Arizona National Parks includes recreational areas, historic sites, incredible monuments, iconic parks, legendary trails and so much more.
Arizona National Parks
Arizona National Parks! We’ve got 24 incredible national park sites for you to see on your next visit to the Grand Canyon State.
Arizona National Parks includes recreational areas, historic sites, incredible monuments, iconic parks, legendary trails and so much more.
We’re going to give you 24 reasons why you’ll want to make Arizona your next vacation destination.
1. Canyon de Chelly National Monument | Arizona National Parks
Arizona is blessed with some of the most magnificent scenery on the planet.
When you’re exploring these vast canyons you can be forgiven for thinking you’ve landed on another planet because it’s simply out of this world!
I’m a retired World History teacher who spent a good portion of my life teaching students about civilizations which rose and fell thousands of years ago.
Canyon de Chelly rose millions of years ago. And, it has yet to fall. Now that’s exciting!
It took literally millions of years of land uplifts and stream cutting to create the colorful sheer cliff walls of Canyon de Chelly. The water sources and rich soil provided a variety of valuable resources, including plants and animals that have sustained families for thousands of years.
The Earliest Settlers Of Canyon de Chelly
The earliest settlers were the ancient Puebloans. They found the canyons an ideal place to plant crops and raise families. They became the first settlers to build pit houses.
Homes were built in alcoves to take advantage of the sunlight and natural protection.
Settlers to the area included the Hopi and the Navajo. The Hopi migrated into the canyons to plant fields of corn and orchards of peaches. The Navajo settled the Southwest. They continue to raise families and plant crops today just as their predecessors did long ago.
Things To Do At Canyon de Chelly National Monument
I recommend beginning at the Welcome Center. Pick up a park map which will show you where you can go. I recommend:
- SCENIC DRIVES: You can drive the two paved rim drives to the overlooks which provide excellent views of the canyon below. You should allow 2 hours to visit the 3 overlooks on the North Rim Drive and 2 hours to visit the 6 overlooks on the South Rim Drive.
- CANYON TOURS: Fee required. Contact a private company for a tour into the canyon either by hiking, horseback or vehicle. Tours require a backcountry permit and hiring an authorized guide.
- CAMPING: Fee required. Camp at the Cottonwood Campground with sites available first-come, first-serve. No showers or hookups. Call Navajo Parks and Recreation Department at 928-674-2106 for details. (Source: NPS)
What Makes The Southwestern United States Different
2. Casa Grande Ruins National Monument | Arizona National Parks
Visitors to Revolutionary War & Civil War sites marvel at people who lived several hundred years old. What about people who lived over a thousand years ago? Now that’s old!
Archeologists at Casa Grande have discovered evidence suggesting that the Sonoran Desert people developed wide-scale irrigation farming and extensive trade networks which lasted over a thousand years until about 1450 C.E.
These early inhabitants left no written records and ceased using the site after 1450. Archaeologists and historians have had to rely instead on the written historic accounts of the Casa Grande beginning with the journal entries of Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino. He visited the ruins in 1694.
Kino used the words “Casa Grande” meaning “great house” to describe this amazing place.
Casa Grande Becomes A National Monument
With the advent of the railroad in the 19th century more people began to visit these incredible ruins. The rise in visitors had unintended consequences such as damage from souvenir hunting, graffiti and outright vandalism. This raised serious concerns about the preservation of the Casa Grande.
Senator George F. Hoar presented a petition before the U. S. Senate in 1889 requesting that the government take steps to repair and protect these ruins. In 1892, President Benjamin Harrison set aside one square mile of Arizona Territory surrounding the Casa Grande Ruins as the first prehistoric and cultural reserve established in the United States.
Further discoveries at the site led President Woodrow Wilson to proclaim Casa Grande Ruins to be a National Monument on August 3, 1918.
Casa Grande Today
From 1937 to 1940, the Civilian Conservation Corps built a number of adobe structures to support park operations. These structures remain in use today.
Visitors to Casa Grande will find a visitors center, museum and bookstore. There is a movie about the park and its history.
3. Chiricahua National Monument | Arizona National Parks
Chiricahua National Monument is best described as a “wonderland of rocks.”
Chiricahua is a place where visitors can marvel at geologic wonders while birding, camping, hiking, or watching the wildlife which call this magical place their home.
Standing Up Rocks
Mother Nature can make a masterpiece to rival that of the greatest artists and Chiricahua is a case in point.
Eruptions from the Turkey Creek Volcano spewed ash over 1,200 square miles forming layers of gray rock called rhyolite.
Believe it or not, the amazing pinnacles, which are known as “standing up rocks,” were formed 27 million years ago.
The park comprises 12,025 acres and 84 percent of this is designated as wilderness. It has trails for everyone irrespective of their skill level.
An eight-mile scenic drive climbs from the grasslands to the summit at Massai Point.
