perfectly balancing nature with man-made beauty. When the sun splashes against the vast stained windows of the Chapel of the Holy Cross and oxidized rock formations, it creates a memorable sight for all who witness. But the best view is within.

Related Article: Family-friendly Road Trips Through Arizona: Sedona and the Verde Valley

Travelers can wander into the church to find the enormous crucifix placed upon the towering glass windows. From there, a stunning viewpoint awaits where you can gaze over the rolling hills, Sedona, and the scenic byways that connect the two.

Jeep Tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jeep Tours

Walking at a slow pace is the best way to take in the intricate details of the local landscape. But as we all know, hiking is tiring. But when the legs give out, that doesn’t mean the adventures have to end. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Jeep Tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona’s rocky geography lends itself perfectly to off-roading and many families will find the famous Pink Jeep Tours and other providers in town offer a great way to see as much of the local scenery as possible. Jeeps wind up impossibly steep rock faces and through narrow gullies, perching on top of gigantic boulders or slabs of rock for more terrific photo ops.

The terrain in places is so precarious that riders sometimes feel like they might fall right out of the Jeep. But not to worry, everyone is securely strapped in. It makes great fun for the kids who may feel like they’re on a roller coaster.

Bell Rock Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bell Rock Trail

Standing ominously above Highway 179 (Red Rock Scenic Byway), Bell Rock is a dramatic sight. The noticeably bell-shaped rock formation is clear from the road creating yet another memorable sight to admire.

Bell Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are multiple ways to get close to the gigantic Bell Rock. You can even begin to scramble up its side and bag the summit. There are also mountain bike trails to use. The number of trails means you can make it up as you go along, choosing to go left and right as you explore the beautiful landscape.

Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But the main loop trail that circumnavigates the iconic sight is one of the best things to do in Sedona. You can begin your hike at two different locations, the South and North lots. The latter being the better place to start as you avoid hiking up the steep side of Bell Rock, turning that section into a downhill stroll.

In addition to Bell Rock, you’ll find Courthouse Butte right behind. It’s another beguiling site to add to your days’ adventures.

Airport Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Airport Mesa Loop

Some will argue that a sunset over the Pacific Ocean is the best there is. But for me, nothing quite compares to a desert sunset. The dry air, dusty valleys, and clear skies help to create a mesmerizing mix of warm colors splashed across the landscape like paint to canvass. Plus, the oxidized sandstone rock loves to reflect the low-hanging sun creating an ever-changing scenery of light and shade.

Airport Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are several top-notch locations to see the sun go down in Sedona including Red Rock Crossing home to the Crescent Moon picnic site. But no spot for golden hour tops Airport Mesa, which you can reach on the Airport Mesa Trail.

Airport Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The tabletop mountain looks over the entire town. Across the mesa is where you’ll find the local airport, hence the name, plus views further afield towards Thunder Mountain.

To reach the summit views, you’ll need to venture along the 3.5-mile hiking trail that meanders along the edge of the plateau. The openness of the scenery lets you take it all in, leaving an uninhibited spot to watch the falling sun.

Related Article: Flagstaff to Sedona…and Beyond

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boynton Canyon

Boynton Canyon is one of the most scenic of the box canyons that make Sedona Red Rock Country so famous. Boynton Canyon always has been popular for its outstanding scenery. It has become even more so since it developed a reputation as a site of a spiritual energy vortex. Whether or not you follow this belief, you’ll no doubt agree on the beauty found among these towering buttes, crimson cliffs, and natural desert is divine. The 6.1-mile return Boynton Canyon trail will take you beneath towering sandstone walls towards a swath of pine trees.

