Interesting and fun things to see and do in Arizona

INSIDE: We’ve found 40 lakes in Arizona to get out on the water-discover YOUR best lake in Arizona for swimming, fishing, boating and more!

“Skip a stone. Take a hike. Sit a spell. Listen. Daydream. Just breathe. This is lake living.”–Unknown

I might add: “Catch a fish. Paddle a bit. Take the PLUNGE!”

We all know hot summer days in Arizona can be, well, really HOT🥵! But luckily, there are refreshing lakes all over the state just waiting for you to dive into.

The Grand Canyon state is home to some of the most beautiful natural scenery in the country, and these lakes look especially inviting when the temperatures are inching up.

From kayaking and paddle boarding, to fishing, boating, or just plain ol’ takin’ a jump in the lake, there are endless ways to enjoy these refreshing bodies of water. Whether you’re looking for a busy boaters paradise, or a sleepy little beach on a quiet cove, we’ve got you covered.

Read on for our list of 40 lakes in Arizona where you can cool off this summer. One of them is bound to be the BEST lake in Arizona . . . for YOU 😊.

(Note: to see an alphabetical listing of all Arizona Lakes, scroll down to the bottom of the page)

1-7: Arizona Lakes near Phoenix

1-Apache Lake AZ

Apache Lake, nestled between the Superstition and Four Peaks Wilderness Areas, is a hidden gem of Arizona. Its secluded location provides visitors with a serene escape from the bustling city life.

The lake is over 17 miles long (essentially a dammed section of the Salt River) and boasts crystal-clear waters. It’s perfect for swimming or water sports. Visitors can rent a boat or kayak to explore the lake’s many coves and inlets.

The lake’s picturesque surroundings also offer visitors an opportunity to hike, bike, or simply relax on one of the lake’s many beaches. From the lake, visitors can see breathtaking views of the Superstition Mountains and the Tonto National Forest.

Apache Lake is a prime location for wildlife enthusiasts, as it is home to a variety of animals such as mule deer, coyotes, and even black bears !🐻

Visitors looking to spend a night or two can choose from a variety of camping options or rent a cabin in the nearby town of Roosevelt. The lake’s campgrounds offer both tent and RV sites, as well as amenities such as picnic tables and fire rings.

  • Location: Central Arizona; 70 miles east of Phoenix
  • Best for: Fishing, Boating, Camping, Swimming, Hiking
  • Nearest town: Roosevelt (16 miles)

2-Bartlett Lake AZ

Bartlett Lake, located in the Tonto National Forest, is a serene escape from the summer heat.

Although not a huge lake (about 2 square miles), Bartlett still manages to offer plenty of space for visitors to engage in boating, fishing, and kayaking.

The surrounding desert landscape and mountain ranges offer a beautiful backdrop for picnicking or lounging on one of the many beaches or shaded areas.

Bartlett Lake may be the best lake in Arizona if wildlife is what you’re seeking: it’s known for including bald eagles 🦅 and bighorn sheep, providing a unique opportunity for nature enthusiasts.

Those seeking a weekend retreat can stay at one of the lake’s many campsites or rent a cabin in the area.

  • Location: Central Arizona; 57 miles northeast of Phoenix
  • Best for: Fishing, Boating, Camping, Swimming, Hiking
  • Nearest town: Carefree (21 miles)

3-Canyon Lake Arizona

Located in the Tonto National Forest, Canyon Lake is a breathtaking oasis surrounded by rugged mountains and rocky cliffs. Made from damming the Salt River, Canyon Lake is just west of Apache Lake (see above).

The lake is a popular destination for boating, fishing, and camping, and many consider it the best lake in Arizona for the glass-like waters that are perfect for swimming and kayaking. If you’re looking for a place to relax and escape the heat, this is definitely the spot.

The lake is also home to several coves and beaches perfect for picnicking and soaking up the sun. Whether you’re looking for a day trip or a weekend getaway, Canyon Lake is a must-visit destination in Arizona.

  • Location: Central Arizona; 38 miles east of Mesa
  • Best for: Fishing, Hiking, Paddling, Boating, Camping, Swimming
  • Nearest town: Apache Junction (15 miles)

4-Horseshoe Lake AZ

Just a short drive from Phoenix, Horseshoe Lake (technically “Horseshoe Reservoir”)offers a cool escape from the Arizona heat. The lake is a popular spot for swimming, fishing, and kayaking, thanks to the dam at its southern end.

Visitors can also enjoy a picnic on the shore or hike one of the nearby trails that offer stunning views of the surrounding mountains. But be warned: motorized boats are limited to 25hp. This adds to the peaceful ambiance of the area, making it the perfect spot for a relaxing day out in the sun.

For a more secluded experience, head to the lake during the week or early in the morning on weekends. This may be the best lake in Arizona for a quick escape.

  • Location: Central Arizona; 58 miles north of Phoenix
  • Best for: Fishing, Paddling, Camping
  • Nearest town: Cave Creek (25 miles)

5-Pleasant Lake AZ (Lake Pleasant Regional Park)

Nestled in the Bradshaw Mountains, Pleasant Lake is a delight to find so close to Phoenix. The lake is surrounded by Sonoran Desert landscape that boasts its share of Saguaros, along with plenty of wildflowers in the spring.

Whether you prefer to relax on the shore or explore the lake, there’s plenty to do at Pleasant Lake. You can enjoy a peaceful day of fishing, paddle-boarding, or kayaking while taking in the breathtaking scenery. If you’re looking for a more active adventure, take a hike around the lake or sign up for a scorpion-hunting excursion 🦂 (better you than me 😳)

I’ll be with the crowd that packs a picnic to enjoy in the shade.

  • Location: Central Arizona; 45 miles north of Phoenix
  • Best for: Fishing, water sports, swimming, hiking, camping,
  • Nearest town: Lake Pleasant Town Center (14 miles)
Best lake in Arizona for a day trip

6-Saguaro Lake AZ

Saguaro Lake is a serious contender for best lake in Arizona, and it’s no wonder: Just a short drive from Phoenix, the lake is nestled in the Sonoran Desert with canyon walls all around and activities galore. As you might expect, there are Saguaro cacti all over the place 🌵. (And the drive up there is GOR-geous!)

Boating and water skiing are super-popular; the lake and can often get crowded on weekends. For a little more seclusion, head eastward to the upper reaches of the lake.

Saguaro may be the only Arizona lake that offers tour-boat trips: if you want to hang out an let someone else do all the work (a concept we totally endorse!), contact the Desert Belle for more information.

Feel like viewing the lake on horseback? No problem! Book a trail ride at the adjacent Saguaro Lake Ranch Stable for some super desert-immersion. For a more upscale lake experience, book a cabin at the Saguaro Lake Ranch. We love the combination of lake-desert-ranch living!

  • Location: Central Arizona; 43 miles east of Phoenix
  • Best for: Boating, fishing, waterskiing, hiking, horseback riding, picnicking, swimming
  • Nearest town: Mesa & vicinity (~30 miles)

7-Tempe Town Lake AZ

Some days you’d just like to escape for a few hours, and you need someplace close and convenient. Tempe Town Lake to the rescue!

A section of the Salt River has been dammed up to create a fantastic public space right in the town of Tempe, adjacent to the ASU campus 🔱. (Apologies to my U of A buddies, but hey, it is what it is. 🤷‍♀️)

There are walks along the water’s edge, a boat basin and rentals of all sorts of (non-motorized) watercraft . . . even a beach on the north side and a pedestrian bridge spanning the lake.

After a few hours out on the water stop by one of the nearby restaurants, coffeeshops or brewpubs for a refreshing end to a great day on the water.

Tempe Town Lake is the best lake in Arizona for a super-quick lakefront getaway!

  • Location: Central Arizona ; 10 miles east of Phoenix
  • Best for: Paddling, walking, picnicking
  • Nearest town: In town Tempe
Denis Tangney Jr, Getty Images

8-22: Best Lake in Arizona: Eastern Arizona

8-Bear Canyon Lake AZ

Bear Lake is a picturesque destination surrounded by pine trees and rugged landscape. The lake is a favorite among locals and visitors alike, offering a peaceful retreat from the scorching Arizona sun.

You can try your hand at fishing, paddleboarding, or kayaking across the tranquil waters. Go for a leisurely hike or picnic surrounded by the stunning nature of the area.

Keep in mind that Bear Lake is a no-wake lake, making it an ideal spot for a relaxing outing. If you’re looking for quiet, this may very well be the best lake in Arizona for you.

  • Location: East Central Arizona; 45 miles northeast of Payson
  • Best for: Fishing, Camping, Swimming, Hiking, Paddling
  • Nearest town: Payson (45 miles west); Heber-Overgaard (40 miles east)

9-Becker Lake AZ

Becker Lake is just a short drive from the town of Springerville and is another gem in Arizona’s crown of refreshing lakes. This lake, amid the 622-acre Becker Wildlife Area, boasts crystal clear waters and unparalleled fishing opportunities.

In fact, this lake is known as one of the best fly-fishing spots in the entire state. With a variety of fish species like rainbow, cutthroat, and brown trout, it’s no surprise that Becker Lake is a favorite among anglers. (Although be aware that it’s catch-and-release . . . so a great place to practice your skills! 🐟)

But it’s not just the fishing that makes Becker Lake worth a visit. The surrounding scenery is equally breathtaking. The surrounding trails through the adjacent wildlife area offer plenty of opportunities for hiking, bird-watching, and simply enjoying the serenity of nature.

Becker Lake is only available for day use, however a few nearby RV parks make it a good destination for a longer stay.

  • Location: East Central Arizona; 45 miles east of Show Low
  • Best for: Fishing, Hiking, Paddling
  • Nearest town: Springerville (2 miles)
Best lake in Arizona to practice your skills?

10-Big Lake AZ

If you’re an avid angler or just looking for a serene spot to unwind, Big Lake is a must-visit destination in Arizona. The lake is nestled in the eastern edge of the White Mountains, surrounded by ponderosa pines and aspen groves that offer a cool respite from the sweltering heat.

It’s a prime location for fishing (making it a contender for best lake in Arizona), with a bountiful stock of trout, and you can rent a boat or kayak to explore the lake’s pristine waters.

But fishing isn’t the only activity at Big Lake- there are miles of trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. The trails wind through the lush forests and meadows, providing breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape. You can spot wildlife such as elk, deer, and turkey while you hike.

There are plenty of designated picnic areas where you can recharge with a snack or lunch. Later, settle down for a relaxing evening at one of the many campsites (both tent and RV) near the lake. You can stargaze under the clear night sky and drift off to sleep with the sound of the rustling leaves and chirping crickets.

  • Location: East Central Arizona; 55 miles southeast of Show Low
  • Best for: Fishing, Hiking, Paddling, Mountain Biking, Camping
  • Nearest town: Greer (38 miles)

11-Black Canyon Lake AZ

Black Canyon Lake, just a short drive from Luna Lake (see below), is another stunning destination for those seeking relief from the summer heat. The lake is a picturesque oasis nestled in the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest, surrounded by dense pine trees and an abundance of wildlife.

Visitors can fish for rainbow trout, paddle on the serene waters, or hike along the surrounding trails, taking in the scenic beauty of the area.

Camping is also available at the designated sites near the lake–although the lake area itself is restricted to day use. Be sure to reserve camping sites in advance as they can fill up quickly during peak season. In the evening, chill out and stargaze, enjoying the peacefulness of the outdoors.

  • Location: East Central Arizona; 45 miles east of Payson
  • Best for: Fishing, Hiking, Paddling, Camping (nearby)
  • Nearest town: Heber-Overgaard (22 miles)
Is this the best lake in Arizona for paddling? Maybe.

12-Earl Park Lake AZ

Nestled in a canyon behind Hawley Lake (see below) on White Mountain Apache Tribal Lands, Earl Park Lake is small, relatively unknown . . . and calm.

Surrounded by a stunning combination of ponderosa pine, Douglas fir and blue spruce, the lake is well protected from the winds that can whip many high country lakes into a frenzy. If you’re looking for a day(s) of super-chill catch-and-release fishing, this is YOUR best lake in Arizona! 🎣

Earl Park Lake is literally walking distance (0.6 miles) from Hawley Lake, with access to the same cabins and camping facilities.

  • Location: East Central Arizona; 38 miles southeast of Show Low
  • Best for: Fishing, Paddling, Camping
  • Nearest town: Pinetop (25 miles)

13-Fool Hollow Lake AZ

If you’re seeking a more secluded and tranquil spot to cool off, Fool Hollow Lake might be just what you need. Located near the town of Show Low, this picturesque lake offers a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. With sun-dappled waters surrounded by tall trees, Fool Hollow Lake is perfect for swimming, kayaking, and fishing.

As a designated recreation area in the Arizona State Parks system, Fool Hollow Lake has excellent facilities, including campsites and hot showers.

Fool Hollow also has several trails that wind through the surrounding forests–perfect for hiking enthusiasts. The lake’s peaceful coves and beaches are perfect for a picnic or simply soaking up the sun.

  • Location: East Central Arizona; 5 miles north of Show Low
  • Best for: Fishing, Hiking, Paddling, Boating, Camping, Swimming, Picnicking
  • Nearest town: Show Low (5 miles)
Possibly the best lake in Arizona for a family getaway

14-Hawley Lake AZ

Hawley Lake is a beautiful alpine lake located on the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation in eastern Arizona. Surrounded by tall trees and stunning mountain views, this lake is the perfect getaway from the desert heat.

Visitors can enjoy fishing and all sorts of paddling. For added variety, mosey over to adjacent Earl Park Lake (see above) for an even more secluded setting.

Hawley Lake also offers camping options for those who want to spend a night under the stars. The cool, crisp air and serene atmosphere make it a contender for best lake in Arizona for a family vacation or a romantic weekend retreat.

  • Location: East Central Arizona; 38 miles southeast of Show Low
  • Best for: Fishing, Paddling, Camping
  • Nearest town: Pinetop (25 miles)

15-Knoll Lake AZ

Knoll Lake is a hidden gem that’s well worth the drive. This picturesque lake tucked UP (elevation 7,400 feet!) in the Coconino National Forest is a stark contrast to the arid desert landscape nearby. The placid water reflects the towering ponderosa pines 🌲🌲 that surround it, creating an idyllic setting for fishing, boating, or simply taking in the tranquil scenery.

The lake is stocked with rainbow trout, making it a popular spot for anglers looking for a peaceful day of fishing. Visitors can bring their own boats. There are also several picnic areas and a campground nearby, allowing visitors to spend the night and fully immerse themselves in the quiet surroundings.

If you love the cool air at high altitudes, this may be the best lake in Arizona for you.

PRO TIP: Knoll Lake is situated atop the Mogollon Rim–be sure to check out the Mogollon Rim Visitors Center during your stay!

  • Location: East Central Arizona; 145 miles northeast of Phoenix
  • Best for: Fishing, Paddling, Camping, Hiking
  • Nearest town: Payson (54 miles)

16-Lake of the Woods AZ

Lake of the Woods may be the best lake in Arizona if you like a little civilization mixed in with your love of nature. This picturesque lake is part of a private 25-acre resort, in the town of Lakeside amid Arizona’s White Mountains. It provides a serene and peaceful setting for anyone looking to escape the heat.

The resort provides cabin rentals, and stocks the lake with trout for fishing. You can spend hours exploring the lake, watching the wildlife, and simply taking in the beauty that surrounds you. If a lovely cabin by a quiet lake is your idea of paradise, put this on your shortlist for best lake in Arizona.

Note that swimming is not allowed in the lake.

  • Location: East Central Arizona; 186 miles northeast of Phoenix
  • Best for: Fishing, Chillin’
  • Nearest town: In the town of Lakeside
Photo courtesy Lake of the Woods Resort

17-Luna Lake AZ

Ringed by wildflower meadows and ponderosa pines, Luna Lake is tucked away the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. A stay here offers a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Visitors can also enjoy boating (there are rentals on site), mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking and fishing (the lake is regularly stocked with trout).

After a day of adventuring, park your RV or set up a cozy tent at one of the many campsites near the lake and unwind under the stars. Surrounded by the chirping sounds of crickets and the rustling of the leaves, you’ll sleep like a baby (assuming your baby sleeps 😉)

NOTE: Because the lake is used for irrigation during July & August, fishing is best from March through June.

  • Location: East Central Arizona; 3 miles west of the New Mexico state line
  • Best for: Fishing, biking, hiking, horseback riding, camping
  • Nearest town: Alpine (3 miles)

18-Rainbow Lake AZ

Rainbow Lake in Pinetop-Lakeside captures the essence of Arizona’s natural beauty in a comfortable in-town setting. Across the road from Lake of the Woods (see above), the lake is surrounded by lush greenery and cozy cabins. The serene atmosphere is perfect for those seeking to spend some time in the cool mountain air.

Whether you are interested in fishing (the lake is well-stocked), kayaking, or just lounging on the shore, Rainbow Lake has something for everyone. Gas-powered boats must be 10 horsepower or less, and boat rentals are available at Rainbow’s End Resort near the lake.

Much of the lake is surrounded by private property, however many of the cabins surrounding the lake are available for rental, and there are a few small lakefront resorts. If a cabin on a peaceful lake with modern conveniences nearby is your type of vacation, Rainbow Lake might be the best lake in Arizona for you.

  • Location: East Central Arizona; 186 miles northeast of Phoenix
  • Best for: Fishing, paddling, cabin/home rentals
  • Nearest town: In town Lakeside
Photo courtesy

19-Reservation Lake AZ

Reservation Lake would be the best lake in Arizona for you if you like things “back country style.” Located on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation (so the name totally makes sense), this lake in the White Mountains is worth the unpaved roads taken to reach it.

