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I’ve always wanted to be one of those “carefree travelers” who breezes along with the perfect suitcase.

Having been full-time travelers since 2011 we know what makes the best 4 wheeled suitcase. We show you what to look for–and what to avoid when choosing spinner carry on luggage and more.

We literally live out of our suitcases. My husband and I have been full-time travelers since 2011, so luggage plays an important role in our lives. I’ve learned to be efficient in my packing, using luggage that’s functional, sturdy and not too big. And that comes in handy when taking an Arizona Road Trip. (Or any other road trip for that matter 😉)

Here are some guidelines to help you do the same:

Which is better: a 2 or 4 Wheeled Suitcase?

For several years we used 2-wheeled suitcases (some people call these “Rollaboard” suitcases, a brand name trademarked by TravelPro.) Two-wheeled suitcases work well, but you must “tilt and pull” them along behind you. This is fine for short spurts, but eventually that motion was wrenching on our shoulders. Additionally, adding an extra bag (such as a tote or computer bag) was cumbersome. Stacking it on top of the main bag changed the ergonomics (trust me on this one), making it super-heavy to pull. Using an “add-a-bag” strap made pulling the bags along easier, but the bags were out of balance when standing still and had a tendency to fall over.

blue and black 4 wheeled suitcase side by side in front of an adobe wall

When it came time to upgrade (after a particularly shoulder-wrenching sprint through an airport to catch a connecting flight, we investigated 4-wheeled models. We ultimately opted to upgrade to these 4 wheeled suitcases, also known as “spinners.” The name “spinners” comes from the fact that the suitcase can spin around on its wheels. The transition has been much easier on our joints. Spinners are terrific on smooth surfaces, such as airport floors and parking lots; even densely packed bags glide along with very little effort.

Note that spinners can get difficult to maneuver on carpeting or rough surfaces, such as cobblestones. During these instances it’s best to tilt the bag so it works like a 2-wheeled suitcase. Shop for spinners whose rear wheels rotate smoothly and are sturdy enough to handle this conversion. Otherwise you’ll be dragging along a bag that behaves like a reluctant shopping cart (no fun at all!).

All that being said, all 4 wheeled suitcases are NOT alike. Following are points to consider when choosing a 4 wheeled suitcase:

Size and Weight of 4 Wheeled Suitcases

Most people have a tendency to overpack. A good rule is to bring along less (or smaller) luggage than you think you need. Overly large suitcases encourage packing unnecessary extras, which adds weight that you’ll have to heft around. Even if your cruise or tour includes luggage transfers, you still have to hoist your baggage to the airport and in your hotel or stateroom. These are the awkward moments when backs get wrenched.

Size limits for carry on bags vary by geographic location. If not checking your bags is important to you, be sure to check with the airline you’re flying regarding their carry on size limitations. For example, United Airlines carry on policy allows for a bag as high as 22″ to fit in the overhead bin. Whereas your Southwest Airlines carry on can be up to 24″.

Overall weight is also an important consideration. You might think, “but these things are on wheels, isn’t that the point?” Then answer to that is “yes, BUT . . . ” Even though you’ll be breezing through airports and down hotel corridors using the wheels, you still have to lift your 4 wheeled suitcase into overhead bins. If you’re taking a Route 66 road trip in Arizona you’ll likely be taking your bags in and out of your car every few days.

There’s no sense starting with a heavy bag, then packing it with even more weight. Look for luggage brands that offer a “lightweight” line and purchase the lightest bag possible—without sacrificing sturdiness. My main suitcase is a 21-inch model that weighs just under 6 pounds. It’s small enough to fit in most overhead bins, yet large enough to hold what I need.

Spinner suitcases: External Features

Hard Shell vs. Soft-Sided

There are two distinct schools of thought when it comes to exterior materials: hard shell vs. soft sided (fabric). Both come in lightweight versions. I prefer the soft-side fabric exterior as it has a little extra “give” in case I need to cram in a few more items (also known by the highly technical term, the “squishy factor” 😉).

Soft-sided luggage is also more forgiving for the inevitable times when your luggage bangs into your shins. Fabric 4 wheeled suitcases also offer exterior zip pockets that are handy for stowing tickets or often-used accessories.

Some people prefer the hard shell version of a 4 wheeled suitcase. The hard shell case is more resistant to moisture (if you spend a lot of time traveling in rainy climates this might be a consideration) Many of them come with built-in locks, a handy feature if security is an issue.

Both hard shell and soft sided varieties are available with zippered expansion panels, allowing you to add a few cubic inches of packing space without moving up to a larger size bag. This feature comes in handy for any souvenirs that are picked up along the way.

When shopping for soft-sided luggage, look for rip-stop fabric, which resists punctures and minimizes tearing. Cheap luggage is often made of basic canvas fabric, this allows tears to “bloom” along the width of the suitcase. If you prefer hard-shell cases, look for lightweight material that is flexible (think of that old TV ad with the gorilla stomping on luggage); bags that are too stiff are prone to dent or, worse yet, crack.

Handles on 4 Wheeled Suitcases

Examine the handles carefully. Quality luggage will have sturdy telescoping handles that adjust to different heights. Inexpensive pieces have flimsy handles (usually just a single metal tube) that aren’t height adjustable. Some (good quality) 4 wheeled suitcases have handles that are a single central bar that telescopes up. They are sturdy, but we’ve don’t like them because they make stacking tote bags on top of the luggage difficult. A traditional dual pull-up handle acts as a brace for any smaller back you might like to stack on top. It also serves as a more secure anchor if your totebag has a trolley strap.


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Interior Features of a 4 Wheeled Suitcase

Open Suitcase: single compartment or half & half?

Think of where a suitcase will be placed when it’s opened—likely on a luggage rack in a hotel room, on a bed, or on a floor. A single large interior compartment works best for maximum storage. A single zip compartment in the suitcase lid is useful for separating accessories or dirty clothes; look for models where the zippered side faces upward when the open case is propped up against the wall. This allows you to access items in this pocket without them slithering onto the floor.

