It is a known fact that Arizona is home to some beautiful areas of nature – it has some of the best national parks and hiking trails in the US. Arizona is famous for its desert scenery and iconic red rocks, especially in its national parks. But instead of just focusing on the significant national ones and swaying towards the most popular attractions, don’t miss out on Arizona’s state parks. The government protects and manages these stunning, albeit much smaller, regions as areas of extreme natural beauty or historical significance. While they often get substantially less foot traffic from tourists, these are some of the prettiest ones in Arizona.
Arizona state parks have many recreational opportunities, whether you head horseback riding through red rocks or into the Sonoran Desert for hiking trails. Small but mighty state parks are the way to go if you want to immerse yourself in Arizona’s natural beauty.
Best Arizona State Parks
In this guide, we will introduce you to the best Arizona state parks you can squeeze into an itinerary. You could be biking through forests, hiring a boat to go boating with the family on a picturesque lake, or walking up mountains just outside Tucson. And that’s not to mention the plethora of historical sites, including Jerome State Historic Park with its fascinating mining museum. You’ll have an amazing time visiting these Arizona state parks, so sit tight and get ready for some serious inspiration.
1. Kartchner Caverns State Park
If you want a more unique park experience, Kartchner Caverns State Park is the one. Visitors take guided tours through a massive cave complex, and the park has the longest soda straw stalactite formation in the world – some serious bragging rights. There are also the tallest columns in Arizona to see. Kartchner Caverns State Park is a stunning park to add to your list. It is situated in south Arizona, just a short drive from Benson outside of Tucson. It is a brilliant family site but equally awe-inspiring for adults.
It is more than just underground attractions to see in Kartchner Caverns State Park too. There are above-ground trails to enjoy, too. However, for us, the cave element is what really sells this park. If you are brave, you can even book a night-time Kartchner Caverns bat experience.
2. Oracle State Park
Oracle State Park is the state park to choose if you want to explore forest trails by walking or biking. Many of the Arizona state parks involve desert terrain or oasis-style lake scenery, so this park is unique; the main thing that caught our eye. The 5,000 acres are fantastic for hiking trails, and tourists have excitingly high chances of spotting whitetail deer. Similarly, it is an exhilarating park for cycling, with shady tracks that create a welcome break from the scorching Arizona heat on more exposed trails. There’s also the Kannally Ranch House and its preserved family collection artwork, where visitors can experience a more historical element of Oracle State Park.
Despite these amazing things about this park, the major winning characteristic is its forest trails. As we said, these trails are a hot commodity, so make the most of these leafy, shaded biking and hiking trails. Oracle State Park is less than an hour from Tucson’s city center, making it an accessible addition to your itinerary.
3. Catalina State Park
Catalina State Park is a gorgeous top contender amongst the best Arizona state parks. It is most famed for its almost 5,000 saguaros – iconic cacti associated with the Sonoran Desert. Catalina State Park spreads over 5,500 beautiful acres and is connected by a network of scenic trails, with campgrounds should you want to stay overnight and wildlife-watching opportunities galore. You can even go horseback riding or cycling if it takes your fancy. Catalina State Park is just a 20-minute drive from Tucson and sits on the slopes of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Nothing quite hits like views of saguaros and the Santa Catalina Mountains; you’ll see why Catalina State Park made our list just from a few pictures.
4. Slide Rock State Park
Slide Rock State Park is the best family park to explore thanks to its natural waterslide, aka ‘Slide Rock’ or the most loved rock in Arizona. Out of all the Arizona state parks, Slide Rock is one of the most blessed with fun attractions, especially for swimming. A popular family day out consists of hiking to Slide Rock and spending half a day picnicking and slipping down the rock into the plunge pool below. It is a brilliant place for light-hearted fun – how could we miss a reserve with a natural waterslide out of this guide?
Of course, there are animals to spot, too, and trout further up the river. However, the waterslide and the potential of Slide Rock State Park as a top camping and family site won us over. It is also just a 15-minute drive from Sedona to get here, making it an accessible day out.