If you aren’t interested in hiking or vortexes you can simply enjoy some of the best views in Sedona. The upscale Enchantment Resort is a great place for a meal at Tii Gavo and View 180 restaurants with views through the floor-to-ceiling windows.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock State Park

Red Rock State Park is a 286-acre nature preserve and an environmental education center with stunning scenery. Trails throughout the park wind through manzanita and juniper to reach the banks of Oak Creek. Green meadows are framed by native vegetation and hills of red rock. The creek meanders through the park creating a diverse riparian habitat abounding with plants and wildlife.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the park’s more interesting sites is the abandoned House of Apache Fire built in 1947 situated on a hilltop commanding beautiful views. Easy hiking trails provide views out to the red rock countryside and allow for a close-up look at the House of Apache Fire. One of the more impressive views is the Seven Warriors formation, seen from the Bunkhouse Trail.

Verde Valley Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Verde Valley Wine Country

Many of the old storefronts lining Cottonwood’s Historic Old Town have been repurposed into wine tasting rooms. More than 20 vineyards from the Verde Valley Wine Region grow grapes for commercial wine production. Verde Valley is known for its Rhône-style blends of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. Also, the region has over 100 different varietals growing in the area including Cabernet, Chardonnay, Merlot, Viognier, and Zinfandel. Arizona is known for its unique varietals such as  Malvasia Bianca, Viognier, Picpoul Blanc, Tannat, Aglianico, Negroamaro, Tempranillo, and Seyval Blanc.

Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From there you can venture through the valley named after the surging Verde River, stopping at whatever winery piques your interest.

To get you started, here are some of the top wineries along the trail:

  • Page Spring Cellars: Come here for top-notch wines, walking trails, and sheltered patios that offer beautiful views
  • Burning Tree Cellars: When the historic settlement of Cottonwood this vineyard slings boutique wines on their spacious outdoor patio.
  • Alcantara Vineyard: It’s only appropriate to stop by one winery with views of the Verde River. Plus, they have ample testing on offer.
Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montezuma Castle

One hour south of Sedona, the Montezuma Castle National Monument was home to a community of Sinagua people from the 12th to 15th century.

The castle features five stories cut into the limestone cliffs that rise out of Beaver Creek. From your vantage point, you’ll see that the startling creation begins 100 feet off the valley floor.

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If the ingenuity and will of the Sinagua community weren’t already clear, it will be once you learn how each of the 20 rooms is held together by clay and mortar.

Sadly, it is no longer possible to explore the inside of Montezuma Castle. However, the striking valley views, interpretive signs, and the invaluable visitor center help to paint the full picture.

Montezuma Well © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive 11 miles north to see the Montezuma Well which is part of the national monument. Along with the limestone sinkhole, cliff dwellings, and irrigation channels are characteristic of the prehistoric people who have lived in the area dating back to 11,000 BC. The water in the well which is 386 feet across has high levels of arsenic and other chemicals but it still supports endemic species such as water scorpions, snails, mud turtles, and leeches.

Distant Drums RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Conclusion

Here are some additional ideas of what to do and see in this magnificent Red Rock Country:

  • Devil’s Bridge Trail
  • Soldier Pass Trail
  • Palatki Heritage Site
  • Honanki Cliff Dwellings
  • V Bar V Heritage Site
  • Slide Rock State Park
  • Mountain biking
  • Hot-Air Balloon Ride
  • Sedona Arts Center
Rain Spirit RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Places to Camp near Sedona

With so much to explore, you may want to book a campground or RV park. Here are some recommendations for places to rest your weary heads:

  • Distant Drum RV Resort, Camp Verde
  • Verde Ranch RV Resort, Camp Verde
  • Verde River RV Resort and Cottages, Camp Verde
  • Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Cottonwood
  • Verde Valley RV and Camping Resort, Cottonwood
  • Rain Spirit RV Resort, Clarkdale

Worth Pondering…

There are only two places in the world

I want to live—in Sedona and Paris.

—Max Ernst, Surrealist painter

Family-friendly Road Trips Through Arizona: Sedona and the Verde Valley

To help you plan your family-friendly road trip through Arizona, I’ve put together this list of awesome road trip stops. Keep reading to learn about my favorite spots and campgrounds along the route.