Most hard shell luggage opens “half-and-half” style, where the zipper that opens the luggage basically slices the luggage in half, leaving you two equal compartments on the top and bottom. Some people like natural organizational ability of this half-and-half configuration. However, the tradeoff is that, when opened, this type of 4 wheeled suitcase will be too large to fit on a luggage rack. (And one half will be too heavy to prop up against the wall). In most cases you’ll need to keep the suitcase open on a hotel room floor.

4 Wheeled Luggage: Price Range

We prefer moderately-priced suitcases, generally $125-$250, depending on size and brand; all the features described above can be found in this price range. Avoid those cheap “4 bags for $100” sets sold in discount stores. They are poorly made and unlikely to withstand the rigors of travel. Expensive designer bags may look stylish, but they scream “expensive items are packed inside” and are a magnet to would-be thieves.

Once you’ve chosen a suitcase, test pack it at home and put it through its’ paces. If it’s too heavy or some feature doesn’t work, exchange it. There are plenty of variables when traveling. Your suitcase shouldn’t be one of them.

Our Choice for a 4 Wheeled Suitcase?

Based on all the features discussed above, we like the Travelpro Maxlite soft-sided series. We’ve had them for a few years now, and can attest to both their functionality and durability. We like the 21″ carry-on version, (more about packing that in a future post!), which is also sturdy enough to withstand being checked. This series also comes in 25″ and 29″ checked baggage versions, if you really insist on packing a lot. I purchased my suitcase on Amazon.

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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)

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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.


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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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As summer days began to fade I was craving some autumn atmosphere.

Want to find a pumpkin patch in Arizona? We’ll help you out. There’s something just so autumnal about a pumpkin patch. . . the bright orange color, the rustling of leaves and yellowing corn stalks in the neighboring fields beckon on a crisp fall afternoon. You can choose a big ol’ “punkin” or just indulge in little festive fall fun (such as family-friendly games and corn mazes). Whether you’re an Arizona local or visiting on vacation, a stop at an AZ pumpkin patch is sure to brighten your day. It’s as classic a fall event as exploring Apples in Arizona.

PRO TIP: Most pumpkin patches and fall festivals have Covid-19 safety precautions in place. Please check individual sites for more information

Pumpkin Patch in Arizona: Northern Arizona

FLAGSTAFF PUMPKIN PATCH

This Flagstaff pumpkin patch has been serving up autumn fun since 2001. Located at the Viola’s Flower Garden nursery, you’ll have fun picking out pumpkins in this country setting tucked into the pines. Choose from 25 (!) different pumpkin varieties, scattered among hay bales with tons of scarecrows and photo ops.

Photo courtesy Flagstaff Pumpkin Patch

PRO TIP: Continue a few miles south of Flagstaff on 89A to see the foliage at Oak Creek Canyon, one of the fun things to do in Sedona in the Fall.

THE WILLIS FARM (SNOWFLAKE, AZ)

Plenty of fall fun on this farm in northeastern Arizona (not far from Petrified Forest National Park). Pick your pumpkin from a patch out in the field, or select gourds and “Indian” corn. Try your luck navigating the corn maze, or simply take a train ride around the property.

There’s also a game zone for little ones and paint ball & laser tag for older kids.For those who like a scary thrill, Willis Farm hosts “Haunt Nights” every Saturday in October–tickets are timed, be sure to order online ahead of your arrival.

Photo courtesy Willis Farm
  • Location: 381 S. 1st E. Street Snowflake, AZ 85937
  • Dates: September 25 through October 30 (note: Closed on Sundays)
  • Website: Willis Farm & Ranch

Where to find an AZ pumpkin patch near Phoenix

FAIRMONT SCOTTSDALE PRINCESS (SCOTTSDALE, AZ)

Those looking to add a little “glam” to their fall pumpkin experience need look no further than the Pumpkin Fest at this luxury hotel. Fall-themed treats abound for young and old alike, including (sort-of spooky) kiddie rides, toasted marshmallows, skeleton storytellers, and–new for 2021–a Cider Orchard offering both both hard and soft versions of the fall favorite. Visit for just the day, or can cap off the event with specially-priced hotel and spa packages.

JUSTICE BROTHERS U-PICK FARM (WADDELL, AZ)

Head out to the western fringes of Phoenix to farm and orange grove country to find this u-pick pumpkin patch. Pay for your pumpkin, then stop at the free decorating station to jazz it up. There are plenty of photo ops in this Arizona pumpkin patch, and you can even make your own scarecrow!

Photo courtesy Justice Bros.
  • Location: 14629 W. Peoria Avenue, Waddell AZ 85355
  • Dates: October 1 through 31 (note: Open Fri, Sat, Sun, Mon; closed Tue, Wed, Thur)
  • Website: Justice Brothers Ranch & U-Pick

MACDONALD’S RANCH (SCOTTSDALE, AZ)

At MacDonald’s ranch, there are pumpkins, and a whole lot more. Admission to this Arizona pumpkin patch gives you access to a petting zoo, panning for gold, hay bale maze, kids’ pedal car track, lawn games and plenty of photo areas. Purchase pumpkins, and optional pony rides.

Photo courtesy MacDonalds Ranch
  • Location: 26540 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, AZ 85255
  • Dates: October 1 through 31 (note: closed Tuesdays)
  • Website: MacDonald’s Ranch


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MORTIMER FARMS (DEWEY, AZ)

There’s something for everyone at the Mortimer Farms Pumpkin Fest and Corn Maze. There are games, hayrides, ziplines and more. Oh yeah, you can pick a pumpkin, too! Add in some farm to table food, and you’ve got a great fall day! NOTE: Purchase tickets in advance online.

YouTube video

MOTHER NATURE’S FARM (GILBERT, AZ)

At this Arizona pumpkin patch you can pick out pumpkins grown right at the farm in any size: from 1 ounce to 500 pounds! For the price of admission you can take a hayride, visit the OZ pumpkin, or do a spider crawl. Unlike many other pumpkin patches, Mother Nature’s Farm lets you bring your own picnic (although they have a concession stand as well).