Things To Do At Chiricahua National Monument
Bonita Canyon Campground is open year-round. The sites are available by online reservations through www.recreation.gov by searching Chiricahua National Monument. (Source: NPS)
While you’re visiting I recommend you take the Bonita Canyon Scenic Drive. It has an overlook with a 360-degree view of Rhyolite Canyon, adjacent valleys, and surrounding mountain peaks. It’s gorgeous! Don’t forget to bring your camera.
There’s picnicking at the Bonita Creek and Faraway picnic areas. They have tables, grills, trashcans, and restrooms. Massai Point, Echo Canyon, and Sugarloaf areas have tables and restrooms as well. Everything you’ll need to enjoy a feast with family or friends.
If you’re looking to soak up some culture and history then a visit to Faraway Ranch is worth the trip. Faraway began as a place where Swedish immigrants Neil and Emma Erickson raised their three children.
By 1917, sisters Lillian and Hildegard decided to develop a guest ranch on the family homestead. They called it Faraway Ranch and the it continued operations until the early 1970s.
In 1979, the National Park Service acquired the ranch house, land, outbuildings, furnishings, photographs, and countless other items. It’s all there for you to explore!
Hiking At Chiricahua | Easy Hikes
There are hiking trails for with varying levels of difficulty. I’m starting with easy trails for folks like me. They include:
- BONITA CREEK LOOP-This .2 mile loop trail takes you around the picnic area takes you along the intermittent Bonita Creek.
- BONITA CREEK TRAIL-This .5 mile trail winds along Bonita Creek and connects the Bonita Creek and Faraway Ranch Picnic Areas.
- SILVER SPUR MEADOW TRAIL-This 1.2 mile trail begins at the Faraway Ranch Picnic Area and leads you through the to the Stafford Cabin.
- MASSAI POINT NATURE TRAIL-This half mile trek features grand vistas of the surrounding valleys and mountain ranges, a huge balanced rock and trail signs highlighting the natural history of the monument.
- ECHO CANYON GROTTOES-It’s a one mile hike which provides a great introduction to the wilderness area of the monument and the opportunity to walk among the rock formations.
Hiking At Chiricahua | Moderate Hikes
Now it’s time to take it up a notch. Here’s some moderate trails to consider:
- NATURAL BRIDGE TRAIL-This 4.8 mile trail climbs through oak and juniper woodlands then drops into the Apache pine forest of Picket Park.
- SUGARLOAF MOUNTAIN TRAIL-It’s a 1.8 mile trek up the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain at 7,310 feet.
- ECHO CANYON LOOP-This 3.3 mile trail winds through spectacular rock formations including the Grottoes and Wallstreet to the densely wooded Echo Park.
- ECHO CANYON TO VISITOR CENTER-This 4.2 mile trail is mostly downhill through spectacular rock formations in Echo Canyon. Make sure you have transportation back to your vehicle.
Hiking At Chiricahua | Strenuous Hikes
For those of you who have managed to stay in good to great shape [you have my utmost respect] and have the endurance for the longer hikes, there are the following trails to consider:
- HEART OF ROCKS-This 7.3 mile trail consists of the Lower Rhyolite Canyon, Sarah Deming and Heart of Rocks Loop Trails. The rock steps make this a challenging loop, but it’s worth the extra effort and the extra steps.
- ECHO CANYON TO HEART OF ROCKS & RETURN-This 7.3 mile route consists of the Ed Riggs, Mushroom Rock, Big Balanced Rock and Heart of Rocks Loop Trails.
- ECHO CANYON OR MASSAI POINT, HEART OF ROCKS LOOP TO VISITOR CENTER-A 7.3 mile trek which includes: Mushroom Rock, Big Balanced Rock, Heart of Rocks Loop, Sarah Deming and Lower Rhyolite Canyon Trails. Make sure you have transportation back to your vehicle.
- THE BIG LOOP-Getting ready to run that marathon and show everyone else just how fit you are? If so then this trail’s for you. It’s 9.5 miles and it includes: Echo Canyon, Upper Rhyolite Canyon, Sarah Deming, Heart of Rocks, Big Balanced Rock, Inspiration Point, Mushroom Rock and Ed Riggs trails.
4. Coronado National Memorial | Arizona National Parks
Shortly after the discovery of America, the Spanish became obsessed with the idea that somewhere in the interior of the New World, there were rich mines of gold and silver.
With a serious case of “gold fever,” Spanish Explorer & Conquistador Francisco Vasquez de Coronado set off with an expedition in search of the Seven Cities of Cibola which were rumored to be filled with gold.
They Didn’t Find The 7 Cities Of Cibola
Coronado’s expedition consisted of over 300 Europeans, over 1000 Aztec/Mexica allies, a handful of Franciscan priests, and scores of servants and enslaved peoples.
They didn’t find the Seven Cities of Cibola, but their arrival in northwest Mexico and the American Southwest forever changed the lives and cultures of the indigenous peoples nonetheless.
The Coronado National Memorial recognizes their historical achievements.