With its vast landscapes and colorful topography, the American Southwest is one of the best regions in the country to take an old-fashioned road trip—in fact, that’s the only way to see most of it. Arizona, specifically, is home to the only Natural Wonder of the World in the U. S., numerous national parks, picturesque state parks, and 21 American Indian tribes. So, what better way to spend spring break this year than packing up the kids for a family-friendly road trip through Arizona?

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since the possibilities for an Arizona road trip are endless, I’ve organized these family-friendly road trips into four paths. Each of these road trip routes includes a selection of my favorite stops. I’ve traveled along each of these paths—most more than once. There is truly something for every member of the family to be enjoyed in each of these road trips.

Red Rock Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An earlier article highlighted Northern Arizona and the Grand Canyon. Today we drive 115 miles south to Red Rock Country.

Cathedral Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona and the Verde Valley

A family road trip to Arizona turns next-level with a stop in Sedona and a side trip to the ghost mining town of Jerome and Sinagua cliff-side dwellings. Justifiably world-famous for its eye-popping scenery, Sedona and the surrounding Verde Valley have a lot to offer for road-tripping families.

Related Article: Discover Arizona’s Extraordinary Verde Valley

Bell Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The spectacular red rocks

A family that loves to hike will be in paradise here. With over 300 miles of trails spread across red rock country, there’s something for everyone. There are hikes at every difficulty level from easy for families with small kids to strenuous for expert outdoor types. Two of my favorites are Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bell Rock is a 1½-mile round-trip outing with several paths for climbing depending on skill level. It’s a well-maintained trail with plenty of spectacular views, colorful birds, hawks, bunnies, lizards, and butterflies to be spotted.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the most popular hikes in Sedona (for a good reason) is Cathedral Rock Trail. This 1.2-mile round trip is a bit steep in places but there are plenty of opportunities to stop and look around to enjoy the view.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winding through Sedona’s Red Rock Country, Red Rock Scenic Byway (Highway 179) is often called a “museum without walls.” This All-American Road winds through the evergreen-covered Coconino National Forest and past two famous and beautiful vortexes—Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock. Stop at the several scenic pullouts for great views and enjoy the prehistoric Red Rocks with nearby parking (RV friendly). There are all levels of hiking and biking trails.

Related Article: Sedona Is a Must-Stop

Chapel of the Holy Cross © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Chapel of the Holy Cross sits perched on a small red rock plateau below a multi-hued sandstone ridge creating one of the most impressive architectural sites in Sedona. This breathtaking landmark building incorporates a 90-foot cross that dominates the structure and the front face of the chapel is all windows. The Chapel is a short distance off Red Rock Scenic Byway.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is so much more to Sedona than meets the eye. People travel from all across the globe to experience the mysterious cosmic forces that are said to emanate from the red rocks. They come in search of the vortexes. What is a vortex? Sedona vortexes are thought to be swirling centers of energy that are conducive to healing, meditation, and self-exploration. Many people feel inspired, recharged, or uplifted after visiting a vortex.

Sedona from Airport Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although all of Sedona is considered to be a vortex there are specific sites where the energy crackles most intensely. The four best-known Sedona vortexes are found at Airport Mesa, Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, and Boynton Canyon—each radiating its own particular energy.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock State Park is a 286-acre nature preserve and an environmental education center with stunning scenery. Trails throughout the park wind through manzanita and juniper to reach the banks of Oak Creek. Green meadows are framed by native vegetation and hills of red rock.

Jeep tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Off-roading with a Jeep tour

Sedona’s rocky geography lends itself perfectly to off-roading and many families will find the famous Pink Jeep Tours and other providers in town offer a great way to see as much of the local scenery as possible. Jeeps wind up impossibly steep rock faces and through narrow gullies, perching on top of gigantic boulders or slabs of rock for more terrific photo ops.

Jeep tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The terrain in places is so precarious that riders sometimes feel like they might fall right out of the Jeep. But not to worry, everyone is securely strapped in. It makes great fun for the kids who may feel like they’re on a roller coaster.