  • Location: 1663 E. Baseline Road Gilbert, AZ 85233
  • Dates: September 25 – October 31
  • Website: Mother Nature’s Farm

SCHNEPF FARMS (QUEEN CREEK, AZ)

With an event known as a “Pumpkin and Chili Party” you know you’re in for a great time. This fall extravaganza includes kiddie carnival rides, corn mazes, ziplines, a petting zoo and a slew of other games for all ages. In addition to chili, there are food tents offering chicken, burgers, pizza and (because . . . fall) succotash. Reserve tickets online.

YouTube video
Note: Filmed prior to COVID-precautions are now in place

PRO TIP: For a fall getaway break, book a spot at Schnepf Farms’ adjacent glamping resort, The Cozy Peach. Stay in one of 9 fully refurbished vintage trailers!


TOLMACHOFF FARMS (GLENDALE, AZ)

This 4-generation family farm kicks off their “Pumpkin Days and Corn Maze” event on October 1. This AZ pumpkin patch has something for the whole family: Great big pumpkin patch and 3(!) corn mazes: a 6-acre family corn maze, a mini corn maze for little ones & a haunted corn maze (ideal for jaded teenagers 🙄.) Other activities include a petting zoo, train ride, hay pyramid, corn box, adult/child pedal cart track, jumping pillow and much more.

  • Location: 5726 N. 75th Ave. Glendale, AZ 85303
  • Dates: October 1 – 31 (Note: Closed Mon, Tue)
  • Website: Tolmachoff Farms

VERTUCCIO FARMS (MESA, AZ)

Celebrate “Cooler Days in the Corn Maze” at Vertuccio Farms’ Arizona pumpkin patch in Mesa. In addition to the maze there’s a train ride around the farm, a petting zoo and games galore, including a giant tube slide and the ever-popular pumpkin bowling (sign us up!)

Photo courtesy Vertuccio Farms

  • Location: 4011 S. Power Rd., Mesa, AZ 85212
  • Dates: October 1 through 31, 7 days/week
  • Website: Vertuccio Farms

Arizona pumpkin patches in Southern AZ

APPLE ANNIE’S (WILLCOX, AZ)

Grab a wheelbarrow and head out to the field to pick your ideal pumpkin. Or better yet, get a ticket for a hayride out to the pumpkin patch, in a wagon pulled by one of Apple Annie’s tractors. Set aside some time for the corn maze; the average visit is 2 hours! And if you come on a weekend, be sure to walk through the Sunflower Spectacular, with fields of 12 varieties of sunflowers on display-gorgeous! (Spoiler alert: they have apples, too. But you probably already figured that out 🙂 .)


MARANA PUMPKIN PATCH (MARANA, AZ)

With 50 acres of freshly grown pumpkins you’re sure to find the perfect specimen at the Marana Pumpkin Patch and Fall Festival. Admission includes a wagon ride out to the patch (pumpkins priced separately, by the pound), along with access to the corn maze, swings and games, a petting zoo and a ride on the 1/4-scale diesel train (perfect for the train geek in your group! 🚂 )

Photo courtesy Marana Pumpkin Patch
  • Location: 14950 N Trico Rd, Marana, AZ 85653
  • Dates: October 2-31 (closed Mon, Tues, Wed)
  • Website: Marana Pumpkin Patch

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The yellowing of leaves put me in the mood for apple pie. And supermarket apples just weren’t going to cut it.

Want to know where find local apples in Arizona during the fall? Here are six ways to experience Arizona’s apple-growing heritage. We’re including u-pick farms, markets, a guest ranch in a orchard and one trek that’s, erm, a little out there, but we wanted to offer all sorts of options . . .

a crate full of freshly picked apples in a field

Go Arizona Apple Picking at Apple Annie’s

Apple picking is about as wholesome as it gets-it’s the ultimate family-friendly event. Although most orchards are now wholesale only, Apple Annie’s Orchard in Willcox is one Arizona apple orchard where picking is encouraged. Harvest season is late August through October; you pay for what you pick. It’s a fun day’s activity, but best of all you get to go home with a basket of fresh, crisp apples! Don’t feel like picking your own? No problem, you can buy an already-picked batch at the Country Store on site.

During weekends throughout the fall there are festive events most weekends, including pancake breakfasts with hot cider syrup and apple topping, apple cider donuts (our favorite!), lunch at the Orchard Grill (which features burgers cooked over apple wood) and pies, pies and more pies.

  • Location: 2081 W Hardy Rd. Willcox, AZ 85643
  • Phone: (520) 384-2084
  • Website: Apple Annie’s
  • Hours: Fruit orchard open daily, 8am to 5pm July-September; 9am to 5:30pm in October. Country Store open daily 8am to 5pm year round. (Closed Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas).

PRO TIP: Apple Annie’s also has a terrific Arizona Pumpkin Patch, and a beautiful sunflower display.

Spend the night in an Arizona apple orchard

The Beatty’s dog, Red, out in the orchard in Miller Canyon, photo courtesy Beatty’s Guest Ranch

If you really want to immerse yourself in the orchard experience there’s no better way than to sleep among the apple trees. In this case we mean a cabin in the orchard, not literally sleeping under the trees (more about that later . . . ). Here at Beatty’s Guest Ranch, cabins are tucked into the orchard, which itself is tucked into Miller Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains of southeastern Arizona. Spend a few nights in this cozy setting; at 5,800 feet in altitude, you can be sure of cool fall evenings.

Whip up breakfast in your cabin using some of Beatty’s farm-fresh eggs accompanied by apples and other goodies grown at the ranch. All foods grown at the ranch are available for purchase in their on site store. The ranch is adjacent to several Miller Canyon trails, and only a few miles from the Coronado National Memorial, part of the National Park System. This area is also birding country; warblers pass through during their fall migration. In summer the apples aren’t yet ripe, but you might just see a hummingbird or two–or twelve. The ranch holds the record for the most species (14) ever spotted in one day!

