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There are an array of top national parks to visit in Arizona, but it’s also home to excellent state parks worth checking out as well. State parks are great because they often have lower admission fees, are pet-friendly, and are close to cities and towns you may already be visiting. And with a state that has as surprisingly diverse landscapes as Arizona, there’s always something new to explore and learn about. Here are some of the best state parks in Arizona to visit if you’re looking to hike, camp, and immerse yourself in nature.
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It doesn’t get much more stunning than the red rock formations of Sedona. Check out the 286-acre Red Rock State Park near Sedona for hiking and epic views of Cathedral Rock and other natural features. You’ll love the vividly colored rocks and the hundreds of acres to explore as you learn about geology, wildlife, and plants. Join a daily guided nature walk to learn more about the park or a bird walk every Wednesday and Saturday.
To experience the magic of the giant saguaro cacti up-close, look no further than Catalina State Park near Tucson. This park is in the Santa Catalina Mountains and has around 5,000 saguaros to hike among. There are easy nature trails here and also longer and more challenging trails for experienced hikers. Camping is available for RVs and tents to make a weekend trip out of this state park adventure. The park spans 5,500 acres of foothills, streams, and canyons and is home to over 150 species of birds. This is an easy day trip from the Tucson metropolitan area.
Lost Dutchman State Park is near Phoenix and is located in the Superstition Mountains. It’s home to a legend about an elusive gold mine that has never been found and lots of desert plants to learn about. Go mountain biking on the four-mile loop trail here and stay overnight at the campground. Come here on a day trip from Phoenix in the spring to see the wildflowers because it’s only about 40 miles east of the city. Popular trails here are the easy Native Plant Trail and the difficult Siphon Draw Trail that leads to the top of the Flatiron.
You can also learn a lot about history of the native people of Arizona in the state parks, especially at ones like Homolovi State Park. This park features excavations of the ruins sites, which once served as migration structures for the Hopi people. The most ruins can be found at Homolovi II, and there’s a great audio guide that you can play on your smartphone to learn about the site as you walk through it. Homolovi I is near the campground and has additional ruins to see. Overall, the park is a very peaceful place and a nice place to camp in your tent or RV for wide-open desert views and starry night skies. Also, the town of Winslow is nearby and a must-visit for any music fan who remembers the 1970s Eagles hit, “Take It Easy.”
One of the best natural bridges in the world is located right here in Arizona. You can walk along the paved trail to see the viewpoints and reach an observation deck. Trails here will also take you to a waterfall, cave, and area for swimming. Be prepared for some strenuous trails, and don’t forget to wear good hiking boots and bring plenty of water. The park is tucked away among tall pine trees and is one of the most unique places in the state to visit.
Another Sedona-area state park to add to your travel to-do list is Slide Rock State Park. This area features natural slick rock that has a very popular swimming area. Crowds tend to pile up in the summer, so visit on a weekday to have a little more space to yourself. The fall season is also a nice time to visit to beat the crowds but still have it warm enough to take a dip in the water.
When the Arizona weather heats up, there’s no better place to go than underground. Kartchner Caverns State Park features an underground cave system that was discovered on the land of the Kartchner family in the 1970s. There are some impressive cave formations to see and developed trails that lead into the Rotunda/Throne Room and other areas with stalactites and columns. Book a guided cave tour with advance reservations so you don’t miss out on seeing the caves.
We also love Dead Horse Ranch State Park near the town of Cottonwood because of the hiking, fishing, biking, and camping opportunities it offers. You can canoe down the Verde River, view wildlife, hike along the well-maintained trails, and camp at the campground or in a cabin. Bird lovers enjoy spending time at this park because of its unique ecosystem.
Jerome State Park is another great state park to learn about local Arizona history because this is the site of a former mining town. The park is centered around the Douglas Mansion, which has been a local landmark since 1916. This mansion is now a museum that is dedicated to the history of the area and the Douglas family who lived here. Inside, you can see a 3-D model of the town and underground mines, and outside, you can enjoy the picnic area with views of the Verde Valley.