Things To Do At The Coronado National Memorial
A good place to begin your visit is at the visitor center. There’s a film which provides a brief history of the expedition.
From there you’ll have an opportunity to see the magnificence of the lands once visited by Coronado only you will be able to travel in greater comfort than he did.
The Montezuma Pass Overlook & Scenic Drive is a great place to begin your expedition. It will take you to an elevation of 6,575 feet. The pass offers sweeping views to the east of the San Pedro River Valley and to the west over the San Rafael Valley.
Hiking Opportunities At Coronado
There are some wonderful hiking opportunities at Coronado. They include:
- Coronado Cave Trail-A one mile hike which requires scrambling 25 feet down a rocky slope to the cave floor.
- Coronado Peak Trail-It’s a .8 mile interpretive trail climbs from the trailhead at Montezuma Pass to Coronado Peak. As a bonus, you’ll see incredible views of Sonora, Mexico and the San Pedro River and San Rafael Valleys.
- Joe’s Canyon Trail-It’s 6.2 miles with scenic views of Montezuma Canyon and the San Pedro River Valley.
- Yaqui Ridge Trail-It’s a 2 mile hike. The trail descends steeply to the US/Mexico border making the total length 4 miles round-trip. It marks the southern terminus of the Arizona National Scenic Trail.
- Crest Trail-A 4 mile trek which begins at the northeast end of the Montezuma Pass parking area and climbs for 2 miles to the northwestern boundary of the park where it enters Coronado National Forest.
- Windmill Trail-A 2 mile hike which traverses an historic windmill and corral before ascending into the foothills below Montezuma Peak.
5. Fort Bowie National Historic Site | Arizona National Parks
The west could be a dangerous place in the 19th century. The U.S. established a series of outposts, otherwise known as forts, to bring to provide settlers with a measure of safety in an otherwise dangerous land.
The Battle of Apache Pass pitted Apache warriors against the Union volunteers of a California Column which had been dispatched from California to capture Confederate Arizona and to reinforce New Mexico’s Union army.
Fort Bowie was established in 1862 as a result of the Battle of Apache Pass.
While at the fort, visitors can tour the ruins of Fort Bowie and view the exhibits inside the visitor center. There are picnic facilities located at the trailhead on Apache Pass Road and the visitor center.
Visitors can also participate in bird watching, hiking, and wildlife viewing while there.
6. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area | Arizona National Parks
Let’s take a break from learning about all of the wonderful history behind so many incredible places and just have some fun. And Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is the perfect place to do it.
Whether you prefer aquatic adventures or backcountry excitement, Glen Canyon’s got it going on! We’re talking over 1.25 million acres straddling two states.
As far as things to do are concerned, there’s biking, boating, camping, fishing, off road vehicle driving, kayaking, scenic drives, ranger programs and more. Let’s take a deeper dive!
Biking & Hiking At Glen Canyon
You can ride the backcountry and primitive roads of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. It’s a great way to enjoy the scenery of the Colorado Plateau while on a bike. PLEASE REMEMBER: STAY ON DESIGNATED ROADS AT ALL TIMES AND DON”T FORGET TO WEAR A HELMET.
Designated areas to ride include: Wahweap, Bullfrog/Escalante, Halls Crossing/San Juan and Orange Cliffs.
When it comes to hiking, there are some excellent day hike areas. They include: Horseshoe Bend, Glen Canyon Rim Trail, Dam Overlook, Hanging Gardens, The Chains, Beehives, Stud Horse Trail and Wiregrass Canyon.
Scenic Drives At Glen Canyon
The Burr Trail is a 67 mile drive which connects Bullfrog and Boulder, Utah, and passes through Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Capitol Reef National Park, and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
It’s a wonderful way to enjoy the scenery without having to work too hard while you’re doing it.
Kayaking At Glen Canyon
There is no fee to launch a kayak in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. All launch ramps are welcome to any kind of boat.
If you want to do some Downlake Kayaking, Warm Creek Bay is a popular destination. Padre Bay is another great location as it has many nice beaches.
For Uplake Kayaking, there’s: Moqui Canyon: about 4.5-5 miles up stream from Halls Crossing marina, Lost Eden Canyon: about 1 mile down stream from Halls Crossing marina, Annie’s Canyon: about 15 miles downstream from Halls Crossing marina, and Escalante Arm: About 35 miles downstream from Halls Crossing.
There’s also River Kayaking along the Colorado & Escalante Rivers.
Camping At Glen Canyon
Campgrounds operated by the National Park Service include: Lees Ferry Campground, Lone Rock Beach Primitive Camping Area, Stanton Creek Primitive Camping Area and Beehives Campground.
If you’re looking for other option there’s also Campgrounds Operated by Park Concessioners. You might want to check out these as well.
Glen Canyon In The Movies | Arizona National Parks
We’re More Than Just Parks which means we give you more than just parks. At Glen Canyon, think of it as Back To The Future meets King Kong.
It’s a film which turns Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution on its head and makes each of us wonder what it truly means to be civilized. I’m referring to the 1968 classic film Planet Of The Apes!
