The Best National Parks in Arizona

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Last Updated on: 24th September 2021, 02:10 pm

A guide to Arizona’s national parks!

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National Parks in Arizona

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Located close to the eastern edge of Arizona, this spectacular landscape is home to the Novajo tribe. This scenic monument is rich with American history and filled with activities and sights to explore. The rocks over the years have been chiseled by land uplifts and stream cutting, the rich soil and natural water sources make this monument a beautiful location and why it has been inhabited by communities for years. There are countless activities to keep you busy during your visit including two rim drives, both with a 64km trip to and fro the visitor center. Photographers will find a lot of inspiration here with the beautiful backdrop of the canyon. Also present here is the “Spider Rock”, a dual sandstone spire that towers 244m above the canyon floor level.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

At this national monument, find a breath-taking landscape including the Ancient Sonoran Desert, along with other preserved monuments like the “Casa Grande” also known and the “Great House”. This location offers visitors and tourists a historic experience dating back to 1350 when this structure is said to have its origins. Although abandoned a hundred years after its origin, this beautiful monument was later restored and preserved by a group of philanthropists, politicians, adventurers, and anthropologists and in 1892 became America’s premier archaeological reserve, it was later in 1918 declared a National Monument.

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With the help of a tour guide, visitors today can explore this historically captivating location, there is also an interpretive center where any questions can be answered, as well as mysteries yet to be uncovered.

Chiricahua National Monument

Located approximately 90 miles away from Tucson, Arizona, this monument is a national park with strikingly tall rock formations within 12,000 acres of landscape. The rocks, some of which are hundreds of feet tall are a stand out in the park’s landscape, it is no wonder why it is called the “Land of standing up rocks”.  Also present are caves, lava flows, and mountains.

This monument has an interesting history. A volcanic eruption about 27 million years ago at Turkey Creek released a large amount of ash in the air which eventually settled onto the earth, hardening into volcanic rock, over time, the rocks morphed into the wonder that it is today.

Activities here include hiking on a 17-mile trail, a visit to a Faraway Ranch which was built in 1886, and an 8-mile scenic drive around the location.

Coronado National Memorial

The Coronado National Memorial has a history dating back to 1540, commemorating the expedition into southwestern America. It is located along the US-Mexico border and serves as a historic reminder of the ties between the two nations.

Enjoy a rare experience exploring Coronado Cave, an undeveloped and open cave in the southern part of Arizona. The cave became a part of the Coronado National Memorial in 1978 and has been a favorite among visitors. To get to the cave, visitors have to hike to the entrance of the cave, with an elevation of 500ft, which is sure to add to the amazing experience. Other popular activities include an 8-mile hike, of which during spring, a park ranger is available for guided hikes and tours of the grounds. Birding is also popular; it is known to attract tourists all year round.

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Fort Bowie National Historic Site

This historic site is the most isolated National Park System unit in all of Arizona, its access route is a single dirt road followed by a 1.5mile hike. The site receives very few visitors due to its condition. Located at the site are the preserved remains of a fort containing up to 40 buildings that were functional in the late 1800s, and served as an important settlement base during the Apache Wars. The fort is situated in a largely undeveloped landscape with no nearby settlements, and in a way is representative of what the grounds looked like during its prime.

The path leading to Fort Bowie is home to a number of other historic ruins such as the stagecoach station, as well as a cemetery.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

With picture-perfect scenes, and an exceptional landscape and geology, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area promises an unforgettable experience. Located in this area is Lake Powell, which is the second-largest manmade lake in America, the lake also serves as a leading boating destination. Glen Canyon was established in October 1972 and has since remained a prime tourist attraction in Arizona.

Activities to enjoy within Glen Canyon are numerous, some of which include swimming in the lake, fishing, bird watching, hiking, boating, camping, and four-wheel drive trips.  Whether you are going solo or with a guide, there are options for everyone. One of the best times to see Glen Canyon is in the fall when the weather is mild and enjoyable.

Grand Canyon National Park

Established in 1919, The Grand Canyon national park is one of the oldest national parks in American history and is where you will find one of the seven wonders of the world, the famously magnificent Grand Canyon. Spanning 277 miles from one end to another, as you will imagine, visitors come to see this attraction in their numbers all year round. This one-of-a-kind colorful geological wonder is a mile-deep gorge formed from years of erosion.

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The Grand Canyon is one of those places every human needs to experience at least once in their lifetime. If the sights alone are not enough to take in, there are countless activities to keep your inner adventurer happy including hiking on one of the three main rims, helicopter rides to catch a breath-taking aerial view of the canyon, horse riding, and many others.

Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument

Established in January 2000, this colorful monument which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the National Park Service (NPS) is situated in Arizona Strip’s northwest corner, and is a remote landscape with beautiful mountains, buttes, gorgeous canyons and a host of other attractions. The Grand Canyon–Parashant National Monument covers over 1 million acres of landscape. Although considered to be an isolated park, the landscape provides solitude to visitors. Scenic four-wheel-drive travels, hiking, horseback riding, wildlife and plant viewing, birdwatching, hunting, a visit to archeological and historic sites, and geologic sightseeing are all activities visitors can also find within this location.

Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site

The Hubbell Trading Post is the oldest historic trading post in southwestern America. Located in Ganado, Arizona, it was established in the year 1878 and is managed by Western National Parks Association. The post is known as a confluence between the Navajo tribe and the settlers that came to trade there.

Hubbell remains significant today because it holds such a rich history of culture and tradition and is still a functional trading post today. Visitors can find and purchase Navajo rugs, as well as native American arts and crafts, other activities to engage in include a visit to one of the many exhibitions, such as the trade history of the post, the Hubbell family, Novajo tradition and culture, among others.

Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail

The Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail commemorates the route used by de Anza, the Spanish military commander, and the colonists traveling from Mexico into Alta California. The trail is 1200miles long and was declared a National Historic Trail in 1990 by Congress.

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Today, visitors can enjoy exploring the trail, with views of different deserts and mountains, as well as learning about the rich Spanish and American Indian history the trail holds. The trail has 4 areas to enjoy the scenic views along the way including the Lobos Valley Overlook, Pacific Overlook, Golden Gate Overlook, and Immigrant Point Overlook.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Established in 1936, this National Recreational Area is the largest manmade lake and is located on the Colorado River, approximately 25 miles from the Las Vegas Strip. Three deserts namely, the Mojave, the Great Basin, and the Sonoran Deserts all meet at Lake Mead, making this a location with a diverse landscape. Other natural attractions here include mountains, canyons, as well as diverse plants and wildlife that are found nowhere else in the world. Known to be a favorite among visitors, this park attracts over 7 million guests yearly and is filled with activities, some of which include hiking, fishing, sunbathing, swimming, boating, and lots more.

Montezuma Castle National Monument

This monument preserves a castle tucked in the Arizona desert, specifically located in Camp Verde, Arizona. Built around approximately 1100 and 1425 by the Sinagua tribe, a culture closely related to the Hohokam tribe of southwestern America. This site promises visitors a bit of a time travel experience as you witness the remains of the living conditions of earlier times.

Today, about three hundred and fifty thousand visitors troop into this national monument for a special experience. Self-guided and ranger-led tours are available within the grounds. Other attractions include a visit to the museum and a walk past the groups of beautiful tall trees adding to the amazing ambiance of the castle.

Navajo National Monument

This 800-year-old national monument is a cultural heritage to the Navajo tribe and even though it was built in March 1909, it has been quite well preserved and till today remains a national pride.

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This monument is home to three massive pueblos with origins from the 13th Century C.E. namely Betatakin, Keet Seel, and Inscription House. Today, the grounds are still present with the Novajo tribe.

Visitors can enjoy this monument with the two guided tours provided, however, they are quite rigorous as they cover a long distance and could take from about 4 hours to 2 days to complete. Nevertheless, if you do decide to make a trip, the experience is very much worth the hassle.

Old Spanish National Historic Trail

Spanning 2,700 miles across six southern American states including Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, California, and Arizona, this trail holds a strong and interesting history of functioning as a key trade route. Back in the early 1800s, New Mexicans traded in serapes, as well as other materials for mules and horses along this extreme trail which passes through mountains, canyons, and deserts. Although most of the trail today has been significantly modified, tourists and guests can still embrace the rich history and culture this trail holds. The Palace of the Governors and The Santa Fe Plaza are both historic landmarks that have been preserved in the area and are available to visitors.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

An American monument and UNESCO biosphere situated in southern Arizona and sharing a border with Mexico. This monument and park was established in 1937 and is the only place in all of America that the organ pipe cactus, as well as the Senita, grow. You will also find a wide range of other plants and animals here.

The Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is abundant with history and culture and offers many activities for its visitors including scenic driving down a lonely road, hiking, camping, marveling at the diverse species in the park as well as the beautiful Sonoran Desert landscape.

Petrified Forest National Park

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Located in north-eastern Arizona is the Petrified Forest National Park which was established in 1962. This beautiful forest is coated with very colorful Petrified Wood, and houses one of the largest concentrations of the species in the world. The park’s desert area contains plant and animal fossils, and archaeological sites. You will also find here, the Rainbow Forest Museum which is a really good start to your Petrified Forest National Park adventure where you can learn all about Petrified Wood. At this national park, you can also go hiking on the rocky cliffs or pay a visit to the recently opened Red Basin or even the Painted Desert Inn National Historic Landmark near the north entrance.