At an elevation of 7,200 feet, you can be assured of cool days and cozy nights even in the height of summer. (The lake is closed between November and April.)

You can fish for rainbow, brook, and brown trout. There is a general store about 20 miles away.

  • Location: East Central Arizona; 240 miles east of Phoenix
  • Best for: Fishing, boating, camping
  • Nearest town: Greer (25 miles)

20-Theodore Roosevelt Lake (aka Lake Roosevelt AZ)

This man-made lake is located in the Tonto National Forest and is the largest reservoir in Arizona, measuring approximately 22 miles long.

Because of it’s size, Roosevelt Lake is known for its excellent fishing opportunities, with a variety of fish species such as bass, catfish, and crappie inhabiting its waters. So grab your fishing gear and get ready for some fun!

Aside from fishing, Roosevelt Lake also offers plenty of opportunities for water sports, such as boating, jet-skiing, and kayaking. And with that loooong lake, water skiers can really get zipping! You can also take a dip in the lake to cool off from the Arizona heat. There are multiple access points along the southern side of the lake, which include campgrounds.

The scenery surrounding the lake is breathtaking, and nearby Tonto National Monument is a worthwhile side excursion. The Arizona small town of Miami/Globe is also a fun day trip while in the area.

  • Location: Central Arizona; 108 miles east of Phoenix
  • Best for: Boating, water sports, camping, hiking, picnicking
  • Nearest town: Miami/Globe (27 miles)

21-Willow Springs Lake AZ

Willow Springs Lake is another beautiful option for those seeking a cool reprieve in Arizona’s White Mountains. The stunning setting of this boomerang-shaped lake at 7,600 ft elevation is sure to be refreshing even at the height of summer. It’s easy access off the Payson-Heber Highway makes it a great day destination if you’re staying in the area.

AZ Game and Fish created Willow Springs as a trout fishing lake, and it’s stocked regularly from spring through fall. Boating is allowed (limit 10hp motor), along with canoes, kayaks, etc.

For those wanting to stay longer, the Sinkhole campground is within walking distance. Taking a morning hike (or mountain bike through the nearby trails or simply enjoying a relaxing picnic by the lakeside.

  • Location: East Central Arizona; 120 miles northeast of Phoenix
  • Best for: Paddling, fishing, picnicking, camping, hiking, mountain biking
  • Nearest town: Payson (32 miles)

22-Woodland Lake AZ

Tucked in at the edge of the town of Pinetop, Woodland Lake anchors the town’s Woodland Lake Park. Set amid towering pine trees (we are in Pinetop, after all 🌲) this small alpine lake has all the facilities for a pleasant day at the lake, while still being close to in-town amenities.

The lake is stocked with trout for fishing, and has a boat ramp and jetty to get out on the water. There are numerous hiking trails around the lake and through the park, along with picnic grounds, volleyball courts . . . even a play area for little ones.🛝

After enjoying park, stop off at one of Pinetop-Lakeside’s many restaurants to round out a perfect day in the White Mountains.

  • Location: East Central Arizona; 190 miles northeast of Phoenix
  • Best for: Paddling, fishing, picnicking, hiking, playground for little ones
  • Nearest town: Pinetop (on site)

23-29: Best Lakes in Arizona near Flagstaff

23-Blue Ridge Reservoir (C.C. Cragin Reservoir)

If you’re searching for a peaceful getaway, Blue Ridge Reservoir should be on your list for best lake in Arizona. This stunning, serpentine lake is tucked away in the Coconino National Forest and offers visitors a serene atmosphere to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life. The crystal-clear waters are perfect for swimming, fishing, or kayaking.

For those who enjoy hiking, Blue Ridge Reservoir has several trails that offer breathtaking views of the surrounding forest. The trails vary in difficulty, so whether you’re a beginner or an experienced hiker, you’ll find a route that suits your needs.

Camping is also available at the designated sites near the lake, but be sure to reserve in advance as they can fill up quickly during the (limited) open season. In the evening, gather around a campfire, enjoying the quiet forest and the stars above.

NOTE: The campgrounds and reservoir are closed in the winter months, only open from Memorial Day through mid-fall.

  • Location: Central Arizona; 63 miles south of Flagstaff
  • Best for: Fishing, Hiking, Paddling, Boating (up to 10Hp), Camping, Swimming
  • Nearest town: Strawberry (30 miles)

24-Lake Mary AZ

Located near Flagstaff, Lake Mary is a popular destination for those seeking to escape the summer heat. This man-made reservoir is surrounded by the Coconino National Forest and offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation.

Boaters & water skiers love Lake Mary: with no limit on motor size you can really zip along! But the lake is also popular with canoes, sailboats and . . . just about anything that floats!

The lake is stocked with multiple types of fish, making it a prime spot for the rod-n-reel set. Additionally, there are several picnic areas and hiking trails around the lake for those who want to explore the surrounding wilderness. Lake Mary may be the best lake in Arizona for anyone spending time exploring the area around Flagstaff during the summer.

  • Location: North Central Arizona; 15 southeast of Flagstaff
  • Best for: Fishing, Paddling, All motorized water sports
  • Nearest town: Flagstaff (15 miles)

25-Long Lake AZ (+ the Soldier Lakes)

Long & the Soldier Lakes make up a sweet little spot for fishing at the northeastern edge of the Coconino National Forest. The lakes aren’t large, and water levels vary greatly with rainfall/snowmelt.

But despite their small size, the lakes offer variety. According to the US Forest Service, “each of these bodies of water is known for producing a different species of fish. Soldier Lake provides good fishing for bass and catfish. Soldier Annex Lake is better known for its catfish, although blue gill can also be caught here. Long Lake is the only one of the three that is stocked with trout but is also good for walleye and catfish.”

Camping here is primitive, but if you crave a totally down-to-earth setting with lots of fish, this trio of small lakes may win your vote for best lake in Arizona!

NOTE: Winslow is the nearest town . . . be sure to check out Standing on the Corner Park!

  • Location: Northern Arizona; 68 miles southeast of Flagstaff
  • Best for: Fishing, primitive camping
  • Nearest town: Winslow (43 miles)

PRO TIP: Consider these things to do in Winslow AZ, when you’re done fishing at Long Lake!

26-Mormon Lake AZ

Trick question: When is a lake not a lake? Answer: When it’s Mormon Lake . . . maybe. Allow me to explain.

This natural lake in the Coconino National Forest is fed by rainfall and snowmelt, and its water level can fluctuate significantly throughout the year . . . and from year to year. However, no matter how much water is here, it’s a terrific destination!

When the lake has water in it, it is still relatively shallow, with enough water to resemble a riparian marsh. Boating is allowed, but you probably wouldn’t want to put a motor in here. However, kayaks and canoes would happily float along 🛶 . Mormon lake is also a popular spot for windsurfing.

Visitors can bring their own water craft or rent canoes, kayaks, and paddle boards from the on-site concessionaire. There are also several scenic trails around the lake that for both hiking and horseback riding in the ponderosa pine forest.

And if there’s not much (or any) water? Don’t despair! The lake bed forms a gorgeous alpine meadow that is a popular feeding spot for wildlife . . . and abounds with wildflowers . . . which is a pretty great consolation prize. 🌼🦌 So a candidate for best lake in Arizona? Just maybe!

There are tent sites for camping, and the Mormon Lake Lodge offers cabins and motel rooms, along with RV sites (and a cozy restaurant!). It’s a great place to escape the crowds and experience the beauty of nature . . . water or not.

  • Location: North Central Arizona; 135 miles north of Phoenix
  • Best for: Windsurfing, paddling, wildlife viewing, hiking, camping, cabins
  • Nearest town: Flagstaff (25 miles)
Best lake in arizona-with or without water (Credit: US Forest Service Coconino Nat’l Forest)

27-Odell Lake AZ

Odell Lake is a small man-made lake at the southern end of the community of Munds Park in northern Arizona. It’s a shallow lake, suitable for simple (non-motored) boats and novice fisherfolk (i.e. kids . . .or me!) Since its not very deep the lake dries out periodically.

However, the lake’s southern end abuts the Coconino National Forest and has access to hiking trails and beautiful scenery with pine trees, wildflowers, and all that you might expect of a northern Arizona wilderness.

The community of Munds Park has a golf course, restaurants and several vacation homes available for rent. Therefore, this may be the best lake in Arizona if you’re looking for a sweet little community to spend your summer holiday.

  • Location: North Central Arizona; 125 miles north of Phoenix
  • Best for: Hiking, wildlife viewing, Vacation home rentals
  • Nearest town: Flagstaff (21 miles)

28-Potato Lake AZ

Okay, let’s admit it . . . don’t you just love a lake named “Potato”? Tucked up in the Coconino National Forest, our buddy Potato Lake is modest, and totally okay with that.

It’s not a large lake, but it sure is pretty–surrounded by a combination of ponderosa pines and aspens that are beautiful any time of the year. Imagine this color combo in the fall . . . definitely a contender for best lake in Arizona for fall foliage! 🌲🍂

The lake is stocked with trout, but it’s small size puts it more in the category suited to novice fishermen (or fisherkids).

Boats are limited to the non-motorized version, so bring your canoe or similar and settle in for a low-key day in a stellar setting. You’ll soon love a lake named “Potato”, too. 🥰

  • Location: North central Arizona; 128 miles northeast of Phoenix
  • Best for: Novice Fishing, paddling, enjoying the scenery
  • Nearest town: Strawberry (15 miles)
Stunning foliage in the fall

29-Stoneman Lake AZ

Stoneman Lake may just be the best lake in Arizona for you. . . if you’re looking for a quiet spot for birdwatching and spotting other wildlife.

Like its companion, nearby Mormon Lake (see above), the lake fills naturally from rainwater and snowmelt, which means the water level varies from year to year.

Either way, Stoneman Lake is a lovely spot. Bring your hiking boots, binoculars, and a picnic lunch and you’ll have a terrific afternoon tucked away in nature.

  • Location: Northern Arizona; 117 miles north of Phoenix
  • Best for: Wildlife and bird-watching, hiking, picnicking
  • Nearest town: Munds Park (26 miles)

PRO TIP: Stoneman Lake makes a nice stop before/after visiting Montezuma Castle and Montezuma Well

30-31: Lakes in Northern Arizona (near the Grand Canyon)

30-Lake Powell

Lake Powell boasts picturesque views that are sure to take your breath away. As one of the largest man-made lakes in the United States, it offers plenty of options for water-based fun, including swimming, boating, water skiing, and fishing. The lake is also surrounded by beautiful red rock cliffs that create a stunning contrast against the sparkling blue water.

For those looking to explore the area a bit more, Lake Powell offers miles of hiking trails (including the marvelous Hanging Garden Trail) that provide a chance to take in the incredible beauty from a different perspective. You can also rent a houseboat or take a guided tour to further enhance your experience.

If you’re a history buff, a visit to the Glen Canyon Dam should be at the top of your list. Located just a few miles from Lake Powell, the dam offers a fascinating glimpse into the engineering feat that created the lake. And no stay Lake Powell would be complete without a visit to nearby Horseshoe Bend: it’s tops on what to do in Page AZ!

All in all, Lake Powell is arguably the best lake in Arizona if you’re looking for a destination with plenty of other attractions nearby.

  • Location: Northern Arizona; 280 miles north of Phoenix
  • Best for: Fishing, water sports, swimming, hiking
  • Nearest town: Page (3 miles)
aerial view of lake powell with marina full of boats page arizona

31-Lake Mead

Located in the extreme northwest portion of the state, Lake Mead is a massive body of water that draws in thousands of visitors each year. The lake was formed by the Hoover Dam, which is a popular attraction for tourists to visit. The Lake Mead National Recreation Area spans over 1.5 million acres and offers a wide range of recreational activities such as swimming, boating, fishing, and camping.

Visitors looking to spend a night or two can choose from a variety of camping options. The lake’s campgrounds offer both tent and RV sites, as well as amenities such as picnic tables and fire rings. The lake’s proximity to both Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon also makes it a good midpoint for seeing those two destinations.

NOTE: Lake Mead is HUGE, and forms the border between Arizona and Nevada. Temple Bar is the largest area on the Arizona side. Be sure to check camping destinations carefully or you might end up in the wrong state (and have to drive 100+ miles to get back 😱).

  • Location (Temple Bar): Northwest Arizona; 318 miles northwest of Phoenix
  • Best for: Fishing, Boating, Swimming, Camping
  • Nearest town: Kingman, AZ(79 miles); Boulder City, NV (51 miles)
Best lake in Arizona . . .close to Vegas? 🎲

32-34: Arizona Lakes near Prescott, AZ

32-Lynx Lake AZ

Lynx Lake is just a short drive away from the town of Prescott (one of our favorite Arizona Small Towns!) yet it manages to feel worlds away. Tucked into the Prescott National Forest, it offers a tranquil setting for those seeking a peaceful escape from the Arizona heat.

With plenty of space for fishing and water sports, Lynx Lake is popular destination for those looking to cool off in the water. (And the mile-high elevation certainly helps with that!)

One thing unique to Lynx Lake is gold panning (yep, you read that right: GOLD! 🏆) on nearby Lynx Creek. Access more information on the Lynx Lake website. Okay, now that makes it a serious contender for best lake in Arizona! 🥇

After enjoying some time on the lake, visitors can head back into downtown Prescott for a bite to eat at one of the many local restaurants around its charming courthouse square.

  • Location: Central Arizona; 98 miles north of Phoenix
  • Best for: Fishing, hiking, camping, gold-panning 🤩
  • Nearest town: Prescott (7 miles)

33-Watson Lake AZ (Lake Watson)

Located in Prescott, Watson Lake is a reservoir surrounded by stunning granite boulders–known as the “Granite Dells”-providing a picturesque setting for enjoying the lake.

Watson lake may be the best lake in Arizona for bouldering: hike the 4.8-mile Watson Lake Loop Trail, a series of interconnected trail segments which circles the lake and offers breathtaking views of the boulders at every turn. Segments of the trail are relatively easy, making it perfect for families with young children or novice hikers. The northern end is rockier and a bit more like bouldering–loads of fun!

Although swimming is prohibited, fishing, boating and all types of paddling are permitted, so get out onto the water and view those boulders from another perspective.

After a day of outdoor adventure, relax and enjoy a picnic at one of the many picnic areas around the lake, or head into downtown Prescott for a bite to eat at one of the local restaurants.

  • Location: Central Arizona; 103 miles north of Phoenix
  • Best for: Hiking, rock climbing, paddling, fishing, picnicking, camping (summer only)
  • Nearest town: Prescott (5 miles)

34-Willow Lake AZ

Prescott is lucky enough to have two spectacular lakes just a few miles from downtown. Willow Lake, which is just 1/2 mile from Watson Lake (see above) and has the same spectacular boulders around much of its edge.

At approximately 400 acres, Willow lake is larger than Watson Lake, and is also a great place for boating, fishing, canoeing, kayaking and bird-watching. Take a hike on one of the many trails ringing the lake and be sure to bring a picnic lunch!

Unique to Willow Lake: there is a small (and charming) zoo adjacent at its western end–the Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary. So even if you don’t see much wildlife on the trail, you might still spot a bear . . . or even a peacock! 🦚

  • Location: Central Arizona; 103 miles north of Phoenix
  • Best for: Paddling, fishing, picnicking, camping (summer only), zoo 🐻.
  • Nearest town: Prescott (5 miles)
The Granite Dells are unique among Arizona Lakes

35-37: Best Lake in Arizona: Southern Arizona

35-Parker Canyon Lake AZ

If you’re looking for a change of scenery from the lakes up north, Parker Canyon Lake is a great option. Located south of Tucson, this lake offers a serene setting surrounded by the rolling Canelo Hills west of the Huachuca Mountains.

Thanks to its high elevation (nearly 5,400 feet), summer temperatures avoid the scorching level and the lake keeps things refreshing.

Like to fish? Parker Canyon Lake offers several species: longmouth bass, rainbow trout, and channel catfish. You can fish from a boat, fishing pier, or along the shoreline. An onsite concessionaire provides fishing and watersports rentals and manages the tent and RV campsites.

  • Location: Southeastern Arizona; 80 miles southeast of Tucson
  • Best for: Fishing, water sports, swimming, birding, hiking, camping
  • Nearest town: Sonoita (29 miles)

Southern Arizona is bird watching country, and the five-mile trail around the lake’s shoreline will provide plenty of peeping places, making this the best lake in Arizona for folks with varied interests.

36-Patagonia Lake AZ

Patagonia Lake is a hidden gem located in the southern part of Arizona. Heck, this whole section of Arizona is a hidden gem!

Patagonia Lake State Park is surrounded by beautiful high desert scenery (it’s at 4,000 feet), including mountains and trees. The lake is fed by Sonoita Creek, a rare year-round creek that creates an amazing habitat for local wildlife–and one of the best birding areas in the US!

The lake’s water is perfect for swimming, boating, and fishing. Additionally, the surrounding area is home to 30 miles of hiking trails–including a birding trail with a lookout point, providing visitors with an opportunity to explore this beautiful part of Arizona’s Sky Islands.

The lake’s campgrounds offer both tent and RV sites, as well as amenities such as picnic tables and fire rings. This is undoubtedly the best lake in Arizona if you like wine-tasting: the wineries of Sonoita are just a few miles away!🍷

  • Location: Southern Arizona; 78 miles south of Tucson
  • Best for: Fishing, water sports, swimming, birding, hiking, camping, wine-tasting
  • Nearest town: Patagonia (12 miles)
sailboat and motor boat on patagonia lake az, with tree in front
the best lake in Arizona . . .for wine-tasting?