If you’ve seen the film then you may notice that the scenery looks very familiar because much of it was actually filmed at Glen Canyon.
Calling All Makeup Artists | Planet Of The Apes
Now here’s a fun fact: Given the intricate makeup required for the actors playing the apes in the film, a small army of makeup artists was hired–approximately one hundred in all.
They used so many makeup artists in Planet of the Apes that other films had to delay their own productions due to a shortage of makeup artists.
The film’s star is an astronaut named Taylor who is portrayed by Charlton Heston. His journey with Cornelius and Zira through “the forbidden zone” was actually filmed along the majestic Colorado River in Glen Canyon.
Of course, if you’re not careful, the incredible beauty of this magical place might just drive you bananas.
7. Grand Canyon National Park | Arizona National Parks
Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park has a special significance for the founders of More Than Just Parks.
To quote the Pattiz Brothers:
We founded More Than Just Parks after a spur of the moment road trip with friends to the Grand Canyon during which we discovered the National Parks for the first time.
As for the place which forever changed their lives, it’s a mile-deep gorge in northern Arizona. Scientists estimate the canyon may have formed 5 to 6 million years ago when the Colorado River began to cut a channel through layers of rock. Humans have in and out of the canyon there since the last Ice Age.
The first Europeans to reach the Grand Canyon were Spanish explorers in the 1540s. President Benjamin Harrison first protected the Grand Canyon in 1893 as a forest reserve, and it became an official United States National Park in 1919.
The Powell Expedition & The Grand Canyon
I don’t know why Hollywood hasn’t made a film about this expedition. It’s Lewis & Clark Meets Indiana Jones! In 1869, John Wesley Powell, a one-armed Civil War veteran and self-trained naturalist, embarks on a daring descent of the mighty Colorado River.
Powell was be accompanied by 11 men in four wooden boats. He led the expedition through the Grand Canyon and over punishing rapids that many would hesitate to run today with modern rafts.
As for danger, three of Powell’s men were convinced that the rapids were impassable. Seneca Howland, O.G. Howland, and William H. Dunn decided to take their chances crossing the harsh desert lands above the canyon rims. These three began the long climb up out of the Grand Canyon. It was not a good decision on their part.
The three men allegedly encountered a war party of Shivwit Indians and were killed. As for Powell and the men who stayed the course, they lived to tell the tale and provide valuable information on the Grand Canyon and Colorado River.
Powell Led A 2nd Expedition
Powell led a second expedition (successfully again) in 1871. He also served as director of the U.S. Geological Survey from 1881 to 1894. As director of the U.S.G.S., Powell sparked controversy by advocating strict conservation of water resources in the developing states and territories of the West.
Things To Do At The Grand Canyon National Park
It’s not as dangerous a trek today as it was in Powell’s time. That having been said, it’s important that you gather the necessary information before setting out on your own adventures.
A good place to start is the Grand Canyon South Rim Visitor Center. You can learn about the history of this geologic wonder there.
Places of interest along the Canyon Rim include the Yavapai Museum of Geology and Verkamps Visitor Center.
Hiking Or Walking The Grand Canyon
Know what you can do before you set out. That having been said, the Canyon Rim Trail provides a nice introduction to the park. It goes alongside Hermit Road which is a 7 mile scenic road with 9 exceptional overlooks.
If you’re bold enough to go down the canyon then you’re faced with a different decision. South Rim or North Rim? The two rims offer visitors completely different atmospheres, elevations, and activities.
South Rim Vs. North Rim
The South Rim is more accessible from several large cities which makes it a perfect day trip. It’s also more user friendly and offers restaurants, cafeterias, stores and lodges. It’s a great choice for families with children.
The North Rim stays pleasantly cool, even during the summer. Since it’s covered in trees, the North Rim has a natural shade while the South Rim heats up drastically during the summer months.
There are plenty of hiking opportunities, but to get the most out of the North Rim, you’ll need to hike on lengthier and less accessible trails. Ultimately, the choice is yours. Be sure to do your homework. You don’t want to end up like Seneca Howland, O.G. Howland, and William H. Dunn.
8. Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument | Arizona National Parks
If you’re looking for a more rugged and less crowded option then the Grand Canyon then you can journey to the Parashant National Monument.
The vast, wild landscape of desert cactus, sheer canyon walls, soaring raptors, tall ponderosa pines, isolated cattle corrals and line shacks, lone cowboys, and rugged rock formations set against endless blue skies inspire those who seek it out.
Few signs of civilization interrupt the splendid natural landscape. It’s also one of the best places in the world to view dark night skies. (Source: NPS)
9. Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site | Arizona National Parks
The Hubbell Trading Post is the oldest operating Trading Post on the Navajo Nation. It’s been selling goods and Native American Art since 1878.
There is NO entrance fee. Visitors are free to walk the grounds. At the historic trading post and park store you will find arts and crafts along with grocery items and souvenirs.