Verde Canyon Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Verde Canyon Railway

Ride in restored, vintage Pullman cars pulled by an FP7 locomotive on a 20-miles scenic ride to the ghost town of Perkinsville and back. You’ll pass through the high desert and 100 years of history as your train takes you through the canyon. Step out onto viewing platforms for plenty of photo ops with informative attendants to point things out and answer questions. Entertainment and food are available inside. By the way, inside is climate controlled. You could spot Ancient Sinagua ruins, bald eagles, and great blue herons as you pass close to canyon walls and riparian areas. It’s a relaxing way to get a sense of the area.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Taking in the Old West in historic Jerome

Just an hour’s drive away from Sedona is the historic copper mining town of Jerome. Once known as “the wickedest town in the West,” it’s now designated a National Historic District by the federal government and attracts visitors as a historic ghost town and artist hub.

Jerome Mine Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kids of all ages will have fun exploring the historic sites and learning about Jerome’s history at the Mine Museum and Douglas Mansion. Stop at nearby Audrey Headframe Park where a glass viewing platform allows visitors to stand—if they dare—over a 1,600-foot-deep mine shaft dating from 1918 and look down into its depths.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can also book a guided tour on Ghost Town Tours’ Spirit Walk. There are numerous allegedly haunted places in Jerome including the House of Joy, a former bordello; the Jerome Grand Hotel; the Old Hospital; and the Old High School complete with creepy basement locker rooms and an abandoned gym.

Montezuma Castle © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montezuma Castle

Finally, stop at Montezuma Castle National Monument. American Indian tribes have lived in Arizona for over a thousand years and the Montezuma Castle National Monument features homes built by the Sinagua built directly into the sides of the cliffs.

Rain Spirit RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stargazing in a designated Dark Sky Community

The perfect way to end a day is with some stargazing. Families from the city or even suburbs don’t get to see the clear night sky very often and Sedona is a designated International Dark Sky Community. With very few streetlights and distance from any big city, Sedona is nationally recognized as one of the best places to stargaze in the U.S. A variety of companies offer evening sky tours in Sedona, some led by former NASA engineers or professional astronomers with powerful telescopes.

Related Article: Flagstaff to Sedona…and Beyond

Distant Drum RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Places to stay along this route

With so much to explore, you may want to book a campground or RV park along the route. Here are some recommendations for places to rest your weary heads:

  • Distant Drum RV Resort, Camp Verde
  • Verde Ranch RV Resort, Camp Verde
  • Verde River RV Resort and Cottages, Camp Verde
  • Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Cottonwood
  • Verde Valley RV and Camping Resort, Cottonwood
  • Rain Spirit RV Resort, Clarkdale

Worth Pondering…

There are only two places in the world

I want to live—in Sedona and Paris.

—Max Ernst, Surrealist painter

The Seducing Magic of Sedona: 20 Ways to Fall in Love

Start with scenery that makes your heart leap. Sedona nestles among a geological wonderland. It’s hard not to fall in love with Sedona, Arizona. The magic of the red rocks that tower above the town, the gorgeous hikes, the food, and culture.

Surrounded by 1.8 million acres of national forest land and buttressed by four wilderness areas and two state parks, this is a landscape built for adventure. Set amid beautiful red rock mountains, buttes, and canyons, Sedona is one of Arizona’s most beautiful destinations. The scenery here is nothing less than stunning with unbelievable views from every street corner and hiking trail. Also known as a spiritual center, particularly for its energy vortexes, the city has a unique vibe and attracts visitors with a diverse set of interests.

Attractions range from the spectacular natural areas and scenic drives to Native American ruins, architecture, galleries, and sacred sites. Many of the best things to do in Sedona are free including hiking, mountain biking, or stargazing. The city is a designated Dark Sky Community.

