National, state and local parks in Arizona, along with natural wonders contained in them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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. 🌵

There’s something soooo relaxing about being at a lake. Especially one surrounded by high desert.

Enjoy the waters and the wilderness at Patagonia Lake AZ, where you can hike, fish, camp, swim and go boating at this state park in the rolling hills of southeastern Arizona. Here are our favorite things to do at Patagonia Lake State Park.

In addition to a 256-acre lake, the park encompasses more than 2,600 acres, making it a fabulous spot for wildlife and hiking trails. The park is surrounded by the Sonoita Creek State Natural Area, offering an additional 7,000+ acres of wilderness. All told, a stay at Patagonia Lake provides access to nearly 10,000 acres of high desert wilderness.

History of Patagonia Lake AZ

Patagonia Lake AZ is a man-made lake that was formed by damming up the Sonoita creek, south of the town of Patagonia. The Sonoita Creek is one of the few year-round creeks in the state of Arizona, making it a popular spot for wildlife. Iate 1960s a group of local citizens formed the Lake Patagonia Recreation Association, Inc. (LPRA) with the intent of creating a lake and recreation area. In 1968 a dam was built on the Sonoita creek west of the Circle Z Guest Ranch, creating 256-acre Patagonia Lake.

sailboat and motor boat on patagonia lake az, with tree in front
Soothing Patagonia Lake amid the desert landscape (Getty Images via Canva)

Over the next several years the state authorities worked to acquire land surrounding the lake, which at the time was owned by oil company Conoco. Eventually the State of Arizona also secured title to Patagonia Lake itself and established Patagonia Lake State Park in 1975.  Roughly 5,000 acres of wilderness was acquired by the state just east of the lake and opened as the Sonoita Creek State Natural Area (SCSNA) in 2000. Additional acquisitions of nearby land increased the protected area, eventually connecting it to Patagonia Lake State Park. All told, between the two facilities, there are nearly 10,000 acres to explore.

Patagonia Lake State Park

Today Patagonia Lake State Park offers a campground, beach for swimming, a creek trail and picnic areas. For boaters there’s a marina and boat ramps. Patagonia Lake AZ is tucked away in the hills, about 2 miles off highway 82, providing a quiet escape. Because of its remote location, coupled with year-round water, it’s one of the few places in Arizona where you’ll find of whitetail deer roaming the hills and great blue herons walking the shoreline.

Things to do at Patagonia Lake AZ

The combination of Patagonia Lake State Park and the Sonoita Creek State Natural Area provides a combination of potential activities to satisfy many interests. Water lovers can enjoy boating and fishing (and swimming in the warmer months), while the adjacent wilderness offers plenty of opportunity for hiking, wildlife spotting and backcountry camping.

Things you can do when visiting Patagonia Lake AZ:

  1. Swimming
  2. Hiking
  3. Horseback Riding
  4. Birdwatching
  5. Wildlife Viewing
  6. Picnicking
  7. Kayaking
  8. Canoeing
  9. Stand-Up Paddleboarding (SUP)
  10. Motor Boating
  11. Boat Rental
  12. Water Skiing
  13. Fishing
  14. Cabin Camping
  15. Tent Camping

Can you swim in Patagonia Lake AZ?

Families playing on the beach and in the water at Patgonia Lake AZ
Boulder Beach swimming area at Patagonia Lake AZ (photo courtesy AZ State Parks)

Patagonia Lake allows swimming in designated areas that are in the no-wake zone of the lake, away from boat launches. The lake is considered to be “wild water” and swimmers swim at their own risk. Boulder Beach (near the campground) has a roped-off swim area, which is great for families. NOTE: Be advised that swimming at Patagonia Lake AZ is at your own risk. There are no lifeguards on duty, so be sure to use life vests with kids and novice swimmers.

child swimming in lake wearing a life vest
No lifeguards at Patagonia Lake-be sure kids have life vests! (photo by Getty Images via Canva)

Hiking at Patagonia Lake and Sonoita Creek Natural Area

Hikers can use Patagonia Lake State Park as a basis for hiking through the nearly 10,000 acres of the combined state park and Sonoita Creek Natural Area. Near the lake there is a 1/2-mile hiking trail that leads to Sonoita Creek. This is a popular birding area.

Pedestrian bridge over lake inlet at Patagonia Lake State Park
A pedestrian bridge over one section of the lake offers a great viewpoint to watch the boats (Getty Images via Canva)

Those looking for a bit more of a challenge will find longer and more rugged trails in the  Sonoita Creek State Natural Area. There are 20 miles of trails (some shared with equestrians). Most of the trails are more remote and the shortest round trip hike to the creek is three miles on the Sonoita Creek Trail, with a minimum elevation change of 300′.

For a short hike with a terrific view, check out the “Overlook Trail.” This moderate difficulty 1.5-mile trail is adjacent to Patagonia Lake State Park and offers a 360-degree view of the surrounding scenery. Spectacular!

PRO TIP: Hike the “Overlook Trail” at Patagonia Lake AZ for a 360-degree view of spectacular scenery. This 1.5 mile trail is moderately difficult and not far from the visitor center.

Patagonia Lake Az Horseback Riding

For those who have their own horses, the area around Patagonia Lake offers some excellent riding opportunities. (NOTE: there are no horses for rent at the park.) The majority of equestrian trails are in the Sonoita Creek Natural Area, although you park and unload the horses near the Visitor Center at Patagonia Lake State Park. Follow the Horse Corral Trail, which heads west into the Natural Area. Shortly you’ll reach the Sonoita Creek, and the New Mexico and Arizona Railroad trail, which follows the creek westward for about 5 miles.

creek winding through treed area with late spring green colors. horse hoofprints on beach in foreground
The trail along Sonoita Creek makes an ideal equestrian trail near Patagonia Lake, AZ (photo Getty Images via Canva)

The year-round Sonoita Creek is edged by trees, making this a lovely shaded ride during summer. The trail also offers opportunities for creek crossings at three points (provided the water level isn’t too high), which is a refreshing transit for the horses. (NOTE: be sure to check at the Visitor Center before setting out for any high water warnings.)

Birdwatching and Wildlife Viewing at Patgonia Lake Az

Thanks to the year-round flowing Sonoita Creek, which feeds Patagonia Lake, there is an abundance of native Southern Arizona wildlife in the park. The park’s trails all pass through a variety of prime habitats for a large variety of reptiles, birds and mammals. Observant hikers might spot javelina, coues whitetail deer, coatimundi (also known as coati), bobcats and coyote.

In addition to seeing wildlife out on the trails, there is a designated wildlife viewing area perched on a small hill at the eastern end of the lake. This is a popular spot for birders: in 2007 the Sonoita Creek State Natural Area partnered with the Arizona Audubon Society to have the area named an Important Bird Area. If you’re lucky, you might even spot the elusive Elegant Trogon, with its signature red chest and white banding.

Remember, this is NOT a petting zoo, all animals here are wild. Give them plenty of space so they don’t feel threatened, and don’t try to feed them. Treat any wildlife viewing as nature’s gift: a window on a unique habitat.

Below are some videos supplied by Arizona State Parks of some wildlife that you might encounter at Patagonia Lake AZ:

YouTube video
YouTube video

Patagonia Lake Boat Rental & Watersports

Patagonia Lake AZ is divided into two sections to allow for different types on boats and watersports. A marina is located at the midpoint between the two sections. This is where Patagonia Lake boat rental facilities are located.

Paddlers will enjoy the eastern end of Patagonia Lake, which is a “no wake zone” (Getty Images via Canva)

The eastern end of the lake is designated a “no wake zone,” making it ideal for canoeing, kayaking and stand-up paddleboards. This end is also where the designated swimming beach is located. Motorized boats can enter this part of the lake, but they must travel at very slow (no wake) speed.)

Waterskiing and motor boating are done on the western portion of Patagonia Lake Az. (Getty Images via Canva)

The western end of the lake has no speed limits, therefore it’s more suited to motor craft and water skiing. Note that all boats must travel in a counter-clockwise direction. Water-skiing is permitted, however timing differs, depending on the time of year. Following is a breakdown of permitted water-skiing days.

  • Winter months (Oct 1 through Apr 30): water skiing allowed on both weekdays and weekends
  • Summer months (May 1 through Sept 30): The lake is more congested at this time of year, so water skiing is allowed on weekdays only. Prohibited on weekends and legal holidays.

NOTE: The following type of motorized water craft are prohibited at all times:

  • Personal water craft (PWCs)
  • Jet-skis
  • Waterbikes
  • Above-water exhaust boats
  • V-8 jet boats

Patagonia Lake Boat Rentals & Ramps

Spending time on the water is a great way to explore the scenery from a totally different viewpoint. Patagonia Lake State Park allows you to bring your own watercraft (be sure to check above for a list of those that are prohibited). Additionally you can also rent boats on a daily basis at Patagonia Lake Marina for paddling, water skiing or fishing. Motorized pontoon boats are available for rent, in addition to “no-wake” craft: canoes, rowboats and paddle. Patagonia Lake Marina will have updated prices: (520) 287-2804.

Those that bring their own boats can access the 2 boat ramps at Patagonia Lake. Boat launching is included in the camping or day-use permit fees paid upon entry to the park. Ramps are made of cement and are suitable for most size boats, provided the water is at normal levels. Boat owners must remember to register their own watercraft with Arizona’s state Game and Fish Department.

PRO TIP: Bringing your own boat to Patagonia Lake? Remember to register your craft with the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

A boat allows you to get into some of Patagonia Lake’s secluded nooks and crannies. Perfect for fishing . . . or just solitude. (Getty Images via Canva)

Patagonia Lake Fishing

Fishing is a popular pastime year-round at Patagonia Lake State Park. Anglers can find largemouth bass, catfish (both channel and flathead varieties), sunfish and crappie. Additionally, From November through March the lake is stocked with rainbow trout. There are plenty of opportunities for success when fishing at Patagonia Lake, whether by boat or from the shoreline.

Because of its unique location in a high mountain valley, some portions of the lake are over 100 feet deep (imagine canyons underwater). These depths provide ideal dwelling opportunities for flathead catfish, and over the years the lake has yielded up some whoppers: the current record is a mind-bending 56.2 pounds! (That’s a LOTTA catfish!)

Check out this link for tips on bait-setting techniques for each type of fish. And remember to purchase a fishing license from AZ Fish & Game for any angler 10 years or older.

Camping at Patagonia Lake Arizona

Patagonia Lake State Park offers a variety of camping options. There are cabins, as well as campsites for tents and RVs, all available on a nightly rental basis. There are even boat-in options for those who bring their own boats (or choose to to rent them). Services available depend on the type of site you are renting. The busiest months are from May until November. Patagonia Lake AZ is not the spot for a rowdy late-night crowd. Quiet hours (no generators, music, or loud voices) are from 9 p.m. – 8 a.m.

Patagonia Lake Cabins

Camping cabins are available on the eastern end of Patagonia Lake AZ (which is the quieter, “no-wake” section of the lake). In total, there are seven cabins, of either 2 or 3 rooms each. The cabins are slightly elevated above the RV/tent sights, and as such have beautiful views of the lake. All cabins are fully wheelchair friendly and accessible.

Cabins sleep up to six people, with a queen-sized bed and two sets of bunks (byo linens). There is a mini-fridge & microwave, along with a outdoor barbecue and picnic table. Cabins have electricity, overhead lighting/ceiling fan and even heating and air-conditioning! Family-style shower facilities are a short walk away. 

Reservations are easy to make for Patagonia Lake Cabins by using the AZ State Park online system.