I recommend beginning your visit at the visitor center where you can pick up a park map to learn about the Hubbell family, history of trade, and the importance of sheep and weaving to the Navajo people. From there, you’re on your own. Go forth and have some fun along the way.
10. Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail | Arizona National Parks
There’s so much wonderful southwestern history to be uncovered in Arizona. And it’s a place which attracted travelers from nearby and far away.
In 1775-76, Juan Bautista de Anza led 240 men, women, and children on an epic journey to establish the first non-Native settlement at San Francisco Bay. The 1,200-mile Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail connects history, culture, and outdoor recreation from Nogales, Arizona, to the San Francisco Bay Area.
Points Of Interest At Juan Batista
Three of my favorite historic sites of interest in Arizona are:
- Las Lagunas and Expedition Camp #13-This campsite in Nogales can be viewed by taking exit 5 off of northbound I-19 to Country Club Drive North and turning west. Park in the St. Andrew’s Church parking lot, but do not overstay your welcome, since it’s private land.
- Río Rico Trail-Starting at the staging area parking lot off of Río Rico Rd., several miles of trail parallel Anza’s route. From here, one can bike or walk to Tumacácori. Look for several small stone trail signs.
- Tumacácori National Historical Park-The visitor center is a National Historic Landmark and includes a museum. Visits to Calabasas and Guevavi can be arranged at the park’s headquarters. A trail connects Tumacácori and Tubac along the Santa Cruz river through beautiful riparian habitat containing cottonwoods and mesquite. (Source: NPS)
11. Lake Mead National Recreation Area | Arizona National Parks
If you love aquatic activities then Lake Mead is definitely the place for you.
Visitors to Lake Mead National Recreation Area can enjoy a variety of water recreation activities including: biking, boating, canoeing, camping, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, hunting, kayaking, scenic driving and even scuba diving.
Bicyclists are welcome at Lake Mead on park roads and on routes designated for bicycle use. There are also approved backcountry roads which are designated routes and are marked with a yellow arrow sign with a number on it.
Worried that there won’t be a place to launch your boat? Don’t be! If you’re planning on boating then Hemenway Harbor, PWC Beach, Boulder Harbor, Callville Bay, Echo Bay, Temple Bar, South Cove, Willow Beach, Cottonwood Cove, Katherine Landing, North Arizona Telephone Cove, Cabinsite Cove and Princess Cove all offer safe places to launch your boat.
Camping & Hiking At Lake Mead
There are over 900 camping and RV sites at 15 different locations. Too many to list here, but don’t worry as I’m confident there’s a site for you. Be sure to check ahead before you depart and make your arrangements so you won’t have any unpleasant surprises.
When it comes to hiking, don’t forget about the temperatures. Be honest with yourself about what you can do and come prepared. That means plenty of water.
That having been said, there are some wonderful hiking opportunities which include but are not limited to the following:
- Historic Railroad Trail-The Historic Railroad Trail is a wide and flat gravel trail consisting of five tunnels that lead to Hoover Dam.
- River Mountains Loop-It’s a 12-foot-wide paved path that surrounds the River Mountains, connecting Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Hoover Dam, Henderson, Boulder City and the rest of the Las Vegas Valley and is 34 miles in total length.
- Owl Canyon-Dramatic winding canyons below the Lake Mead high-water line have been revealed as the water level has dropped. The canyon gets its name from the owls that occasionally roost in the slot canyon.
- Wetlands-The hike winds down the hill into a dry wash that leads to the banks of a flowing creek. This area is ideal to bird watch, so be sure to bring your binoculars and camera.
- Northshore Summit-Hiking to the top of the bluff requires some rock scrambling and there are steep cliffs. From the summit visitors will get a panoramic view of the Muddy Mountains, the red rocks of the Bowl of Fire, Bitter Springs Valley and the Overton Arm. (Source: NPS)
Horseback Riding & Scuba Diving At Lake Mead
If you prefer the four-legged mode of transportation then you in luck. Horseback riding is allowed within designated areas. You can see the landscape the way people did 100 years ago. You’ll be treated to spectacular scenic vistas of Lake Mead and rugged and isolated backcountry.
Look for features include deep canyons, dry washes, sheer cliffs, distant mountain ranges, the lakes, colorful soils and rock formations and mosaics of different vegetation.
Or maybe you prefer an underwater adventure? If so then you should know that Lake Mead and Lake Mohave are among the best freshwater lakes in the world for scuba diving. There’s a range of depths and submerged sites for both novice and technical divers.
Canoeing & Kayaking At Lake Mead
So many fun activities! You can kayak, canoe or paddleboard along the smooth, calm waters of Lake Mead or Lake Mohave. Or experience a peaceful float down the Black Canyon National Water Trail along the Colorado River. If you don’t have your own water craft then have no fear. The marinas offer plenty of rentals.
12. Montezuma Castle National Monument | Arizona National Parks
I am fascinated by the cultures which predated the arrival of the Europeans. Montezuma Castle was established in 1906 as the third National Monument dedicated to preserving Native American culture. These were the folks who came along long before Columbus and the Gang.
