Narrowing down the best parks in Arizona to a succinct list is nearly an impossible task. The Grand Canyon State is home to what’s possibly the best-known park in the United States, but that’s a far cry from being all the state has to offer in scenic views. There are actually 3 national parks in the state, along with countless more state parks, mountain preserves, and national monuments. Essentially, you could close your eyes and point to a spot on the map in Arizona and you’d likely land in a park with scenic views. From canyons to cactus and everything in between, here’s our best attempt at selecting a list of the best parks to visit in Arizona.
Grand Canyon National Park
“I’m trying to find a way to be annoyed with it, but I’m coming up empty.” That’s what the always-pessimistic character April Ludgate said about the Grand Canyon on the hit show Parks and Recreation, and it’s a fair point. The views here will turn even the hardest of hearts into believers. Naturally, it’s first on our list, because where else could we start in The Grand Canyon State? You’ve seen the photos, you’ve heard of its grandeur – need we say more? If you haven’t been to the Grand Canyon yet, have you ever lived?
Petrified Forest National Park
On to the lesser-known national parks in the state. Though it garners far less international attention, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more unique geological location than Petrified Forest National Park. It’s named for the large collection of fossilized logs, which are believed to be over 200 million years old. But the other-worldly remains of trees aren’t the only thing to be discovered here – the landscape is just as fascinating.
The 230 square miles of national park roll on as far as the eye can see with colorful badlands. The Painted Desert looks exactly how it sounds and is a must-see within the park. You can also observe some ancient archeology at Puerco Pueblo, what was once a Puebloan village 600 years ago, or the Agate House constructed with petrified logs some 700-plus years ago in the Rainbow Forest. You’ll also want to make a stop at the Rainbow Forest Museum to learn about how and why these trees fossilized the way they did.
Saguaro National Park
Those iconic armed cacti you see decorating everything from throw pillows today planners these days are saguaro cacti, and this entire national park is devoted to them. Located in the Sonoran Desert near Tuscon, Saguaro National Park covers over 91,000 acres of land and is home to around 1.8 million saguaro cacti. These water-storing plants take between 50-100 years to sprout a single-arm, so when you see saguaros with multiple prominent arms, just know that plant is very old! There are 128 miles of trails to enjoy inside this desert park, so grab your hiking shoes and a camera and get exploring.
Monument Valley Tribal Park
For some truly iconic photos, head to Monument Valley. Technically these highly photographed rock formations span both Arizona and Utah. As they are located within a Navajo Nation Reservation on the border of the two states. But we’ll include them in our list for Arizona. The views of the Mitten Buttes have been featured in film and photography for years. Including frequent features in the work of famed director John Ford. Critic Keith Phipps once said of Monument Valley. “It’s 5 square miles have defined what decades of moviegoers think of when they imagine the American West”.
Vermillion Cliffs National Monument
This colorful wilderness is truly underrated when it comes to the park scene. You’ve undoubtedly seen The Wave rock formation captured in photos (maybe on a scenic screensaver), but you might not have known you’d need to travel to the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument north of the Grand Canyon to find it.
The Wave is a remarkable sight to see in the park’s Coyote Buttes in Paria Canyon, but it does require a tough-to-obtain permit to hike to it. There is plenty more to the park though, including the equally bizarre White Pocket. White Pocket doesn’t require permits but can be tough to get to, as it requires some off-roading through deep sand. Be sure your vehicle is suited for the drive, or join a tour of the area. The more challenging access to the sights here makes it a hidden gem free from the crowds you’ll likely encounter at the more popular destinations.
Phoenix Mountains Preserve
The greater Phoenix area may not come to mind as the first place to visit for park lovers. But it’s home to some of the better hikes in all of Arizona. The Phoenix Mountains Preserve encompass the two most popular climbs in Phoenix: Camelback Mountain and Piestewa Peak. The two peaks are several miles apart, but their towering presence dominates the Phoenix skyline. Camelback is the highest peak in the area. It offers an extremely challenging climb where you’ll have to use your hands at points. You can enter from the Echo Canyon Trail or the Cholla Trail. Piestewa Peak is also advanced but requires less hand-over-hand climbing. It’s more of a trail with switchbacks leading to a narrow, jagged peak on top. Both hikes provide stunning views of the Valley of the Sun below.
Best Parks in Arizona
That’s just the start of the list of all the incredible parks Arizona has to offer. Don’t rule out other stops like Chiricahua, Organ Pipe Cactus, or Walnut Canyon national monuments. While you can prepare all you want with lists of places to visit in State 48. The truth is you really can’t go wrong.
Does our list of the best parks in Arizona have you itching to visit the desert? There are plenty more lists where this came from! Head to the blog for more of our favorite RV destinations.