Gorgeous evening views from a Patagonia Lake cabin, photos courtesy AZ State Parks

Patagonia Lake Camping: RV & Tent Sites

If you enjoy camping in a tent or RV, Patagonia Lake AZ is a terrific spot for you. The park has 105 developed campsites located in two different sections: East and West. Both sections are located on the “no-wake” section of the lake, however the East section is a bit farther away from all the boating activity, so this might be a better choice for those seeking a quieter location.

Campsites have a picnic table, a fire ring/grill, and parking for two vehicles, along with 20/30 amp and 50 amp voltage. (Some sites also have a ramada). Most campsites can accommodate any size RV. There are also two non-electric campsites, which can accommodate 22ft. campers/trailers.

Patagonia Lake State Park attracts a laid-back crowd. Quiet hours (no generators, music, or loud voices) are from 9 p.m. – 8 a.m. Book a campsite by accessing the State Parks’ Patagonia Lake Reservations site.

Most campsites can accommodate either tents or RVs and are equipped with electrical hookups. (Photos courtesy AZ State Parks)

Patagonia Lake Camping: Boat-in Campsites

Patagonia Lake AZ has 12 boat-in campsites available by reservation. The sites give you your own designated bit of shoreline, away from the land-based campsites. Boat-in campsites are only accessible by boat, strung along the northwestern portion of the lake (in the wake zone). Each campsite has its own fire ring and picnic table. Some sites have portable restrooms. Boats are available for rent from Patagonia Marina and Boat Rental. Access the Patagonia Lake Reservations site to reserve your boat-in campsite.

Your own private shoreline space with one of Patagonia Lake State Park’s boat-in campsites (photos courtesy AZ State Parks)

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With so many mountains surrounding Tucson, it can be a challenge to pick the right hike.

Tucson is a fantastic destination for hiking. The city is ringed by mountains, with the fabulous Sonoran Desert providing endless Tucson hiking opportunities for all physical abilities. It’s one of the truly unique things to do in Tucson. Here we share our favorite Tucson day hikes throughout the area.

Tucson hikes in Sabino Canyon

Sabino Canyon is a recreation area that is part of Coronado National Forest, just northeast of Tucson. It’s at the base of the Catalina Mountains, with excellent opportunities for exploring the Sonoran Desert landscape. One of the things I really like about Sabino Canyon is that there is something for everyone: there are trails for all fitness levels and accessibilities, making it an ideal destinations for families. There is a visitor center, which has exhibits about the local flora and fauna, along with a gift shop that sells an excellent selection of books and detailed maps of local trails. Restrooms and fresh water are also available.

Information: Sabino Canyon National Recreation Area

Hours: Recreation area always open; Visitor Center open daily, 8:30am to 4:30pm

Admission: $8/vehicle/day; $10/vehicle/week; $40/vehicle/year; National Park Passes accepted

PRO TIP: Sabino Canyon is a popular spot. There is a huge parking area, along with an overflow lot, which can fill up in the fall & spring and during holiday weekends.

pond with saguaro cactus reflected on tucson hikes

Sabino Tram Road (Walking Path): Accessible/Flat

This paved wide path begins near the visitor center and follows Sabino Creek for about 3.8 miles up into the canyon, with several bridges traversing the creek along the way. You can hike the entire 7.6-mile out-and-back length, or turn around whenever you’ve had enough. It’s one of the few Tucson hikes with water year-round; and there are plenty of trees that provide greenery in spring/summer and pretty foliage through the fall (and most of the winter). The path is a gradual incline, rising about 700 feet over the entire distance (so gentle that you barely notice you are climbing!). There are restrooms and picnic areas along the route.

As the route name implies, there is also a tram, called the Sabino Canyon Crawler that goes up the path (roughly every hour), with stops along the way. It’s popular to ride to the tram and hike the 3.8-mile path back as it slopes gently downward toward the visitor center. This is a lovely hike in mid-late afternoon; you can often see deer and other wildlife taking a sip in the creek.

Michael with deer at sunset in Sabino Canyon
A late afternoon encounter on the Sabino Tram Road

Phoneline Trail: Easy to Moderate

I like trails that offer a loop, so I don’t feel like I’m retracing my steps. The Phoneline Trail is one of the Tucson trails that offers a few different options depending on how much time (and energy) you have. As the name implies, the trail follows the historic phoneline that was once the only means of communication between the Palisade Ranger Station on Mt. Lemmon (which rises about 6,500 feet above you) and the rest of the world.

The trail climbs about 500 feet, hugging the side of the canyon and offering magnificent views of Saguaro cactus, the creek below–and of the city of Tucson in the distance. After about 2 miles, you have option of returning via a trail that descends toward the creek and back toward the visitor center. Or you can continue along the canyon ridge for an additional 3-ish miles, where it meets up with the Tram Road at its end. From there you can stroll the paved path back, or take the tram if you’re feeling particularly tired.

Seven Falls (via Bear Canyon Trail): Moderate

This 7.8-mile out-and-back hike along Bear Creek, which is in Bear Canyon, just east of Sabino. As the name implies, there are waterfalls along this trail, which vary throughout the year, depending on the amount of recent rainfall. Unlike the paved Sabino Tram route, this is one of the Tucson hiking trails where you actually cross through the creek as you climb. Along the way you’ll climb about 700 feet, getting stunning views of the saguaros and the Rincon Mountains to the southeast.

NOTE: It’s important to check the hiking conditions at the visitor center before you set out (and be sure to wear shoes that can handle a little water and/or mud!). While this is one of the best Tucson hikes after rain, occasionally flash flooding can make this hike dangerous.

Take a Saguaro National Park Hike

standing amid saguaro cactus on tucson hikes
There are plenty of great Tucson hikes in Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park flanks the city of Tucson with two distinct sections: The Rincon Mountain District to the east of town, and the Tucson Mountain District to the west. Both sections offer an abundance of trails through desert terrain, with plenty of opportunities to view the magnificent cacti up close for hikers of all levels. The eastern section is larger, and has some longer trails that go high into the Rincon mountains, for those looking for more challenging Tucson hikes.

Information: Saguaro National Park

Hours: Vehicles, Saguaro East-5:00 am to 8:00 pm in summer, 5:00 am to 6:00 pm in winter; Saguaro West-sunrise to sunset, year-round. Park is open to hikers and cyclists 24 hours/day.

Admission: All passes are good for 1 week: Vehicle-$25.00; Motorcycle-$20.00; Individual-$15.00. National Park Passes are accepted.

Desert Ecology Trail & Mica Trail (Saguaro East): Accessible/Flat

There are two trails in Saguaro East that are great for those looking for flat Tucson hikes; these trails also provide access for those using wheelchairs. The 1/4 mile paved Desert Ecology trail has exhibits about the plants and animals that are found in the Sonoran Desert. Resting benches are spaced along the trail. Separately, a 0.7 mile portion of the Mica View Trail is graded to ADA standards and surfaced with a natural material that supports all types of wheelchairs. Park at Mica View Picnic Area or the Broadway Trail head.

Freeman Homestead Trail (Saguaro East): Easy

This 1.1 mile “balloon” trail is a one of our favorite short Tucson hikes for families. The trail is meanders through a wonderfully dense grove of saguaros and past the site of an old homestead foundation, which provides a real sense of discovery. There are interpretive signs and featuring exploration activities for little ones, making this more than just a “walk to see some cactus.” Although fairly flat, the trail has some steps and is rocky in places. Therefore strollers & other wheeled vehicles are not recommended.

back of woman in blue shirt on tucson hiking trail with cholla cactus
Many tucson hiking trails are flat and suitable for families

Douglas Spring Trail to Bridal Wreath Falls (Saguaro East): Moderate

This 5.8-mile out-and-back hike to Bridal Wreath Falls is popular with birders. The seasonal falls (most likely after summer monsoons or winter snowmelt) are a hit with the feathered set. Regardless of the time of year, this is one of the Tucson hikes that climbs into the Rincon Mountains and offers good views of the city of Tucson and the Catalina Mountains to the north, along with plenty of saguaros and other cactus. You might also spot a group of riders heading out from the luxury Tanque Verde Guest Ranch.

Tanque Verde Ridge Trail (Saguaro East): Moderate to Difficult

This trail up to Tanque Verde Peak is not for the faint of heart. With a 2,000 foot climb over 8 miles, it’s certainly one of the more challenging hikes in greater Tucson. The good news is that this is an out-and-back route, so you can turn around at any point, making the hike as long (or short) as you like.

After a fairly steep 3/4 miles, you are already up on the ridge, so views to the west and south over the Tucson basin are spectacular, and just keep getting better the higher you climb. (Be sure to take in the Boneyard, where more than 4,000 military planes are stored in the desert sun.) A good shorter hike goal is at the 2.5-mile mark, where you’ll see an example of the rare (1 in 10,000!) crested saguaro cactus. If you’re planning to hike the 8.7 miles to Tanque Verde Peak, consider camping at the Juniper Basin Campground, at the 6.9-mile mark.


Desert Discovery Trail (Saguaro West): Accessible/Flat

Those seeking flat terrain with interpretive signs will find it on this 1/2 mile paved trail in Saguaro West. The trail features shade ramadas with resting benches scattered along the textured pavement trail. Trail guides in braille may be obtained at the visitor center. This is also a great trail for photo ops: the views of saguaros at sunset are fabulous.

King Canyon/Gould Mine Trail (Saguaro National Park West): Easy to Moderate

This is one of the Tucson hikes that offers a little bit of everything: a climb up a dry wash, lots saguaros, scenic views . . . and the remains of an abandoned copper mine. All this in a 2.5-mile loop! Begin the hike scaling the King Canyon Wash bottom, which is sandy with several rocky stair-step ways to climb as you go.

After a mile or so, the trail connects to the Gould Mine trail, which passes by piles colorful copper residue piles, along with the remains of a stone cabin and a few mine shaft entrances. Although this trail is within the national park boundaries, the entrance to trail is accessible from a small parking lot in Tucson Mountain Park, which is free.

PRO TIP: The King Canyon Trail straddles Saguaro National Park and Tucson Mountain Park. Saguaro National Park charges a fee, however if you park at the Tucson Mountain Park trailhead, you can access this trail for free.

Hugh Norris Trail to Wasson Peak (Saguaro West): Moderate to Difficult

At 4,369 feet, Wasson Peak is the highest peak in the Tucson Mountains west of the city. You’ll climb roughly 2,000 feet over the roughly 4.5 miles to reach the peak on this out-and-back hike. But the views once you reach Wasson Peak are totally worth it: a 360-degree panorama of the entire Tucson basin.

Along the way you’ll see plenty of saguaros (natch!), plus ocotillo, barrel cactus and prickly pear. There’s also the remains of an abandoned mining shack, which is a fun (and shady) diversion. Remember to sign the log book at the top of Wasson Peak . . . if you make it this far, you certainly deserve the credit!

Hiking trails in Tucson Mountain Park

Tucson Mountain Park is one of the largest municipally-managed natural resource areas in the U.S. There are more than 60 miles of shared-use trails in the park’s roughly 20,000 acres, so there are an almost endless combination of trails you can take here. The park is located just south of Saguaro National Park’s Western section. As a result the scenery (i.e. Saguaros everywhere!) is very similar. And best of all, the park is FREE.

Hidden Canyon Bowen Loop Trail: Easy to Moderate

This 2-mile trail gives visitors a terrific snapshot of Tucson saguaros in a fairly compact loop. The trail begins and ends just behind the Marriott Starr Pass Resort, making it a great option if you’re staying at that hotel. Begin on the more southerly (and flatter) Bowen Trail, then turn off to the Hidden Canyon Trail after about 0.3 miles.

