Arizona is the sixth-largest state in the USA, offering a vast array of places to visit. I’m here to help you decide where to start your adventure.
A haven for outdoor enthusiasts, Arizona is filled with parks featuring a variety of landscapes – from iconic terrains peppered with cacti to towering sandstone canyon walls, dense pine forests, and the sublime islands.
Ranking among the most diverse and exciting states, Arizona is certainly worth visiting, offering an array of fascinating historical attractions and exceptional outdoor activities.
So, prepare yourself for 31 of the most incredible national parks in Arizona that I am about to introduce.
The Grand Canyon! I suppose there’s no need to introduce this place separately. It’s the top must-see location, and so much more.
If you’re looking for easy hikes, consider Saguaro National Park, Petrified Forest National Park, Tonto National Monument, and Montezuma Castle National Monument. These parks offer well-maintained trails with minimal elevation changes.
Are you up for challenging hikes? Then these spots are for you: Superstition Ridgeline, Flat Iron, and Brown’s Peak. These parks offer strenuous trails with steep inclines and rugged terrain, providing a thrilling challenge for experienced hikers.
Arizona is vast! Plan your trip well in advance.
Be sure to choose the time of year for your trip carefully, as it can get very hot! Good luck & have fun!
Table of Contents
Before the Trip
Be sure to check each park’s website.
Check my interactive map of Arizona’s national parks.
Confirm the cost, operating hours, and available services.
Some parks offer amenities such as visitor centers and restrooms, while others are situated in more remote areas and require thorough preparation before visiting.
Not every National Park in Arizona provides campsites or overnight parking, so make the most of the information available on the parks’ websites. Also, consider referencing additional sources about nearby towns and potential lodging options.
If you’re planning to visit parks and areas on tribal lands, make sure to note any additional requirements. You’ll likely need a special permit or local guide for entry.
Lastly, be aware that some of Arizona’s national parks lack paved roads, and road conditions can quickly worsen following heavy rainfall. Traveling in a vehicle with high ground clearance and carrying two spare tires is recommended, as service stations are often absent within these parks.
Remember to bring extra water and food, and don’t always rely on cell phone coverage, as some areas may fall outside the network’s range.
The primary attraction for many visitors to Arizona is its stunning natural landscapes, particularly the Grand Canyon National Park.
Best Parks and Monuments in Arizona
1. Grand Canyon National Park
I think the Grand Canyon doesn’t need any introduction. Famous for its sheer size and splendor, the Grand Canyon is undoubtedly worthy of its status as one of the world’s seven wonders. Its breathtaking beauty and magnitude can leave you speechless.
Spanning over 1,900 square miles (4,920 square km), the park includes the eponymous canyon. The Grand Canyon stretches 277 miles (445 km) along the Colorado River, reaching nearly 18 miles (29 km) wide in some places. Indeed, the name “Grand” is apt!
Boasting some of the Earth’s most extraordinary scenery, the Grand Canyon stretches across an expansive part of northwestern Arizona. It welcomes millions of visitors each year. Its awe-inspiring scale, carved over billions of years, becomes nearly indescribable as you approach its solid rim and gaze upon the canyon that seems to stretch into infinity.
The Colorado River has etched the canyon over the eons to a depth of a mile, revealing colorful cliffs and offering phenomenal views at every turn.
In addition to basking in its beauty and exploring numerous trails, the national park hosts a remarkable Geological Museum and a fascinating exhibit known as “The Trail of Time.” These attractions offer insight into the captivating multi-layered landscapes of the canyon. Widely regarded as one of the world’s wonders, the Grand Canyon is a must-see for many visitors to Arizona.
Location: Northern Arizona, approximately 225 miles (362 km) north of Phoenix.
Composed of two picturesque sections situated on either side of the city of Tucson, Saguaro National Park is among the most accessible and appealing national parks in Arizona. Named after the colossal cacti punctuating its charming desert landscapes, the park is a quintessential image of the American Southwest.
Established in 1933 by President Herbert Hoover, the park safeguards portions of the Sonoran Desert, which also encompass the Tucson and Rincon mountain ranges. Its sprawling valleys are carpeted with forests of spiny saguaro cacti, towering about 50 feet (15 meters) above sea level. These cacti present a unique sight with their prickly pears and blossoming buds.
Saguaro National Park offers numerous excellent trails suitable for hiking, cycling, or horseback riding, along with several exceptionally scenic routes dotted with cacti.