A cabin in the orchard, photo courtesy Beatty’s Guest Ranch

PRO TIP: Miller Canyon is prime birding territory; in addition to apples, during a stay at Beatty’s Ranch you may “harvest” a few hummingbird and warbler sightings, depending on when you visit


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Explore Sedona’s heritage of apples in Arizona

image of apple sorting equipment-apples in arizona

It’s hard to imagine now, but 100 years ago Sedona was the place to go to find an Arizona apple orchard. Nearby Oak Creek provided ready access to water, and Sedona farmers developed irrigation systems to supply their orchards. The Sedona Heritage Museum at Jordan Historical Park is housed at a former apple processing facilty. The museum’s logo is even the signature red rocks superimposed on an apple!

The orchard acreage was sold off in the 1970s, but the remaining buildings of the Jordan family farmstead remain to illuminate Sedona’s fruit-filled history. View vintage farm equipment and apple sorting machinery, and see a 1940s one-room farmhouse, where apples took pride of place. (While there, be sure to explore the exhibit on Sedona’s history in western movies.) This is one of the cool things to do during the Fall in Sedona.

  • Location: 735 Jordan Road, Sedona, Arizona
  • Phone: (928) 282-7038
  • Website: Sedona Heritage Museum
  • Hours: Open daily 11 am to 3 pm. Closed Major Holidays.
historic photo of orchards near Sedona
Photo courtesy Sedona Heritage Museum

Visit a historic Arizona apple orchard & homestead

historic, rusty farm equipment in front of Pendley orchards at slide rock state park
Historic farm equipment on display in front of the historic Pendley apple orchard at Slide Rock State Park

What is now Slide Rock State Park in Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona was once the Pendley apple orchard and homestead. Summertime visitors love to sluice down the water slide of the creek, but in the fall visitors come to see the beautiful colors . . . and the apples. The orchard, farm machinery, packing shed, old cabins and farmhouse at the site of the old Pendley homestead are all available to visit.

Frank Pendley planted his first apple orchard in 1912 after acquiring the site two years earlier under the Homestead Act. Park staff still farm the orchard, using Pendley’s original irrigation system. Be sure to visit in September and October, when the 13 varieties of apples grown on site are harvested and available for sale.

  • Location: 6871 N. Highway 89A, Sedona, AZ 86336
  • Phone: (928) 282-3034
  • Website: Slide Rock State Park
  • Hours: Open daily, 8am to 6pm, Feb through November; 9am to 5pm Dec, Jan. Closed Christmas.
apples in a wooden box

Trek to a forgotten apple orchard in the mountains

wild apples out in an untended orchard-apples in arizona
Imagine finding these after a 10-mile hike through desert landscape!

Earlier I mentioned an apple experience in Arizona that was a little “out there.” This is it . . . literally and figuratively. In the late 1800s a quirky character named Elisha Reavis established a farm and in a remote valley in the otherwise dry, forbidding Superstition Mountains in eastern Arizona. Many rumors circulated about Reavis: some called him the “Hermit of the Superstition Mountains,” other say he scrapped with the Apaches. No one really knows for sure, but an apple orchard on the site planted after his death is a lasting legacy.

Today, what remains of this Arizona apple orchard continues to flourish (in a wild sort of way) in this tucked-away corner of the Tonto National Forest. Those intrepid enough to find Reavis Ranch can enjoy all the apples their belly can hold–after a 10-mile hike to reach it! Plan to make this an overnight trek, camping at the orchard before making the 10-mile trek back. For some, it’s an annual pilgrimage:

YouTube video
  • Location: Trailhead is located at Reavis Trailhead Rd, Apache Junction, AZ 85119 (off state route 88)
  • Hours: Open all year; apple trees bloom in the spring, and are likely bearing fruit in September and October.

Pick up fresh Arizona apples at a Farmer’s Market

apples lined up in wooden bins at a farmers market apples in arizona

There are places in Arizona that produce apples, but are not open to the public. Most, however make their products available at local farmers’ markets throughout the state. So if you find yourself craving the the delicious fruit from an Arizona apple orchard, but aren’t in the mood to pick your own (or go on a 20-mile hike), download this Arizona Farmers Markets Directory to find one near you.

CLICK ON THE IMAGE AT RIGHT TO DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY OF A GUIDE TO ARIZONA’S FARMERS’ MARKETS!

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What so special about these Franklin cars? And what’s with the dirt roads in the middle of Tucson?

Lovers of Franklin cars must visit the the Franklin Automobile Museum in Tucson, Arizona. It’s the largest public collection is devoted to the the quirky marque, built in Syracuse, NY from 1902 through 1934. Just getting to the museum is part fo the fun: it’s tucked away in the residential neighborhood north of downtown known as Richland Heights West, one of the last areas in Tucson with unpaved streets. You approach by driving across natural desert sand, much as a shiny new Franklin car might have done in the 1920s. It’s not uncommon to see the odd tumbleweed charting a lazy course across the sand like in some old John Wayne western.

So plan to take a trip back in time. Drive (slowly!) on some dusty sand roads amid cacti for a few blocks before arriving at the museum’s three adobe buildings. The throwback atmosphere is really part of the fun when viewing such a fine assemblage of pre-World War II cars.

Franklin Automobile Museum Tucson Arizona

History of the Franklin Automobile Museum

This 27-car collection of Franklin cars was developed by car restorer Thomas Hubbard. He purchased his first Franklin in 1950 and just kept buying them. He was first attracted to Franklins at the tender age of eight when his family bought a brand new 1933 model. Apparently his friends were not impressed.

Museum guide Bill, who as a child used to hang around helping Hubbard’s auto restorations, recalls Hubbard saying, “They’d rib me about the car. I had to explain to my friends, why if the car was so good they didn’t make them anymore.” Hubbard passed away in 1993 but the foundation he established funds the museum and its continued acquisition of cars including a purchase of a 1905 Franklin Model A Runabout with a rare rear-entry tonneau.