The trail will climb about 300 feet via some switchbacks, and is rocky in spots. But you’ll be rewarded with a quiet canyon full of saguaros, ocotillos, and other cacti. This trail is particularly lovely in spring, when the cactus flowers are in bloom. If you’re looking for a rich Tucson hiking experience that doesn’t take too long, this is highly recommended.

Rock Wren/Yetman/Bowen Trail Loop: Easy to Moderate

This is a pleasant 5-mile loop that we created ourselves by using the excellent trail map of Tucson Mountain Park. It involves a little gentle climbing on saguaro-strewn hills, plus a hike through a sandy wash that leads past the stone remains of the Bowen homestead. (Always cool to find ruins while hiking!)

Begin at the Richard Genser Trail Head and eventually exit the park behind the Marriott Starr Pass Resort. From here, the last mile-ish is an easy amble through the Starr Pass neighborhood back to the parking lot. We like to stop at the Marriott for a coffee (on chilly days) or a refreshing cool drink (when the weather is hot), enjoying the view from their patio before heading back to our car. It’s a fun indulgence at the end of an enjoyable hike.

Brown Mountain Trail: Moderate

woman in blue shirt hiking in tucson on Brown Mountain
Views for miles as you hike the ridge of Brown Mountain

It’s fun to be able to climb a (not too high) mountain and walk along its ridge as you take in the surrounding views. Brown Mountain offers that in this 4.5 mile loop trail in the western part of the park. All told you climb ascend about 500 feet over the course of about a mile to reach the ridge, then enjoy a few dips and bumps as you skirt along the top. After descending at the opposite end of the ridge, the return portion of the loop is along the valley floor, amid lots of cactus of all varieties. There are also restrooms and picnic tables here.

This is one of the Tucson hikes that passes along a ridge, offering great views of the valley below, including Old Tucson Studios off to the south. It’s easy to imagine you’re in some old Western movie, perched on a lookout point, a “pardner” scouting for cattle rustlers 🤠.

Catalina Foothills Hikes

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the western end of Santa Catalina Mountains and is adjacent to Coronado National Forest. The park includes some great Tucson hiking trails, campgrounds, picnic areas and equestrian trails in 5,500 acres of desert landscape, (which includes almost 5,000 saguaros!).

Information: Catalina State Park

Open: 5am to 10pm Daily; check website for holiday hours.

Admission: $7.00/vehicle; $3.00/individuals, cyclists

Romero Ruins Interpretive Trail (Catalina State Park): Easy

Michael standing at stone ruins on romero ruins trail


This is a fun little loop trail (3/4 mile) for those of you who like a little archaeology on your Tucson hikes. In addition to some stone remnants of the Romero homestead, this site also includes remains from a Hohokam village that’s about 1500 years old! (Wow!) There are interpretive signs along the trail explaining the the archaeology and Hohokam culture.

NOTE: Although the trail through the ruins is flat, you must climb about 80 steps to reach it, making it unsuitable for wheeled vehicles.

Romero Canyon Trail to Romero Pools & Romero Pass(Catalina State Park): Difficult to Strenuous

Romero Canyon offers Tucson hikes of varying degrees of difficulty, depending on how far you choose to go on this out-and-back trail. The roughly 3 mile hike to the (seasonal) Romero Pools is relatively flat for the first mile, then turns into a steep and rocky climb for the rest of the hike. Views of the canyon are magnificent, and the pools are a refreshing sight.

Those looking for more of a challenge can continue an additional 4 miles to Romero Pass at an elevation of 6,000 feet. In total you’ll scale an elevation gain of 3,300 feet, with a hike that takes about 5 hours one-way. To continue to Romero Pass, follow the trail to your right as it ascends out of the streambed. The trail then slowly climbs up-canyon to the Pass.

Linda Vista Trail Loop: Easy

Linda Vista is a family-friendly hike (with free access) on the western slope of the Catalinas. The 3-mile loop has just enough short climbs up and down for kids to feel like they’re on “nature’s playgym,” but never so much that it becomes a slog. Access this trail via a small parking lot behind the Pusch Ridge Christian Academy off of Oracle Road. Although adjacent to a neighborhood of upscale homes, you quickly reach a small valley where you feel you’re in the middle of the saguaro wilderness.

There are some spectacular saguaros here, including one that has over 20 arms! There are also spots with lacy green palo verde trees (the Arizona state tree), providing a dappled shade, which can be welcome on Tucson hikes. The trail is narrow at many spots, so alert young hikers to avoid “sticky” encounters with the cacti on the trail.

Tucson hikes within the city of Tucson

Sentinal Peak (“A Mountain”): Easy

man atop Sentinel peak with city of tucson in the distance
Standing alongside the giant “A” with a terrific view of Tucson in the distance

This is one of most popular hikes in Tucson–and it’s free to access. It’s hard to miss the huge “A” that adorns the side of a small mountain southwest of downtown Tucson. Sentinel Peak served as a sentry point to alert Tucson of impending danger during the Civil War. But after a University of Arizona football victory in 1915, students claimed it as their own by constructing a massive basalt “A” (160 feet high x 70 feet wide!) on the mountain’s face and whitewashing it for all to see.

Today there is a paved drive up to the top, with picnic tables and benches on the western side of the mountain. But where’s the fun in that? Instead, park at the trailhead lot partway up, and hike the trail that brings you across the saddle and up to the top. You pass through some lovely saguaro and cholla cactus before reaching the Big A, and are rewarded with a spectacular view of downtown Tucson (and the U of A campus in the distance). Go Wildcats! 😊

Rillito River Park Path: Accessible

The Rillito River Park Path is a 10-mile paved path (with free access) that follows along the Rillito River/Wash northeast of Tucson. The Park is part of the 136-mile Chuck Huckleberry Loop that is popular with cyclists. The path is flat and crosses the River periodically via dedicated bridges. There are parks and stopping points along the way, making this a nice option among Tucson hikes if you’d like to take a more leisurely stroll as well.

The Rillito River Path is accessible to everyone, photo courtesy Visit Tucson

The path is popular with cyclists as well as hikers/walkers (and the occasional horse!), so everyone should be mindful of others using the path.

PRO TIP: Take the Rillito Park Path on a Sunday morning and stop in at the Heirloom Farmer’s market. It’s a lively event with dozens of food and craft vendors, as well as some terrific food trucks offering yummy breakfast treats.

Tucson Hiking: Cienega Creek Natural Preserve

AZT loop via Gabe Zimmerman Trailhead: Easy

This 2-mile loop, which is (a short) part of the Arizona National Scenic Trail (AZT) is one of the more unique hikes in Tucson. Pass through serene Davidson Canyon, a riparian habitat in the Cienega Creek Natural Preserve that is free to use. Pass under shady cottonwood trees as you hike along the sand creek bed (dry in all but the summer monsoon months). Cross under an active Union Pacific Railroad bridge before climbing back up to a ridge and the return portion of the trail (which parallels a second railroad bridge). Chances are pretty good that you’ll see at least one freight train passing through during your hike, reminiscent of a scene in a Breaking Bad episode.

SPECIAL NOTE: This trailhead commemorates Gabe Zimmerman , a US congressional aide who was killed in 2011. He loved this portion of the Arizona Trail. Read more about him on the Arizona Trail website.

A poignant sign commemorating Gabe Zimmerman at the trailhead bearing his name

Want more Tucson hiking recommendations?

If you’re looking for more hikes in and around Tucson, we suggest picking up a copy of Five Star Trails: Tucson by Rob Rachowiecki. The author lives in Tucson and provides lots of detail about the area and the many hikes you can take there. As you can see from the photo, our copy is pretty dog-eared because we use it so much. Highly recommended! It’s available on Amazon.

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Why was this (free) overlook near Horseshoe Bend practically deserted? It was fabulous!

Glen Canyon Dam Overlook is a must-see stop if you’re exploring this area in northern Arizona. Many people miss it because they’re racing to see the more famous Horseshoe Bend, or Glen Canyon Dam itself. But it’s worth taking a short detour to this well-maintained overlook for spectacular views and great photo ops. It’s one of our favorite things to do in Page AZ.

What is the Glen Canyon Dam Overlook?

Glen Canyon Dam Overlook is a designated spot perched 1,000 feet over a bend in the Colorado River about 3/4 mile south of Glen Canyon Dam itself. It’s important to note that this is an official vista point created by the National Park Service to provide visitors a scenic–and SAFE–way to see the Dam, the Colorado River and Glen Canyon itself.

View of glen canyon dam with bridge in front, taken 3/4 mile away at glen canyon overlook
A spectacular view of Glen Canyon Dam from the Overlook. Note the bridge just in front of the dam.

Five reasons to visit Glen Canyon Dam Overlook

  1. Terrific views of Glen Canyon Dam, plus Glen Canyon Bridge
  2. Wonderful views of the Colorado River slicing through Glen Canyon
  3. The overlook is easily accessible via a short (900-foot) hike
  4. Similar views to Horseshoe Bend, with less people
  5. Access is free

What can you see at this overlook?

The views at this “overlooked” overlook are stunning. Glen Canyon Dam Overlook provides a combination of views, ranging from natural to man-made wonders. The dam overlook is about 3.5 miles north of Horseshoe Bend, with much of the same natural scenery (only without the big hairpin turn in the river . . . or the crowds).

Looking to the north, you’ll be able to see the massive concrete engineering marvel of Glen Canyon Dam wedged into the red rocks of Glen Canyon. It’s the only place you can see the dam with the Glen Canyon Bridge superimposed over the front of it–it’s a very cool sight!

If natural scenery is more your thing, all you have to do is look south . . . or down. Looking down you’ll see the Colorado River flowing placidly over 1,000 below you. (If you’re lucky you might see either a motor boat or kayakers making their way down the river.)

Horizontal view of colorado river flowing through the vertical rocks of glen canyon
A view of the Colorado River above 1000-foot cliffs, looking south from Glen Canyon Dam Overlook

The view to the south gives you a terrific vantage point of the river splitting the red sandstone to create Glen Canyon. Since it curves off into the distance you’ll have some idea of what Horseshoe Bend looks like. One of the fascinating things to see is the greenery growing along the edge of the river. The vivid green against the red sandstone makes a nice color contrast, but it’s also soothing to the eye amidst all the reds and browns of this high desert landscape.

man with cowboy hat standing at overlook viewing glen canyon dam
Plenty of railings, plus space and shade to enjoy the view

There are railings all along the overlook, as well as a covered viewing area facing north toward the dam. As you can see from the pictures here, there are plenty of great photo ops, so there’s no need to do anything crazy (or irresponsible), such as climbing out beyond the railings. (DON’T do that!)

How to access the Glen Canyon Overlook

sign at the beginning of the glen canyon dam overlook trail
Sign at the trailhead, note the railings, and a glimpse of Glen Canyon Dam in the upper right

There is a short trail leading to the Glen Canyon Dam Overlook, accessed via the Dam Overlook Trailhead. The trail is only about 950 feet long, but you must descend a series of natural (but irregular) steps carved out of the sandstone. (Therefore, the trail is not suitable for those with mobility issues.) It’s a roughly 80-foot descent to the overlook, but the trail has railings all along the way. This comes in handy, as trying to balance a camera and water bottle as you’re scrambling down slightly angled steps of varying heights can get a little tricky.


To reach the trailhead, turn off of US Highway 89 onto Scenic View Road (which is a pretty appropriate name!), then turn west onto an unmarked, (but well-paved) road opposite the back entrances of the Baymont and Home2Suites Hotels. You’ll see Glen Canyon Dam in the distance, and the road will slope down slightly to a small parking lot (which, unlike parking at Horseshoe Dam, is free). From there you can access the trailhead.

man standing on red rocks above Glen Canyon admiring the view.
Take time to savor the views

How much time is required to see the overlook?