Cathedral Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Cathedral Rock

Cathedral Rock is the most photographed attraction in Sedona and one of the city’s most impressive sites. You can see the rock from Highway 179 as you drive from Oak Creek Village into Sedona or from the backside at several locations. The most classic view of Cathedral Rock is from Red Rock Crossing and Crescent Moon Recreation Area. If you feel an urge to climb this amazing rock formation, a hiking trail leads up to the saddle where you’re treated to incredible views to the east and west. It’s also the location of an energy vortex.

Uptown Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Uptown Sedona

Uptown Sedona is the old town where you’ll find boutiques, tourist shops, galleries, cafes, and restaurants. This area runs along with Highway 89A beginning where Highway 179 ends. If you are heading up Oak Creek Canyon towards Flagstaff you will pass right through Uptown Sedona.

Establishments here include everything from jewelry and craft stores to crystal sellers and casual restaurants to fine dining. This is also where Jeep tours start. Parking can be at a premium here especially on weekends but there is a parking garage where you can usually find a spot.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Red Rock Scenic Byway

The Red Rock Scenic Byway is a stunning drive along Highway 179 running from south of the Village of Oak Creek to Sedona. Along with numerous natural attractions, hiking and biking trails and pullouts allow you to stop and appreciate the sights. Near the north end is the Tlaquepaque arts and crafts village. Some of the most popular sights along this route are Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock, and a short distance off the road is the Chapel of the Holy Cross.

Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive

Stunning Oak Creek Canyon is upstream from Sedona on the road to Flagstaff. Rock formations, cliff walls, and forests line scenic Highway 89A as it follows Oak Creek before climbing up the canyon along a dramatic stretch of twisting road with switchbacks. The sharp corners and steep hills make this a road you will want to drive during daylight. One of the main attractions along this route particularly from spring ’til fall is Slide Rock State Park. You’ll also find hiking trails off this drive. One of the most spectacular hikes is the West Fork Trail.

Hiking trail near Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Hiking Trails

One of the best ways to explore the natural beauty around Sedona is to lace up your hiking boots and hit the trails. Many of the hikes are less than three miles and can easily be done in just a couple of hours but they offer access to some of the most amazing views in the area. Longer and more challenging hikes can also be found around Sedona leading to mountain tops and up canyons. Some of the most popular hikes are to Devil’s Bridge, Cathedral Rock, and Bell Rock.

Jeep tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Jeep Tours

Jeep tours are one of the most popular activities in Sedona. They allow you to enjoy areas you wouldn’t see without an off-road vehicle. These tours are in open-air Jeeps which are an iconic sight in Sedona. Be prepared for a bumpy ride. The drivers are knowledgeable and keen to share the local history and geology of the area.

Chapel of the Holy Cross © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Chapel of the Holy Cross

The Chapel of the Holy Cross sits perched on a small red rock plateau below a multi-hued sandstone ridge creating one of the most impressive architectural sites in Sedona. It was built in 1956 by Marguerite Brunswig Staude, a student of famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. This breathtaking landmark building incorporates a 90-foot cross that dominates the structure and the front face of the chapel is all windows. The modern appearance with sharp lines and angles contrasts with the rounded red rocks. The Chapel is a short distance off Highway 179.

Mountain biking trail near Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Mountain Biking Trails

If you’re a mountain biker you probably already know Sedona is the place to be. And, if you’re new to mountain biking, Sedona will definitely spoil you. The Bell Rock Area Trails include 16 miles of beginner-friendly riding between Courthouse Butte and Little Horse Trail. Once you’re comfortable on the Bell Rock trails head to Long Canyon, a straightforward cruise with flowing turns in upper Dry Creek. You can also link Long Canyon with Deadmans Pass, a relatively flat ride with a few short, rocky climbs.

9. Climbing

Sedona is an incredibly beautiful place to climb that happens to have some fairly soft rock. There are sport routes all the way up to seriously tough aid routes. Many of the newer routes feature liberal use of bolts where necessary.