Location: Situated in south-central Arizona, immediately east and west of Tucson (two separate sections of the park)
Reason to visit: Exploring the Sonoran Desert, hiking, scenic drives, camping
Facilities & Services: Two visitor centers with exhibits, a bookstore, restrooms, and drinking water; hiking trails, scenic drives, and camping areas
3. Petrified Forest National Park
Petrified Forest National Park is located in the eastern part of Arizona, near the border with New Mexico, and is home to striking landscapes, landscapes, and nature. Known for its fantastic fossils, it has excellent conditions for hiking, as well as for cycling and horseback riding, as well as camping.
The park, founded in 1906, contains ancient trees and logs, after which it got its name. The kaleidoscopic colors of petrified trees dating back 225 million years ago are mesmerizing in their beauty, especially when they twinkle in the sun. The famous Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles runs through the park. But the park is not renowned for this, but for the fact that dinosaur bones are found among its colorful badlands, and most importantly – trees petrified in ancient times!
The main part of Petrified Forest Park is located south of Route 66 and has found not only dinosaur skeletons displayed in the main visitor center Rainbow Forest Museum but also trees buried in the tertiary period. At the Painted Desert Visitor Center you can learn about this region’s exciting history, geology, and nature.
There is not a single camping on the territory of Petrified Forest Park, as in almost all other national parks, since it is closed to visitors at night. But the town of Holbrook is nearby, where you can find good hotels. The best is considered the Best Western Arizonian Inn at only about $100 with a good breakfast. It’s cheaper to stay at 66 Motel for $41 or at the new Motel 6 for $50.
Petrified Forest National Park is one of the best national parks in Arizona, and there is no such other..
Location: Eastern Arizona, along Interstate 40, about 125 miles (201 km) east of Flagstaff
Reason to visit: Startling “other-worldly” landscape, hiking, biking, camping
Facilities & Services: Visitor Center (2), with museum, gift shop, snacks, restrooms; hiking trails, pet-friendly
4. Agua Fria National Monument
The Agua Fria National Monument, founded in 2000, is a high-altitude desert and grassy plains, steep-sided canyons, Saguaro cactus forests, and ancient Native American relics on the east side of Interstate 17 between Phoenix and Flagstaff.
There are no convenient roads; most of the area can only be reached by hiking trails or even off-trails. The main attraction is the deep canyon of the Agua Fria River. Agua Fria National Monument contains vast collections of pictographs and petroglyphs, diverse wildlife, and deep desert canyons.
One thing to remember for folks interested in visiting is that four-wheel drive is king in this national monument. Most of the memorial is completely inaccessible if you don’t have a four-wheel drive vehicle.
Location: Central Arizona, about 40 miles north of Phoenix
No matter how much you want to explore Arizona, on foot or by bike, but definitely, a fantastic adventure awaits you on this trail.
The Arizona National Trail stretches 800 miles (1,287 km) between deserts, mountains, forests, canyons, and wildlife. This hiking trail will introduce you to Arizona’s vegetation, wildlife, landscapes, and unique historical and cultural siteIt starts at the border of the USA and Mexico, then crosses the mountain ranges.
The journey continues in the Sonora desert, across the Gilao River, and follows the peaks of San Francisco. On the northern edge of the Kaibab Plateau, coniferous forests mainly grow, eventually replaced by red cliffs with sagebrush near the Utah border.
Location: Passes roughly through the center of the state, running 800 miles (1,287 km) from North to South
Reason to visit: Hiking, Mountain Biking, Horseback Riding
Facilities & Services: None, bring all supplies
6. Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Canyon de Chelly National Monument, located entirely within the borders of the Navajo Nation, is located in northeastern Arizona, near the border with New Mexico. This cave canyon, inhabited more than 5,000 years ago, is home to many prehistoric petroglyphs and century-old buildings built by ancient Puebloans.
Countless crumbling rocky dwellings are hidden among the canyon’s steep walls, and the most impressive is the beautiful White Ruin House. While there is a lot of ancient history in the canyon, in the 1800s, it tragically happened that the infamous Long Way began here, during which the Spanish and American armies staged numerous massacres of Native Americans.
In addition to guided tours and exploring the Navajo’s history, culture, and heritage, guests can climb to its edge and enjoy a fantastic view of the canyon below.
The entrance to the Canyon de Chelly National Monument is free. But almost everywhere, a guide is required here, except for the trail to the canyon leading to the ruins of the White House; a Navajo escort is required for all other trips down or along the canyon.