Visiting this little-known sight doesn’t take very long. It’s about 5 minutes each way to get from the parking lot to the Glen Canyon Dam overlook, and back again. If you’re really quick, another 5 minutes for photos and in just 15 minutes . . . BAM! you’re outta there.

But I encourage you to take a bit more time. The scenery is truly magnificent, and you’re likely to have the place almost to yourself. It’s a great place to slow down for a few minutes and absorb the beauty in front of you. Glen Canyon Dam Overlook is a pleasant surprise, and, like the Hanging Gardens Arizona, well-worth the short detour.

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I’ve always had a dream of finding a hidden oasis in the desert. And now I have!

Hanging gardens Arizona is a delightful surprise amid the seemingly endless rocky landscape surrounding Glen Canyon. Less than a mile from the famous Glen Canyon Dam in Page, AZ lies a sheltered cove where greenery flourishes. Take a short, relatively easy (and free!) hike along the Hanging Garden Trail to find this marvel of nature.

It’s hard to believe this desert oasis is hiding just off the road in an area where tourists flock daily to see sights like Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. Yet this beautiful display of greenery gets very few visitors. Follow our tips to find some solitude and lushness amidst this otherwise stark landscape.

Ferns clinging to a red cliff face outside Page Arizona
Panoramic shot of Hanging Gardens

What is a hanging garden?

Hanging gardens form when a continuous water source, such as a spring, emerges along the vertical wall of a cliff. Winter precipitation seeps into the porous sandstone, eventually reaching a less permeable layer of rock. At this point the water can no longer travel downward, so it begins to move sideways along the rock.

Eventually the water reaches the wall of a canyon, seeping out of the stone and flowing down the side of a cliff. If there is enough of an overhang to prevent the water from evaporating too quickly (also keeping the temperature from getting to hot), the moist stone creates a rich environment for plants to grow. These alcoves or “glens” then become a hanging garden, where plants grow both along the cliff face and on the ground directly below where the water seeps.

What grows in the Hanging Gardens Arizona?

The springs that feed the hanging gardens Arizona in Glen Canyon nourish maidenhair ferns and wild orchids. Both plants are a capable of growing on a rocky surface. They are a deep, rich green, which creates a striking contrast to the red sandstone that forms the base for these thirsty plants. The maidenhair ferns are especially fluffy, an unusual sight in a desert climate more known for water-conserving plants with spiky configurations, such as cactus and scrub pines.

You’d expect to find ferns growing in the lush, moist climates, such as the ferns at of the Pacific Northwest, such as the ferns at North Cascades National Park in Washington State. But to see these delicate bits of greenery at the hanging gardens Arizona is truly something special.

The Hanging Garden Trail

The Hanging Garden Trail is contained within the boundaries of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, one of the many National Parks and Monuments in Arizona. The trail is approximately 1.5 miles, round trip, over mostly flat rocky terrain. There is a small amount of scrambling up rocks to reach the hanging garden itself, about 100 feet in front of it.

The trail suitable for hikers of any level, including children. (However keep in mind that this is not classified as an “accessible” trail). On our last visit a we saw a family of four enjoying this hike. The two kids, who were aged about 4 & 6, exclaimed that it was more fun than climbing the play gym at home. (Chalk one up for getting out and showing young people real world experiences!).

Access the Hanging Garden Trail from a turnoff on the northeast side US highway 89, about 2/3 of a mile east of the Glen Canyon Dam Visitor Center and 2 miles northwest of the center of the town of Page, AZ. It’s well-marked by a brown and white sign. After about 1,000 feet you will come to a small gravel parking lot with some signage indicating the trailhead.

The Hanging Garden Trail itself is easy to follow: small stones have been laid across the flat plain indicating the path. To your left you will see the power lines of Glen Canyon Dam in the distance, in front of you will be the flat plain leading to Lake Powell. After about 1/2 mile you’ll begin to round a red sandstone butte to your right. A sign will point toward the Hanging Garden. Follow the stone pathway and in a few hundred feet you’ll see a hollow in the stone butte to your right, along with some black streaks on the red stone. This is a clue that there is moisture nearby.

At this point you’ll need to scramble up the rocks a bit to reach the Hanging Gardens Arizona. (It’s not difficult–if you can climb stairs you can climb this.) The small stones lead you up the left side of the hollow, which is a gradual climb. And then you’ve reach the Trail End . . . there it is!

Looking at the sign for the end of the Hanging Garden Trail, it’s hard to believe what’s right behind you

What to expect at the Hanging Gardens Arizona

The Hanging Gardens Arizona is a wall of greenery clinging to the red rock cliff face. The garden is in a curved hollow of the rock, about 50 feet long, and about 15 feet high. When you arrive you immediately feel the drop in temperature-it’s about 10 degrees cooler. Although there is no water running (unless there have been recent rains, which is rare), you can feel a higher level of humidity here.

In this photo, you see a nice bit of greenery in the desert rock . . .
Standing in front of ferns at the Hanging Garden Trail in Arizona
But seeing someone standing next to them makes the Hanging Gardens Arizona really impressive!

The cliff wall is filled with fluffy, dark green maidenhair ferns. Occasionally along the wall you’ll see the waxy leaves of wild orchids peeking through. There’s something very soothing about seeing all this green in the middle of all this reddish clay soil. And, unlike nearby Horseshoe Bend, you’ll have the place virtually to yourself.


Accessing the Hanging Garden Trail

How to access the Hanging Garden Trail from Glen Canyon Dam:

Proceed east on US Hwy 89 for 2/3 mile from the Glen Canyon Dam Visitor Center (crossing the bridge). The entrance to the trailhead will be on your left.

How to access the Hanging Garden Trail from Page, AZ:

From central Page (which Google Maps considers the intersection of Lake Powell Blvd. & S. Navajo Drive–near Big John’s Texas Barbecue), proceed north on Lake Powell Blvd for about 1.3 miles until it intersects with US Hwy 89. Turn right on Hwy 89 and proceed for about 1/2 mile. The entrance to the trailhead will be on your right.

Leave No Trace

When taking the Hanging Garden Trail, be sure to “Leave No Trace,” ensuring the Hanging Gardens Arizona remain intact and pristine for those who come after you. For more details, check the National Park System’s Leave No Trace Policy.

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Seeing the Grand Canyon with tons of people? No thanks! Turns out visiting in off-peak November was the perfect hack!

A Grand Canyon November visit can be a rewarding experience. The summer crowds are gone and the weather is beautiful: chilly at night and mild during the day. A trip to the Grand Canyon is one of the best road trips in Arizona, so consider visiting when you’ll have more of the park to yourself.

According to the National Park Service, in an average year the Grand Canyon gets a smaller number of visitors in the late fall than in the park’s busiest months in summer. And we mean a significantly smaller number: in 2019 there were roughly 300,000 fewer visitors in the November than in either July or August. That translates to 10,000 less people per day. Which means there’s a LOT more space to enjoy the park. [NOTE: Statistics are similar for most prior years; 2020 visitation numbers are all out-of-whack due to the COVID-19 pandemic.]

Entrance to Grand Canyon National Park with snow-Grand Canyon November
A little bit of snow and a whole lotta space to yourself at the Grand Canyon in November

What is the Grand Canyon weather in November?

Grand canyon National Park entry sign

Temperatures at the Grand Canyon in November range from a high of 52 to a low of 27 degrees (Farenhiet). We visited in late November during Thanksgiving Week and were surprised to see a bit of snow. While it was a brisk 42 degrees, between plowing and solar melt the roads were very clear so there was no problem getting around. In a strange phenomenon, when it snows at the Grand Canyon by the time it gets to the lower elevation canyon floor the snow has melted and becomes rain.

Is the Grand Canyon North Rim open in November?

Yes, but only for day visits. Due to its higher elevation (more than 8,000 feet), the North Rim gets more snow. All park services at the North Rim close October 15 and do not reopen until May 15. Anyone looking to make a Grand Canyon November visit should probably focus on visiting the South Rim.

So now that you know you’ll experience less crowds and mild-to-chilly weather, what’s so special about visiting in November? We’ve put together a list of expert tips for enjoying the Grand Canyon in late fall:

Spend more time at the Overlooks

standing at an overlook of the Grand Canyon November
Lots of space to yourself on a Grand Canyon November visit. Full disclosure: this is NOT at the edge–just a creative photography angle 😉)

In the summer months the overlooks are jam-packed with people, making it difficult to appreciate the majesty of the view in front of you. However, with much fewer people around at the Grand Canyon November it’s easier to get a front-row view of the canyon in all its glory. The view is so massive and so magnificent it’s impossible to absorb it all in a single glance and quick snap of your camera. Stop. Breathe. Look around. This is truly one of the wonders of the world–take the time to savor it.

One the joys of visiting in November is with so few people you can go back to the same spot hours later just to see how the shifting light changes the view. (This is awesome for photography buffs!)

Stay right in the park (or near the entrance)

It’s easier to get a room in (or very near) the park in November

This sounds like a no-brainer, but anyone who’s tried to get a reservation at one of the park lodges (or even within a few miles of the park entrance) during high season knows you have to book waaaaaay ahead of time, making it almost impossible. Not so with a Grand Canyon November stay, when less crowds also translates into more hotel rooms. For our most recent trip we visited the park during Thanksgiving week (although not during Thanksgiving itself).

The historic El Tovar Hotel was full (that hotel always books up way ahead), but we were still able to book a room at the nearby Yavapai Lodge (also in the park) just a few weeks prior to our trip. We were within walking distance of the rim path, which meant we could stroll along and view the canyon by moonlight. It was a magical moment: gazing out at the Grand Canyon as the multi-colored layers of ancient rock were kissed by a glimmer of silvery moonlight with absolutely no one else there to spoil the view . . . and talk about QUIET! I’m convinced you can hear the pine cones grow.

Interior of the El Tovar Hotel is much less crowded in the fall. And doesn’t that fire look cozy?

Even if the park lodges are full, you still have a pretty good chance to score a room at one of the hotels in nearby Tusayan, which is just outside of the park’s South Entrance Station. The park is open 24 hours a day, so you can still make the short drive to the rim for that moonlight stroll.

When staying in or nearby the park, you also have an opportunity to view the canyon at sunrise on your Grand Canyon November visit. If you’re an early riser, that is. [Full disclosure: we opted to sleep in, and have breakfast with a view instead . . .see below]

Have breakfast with a view of the Grand Canyon

Imagine nibbling on this while looking at the Grand Canyon!

You might not be able to get a room at the El Tovar hotel during your Grand Canyon November visit, but the next best thing is to have breakfast there. The classic grand El Tovar Dining Room serves up a morning meal that’s a notch or two above classic breakfast fare, all with a view over the Grand Canyon

On our last visit we enjoyed buttermilk pancakes with Arizona prickly pear syrup and pan-seared rainbow trout with eggs. Sitting in the log-paneled room with a fire crackling by the picture windows with soft music in the background was delightful. It was a cosy and delicious way to watch the morning sun play over the canyon’s walls.

Note: The El Tovar Dining room does not take breakfast reservations, however there are rarely long waits for a table in November.


The view from our breakfast table at the EL Tovar Hotel. Okay, so not everyone was impressed with the view like we were.

See the Grand Canyon with snow

Rare view of architect Mary Colter’s 1932 Desert View Watchtower in the snow

At an elevation of 7,000 feet the Grand Canyon November weather can be surprising, with mild daytime temperatures dipping to below freezing at night. But those chilly temperatures can yield a wonderful surprise: on our first morning we woke up to snow dusting the ground. We were treated to rare vistas of snow in the Grand Canyon and a few people (okay, I was one of them) had fun tossing snowballs into the gaping maw. That is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Even though it snows the roads are clear.

Grand Canyon November: Dress in Layers!