10. Vortexes

Cathedral Rock is considered to be a vortex © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is so much more to Sedona than meets the eye. People travel from all across the globe to experience the mysterious cosmic forces that are said to emanate from the red rocks. They come in search of the vortexes. What is a vortex? Sedona vortexes (the proper grammatical form ‘vortices’ is rarely used) are thought to be swirling centers of energy that are conducive to healing, meditation, and self-exploration. These are places where the earth seems especially alive with energy. Many people feel inspired, recharged, or uplifted after visiting a vortex. Although all of Sedona is considered to be a vortex there are specific sites where the energy crackles most intensely. The four best-known Sedona vortexes are found at Airport Mesa, Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, and Boynton Canyon—each radiating its own particular energy.

Bell Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Bell Rock

One of the key natural sites around Sedona is the aptly named, Bell Rock. This bell-shaped formation is west of Oak Creek Village along the Red Rock Scenic Byway. Easily accessible this is a popular stop. You can park and have a quick look, walk up to it, do a short and easy hike along the side of the bell, and scramble up the rock a short distance. Behind Bell Rock is Courthouse Butte, another famous sight and hike.

12. Boynton Canyon

Boynton Canyon is one of the most scenic of the box canyons that make Sedona Red Rock Country so famous. Boynton Canyon always has been popular for its outstanding scenery. It has become even more so since it developed a reputation as a site of a spiritual energy vortex. Whether or not you follow this belief, you’ll no doubt agree on the beauty found among these towering buttes, crimson cliffs, and natural desert is divine. If you aren’t interested in hiking or vortexes you can simply enjoy some of the best views in Sedona. The upscale Enchantment Resort is a great place for a meal at Tii Gavo and View 180 restaurants with views through the floor-to-ceiling windows.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Day Trip to the Grand Canyon

From Sedona, it’s just a 2.5-hour drive to one of the most famous and awe-inspiring sights in America. The drive from Sedona takes you up through the beautiful Oak Creek Canyon to Flagstaff. From here, you can do a loop driving through Williams or up Highway 180 past Humphreys Peak to the Grand Canyon. Spend the day seeing the sights along the rim of the canyon or take a scenic flight over and into the canyon. Or alternately, ride the rails from Williams. The historic Grand Canyon Railway departs daily to the Grand Canyon.

View of Sedona from Airport Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Airport Mesa

Airport Mesa is a tabletop mountain in Sedona looking out over the entire area. The airport is located on a flat field on the top of the mesa thus the name. Many people come here to hike, look out from the viewpoint which is also the location of an energy vortex, or enjoy a meal at the Mesa Grill where you can watch the planes take off and land. Views here extend out over Uptown Sedona towards Coffee Pot Rock and Soldier Pass. For something a little more adventurous, you can also do the Airport Mesa Loop Trail, a 3.5-mile hiking trail that runs along the edge and around the mesa.

Red Rock Crossing © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Red Rock Crossing & Crescent Moon Recreation Area

If you are familiar with the classic site of Cathedral Rock reflecting in the calm waters of Oak Creek, this scene is the view from Red Rock Crossing and Crescent Moon Recreation Area. This is a pleasant place to enjoy the creek on a hot day. You can wade in the creek, enjoy a picnic, or simply relax and appreciate the scenery. This is an incredibly popular location with photographers who come here in the late afternoon when the sun is lighting up Cathedral Rock.

Tlaquepaque © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village

An unforgettable Sedona experience must include spending time at internationally renowned Tlaquepaque (pronounced T-la-keh-pah-keh), Arts & Crafts Village. Nestled beneath the shade of the sycamores on the banks of beautiful Oak Creek in Sedona, Tlaquepaque is the most distinctive Sedona shopping experience to be found in the Southwest. Authentically fashioned after a traditional Mexican village, Tlaquepaque, meaning the “best of everything,” has been a Sedona landmark since the 1970’s. Originally conceived as an artist community, Tlaquepaque is a perfect setting to witness gifted Sedona artisans absorbed in their work. Shoppers can see artists at work although most of what you will find is interesting retail establishments many of which showcase glass, ceramics, sculptures, weavings, paintings, decorative arts, photography, jewelry, and decor.