The national monument has a well-stocked visitor center, near which is an excellent campsite (Cottonwood Campground) with basic facilities – though no showers – and plenty of sites nestled beneath large cottonwood trees. Another option is Spider Rock Campground, a privately managed operation along South Rim Drive but just outside the monument boundaries.
Location: Northeastern Arizona, about 100 miles southwest of Four Corners
Reason to visit: Scenic drives, hiking (guided), Navajo and ancient Pueblo culture
Facilities & Services: Visitor Center, Guided tours, Accessible paths
7. Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
The National Monument “Ruins of Casa Grande” is a 4-storey building founded in the 14th century. It is located on a plateau in central Arizona between the Gila and Santa Cruz Rivers, about 15 miles (24 km) from Casa Grande.
The Grande House was an astronomical observatory, as its walls are oriented to the cardinal directions. In 1892, the Grande House was declared a national monument.
Location: Central Arizona, about 50 miles (80 km) southeast of Phoenix
Reason to visit: Tour ancient ruins
Facilities & Services: Guided tours, gift shop, picnic grounds
8. Chiricahua National Monument
Right in the state’s southeast is the Chiricahua National Monument, home to some of Arizona’s most spectacular and spectacular landscapes. Once called “Standing Rock Country” by local Apaches, it boasts stunning stone spires and breathtaking balanced cliffs.
The shape and sculptures created over millennia under the influence of wind and rain, his stunning pillars create a fascinating spectacle and stretch forever. Visitors can find many fantastic features among the sensational stone columns, with prominent peaks and natural bridges next to balanced boulders and rugged volcanic rocks.
Chiricahua Apaches once served as a refuge, and now this monument’s fascinating mountains and landscapes attract hikers and photographers.
Chiricahua is a national memorial worth checking out if you have a chance. If you like rocks, then Chiricahua is a place to your liking. A very long time ago, 27 million years ago, a valley with “stone needles” was formed after the eruption of the Turkey Creek volcano. These giant stone towers look like giants were playing with building blocks 27 million years ago. The nearly 12,000-acre park has 17 miles (27,3 km) of hiking trails and 8 miles (12,8 km) of scenic paved roads. Due to its location on the bird path, Chiricahua is also great for bird watching.
Location: Southern Arizona, about 120 miles (193 km) southeast of Tucson
Reason to visit: Ancient rock formations, Hiking, Camping, Bird watching
Facilities and services: Visitor center with a museum, bookstore, toilets, and drinking water; Bonito Canyon camping
9. Coronado National Memorial
A small area of the Coronado National Forest adjacent to the Mexican border is given over to the Coronado National Memorial, which commemorates the expedition of Francisco Vásquez de Coronado in 1540, the first known excursion of Europeans into the United States. Francisco was a Spanish governor who arrived in Mexico in 1535 and was chosen to lead a large group of settlers.
There are several hiking trails through the wooded areas of the Huachuca Mountains, and you will see the south of Mexico, a cave, and many different natural beauties. All this could be seen in less than one day, while this area is little visited. But many other hiking opportunities exist in the national forest to the west and north.
Location: Southern Arizona, about 90 miles (144,8 km) southeast of Tucson, along the Mexican border.
Reason to visit: Cultural history, hiking, birding, cave exploring.
Facilities & Services: Visitor center with museum, bookstore, restrooms and drinking water.
10. Fort Bowie National Historic Site
Reached only by an unpaved road and then a 1,5-mile (2,41 km) hike, Fort Bowie National Historic Site is the most isolated National Parks Service unit in Arizona and is seen by the fewest people; visitation ranges from over 100 on a balmy spring weekend to zero on a stormy day in midwinter. The site preserves the remains of a fort in operation from 1868 to 1894, a key outpost during the territorial dispute with the local Apache Indians.
The scenery around the pass and fort is rugged, if unspectacular. Still, the remoteness and lack of nearby settlements help retain a sense of what frontier life must have been like for the soldiers here. The trail into the National Historic Site passes several other historical relics, including a cemetery and stagecoach station, before arriving at the fort, where about 40 ruined buildings may be inspected. Fort Bowie is, however, not quite as remote as it may seem from the long approach since the site is also accessible by an NPS service road and has both a staffed visitor center and museum and a permanent ranger residence.
Location: Southern Arizona, about 120 miles (193 km) east of Tucson.
Reason to visit: Native American and Old West history.
Facilities & Services: Interpretive visitor center, restrooms.
11. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
This Glen Canyon contains Lake Powell, which is artificially created, and here you can go boating.
From Glen Canyon in Fox Ferry in Arizona to Orange Rocks in southern Utah, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is fantastic for water and rural recreation.