5. Fort Verde State Historic Park
Fort Verde State Historic Park is different from your classic walking or cycling type of reserve. Instead, it offers history and a great experience, whisking you back to the early 19th century with a fort that dates back to the Apache Wars era. Think of Fort Verde as an immersion in the 19th century old west. It has 10 acres of preserved buildings and exhibits and is located in Camp Verde. If you get lucky, you can even catch re-enactments. It is essentially an open-air museum with state park status.
Fort Verde State Historic Park is just 40 minutes from Sedona and is well combined with a visit to Montezuma Castle National Monument – an 8-minute drive away.
6. Red Rock State Park
Red Rock State Park is a leading park in Arizona for experiencing the aestheticism of red scenery. Nature doesn’t get much better than at Red Rock State Park, and while the southern US is world famous for its red rock formations, Red Rock State Park is extra special. Situated just outside Sedona, it is easily accessible from one of the world the most popular tourist areas, taking just 15 minutes by car. You can check out local wildlife – including animals and plants – and hike the numerous trails to snap photos of the iconic red surrounds.
This iconic destination made our list easily, and it is one of the most famous Arizona reserves to experience. Enjoy varied walking routes and abundant nature, all just 15 minutes away from central Sedona in northern Arizona.
7. Dead Horse Ranch State Park
Dead Horse Ranch State Park is quite morbidly named after the soon-to-be-owners viewing multiple ranches who arrived at the park’s original ranch to find a dead horse in the field. Don’t let that put you off, though, because now the park is full of life and is most popular for its river activities and camping. Dead Horse Ranch State Park is sliced in half by the beautiful Verde River, which is brilliant for fishing and has a hiking trail or two to enjoy. This reserve is where to go to experience a slower pace of life. You can also go riding on horses if you fancy something a bit different.
A 423-acre reserve, this park is a generous area of protected natural beauty. It is just a 10-minute drive or 40-minute walk out of Cottonwood, situated near Sedona above Phoenix. If you are staying in the Sedona area, it is within easy driving distance, and it’s well-combined with other things to do in Sedona.
8. Jerome State Historic Park
Jerome State Historic Park is one of the most historical reserves and addresses Arizona’s once-thriving mining industry. The reserve is entirely centered around Douglas Mansion, which was built in 1916 by a family in the mining industry and now runs as a museum. Tourists stop by Jerome Park to see it and enjoy the numerous trails around the park. It is a brilliant place to learn about and educate yourself on the past stories of Arizona’s mining.
The reserve is just a 25-minute walk outside of the town of Jerome and is situated in that popular Sedona area – sandwiched between the Utah border and Phoenix. It is on the tourist trail already and a super easy attraction to squeeze into a popular getaway.
9. Tonto Natural Bridge State Park
Tonto Natural Bridge State Park has the longest natural travertine bridge in the world; needless to say, it attracts a fair few tourists. It is one of the most impressive reserves for hiking trails and wildlife, and if you want a ‘wow’ factor from a natural attraction, Tonto Natural Bridge gets definite brownie points. The bridge was found in the 1800s, but nobody knows exactly how old this natural structure is. It has a lot of mysterious geological history; moreover, it is lovely to look at. You can hike to and actually under the bridge, and there are plenty of other walking routes to enjoy as well.
To reach Tonto Natural Bridge, it is a 2-hour drive from Phoenix or a 1.5-hour drive from Sedona. It is located in a somewhat isolated region, surrounded by small towns and minor attractions, so you’ll need to be happy driving long distances.
10. Colorado River State Historic Park
The Colorado River State Historic Park is another of the Arizona state parks, that are more museums than traditional parks. You will find little in the way of trails and hiking here. Still, this little protected area in southwest Arizona is home to restored buildings that tell the story of its settlement past. At Colorado River Park, you can learn all about the importance of the river, see a restored army supply depot, and see the Yuma Quartermaster Depot.
The reserve is located just outside of the city of Yuma – just minutes away by car or around an hour’s walk, depending on where in Yuma you stay. It is located as far west as possible, along the California border. Keep it in mind if you plan road-tripping west or onward to California.