Nevertheless, they knew how to live in style. These Native Americans crafted these 20 room high-rise apartments, nestled into a towering limestone cliff. It’s a truly amazing story of ingenuity and survival in an unforgiving desert landscape. Not only did they survive, but they prospered too.
Visitors to the site can examine a collection of amazing artifacts including basketry, hunting, jewelry, pottery and tools. There’s even a Southwest Virtual Museum where you can check out these amazing collections online.
Don’t Forget To Check Out The Scenery At Montezuma Castle
Montezuma Castle National Monument encompasses 826 acres and lies in the Verde Valley at the junction of the Colorado Plateau and Basin and Range physiographic provinces. Visitors are encouraged to check out the surroundings including the plant and animal life.
While you’re there, check out the Montezuma Well which has been home to many prehistoric groups of people since as early as 11,000 CE. Visitors can still see the irrigation canal, picnic areas, and historic Back ranch house at Montezuma Well.
13. Navajo National Monument | Arizona National Parks
Imagine exploring canyons that had been occupied for centuries prior to the birth of the United States. The Hopi, San Juan Southern Paiute, Zuni, and Navajo are tribes that inhabited the canyons of the Navajo National Monument. They built homes into the natural sandstone alcoves.
The monument was created in 1909 to protect the remains of three large pueblos dating to the 13th century. Archaeological evidence uncovered there documents the use of this region over the past several thousand years.
Today the park offers a visitor center, self-guided trails, free seasonal guided cliff dwelling tours, free camping, and more.
Walk The Ground Trod By Native Americans Hundreds Of Years Ago
Imagine walking the same ground trod by Native Americans centuries ago. There are three self-guided trails. They are:
- The Sandal Trail which is a 1.3 mile round-trip paved trail to the Betatakin Cliff Dwelling overlook.
- The Aspen Trail which is a 0.8 mile steep round-trip nature trail that leads to an overlook of a relict forest on the canyon floor.
- The Canyon View Trail which is a 0.8 mile round-trip canyon rim trail that leads to the park’s historic ranger station and provides views of the canyon.
There are also ranger-guided cliff-dwelling tours available at Betatakin and Keet Seel.
14. Old Spanish National Historic Trail | Arizona National Parks
Trade networks are as old as civilization itself. Merchants and traders sent goods from New Mexico to Los Angeles in the 18th and 19th centuries.
It was the Mexican trader Antonio Armijo who led the first commercial caravan from Abiquiú, New Mexico to Los Angeles in late 1829. Over the next twenty years, Mexican and American traders continued to use routes similar to the one he pioneered.
This trail network was a combination of the indigenous footpaths, early trade and exploration routes, and horse and mule routes which became known collectively as the “Old Spanish Trail.”
Today numerous programs and activities are available at sites and in communities along the Trail.
15. The Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument | Arizona National Parks
When you visit the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument you will discover that it’s an International Biosphere Reserve. Go there and behold a thriving community of plants and animals.
At Organ Pipe, visitors will have a variety of camping experiences to choose from including developed, primitive, and backcountry. There are some wonderful trails to hike which include:
- Visitor Center Nature Trail (.01 miles)
- Campground Perimeter Trail (1 mile)
- Desert View Trail (1.2 miles)
- Palo Verde Trail (2.6 miles)
There are mountain trails available to hike as well at Ajo and Puerto Blanco.
There’s A Biosphere There Too
The United Nations Educational, Scientific And Cultural Organization (UNESCO) conceived the Biosphere Reserve Program as one solution to the seemingly overwhelming environmental pressures confronting the world.
The biosphere at Organ Pipe has attracted scientists from around the world to conduct a variety of important studies to help us better understand the Sonoran Desert and the impact of humans on this amazing landscape.
16. Petrified Forest National Park | Arizona National Parks
Imagine a forest of petrified wood. It’s like something from another world and you have the opportunity to experience it firsthand.
Petrified Forest National Park, located in northeastern Arizona, is home to the Rainbow Forest. It’s chock full of colorful petrified wood.
If you’re new to the park then the visitor center is always a great place to start out. There’s an 18 minute orientation video to familiarize you with the park. There’s also a bookstore, exhibits, gift shop, restaurant and public amenities.
While You’re There Check Out The Rainbow Forest Museum
It’s also home to the Rainbow Forest Museum, which features paleontology exhibits and many trail access points.
In the center of the park you’ll find the petroglyphs of Newspaper Rock and the ruined village of Puerco Pueblo.
If you travel to the north of the park, you can visit the Painted Desert Inn, a 1930s adobe building, is a museum with Hopi murals.
Things To Do In The Petrified National Forest
There are some wonderful hiking trails in the park that highlight topics like archeology, natural environments, and the famous petrified logs. If you’re interested in backcountry hiking you can pick up a free guide at one of the park’s visitor centers.