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History of Franklin Cars

Franklins were the brainchild of engineer John Wilkinson and businessman Herbert H. Franklin, whose personal motto was “It can be done.” Franklin Automobiles were built in the much colder climes of Syracuse, New York in the early part of the 20th century, from 1902 through 1934.

All of the Franklins were air-cooled. Because air-cooling removed the need for a bulky radiator, Franklin cars took on some unusual front-end shapes including barrel hoods, shovels, and horse collars. They were a considered a premium brand; pricing ran just under a Cadillac. Collections this large are rare: although over 150,000 Franklins were produced, only about 3,500 survive today.

What’s on display at the Franklin Automobile Museum

There are three rooms’ worth of autos here. Because early cars required constant maintenance, the 1918 Franklin Model B Touring came with tool kits; the originals are cleverly hidden inside the front doors of Franklin cars and even included extra spark plugs. Look for the handy (and surprisingly small) golf bag on the 1929 Franklin Convertible Coupe.

In a sign of the times, with Charles Lindbergh having crossed the Atlantic Ocean (with an air-cooled engine) just two years before, an airplane logo was placed on the rear bumper to symbolize the car’s “airplane-type” engine; further increasing its sportiness factor.

A 1929/1930/1931 Franklin Model 153 is unique because it was company founder Herbert Franklin’s personal vehicle. The reason it has so many model years attributed to it was that he brought it into the shop annually to update it to the current model year. 

Franklin 1925 Sport Coupe

A one-off 1931 Franklin Model 153 Sport Phaeton was custom ordered by 21-year-old Stillman F. Kelley, II for his honeymoon. Despite the Great Depression raging, Kelley was able to pay $6,500 for this beauty, and may have survived the financial downturn better than Franklin. The automaker had leveraged his company for growth that didn’t materialize and was unable to shoulder the increased debt burden, declaring bankruptcy in 1934. The aircraft engine division survived but, in an odd twist, was bought in 1947 by Preston Tucker to produce engines for the Tucker 48. It’s not all Franklins though. In an outbuilding there are several other marques, including a 1909 REO Touring, which was the first car Thomas Hubbard restored.

And what’s with those dirt roads?

Part of what makes a visit to the Franklin Automobile Museum so unique is its setting in a quiet area with dirt roads. Dirt roads themselves aren’t really all that unusual-especially in rural parts of Arizona. But the museum is in the city of Tucson, which makes it quite an oddity. Here, you can still find corrals with horses and wild rabbits nibbling on mesquite leaves . . . and the speed limit is a whopping 15 MPH.

The dirt road entrance to the Franklin Automobile Museum harkens back to the 1940s

The neighborhood, known as Richland Heights West, is about 3 miles northeast of downtown Tucson. The 16 square block parcel was developed on a former ranch in the 1940s, before it was part of the city–and before paved roads were the accepted thing. The city offered to pave the neighborhood roads in the 1990s, but the neighborhood association said, “no thanks.” They like it just the way it is: quite, a little dusty, and full of wildlife. It’s also the perfect place to see a Franklin Car.

Unique roadside Americana near the Franklin museum

A visit to the Franklin Automobile Museum offers the opportunity to take in a bit of authentic roadside Americana located nearby. Anyone who loves road trips is aware of the Muffler Man statues that sprinkle the heartland. These distinctive, 20-foot-tall fiberglass figures were mostly erected in the 1960s to lure visitors to various shops and attractions. They were cleverly designed so the statue could hold an object related to the business they were promoting.

They came to be known as “Muffler Men,” regardless of what they held, because so many of them ended up holding mufflers to promote service stations. One of these icons of mid-century advertising presides over an intersection in Tucson, just two miles southwest of the Franklin Museum. The circa-1964 fiberglass giant at the corner of N. Stone Avenue and E. Glenn Street is one of the earliest “Muffler Man” statues. This one’s dressed up as Paul Bunyan holding an axe, yet it’s still auto-related, as it stands in the parking lot of Don’s Hot Rod Shop at 2811 N. Stone Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85705.

PRO TIP: If you’re really into quirky sights, just about 6 blocks south of the Franklin Auto Museum is the intersection of Glenn & Campbell Although the Rhinestone Cowboy spelled his name with only one “n,” the crisscrossed street signs provide a nifty photo op.

This museum showcasing Franklin cars is one of several unusual museums in Tucson. It truly is a one-of-a-kind destination and a real trip back in time. Further information is available at www.FranklinMuseum.org.

Where is the Franklin Automobile Museum?

3420 North Vine Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85719

When is the Franklin Automobile Museum Open?

Mid-October through Memorial Day, Wed-Sunday, 10am to 4pm.

What was unique about Franklin cars?

The engines were air-cooled, so there was no need for a bulky radiator.

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Photo-op classic cars parked in random spots all around Tucson. How wonderfully odd!

Truly Nolen cars are a staple in the Tucson landscape. But why are classic cars perched on random street corners with the words “TRULY NOLEN” painted on the side? We were on a mission to find out.

What are Truly Nolen cars?

Truly Nolen cars are one of the truly (yeah, we really said that) unique things about Tucson: classic cars parked all over Tucson with the words TRULY NOLEN boldly painted on them. There are more than fifty of these cars, turning the southern Arizona city into an unofficial outdoor car museum. They’re such a fixture that most locals take them for granted. Perhaps it’s because, with 350 days of sunshine per year, Tucson is one of the best cities in America to own a classic car. There’s hardly any rain and you certainly don’t have to worry about corrosive salt being put down on the roads to counter ice and snow.

1948 light blue Chevy-one of the Truly Nolen cars to be found on a random Tucson street corner

But that still doesn’t explain why they’re here. As nice as the climate is in Tucson though, we’re not sure we’d leave a classic car parked outside permanently, certainly not a collection of 50 classic cars. But then again, we’re not mid-century extermination magnates. The cars are part of a quirky marketing campaign for the Truly Nolen exterminating company, a national company founded in Tucson by the eponymous Truly Nolen–yes, that was his real name. His siblings included Really and Sincere Leigh. (Seriously. And yes, really.)