11. Patagonia Lake State Park
Patagonia Lake State Park is – as you may have guessed – entirely situated around a lake. You can expect classic lake activities and scenery across the 265-acre reserve. You can go boating if you have a boat or alternatively rent kayaks or SUPs. Patagonia Lake State Park is an ideal family-friendly site, especially if you want that wholesome ‘go fishing by the lake’ experience with your children. This park is also ideal for an overnight getaway with waterfront camping areas, stunning cabins overlooking the lake, and boating activities. If the campgrounds caught your eye, note that you can camp almost all year round, too, thanks to Arizona’s mild weather. Patagonia Lake State Park is a beautiful site to visit in the fall and winter, not just spring and summer.
This reserve is just an hour and 20 minutes from Tucson’s city center by car. It is located in southern Arizona, near the Mexican border, so it is easiest to reach for those already in the south.
12. Picacho Peak State Park
Picacho Peak State Park is one of our favorite contenders for Arizona’s state parks. In short, it has everything from historical battlefield sites to beautiful stargazing and a peak hike for the ultimate ‘Arizona mountains experience’. Oh, and it is approximately just an hour’s drive from Phoenix or Tucson’s city center. Picacho Peak State Park is a beautiful place to hike, stargaze, and learn about the state’s role in the Civil War. Honestly, what more could you ask for from a reserve?
The best way to experience Picacho Peak Park is on foot. You can enjoy the summit trek and even extend your experience by booking a permit to camp. The scenery is stunning, with cacti and mountain ridges with sweeping panoramas. And that’s not to mention the stargazing opportunities at night. The lack of light pollution makes it a dream. Picacho Peak State Park is a brilliant reserve for anyone wanting a raw and authentic experience in Arizona’s natural environments.
13. Lost Dutchman State Park
It makes sense that when looking for Arizona parks, you want to experience the desert that the state is so famous for – and if that’s the case, Lost Dutchman State Park is ideal. This reserve perfectly introduces Arizona’s desert regions, with tons of classic plants and animals like Sonoran Desert birds. The park actually gets its name from a legendary lost gold mine and is set in the beautiful Superstition Mountains. You can enjoy paths like Native Plant Trail and Siphon Draw Trail or, alternatively, cycling on the newly added 4-mile bike track. Lost Dutchman State Park is a legendary place to visit, with many brilliant opportunities to enjoy the outdoors and impressive trails.
Reaching Lost Dutchman State Park is less than an hour’s drive from Phoenix. The reserve is located in the shadow of Tonto National Forest and just in Phoenix’s outskirts. It is a surprisingly accessible park and one of Arizona’s most convenient desert experiences. If you are staying in Phoenix, Lost Dutchman State Park is a great reason to rent a car. By renting a car, you’ll have access to beautiful reserves like Lost Dutchman, and you can save money on otherwise expensive guided tours.
Arizona State Parks: FAQs
Mountains or lake, southwest or northern, there’s so much variety in this state and its beautiful reserves that you’ll always have outdoor entertainment. With so many beautiful reserves in southwest Arizona, it’s easy to see why so many people like to plan Arizona road trips.
However, before you rush off on your Arizona park mission, check out these common FAQs. Who knows, maybe these will hold the answers to the burning questions lingering in your mind.
How many state parks does AZ have?
As of 2023, Visit Arizona reported that Arizona has 34 state parks.
What is the famous park in Arizona?
Red Rock is a 286-acre park famous for its bright red rocks and serene hiking trails. Grand Canyon National Park is the most famous of the national parks in Arizona.
What is the main national park in Arizona?
Grand Canyon National Park is the leading national park in Arizona and attracts millions of tourists a year – come prepared to explore and outsmart crowds with shoulder season visits and early morning starts.
Is there a yearly pass for Arizona State Parks?
Yes, there is an Annual Pass that you can purchase for Arizona’s parks. You can just head to the official State Parks website for more information. As of 2023-2024, prices range from $75-200.
Whether you choose to explore the Sonoran Desert or the mountains, these Arizona parks promise a serene experience in natural environments. It is no wonder that Arizona is world-famous for hiking trails and natural scenery. With these reserves, you’ll see how there are many more top places to visit in Arizona outside of just the – albeit mesmerizing – Grand Canyon’s grandeur. Visiting parks is one of the best things to do in Arizona, so pick a few from this guide and guarantee yourself memories you’ll replay for the rest of your life. Arizona is a paradise if you love hiking and history.