Arizona is best known for the Grand Canyon National Park, but did you know there are over 20 other National Parks, Monuments and Sites in the state? As the National Park Service celebrates it’s 100th birthday this year, Arizona is the perfect destination to check a whole bunch of parks off your list with one well-planned road trip. Here’s a brief quick-start guide to visiting the best of Arizona’s National Parks, by region.
Arizona Beyond the Grand Canyon
The National Park Service celebrates its 100th birthday this year, so it’s a great year to check a few off your list. Arizona is one state where you can knock off 22 national parks, monuments and recreation areas all in one visit if you are so determined. Arizona’s nickname is “The Grand Canyon State”, but that is just one of many scenic National Parks in Arizona. There are enough to make for a very worthwhile road trip, whether you have a long weekend or a whole month. Here is a brief summary and highlights of Arizona’s parks and monuments, so you can plan your own national park adventure road trip in Arizona.
The Grand Canyon, Flagstaff and Vicinity
Flagstaff is a great base from which to explore the parks of Northern Arizona. Once you’ve checked the Grand Canyon off your list, you’ll be ready to follow those other brown signs you’ve seen on the road to/from the Grand Canyon.
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, Wupatki National Monument and Walnut Creek National Monument are easily visited all in a day. Sunset Crater is the volcanic landscape left by an eruption between 1040 and 1100. The eruption affected the inhabitants of the land, whose remains of pueblos and villages may be seen at Wupatki. There are several ruined pueblos in the Wupatki National Monument, the largest being Wupatki Pueblo. Nearby Walnut Canyon was home to the Singua people more than 800 years ago, and here you can explore the cliff dwelling ruins on an interpretive loop trail.
Another interesting cliff dwelling ruin lies south of Flagstaff, at Montezuma Castle National Monument. One of the best presevered cliff dwellings, it is worth a stop to marvel at if time and itinerary permit.
Petrified Forest National Park, Route 66 and vicinity
The present day I-40 follows the historic Route 66 through Arizona. Petrified Forest National Park, to the east, is the land that time forgot, with ancient layers of sediment forming the back drop for “trees turned to stone.” Allowing a whole day is suggested. Check out the Painted Desert Inn National Historic Landmark, and make your way south. Plan to do some hiking and exploring around the other-worldly Blue Mesa, the Crystal Forest, and the Giant Logs.
Also in the northeast part of the state, if time allows, Canyon de Chelly National Monument dazzles with red-rock canyons and spires. The Navajo people still inhabit this land, and offer guided tours in the canyons.
Saguaro National Park and Vicinity
The southern part of Arizona also hosts some National Park and Monument treasures, the best-known of these is Saguaro National Park near Tucson. The park is split in two sections, to the east and west of the city, and protect the country’s largest cacti, the Saguaro. There are plenty of activities to enjoy, such as hiking, back country camping, and even bicycling.
In the vicinity are two different options depending upon if you prefer more nature, or more culture. The Casa Grande Ruins offers an exploration of the ruins of the ancient Sonoran Desert people, with an extensive system of irrigation canals. Alternatively, Chiricahua National Monument boasts a scenic drive of beautiful rock formations, and hiking trails.
At the very bottom south of the state, on the border with Mexico, lies another park designed to preserve and protect a different species of cacti, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. This park is designated an International Biosphere Reserve, and is an incredible landscape offering gorgeous scenic drives through desert landscape.
When to Go?
The National Parks are fee-free from April 16 through 24, during National Park Week. Also, this summer, the National Park Service celebrates in 100th birthday with fee-free days August 25 through 28. While those are the free days, they will also likely be the most crowded, so plan accordingly. Arizona offers a great opportunity to visit several in just a few days, so best start planning that National Park road trip!