Glen Canyon is about exceptional views, geological discoveries, and a touch of history. Disputes about this place gave birth to the modern ecological movement.
In the Park, you can go boating, fishing, swimming, hiking over rough terrain, and driving jeeps. In Glen Canyon, every lover of nature will find something for himself.
Location: Northern Arizona (near the Utah state line), about 275 miles (442,5 km) north of Phoenix.
Reason to visit: Water sports, hiking, stunning scenery, tour Glen Canyon Dam.
Facilities & Services: Multiple visitor centers, gift shops, restrooms, water, campsites, ADA accessible trails.
12. Hohokam Pima National Monument
Hohokam Pima National Monument protected 2,000 inhabitants in ‘Snaketown’ village. When Hokoham Pimas was excavated, the site became invisible above ground.
Congress authorized the Hohokam Pima National Monument on October 21, 1972, to protect an ancient Hohokam village known today as “Snaketown.”
Studies in the 1930s and 1960s showed that life appeared here from 300 BC to 1200 AD, and up to 2000 inhabitants lived here. After the latest discoveries, the territory disappeared underground. The monument is located on a reservation on the Gila River and belongs to an Indian tribe. The Gila River Indian community has decided not to open its ancestral area to tourists.
Hubbell Trading Post is one of Arizona’s lesser-known National Parks Service properties, located in a relatively remote area of theNavajo Reservation in the northeast. John Lorenzo Hubbell took over a store here in 1876, in the small settlement of Ganado, a few years after the Navajo returned from their enforced residence in Fort Sumner, New Mexico (the Long Walk).
The store is still in operation today, now run as a non-profit organization. Even though most transactions directly involve currency, the old trade custom still applies, and local Navajo and Hopi craftspeople can exchange goods for others of equal value.
The 160-acre complex also contains the Hubbell Home, complete with its original contents, a two-story barn, a collection of outbuildings, a farmland, a guest hogan (used by researchers and local artists), and a modern visitor center. Just as the store still trades, the other buildings are also in use; crops are grown, and animals (horses and chickens) are reared. There is no charge to enter the buildings, except for the Hubbell Home, for which guided tours are provided subject to demand, which costs $2 per person. Even with this addition, all can be viewed in less than an hour.
Location: Northeastern Arizona, about 150 miles (241 km) northeast of Flagstaff.
Reason to visit: Historic “shopping” experience, Native American arts and crafts, historic homestead.
Facilities & Services: Visitor Center, Active trading post with crafts, gifts, snacks, picnic area, restrooms.
14. Ironwood Forest National Monument
The desert ironwood is a slow growing, shrub-like tree, unremarkable to look at except when it sprouts purple flowers in late springtime. It is widespread across localized regions of southwest Arizona, where it inhabits gravelly washes and low-elevation hillsides. The tree is essential to the local ecosystem because it benefits many other species of flora and fauna, so was chosen to be featured in the 129,000-acre Ironwood Forest National Monument northwest of Tucson.
The scenery and general vegetation are very similar to the nearby Sonoran Desert National Monument – both contain isolated mountains separated by broad, empty basins filled with saguaro and many other species of cacti. Additional points of interest in the Ironwood forest include a working copper mine, many ancient petroglyphs, and several ghost towns.
Location: South central Arizona, about 25 miles (40 km) northwest of Tucson.
The National Historical Trail of Juan Bautista de Anza, who led a group of people from New Spain to Arizona, with a length of 1,200 miles (1,930 km), follows the path of the first colonists who moved across the land to found San Francisco.
The trail passes through several famous places, including Casa Grande and Tumacacori. To walk along this path means to see several historical sites yourself and to revive the events of the past. Special events, programs, and activities are planned throughout the year on the Anza Trail.
Special events, programs, and activities are planned throughout the year on the Anza Trail.
Location: Southwestern Arizona, from Nogales, north through Tucson to Phoenix, then west to Yuma.
Reason to visit: Follow the trail of a historic expedition, and see multiple landmark sites.
Facilities & Services: Marked autoroute; detailed maps of each county the trail passes through
16. Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Lake Mead, Nevada, is situated on the Colorado River 25 miles from the Las Vegas Strip, southeast of Las Vegas, in Nevada and Arizona. Lake Mead Reservoir provides water to Arizona, California, Nevada, and parts of Mexico, where it allows water to agricultural land for 20 million people. Lake Mead belongs to Lake Mead National Recreation Area, an area of 1.5 million acres (607,000 hectares), which goes south and connects 25 miles (40 km) of the Colorado River and the smaller Lake Mojave with Davis Dam near Bullhead City.