Read Next: Tips for Visiting Patagonia Lake AZ

37-Rose Canyon Lake AZ

Anyone who has spent a summer in Tucson 🥵 knows the allure of the cooling higher altitudes up near Mount Lemmon.

Rose Canyon Lake adds to that allure with the promise of sitting by cooling waters amid the towering pines Mile 17 of the Mount Lemmon highway. At 7,000 ft elevation the area stays refreshingly cool even in the midst of an Arizona summer, making it the best lake in Arizona near Tucson.

Visitors can enjoy stunning views of towering pines and aspens while hiking the nearby trails . . . and there are many, including one that climbs up to Mount Lemmon (with some stunning views of Tucson along the way!)

Fishing enthusiasts will be thrilled to know that the lake is stocked with rainbow trout, making it a popular spot for whiling away a sunny afternoon . . . (or maybe catching dinner 😊)

Rose Canyon Lake is an easy day trip from Tucson, but it also makes a nice getaway. There are camping opportunities for those who want to extend their stay, or consider booking at cabin at the Mt. Lemmon Hotel for a comfy/rustic experience.

  • Location: Southern Arizona; 34 miles northeast of Tucson
  • Best for: Fishing, camping, hiking, picnicking
  • Nearest town: Bear Canyon (23 miles)
Majestic wilderness so close to Tucson

38-40: Best Arizona Lakes in Western Arizona

38-Alamo Lake AZ

Located in the Bill Williams River Valley, Alamo Lake is a true oasis in the middle of the desert. This reservoir lake is perfect for fishing and boating, with an abundance of largemouth and striped bass, channel catfish, and crappie just waiting to be caught.

This may be your best lake in Arizona if you’re seeking solitude. Crowds tend to be much smaller than other popular lakes in the area due to its remote location.

Alamo Lake State Park offers a variety of campsites for those wishing to extend their stay and immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the area. The park also has picnic areas and restrooms, but it is important to bring all necessary supplies as there are no stores or restaurants nearby.

  • Location: West Central Arizona; 135 miles northwest of Phoenix
  • Best for: Fishing, Boating, Camping
  • Nearest town: Wenden (37miles)

39-Lake Havasu

Lake Havasu is another stunning lake in Arizona that is perfect for cooling off on a hot summer day. Located on the Colorado River, this lake is known for its crystal-clear waters and picturesque views. The lake’s shoreline stretches over 450 miles, providing plenty of space for visitors to relax and soak in the sun.

The water at Lake Havasu is ideal for swimming, jet skiing, wakeboarding, and other water sports. Visitors can rent boats or take a guided tour to explore the lake’s hidden coves and scenic spots. History buffs can also visit London Bridge, which was dismantled in England and transported to Lake Havasu in the 1960s.

With its location right at Lake Havasu City, there are plenty of lodging options, ranging from tent camping to luxury hotels, and everything in-between.

  • Location: Northwest Arizona; 195 miles northwest of Phoenix
  • Best for: Fishing, Paddling, All motorized water sports
  • Nearest town: Lake Havasu City (right there!)
Lake Havasu: best lake in Arizona for bridge fanatics?

49-Martinez Lake AZ

Located just a short drive from Yuma, Martinez Lake sits alongside the Colorado River and is a popular destination for boating and fishing enthusiasts. If you like a lake with lots of “nooks and crannies,” among the reeds, this may be your best lake in Arizona. There are plenty of chances to find your own little spot.

With its calm waters and picturesque scenery, this oasis in the Sonoran Desert provides a refreshing escape from the scorching Arizona heat.

Looking to spend a few days? The Martinez Lake Resort rents bungalows and RV spots. Visitors can rent a boat, jet ski, or kayak the to explore the tranquil waters, or simply soak up the sun on the sandy shoreline.

  • Location: Southwest Arizona; 37 miles north of Yuma
  • Best for: Fishing, camping, boating, off-roading
  • Nearest town: Yuma (37 miles)

In the midst of a scorching Arizona summer, finding a way to cool off can seem like an impossible task. However, with this guide to the coolest lakes in the state, you can escape the heat and enjoy a refreshing retreat. From swimming and boating to fishing and hiking, there is something for everyone at these picturesque mountain lakes.

So, lather on some sunscreen, pack up your swimsuit or fishing gear, and take in the serene beauty of Arizona’s lakes. As the old saying goes, “life is better at the lake.”

Don’t wait, plan your trip today and experience the ultimate summer getaway.


List of Arizona Lakes (Alphabetical)

  • Alamo Lake
  • Apache Lake
  • Bartlett Lake
  • Bear Canyon Lake
  • Becker Lake
  • Big Lake
  • Black Canyon Lake
  • Blue Ridge Reservoir (C. C. Craigin Reservoir)
  • Canyon Lake
  • Earl Park Lake
  • Fool Hollow Lake
  • Hawley Lake
  • Horseshoe Lake
  • Knoll Lake
  • Lake Havasu
  • Lake Mary
  • Lake Mead
  • Lake of the Woods
  • Lake Powell
  • Long Lake (& Soldier Lakes)
  • Luna Lake
  • Lynx Lake
  • Martinez Lake
  • Mormon Lake
  • Odell Lake
  • Parker Canyon Lake
  • Patagonia lake
  • Pleasant Lake (Lake Pleasant Regional Park)
  • Potato Lake
  • Rainbow Lake
  • Reservation Lake
  • Rose Canyon Lake
  • Saguaro Lake
  • Stoneman lake
  • Tempe Town Lake
  • Theodore Roosevelt Lake (aka Lake Roosevelt)
  • Watson Lake (Lake Watson, AZ)
  • Willow Lake
  • Willow Springs Lake
  • Woodland Lake

INSIDE: Anyone who’s been to the Arizona desert knows the importance of the cactus! Here’s a list of Instagram cactus quotes–that work anywhere else too!

“The cactus is not a bad plant. It is just a beautiful plant with thorns”–Unknown

If you’ve spent time in Arizona (or even if you’ve just read about Arizona!) you know that the cactus is vital to the landscape. Heck, the silhouette of the saguaro cactus is even on the license plate! 🌵

But there’s more to a cactus than a symbol on a license plate.

When you live in the desert the cactus is a source of food, water, and even of shelter-well that last one mostly applies to small animals and birds. But still . . .

. . .in short, around these here parts, the cactus is a source of inspiration!

So if you’re feeling the need for a little desert-related word-smithing, here’s a list of Instagram cactus quotes–or anywhere else too. Use them when you need a little prickly push of motivation. 😉

Cactus Love Quotes

If you’re looking for cactus quotes for instagram, you can’t go wrong with the topic of love. There’s something about the conflict between the sweetness of love and the prickliness of a cactus that makes a terrific combination!

“A cactus is a desert’s rose.” Matshona Dhliwayo

“Be a cactus in a world of delicate flowers.” Unknown

“Love speaks in flowers. Truth requires thorns.” Leigh Bard Ugo

“Loving someone who doesn’t love you back is like hugging a cactus. The tighter you hold on, the more it’s going to hurt.” Unknown

“If you get struck by a cactus, consider it a cactus kiss. Because we all know Love hurts.” Jessica Anna Jones

“If one can see beauty in the strength of how a cactus blooms in the desert, they would see beauty in the thorns it displays.” Reena Sharma

“In the desert of my heart, you don’t need to blossom to like a cactus.” Richa

“If holding cactus can cure my pain, I would love to have it for whole life.” Anonymous

Read Next: Gorgeous Tucson Hikes in the Desert

Inspirational Cactus Quotes

Ah, those thorny cacti! They make a great metaphor for life, and can add a little “deep thinking” to your instagram cactus quotes. (Or you can just read them and enjoy!)

“Hope is not a resting place but a starting point: a cactus, not a cushion.” H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

“Reach for the stars, even if you have to stand on a cactus.” Unknown

“Very often, people are obsessed with what others think of them. It’s like if a flower wants to be a cactus or a palm but it’s not. A flower is a flower, and that’s enough. That’s all you have to do is be a flower.” Stjepan Hauser

After discovering this quote from Dorothy B. Hughes, I want to read her books!

“In a world full of flowers, be a cactus.” Kul Bhushan Negi

“During your struggle society is not a bunch of flowers, it is a bunch of cactus.” Amit Kalantri

“People are not cactuses, they need plenty of water and, when talking about friendship, the water is our time.” Birute Sol

“We reap what we sow. We cannot expect apples when we have sown the seed of a cactus.” Unknown

“People trample over flowers, yet only to embrace a cactus.” James Joyce

“A daisy blooming in the desert is worth more than a rose blossoming in a rainforest.” Mashona Dhimaya

“The desert works constantly to forbid it, and still the cactus blooms.” Uma Gokhale

“You are holding a cactus plant in your hand. The cactus is not hurting you—your own attachment with the cactus is hurting you.” Shunya

Read Next: 24 Spots to See Arizona Wildflowers in Spring

Funny Cactus Puns

Sometimes, when we’re thinking about Instagram cactus quotes, we don’t really want to get too deep–we just want to be clever! Here are some funny cactus puns that would be great on social media.

Full disclosure: they also work well in polite conversation too–people will be amazed at your sharp wit! 🤣

-You’re looking really sharp!

-Dear Cactus: I promise I’ll never desert you

-I’m totally stuck on you

-Cactus makes perfect

-We make a prickly pear

-Let’s stick together

-I’m ready to take it from cact-i to cact-us

-Grab life by the thorns

-Have a fanCACTUS day!

Cute Cactus Quotes

“My dad is like a cactus—introverted and tough.” Gary Vaynerchuk

“I bought a cactus. A week later it died. And I got depressed, because I thought, Damn. I am less nurturing than a desert.” Demetri Martin

“I remember very clearly someone saying, “Don’t shake hands with the cactus,” and I thought, “Well, why not? What could possibly go wrong? Shaking hands is a friendly gesture.” Benedict Cumberbatch

“I’m the Big Cactus . . . because if you come to close, you’re gonna get stuck.” Shaquille O’Neal

Right from the horse’s (er, the cactus’s) mouth . . .the perfect Instagram cactus quotes!

“You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy succulents! And that is pretty much the same thing.” Unknown

“You know you’re an Arizona native when you hug a cactus only once in your lifetime.” Nancy Dedera

“Anyone who’s ever tried to tangle with a teddy bear cactus knows there’s a whole lot more bear than teddy to it.” Kevin Hearne

“The trees were in leaf and every plant was blooming, except for the cacti, which were being stubbornly prickly.” Anonymous

Funny Quotes about Cactus

“I have learned the difference between a cactus and a caucus. On a cactus, the pricks are on the outside.” Mo Udall

“A cactus doesn’t live in the desert because it likes the desert; it lives there because the desert hasn’t killed it yet.” Hope Jahren

“I consider it the highest compliment when my employees go out and start their own companies in competition with me. I always send them a plant to wish them well. Of course, it’s a cactus.” Norman Brodsky

“Cactus classification is similar to fashion on women’s skirts: they first shorten improperly and then lengthen excessively.” R. Foster

“Being negative only makes a difficult journey more difficult. You may be given a cactus, but you don’t have to sit on it.” Joyce Meyer

“A cactus is really just an aggressive cucumber.” Unknown

“The one who swallows cactuses with spines should not complain about hemorrhoids.” Etgar Keret

“I’ve met some pricks in my time but you are the whole cactus.” Unknown

“A saguaro can fall for a snowman but where would they set up house?” Jodi Picoult

Instagram Cactus Quotes

“People trample over flowers, yet only to embrace a cactus.” James Joyce

“The desert works constantly to forbid it, and still the cactus blooms.” Uma Gokhale

“If a flower can flourish in the desert, you can flourish anywhere.” Mashona Dhimaya

“Deserts never believe in cactus. Seeds do.” Deepak Gupta

“Life is like a cactus. Thorny, but beautiful.” Unknown

“The cactus is not a bad plant. It is just a beautiful plant with thorns.” Unknown

Read Next: Ajo Mountain Drive in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Quotes about Cactus and Life

“Anger was simple, self-sustaining as a cactus. You couldn’t look to closely at it, lest the spines get you in the eye.” Rebecca Scherm

Take the rose, most people think it very beautiful; I don’t care for it at all. I prefer the cactus, for the simple reason that it has a more interesting personality. It has wonderfully adapted itself to its surroundings! It is the best illustration of the theory of evolution in plant life.
Charles Proteus Steinmetz

Max De Pree

“A whale is as unique as a cactus. But don’t ask a whale to survive Death Valley. We all have special gifts. Where we use them and how determines whether we actually complete something.”Max De Pree

“Deserts are very dry places, but plants can still grow there. Desert plants collect and use water in special ways.” Julie Penn

“During your struggle society is not a bunch of flowers, it is a bunch of cacti.” Amit Kalanithi

“The world is full of cactus, but we don’t’ have to sit on it.” Will Foley

“I’m like the trunk of a cactus . . . I take in a dose of culture and time with friends, then I retreat and go live on it for a while until I get thirsty again.” Nancy Horan

“Only a few love the cactus as other fail to see their beauty. Because others just hate them for the thorns they posess, and they don’t understand the fact they are meant to work as their protective gear.” Lone Thinker

Cactus Captions

“If seeds waited for perfect conditions to grow, there would be no plants in the desert.” Mashona Dhimaya

“Adolescence is like cactus.” Anais Nin

“The thorns are worth bearing for a flower.” Kalinin

“Life can be prickly. Bloom anyway.” Unknown

“People trample on flowers, but respect cacti.” Lone Thinker

Longer Cactus Quotes and Poems

“She was elusive. She was today. She was tomorrow. She was the faintest scent of a cactus flower, the flitting shadow of an elf owl. We did not know what to make of her. In our minds we tried to pin her to a corkboard like a butterfly, but the pin merely went through and a way she flew.” Jerry Spinelli

When the going gets tough
Just like the golden barrel cactus
You bloom yellow
and poesy drips from you instead of tears.

Neelam Saxena Chandra

Every cactus blooms
Some with little rooms
Some give flowers that grow
Others so small it won’t show!

Ana Claudia Antunes

“The cactus thrives in the desert while the fern thrives in the wetland. The fool will try to plant them in the same flowerbox.” Vera Nazarian

” . . . it reminds me of us because a cactus can grow and thrive without a lot of water and attention. Even if it gets neglected on a shelf, it can blossom and still develop into something beautiful.” Rebecca Bloom

More Funny Cactus Puns for Instagram

-I needle little help

-You’re prickin’ awesome

-I’m caught in a prickle

-Cact-i plus cact-you equals cact-us

-Grab life by the thorns

-I’m on pins and needles

-You make me thorny

-Never drought my love for you

Well, there you have it, our list of more than 80 Instagram cactus quotes.  I think I need to grab my hiking boots and get out in the desert so I can use some of the funny cactus quotes this week on my Instagram!

If you’ve got more quotes about cactus that you think should be here, send us a note at We’ll add it to the list (and give you credit 😊)


SUMMARY: How to find magnificent Organ Pipe Cactus out in the wild: take Ajo Mountain Drive in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument-away from main roads!

Dear Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument:

Where are all the organ pipe cacti??? I only saw one at the entrance!

We arrived at the entrance to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and dutifully took a photo of the sign . . . with its (natch) organ pipe cactus right alongside.

Eager to see the only place in the US where this cactus grows natively, we forged on 15 miles to the Visitor Center.

As we drove we saw . . . no Organ Pipes. Not. A. One. Plenty of Saguaros 🌵 and Arizona Wildflowers, which were lovely. But none of the cacti the national monument is named for.

What was going on here? Where were all the famous Organ Pipe cacti?

Spoiler Alert: we did find them eventually. The trick was taking the Ajo Mountain Drive . . .

What is the Ajo Mountain Drive?

Sign at the entrance of the Ajo Mountain Drive loop road
Get out onto the Ajo Mountain Drive to see the famous organ pipe cactus

Arguably the the best way to get a representative view of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, the Ajo Mountain Drive is a 21-mile scenic drive into, you guessed it, the Ajo Mountains, located within the park’s boundaries.

Sometimes called the Ajo Mountain Loop Road, this drive takes visitors on a journey through rugged mountains while offering breathtaking views of the surrounding desert. And, yes, on this drive you’ll see plenty of Organ Pipe cacti!

The winding road is perfect for a leisurely drive, allowing you to take in the sights and sounds of the desert at your own pace. Along the way there are trailheads for those looking to hike a bit deeper into the desert, as well as a few designated picnic stops.

But before you forge ahead, we suggest you stop at the Kris Eggle Visitor Center first. After we did, we understood why we hadn’t seen any Organ Pipes . . . yet.

The main road through organ pipe national monument-with saguaros and wildflowers, but no organ pipe cactus
The main road through the monument–where are the organ pipes???

Kris Eggle Visitor Center

The Kris Eggle Visitor Center is located more or less in the center of the park’s boundaries, right along AZ State Route 85, in a valley between two mountain ranges (this will become significant in a moment!)

The Visitor Center provides a great introduction to the park–and to the unique Biosphere Reserve that the park encompasses. There’s a small (and accessible!) 0.1-mile walk planted with various cacti (including an organ pipe), wildflowers, and other plants you’ll see in the park.

A small exhibit area provides displays on the unique plant and animal life here at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. We love these mini museums–it helps us get an idea of what we’re actually looking at when we’re out out there exploring!

Helpful park rangers are on hand to provide suggestions, based on your interests. This is how we learned about the Ajo Mountain Drive . . .

exhibits about the sonoran desert at Kris Eggle visitor center

. . . and how to find the Organ Pipe Cactus.

Read Next: 17 Things to do in Ajo AZ

Where to Find the Organ Pipe Cactus

The organ pipe cactus (Lemaireocereus) is one of the most unique cacti in the world. It’s native to the Sonoran Desert of the southwest Arizona and northwestern Mexico. The area around Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is the ONLY place in the United States where you’ll see it growing naturally. That’s why this park is so special!