House of Apache Fire at Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. Red Rock State Park

Red Rock State Park is a 286-acre nature preserve and an environmental education center with stunning scenery. Trails throughout the park wind through manzanita and juniper to reach the banks of Oak Creek. Green meadows are framed by native vegetation and hills of red rock. The creek meanders through the park creating a diverse riparian habitat abounding with plants and wildlife. One of the park’s more interesting sites is the abandoned House of Apache Fire built in 1947 situated on a hilltop commanding beautiful views. Easy hiking trails provide views out to the red rock countryside and allow for a close-up look at the House of Apache Fire. One of the more impressive views is the Seven Warriors formation, seen from the Bunkhouse Trail.

Pillsbury tasting room in Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

18. Verde Valley Wine Country

Many of the old storefronts lining Cottonwood’s Historic Old Town have been repurposed into wine tasting rooms. More than 20 vineyards from the Verde Valley Wine Region grow grapes for commercial wine production. Verde Valley is known for its Rhône-style blends of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. Also, the region has over 100 different varietals growing in the area including Cabernet, Chardonnay, Merlot, Viognier, and Zinfandel. Arizona is known for its unique varietals such as  Malvasia Bianca, Viognier, Picpoul Blanc, Tannat, Aglianico, Negroamaro, Tempranillo, and Seyval Blanc.

Schnebly Hill Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

19. Schnebly Hill Road

Schnebly Hill Road is a steep, twisty, unpaved, and wonderfully scenic route that drops more than 2,000 feet from a wooded mesa into the wonderland of Sedona. Begin the drive off Interstate 17. (You could do the drive the other way—bottom to top—but starting at the top is more dramatic.) The first stretch takes you through a lovely forest of tall ponderosa pines. Once you reach the rim, the vistas are breathtaking.

Coconino National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20. Coconino National Forest

Just outside Sedona, you’ll find the largest ponderosa forest in the world in Coconino National Forest. But that’s not all this area has to offer. From mountains and canyons to rivers and red rocks, this is the perfect place for some outdoor exploration, whether you prefer hiking, biking, or horseback riding.

Where to Camp in Sedona

Campgrounds and RV parks in the Sedona area offer a wide range of amenities in a variety of settings.

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

Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Cottonwood

Distance to Sedona: 20 miles

Dead Horse Ranch State Park is located in Cottonwood and within the Verde River Valley corridor. The spacious campgrounds give quick access to most of the park features like trails, playground, lakes, and the Verde River. Over 100 spacious camp sites are scattered throughout the park. The campground consists of four loops; most campsites are RV accessible with hookups. Many of the pull through sites can accommodate RVs up to 65 feet in length.

Rain Spirit RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rain Spirit RV Resort, Clarkdale, Arizona

Distance to Sedona: 22 miles

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 restroom/showers, fitness room, laundry facilities, recreation room, library lounge, pool and spa, and dog run. This 5-star resort is a great home base from which to explore the historic town of Jerome, Sedona Red Rock Country, Old Town Cottonwood, and book an excursion on the Verde Valley Railway.

Distant Drums RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Distant Drums RV Resort, Camp Verde, Arizona

Distance to Sedona: 24 miles

Distant Drum RV Resort is conveniently located along I-17 (Exit 289) across the Interstate from Castle Cliff Casino. 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.

Birding at Verde Valley Camping Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Verde Valley RV & Camping Resort

Distance to Sedona: 25 miles

Situated on the scenic Verde River, Verde Valley RV Camping offers 300 acres of picturesque beauty. A Thousand Trails membership park, Verde Valley RV is now open to the public through Encore RV Resorts.

Worth Pondering…

There are only two places in the world

I want to live—Sedona and Paris.

—Max Ernst, Surrealist painter