Lake Mead National Recreation Area is a place for rare plants and animals that you won’t find anywhere else, for example, for the razorback sucker fish, which originated from this area. 41 species of reptiles and 12 species of amphibians were founded on Lake Mead, as well as a population of desert snow sheep, bald eagles and many others.
Location: Northwestern Arizona (the corner bordering Nevada)
Reason to visit: Boating, fishing, swimming, camping, hiking, hunting
Facilities & Services: Visitor Center, multiple campgrounds (both tent and camper), boat ramps, marinas, food and fuel services, shops (both gifts and provisions)
17. Montezuma Castle National Monument
Montezuma Castle is a well-preserved ancient structure in north-central Arizona. This is perhaps the most impressive; an imposing 20-room building of 5 floors, planted in a white limestone rock 70 feet above the ground.
When the remains of the building were found again, they decided that they belonged to the Aztecs, so it was given this name, but later realized that Montezuma Castle belonged to the Indian people of Sinagua, who lived here between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries, and then they left here.
Location: North central Arizona, about 90 miles (144,8 km) north of Phoenix
Reason to visit: Explore ancient culture and architecture.
Facilities & Services: Montezuma Castle has a Visitor Center, with museum, bookstore and restrooms, along with picnic grounds. Montezuma Well has picnic grounds and pit toilets.
18. Navajo National Monument
The three groups of ancient Anasazi ruins in Navajo National Monument are large, intricate, and well-preserved. The pueblos were built between 1250 and 1300 in deep sandstone canyons cutting into the Shonto Plateau of north Arizona, in the middle of the Navajo Indian Reservation.
One of the three ruins (Inscription House) has since 1968 been permanently closed to the public owing to its delicate state, while another (Keet Seel) is open only during the summer season (late May to mid-September). For most people, only the third site, Betatakin, is available from afar at the end of a short trail starting near the national monument visitor center, ten miles from US 160 on a paved road.
Other facilities at Navajo National Monument are a picnic area, a museum, and two pleasant campsites.
Location: Northeastern Arizona, about 140 miles (225 km) northeast of Flagstaff
Reason to visit: Explore ancient culture and architecture.
Facilities & Services: Visitor Center, with museum, bookstore and restrooms, ranger-guided tours of the cliff dwellings, camping.
19. Old Spanish Trail National Historic Trail
The Old Spanish Trail is evidence of a trade route between Mexico and the young United States. The path originates in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and continues several branches through Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada before reassembling near Los Angeles, California. Due to its connection with other states, the trail in Arizona continues very close to the northern border of the state with Utah.
Following this trail means exploring several Arizona national parks and monuments in the southwest as it passes through several famous sites. Use this interactive map of Arizona landmarks on the Old Spanish Trail to plan your route through this historic and picturesque countryside.
The Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was founded to preserve a section of the Sonoran Desert. The new monument was part of the actions in national parks to protect animals and the entire ecosystem of the country.
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is the site of cultural resources that reflect long, widespread, and diverse occupations by American Indian, Mexican, and European groups.
This desert is a suitable place to relax from bustle of big cities. This area is more remote than other parks in the state, which means less crowding and more serenity.
On the territory of Organ Pipe Cactus NM, routes of varying degrees of complexity are laid out, which will allow you to enjoy incredible landscapes. You should go by car to get acquainted with the natural splendor of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument but keep in mind that you can ride a bicycle everywhere here.
Location: Southwestern Arizona, about 125 miles (201km) west of Tucson
Reason to visit: Explore a the unique ecosystem of the Sonoran Desert, hiking, camping, horseback riding
Facilities & Services: Visitor center with displays, bookstore, restrooms; scenic drives, hiking trails, RV and tent campsites, backcountry camping
21. Parashant National Monument (Grand Canyon)
Located in the northwest corner of Arizona, the Grand Canyon-Parachute National Monument is a very remote site with beautiful views and carved canyons. Less part of the Grand Canyon tourists visits this site in northwestern Arizona.
The monument’s name comes from the surname of the Paiutes, “Parachonts,” which translates as “elk or a large deer standing in the water.” You will enjoy cattle breeding, mining, and logging at Tassi Ranch, Nixon’s Sawmill, and Pa’s Pocket Line Shack. But there is other archeological evidence — petroglyphs, artifacts, agave pits, and pueblos- that tells how the Pueblos and southern Paiutes lived.