The organ pipe cactus has an impressive and distinctive look to it–as you can tell by the name, it looks like a giant pipe organ and a saguaro had a baby. 🌵👶🏻 And these things are BIG–they can grow to almost 30 feet tall!

But . . . the organ pipe cactus doesn’t really like cold weather, which is why you only find it in extreme southwestern Arizona. And even then, Arizona can have some chilly nights. So . . .

Organ pipe cactus like to grow on south-facing crags and hillsides, where the sun warms up the rocky soil during the day. That warmth is enough to keep the cacti cosy at night, kind of like a big ol’ desert blanket.

organ pipe cacti growing on a rocky hillside on the ajo mountain drive
Organ pipe cacti LOVE growing on south-facing rocky hillsides

Which means . . . its unlikely organ pipe cacti in valleys . . . like the one you drive through to reach the Visitor Center. AHA moment! 💡To see the famous organ pipe cactus, we’d need to get into the rocky hillsides.

Hence, the Ajo Mountain Drive.

map of organ pipe cactus national monument, with the ajo mountain drive circled in red
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument Map, courtesy NPS

What to See and Do on the Ajo Mountain Drive

The drive offers plenty of opportunities for wildlife sightings, so keep your eyes peeled for bighorn sheep and other desert animals. You’ll also encounter numerous pullouts along the way, allowing you to take in the stunning vistas and snap some memorable photos.

There are 2 picnic areas, but keep in mind that there is no water available on the drive, so you must bring your own (and bring plenty–it’s the desert after all!)

The drive also provides access to a few short/medium-length hikes, which is a great way to get a little deeper into the beautiful scenery.

Allow about 1.5-2 hours to complete the drive; longer if you plan to do any hiking and/or stop for a picnic lunch.

First, be sure to pick up an Ajo Mountain Drive Guide at the visitor center. (Or, if you have the NPS App, you can access it there.) There are 18 designated pull-outs along the drive, focused on nature. The guide lists the location of each one and provides descriptions for each of them.

PRO TIP: There are minimal placards along the Ajo Mountain Drive. To ensure you’re getting the most out of your experience, pick up an Ajo Mountain Drive Guide at the Visitor Center.

Some of the pull-outs are focused on specific sights you’ll see right there, while others are more general stops describing the plants and animals of the Sonoran Desert.

We found some of the pull-outs more “stop-worthy” than others, but it really depends on your familiarity with the Sonoran Desert landscape. (Or just how much of a “completist” you are 😊.)

Highlights of the Ajo Mountain Drive

Ajo mountain drive-organ pipe cactus in foreground with suv on dirt road in background
One of the first organ pipe cacti you’ll see on the Ajo Mountain Drive

The 21-mile drive begins in the flat valley opposite the visitor center (so not many organ pipe cacti-yet). It gradually winds into the base of the Ajo mountains before looping back to the valley.

Here’s a list of what we found to be the most interesting stops along the drive. Designated stops are based on their distance from the pay-station kiosk at the beginning of the drive.

Stop 4: Mile 3.9

One of the first of the namesake organ pipe cactus you’ll see along the drive. (We’re still in the valley here.) But I was so excited to finally see one in the wild I naturally had to stop and take a gazillion photos. 🤦‍♀️

Stop 6: Mile 5.5

A stop with a picnic ramada along Diablo Wash. This wash is one of the many canyons within the park that was inhabited by people as far back as 12,000 years ago (!). The wash is dry most of the year, but fills up during the monsoon rains in August/September.

Stop 7: Mile 6.0

Saguaro and organ pipe cactus in the foothills of the ajo mountain drive

This spot is on a small ridge, just above the Diablo Wash. Great views to the west of the park, including Twin Peaks (so named because of its double summit). Also a panoramic view of Mexico’s Cubabi Mountains to the south.

There’s a picnic table here as well (although no ramada covering).

*At this point in the drive you’ll be getting into the foothills of the Ajo mountains. Keep your eyes peeled for some south- and west-facing rocky ridges: organ pipe cacti will start popping up sporadically.

**Also, as you look upward into the upcoming mountains you’ll see a cool rock arch up ahead. Resist the urge to try and photo it from here–you’ll have your chance in a moment.

Arch Canyon Trailhead: Mile 8.9

The Arch Canyon Trailhead isn’t listed as a pullout stop in the Ajo Mountain Drive Guide; it’s a landmark on its own. There’s a small parking area, along with a picnic tables (no ramadas). Placards explaining a bit about the geology of the area–including how arches are formed–are posted as well.

man standing at placard of arch canyon trailhead with stone arch high up in the background

This is a great spot to stop take photos. There are actually two arches, 600 feet up there at the top of the rock cliff. . . look closely to to see the second (smaller) one.

It’s hard to believe it from here, but that main arch is 90 feet wide!

For a short hike, the Arch Canyon Trail is short (about .6 mi each way), and takes you a bit closer to the base of the cliff beneath the arches. Be sure to take water if you decide to hike the trail! 💧💧

More intrepid hikers can continue on a short–but very steep–hike up to the Arch itself. This portion of the trail isn’t maintained by the monument, but is pretty well marked by fellow hikers.

The views are fantastic, but it’s a strenuous hike (and only recommended for experienced trekkers).

Estes Canyon: Mile 11.0

Estes Canyon is the midpoint of the Ajo Mountain Drive.

You can do 2 things at Estes Canyon: take a rest, or take a hike.

This canyon stop offers a serene and peaceful setting, perfect for a picnic lunch. Ramadas provide ample shade from the sun, making it a refreshing escape on a hot day. There are also (basic) restroom facilities here, which can come in handy.

If hiking is your thing, consider the Estes Canyon and Bull Pasture Trails. Combine these trails for a moderate-level loop (~3 miles) through the canyon.

Or, if you’re really into climbing, add on the strenuous trail spur to Bull Pasture. It climbs 800 feet in just 1/2 mile, but the views are magnificent.

One of the highlights of Estes Canyon is the many bird species that call it home. Keep an eye out for the colorful vermilion flycatcher or the striking black-throated sparrow. With over 300 bird species in the park, Estes Canyon is definitely a top spot for birdwatching.

After Estes Canyon you’ll begin looping back to the beginning of the trail. By this time you should be pretty adept at spotting organ pipe cactus!

You’ll be heading south, so you may have to pull over occasionally and look over your shoulder to see them on the south-facing hillsides. In the spring this area is chock-full of Arizona wildflowers.

field of yellow poppies amid cactus
Loads of wildflowers in Estes Canyon

Stop 15: Mile 13.1

At this stop you’ll see an nice sampling of something that is NOT a cactus: the ocatillo. These plants have a desert beauty all their own, looking like a giant bouquet of sticks (winter) or fluffy green-leafed plumes (summer). In late spring they sport lovely red flowers at the branch tips, which are popular with hummingbirds.

Stop 17: Mile 16.9

This area, known as “Teddy Bear Pass,” is a dense thicket of teddy bear cholla cactus. These cacti are beautiful with the sun shining through them-they look fluffy & cuddly (hence the name)!

Resist the temptation to give them a hug–they may look soft and fuzzy, but they are sharp!

teddy bear cholla cactus

Continue on the Drive back to the starting point.

Now you’ve completed the 21-mile Ajo Mountain Drive. Hopefully you’ve seen your fair share of organ pipe cacti . . .along with all sorts of other desert vegetation!

If you’re like me, this drive gave you a new appreciation for Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument–and the organ pipe cactus! 🤩

PRO TIP: Visiting Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and the Ajo Mountain Drive can be part of a nice Southwest Arizona road trip. See our Arizona Roadtrip Planner for more information.


SUMMARY: A visit to this charming former mining town in southwest Arizona makes a delightful getaway. We share 17 things to do in Ajo AZ.

Ajo was such a pleasant surprise! An Arizona small town that manages to embrace its past while still looking to its future in creative ways.

My introduction to Ajo began at the coffee shop on the plaza. Not the usual line of zombies waiting for their morning caffeine infusion–this crowd was only semi-comatose. The barista was keeping things lively by asking if anyone had some spare wood she could use for her latest art project.

In between grinding beans and frothing milk she a found sculptor who had some leftover wood in his studio (she was an expert multi-tasker). Problem solved, she got back to making coffees in earnest, whipping up “the usual” for customers who’d brought their own travel mugs.

When I picked up my “un-usual” (in that she didn’t know me), I apologized for not having any wood for her project (or, for that matter, my own travel mug). She smiled and said “it’s all good–welcome to Ajo!”

I decided I was going to like it here . . .

A Little Background on Ajo Arizona

front view of Curley School in Ajo AZ-1916 Spanish revival building

Ajo is one of our new favorite Arizona small towns! It’s located in southwestern Arizona, not far from Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

If you’ve ever driven down to Rocky Point (aka Puerto Penasco, Mexico), chances are you’ve driven right through Ajo–perhaps without stopping. I know several folks with a house in Rocky Point who have never. stopped. And they’ve totally been missing out. 🤷‍♀️

Because, as you’ll see, there’s a lot more to Ajo than just a traffic light & a pit stop!

How Ajo got Started

Ajo has been known as a mining town since the 1700’s, when Spaniards mined first mined silver in the area. Scientific studies eventually indicated there was more copper in them thar hills, so industrious miners switched gears.

Through most of the 20th century the New Cornelia Mine became one of the largest open-pit copper mines in the world. Dropping copper prices and a bitter strike eventually caused the mine to close in the 1980s, and Ajo has been working to re-invent itself ever since.

Why is Ajo Arizona called Ajo?

Long before the arrival of the Spaniards, the area was inhabited by native peoples. They mixed up a red body paint made from the copper-rich soil, calling it “au’auho,” which became “Ajo.”

Today, Ajo is has become a charming artist’s enclave, with several programs to welcome and encourage the arts, thanks to groups like the International Sonoran Desert Alliance. So a name that means “red body PAINT” seems totally fitting! 🎨🖌️

Whether you are looking for a weekend getaway from Phoenix or Tucson, or are just passing through on your way to Pureto Penasco, take some time to explore the many fun things to do in Ajo!

PRO TIP: Ajo is only a 2-hour drive from either Phoenix or Tucson–it makes a great weekend getaway!

1-12: Things to Do in Ajo AZ

A colorful past and even more colorful (artistic metaphor!) future, coupled with its location amid spectacular Sonoran Desert scenery means there will be plenty of things to do in Ajo for just about everyone!

Arched portico of ajo plaza with tiled cupola above-things to do in ajo az

1-Ajo Plaza

Any visit to Ajo should begin here. This magnificent Spanish Colonial Revival plaza forms the core of the town, filled with park benches and shaded by palms. It’s fronted on 3 sides by a blinding white arched portico–providing a perfect shady spot from the Arizona sun.

2-The Flagpole

Okay, this might seem like an odd entrant in a list of “things to do in Ajo,” but humor me on this. The flagpole in the center of the plaza forms the focal point that anchored the town layout.

Ajo was planned in 1914 to create a pleasant place for miners to live. So . . .no standard “grid” for the fine people of Ajo–no siree.

Instead, streets radiate out from the central axis like “the wings of a bird,” with two similarly white churches anchoring those wings. Pretty cool, huh?

3-Visit the Historic Train Depot (Ajo Visitor Center)

Look for the tiled coupola at the far end of the plaza–this once housed Ajo’s train depot. But, in the words of Warren Zevon, “the train don’t run by here no more,” so the depot has been converted to Ajo’s Visitor Center.

Inside, you’ll be able to see vestiges of the former train station, as well as get information about the town and regional attractions. The folks in there are friendly and helpful. (No word on whether they can help you out with materials for your latest art project 😊)

4-Take a Historic Walking Tour

One of the helpful bits of information you’ll get at the Visitor Center is a handy map of Ajo’s Historic District, pointing out significant buildings and landmarks. This is a great way to get your bearings and view the town’s unique layout from different perspectives.

The tour is roughly 1/2 mile long, and will take you 20-30 minutes.

5-Check Out Artists Alley

Beyond the Murals highlighted on the art tour, you can seed additional creative works lining the walls of this alley behind the plaza.

You know a town is values artistic expression when the alleys sport colorful designs!

wall mural in ajo az-coyote and desert design with words "artists alley-Ajo, AZ" surrounding design

6-Explore Curley School Art Complex

As you’re exploring the town and it’s unique layout, you can’t help but notice that cool old domed building perched where the “wings of a bird” (i.e. the streets) open wide.

That’s the former Curley School, which has been transformed into a unique art complex/hotel/public space. It exemplifies Ajo’s commitment to both the arts and the town’s future.

The original 1916 schoolhouse (very cool Spanish revival architecture!) has been transformed into a multi-purpose complex with studios, a gallery and apartments specifically for artists. The 1930 school annex is now a hotel & conference center (see below).

front view of Curley School in Ajo AZ-1916 Spanish revival building

7-Stay in a Historic Schoolhouse (and Classroom!)

Courtyard of Sonoran Desert Inn with frog sculpture in foreground-Ajo Az
Art is everywhere in the courtyard gardens of the Sonoran Desert Inn

The 1930’s annex of the Curley School (see above) is now the Sonoran Desert Inn. It makes a charming place to stay while exploring Ajo.

We stayed here during our visit, and it really helped us get into the Ajo vibe.

The 11 guestrooms are in former classrooms, which all open onto a large courtyard. They’re decorated in a modern style, with a bit of Ajo artistic flair: funky sculptures and ceiling fans made from re-purposed light fixtures (remember those old fluorescent lights with the little metal grids in them?).

And fuzzy little javelina pillows adorn each bed (made by a local artist, natch). How cute is that?

hotel room bed at Sonoran Desert Inn, with yellow javelina pillow

The courtyard is filled with a collection of welcoming garden spaces that highlight the Sonoran Desert. And of course, there’s art everywhere!

8-Self-Guided Art Tour

Ajo’s support of the arts is evident all over town, in the form of murals, sculptures, and other installations. For a more in-depth understanding of the local works, take a self-guided art tour.

A brochure (available at the Visitor’s Center) provides a map with photos and brief descriptions of nearly 25 works that provide that little something extra to an already pretty town layout.

9-Visit the New Cornelia Open Pit Mining Lookout

A stop at this lookout point is one of THE things to do in Ajo AZ. It’s the mine that put Ajo on the map, and a peek into The New Cornelia Open Pit Mining Lookout gives you a chance to see what all the fuss was about.

Perched at the edge of the (now defunct) open pit, you’ll find a safe (i.e. fenced-off) area to look down into the depths to see just how deep (and wide!) that famous copper ran. A small museum with photos and a short video describing the mining process is also on site.

10-Ajo Historical Society Museum

Ajo Historical Society Museum, housed in a white adobe Spanish Revival church.

This museum is located just up the hill from the open pit mining lookout in the old St. Catherine’s Indian Mission (it’s hard to miss this pristine white building!).

The Ajo Historical Society Museum is a great place to get a sense of Ajo’s past. It contains many artifacts and mementos, including mining paraphernalia, a complete blacksmith shop, and an early print shop. 

11-Browse the Ajo Copper News (Bookstore/Gallery)

man standing in front of building with large desert mural, plus sign for ajo copper news

Ajo is definitely the kind of town that multi-tasks (remember my tale of the artistic barista? ☕️👩🏻‍🎨).

Nowhere is it more evident than the Ajo Copper News: the offices of local weekly newspaper also houses a fabulous used bookstore, a gallery of work by local artists, AND it’s got an awesome giant mural on the front!

Ajo multi-tasking at it’s best!

12-Chill with the locals on the Plaza at Oasis Coffee

The portico on that gorgeous Ajo Plaza is super hangout-able. (is that even a word???) Anyway, it’s a lovely spot to sit in the shade of the arches and watch the world go by.

You might even say it’s one of the musts among things to do in Ajo AZ.

Oasis Coffee (we’re back to the multi-tasking barista again) is the place on the plaza to chillax and soak up the vibe, watching the comings and goings of all and sundry.

And who knows, you might just find a source of materials for your latest art project. 😉👩🏻‍🎨

people sitting under the portico on Ajo plaza enjoying coffee

PRO TIP: Ajo makes a great stop on a road trip through Southwestern Arizona. Check out our Road Trip Planner for more ideas!

13-17: Things to do NEAR Ajo AZ

When considering things to do in Ajo Az it’s important to remember just how rich the region is in scenery nearby. Consider these:

13-Drive the Ajo Scenic Loop

One of the best things to do in Ajo AZ to get your bearings of the surrounding landscape, this 9-mile drive will give you a taste of the Sonoran Desert (with an Organ Pipe twist!)

The drive makes you feel like a star in your own western movie! 🤠. It skirts around the mine and the mountain to the west of town, and cuts through washes drive as it crosses BLM roads that seem to extend forever. Along the way you’ll see Saguaro and Organ Pipe cactus, and the vestiges of a few old homesteads.

Download a copy of the Ajo Scenic Loop Map here, or pick up a copy at the Visitors Center.

14-Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Sign at the entrance to Organ Pipe National Monument near Ajo AZ

Although you’ll see a few Organ Pipe cacti dotting the hills around Ajo, check out Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument to get a real sense of these beautiful succulents.

This southwestern part of Arizona is the only place in the US that you’ll find the Organ Pipe Cactus 🏜️, so exploring this park is a special experience.

This park is one of 18 National Monuments in Arizona, and it’s a real beauty!

15-Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge

The main entrance to Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge is just north of town. The Visitor Center there has a small museum explaining the local flora and fauna.

You’ll also be able to get info on what you can experience in this vast preserve (over 800,000 acres! 😲). This area is managed by the US Fish & Wildlife Service, and offers lots of space to “rough it.” If you’re into camping, hunting, hiking, birding, etc. this is the spot for you!