Layered clothing-down jacket over thermal turtleneck

Those wide swings in temperature mean different clothing needs throughout the day. Unless you’re sleeping in a tent, you don’t want your Grand Canyon November trip to involve packing a bulky coat you only wear for an evening stroll.

Our advice: dress in layers. We like base layers in both silk and merino wool. They’re thin and lightweight, yet amazingly warm. You’ll still be warm and cozy, but you’ll have more room in your suitcase for souvenirs. And since there’s a chance you might get snow, it’s a good idea to wear shoes (or boots) that are waterproof or water resistant. (And layer with wool socks to keep your tootsies warm 😊)

Free Admission on Veterans Day

If you’re planning a Grand Canyon November trip, it’s good to remember that admission to the park is free on Veteran’s Day! In addition to the many battlefields and memorials that are national treasures, the National Park Service says, “every national park is part of our collective identity that defines who we are and where we came from as a nation. They are tactile reminders of the values, the ideals, and the freedoms that our veterans protect.” Thus, they honor our veterans and active military by making the park (and all National Parks!) free to EVERYONE on that day. Way cool.

Please note: Free admission is only valid on Veteran’s Day itself. The regular admission to the park ($35 per vehicle) is good for 7 days. If you are planning to spend more than just Veteran’s day at the park, you’ll still need to pay for the additional days. Also, keep in mind that while visitor traffic during most of November is typically low, there may be slightly bigger crowds on free admission days such as Veteran’s Day. (However there will still likely be less people than during the busy summer months.)

Snow on the rim of the Grand Canyon in late November.

There are 6 expert tips for enjoying the Grand Canyon November vacation. The Grand Canyon is so spectacular you’ll want to enjoy every moment there. Hopefully these tips will help you do so.

What are your tips for visiting the Grand Canyon in the late fall? If you’ve got any thoughts, click the “contact us” tab and send us a note–we’d love to hear from you!

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The Grand Canyon is great, but aren’t there some off-the-beaten-path historic sites and parks?

Visiting Arizona National Monuments is a terrific way to see the beauty of the state, often with only a fraction of the visitors at Arizona National Parks. National Monuments in Arizona range from areas with unusual geological formations to sights of historic (and prehistoric!) significance. In total there are 18 Arizona National Monuments, more than any other state. Most of these sites are managed by the National Park Service and have services such as interpretive centers, ranger-guided programs and restrooms. Visiting National Monuments in Arizona provides an opportunity to explore the state’s unique scenery and culture without the crowds that can clog up the more well-known National Parks.

To help you understand the many options available to you while traveling in Arizona, we’ve outlined some of the guidelines that distinguish Arizona National Parks from Arizona National Monuments, as outlined by the National Park Service. We’ve also listed all 18 designated National Monuments in Arizona, with the services available at each. Be sure to include a visit to these magnificent sites on your next trip–you won’t be disappointed!

PRO TIP: A road trip is a great way to see Arizona National Monuments. Check out our 11 favorite Arizona road trips for some ideas and inspiration!

Fast facts about Arizona National Monuments

What IS a National Monument?

National monuments are areas reserved by the Federal Government because they contain objects of historic, prehistoric, or scientific interest. Among National Monuments in Arizona you’ll find ancient cliff dwellings, archeological ruins and natural areas with unusual landscapes and rock formations.

What is the difference between a National Park and a National Monument?

National parks are areas set apart by Congress for the use of the people of the United States generally, because of some outstanding scenic feature or natural phenomena (hello, Grand Canyon!). National monuments are generally smaller than National Parks, focusing on a single unique feature. Although some Arizona National Monuments are quite large; Organ Pipe Cactus NM is over 500 square miles.

How many National Monuments in Arizona are there?

Arizona has 18 sites designated as National Monuments, more than any other state.

Who manages Arizona National Monuments?

Most National Monuments in Arizona are managed by the National Park Service. A few sites are managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Occasionally sites will be managed by local authorities, either alone or in conjunction with a federal agency.

Complete list of National Monuments in Arizona

PRO TIP: Opening times and certain park services may be limited due to COVID-19 restrictions. Be sure to check with each park prior to visiting.

Agua Fria National Monument

A large area of preserved mesa and canyon along the Agua Fria River. Varying altitudes provide a wide range of desert vegetation, and there are some petroglyphs among the rocky canyon.

  • Location: Central Arizona
  • Type of Site: Natural Landscape, Ancient Culture
  • Services: None-Bring in and take out all supplies
  • Special Considerations: 4-wheel drive not necessary, but advised
petroglyphs of animals on rock, with canyon in the distance
Photo courtesy Bureau of Land Management

Canyon De Chelly National Monument

A fantastic place to observe dramatic scenery with over 5,000 years of continuous habitation. Some descendants still live on the site (a rarity among national sites). Scenic drives provide magnificent vistas, up-close views of the cliff dwellings are with local guides.

  • Location: Northeastern Arizona
  • Type of Site: Ancient Culture with cliff dwellings
  • Services: Visitor Center, Guided tours, Accessible paths
  • Special Considerations: Located on Navajo Nation lands, which observe Mountain Time Zone schedules

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

Ruins of a large structure dating back to the 1400s from a Sonoran Desert agricultural society. Its exact purpose is unknown, but the scale of the remains attest to the sophistication of the community.

  • Location: Central Arizona (between Phoenix & Tucson)
  • Type of Site: Ancient cultural ruins
  • Services: Guided tours, gift shop, picnic grounds
  • Special Considerations: Accessible pathways

Chiricahua National Monument

Wonky, other-worldly rock formations that go on for miles make great atmosphere for hiking or a scenic drive. Chiricahua is located along a North American flyway and is a good site for birders.

  • Location: Southeastern Arizona
  • Type of Site: Natural Landscape, geological wonder
  • Services: Visitor center with museum, bookstore, restrooms, drinking water
  • Special Considerations: camping at Bonito Canyon, Birding

Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument

Parashant is one of the Arizona National Monuments that is vast, wild and absolutely gorgeous. This million-square-mile area on the northern side of the Grand Canyon is completely “off the grid,” with no services. There’s plenty of room to roam, but you MUST have a 4-wheel drive vehicle, preferably with high clearance.

  • Location: Northern Arizona, along the border with Utah and Nevada
  • Reason to visit: Stunning scenery
  • Facilities & Services: No services within the monument boundaries; there is an information center in St. George, Utah
  • Special Considerations: 4-wheel drive required; although located in Arizona, entrances are from either Nevada or Utah.
Parashant, a national monument of Arizona, with joshua tree in foreground and snow-covered mesa in background

Hohokam Pima National Monument

Hohokam Pima National Monument celebrates an ancient people that thrived during the first millennium. Excavations of an ancient site are ongoing and closed to the public, however there is much to learn about the community at the Huhugam Heritage Center, which showcases precious ancient artifacts discovered at the archaeological site.

  • Location: Central Arizona, about 20 miles south of Phoenix.
  • Type of Site: Ancient culture, museum & heritage center
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor center/museum, restrooms.
  • Special Considerations: Managed by Gila River Indian Community; hours may be different to other national sites

Ironwood Forest National Monument

A large (129,000 acres) site that offers plenty of wide-open desert spaces for solitude and exploration. There are 3 designated National Historic archaeological sites within the boundaries for the truly intrepid.

  • Location: Central Arizona
  • Type of Site: Natural Landscape, Ancient Culture
  • Services: None-Bring in and take out all supplies
  • Special Considerations: Camping and hunting allowed

Montezuma Castle National Monument

Stunning 600-year-old cliff dwelling that is remarkably intact. The 40-50 room structure is only viewable from a distance to preserve it. There is a smaller dwelling about 10 miles away, known as Montezuma Well, that is also part of the Monument. Although not as grand, it allows for a more up-close view of the structure.

  • Location: Central Arizona
  • Type of Site: Ancient culture; cliff dwellings
  • Services: Montezuma Castle has a Visitor Center, with museum, bookstore and restrooms, along with picnic grounds. Montezuma Well has picnic grounds and pit toilets.
  • Special Considerations: Two sites, about 10 miles apart, comprise the Monument

Navajo National Monument

Spectacular cliff dwellings from the 1300s set in a massive red rock cave. Long-distance views by walkway with limited wheelchair accessibility. Close-up views of the cliff dwellings by guided tour only, rugged terrain.

  • Location: North Central Arizona
  • Type of Site: Ancient culture, cliff dwellings
  • Services: Visitor Center, with museum, bookstore and restrooms, ranger-guided tours of the cliff dwellings, camping
  • Special Considerations: Located on Navajo Nation lands, which observe Mountain Time Zone schedules

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

The unique desert landscape at Organ Pipe has been designated an International Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations. This Arizona National Monument is large and uncrowded: at over 500 square miles it’s over 3 times bigger than Saguaro National Park, yet it receives only 1/4 of the visitors. There are plenty of hikes and scenic drives; Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is well worth a trip to southwestern Arizona.

  • Location: Southwestern Arizona
  • Type of Site: Natural Landscape
  • Services: Visitor center with displays, bookstore, restrooms; scenic drives, hiking trails, RV and tent campsites, backcountry camping
  • Special Considerations: hike to an abandoned mine on monument grounds.

Pipe Spring National Monument

The homestead at Pipe Spring offers a glimpse into the rugged life of Mormon homesteaders in the late 1800s. The fresh water from the Pipe Spring has attracted settlers for centuries; there is an interesting perspective on both Native American and White inhabitants of the area. Not many Arizona National Monuments grow fresh fruits and vegetables–the National Park Service still maintains the gardens (and livestock!) at Pipe Spring.

  • Location: Northwestern Arizona
  • Type of Site: Historic homestead
  • Services: Visitor Center with museum, bookstore, restrooms; historic ranch with animals, fresh heirloom fruits and vegetables (in season)
  • Special Considerations: Accessible pathways

Sonoran Desert National Monument

A great National Monument in Arizona if you want to spend time exploring the Sonoran Desert landscape on your own, at your own pace. Camp out under the stars . . . and even bring your horse if you’d like to ride! This is one of the few national monuments that allows hunting on the grounds.

  • Location: South Central Arizona
  • Type of Site: Natural Landscape
  • Services: Limited restroom facilities
  • Special Considerations: In addition to camping, hunting and horseback riding are allowed

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

Visit the cinder cone of an extinct volcano at Sunset Crater. Even a thousand years (!) after it last erupted, the terrain is still barren near the top. You can also hike the area of the former lava floes–an other-worldly experience if there ever was one. Those with mobility issues can view the terrain via scenic drives.

  • Location: North central Arizona
  • Type of Site: Geological wonder
  • Services: Visitor Center, restrooms, picnic grounds, campgrounds
  • Special Considerations: Admission fee also covers access to Wupatki National Monument, 20 miles away.
Arizona National Monuments-sign for Sunset Crater Volcano with cinder cone in background

PRO TIP: Plan to visit Sunset Crater and Wupatki National Monuments on the same day. They are only 20 miles apart and the admission fee gets you into both sites!

Tonto National Monument

There are a LOT of cliff dwellings in Arizona; Tonto is special among Arizona National Monuments in that you can walk right up and into the dwellings themselves. There are two sites: the lower dwelling is accessed via a paved path; see the upper dwelling via a ranger-guided tour over rugged terrain. The central Arizona location makes it a nice day trip from Phoenix.

  • Location: Central Arizona
  • Type of Site: Ancient cliff dwellings
  • Services: Visitor Center, museum, restrooms, picnic grounds, guided tours
  • Special Considerations: trail to the lower cliff dwelling is paved, but is steep, with some steps, so might not be suitable for those with accessibility concerns

Tuzigoot National Monument

Tuzigoot is the remains of a 1,000-year-old Sinagua pueblo perched on a ridge overlooking the Verde River. The complex of 100+ rooms illustrates the sophistication of this society–modern-day condos could borrow a few tips from the construction here! This is one of the Arizona National Monuments that is nearby Sedona, making a nice excursion if you’re in the area.