How Truly Nolen Cars Began

The whole spectacle began in 1955. Young exterminating entrepreneur Truly Nolen’s car broke down while he was driving around town on business. Truly had to leave the car parked outside a mechanic’s garage for a week while he waited for his next paycheck to cover the repairs. Fortunately for him, that car had the company name and phone number prominently displayed on the side.

We met with Michelle Nolen Senner, the company’s current head of public relations (and Truly’s daughter), who told us, “During that period he received more calls than ever for new business. He loved marketing and he loved old cars, so he got an idea.” And what an idea that was.

From an idea to a marketing classic

Truly started acquiring cars and painting his name on the side. (In the late 50s these would have simply been used cars–who knew they’d become classics?) Then he began parking them at prominent intersections throughout town; in fact, they’re now known as “corner cars.”

The landowners welcomed the classic cars to their site; the conversation piece drew in new customers for their own businesses, many of which were auto-related, such as body shops and car washes. Some of the cars are paired up with businesses that inadvertently create a happy coincidence. For example, a 1956 Pontiac—with its iconic jet-wing hood ornament—is parked in front of a Jet Wash car wash.

Due to the desert sand, this Pontiac looks like it could use a trip through the Jet Wash

Gradually the fleet expanded to more than 50 classic cars and continues to grow. At any one time you might run into a 1929 Nash Cabriolet or a 1934 Hudson and more, either parked around town or participating in various civic activities and car shows. The company gets the best response from chrome-filled cars of the 1950s and 1960s, like a 1950 Studebaker or the two-tone turquoise-and-white 1957 Nash Metropolitan.

Amazingly, all of the Truly Nolen cars are unlocked–what a great photo op!

People really like the cars with prominent tail fins that take them back to a 1950s malt shoppe.

Truly’s personal 1957 red-and-white Chevy Bel Air—his daily driver—is a valued artifact and kept at the company lot.  Senner recalls, “The first time I took it out for a drive was to a Starbucks. When I got back in the car I realized there were no cup holders!”

Sitting in Truly Nolen’s favorite car-truly a treat (even though there are no cup holders!)

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“Mouse Cars”: the new classic

In 1961 the company started turning Volkswagen Beetles (no coincidence that an exterminating company used a car named after a bug) into “mouse cars,” complete with mouse ears on top and a tail in the rear. (A 1974 VW “mouse car” is one of the classics parked around town.) The next logical step? The “Mouselimo:” a stretch Beetle that made it into the Guinness World Records as the longest VW Beetle. As it’s an unusual car to stretch, there are only three in the world.

Vintage car lovers in Tucson can go on a cool scavenger hunt by driving around town seeking out these shiny classics parked on their prominent perches. While Truly Nolen passed away in 2017 at the age of 89, his legacy lives on with the corner cars.

PRO TIP: To see additional classic cars parked outside the Truly Nolen offices in Arizona, drive by 3636 E. Speedway Boulevard, Tucson, AZ 85716 or attend one of their car shows.

Bonus sightings: Classic cars in the Truly Nolen spirit

In a sort of homage to the Truly Nolen marketing model, other companies in Tucson also park classic cars out front with the company name on them. A first-generation Mustang painted with a Mexican flag is parked in front of the legendary Sonoran hot dog restaurant El Guero Canelo, while a 1937 Hudson Terraplane is parked outside Buck’s Automotive Repair. When asked if the latter still runs, the owner replies, “Every day. Everything still works, even the original radio.”  The car is a favorite find for kids who are playing Pokémon Go. 

When it comes to marketing exterminating services, Truly Nolen definitely built a better mouse trap and created a unique feature of Tucson that everyone can still, well, truly enjoy.


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I could stare at airplanes for hours. Which is exactly what I did at the Tucson Boneyard (geek-heaven!)

The Tucson airplane graveyard is a must-visit site for anyone who loves aircraft (that’s us!). Learn about this amazing place, and how you can visit “the Boneyard,” as it’s unofficially known. Visiting the Boneyard is one of the truly unique things to do in Tucson-there’s nothing else like it. Anywhere.

Tours of the Tucson airplane graveyard closed during the COVID 19 pandemic, and plans to reopen are unclear 🙁. We will update this site when we learn of any changes.

What, exactly, IS the Tucson Airplane Graveyard?

“The Boneyard” is officially known as the 309th AMARG Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (military-speak for a really cool aviation junkyard). It’s located at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, on the southeastern edge of Tucson, where it is the final resting place of more than 3,000 aircraft.

AMARG is the world’s largest salvage yard, minus the snarling dogs. The aircraft are lined up in rows set up with military precision, stacked so closely together that from above their wings look like they are holding hands with each other, a sharp contrast to their former roles. It’s a starkly beautiful setting as, throughout the day, the silver fuselages reflect changing colors of the Rincon Mountains to the east.

Aerial view of hundreds of planes lines up at the Tucson airplane graveyard, aka the tucson boneyard
Isn’t this a beautiful sight?

Why is there an Airplane Graveyard in Tucson?

The military has a problem. It has thousands of aircraft that are no longer being used, but they don’t want to just send them to the scrapyard like a used ’92 Chevy. So what to do? It would be impractical to build giant hangars for 3,000+ aircraft, especially when many of them are no longer operational. How about sending them into semi-permanent outdoor storage?

The Sonoran Desert of Arizona provides the perfect location, where the arid climate prevents rust.

Out-of-service military aircraft at the Boneyard, with Tucson’s Rincon Mountains in the background

Despite its moniker, the Boneyard is not a place merely to stockpile airplanes in eternal rest. Some have been mothballed for spare parts and potential future activation. In 2015 a B-52 bomber old enough to qualify for AARP membership was restored and returned to flying condition. Though the Cold War may have ended, the men and women deployed at the Boneyard in Tucson are on constant alert for any future chills in relations between the superpowers.

What can you see at the Tucson Airplane Graveyard?