These are incredible places for excursions; lush vegetation is adjacent to the surrounding arid lands. The flora in the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument is very diverse, and this is logical since the altitude range here is 6000 feet (1828 m).
Grand Canyon-Parachute National Monument reflects the true spirit of the West and is waiting for your research!
No paved roads access the monument, and road conditions deteriorate quickly after rainstorms. Traveling in high-clearance vehicles and carrying two spare tires is recommended since there are no services in the monument. Always bring extra water and food.
Location: Northern Arizona, along the border with Utah and Nevada
Reason to visit: Stunning scenery, very few people, off-roading, backcountry camping
Facilities & Services: No services within the monument boundaries. There is an information center in St. George, Utah
22. Pipe Spring National Monument
American Indians, Mormon ranchers, plants, animals, and many others have depended on the life-giving water in the beautiful desert oasis at Pipe Spring.
In Northern Arizona, Pipe Spring National Monument tells the area’s tumultuous past. American Indian tribes have called this area home for centuries, living off the fresh and abundant waters of Pipe Spring.
You will touch on a live history of conflicts that arose and compromises made as native tribes, and settlers navigated the new rules of the expanding southwest. It is worth taking a tour of Windsor Castle. This Mormon stronghold is an impressive fortified ranch built as a headquarters for tithing cattle and protection from raiding parties.
After seeing the main attractions:
Say hello to the horses and longhorn cattle in the corral.
Walk the half-mile trail.
Wander through the collection of other historic buildings.
If you want to stay a while, the Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians maintains a campground ¼ mile from the monument. Nearby Fredonia also has campgrounds and motels for those not looking to rough it.
Location: Northwestern Arizona, near the Utah border
Reason to visit: Visit historic spring and ranch site; learn about Native American and Mormon cultures
Facilities & Services: Visitor Center with museum, bookstore, restrooms; historic ranch with animals, fresh heirloom fruits and vegetables (in season)
23. Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area
The territory of the National Heritage of the Santa Cruz Valley in Southern Arizona is located between the Santa Cruz Rivers – from Nogales and Patagonia through Tucson to Marana and the Oro Valley – this is an ancient and now existing path that witnessed the birth of the earliest civilizations of Arizona and absorbed various natural and historical values.
This 3,300-square-mile (8,546- square- km) landscape is nationally recognized for its natural, historical, and multicultural heritage.
The National Heritage Area includes Juan Bautista De Anz National Historical Trail,Saguaro National Park, Tumacacori National Historical Park. About all of them, I told you or will notify you either.
Location: Southern Arizona, between Tucson and the Mexican border
Reason to visit: Explore historic Spanish and Native American Sights and desert landscapes
Facilities & Services: See individual articles here for more information
24. Tumacácori National Historical Park
The former Tumakakori Mission, first recognized as a national monument in 1908, is one of the oldest national park monuments in the United States. Long before the missionaries, the land was home to the five sister nations of the O’odham: the Tohono, the Pima, the Yaki, the Apache, and the Mexican people.
By the time the site became a national monument, San José de Tumacácori’s original church was in poor shape. In the late 1930s, a visitor center was added, which used the original elements of the mission buildings to house exhibits.
Go to the visitor center, where in a 17-minute video, you will get acquainted with the history of the mission. Continue through the park independently, rent/purchase a self-guiding tour book, or follow an audio tour.
Try to get to one of the cultural demonstrations reflecting the connection with one of the local cultures. Delve into their stories and taste tortillas made from fresh corn or flour, which are cooked over a fire of mesquite trees.
Location: South central Arizona, about 45 miles (72 km) south of Tucson
Reason to visit: Explore historic church and mission grounds; learn about two unique cultures: Spanish and Native American.
Facilities & Services: Museum, Visitor Center, gift shop, restrooms, cultural events and demonstrations
25. Sonoran Desert National Monument
The Sonora Desert National Monument includes the original landscape of the Sonora Desert. This national monument is one of the North American deserts with different natures, and the most unusual and memorable is the Saguaro cactus forest.
There are three separate mountain ranges: Maricopa, Sand Reservoir, Table Mountains, and Booth and White Hills, with valleys in between. But a special permit is required for an excursion to the Sand Tanks Mountains.
Motorized vehicles, including bicycles, must remain on existing routes. Drinking water is unavailable, so visitors are reminded to take more water with them. Vehicles must be in good working condition, with a full fuel tank and spare tires. The main access roads and washouts are subject to heavy seasonal rains and flash floods. Cell phones don’t work in many areas of the National Monument.