16-Go Mountain Biking around the local hills

Map of Ajo Az biking routes and Scenic Loop

The wide-open spaces surrounding Ajo are a mountain biker’s dream. 🚵🏻‍♀️. If you love hitting the trails, this should be one of the things to do in Ajo AZ for you.

The town has created 17 trail segments covering over 30 miles that cater to cyclists of all abilities. Mix and match segments to suit your spirit for adventure, whether it’s the easier “Old Faithful” trail, or the “Lower Chain Breaker” (that one is self-explanatory 😱.

A handy map explains each trail, with elevation changes and sights along the way. Download the Ajo Mountain Biking Map here, or pick it up at the Visitor Center.

17-Visit the Tohono O’Odham Museum & Cultural Center

The Tohono O’Odham Nation sits just east of Ajo, covering an area approximately the size of Connecticut (that’s BIG!)

Stop into the Museum & Cultural Center tucked into a magnificent setting of Sonoran Desert outside the town of Sells. There you’ll learn about the history of the O’Odham people, and the traditions that continue to this day.

Take some time to enjoy the spectacular view of Baboquivari Peak, which is of special cultural significance to the O’Odham people.

man standing in front of entrance to Tohono O'Odham cultural museum

Restaurants in Ajo, AZ

Ajo has a small collection of restaurants and coffee shops to satisfy your hunger pangs. There’s a strong focus on Mexican food-kind of like the rest of Arizona! 🌮

Keep in mind that many restaurants are only open on the weekends. Others may close at 6 or 7pm. So it’s always best to check opening hours of your dining choices.

Here’s a list of restaurants in Ajo, AZ:

  • Agave Grill: Casual, friendly full-service restaurant that offers a little bit of everything . . . steaks, chicken, burgers, all sorts of share-able appetizers, along with daily specials. Full Bar.
  • Ajo Farmers Market & Cafe: Simple breakfast and lunch menu focused on local ingredients. (Try the corn & tepary bean breakfast burrito 😋.) Onsite market features local farmers and food purveyors.
  • Arriba Mexican Restaurant: Full-service spot serving traditional Mexican fare on the north end of town. The red and green chile sauces are lovely. Full Bar.
  • Curley Coffee Roasters: Small cafe in the Curley School Arts Complex offering freshly roasted brews and simple pastries. Closed Monday, Tuesday.
  • Granny’s Kitchen: Down-home diner with a decidedly Mexican flair, located at the crossroads of charmingly named “Why, AZ”. Breakfast, lunch only. Good value.
  • Oasis Coffee: (Home of the multi-tasking barista!) Great place to hang out on the Plaza. All sorts of fun & fancy coffees, plus pastries and breakfast/lunch sandwiches.
  • Olsen’s Patio Cafe: Cafe adjacent to the IGA supermarket. Burgers, sandwiches & fried chicken daily, but the real draw is the Carne Asada specials on Tuesday & Thursdays. Closes by late afternoon most days, so check before going.
  • Roadrunner Java: Coffee shop and bakery on the north end of town. Open weekends only.
  • Sonoran Desert Inn: The hotel does not have a traditional restaurant on site, however they do have a fully-equipped catering kitchen and offer limited food options on a nightly basis. During our stay we enjoyed Chef Lucia’s excellent street tacos! (photo above 😊)
  • Tacos El Tarasco: Traditional Mexican fare right on the Plaza. But you’ll have to come early–they close at 6pm.

Hotels in Ajo Arizona

We recommend spending a night (or two!) in Ajo to really soak up the culture and see the sights. There are a few small hotels/motels to meet your needs and provide a good night’s sleep. Some have rooms with kitchenettes; all are equipped with fridges & microwaves. All, are locally owned and managed; it’s nice supporting the local economy by staying here 🤩.

List of Hotels in Ajo, Arizona:

  • La Siesta Motel & RV Resort: Traditional roadside motel, plus cute cabins, on the north side of town. Beautifully landscaped grounds with lots of shade and desert flowers. Several barbecue/picnic areas scattered around the property. NOTE: despite the name, they no longer accept RVs.
  • Marine Motel: Small and basic, but comfortable roadside motel on the northern end of town. A few rooms have full kitchen.
  • Sonoran Desert Inn: Courtyard rooms in a former school in the historic Curley School Arts Complex (see above), 2 blocks from the Plaza. Rooms overlook gardens and artwork. No restaurant, but hotel offers limited food options in the evenings.

NOTE: RV campers will find several options here. For a more complete list, check Ajo Arizona RV Parks.

Our recent visit to Ajo clearly demonstrated that this town was worth spending time — more than a simple drive-through on our way to somewhere else. With an intriguing mining history, colorful artsy vibe, and sprawling desert scenery, we’re glad we chose to stay a while.

We hope you do too! 😊🌵


Inside: Where to see Arizona wildflowers in the spring-we show you 24 spots to drive, walk or hike throughout the state to see these colorful beauties!

“You belong among the wildflowers, you belong in a boat out at sea. You belong with your love on your arm, you belong somewhere you feel free.” — Tom Petty

Springtime in the Arizona desert means wildflowers–lots and lots of wildflowers. Roadsides streaked with purple scorpionweed, vivid orange globemallow peeking out from rocky soil, mango-bright poppies snuggling with prickly cactus. I actually have a photo of that last one! (see below)

Heck, even the creosote bushes are covered with tiny yellow blooms!

Doesn’t that conjure up a pretty picture? Sort of like the opening scene of “The Sound of Music,” but with an Arizona vibe. 😉

If you’re like me, and love seeing Arizona wildflowers, I’ve put together a list of 24 great places to find them. I’ve included roadways, walks and hikes. So no matter how much time (or energy) you’ve got, there should be something that’s sure to please.

Because don’t we all belong among the wildflowers?

field of california poppies with a small cholla cactus in the middle-Arizona wildflowers
Poppies and cholla hugging it out

Wildflowers in Central Arizona

1-4: Wildflower Drives in Central Arizona

1-US Highway 60 east of Phoenix: Head east out of the Mesa/Gilbert area on Hwy 60 towards the Arizona small town of Globe. Soon the flat valley floor will give way to rolling foothills of the Pinal Mountains. Along the way you’ll see Arizona wildflowers in most of the hilly spots. Spend some time exploring the cute shops and eateries in Globe and nearby Miami. This makes a nice day trip or weekend getaway from Phoenix.

2-AZ Highway 79 north of Florence: Florence is small town that makes a nice day trip from Phoenix. While this is true anytime of the year, it’s especially nice in spring, when the drive down AZ Hwy 79 puts on a colorful show featuring globemallow and poppies.

There are sporadic pullouts for taking photos, and a small parking lot for hikers (or flower peepers 🌼 👀) at Cottonwood Canyon Road.

3-Interstate 17 northbound from Phoenix: Okay, admittedly this one’s a bit of a stretch. It’s not exactly a destination for a “meandering” Sunday drive.

However, as you climb out of the Valley of the Sun there are some gorgeous saguaro-studded hills, which will typically have wildflowers nearby. Keep an eye out for tinges of purple, yellow and orange. It’ll make that drive up to Prescott or Flagstaff a little more fun.

field of california poppies in arizona

4-AZ Highway 87 (Beeline Highway) near Saguaro Lake: This road that connects Phoenix with Payson to the northeast sports some stunning scenery any time of year, as the desert floor gradually gives way to saguaro-studded hills and eventually the trees of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.

The area near Saguaro Lake sports a Sonoran Desert landscape that yields up plenty of Arizona wildflowers in the spring.

5-State Route 88 (Apache Trail) between Apache Junction & Tortilla Flat: This roughly 17-mile stretch of road winds into the base of the Superstition Mountains past Canyon Lake, with plenty of petal-peeping and viewpoints along the way.

Grab one of the famous burgers at Tortilla Flat Saloon to make it the perfect spring outing.

NOTE: If you’re itching for a bit more adventure, continue on another 23 miles to Theodore Roosevelt Lake. But, caution: the remaining distance is unpaved a few miles beyond Tortilla Flat, and pretty twisty. Consider your vehicle–and your appetite for adventure–and decide accordingly.

Have a wildflower viewing suggestion (or photos)?: Click the “contact us” button & let us know–we’ll add it to the list!

7-13: Central Arizona Wildflower Walks and Hikes

closeup of arizona wildflowers. yellow-orange california poppies
Pretty poppies–the color of the Arizona sun!

6-McDowell Sonoran Preserve: There is no shortage of terrific trails to explore in this fantastic (and vast!) park in Scottsdale. Fields of poppies, lupine and more intermingle with saguaro and prickly pear cactus in spring. More details are available at the McDowell Sonoran Preserve website.

Note: Anyone with mobility issues will enjoy the park’s Bajada Nature Trail, which is fully accessible.

7-Woods Canyon Lake: This is a great petal-peeping spot if you’re a bit of a procrastinator. (And who hasn’t been there at one time or another? 🤷‍♀️)

Because of its high altitude (7000′) along the Mongollon Rim, Arizona wildflowers bloom a bit later amid the Ponderosa Pines at Woods Canyon Lake. From late May (still spring!) through early October (definitely NOT spring!) you’ll see lupine and other floral delights along the 3.7-mile trail that circles the lake.

8-Desert Botanical Garden: If you’re looking for a “primer” on Arizona Wildflowers, the Desert Botanical Garden, just east of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, is a good place to start.

Amid many other displays, the Harriet K. Maxwell Desert Wildflower Loop Trail, will show you what’s out in the, well, wild. The many helpful placards will give you a leg up on identifying those yellow and purple wonders you encounter on hikes and drives elsewhere.

Closeup of bright orange desert globemallow flower in arizona
Desert globemallow can be found along roadsides and flowering among the cacti

9. Lake Pleasant: This park straddles the Maricopa and Yavapai county line in northwest Phoenix with several nice hiking trails both along the lake and the hills surrounding it, which are filled with wildflowers in the spring.

Arizona wildflowers are especially nice along the trails above the lake; the Beardsley and Cottonwood trails are flatter and easier, while the Pipeline Canyon trail is more of a challenge. Lake Pleasant Trails

10-Usery Mountain Regional Park: This Maricopa County park, just east of Mesa, offers up plenty of Sonoran Desert landscape just at the edge of Tonto National Forest. Springtime yields up acres of poppies, desert margold and more along the desert floor, while freshly-green ocatillo sport flame-red tips above.

ocatillo blooming at usery mountain park in arizona

11-Lost Dutchman State Park: Hike along the base of the fabulous rock formations at Lost Dutchman, where you’ll see acres of bright yellow brittlebush carpeting the spring hillsides.

NOTE: Lost Dutchman is along the Apache Trail on your way to Tortilla Flat (see “drives,” above) and makes a nice combined wildflower hike/drive combo for the day. Just sayin’ 😊.

Even scrubby creosote bushes become Arizona wildflowers in Spring!

12-Tonto National Monument: Get a lot of bang for your buck when visiting Tonto in the spring: in addition to a spectacular Native American cliff dwelling site, you’ll see plenty of beautiful flowers to boot.

Wildflowers at Tonto bloom in March and April, while the cacti put on a show in May and June.

Have a wildflower viewing suggestion (or photos)?: Click the “contact us” button & let us know–we’ll add it to the list!

Southern Arizona Wildflowers

13-17: Wildflower Drives in Southern Arizona

red arizona wildflowers

13-Interstate 10 near Picacho Peak: Okay, another option that’s not exactly a leisurely outing. But let’s face it folks, that drive on I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson is boring! 🥱

Spotting the craggy top of Picacho Peak midway (sort-of) through that drive is one of the few interesting landmarks along the way.

In the spring, Picacho gives us another gift: a sea of yellow-orange poppies draping its base like a giant patchwork quilt. If you don’t have time to stop and smell the roses (I’m speaking metaphorically here), at least allow yourself a few glances for a brief respite from the relentless interstate.

14-State Route 86 west of Tucson: This drive passes directly through the Tohono O’Oldham nation, sports some of the most beautiful Sonoran Desert landscape out there–including a stand of the tallest, skinniest saguaros I’ve ever seen! 🌵

It is also almost 100 miles of non-stop wildflowers, including globemallow, scorpionweed and desert marigold. It’s an orange-purple-yellow extravaganza 🧡💜💛. And it makes the drive to Ajo or Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (or Rocky Point, Mexico) that much more enjoyable.

15-Mount Lemmon Highway: Mount Lemmon is famous for providing a diverse range of ecosystems as you climb 20–ish miles to its 9,000-foot peak. But you needn’t go that far to spot the Arizona wildflowers.

Pull into the Babad Do’ag scenic overlook about 2.7 miles up the mountain. There will be saguaros above and below you, with plenty of wildflowers sprinkled in among them.

NOTE: the more intrepid can hike the adjacent Babad Do’ag trail, although it gets steep fairly quickly.

16-Gates Pass: This road winds west from Tucson to carry you to the far side of the Tucson Mountains and to Saguaro National Park-West. Along the way you pass through some magnificent Sonoran Desert landscape, which in the spring pops with the color of wildflowers.

Stop at the Gates Pass Scenic Lookout, or spend more time hiking one of the trails in Tucson Mountain Park (see below).

organ pipe cactus with brittlebush at the base
Organ Pipe cactus and brittlebush living in harmony on the Ajo Mountain Loop drive

17-Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument: You have two ways seeing wildflowers while driving through Organ Pipe: fast or slow.

AZ State Highway 85 offers the “fast” option. This route slices through the park’s center, carrying travelers en route to the Mexican resort town of Rocky Point. The drive is straight, with some lovely views of purple and yellow wildflowers, along with plenty of cactus (although not really many Organ Pipes).

However, we recommend taking the slow option, the 21-mile Ajo Mountain loop, which takes you deeper into the Organ Pipe’s unique landscape. Multiple stopping points allow you to get up-close and personal with the eponymous cacti, as well as the poppies, brittlebush and more that burst forth in springtime.

18-23: Southern Arizona Wildflower Walks and Hikes

man standing in front of Organ pipe cactus and wildflowers

18-Saguaro National Park-East: The eastern portion of Saguaro National Park gets snowmelt from its location at the base of the Rincon Mountains, providing ample water for all those wildflowers to sprout up in between the cacti.

Check out some of our Favorite Tucson Hikes for more info, including an accessible nature trail suitable for everyone.

19-Saguaro National Park-West: After you’ve driven through the spectacular Gates Pass (see drives, above), continue on to the western section of this National Park.

arizona wildflowers-penstemon
Penstemon-a hummingbird favorite

Check with park rangers at the Visitor Center for the best trails for wildflower spotting during your visit. A perennial fave is the King Canyon Wash Trail, with the winter rains providing plenty of water for the wildflowers. (Rangers will alert you to any potential flooding dangers).

20-Picacho State Park: Although you can see the blanket of California poppies from I-10 (see “Drives” above), it’s worth it to just get off the darned Interstate already and see them up close.

closeup of arizona wildflowers. yellow-orange california poppies

To see the flowers up-close there’s no need to climb the steep trail to the peak. The easy 0.5-mile Calloway Trail will take you to lovely overlook. Memories of this beautiful hike will be enough to sustain you through a year’s worth of dull drives up and down I-10. (Did I say that out loud? 🤭)

Have a wildflower viewing suggestion (or photos)?: Click the “contact us” button & let us know–we’ll add it to the list!

21-Catalina State Park: There are plenty of opportunities for wildflower spotting in this large park north of Tucson on hikes of all abilities.

The 1.0-mile Birding Trail is a great place to start, since flowers attract birds . . . and you might see some hummingbirds too!

22-Tohono Chul Gardens: There is a wide range of different themed gardens at this Tohono Chul, including some where wildflowers native to the region have been planted especially to attract butterflies and hummingbirds.

For a sense of a more natural setting for Arizona wildflowers, take a stroll through the South Loop and Saguaro Discovery trails. These Tucson Gardens provide a more native Sonoran Desert habitat. Ideally, you’ll see some wildflowers growing alongside their famous crested saguaro (that’s the one that looks like it’s sporting a pompadour on top)!

Crested saguaro cactus in desert landscape
No wildflowers in this shot, but I really get a kick out of this crested saguaro at Tohono Chul

23-Tucson Mountain Park: Trails abound in vast Tucson Mountain Park for wildflower viewing. It’s location immediately south of Saguaro National Park-West means you’ll see virtually identical plant life–including wildflowers.

Access points on both the east and west side of the park-the Brown Mountain Trail offers some great views without too much climbing, as well as seeing wildflowers close-up.

(NOTE: for a nice drive through this park, see “Gates Pass Drive,” above.)

24-Sabino Canyon National Recreation Area: The year-round stream flowing through Sabino Canyon provides a pretty good insurance policy for seeing wildflowers in the spring.

This is especially true along the main canyon drive that parallels the stream: it’s paved, and therefore fully accessible to anyone with mobility issues.

For a more birds-eye view, consider the Phoneline Trail, which parallels the stream along the mountainside before looping back to stream level.

As you can see, there is no shortage of places to view the beautiful wildflowers of Arizona! Where will you go to see them?


Inside: Everything you need to know to visit Montezuma Well, a stunning pool of deep water with cliff dwellings nearby Montezuma Castle.

Imagine living in the desert 1,000 years ago and stumbling on this huge pool of water at the top of a hill . . . you’d probably gasp, right?

Spoiler alert: I actually gasped myself when I first saw it last year! Montezuma Well is truly a breathtaking sight.

What is Montezuma Well?

Montezuma Well is a deep pool of water that is actually a giant sinkhole perched high atop a hill. It’s one of several Arizona National Monuments dedicated to Native American culture.