The Petrified National Forest Park also has a designated Wilderness Area which consists of two units: one in the north allowing hikers to roam the red and orange part of the Painted Desert; and one in the south showcasing highly eroded landscapes, badlands, and petrified wood.
Bicycling in the park—including ebikes—is permitted on paved park roads and parking areas open to the public. Horseback riding is also available provided you BYOH (Bring Your Own Horse).
If you’re planning to stay overnight then be advised that there is no RV, car, or front country camping in the park. There is no boondocking, dispersed or “primitive” camping, or just pulling off into a parking area.
There is only backpacking/hiking into the designated Petrified Forest National Wilderness Area to spend the night in the park, at least a mile from your vehicle.
17. Pipe Spring National Monument | Arizona National Parks
Every park site has a different story to tell. In the case of Pipe Organ, it’s the story of human life, settlement, and struggle in the heart of the southwest desert.
Human beings began coming to this area approximately 1600 years ago and they left behind projectile points, seashells, pottery, and rock art. the paths they followed on foot are still carved onto the desert floor. Those were the footsteps they left on the sands of time for the rest of us to behold.
Pipe Organ became home to the Kaibab Paiute tribe. They would have neighbors because, beginning in the 1850s, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (otherwise known as Mormons) came to settle the area too.
Pipe Organ became a national monument in 1937. In 1976, the United Nations designated it as an International Biosphere Reserve. In 1977, Congress declared 95% of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument as a wilderness area.
To learn more about the history of Pipe Organ check out the Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians Visitor Center and Museum.
Enjoy The Scenery At Pipe Organ
There are some wonderful scenic drives which include:
- Ajo Mountain Drive-It’s a 21 mile, mostly gravel road usually passable by normal passenger car and it’s also a popular biking route too.
- Puerto Blanco Drive-It provides access to the Pinkley Peak Picnic Area, Red Tanks trail head, Dripping Springs, and Quitobaquito Springs.
- Bates Well Road-It extends for 23 miles from Hwy 85 to the boundary with Cabeza Prieata Wildlife Refuge.
- Pozo Nuevo Road-It’s a 14 mile road which offers views of the CIpriano Hills, the Growler Valley, and the historic Pozo Nuevo line-camp.
18. Saguaro National Park | Arizona National Parks
Saguaro National Park is unique in that it is bisected by the city of Tucson. It has two districts – East & West. It takes 30-45 minutes to travel between the two districts.
The park is home to the Saguaro Cactus. It’s a large, tree-sized cactus with a relatively long lifespan–up to 250 years.
The primary outdoor activities are biking, camping, hiking and horseback riding. It’s well worth a visit to this park as the desert beauty makes for an otherworldly experience.
Things To Do At Saguaro National Park East District
The Cactus Forest Scenic Loop Drive is a paved, combination one-way and two-way road that features several trailheads, scenic vistas, and pullouts in a total of 8 miles.
To reach the hiking trails from the visitor center, you must drive into the park on the Loop Drive. The first trailhead is accessed in about 2 miles and begins at the Mica View Picnic Area. There are several trailheads with parking off the Loop Drive.
Things To Do At Saguaro National Park West District
The Scenic Bajada Loop Drive is a great way to explore the district’s foothills. There are scenic pullouts, picnic areas, and hiking trailheads in a 6 mile loop.
Bicycling is permitted along the Bajada Loop Drive and all paved roads. Bicycling is not permitted on any trails, except the 0.5 mile Belmont Multi-use trail and the 2.5 mile Golden Gate Multi-use trail. (Source: NPS)
19. Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument | Arizona National Parks
Imagine taking a trip to a volcano. It’s not not active, but it was almost a thousand years ago.
Visitors to this Sunset Carter Volcano National Monument can take a drive through the 34 mile scenic loop that winds from Highway 89 through Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki National Monuments.
This scenic loop will take you from the high Ponderosa Pine forests of Sunset Crater down nearly 2,000 feet in elevation. There you’ll see the red rocks and painted desert vistas of Wupatki.
Do Some Hiking At Sunset Crater Volcano
There are some excellent hiking opportunities which include:
- Lava’s Edge Trail-Here you’ll have the opportunity to walk under ponderosa pines, over loose cinders and rough basalt along the jagged edge of the Bonito Lava Flow. The hike is 3.4 miles round trip.
- A-s Trail-On this .2 mile trek, you’ll jagged blocks of rough, basaltic a’a lava, formed as the Bonito Lava Flow cooled over 900 years ago.
- Lenox Crater Trail-A 1.6 mile hike where you’ll walk in a ponderosa pine forest.
- Bonito Vista Trail-Imagine walking across a field of cinders on this paved trail for an expansive view of the Bonito Lava Flow and surrounding volcanoes. This trial is .3 miles.
- Lava Flow Trail-A 1 mile hike where you’ll explore numerous volcanic features while walking at the base of Sunset Crater Volcano. (Source: NPS)
20. Tonto National Monument
So if you’re someone who has never experienced a cliff dwelling then you’re in for a real treat because visitors to Tonto National Monument have the opportunity to marvel at two Salado-style cliff dwellings.