Location: South central Arizona, about 65 miles (104,6 km) southwest of Phoenix
The Sunset Volcano National Monument, situated around a crumbling cinder cone, after which it got its name, is located in the north-central part of Arizona, not far from Flagstaff. Built about a thousand years ago during an explosive eruption, it is a very calm and pleasant place to visit today.
Towering over the foothills and lava fields surrounding it, Sunset Crater is the youngest of the volcanoes forming San Francisco’s peaks. Its burden and blackish slopes, considered extinct, have been protected since 1930 when President Herbert Hoover declared them a national monument.
Today, visitors can hike through the beautiful lava flows and forests at its foot. Access to its top is prohibited due to extensive erosion, which pedestrians accidentally caused.
Location: North central Arizona, about 20 miles (32 km) north of Flagstaff
Reason to visit: Explore remains of ancient volcano, hiking, scenic drives, camping
Facilities & Services: Visitor Center, restrooms, picnic grounds, campgrounds
27. Tonto National Monument
Tonto National Monument features two Salado-style cliff dwellings dating back 700 years ago. This site tells the story of the Salado people who resided in this part of Arizona. You can learn about architecture, agriculture, pottery, and other artifacts with beautiful views of Tonto Basin and Roosevelt Lake.
The Lower Cliff Dwelling is open year-round and does not require a guided tour. The mile trail opens at 8 a.m., and the trip will take about an hour. The rooms showcase the original wood used, handprints on the walls, and even a few partially intact roofs. The site also looks out at the beautiful Sonoran desert and Roosevelt Lake.
The Upper Cliff Dwelling is available by guided tour only. Tours operate thrice a week from November through April, and the 3-mile time lasts three to four hours. You will join an intimate group with a park guide and hike a non-paved trail that gains 600 feet (182 m) of elevation over 1.5 miles (2,41km).
You may admire nature there, such as many types of cacti in the park, from the giant barrel cactus to the prickly pear cactus. In the spring, you can experience beautiful blooms of flowers on the cacti, which will then drop fruit in the late summer.
While the monument doesn’t allow camping, the surrounding Tonto National Forest offers numerous campgrounds, the Bermuda Flats Campground or the Windy Hill Campground, which is the closest to the monument. Bring a boat, paddleboard, or canoe and enjoy time on the water at Roosevelt Lake or Apache Lake.
Nearby communities, such as the Tonto Basin (20 miles), Miami (30 miles), and Globe (30 miles), offer plentiful hotel selections for those not prepared to rough it.
Location: Central Arizona, about 115 miles (185 km) east of Phoenix
Starting in A.D. 1000, Sinagua built the 110-room Tuzigoot pueblo. The tribe was predominantly agricultural and had trade routes that spanned hundreds of miles. It’s believed the ancient peoples left the area around 1400.
You will learn how ancient people lived in a deserted pueblo on a hilltop, in a 110-room pueblo on a hill, and with a collection of historical objects in a museum. In addition, you will see desert views, discover endless landscapes of various desert habitats, and learn about the Sinaguan people in the museum.
Located below the Mogollon Rim in North Central Arizona, the landscape goes from parched, juniper-dotted hills to lush riparian sections in the Verde Valley below. Nearby Tavasci Marsh provides yet another habitat with its slow-moving water that supports a great variety of plants.
You will visit the museum and walk along several trails leading to the Pueblo and Tavaski Marsh, which will take several hours. A 1/3-mile winding path runs through the pueblo, and from the top of the hill, there is a panoramic view of the Verde River and the Tavaski Marsh. A half-mile round trip route will take you to a beautifully constructed observation window, where you will admire the swampy terrain of Tavaski.
Location: North central Arizona, about 110 miles (177 km) north of Phoenix, nearest town Cottonwood
Reason to visit: Explore ancient Sinagua pueblo
Facilities & Services: Visitor Center, museum, bookstore, restrooms, picnic grounds
29. Vermillion Cliffs National Monument
Known for its colorful swirls of slick rock, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument is a sherbet-colored dream world filled with fantastical rock formations like The Wave, White Pockets, and Buckskin Gulch.
This 280,000-acre (113,311-hectare) stretch of northern Arizona is located on the border of Utah and Arizona, where the wooded Pariah Plateau stretches south, ending at 3,000 feet (914 m) at the monument of the same name – Vermilion Rocks.