  • Location: Central Arizona
  • Type of Site: Ancient Culture
  • Services: Visitor Center, museum, bookstore, restrooms, picnic grounds
  • Special Considerations: There are paved trails to the base of the pueblo and along the marsh; access inside the upper rooms requires stairs.

Vermilion Cliffs National Monument

Vermilion Cliffs is a great place to go if you like eerie rock formations. This National Monument has no services, so be prepared to rough it. But you’ll be rewarded with solitude and stunning scenery.

  • Location: Northern Arizona
  • Type of Site: Geological Wonders
  • Services: None-bring in and take out everything
  • Special Considerations: 4-wheel drive required
Arizona national monuments-strange rock formations at Vermillion Cliffs

Walnut Canyon National Monument

Walnut Canyon’s cliff dwellings more hidden than those at the other Arizona National Monuments. They are tucked away along a ridge in the forest, largely hidden from view until you are right on top of them. But that’s part of their charm: you can walk right up–and into–them, giving you an ancient’s-eye-view of life in what would become Arizona in about 500 years.

  • Location: North central Arizona
  • Type of Site: Ancient cliff dwellings
  • Services: Visitor Center, museum, bookstore, restrooms
  • Special Considerations: Path to the cliff dwellings involves climbing up and down stairs

Wupatki National Monument

If you like ancient pueblo construction, you get a lot of bang for your buck at Wupatki. The area encompasses six distinct pueblo structures out on an open plain over an area of about 15 miles. Drive from pueblo to pueblo via a loop road, then take short paths to the structures themselves. Among Arizona National Monuments, this is an excellent option for those with mobility issues. Paths to 4 of the 6 pueblos meet accessibility standards, the accessible path to the remaining pueblos is currently under construction.

  • Location: Central Arizona
  • Type of Site: Natural Landscape, Ancient Culture
  • Services: Visitor Center, museum, restrooms
  • Special Considerations: Admission fee also covers access to Sunset Crater National Monument, 20 miles away.
Photo courtesy NPS

Now that you’ve seen the stunning array of choices to visit at Arizona National Monuments, which one will you visit first?

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With so many National Parks and Monuments in Arizona, it can be overwhelming when trying to plan a visit. This list breaks it down so you can choose the best sights for your interests.

A wide array of Arizona National Parks and Monuments greet visitors throughout the state. The parks range from magnificent natural wonders to ancient historic sights. Therefore, there’s something for everyone. For example, there are sites of outstanding natural beauty, indigenous culture, and American history. Here’s our list of over 30 national sites to visit in Arizona.

The Grand Canyon gets most of the attention (and visitors)⏤but you probably know that already! However, take some time to discover the many other wonderful national sites in the state. The result will be worth it! These 30+ sites are scattered throughout the state. Because of this, you’re never far away from a national park or monument during your Arizona vacation.

NOTE: You can use the table of contents below to jump directly to your site of interest. Or scroll through the list to browse the many Arizona National Parks and Monuments throughout the state.

How many national parks are there in Arizona?

There are 3 National Parks in Arizona: Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest and Saguaro. There is 1 National Historical Park: Tumacacori. In total there are 31 sites in Arizona with some type of “national” designation that are managed by the National Park Service and/or the Bureau of Land Management, or a combination of local authorities. The remainder of the sites are either National Monuments, National Historic Sites or National Recreation areas.

PRO TIP: Opening times and certain park services may be limited due to COVID-19 restrictions. Be sure to check with each park prior to visiting.

Agua Fria National Monument

Petroglyphs of animals on rocks, mountains in background
Petroglyphs at Agua Fria National Monument; photo courtesy BLM

Agua Fria is a large preserved area of mesa along with the canyon of the Agua Fria River. Additionally, the visitors can explore the stone masonry remains of Pueblo la Plata, a prehistoric site. The 70,000-acre monument spans elevations from roughly 2,100 to 4,600 feet. This means there is a wide variation in wildlife and vegetation, including the famous saguaro cactus at the lower altitudes.

  • Location: Central Arizona, about 40 miles north of Phoenix
  • Reason to visit: Historic Ruins, Hiking, Mountain Biking, Fishing, Hunting, Camping
  • Facilities & Services: None, bring all supplies
  • Managed by: Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
  • More information: Agua Fria National Monument

Arizona National Scenic Trail

Cactus blooming with mountains in background
Arizona National Scenic Trail; photo courtesy NPS

The Arizona National Scenic Trail is over 800 miles long and runs from the Mexican border to the Utah state line. The Arizona Trail is divided into 43 passages, you can explore as much or as little of it as you like. (You don’t have to do all 800 miles . . . but you can if you’d like). The trail begins in the south with the Huachuca Mountains. It ends in Northern Arizona at Buckskin Mountain Passage. The trail passes through (or near) many Arizona National Parks and Monuments. Similarly, you’ll also get to explore as well as some National Forest land.

  • Location: Passes roughly through the center of the state, running 800 miles from North to South
  • Reason to visit: Hiking, Mountain Biking, Horseback Riding
  • Facilities & Services: None, bring all supplies
  • Managed by: National Forest Service (NFS), in conjunction with agencies who manage the territories that the trail passes through.
  • More information: Arizona Trail Association

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Canyon de Chelly with riverbed and trees
Canyon de Chelly National Monument; photo courtesy NPS

Canyon de Chelly is a special place. The monument encompasses a magnificent red rock canyon that has been inhabited continuously for over 5,000 years (yes, five thousand!). This is one of the Arizona National Parks and Monuments that is fully contained within the Navajo Nation reservation. Due to this unusual configuration, 40 families still live within the park’s boundaries even today. Drives with multiple lookout points (many of which are wheelchair accessible) provide a peek into this special place. Hikes into the canyon must be accompanied by either a Park Ranger or Navajo Guide.

  • Location: Northeastern Arizona, about 100 miles southwest of Four Corners
  • Reason to visit: Scenic drives, hiking (guided), Navajo and ancient Pueblo culture
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor Center, Guided tours, Accessible paths
  • Managed by: National Park Service & the Navajo Nation
  • More information: Canyon de Chelly

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

Casa Grande Great House ruins with canopy
The Great House at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument; photo courtesy NPS

Casa Grande is a collection of ruins from an ancient farming community of Sonoran Desert Peoples. The ruins date from the mid 1400s. Because little documentation regarding the structures exist, its overall purpose is still a mystery. But the extensive ruins make a fascinating visit.

Due to its location midway between Phoenix and Tucson, its one of the Arizona National Parks and Monuments that makes a nice detour while traveling between those two cities.

  • Location: Central Arizona, about 50 miles southeast of Phoenix
  • Reason to visit: Tour ancient ruins
  • Facilities & Services: Guided tours, gift shop, picnic grounds
  • Managed by: National Park Service (NPS)
  • More information: Casa Grande Ruins

Chiricahua National Monument

Rhyolyte rock formations at Chiricahua National Monument
Some of the giant rock “needles” at Chiricahua National Monument; photo courtesy NPS

If you love rocks, Chiricahua is your kind of place. Nearly 27 million years ago the nearby Turkey creek volcano erupted. As a result, this valley is filled with towering “rock needles.” These giant rock towers look like giants were playing with building blocks 27 million years ago. The nearly 12,000-acre park has 17 miles of hiking trails and an 8-mile paved scenic drive. Because of its location in an avian flyway, Chiricahua is also terrific for birding.

  • Location: Southern Arizona, about 120 miles southeast of Tucson
  • Reason to visit: Ancient rock formations, hiking, camping, birding
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor center with museum, bookstore, restrooms and drinking water; camping at Bonito Canyon
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Chiricahua National Monument

Coronado National Memorial

Desert beauty at Coronado National Memorial; photo by Dave Bly, courtesy NPS

Coronado National Memorial offers a glimpse into two things: first, the history of the region. Secondly, Coronado showcases the area’s natural beauty. Many scholars believe that the Coronado Expedition of 1540-1542 passed through this region alongside the Mexican border. A visitor center explores the lasting impacts on the culture of northwest Mexico and the southwestern United States.

The park is also a nature lover’s paradise. The area incorporates four distinct ecological zones: Sierra Madre, Chihuahua Desert, Rocky Mountain, and Sonoran Desert. The flora and fauna are represented in the park’s diverse landscape. Explore hiking trails through oak woodands, piñon-juniper, grasslands, and riparian corridors. Spelunkers will love the natural limestone cave, while drivers will appreciate the sweeping vistas from Coronado Peak.

  • Location: Southern Arizona, about 90 miles southeast of Tucson, along the Mexican border.
  • Reason to visit: Cultural history, hiking, birding, cave exploring.
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor center with museum, bookstore, restrooms and drinking water.
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Coronado National Memorial

Fort Bowie National Historic Site

Ruins of Fort Bowie
Fort Bowie National Historic Site; photo courtesy NPS

Fort Bowie and Apache Pass was the site of nearly 25 years of conflict between the Chiricahua Apache and the US Army in the late 1800s. Learn about this turbulent history at the visitor center and nearby graveyard and fort ruins.

NOTE: For most visitors, the visitor center and ruins are only accessible via a 1.5 mile hike from the parking area at the trailhead. Consequently, visitors requiring ADA access can drive to the site by prior arrangement with the Park Service. See driving access to Fort Bowie for more information.

  • Location: Southern Arizona, about 120 miles east of Tucson.
  • Reason to visit: Native American and Old West history.
  • Facilities & Services: Interpretive visitor center, restrooms.
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Fort Bowie


Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Horseshoe Bend
Famous Horseshoe Bend at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area; Photo by Brent and Dawn Davis, courtesy NPS

Glen Canyon is a massive 1.25 million–acre (yes million!) park that straddles the border of Arizona and Utah. The majority of the park is in Utah, however the main entrance is in Arizona, near the town of Page. From here you can visit Glen Canyon Dam. This engineering marvel damming the Colorado River creates Lake Powell to the north, where you can enjoy water sports aplenty.

Those looking for a terrific photo op can visit the now-famous Horseshoe Bend at the southern end of Glen Canyon. But there are other wonderful things to see and do in this vast recreation area, such as visiting the Glen Canyon Dam Overlook (for views similar to Horseshoe Bend with less crowds), and the soothing greenery on the Hanging Gardens Trail.

  • Location: Northern Arizona (near the Utah state line), about 275 miles north of Phoenix.
  • Reason to visit: Water sports, hiking, stunning scenery, tour Glen Canyon Dam.
  • Facilities & Services: Multiple visitor centers, gift shops, restrooms, water, campsites, ADA accessible trails.
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Grand Canyon National Park

Long distance view of the Grand Canyon
The view from Shoshone Point, Grand Canyon National Park; photo courtesy NPS

The Grand Canyon is “the Big Kahuna” of Arizona National Parks and Monuments. And for good reason: it’s one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. [Full disclosure: this is the only place I’ve ever been that actually left me speechless. I couldn’t get over the vast beauty of it. I’m not sure which amazed my husband more, the grandeur of the scenery, or my inablity to talk. 😆]

The park encompasses over 1,900 square miles of land, including its namesake canyon. The Grand Canyon itself averages 1 mile DEEP, following 277 miles of the Colorado River. In some spots it’s almost 18 miles wide. No wonder they call it “Grand”!

The Grand Canyon is one of Arizona’s most popular tourist destinations, welcoming approximately 6 million visitors per year. As a result, there are extensive facilities, including several options for lodging in Grand Canyon National Park. (Be sure to reserve early, as these get booked, especially during the summer.) Consider visiting the Grand Canyon in November, when the weather is still mild and the summer crowds have gone.