You can also see colorful pottery, woven cotton cloth, and other artifacts tell a story of people living and using resources from the northern Sonoran Desert from 1250 to 1450 CE.
Tonto was established in 1907. It’s mission is to protect several cliff dwelling sites and numerous smaller archeological sites scattered throughout the highlands and alluvial plains within the Tonto Basin, Arizona.
The Lower Cliff Dwelling is one of two large sites accessible to the public, and is the primary site visited in the Monument throughout the year.
21. Tumacácori National Historical Park
The history of the Southwestern United States was heavily influenced by Spain during its colonial era. Tumacácori National Historical Park in Southern Arizona protects the ruins of three missions founded by the Spanish during this time.
Jesuit Father Eusebio Franciso Kino founded 24 missions in the region including two of the three on display at Tumacácori. They were Los Santos Ángeles de Guevavi and San José de Tumacácori. The third, San Cayetano de Calabazas, was founded later by Jesuit father Francisco Pauer.
In January of 1691, Kino founded the very first mission, Tumacácori, in what later would become the state of Arizona.
Things To Do At Tumacácori National Historical Park
Visitors enter Tumacácori National Historical Park through the Tumacácori visitor center. The visitor center offers a 15 minute video, an excellent museum, and a bookstore.
A self-guided interpretive tour booklet, “In the Footprints of the Past,” is available for loan or purchase in the bookstore.
Guided tours are available at 11:00 and 2:00 January through March, and may be available at other times and seasons. Special tours, such as guided walks to the Santa Cruz River, may also be available. (Source: NPS)
22. Tuzigoot National Monument | Arizona National Parks
What is Tuzigoot? It’s a national monument which preserves a 2- to 3-story pueblo ruin on the summit of a limestone and sandstone ridge just east of Clarkdale, Arizona, 120 feet above the Verde River floodplain.
And what’s even better is that you have the opportunity to see it for yourself. At Tuzigoot you can visit Pueblo structure, learn about the Sinagua people and explore the desert wildlife around you.
And let’s not forget about the The Tuzigoot Visitor Center & Museum, which was built in 1935-1936. The museum is actually an exhibit in and of itself as the construction techniques used for the building are updated, modern-day versions of traditional Sinagua construction.
Museum collections consist of archeological artifacts removed from Tuzigoot and nearby archeological sites, plus associated field records. Notable collection items include several very large ollas, scraps of woven baskets and cotton fabric, dozens of obsidian projectile points, and several pieces of jewelry and other decorative pieces. (Source: NPS)
23. Walnut Canyon National Monument
You can take a trail like no other at Walnut Canyon National Monument. The one mile round-trip Island Trail provides access to 25 cliff dwellings.
And while you’re exploring you’ll see curved canyon walls and remarkable rocks. Among the amazing geological formations of the canyon itself are the former homes of ancient inhabitants.
As you walk along the trails you can imagine life within Walnut Canyon, while visiting actual pueblos and walking in the steps of those who came before. It’s just like you’re in a dream only you’re not.
24. Wupatki National Monument
And last, but certainly not least, on our extraordinary list of Arizona National Park Sites is the Wupatki National Monument.
Located between the Painted Desert and ponderosa highlands of northern Arizona, Wupatki is a landscape indicative of an ancient past.
What you’ll behold there are ancient pueblos dot red-rock outcroppings across miles of prairie. Imagine living in a harsh desert environment where food and water are not readily available.
And yet the amazing people who lived there built pueblos, raised families, farmed, traded, and even thrived. Sure you can read about it in books or see it on television, but it’s simply not the same as going there and experiencing it for yourself.
These places have incredible stories to tell us, but only if we’re willing to make the time to come and see them for ourselves.
This Is The American Story
To Learn More
- The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons by John Wesley Powell.
- Arizona Myths and Legends: The True Stories behind History’s Mysteries (Legends of the West) by Sam Lowe.
- Roadside History of Arizona (Roadside History Series) by Marshall Trimble.
- Arizona Ghost Towns: 50 of the State’s Best Places to Get a Glimpse of the Old West by Noah Austin.
- A Natural History of the Sonoran Desert by the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum.
Map Of Arizona National Park Sites
List Of Arizona National Park Sites
- Canyon de Chelly National Monument
- Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
- Chiricahua National Monument
- Coronado National Memorial
- Fort Bowie National Historic Site
- Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
- Grand Canyon National Park
- Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument
- Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site
- Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail
- Lake Mead National Recreation Area
- Montezuma Castle National Monument
- Navajo National Monument
- Old Spanish National Historic Trail
- Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
- Petrified Forest National Park
- Pipe Spring National Monument
- Saguaro National Park
- Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
- Tonto National Monument
- Tumacácori National Historical Park
- Tuzigoot National Monument
- Walnut Canyon National Monument
- Wupatki National Monument