Despite their placement on an active military base, tours are offered of the Boneyard. Visitors board air-conditioned buses at the adjacent Pima Air & Space Museum for a tour through the Boneyard of stored aircraft inside Davis-Monthan Air Force Base to see the world’s largest collection of military aircraft.

The amount of hardware on display is striking. Some of the planes look ready to take off while others are partially salvaged, as if the turkey vultures soaring overhead have been picking them clean. Upon approach the rows of angular F-14 fighter planes emerge like giant metal scorpions lying in wait on the desert floor. Security around them is strict since this particular model is still flown by the Iranian Air Force, which is desperate for spare parts to maintain their fleet.

Rows of aircraft from various military branches lined up at the Boneyard Tucson. Note the Coast Guard plane amidst the others.

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The tour bus ambles by ranks of abandoned bombers, propeller-driven cargo planes, helicopters and fighter jets while the guide points out the former roles of each aircraft. In an odd twist, new C-27 Spartan cargo planes were delivered directly to the Boneyard. Although recent budget cuts prevent their use, it didn’t stop production of them. 

In a sign that the military possesses its own unique brand of humor, a lone ladder waiting for a pilot to climb into the cockpit is angled ten feet into the air, hovering over a set of landing gear and . . . nothing else. A sign in front of it says that this is an F-117 Stealth Fighter. It makes the grizzled tour guide’s day when groups of unsuspecting schoolchildren exclaim, “Wow! You really can’t see it!”

AMARG’s sense of humor is evident at this display of the F-117 Nighthawk “Stealth Fighter.”
YouTube video
Some planes are sent to the scrap yards adjacent to the Boneyard, where the aircraft are not set up in such neat rows.
YouTube video

Afterwards, the Pima Air & Space Museum offers a fine collection of more than 350 aircraft including a B-24 Liberator, Sikorsky Skycrane helicopter, Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the unique Aero Spacelines 377-SG “Super Guppy” cargo plane that is cobbled together from parts of a retired U.S. Air Force C-97 Stratofreighter and a former Pan American Boeing 377 Stratocruiser.

Fast facts about the Tucson Airplane Graveyard, aka “The Boneyard”

Can anyone visit the Tucson Boneyard?

(As of early 2022 tours of the Tucson Boneyard is closed; plans to reopen are unclear) Yes, all nationalities are welcome on the tour. Be advised that you will be touring an active US Military site; as such, be prepared with proper identification.you must take a guided bus tour, which starts at the adjacent Pima Air & Space Museum

Do you need to make a reservation to tour the Tucson Boneyard?

(As of early 2022 tours of the Tucson Boneyard is closed; plans to reopen are unclear) Yes, Tucson Boneyard tours are only available by advanced reservation.

When can I make a reservation to tour the Tucson Boneyard?

(As of early 2022 tours of the Tucson Boneyard is closed; plans to reopen are unclear) Reservations must be made a minimum of 16 days in advance. Tours can be reserved up to 60 days in advance.

What type of information is required by US citizens to reserve a tour of the Tucson Boneyard?

(As of early 2022 tours of the Tucson Boneyard is closed; plans to reopen are unclear) When making a reservation, adult US citizens (aged 16 and older) must provide the following: Full name as it appears on a driver’s license or valid state-issued photo ID (including middle initial or middle name), plus ID number & state of issue, date of birth and social security number. Be prepared to bring this same ID with you for the tour. For children under 16 years of age you must provide full name and birthdate (no ID required).

Can US citizens use a passport or military ID to reserve a Boneyard tour in Tucson?

(As of early 2022 tours of the Tucson Boneyard is closed; plans to reopen are unclear) NO. US passports and military IDs are not acceptable means of ID for the AMRAD Boneyard Tour.

What type of information is required by NON-US citizens to reserve a tour of the Tucson Boneyard?

(As of early 2022 tours of the Tucson Boneyard are closed; plans to reopen are unclear) When making a reservation, adult NON-US citizens (aged 16 and older) must provide the following: Full name as it appears on a passport (including middle initial or middle name), along with passport number, date of birth and country of issuance. Be prepared to bring this same ID with you for the tour. For children under 16 years of age you must provide full name and birthdate (no ID required).

How long is the AMRAD Boneyard tour?

(As of early 2022 tours of the Boneyard ae closed; plans to reopen are unclear) The tour is approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes long.

Can you walk around the Tucson Boneyard?

(As of early 2022 tours of the Boneyard are closed; plans to reopen are unclear) NO. The Boneyard is on an active US Air Force Base. Visitors must stay on the bus for the duration of the tour.

How much does the AMRAD Tucson Boneyard tour cost?

(As of early 2022 tours of the Tucson Boneyard is closed; plans to reopen are unclear) Cost of the tour is $10 per person and is non-refundable.

Where do I make reservations for the AMRAD tour?

(As of early 2022 tours of the Tucson Boneyard is closed; plans to reopen are unclear) Contact the Pima Air & Space Museum.

For another Cold War relic head nearby to the Titan Missile Museum, home of the last of the 54 Titan II missile sites that were on alert from 1963 through 1987.

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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

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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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We love Airbnb but every now and then one of those rentals looks too good to be true . . .

Scams on Airbnb and other vacation rental sites like VRBO and Flipkey are rare, but they DO happen. Learn how to spot the scams on Airbnb and other sites using tips based on our extensive experience. Over the past 10 years we’ve spent more than 2,000 nights at Vacation rentals (We’re not kidding-we live on the road!) After all this time–which includes over 100 Airbnb stays–we’ve figured out how to avoid bogus deals.

ratty old shack in the desert-scams on airbnb
Probably NOT your ideal vacation rental

Vacation rental scams: The Craigslist “scrape”

We were really enjoying our Airbnb rental in Prescott, Az one autumn when there was a knock at the front door. Since we didn’t know anyone in town we assumed it was a salesman. So we were surprised to see a young man on the porch with several pieces of luggage. Um, a long lost friend visiting? Nope. He said, in all earnestness, that he was ready to move in and where should he put his luggage? Well that’s awkward! Fortunately, since we booked the cottage through Airbnb, we were fine; unfortunately for him he hadn’t–he had been scammed.