  • Location: Northern Arizona, about 225 miles north of Phoenix.
  • Reason to visit: Stunning scenery, hiking, cycling, rafting, scenic drives, camping.
  • Facilities & Services: Multiple visitor centers, gift shops, restrooms, water, hotels/lodges, campsites, ADA accessible trails.
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Grand Canyon National Park

Hohokam Pima National Monument

Hohokam Pima National Monument is unique among Arizona National Parks and Monuments. It is located within the boundaries of the Gila River Indian Reservation. One of the largest known ancient Hohokam villages, Snaketown, is located there. Excavations have revealed that the area was inhabited from about 300 B.C. to 1,200 A.D, and include the largest scientifically excavated collection of whole artifacts from the Hohokam Culture are.

In order to protect the fragile site, the Gila River Indian Community has closed the Snaketown site to visitors. However, many of the magnificent artifacts are on display at the nearby Huhugam Heritage Center. Visit to see elaborately decorated whole pots, stone bowls, and bone artifacts, and to learn more about the Hohokam culture.

  • Location: Central Arizona, about 20 miles south of Phoenix.
  • Reason to visit: Large display of ancient Hohokam artifacts, learn about ancient culture.
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor center/museum, restrooms.
  • Managed by: Gila River Indian Community
  • More information: Hohokam Pima National Monument and Huhugam Heritage Center

Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site

Old trading post building, Hubbell Trading Post
Historic Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site; photo courtesy NPS

Hubbell Trading Post is unique among national historic sites: it is still active! The post was founded in 1878 by John Lorenzo Hubbell as a place where local Navajo peoples could trade their wares for household goods. Hubbell operated several posts throughout the region, however this was his home.

Today Hubbell Trading Post is the oldest continuously operating trading post in the southwest. Visitors can shop for Native American arts and crafts, and even watch some Navajo weavers creating their masterpiece rugs. Tours of the historic family home and farm are available, and there are picnic grounds on site. *NOTE: Hubbell Trading Post is located on Navajo Nation lands, which observes Daylight Savings Time (unlike the state of Arizona).

  • Location: Northeastern Arizona, about 150 miles northeast of Flagstaff.
  • Reason to visit: Historic “shopping” experience, Native American arts and crafts, historic homestead.
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor Center, Active trading post with crafts, gifts, snacks, picnic area, restrooms.
  • Managed by: Western National Parks Association
  • More information: Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site

Ironwood Forest National Monument

Petroglyphs in desert, Ironwood National Monument
Petroglyphs in the desert at Ironwood National Monument; photo by Bob Wick, courtesy BLM

Ironwood is for those who like their parks and scenery “raw and uncut.” This massive (129,000 acres) site contains no facilities or services. As a result, be prepared to bring whatever you need.

 Most importantly, humans have inhabited the area for more than 5,000 years. For those who like a little ancient culture mixed in with their wildlife, Ironwood Forest National Monument has three areas of archaeological interest. The Los Robles Archeological District, the Mission of Santa Ana del Chiquiburitac and the Cocoraque Butte Archaeological District are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

  • Location: South central Arizona, about 25 miles northwest of Tucson.
  • Reason to visit: Wildlife, native plants, petroglyphs, archaeological sites, hunting, camping.
  • Facilities & Services: None. Bring all supplies.
  • Managed by: Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
  • More information: Ironwood Forest National Monument

Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail

Men in historic dress in desert with saguaro cactus
Hiking and history on the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail; photo by Bob Wick, courtesy BLM

In 1776, Spanish Lt. Colonel Juan Bautista de Anza led more than 240 men, women, and children from New Spain (now Mexico) through Arizona to establish a settlement in California. The 1,200-mile Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail follows the route of the first colonists to travel overland through the southwest to establish San Francisco.

Beginning in Nogales, Arizona, the trail travels approximately 350 miles through southwestern Arizona. After that, it turns north in California. The trail passes through several important historical sites along the way, including Casa Grande and Tumacacori (see below). Following this trail is an excellent way to see several historic sites in context; as a result, you can connect events of the past.

  • Location: Southwestern Arizona, from Nogales, north through Tucson to Phoenix, then west to Yuma.
  • Reason to visit: Follow the trail of an historic expedition, see multiple historic sites.
  • Facilities & Services: Marked autoroute; detailed maps of each county the trail passes through
  • Managed by: National Park Service, in conjunction with local agencies and organizations at sites along the way.
  • More information: Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail

Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Marina at Lake Mead
Boating in the desert at Lake Mead National Recreation Area; photo courtesy NPS

Lake Mead National Recreation Area straddles the Arizona and Nevada borders along the Colorado River. It was the first National Recreation Area created by the National Park Service, and it is HUUUUGE! The area encompasses 1.5 million (yep, MILLION) acres of both land and water. It is also the site of the famous Hoover Dam.

Of all the Arizona national parks and monuments, this is the one that probably has the most water. The area includes mountains, valleys, canyons, wilderness areas, and two large lakes (Lake Mead and Lake Mojave). Because of the lakes, this recreation area is terrific for boating and fishing, as well as camping and hiking and exploring. It also makes a great base for exploring much of northern Arizona, including the Grand Canyon.

  • Location: Northwestern Arizona (the corner bordering Nevada)
  • Reason to visit: Boating, fishing, swimming, camping, hiking, hunting
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor Center, multiple campgrounds (both tent and camper), boat ramps, marinas, food and fuel services, shops (both gifts and provisions)
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Montezuma Castle National Monument

Cliff dwellin at Montezuma Castle National Monumnet
The massive cliff dwelling at Montezuma Castle National Monument; photo courtesy NPS

Montezuma Castle is one of the largest ancient cliff dwellings in the country. The structure was built by the Sinagua people over 600 years ago. It’s a massive 40-50 room “apartment complex” carved out of a rock face. The structure is fragile, consequently, in order to preserve the structure, visitors cannot climb into the dwelling. However, it’s still astounding to view it from the valley floor.

You can visit an additional cliff dwelling site is located about 11 miles north of the “castle.” Known as Montezuma Well, this structure is not as large as Montezuma Castle. However, the smaller size allows you to view the structure from a closer vantage point. Take this shady hike; it makes a nice change from much of Arizona’s desert landscape.

  • Location: North central Arizona, about 90 miles north of Phoenix
  • Reason to visit: Explore ancient culture and architecture.
  • Facilities & Services: Montezuma Castle has a Visitor Center, with museum, bookstore and restrooms, along with picnic grounds. Montezuma Well has picnic grounds and pit toilets.
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Montezuma Castle National Monument

Navajo National Monument

Cliff dwellings, Navajo National Monument
Majestic cliff dwellings at Navajo National Monument; photo courtesy NPS

Navajo National Monument offers visitors the opportunity to see ancient cliff dwellings amidst spectacular desert sandstone scenery. Three distinct cliff dwelling sites that date to the 1300s are housed within the monument grounds. Two sites (Betatakin and Keet Seel) are available to visit. This is one of the Arizona national Parks and monuments contained within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation, offering an excellent opportunity to seek out some Native American Frybread for a meal or snack.

Self-guided trails provide a tour of the canyon and an overlook of the Betatakin cliff dwellings. Those interested in seeing cliff dwelling sites up-close must sign up for a ranger-guided tour. Tours to Betatakin involve 3-5 hours hiking over steep terrain. Keet Seel is more remote: tours are by reservation only, and involve a 17-mile round trip hike. Camping is available near the trailhead. More information is available at ranger-guided tours at Navajo National Monument.

  • Location: Northeastern Arizona, about 140 miles northeast of Flagstaff
  • Reason to visit: Explore ancient culture and architecture.
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor Center, with museum, bookstore and restrooms, ranger-guided tours of the cliff dwellings, camping.
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Navajo National Monument

Old Spanish Trail National Historic Trail

Dry riverbed in Virgin River Canyon, Old Spanish Trail, Arizona
Virgin River Canyon along Old Spanish Trail National Historic Trail; photo courtesy NPS

The Old Spanish Trail commemorates the trading route that connected goods and people between Mexico and the fledgling United States. The trail begins in Santa Fe, New Mexico and splits into a few branches through Arizona, Colorado, Utah and Nevada before rejoining near Los Angeles, California. Due to its connection with other states, the branch of the trail in Arizona ambles very near the state’s northern border with Utah.

Following the Trail is an excellent way to string together several Arizona National Parks and Monuments in the southwest since it connects multiple sites. Use this interactive map of Arizona sights on the Old Spanish Trail to help plan your route through this historic and scenic countryside.

  • Location: Northern Arizona, along the border with Utah
  • Reason to visit: Follow historic trade route, connect multiple Arizona National Parks and Monuments and parks
  • Facilities & Services: Distinctive National Trail Signage; see related listings for facilities at sites along the Trail
  • Managed by: National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management
  • More information: Old Spanish National Historic Trail

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Organ Pipe cactus silhouette in sunset
Sunset at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument; photo courtesy NPS

The magnificent cacti of the Sonoran Desert are on spectacular display at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. There are 516 square miles of territory to explore the flora and fauna of this unique landscape, which has been designated and International Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations. Because of this Biosphere designation, it’s a popular spot for birding as well as spotting other types of wildlife and desert plants. There are also some remains of abandoned mines and ancient cultures that are accessible via hiking trails.

This is an excellent park to visit if you’d like a fair amount of land to yourself. Organ Pipe has a similar landscape to Saguaro National Park near Tucson, yet gets only 1/4 the number of visitors annually. No matter what level of “outdoorsy” you are, Organ Pipe National Monument has you covered. Since this is such a vast park, there are scenic drives, hiking trails and spots for both RV and tent camping.

  • Location: Southwestern Arizona, about 125 miles west of Tucson
  • Reason to visit: Explore a the unique ecosystem of the Sonoran Desert, hiking, camping, horseback riding
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor center with displays, bookstore, restrooms; scenic drives, hiking trails, RV and tent campsites, backcountry camping
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Parashant National Monument (Grand Canyon)

SUV in desert at Parashant National Monument
Four-wheelin’ at Parashant National Monument; Photo by M. Draper, courtesy NPS

Parashant National Monument is one of several Arizona National Parks and Monuments located in the vicinity of the Grand Canyon. This is a terrific destination for those who love the rough and rugged outdoors amid stunning scenery. The million square miles that make up Parashant border the northern boundary of the Grand Canyon in the extreme northwest corner of Arizona. Although the monument is in Arizona, there are entrances from Nevada and Utah. Due to its location north of the Grand Canyon, the information center located in St. George, Utah.

NOTE: There are no paved roads in Parashant. Most roads that do exist require a high-clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle. Check here for a list of scenic drives at Parashant National Monument, which includes descriptions of vehicle requirments.

  • Location: Northern Arizona, along the border with Utah and Nevada
  • Reason to visit: Stunning scenery, very few people, off-roading, backcountry camping
  • Facilities & Services: No services within the monument boundaries. There is an information center in St. George, Utah
  • Managed by: National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management
  • More information: Parashant National Monument

Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified tree trunks in foreground, with badlands peak in background
Petrified Forest National Park; photo by T. Scott Williams, courtesy NPS

Anyone taking a road trip through Arizona along historic Route 66 should plan to explore a few Arizona National Parks and Monuments. Petrified Forest National Park is probably the the most convenient. The park is super-easy to access: it straddles Interstate 40, and there’s an exit right into the park! Route 66 and I-40 are combined along this stretch, so if you’re road-tripping Route 66, you will literally pass through the park on our drive.