Pipe Spring National Monument

This historic monument is a desert oasis and has served as a vital source of hydration for American Indians and Mormon ranchers. It also sustains the plants and animals within the area. You can also find here a museum where you can learn all about the Ancestral Puebloans and Kaibab Paiute Indians who lived there for a thousand years. Historic forts, cabins, gardens, an orchard, and the Ridge trail are all waiting to be explored at the Pipe Spring National Monument. Another favorite activity for visitors is a 25-minute ranger lead tour of the Winsor Castle, a ranch that was built and served as the headquarters for protecting the area from raids.

Saguaro National Park

The Saguaro National Park was in 1933, first established as Saguaro National Monument before it became what it is today in 1994. It serves as the ancestral home of the Tohono O’odham tribe, who till date visit the park every year during summer time to pick saguaro fruit. The National Park also preserves a large saguaro cactus forest, the species which can grow up to 50 feet tall can also live for as long as 200 years, they are often called the kings of the Sonoran Desert for this reason. Visit the park today to see museum exhibitions, informative displays, or you can shop at the bookstore. Other activities include hiking, and scenic drives all of which have their starting point at the visitors center.

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Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

A thousand years ago, the Sunset Crater Volcano erupted and changed the entire surrounding landscape, affecting the lives of many. Located north of Flagstaff in Arizona, today, the solidified lava flow from the eruption serves as a biking and hiking attraction to visitors and is called the Bonito lava flow. This Park became a national monument in 1930, and today visitors can drive, bike, or walk around the grounds and catch a view of the sites. With guided tours, visitors can enjoy a more in-depth history and nature of the monument, the park is always filled with events and programs all year round.

Tonto National Monument

Located in the Superstition Mountains in Gila County of Arizona, this monument was established in 1907. Preserved here are two American Indian cliff dwellings which are reminiscent of the culture and tradition of the tribe. The Upper and Lower Cliff Dwellings have amazing views of the nearby rugged landscape of the Sonoran Desert. One thing to note is that the Upper Cliff Dwellings are only accessible via guided tours, and these tours are available 3 days a week in the months of November through to April. However, The Lower Cliff Dwellings are easier to access and do not require a guided tour.

Tumacacori National Historical Park

Time travel back to the 19th century in the Tumacacori National Historical Park, a cultural mix of the O’odham, Yaqui, and Apache tribes. It was here where these tribes met with Europeans. This historic park is located in the upper Santa Cruz River Valley in Santa Cruz County, Arizona. The Park is a total of 360 acres of landscape and is separated into three units protecting the Spanish mission community ruins. Two of the three Spanish mission communities are commissioned National Historic Landmark sites. Starting from the visitor center where visitors can find a 14-minute video with information about the park. Guided tours are available for guests, hiking is also a popular activity within this historic park.

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Tuzigoot National Monument

The Tuzigoot National Monument located in Verde Valley is a village that was built around A.D. 1000 by people of the Sinagua tribe, who were mostly artists and farmers. The buildings consisted of over 100 rooms with structures of up to 3 stories, currently, the site is about 42 acres. The monument is rich in history, and visitors can learn all about the Sinagua tribe at the designated museum. Self-guided tours are also available to visitors on trails less than a mile long, showcasing the beautifully constructed historic grounds, as well as views of the Verde River and Tavasci Marsh.

Walnut Canyon National Monument

Established in 1915 and located about 10 miles southeast of downtown Flagstaff, Arizona is The Walnut Canyon National Monument, which is the old site of the Sinagua people. This monument is very rich in culture and is known to attract many visitors during the year. The area is teeming with a vibrant ecosystem, wildlife, and geology. Visitors can hike to the canyon and witness where communities called home hundreds of years ago. Guests can visit the observatory to learn all about the Sinagua tribe and the dwellings, people also hike on the well-carved trails, enjoying and capturing the scenic landscape.

Wupatki National Monument

Established in 1924, this monument is located in north-central Arizona, near Flagstaff. Wupatki is one of the largest Pueblos of the Colorado Plateau and holds historic value as it served as the dwellings for about 100 people during the time Wupatki was a cultural center. The grounds are filled with cultural archaeological sites of Native American tribes. The monument has over 800 pre-Columbian red sandstone pueblos, together with an oval amphitheater, as well as a circular ball court. Today, visitors can see the remains of the buildings and enjoy a very cultural experience. The Park is currently being managed by the National Park Service.

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