View of montezuma well surrounded by limestone and fall foliage, with cliff dwellings in upper left
View of Montezuma Well from the water level. Note cliff dwellings on upper left

The “well” was created by the collapse of an underground cave thousands of years ago, and is replenished daily by underground streams. Montezuma well is about the size of a football field and maintains a steady water level year-round.

It’s like a giant pond nestled in a hilltop nest of limestone. Add in evidence of ancient peoples, such as cliff-dwellings and water-level cave rooms, and you’ve got a site that’s truly worth seeing.

And to top it all off, its absolutely FREE!

Take the Montezuma Well Hike

Follow the 1/2-mile trail, which will take you past all the discoveries at this magical place.

Ascend a gentle 80-yard rocky slope to reach the rim of the well. Roughly 100 feet below you’ll see the serene blue water snuggled amid reeds and mesquite trees in its limestone nest. Gasp! 😲 (told you!)

View 100 feet above montezuma well from edge-with iron railing
The unexpected well as you reach the top of the hill

You can walk along the edge to view the well from multiple angles. (Note: keep toddlers in check, the railings are sturdy, but they’d be easy for little ones to squirm through.)

Exploring the Cliff Dwellings and Caves

From your rim viewpoint search for clues of prior inhabitants.

Remains of rooms tucked into the stone cliffs overlooking the well (to your left) along the rim are evidence of the native peoples who have lived here. Experts believe the Sinagua, Hohokam, Hopi, Zuni and Yavapai all used the well at one time or another over the centuries. Because of their cliffside location, this is as close as you’ll be able to get.

close up view of cliff dwellings at montezuma well
Cliff dwellings: 1000-year old condo with a water view!

Keep looking. There are more clues . . .

A small sign points toward the “Swallet Ruins.” Hmmm, not sure what a “swallet” is, but “ruins” sounds promising. Looks like it goes right down to the water’s edge.

Descend a short trail of 112 stone steps. With each step the temperature drops, delivering a cooling respite from the Arizona heat. That coolness is welcome today; for indigenous peoples centuries ago (pre-A/C!) it would have been downright miraculous.

Soon you find yourself at some small rooms carved into the limestone wall right at the water’s edge. This is awesome! It’s like you’ve just discovered some centuries-old secret hideout!

You have. You’ve found the cliff dwellings down at the water’s edge. It feels pretty safe down here. These dwellings would have kept their inhabitants cool in the summer, and protected from storms in the winter.

And you’ve also found the beginning of the swallet: the point where the water leaves the well and goes out to the nearby creek.

Hang out for a bit in these cool (literally and figuratively 😎) spaces, envisioning one of the Sinagua grinding corn or washing clothes 900 years ago. There’s something serene about these simple domestic tasks in such a unique setting.

There’s one more historic surprise waiting down here, although the culture isn’t quite so ancient, and unfortunately it’s inconsiderate. See if you can spot the 200-year-old graffiti on one of the walls.

Avoid the temptation to add your “tag” here. As the nearby placard will warn, these are still sacred sites to the native peoples, and graffiti such as this is disrespectful. (Not to mention it’s now a National Monument, and you don’t want to be “that guy” who defaces federal property.)

Completing the Montezuma Well Hike

Return back to the rim of the well and continue on the path, which will take you down toward Beaver Creek before looping back to the parking lot.

You’ll be back in the high desert landscape of grasses, mesquite and prickly pear cactus.

Along the way you will see the remains of a few more stone dwellings, this time simply built out on the open grassy plain. Compared to what you’ve just seen, these remains might seem a little . . . mundane.

Man in front of Hilltop ruins on the montezuma well hike with fall foliage in background
These hilltop ruins at Montezuma Well only hint at the wonders nearby

But it’s these remains that provided an indication that there was, perhaps, a little more going on around here. Something that said, “look a little harder, explore a little more.”

Aren’t you glad you did?

If you like archaelology and Native American Culture, be sure to check out this post:

Details about visiting Montezuma Well

You can visit Montezuma Castle and Well on the same day. Montezuma Well National Monument is a short drive (roughly 10 miles) from Montezuma Castle.

  • Admission:Montezuma Well is free (unlike the Castle, which charges a small fee).
  • Opening Hours: 8am to 4:45pm, daily. (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day) Picnic area closes at 4pm.
  • Services: Picnic Area with flush toilets, water refill station. Pit toilets on the trail.

Montezuma Castle National Monument was established in 1906 as the third National Monument devoted to Native American culture. Montezuma Well was added as an annex to the Monument in 1947.


Inside: Montezuma Castle in AZ: one of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in America. Plus TWO BONUS free ancient sites nearby. So. Very. Cool! 😎

Can you imagine living in a 5-story apartment building . . . built into a CLIFF? Oh, and it was built 900 years ago!

Thats Montezuma Castle. It’s the ruins of a five-story cliff dwelling of more than two dozen rooms burrowed into a limestone cliff in central Arizona by the Sinagua People centuries ago. Can you imagine having to climb ladders to get home? Talk about a 5-story walkup! 🪜😳

You can visit Montezuma Castle National Monument as a day-trip from Phoenix, or on your way to points north, such as Sedona or the Grand Canyon. There are SO MANY reasons to visit . . . including getting access to TWO bonus parks for your admission fee!

1. See INCREDIBLE Architecture at Montezuma Castle

Montezuma Castle in AZ-view of cliff dwellings as seen from a distance-high up in the cliff

What, exactly, is Montezuma Castle? THIS! 👆👆👆 Pretty cool, huh?

Montezuma Castle is a 5-story, 20-room structure, built with stone and mortar. Simple enough, right? But here’s the kicker: it’s built into a cliff, nearly 100 feet above the ground. Suddenly it’s not-so-simple 🧐.

In fact, it’s pretty dang astonishing.

So, what’s the story here?

2-4. Learn about Montezuma Castle: History & People

Visiting provides incredible insight into people that lived in a prior millennium.

I mean, you can read about this stuff until your eyeballs 👀 get scratchy. But sooner or later, you just gotta see it for yourself. (And hopefully reading this blog post will make you want to do just that! 😊)

You’ll see that while in some ways the culture was primitive, in others they were remarkably sophisticated.

View of Montezuma Castle looking up through trees with fall foliage

2. Discover Who Built Montezuma Castle

Montezuma Castle was built by the Sinagua people. They established their culture in Arizona from AD 600 through AD 1450.

Experts theorize that the Sinagua settled here to be near Beaver Creek, which flows alongside the cliff. Experts theorize that the “castle” was built so high into the cliff to protect it from periodic flooding from the creek. No leaky basements for these guys!

View of Montezuma Castle from a distance perched high on a cliff from a
Approaching Montezuma Castle in AZ

3. Learn who discovered Montezuma Castle in AZ

Spanish settlers who arrived in the area 1500s gave the name Sinagua to the people that had come before them. The name means “without water.”

The Spaniards marveled at the magnificent structure they had built into the cliff, and arid landscape in which they had thrived. The Spaniards must’ve been scratching their heads, just like we all do! 🤔

4. Understand the name “Montezuma Castle”

Since “Montezuma” is the name of an Aztec emperor, Montezuma Castle in AZ must be connected the Aztecs . . . right? But the words “Montezuma Arizona” don’t exactly go together . . .

Spoiler alert! There is NO connection to the Aztecs. Early Spanish settlers misnamed the site. They assumed something so grand had to be associated with a regal figure like the emperor Montezuma. I suppose in the 1500s that sort of made sense. But it was a big leap . . . and an incorrect one.

Okay, chalk that one up to one of history’s great misnomers! 🤷‍♀️

5-10: Things to do AT Montezuma Castle in AZ

Once you’ve got your head around the basic history, here are some things you can do while visiting Montezuma Castle:

5. Take the Montezuma Castle Hike

Taking the Montezuma Castle hike gives you access to all that the site has to offer.

There are multiple sun shelters along the way, so you’ve got plenty of protection from the strong Arizona sunshine.

Best of all, the path is paved, and fully-accessible for anyone with mobility concerns! So everyone can experience the magnificence of Montezuma Castle in AZ.

Cartoon map of the walking trail at Montezuma Castle National Monument in AZ, including icons for the Castle and Cavate sights

6. Observe the Cliff Dwelling from Multiple Viewpoints

Stop periodically along the hike to view Montezuma Castle from different angles.

The sun will cast shadows on different parts of the structure, depending on where you’re standing.

This will help you get a more accurate 3-D picture of how intricate and sophisticated the structure really is.

7. Walk through the low-level Cliff Dwellings (Cavates)

You can walk through some of the ruins at the base of the cliff.

These low-level rooms, or “cavates,” are located at the western end of the hike, just before it begins to turn toward the river.

No one knows exactly how these were used, but many experts theorize they may have been storage rooms for grains and other living staples.

8. Study the Architectural Model of Montezuma Castle

At roughly the midpoint of the hike, you’ll find a model of Montezuma Castle in AZ in a glass case.

The model shows a cut-away version of what the castle looked like inside, and how the Sinagua people lived there.

Press the button at the front of the model to hear a short narration about life inside Montezuma Castle.

9. Take in the nature that inspired this ideal building location

There’s a reason the Sinagua chose this location: the beautiful valley with the water of Beaver Creek flowing by.

Take a few moments to stop and observe the tranquil setting and imagine someone 900 years ago coming to collect water.

Man reading placard overlooking river with trees-Montezuma Castle

10. View ancient artifacts at the Visitor Center Museum

Be sure to take some time to explore the small museum in the Visitor Center.

It’s not very large–you can view the whole thing in 10 minutes (if you’re quick!). There are several large posters and some examples of artifacts.

Spending a few minutes here will give you a better understanding of the Sinagua people, and help you appreciate Montezuma Castle in AZ even more!

Display of artifacts and placards at Montezuma Castle Visitor Center

11-15: Things to do NEAR Montezuma Castle in AZ

11. Visit Monetzuma Well (BONUS PARK #1 !!!): 10miles, 15 minutes

This crater-like “pond” is a shocking sight in the middle of the desert and an awesome bonus. Admission here is free.

Walk around the rim, where you can see cliff dwellings, then down to see the cavate structures near the water’s edge. (It’s really cool–literally–the temperature is about 10 degrees cooler down there! 😎)

12. Explore Sedona and the Red Rocks: 25 miles, 40 minutes

Montezuma Castle to Sedona is an easy drive. The magnificent red rocks of Sedona are a short drive up the road.

There you can hike to your heart’s content, shop til you drop, or find your inner Zen at one of the many yoga retreats.

(If you’re staying in Sedona, Montezuma Castle makes an excellent day trip.)

13. Tuzigoot National Monument (BONUS Park #2!!!): 22 miles, 35 minutes

For a sort-of parallel universe view of the Sinagua people, check out Tuzigoot.

This hilltop pueblo was built around the same time as Montezuma Caste, but has a very different look: less ladders, more sprawling.

Just as awesome.

And, like Montezuma Well, admission is included in your ticket to Montezuma Castle–BONUS! 🎉

Stone Ruins of Tuzigoot pueblo on a rise, with mountain in background

14. See more cave dwellings at Walnut Canyon: 63 miles, 56 minutes

This part of Arizona could be described as “cave dwelling” central.

The dwellings at Walnut Canyon National Monutment were also constructed by the Sinagua people around the same time as Montezuma Castle in AZ.

Take the 1-mile-long “Island Trail,” where you can explore inside the 25 dwellings built along the edge of the mountain.

View of pine trees viewed through opening of cliff dwelling at Walnut Canyon National Monument

15. Verde Valley Archaeology Center: 5 miles, 8 minutes

If you want to place the remarkable achievement of Montezuma Castle in AZ into context of the surrounding terrain, this is the museum for you!

Verde Valley Archaelogy Center & Museum has a series of exhibits that compare & contrast the many cultures that have inhabited the region over the millinnea.

Don’t miss the Space Rocks! display, showcasing meteorites that have fallen to earth in the vicinity. 🪐☄️

Visitor information for Montezuma Castle in AZ

Sign at the entrance to Montezuma Castle National Monument
  • Where is Montezuma Castle located? Montezuma Castle is located right off Interstate 17, 94 miles north of Phoenix and 53 miles south of Flagstaff.
  • What does Montezuma Castle cost to visit? Admission to Montezuma Castle is $10 per adult, which is good for 7 days. Children aged 15 and under are free. ***This fee also covers admission to Tuzigoot National Monument.
  • When is Montezuma Castle open? Montezuma Castle is open every day from 8:00am to 4:45pm. (Note: closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. Park closes at 1:45pm on Christmas Eve.)
  • When is the best time to visit Montezuma Castle? The best time to visit is spring and fall, when the weather is mild.
  • Can you go inside Montezuma Castle? No, you cannot go inside Montezuma Castle, but you can go inside the cavates at the base of the cliff, below the castle.
  • Is Monetzuma Castle worth visiting? I certainly hope you agree that the answer is YES! 👍

Want to learn more about the archaeology at Montezuma Castle? Check out this video from Arizona Project Archaeology (a state-approved educational organization). Go on . . . geek out! 🤓🤩


INSIDE: These 8 gardens in Tucson showcase the beauty of the desert landscape. Discover vivid flowers, trees, and even a cactus with a pompadour! We’ll show you how you can find these natural wonders.

On my first visit to Tucson I expected to see lots of sand and no vegetation. But I was wrong. The landscape is oveflowing with vivid flowers, lacy shade trees, even a rare cactus that sports a pompadour! The beauty is all around you . . . if you know where to look.

Tucson sits smack-dab in the middle of a special place: The Sonoran Desert.

The word “desert” evokes images of sand–lots of sand. And nothing else. But that’s not true–plenty of stuff grows here.

The Sonoran Desert is one of the oldest cultivated areas in North America. (Seriously, people have been living here for over 4,000 years!).

It’s the home of the saguaro cactus, the most iconic symbol of the American southwest. Even the cactus emoji is a saguaro 🌵.

You’ll find stunning flowers, lacy shade trees, and a rare version of the saguaro with a frilly hairdo that would be right at home in a 50’s Do-Wop group. The “crested saguaro” is a mutation that occurs once in every 10,000 saguaros.

And it can only be found in the Sonoran Desert.

So let’s get going and explore that beautiful desert landscape. Here are 8 of our favorite gardens in Tucson that showcase the unique plant life in the Sonoran Desert . . .

. . . and we’ll even share 3 places where that rare cactus with a pompadour is hiding!

Girl with sunglasses posing in front of large cactus at gardens in tucson

1. Tucson Botanical Gardens: A former nursery grows up

Tucson Botanical Gardens has its roots (seems fitting!) in a nursery. It’s a pleasure to stroll the paths of what was once Desert Gardens Nursery. For nearly 40 years, founders Rutger and Bernice Porter taught locals to cultivate their own gardens with southwestern plants.

Bernice Porter donated the property to the city in 1968, which became Tucson Botanical Gardens a few years later.

Today Tucson Botanical Gardens is an oasis of desert beauty in the city. I love the 17 different specialty gardens which highlight native plants.

  • What we love: Succulent Garden & Butterfly Pavilion
  • Highlights: Christmas lights display; art exhibits in the old Porter House
  • Amenities: Cafe, Gift shop
  • Admission fee: Yes
  • Location: 5 miles northeast of downtown Tucson
  • Website: Tucson Botanical Gardens

2. Tohono Chul Gardens: a blend of art and nature

Okay, full disclosure here: I went to Tohono Chul because I knew they had a Crestate Saguaro somewhere on the property.

That’s right, the cactus with the Pompadour!

I did eventually find it (more on that in a minute), but I was astonished by how many other gorgeous gardens are on display here: a Spanish Colonial courtyard, a cultivators garden featuring native plants, even an area featuring the cutest little mini cacti! (Just don’t touch them–they may look cute & fuzzy, but they’re still sharp!)

Beautiful sculptures complement the plantings, and several art galleries with rotating exhibits delight your eyes.

But after all those tended gardens, head out to the South Loop Trail into native desert landscape. Here you’ll find lots (and lots!) of cacti . . . including the quirky Crested Saguaro–yep the guy with the pompadour! This one even has two bird’s nests in it, which look like a set of eyes 👀!

  • What we love: The mixture of wild and tame landscapes
  • Highlights: Crested Saguaro; rotating art exhibits
  • Amenities: Cafe, Gift shops (2), nursery selling native plants
  • Admission fee: Yes
  • Location: 9 miles north of downtown Tucson
  • Website: Tohono Chul
Crested saguaro cactus in desert landscape

3. Yume Japanese Gardens: serenity among gardens in Tucson

If all seeing all those cacti have you feeling a little, well, prickly, head over to Yume Japanese Gardens for a soothing change of pace.

Eight different garden settings display minimalist serenity, combining a balance of natural and man-made beauty.

I’m amazed at how these minimalist settings can still invoke communion with nature. Get your Zen on with trickling fountains, bamboo groves, and even a river of smooth stones–no water necessary!

Afterward, explore the mini-museum, with its stunning display of ceremonial Japanese kimonos.

And don’t forget to pick up some Japanese snacks in the gift shop 🍡.

  • What we love: The total Zen vibe
  • Highlights: Dry River garden, Tea Ceremony garden, kimono display
  • Amenities: Gift shop/Bookstore
  • Admission fee: Yes
  • Location: 9 miles northeast of downtown Tucson (2 blocks south of Tucson Botanical Gardens)
  • Website: Yume Japanese Gardens
garden scene at Yume Japanese gardens tucson

4. Agua Caliente Regional Park: a real live Desert Oasis!

There’s something so exotic about a desert oasis. And Agua Caliente Park fits the definition!

The park is named for a warm spring and pond that creates this unexpectedly lush spot in the desert. (“Agua Caliente” means hot water.)