Sure, you can come here to see the petrified logs that made the park famous. But there’s also a lot more to see here. Petrified Forest National Park is full of badlands, buttes and mesas that contain ancient petroglyphs, fossils, wildlife and wildflowers. If you only have an hour or so, you can see some spectacular view from your car, with a few stops at overlooks. Stretch your road-trip legs by walking one of the short maintained trails. Or hike into the backcountry along for some desert solitude one of the “Off the Beaten Path” routes.

PRO TIP: Petrified Forest National Park is pet-friendly, and gives your fur babies a chance to get some exercise too!

  • Location: Eastern Arizona, along Interstate 40, about 125 miles east of Flagstaff
  • Reason to visit: Startling “other-worldly” landscape, hiking, biking, camping
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor Center (2), with museum, gift shop, snacks, restrooms; hiking trails, pet-friendly
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Petrified Forest National Park

Pipe Spring National Monument

Stone homestead of Pipe Spring National Monument
The Mormon homestead at Pipe Spring National Monument; photo courtesy NPS

Life was tough for travelers passing through the high desert in the 1800s. Temperatures were extreme and water was scarce. Therefore, when Mormon settlers discovered the fresh water oasis at Pipe Spring, they knew it was something special. Native Americans (the Kaibab Paiute) had been using the oasis for hundreds of years already. As you can imagine, the arrival of the newcomers caused some conflict.

Today, you can get a glimpse into oasis life at Pipe Spring National Monument. This is one of the Arizona National Parks and Monuments that offers live demonstrations. Tour the historic Mormon homestead and (still working!) farm. You can purchase heirloom fruits and vegetables in season, which also includes Native American corn, beans and melons.

  • Location: Northwestern Arizona, near the Utah border
  • Reason to visit: Visit historic spring and ranch site; learn about Native American and Mormon cultures
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor Center with museum, bookstore, restrooms; historic ranch with animals, fresh heirloom fruits and vegetables (in season)
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Pipe Spring National Monument

Saguaro National Park

Multiple Saguaro cactus in the late afternoon sun, with mountains in the background, one of many Arizona National Parks and Monuments

There is probably no plant more associated with the American Southwest than the giant Saguaro cactus. You can find these magnificent spiny structures growing at specific altitudes throughout southern Arizona. See these beauties, along with cholla, ocatillo, prickly pear, and other desert wildlife at Saguaro National Park.

The park is unique among Arizona National Parks and Monuments in that it is divided into an East and West section, with the city of Tucson in between. It makes a great day trip if you’re visiting Tucson. You can take a slow drive through each section. But the cacti are so beautiful. Therefore, we recommend one of the many hikes to really see the cacti up close. 🌵

  • Location: South central Arizona, immediately east and west of Tucson (2 separate branches of the park)
  • Reason to visit: Explore the Sonoran Desert, hiking, drives, camping
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor Center (2) with exhibits, bookstore, restrooms, drinking water; hiking trails, scenic drives, camping
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Saguaro National Park

Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area

Tumacacori cemetery with trees overhead
Tumacacori mission cemetery is part of the Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area; photo courtesy NPS

The watershed of the Santa Cruz Valley has been home to settlers for thousands of years, making it an area rich in history and culture. In 2019 the National Park Service connected three national sites along the Santa Cruz river and created the Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area. This newly-formed area helps put the vast and varied history of the area into context.

The National Heritage Area includes JUAN BAUTISTA DE ANZA NATIONAL HISTORIC TRAILSAGUARO NATIONAL PARKTUMACÁCORI NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK (all listed here in this post). Information about how the sites relate to one another is available at each of them. Since this is a relatively new (and creative!) entity among Arizona National Parks and Monuments, look for many new and exciting programs in the coming years.

  • Location: Southern Arizona, between Tucson and the Mexican border
  • Reason to visit: Explore historic Spanish and Native American Sights and desert landscapes
  • Facilities & Services: See individual sights for more information
  • Managed by: National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management
  • More information: Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area

Sonoran Desert National Monument

Sonoran Desert with saguaro cactus in foreground, mountains in background
Sonoran Desert National Monument; photo by Bob Wick, courtesy of BLM

If you love saguaro cactus and a desert landscape, but want something a bit more rough and rustic than Saguaro National Park, try Sonoran Desert National Monument. The nearly half-million acre area has limited facilities, but lots of desert beauty.

You can hike or ride horses on trails in one of three designated wilderness areas. Hunters will enjoy the vast acreage dedicated to that sport. And a side note to history lovers: the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail (listed above) passes through this park.

  • Location: South central Arizona, about 65 miles southwest of Phoenix
  • Reason to visit: Explore desert landscape; hiking, horseback riding, camping, hunting
  • Facilities & Services: Limited restroom facilities
  • Managed by: Bureau of Land Management
  • More information: Sonoran Desert National Monument

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

The cinder cone of Sunset Crater
Sunset Crater National Monumnet; photo courtesy NPS

There’s a whole lotta geology going on throughout Arizona. Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument gives you a chance to glimpse some of that up close and personal. You can view the cinder cone of Sunset Crater, an extinct volcano that erupted about 1,000 years ago. (That’s practically “last month” in geology terms!)

Hike the Lava Flow Trail, which takes you along some other-worldly landscapes that make you feel like you’re in a Star Wars episode. Then plant yourself in the cinder-coated center of nearby Lenox Crater, the park’s smaller volcano and stare off toward Sunset Crater in the distance. Because of this juxtaposition, you can imagine what it must have been like with the lava rumbling and ready to explode.

  • Location: North central Arizona, about 20 miles north of Flagstaff
  • Reason to visit: Explore remains of ancient volcano, hiking, scenic drives, camping
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor Center, restrooms, picnic grounds, campgrounds
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

Tonto National Monument

Ancient cliff dwelling with scrub in foreground, Tonto National Monument
Upper cliff dwelling at Tonto National Monument; photo courtesy NPS

Tonto National Monument is an excellent place to learn about the Salado and their culture. The Salado were a society who lived approximately 700 years ago. They blended multiple Native American cultures and developed sophisticated cliff dwellings. Tonto preserves two of these remarkable building complexes. Many cliff dwellings elsewhere are only visible from a distance, however at Tonto you can get right in or near the structures.

There are two sets of dwellings at Tonto. Because they are perched in cliffs, you must walk a fairly steep path to reach them. You reach the (smaller) Lower Dwelling via a half-mile hike. To reach the (larger) Upper Dwelling, you must book a tour with a park ranger for a guided 3-mile (round trip) hike.

  • Location: Central Arizona, about 115 miles east of Phoenix
  • Reason to visit: See ancient cliff dwellings
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor Center, museum, restrooms, picnic grounds, guided tours
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Tonto National Monument

Tumacacori National Historical Park

Tumacacori Mission with scattered clouds above
The mission church at Tumacacori National Historical Park; photo courtesy NPS

Tumacacori is located on the Santa Cruz River. Because of this irrigated location, it has been a site of settlement for multiple cultures for centuries. Of all the Arizona National Parks and Monuments, it is probably the one that provides the most insight into how civilization developed in the region. Today the historic Mission and surrounding community are preserved at Tumacacori National Historical Park.

The heart of the Mission is the beautifully preserved 16th century church, surrounded by many outbuildings. As a result, there are many buildings to visit. Be sure to explore the historic convento. Despite its religious-sounding name, the convento was a sort of 16th-century shopping arcade.

  • Location: South central Arizona, about 45 miles south of Tucson
  • Reason to visit: Explore historic church and mission grounds; learn about two unique cultures: Spanish and Native American.
  • Facilities & Services: Museum, Visitor Center, gift shop, restrooms, cultural events and demonstrations
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Tumacacori National Historical Park

Tuzigoot National Monument

View of stone tower remains at Tuzigoot National Monument
The “tower room” tops the pueblo at Tuzigoot National Monument; photo courtesy NPS

Tuzigoot gives us insight to the Sinagua peoples that inhabited the Verde Valley nearly 1,000 years ago. Remains of a stone pueblo are perched on a ridge overlooking the Verde River. At one time this large pueblo contained between 80 and 160 rooms! As a result, you can still see the outline of many of the pueblo rooms today. Be sure to look for the “tower room,” which is perched atop the center of the pueblo structure.

Tuzigoot is one of the Arizona National Parks and Monuments that makes a nice day excursion when touring the Sedona area.

  • Location: North central Arizona, about 110 miles north of Phoenix
  • Nearest town: Cottonwood
  • Reason to visit: Explore ancient Sinagua pueblo
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor Center, museum, bookstore, restrooms, picnic grounds
  • Managed by: National Park Service, Western National Parks Association
  • More information: Tuzigoot National Monument

Vermillion Cliffs National Monument

Man looking out over rock formations at Vermillion Cliffs National Monument
Vermillion Cliffs National Monument; photo by Bob Wick, courtesy BLM

Want to go off-roading amidst some eye-bending scenery? Vermillion Cliffs National Monument is for you. This 280,000-acre chunk of northern Arizona is chock-full of weird and wonderful rock formations. Think “Dr. Seuss in the American Southwest.” You’ll see cliffs with squiggly stripes of white and orange and peaks that look like giant melting sand castles. It’s the sort of place you’ll use up an entire film card taking photos!

Be advised that among Arizona National Parks and Monuments, this is one of the most rugged: you MUST have high-clearance four-wheel drive in Vermillion Cliffs. There are no paved roads, and lots of potential places to get stuck. Check the website for info on permits and recommended driving routes. And bring LOTS of water!

  • Location: Northern Arizona, along the border with Utah, about 125 miles north of Flagstaff
  • Reason to visit: Explore stunning rock formations, hiking, camping
  • Facilities & Services: None; nearest services are 40-50 miles away in Kanab, UT and Page, AZ
  • Managed by: Bureau of Land Management
  • More information: Vermillion Cliffs National Monument

Walnut Canyon National Monument

Cliff dwelling alongside hiking path in the forest, Walnut Canyon National Monument
Hike right by cliff dwellings in the forest at Walnut Canyon National Monument; photo courtesy NPS

Imagine taking a hike in the forest and coming upon an ancient dwelling tucked into the rock face along the trail. That’s what it’s like at Walnut Canyon National Monument. You feel like an explorer who’s just made a historic discovery!

Small ancient cliff dwellings are tucked into a forested canyon. You hike along the 1-mile Rim Trail, admire nature, and BAM! There it is, a row of rooms tucked under a rock ledge. You can even enter some of the dwellings. It’s awesome.

  • Location: North central Arizona, about 12 miles east of Flagstaff
  • Reason to visit: Explore historic cliff dwellings
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor Center, museum, bookstore, restrooms
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Walnut Canyon National Monument

Wupatki National Monument

A view of Wukoki pueblo on the plains at Wupatki National Monument
Wukoki pueblo, one of several on view at Wupatki National Monument; photo courtesy NPS

Waupatki National Monument showcases a collection of red stone pueblo remains. The Waupatki pueblos are out on the open plain. As a result, these pueblos are very different from the cliff dwellings at Walnut Canyon.

You can take a series of short ( 1/4-1/2 mile) hikes to explore six different pueblos. Join a Ranger-guided hikes to explore more distant sites. Ranger hikes are 2-3 miles and 2-3 hours long. The truly intrepid can sign up for an 18-20 mile overnight hike. Submit your name to a lottery for these limited capacity hikes, held in the spring and fall.

  • Location: North central Arizona, about 30 miles north of Flagstaff
  • Reason to visit: Explore ancient pueblo ruins
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor Center, museum, restrooms
  • Managed by: National Park Service
  • More information: Waupatki National Monument

No matter where you go in the state, Arizona National Parks and Monuments are not far away. Be sure to seek them out and see some of the truly stunning natural and historic sites preserved in the landscape!


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