Most people visiting the monument today come to see the Wave, Buckskin Gorge, and Pariah Canyon, located in the northwestern part of the monument, commonly referred to as Coyote Butts. These beautiful panoramas attract tourists with their bright colors and intriguing shapes.
The roads in the monument are unpaved, and you may need a 4WD. We advise you to have a spare tire and an additional gasoline, food, and water supply since no services are provided. Before heading to the monument, purchase a map at the BLM Visitor Centers in Kanaba and St. George or the Jacob Lake Visitor Center.
Location: Northern Arizona, along the border with Utah, about 125 miles (201 km) north of Flagstaff
Reason to visit: Explore stunning rock formations, hiking, camping
Facilities & Services: None; nearest services are 40-50 miles (64-80 km) away in Kanab, UT and Page, AZ
30. Walnut Canyon National Monument
Walnut Canyon National Monument, located in Flagstaff, is one of the iconic places in central Arizona where you will admire nature and touch history. In the canyon, you will see the former dwellings of the ancient inhabitants, located on the rocks and abandoned about 800 years ago. People settled here because of the richness of nature and how much the area offers. You will find out all this here when you go hiking to enjoy a wonderful vacation in the air.
The monument has two different trails: the Island Trail leads visitors deep into the canyon, and the Rim Trail is a paved trail that runs along the top of the canyon with a view of the canyon and the dwellings on the rocks below.
You can also relax and visit the observatory, from where you will observe a magnificent view of all this and delve into the details of this area’s rich history.
Although there is no camping in the monument, there are plenty of accommodation options around Flagstaff near Walnut Canyon, including hotels, rental locations, and campsites. You can set up several camps outside the park in the Coconino National Forest.
Location: North central Arizona, about 12 miles (19 km) east of Flagstaff
Reason to visit: Explore historic cliff dwellings
Facilities & Services: Visitor Center, museum, bookstore, restrooms
31. Wupatki National Monument
The remarkable Wupatki National Monument is next to Sunset Crater in the north-central part of Arizona, not far from Flagstaff. This fantastic place boasts many archaeological sites and centuries-old settlements built by the ancient Pueblo people.
While Vupatki has been inhabited since about 500 AD, the eruption of Sunset Crater led to a population boom as its volcanic ash enriched the surrounding soils. However, by 1225 this place was abandoned. Almost 2,700 buildings and the remains of residential buildings made of light red rocks remained.
While Vupatki has been inhabited since about 500 AD, the eruption of Sunset Crater led to a population boom as its volcanic ash enriched the surrounding soils. However, by 1225 this place was abandoned. Almost 2,700 buildings and the remains of residential buildings made of light red rocks remained.
Of these, the most impressive is the multi-story Wupatki Pueblo, with over a hundred rooms and a ballroom. Visitors can take a short and scenic self-guided tour of the site, stopping at other settlements such as Citadel, Lomaki, and Nalakihu.
Location: North central Arizona, about 30 miles (48 km) north of Flagstaff
Reason to visit: Explore ancient pueblo ruins
Facilities & Services: Visitor Center, museum, restrooms
Arizona Natural Parks FAQ
How many national parks are in Arizona?
Of the more than 400+ units in the National Park Service, there are 22 national parks in Arizona and 2 National Scenic Trails.
How to visit the national parks in Arizona in 2 days?
Arizona is huge, and if you’re trying to visit every corner of the state, you’ll need at least two weeks. However, two days may be enough to see the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona or similar monuments, and you will not want to cross out any scenic views or epic hiking from your list. For a two-day trip, I advise you to visit the park’s website and find the most convenient place to spend the night and prepare the necessary food and water, if this is needed.
What to wear when you visit the national parks in Arizona?
Wear loose, comfortable clothes. It is best to dress in a few light layers to discard clothing items or add them as the intensity of your activity or the weather changes. Do not forget about a raincoat in winter season or wind protection. The hat protects your face and head from the sun, protects your eyes from bright light, and helps you keep warm when it’s cold. Do not forget about comfortable hiking shoes with unique ribbed soles.
How much does it cost to camp in national parks in Arizona?
The cost of camping in a National Parks in Arizona varies from park to park, campground to campground, and even season to season. However, to give you a general ballpark figure, camping fees in Arizona National Parks are typically between $5 and $30 per night for a family site and a little more for a group site.
What is the most beautiful national park in Arizona?
The most beautiful parks in Arizona and the main natural attraction for many travelers is the nature of the Grand Canyon National Park, and there are good reasons for this. In either location, you’ll encounter spectacular views of the world-famous canyon that was carved by the Colorado River millions of years ago.
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