Our caller had found the cottage on Craigslist at a monthly rate that was half what we were paying. Too good to be true? As it happens, yes.  The listing included the same description and photos as those on the (legitimate) Airbnb listing, but the contact information was different. He had signed a lease and mailed the contact a deposit check for $500.

Fortuantely for us, a quick call to our Airbnb host confirmed that we were fine. The guy on the porch was not. This was a Craigslist rental scam. Our host explained that her Airbnb listing had been “scraped.” Someone had taken her photos and posted a fake ad on Craigslist, lying in wait for an unsuspecting victim. Our Airbnb host also shared that this had happened to her before. She’s tried hard to stop the scammers, but they remove the fake internet listing before the police can take action and then post it again at another time. Though this was not one of the scams on Airbnb, hinky things can still happen on that sight as well.

Woman stranded on the side of a desert road with a suitcase-scams on airbnb
Don’t get left stranded. Make sure your vacation rental is not a scam.

Scams on Airbnb: the fake listing

Also known as the “travel scam,” this is basically the same situation as our Craigslist example above, except that listing is on Airbnb. You might think, “wait! How can this happen? Doesn’t Airbnb have systems to catch fake listings?” The answer to that is YES, they do, and they constantly monitor their site. But according to their own site, Airbnb has nearly 6 million listings (as of September 2020) in over 100,000 cities. With that kind of volume there are bound to be a few bad apples that sneak into the bunch every now and then.

We had firsthand experience with Airbnb scams a few years ago. We requested a reservation at an Airbnb apartment in Rome, Italy. It looked like a nice apartment in a good neighborhood, and the price seemed more reasonable than others nearby. Not “half the price crazy cheap,” that would have set off alarm bells right away. No this one was just about 10-15% cheaper than similar apartments.

But . . . once we put in our request the “owner” contacted us right away suggesting we wire the payment to them directly rather than working through the normal Airbnb channels—something that is specifically outside the company’s guidelines. This set off warning flags—sure enough, we contacted Airbnb, who confirmed it was a false listing and took it down. This was one of the scams on Airbnb that we didn’t get snookered by–we eventually found a terrific, legitimate, listing and spent a fabulous month exploring Rome.

Scams on Airbnb: the advance fee ploy

Here someone offers to pay you (or give you something) if you pay through a service outside of Airbnb. This one is really a variation on the “fake listing” scam we discussed above. It’s just a slightly more elaborate scheme, trying to sweeten the deal for paying outside the system by giving you something in return. There’s definitely a theme to these scams on Airbnb: scammers are trying to get you to pay outside the system. Bad. Idea.

The vacation rental “phishing scam”

When someone sends you an email or link that looks like it’s from Airbnb, but it’s really not. These messages are designed to trick you into providing confidential information such as passwords or other email addresses. How do these “phishers” know to send you an email? They don’t–they’re taking a calculated risk. Phishing isn’t unique to Airbnb; VRBO, FlipKey and others are prone to the same issue.

According to market research firm Statista, the industry is forecasting over 600 million vacation rental users worldwide in 2021 alone. When you think of those kind of numbers, it’s not that far-fetched that an email blast to 10,000 people with the subject line “There’s a problem with your vacation rental reservation” might actually get someone to click on it.


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How to Avoid Scams on Airbnb & other Vacation Rental sites

  1. If a property seems too good to be true, it’s probably not legitimate. Compare the listing to others in the area; anything that looks larger, more luxurious, or cheaper than the going rate should be suspect.
  2. Read property reviews carefully. As we discuss in finding an Airbnb in Arizona, read all the reviews very carefully. Only the stupidest scammers keep up listings that say, “this guy scammed me!” If a property has no reviews at all, or there have been long periods of time between reviews, we proceed with caution.
  3. Review all listing photos with a critical eye. Scammers who post fake listings often scrape photos from another site, which degrades their quality. (Think of a document that’s blurry because it’s been copied and then the copy is re-copied multiple times, or if you took a photo of a hard copy picture with your phone.) Consumer advocate Christopher Elliot provides an excellent example of this in his article about a fake VRBO rental.
  4. Work through legitimate rental companies. When booking a vacation, reputable sites such as Airbnb and VRBO (or established local rental agencies) offer a level of protection should there be an issue.  They all have business reputations to maintain so it’s in their best interest to resolve any disputes to everyone’s satisfaction. A legitimate site will also act as a go-between for payments and resolving any problems.
  5. Stay (and pay) within the system. Booking sites and rental agencies do charge a fee, which many people don’t like paying. But they also provide a valuable service in exchange for this fee, which includes protecting you should anything go amiss with your reservation. Avoid the temptation to save a few dollars by going around them—a trick scammers often use. Be very cautious when someone asks you to pay them directly. Additionally, paying outside the system violates Airbnb’s terms of service, which could cause you to get banned from the site.
  6. Don’t use Craigslist for vacation rentals. Craigslist is a terrific site for buying and selling a lot of stuff, but vacation rentals are not among them. Craigslist is an internet listing site only, there is no “book within the system safety net.” On their own site, they even address how to avoid a Craigslist rental scam: “Do not rent or purchase sight-unseen—that amazing “deal” may not exist.” (Full disclosure: Early in our travels we booked some apartments on Craigslist, back in the day when online rental sites were in their infancy. But we have not done so for years because there is no consumer protection, and therefore would not likely do it again.
  7. Be suspicious of emails regarding reservations that don’t make sense. Never provide any personal information unless you have verified the communication is legitimate. Airbnb has a very helpful guide to decoding suspicious emails, which explains what their links look like, and even lists all the internet domain names they use.
If a vacation rental like this Sedona mansion is available for $25 a night (or even $125 a night),
you might want to verify that listing.

Vacation rentals in Arizona are a fabulous lodging alternative when traveling. However, the Internet makes it very easy for scams on Airbnb and other sites to proliferate, resulting in false listings. Don’t be that guy stuck out on our porch. Always do your due diligence, particularly when the property or price seem too good to be true.


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