Visiting this county park feels like stepping onto the grounds of a fancy resort–for free! Loads of palm trees ring a large pond, with a bridge (and even a few ducks–rare for Tucson 🦆).

It’s a really nice place for a picnic. The pretty setting is also popular with wedding parties-on our last visit we saw a ceremony taking place (so romantic! 💕). Hohokam peoples lived here 900 years ago; archaeologists also found evidence of human occupants from 5,500 years ago. This oasis has been around a long time! 🌴

  • What we love: Seeing naturally occurring water in the middle of the desert.
  • Highlights: Different types of palm trees, lots of shade
  • Amenities: Visitor center; rotating art exhibits
  • Admission fee: None
  • Location: 18 miles northeast of downtown Tucson
  • Website: Agua Caliente Park
Pond with palm trees reflected at Agua Caliente oasis in Tucson
Little girl examining mini cactus at gardens in Tucson

5. University of Arizona Arboretum: beauty is all around you

If you want to learn more about the desert landscape . . . go to school.

You don’t have to “enroll,” just go to the campus. The University of Arizona main campus Arboretum houses a truly unique collection of plants from arid and semi-arid climates around the world.

Before it gets too confusing, let me give you a tip: the Arboretum is all around you, not in some fenced-off section of campus. (Full disclosure, I had a hard time finding it the first time I went 🤦‍♀️.) Because it sprawls all over campus, it’s one of the more spectacular gardens in Tucson.

The “U of A” has a terrific interactive map on their website, which describes the various plantings you’ll find around campus. There are even 8 different walking tours with different themes, such as “Edible Landscapes” and “Arboretum History.”

But my favorite? None other than that pompadour-sporting Crested Saguaro . . . right near the Old Main building. Weird, wonky & utterly wonderful!

Bonus Sighting: try to find the true-to-scale outline of the battleship USS Arizona on the campus grounds. It’s a moving memorial to those who perished in the Pearl Harbor attacks.

  • What we love: The ENTIRE campus is an arboretum!
  • Highlights: Crested saguaro; multiple themed walking tours
  • Amenities: Several cafes, restaurants and shops adjacent to campus
  • Admission fee: None
  • Location: 1.5 miles northeast of downtown Tucson
  • Website: University of Arizona Arboretum
Crested saguaro cactus at Univ. of Arizona

6. The Mission Garden: celebrating 4,000 years of food

If you love to grow vegetables, or even if you just love to eat, you’ll love the Mission Garden. This garden is all about food. It is a celebration of the kitchen garden, and Tucson’s diverse agricultural heritage.

Tucson has a rich food history–people have been living here for 4,000 years! All due to, you guessed it, growing food.

This garden in Tucson is a living agricultural museum of Sonoran Desert-adapted heritage fruit trees, traditional local heirloom crops and edible native plants. I love strolling through to see the different crops people have cultivated over the centuries (well, okay, millenia). Corn, squash and beans planted by the native peoples, fruit trees and wheat brought by colonial Spaniards, and even winter melon and long beans brought by the Chinese. (I told you it was diverse!)

Perhaps the coolest part of the Mission Garden is its location: just west of downtown Tucson, at the site of a Native American village sacred to the Tohono O’odham people. The name of the village? S-cuk Son (pronounced “Chuk Shon”), which is where modern-day Tucson got its name. That’s some gardening props! 👩‍🌾

  • What we love: Discovering all the heritage crops
  • Highlights: Hohokam native garden, Spanish Colonial orchard
  • Amenities: Gift shop
  • Admission fee: No (but $5 donation suggested)
  • Website: Mission Garden
Spanish vegetable garden at Mission Garden Tucson

7. Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum: the desert from every angle

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum definitely gives you a lot of value: there are 5 museums at this one location. And there’s a crested saguaro in the parking lot!

The 98-acre property looks at the Sonoran Desert from multiple angles. So while exploring you’ll see botanical gardens mixed in with natural history, local art, and even desert critters (like tarantulas and coatimundi).

There are 2 miles of trails connecting the exhibits . . . with 1,200 different types of plants on display. Whoever said the desert is just sand is totally wrong!

My favorite plant/animal combo is the hummingbird habitat: you could spend an hour looking at gorgeous desert flowers while these iridescent little fliers zip by your head!

  • What we love: Seeing how desert plants make up part of the whole ecosystem
  • Highlights: Hummingbird Haven, Desert Grasslands habitat, Crested Saguaro
  • Amenities: Cafe, Gift shop
  • Admission fee: Yes
  • Website: Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
Close up of plants at Tucson botanical gardens

PRO TIP: Check out the crested saguaro at the entrance of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (just off the parking lot). You don’t even have to enter the museum to see it!

8. Bonus Pick: Saguaro National Park: Cactus, cactus & more cactus

two pug dogs wearing saguaro cactus costumes
I told you there were a LOT of cacti!

If you prefer plant life in a native setting, you can’t get much more local than Saguaro National Park. Obviously, the park celebrates the Saguaro cactus (remember the emoji? 🌵), but also all the other desert life you find in this ecosystem.

The park is divided into 2 sections: one just east of Tucson, the other just west. This makes it an easy visit when you’re staying in the area. Each section has an (accessible) interpretive trail which provides a great primer on the plants you’ll see while exploring the park.

Farther afield are networks of trails throughout the park for walkers and hikers of all abilities. I particularly like the trails in the East section, which take you into the Rincon Mountains.

(See our guide to Tucson Hikes for more info about trails in this park and beyond.)

  • What we love: Immersing ourselves in the Sonoran Desert.
  • Highlights: Interpretive trails, hikes through the Rincon Mountains
  • Amenities: Visitor Center, Gift shop (Western section only)
  • Admission fee: Yes
  • Website: Saguaro National Park

I am still determined to find that Crestate Saguaro Cactus somewhere in the wild. But for now I’m content to know that there are at least 3 places right in Tucson where I can see one whenever I want. 🌵


INSIDE: Kingman AZ is more then a Route 66 drive-thru & an awesome drive-thru sign! There are also plenty of terrific things to do in Kingman Arizona.

Yep, Kingman’s an old town on Route 66, but what else is there to do here? It turns out . . . plenty!

There are lots of cool things to do in Kingman Arizona, and driving through during a Route 66 Road Trip is just the beginning. The town has a rich history, and is located not far from the western end of the Grand Canyon. Whether you’re a family with a minivan full of kids who need some distraction, some outdoorsy types looking for some desert exploring, or are just plain curious, Kingman offers plenty to see and do.

Kingman: Intriguing Layers of History

Although the town now known as “Kingman” was first established in the 1880s as a stop on the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, the region has deeper roots. Native American peoples, including the Hualapai, Havasupai and Mojave have occupied these lands for centuries. Later, Spaniards in search of gold passed through these parts.

Fun Fact: Kingman was originally a settlement on “Beale’s Wagon Road,” an 1857 precursor to Route 66!

Beale’s Wagon Road & the Camel Corps

In 1857, surveyor Lt. Edward Fitzgerald Beale passed through this area with a unique crew: camels! His objective: to develop a wagon route west on or near the 35th parallel.

Because of the desert terrain, Beale had the creative idea to use camels 🐪🐪 instead of horses–and it worked!

A 19th century military reenactor with camels-things to do in winslow arizona
Celebrating the Camel Corps with reenactors, photo courtesy NPS

Ultimately the road ran from Arkansas to California and became the first federally funded highway in the Southwest. It was a big hit with cattle drovers, sheepherders and anyone looking to bring goods westward.

(Spoiler Alert: we won’t be suggesting riding as camel as one of the things to do in Kingman Arizona, but you gotta admit, it would be sorta cool!)

The Railroad Years: Kingman is Born

Another surveyor, Louis Kingman, used Beale’s Wagon Road as a guide when assessing the area in 1880. This time the job was for Atlantic and Pacific Railroad (which would later become the Santa Fe Railroad). The town is named for Kingman. (Beale needed a better PR firm!). The first train pulled up to “Kingman” in 1883, with about 100 passengers on board. Kingman quickly became an important hub for ranchers and miners in the area.

On the road again . . . Route 66 and beyond

Once again using prior routes as a guide, the federal government established US Highway 66 in 1926. For the decades that followed, Kingman became an important stopping point for the more than 200,000 people who traveled Route 66 in search of a new beginning in the wake of the Great Depression. By mid-century, this town, with its roots in Native American peoples and, of all things, camels, had found its place in Road Trip history.

Things to do in Kingman Arizona

Knowing the town’s history helps put it all into perspective, and also explains some of the unique things to do in Kingman Arizona. Activities and attractions range from sights related to the town’s history to ziplining over the Grand Canyon.

1. & 2. Historic Powerhouse/Visitors Center: Start Here!

This historic Powerhouse building should be FIRST on your list of things to do in Kingman Arizona. As the name implies, it was at one time the source of electrical power for the town, as well as the construction of Hoover Dam. After being mothballed for decades it was renovated in 1997 and repurposed as a multi-purpose facility that caters to visitors (like you and me!)

1-Get your bearings at the Visitor Center & Gift Shop

In addition to housing the Kingman Visitor Center (where you can get advice and brochures on all the local attractions), the Powerhouse is also home to Arizona Route 66 Museum & Route 66 Electric Vehicle Museum (see below). On top of that, there’s an awesome gift shop (with a terrific collection of Route 66 memorabilia).

A visit here will help you just which things to do in Kingman Arizona are best suited to you.

And to keep young ones occupied while you stock up on brochures (and shop!) there are two model trains on tracks that circle the inside of the building 🚂

2-Drive through the Route 66 Sign

Kingman may have create the most awesome Route 66 sign on the whole Mother Road! If there were one thing that was tops on the list of things to do in Kingman Arizona, this has got to be it!

Perched outside the Powerhouse parking lot, it’s a giant light-up Route 66 sign that you drive through! It is the BEST photo op! (Full disclosure, I tried to get a photo at night with the sign lit up, but then you couldn’t see the car driving through, so I settled for the one below 🤷‍♀️. Please share one if you’ve got it!)

Best Route 66 photo-op. Ever.

3. Arizona Route 66 Museum

Located in the Historic Powerhouse visitors complex, this museum tells the story of depicts travel along the 35th parallel–the route that began with Native American trade routes and ultimately became Route 66. If, like most of us, you are traveling along Route 66, this museum is a must among things to do in Kingman Arizona.

Through a series of murals, photos and life-size dioramas, visitors journey through history with Native Americans and US Army-led survey expeditions (remember the “Camel Corps”?). A particularly poignant exhibit depicts the anguish of dust bowl refugees as they traversed the “Mother Road” west in search of a better life.

But the visit ends on an upbeat note as you stroll through a Main Street America display, complete with a Studebaker–(a version similar to the quirky model that was used in The Muppet Movie), heralding the joy of road tripping on Route 66.

Although not the same exact car, this scene from The Muppet Movie shows a very similar Studebaker on the road. (Check at approximately 1 minute in . . . for the classic “fork in the road” bit.

4. Historic Downtown Kingman Walking Trail

If a drive along Route 66 has you itching to stretch your legs a bit, take a walk through Historic Downtown Kingman. The town has more than 40 sights and buildings on the National Registry of Historic Places. In addition to locations open to the public (which are listed in this post), there are several other points of interest to see, including the Mojave County Courthouse, the former Masonic Temple, and a little red schoolhouse.

Walking tour guides are available at the Powerhouse Visitors Center.

5. Mohave Museum of History & Arts

For a break from all the Route 66 and railroad history, stop in to the Mohave Museum. This museum is dedicated to preserving all aspects of the heritage of Northwestern Arizona in a format accessible to the public. There are exhibits illustrating prehistoric times, mining and ranching, with a LOT of memorabilia hanging on walls and stacked on shelves.

The museum also celebrates Andy Devine, a local boy turned 1930s movie star. This museum may not be everyone’s idea of things to do in Kingman Arizona, but if the “good old days” is your cup of tea, you’ll find it entertaining.

6. & 7. Visit (& Hike) Camp Beale Spring

Although named after Lt. Edward Beale, the springs here had been used by Native Americans for centuries. Camp Beale Springs was established in 1871 by the U.S. Infantry to provide protection along the nearby toll road, as well as supply station for the local Hualapai Indians.

The site is located just west of town. A parking permit is required, but is free and available at the Powerhouse Visitors Center.

8. Route 66 Electric Vehicle Museum

If you thought Kingman had its head fully in the past, think again. Despite gasoline-focused Route 66 and coal-fired locomotives this museum, the brainchild of the Historic Electric Vehicle Foundation, is on a mission to show us how we can look back while still thinking of the future.

Tucked into the ground floor of the Powerhouse Visitor complex, the Route 66 Electric Vehicle Museum showcases the history of electric vehicles (which goes back a lot further than you might think). Move over, Tesla, the first example here dates from 1909! Pride of place goes to the Buckeye Bullet, a battery-powered rocketship-esque beauty that reached 320 mph 😱 on the Bonneville Salt Flats in 2011.

If you’re looking to get a charge 🔌 (see what I did there?) out of things to do in Kingman Arizona, then head over to this unique museum.

9. Bonelli House Museum

The Bonelli House, which was built in 1915, provides an excellent example of Anglo-territorial architecture at the turn of the 20th century. The house was unique at the time because it was built to be both fire-proof and safe for the family (their original home had burned down.

The house is constructed of fire-resistant plaster and Tufa stone that was quarried locally. To ensure both ventilation (and potentially a quick exit, every room had an exit door (both upstairs and downstairs) to the veranda. The house also had a (very) early version of “air-conditioning”: The cupola on the roof drafted the hot air upward and out the roof. (We once rented a house in the Caribbean with the same type of structure–it really works to cool things off!)

10. Kingman Locomotive Park

Climb up into the cab of an old steam engine! Locomotive Park is home to famed Steam Engine #3759. This coal-burning locomotive was built in 1928 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works (in our hometown of Philadelphia 😊) and served on a passenger run for the Santa Fe Railway between Kansas City and Los Angeles.

PRO TIP: A visit to the Locomotive Park is one of the free things to do in Kingman, Arizona

In 1957, the Railway presented number 3759 to City of Kingman as a historical monument. (Just a few years earlier the coal burning trains were replaced by diesel power. In 1987 Kingman added a colorful caboose to the park, which is located just across the road from the Powerhouse Visitors Center. If your idea (or your kids’ idea) of fun things to do in Kingman Arizona involves choo choos, this is definitely for you. 😊🚂

11. & 12. Kingman Railroad Station & Museum

All Aboard, Trainspotters! More railroad-y things to do in Kingman Arizona . . . This historic train station was built in 1907 and renovated in 2011. The white stucco structure trimmed in bright orange paint is a landmark that occupies pride of place, wedged between Route 66 and the tracks. Inside is a museum of model trains, which is ever-evolving.

PRO TIP: Check out the Kingman Station live trainspotting cam for a preview of what you’ll see when you visit!

Video from Kingman Train Depot, via Southwest RailCams

Outside, you can stand on the platform and do some real-life trainspotting, where freight trains from BNSF pass by regularly. If you time your visit just right, you might get to see Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, which runs twice a day from Chicago to LA (does that line sound familiar???😉) and back. It’s the same train that passes by La Posada in Winslow.

13. Hike the White Cliffs Wagon Trail–Ruts n’ all!

Just north of town is an old wagon route that was once used to bring ore from one of the nearby mines down to the railroad for transport. At the base of the White Cliffs the wagon route of the same name dates to the late 1800s. Over time the heavily-laden wagons cut trails into the stone road–so much so that the ruts are still very much in evidence 125 years later!

There are currently two trails (both loops) for hiking: a roughly 1-mile beginner trail and a 2.4-mile intermediate trail. Both begin and end along the rutted wagon road. A small parking lot with water fountain is located at the trailhead. If you are looking for outdoor activities in Kingman, Az, this is a good option.

14. Cool Off in Hualapi Mountain Park (15 miles)

This county park sports majestic views (it’s at 8,000 ft elevation!), and a climate that’s super-cool in summer and downright snowy in winter.

There is an abundance of activities up here, including hiking and biking with 16 miles of trails, picnicking and wildlife viewing. Local residents (i.e. animals!) include mule deer 🦌, elk, foxes , mountain lions and oodles of birds.

This is one of the nice day trips from Kingman, Az. Or you can stay overnight in cabin or campsite. For something a little cozier, book a room at the Hualapai Mountain Resort.

15. See Route 66 Kitsch: Giaganticus Headicus (20 miles)

C’mon! Route 66 is known for it’s odd-ball, larger-than-life landmarks, so why not a big green faux Tiki head?

A giant green tiki head–classic Route 66! Courtesy Explore Kingman

Giganticus Headicus was completed in 2004 by artist Gregg Arnold on the Antares curve, north of Kingman. There’s a gift shop where you can buy a replica of this magnificent statue. (And admit it, you know you want to . . .)

The shop also carries the requisite amount of other Route 66 memorabilia, and there’s a cafe on site serving simple meals.

This may be one of the corniest things to do in Kingman Arizona, but it’s also a lot of fun!

16. Get into the Spirit at Desert Diamond Distillery (4 miles)

Spend an afternoon at Arizona’s oldest distillery, makers of award-willing rum, whiskey and vodka. It’s probably the most “adult” of things to do in Kingman Arizona.

Sign up for a tour of the distillery (limited availability), or just head over to the tasting room to sample the, er, distillates 🥃.

There’s also a vintage Pullman rail car on site, which makes a nice location for a cafe that serves charcuterie boards, a fitting accompaniment for with Desert Diamond tipples. Desert Diamond Distillery

18. Visit the “Living” Ghost Town of Chloride (25 miles)

Many former mining towns are now empty, but Chloride still has a beating heart . . . full of art.

In its heyday, Chloride had 75 mines and 2,000 people. Today there are about 300 residents, many of whom are artists and craftsmen–the town is know for its creative yard art.

Mosey around the historic buildings (because “mosey” is what you do in a darn tootin’ ghost town! 👻), including the old jailhouse (with two whole cells!), and the Santa Fe railroad station. Mixed in are antique and gift shops and a few spots to eat.

Don’t miss the Wild West gunfights, which are re-enacted every Saturday afternoon.

19. Drive the most “untamed” section of Route 66 to Oatman AZ

The sign indicates this just might be a bumpy ride

If you are a Route 66 “completist” (like a certain husband who shall remain unnamed 😉), then this should absolutely be on your list of things to do in Kingman, Arizona.

Just west of Kingman, Route 66 officially merges with I-40 until the California border. But there’s a section that’s unimproved, known as a “Back Country Byway.” It’s the original road that climbs through the Black Mountains: a bumpy, twisty, and sometimes hair-raising 17 miles to the town of Oatman (that’s the place with the wild donkeys!).

RVs are not allowed, and 4-wheel drive is encouraged. It’s not a true “off-road” experience, but the last time we went there were some pretty deep, muddy puddles from a monsoon rain the day before. And there are potholes. Lots of potholes 🕳️. And NO guardrails. So you might want to leave your Ferrari at home 😉

But all of the warnings aside, it is totally worth it! 🤩🤩

No potholes in this stretch of Route 66–but no guardrails either 😱

There you have our list of almost 20 things to do in Kingman Arizona. I think you can see that there are plenty of activities in the town and nearby to keep you busy for a day or three. So when you’re planning your next trip along Route 66, or even to the Grand Canyon, consider using Kingman as a base. You’ll be happy you did!


Some days, we all need to “Take it Easy.”

There are lots of great things to do in Winslow Arizona, even after you visit the corner made famous by the Jackson Browne/Glenn Frey song “Take it Easy.” Take a look at our list–it’ll make you want to linger a bit in this great Arizona small town on Route 66, which is rich is Arizona history and culture.

The historic downtown area isn’t large (about 1.5 miles wide by 3/4 mile deep), so it’s very walkable. Additionally there are several interesting things to do in Winslow Arizona that are just a short drive outside of the main part of town. Plenty of nearby parks and natural wonders make Winslow an excellent base for exploring this part of Arizona.

History of Winslow Arizona

Despite Winslow’s current popularity being associated with the automobile (the “flatbed ford” and Route 66), the town actually has its roots in the railroad. According to the Winslow Historical Society, “in 1880, the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad laid out the Winslow townsite along its new transcontinental line through northeastern Arizona Territory because the nearby Little Colorado River supplied a vital water source.”

large retro style billboard with "visit winslow" text
You’ve GOT to visit a place that welcomes you with a sign like this!

The Railroad puts Winslow on the Map

Winslow really started to grown after 1897, when the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad was acquired by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway (known then as the ATSF). At this time, the division headquarters was moved from Gallup, NM to Winslow, AZ. New employees meant new infrastructure for the town, which is evidenced by many of the Victorian-era buildings and homes, many of which are still standing today.

FUN FACT: From 1900 through the 1950s, Winslow had the largest population in northern Arizona!

Even before the ATSF made Winslow a division headquarters, the town had started to become known as a travel destination. It was one of the closest train stops to the many natural and cultural sites in northern Arizona, making it a popular stop for intrepid travelers looking to explore sites such as the Petrified Forest and Canyon de Chelly.

The popularity of Winslow as a train stop for for travelers headed to northern Arizona’s wonders drew the attention of legendary hospitality industry pioneer Fred Harvey. Harvey first built a Harvey House restaurant at Winslow in 1887, and eventually opened the renowned luxury hotel La Posada Winslow in 1930, right along the train tracks.

Planes, trains and automobiles

Winslow had a lock on the railroad presence with the ATSF divisional headquarters. Then, in 1926, Route 66 was established and ran right through downtown Winslow (it still does today!), which brought plenty of automobiles. But what many people don’t know is that Winslow was also an important early destination for air travel.

In 1929, Winslow’s new airport was designated as a key stop along Transcontinental Air Transport’s first coast-to-coast passenger route. For all these reasons, Winslow enjoyed the largest population in northern Arizona from 1900 through the 1950s. This rich history means it’s not so far fetched that Jackson Browne might’ve been “standing on the corner.” And it means there are quite a few worthwhile things to do in Winslow Arizona.

Things to do IN Winslow Arizona

1: Standin’ on the Corner Park

woman next to bronze sculpture of a songwriter in front of Winslow Arizona sign-things to do in winslow arizona
Bonus points for spotting the homage to the band that recorded the song!

Okay, okay, let’s take care of this one first. This pocket park pays homage to the famous lyrics in the song “Take it Easy,” penned by Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey. It is arguably one of the most popular things to do in Winslow Arizona. It’s located right downtown, a the corner of Kinsley & 2nd Streets and open 24/7. There are bronze statues of the songwriters, a mural, and (natch!) a flatbed Ford. Learn more in our post about standing on the corner Winslow Arizona.

2: Old Trails Museum

historic railroad memorabilia, including uniforms, photos and lanterns-things to do in winslow arizona
Memorabilia from the Santa Fe Railroad at the Old Trails Museum

One of the best things to do in Winslow Arizona to get a sense of the rich history of the town is to visit the Old Trails Museum. This small (and free!) museum is chock-full of memorabilia that brings many of the towns highlights to life, including the Santa Fe Railway, Route 66, and the heritage of the Harvey House hotels and restaurants. The museum is located right across the street from Standin’ on the Corner Park and their gift shop sells some interesting Navajo and Hopi arts along with books on local history.

3: Hubbell Trading Post & Warehouse

You may be familiar with the Hubbell Trading Post that is a National Historic Site in northeast Arizona, which was the first in what would become an trading post empire for the Hubbell family. But it was in Winslow where Hubbell eventually established the regional warehouse for his goods, because of the town’s location along the Santa Fe railroad line.

Constructed in 1917 as a trading post by the Richardson brothers, the building was acquired by Lorenzo Hubbell in 1921. Until its closure in the 1960s, the building was renowned as a source for the finest specimens of old-time Navajo rug and silver and turquoise jewelry. Today it is the location of the Winslow Visitor Center and has some great exhibits showcasing Winslow’s past, along with plenty of brochures about the many things to do in Winslow Arizona.

4: La Posada Hotel and Gardens

Front entrance of La Posada Winslow-adobe architecture with tile roofs

Described by many as the town’s “crown jewel,” visiting the La Posada is definitely one of THE things to do in Winslow Arizona. The hotel originally opened in 1930 to cater to wealthy travelers exploring the newly popular sights in the southwest. Designed by famous architect Mary Colter, this is one of the last remaining Harvey House hotels. After a (admittedly non-luxurious) stint as the regional headquarters of the railroad, La Posada was lovingly restored to its former glory and is once again a magnificent hotel.

Take some time to explore the beautiful building and grounds–the hotel is surrounded by different gardens on each side. Typical of grand old hotels, there are plenty of nooks and crannies to rest weary feet and soak up the atmosphere. For a treat, enjoy a meal in the Turquoise Room restaurant, or go full-on and indulge yourselves by spending the night (or two!). It’s one of Arizona’s true historic hotel treasures. (For more information, read the review of our stay at La Posada Winslow. Spoiler alert: we loved it! 😊)

5: La Posada Art Museum

A combination of Native American and Contemporary artworks are on display at La Posada

La Posada is more than a hotel and restaurant–there’s also an art museum in the building that’s free to the public. Tina Mion, one of the owners of the hotel, is also an American contemporary artist who has exhibited at the Smithsonian and other prominent museums. Many of her paintings and pastels are on permanent display throughout the hotel, and in a dedicated museum space on the second floor.

An advocate of promoting the arts in the region, Mion also curates the work of local artists, including many Native American artisans. The guest room hallways alone are bedecked with beautiful hand woven rugs and blankets. Situated in these traditional pueblo architecture surroundings, these works really stand out. It’s one of the more “cultured” things to do in Winslow 😉.

6: Winslow Amtrak Depot and Freight Siding

Freight trains pass by regularly at La Posada’s back gate, which is also an Amtrak stop. One of the best things to do in Winslow Arizona for train geeks!

Hold on, we’re not finished with visiting La Posada just yet. If architecture, gardens and artwork aren’t your thing, what about trains??? La Posada may be the only hotel in America that has its own Amtrak depot! Although there are only two passenger trains per day that stop at the hotel, there is a never-ending parade of freight trains passing through (this is still an important siding for the BNSF Railway).

Woman standing at ornate iron gates that lead from train tracks to La posada hotel in background
Viewing the back entrance of La Posada hotel from the train platform (notice the train wheel motif in the ornate iron gate!)

Stroll out through the back gardens, where an ornate iron gate will show where the hotel property stops and the railroad begins. Two shady ramadas are equipped with comfy chairs for hotel guests awaiting their transport (or even just looking to do a little train spotting). Although Winslow is a train horn quiet zone, you might just get the engineer to blow his whistle if you give him the sign by pulling your arm down. (Just sayin’)

PRO TIP: Winslow is a train whistle “quiet zone,” but if you give the engineer the universal “horn” sign with your arm, you might just get a little “toot toot”!

7: First Street Pathway Park

If one of your ideal things to do in Winslow Arizona includes stretching your legs, spend some time in this lovely city park, which links many of the town’s historic sights together via a landscaped pathway over six city blocks. Along the way you’ll see interpretive exhibits about the town’s history and culture.

Get the little ones to work off some pent-up energy at the park’s playground, and then let them watch the “choo choos” on the raised (and fenced-off) railroad viewing platform.

8: Snowdrift Art Space

Art abounds in Winslow (in fact, we could probably write a post just about “arty things to do in Winslow Arizona” 😉) Take in some contemporary sculpture at this incredible space that was once the Babbitt Brothers Mercantile building. Today it is a combination gallery, studio and home for sculptor Dan Lutzick, who was a partner in La Posada rehabilitation project.

Guided tours of the 7,000-square-foot gallery are provided by appointment only, so be sure to submit a request on the Snowdrift Art Space website at least 24 hours in advance. (Additionally, check their Facebook page for updated events and tour availability.)

9: Explore Winslow’s Victorian Roots

Since the town was established with the coming of the railroad in 1880, you can imagine the sudden need for housing and other services. The prevailing architecture at the time was Victorian, and fortunately there are still plenty of examples of that along the streets downtown. For architecturally minded (or maybe just Pinterest-worthy) things to do in Winslow Arizona, stroll the residential areas along 3rd and 4th streets to see the charming Victorian cottages.

Pinterest-worthy Victorian cottages line the residential streets of Winslow

10: Historic Route 66 Relics and Memorabilia (& a great Motel!)

Route 66 is an integral part of Winslow, and you have TWO streets you can explore! Second St. (nearest the train tracks) is one-way eastbound, while the westbound portion of Route 66 is one-way on Third St. Route 66 runs the length of Winslow, approximately 51/2 miles. A drive (or walk) along either street (or both, for the truly intrepid Route 66 fans!) provides a glimpse into mid-century America. Take your time, and really look, you’ll find this is one of the really fun things to do in Winslow Arizona.

PRO TIP: For an awesome “retro Route 66 motel” stay, check out Earl’s Motor Court on 66 westbound (i.e. 3rd St.)

One of the “retro” things to do in Winslow Arizona is staying at Earl’s Motor Court on Route 66

Things to do NEAR Winslow Arizona

11: Homolovi State Park

Remains of ancient Hopi dwellings at Homolovi State Park (photo by Trevor Huxham via Flickr)

Explore ruins of the Hopi, who inhabited this area from the 1200s to late 1300s, while taking in the beauty of more than 4,000 acres of high desert (4,900 feet elevation) scenery, just 3 miles from town. In addition to ruins and archaeological research, Homolovi State Park  houses a visitor center and museum along with trails, a campground and picnic sites.

Viewing ancient pottery and petroglyphs helps put the ancient quality of these lands into perspective. And as an added bonus, they have star viewing parties once a month! Visiting Homolovi is a must-do among things to do in Winslow Arizona.

12: Brigham City Fort

For one of the more unique things to do in Winslow Arizona, get glimpse of the ghost town of early travelers who passed through town in the city’s early days. The fort at Brigham City, about 2 miles northeast of town, was originally built by Mormon pioneers in 1876. The settlement only lasted a few years; ironically in the desert, flash floods washed away the fort’s irrigation systems. The buildings on the site are reproductions; portions of the original walls were moved to La Posada’s grounds to preserve them.

13: McHood Park and Clear Creek

For those of you who didn’t think a list of things to do in Winslow Arizona would include camping and water sports we are happy to share that we’ve got you covered! About 5 miles southwest of town, McHood Park at the Clear Creek reservoir offers a refreshing spot for camping, swimming, boating and more.

Bring your own kayak (with good kayak shoes!) or rent a canoe at the park to paddle to Clear Creek Canyon, a secluded spot that’s popular with locals. Campers can purchase a (dry) camping pass at a kiosk on site.

14: Little Painted Desert County Park

Stunning photo ops at Little Painted Desert County Park (photo by Martin Ely via Flickr)

Head up to this little-known spot for some spectacular photo ops without the crowds. Facilities at this 660-acre county park, which is about 13 miles north of town, are no longer maintained, so don’t expect services. (You’ll see a few old picnic shelters that now have some spectacular graffiti!)

But the exotic combination of colors and natural rock formations are worth the trip–especially at either sunrise or sunset. NOTE: be sure to stick to the roads and major pathways–the rocks are crumbly. Now you can add “stunning desert photography” to your list of things to do in Winslow Arizona!

15: Rock Art Ranch

If your list of things to do in Winslow Arizona includes ancient petroglyphs, Rock Art Ranch is the place for you. The ranch, situated about 23 miles east of Winslow in a remote area off Interstate 40, is home to some of the finest Anasazi petroglyphs in the Southwest along with a collection of pottery and other historic artifacts found on the property.

Rock Art Ranch is a working cattle ranch, so visitors must make a reservation to visit. Rock Art Ranch is approximately 23 miles from Winslow. The ranch is open for tours from May 1st to Nov. 1st. Closed Sundays. Call (928) 288-3260 for reservations and pricing information.

16: Grand Falls (aka “Chocolate Falls”)

Depending on the time of year when you visit, taking a side trip to see Grand Falls (also known as the ‘Chocolate Falls’ because of the often muddy water) is definitely one of the things to do in Winslow Arizona. These incredible falls, which are over 180 feet tall (taller than Niagara Falls!) can range from a deluge to a trickle, depending on the amount of rain and snow melt. Remember, we’re in the desert here, so water is kind of “full on” or “almost off.”
Visiting Grand Falls on the Navajo Reservation is one of the awe-inspiring things to do in Winslow Arizona

Visit during the late summer monsoons or in the early spring during snowmelt for the best views. and occurs when the monsoon season hits northern Arizona and during snowmelt from the winter snowstorms. The falls are located on Navajo land, about 48 miles north of Winslow. Admission is free, but be sure to respect private property and stick to the roads.

17: Meteor Crater

Woman facing the edge of gigantic Meteor Crater near Winslow Arizona
Gi-normous (!) Meteor Crater, photo by Kevin Walsh, courtesy Flickr

Here we’re moving into the category of “otherworldly” things to do in Winslow Arizona. Meteor Crater is a massive crater (550 feet deep by 3/4 mile wide 😱) caused by the impact of a giant meteor 50,000 years ago. This is one whompin’ big hole in the ground! The terrain is so unique that in the 1960s it was one of the locations where NASA astronauts trained for the first moon landing.

In addition to both outdoor and indoor (air conditioned!) viewing points of the crater, there is also a Discovery Center and Space Museum on site where visitors can examine an Apollo 11 test capsule and learn more about the history and geology of meteors. Meteor Crater is about 20 miles west of Winslow.

18: Petrified Forest National Park

view of painted desert-reddish hills covered in bits of greenery

Located just 55 miles east of Winslow, Petrified Forest National Park offers far more than the world renowned petrified logs. A drive takes you through the Painted Desert, with several viewpoints along the way before meandering into an alien landscape filled with points of interest at almost every turn.

man in cowboy hat looking at petrified log in petrified forest national park

Plan to stop often to see ruins of former Native American settlements, ancient petroglyphs, badlands, and, of course, petrified logs. Two Visitors Centers provide interpretive exhibits, and the rangers are great about informing you of some terrific hikes to see some of these wonders up close. This is one of the many stunning Arizona national parks and monuments, and well worth a visit.

There you have it: 18 fabulous things to do in Winslow Arizona. There are certainly plenty of reasons to stay a night (or 2, or 3), and make it your base for exploring this part of northern Arizona! Which will you do first?

Complete list of Things to do in Winslow Arizona

  1. Standing on the Corner Park
  2. Old Trails Museum
  3. Hubbell Trading Post & Warehouse
  4. La Posada Hotel & Grounds
  5. La Posada Art Museum
  6. The Winslow Amtrak Depot
  7. First Street Pathway Park
  8. Snowdrift Art Space
  9. Explore Winslow’s Victorian Roots
  10. Route 66 Memorabilia
  11. Homolovi Ruins State Park
  12. Bingham City Fort
  13. Rock Art Ranch
  14. McHood Park & Clear Creek
  15. Little Painted Desert County Park
  16. Grand Falls (aka “Chocolate Falls”)
  17. Meteor Crater
  18. Petrified Forest National Park
sign for Amtrak stop in hotel garden
Billboard that looks like a giant postcard about things to do in winslow arizona
Apparently even this guy knows the answer to “what is winslow, arizona famous for?” ! 😉