Best known for its hot and desert climate, world-class spas, magical landscapes, diverse ecosystems, and incredible wildlife, Arizona is a hidden gem. Located in the southwestern part of the United States, Arizona is an ideal place for a getaway any time of the year.
Visiting Arizona’s famous national parks is one of the best ways to explore its enchanting beauty, from the deepest valleys to the highest cliff dwellings and everything in between. Be it by hiking, horse riding, mountain biking, or rock climbing; the choice is yours.
Whether you’re looking to take a sunrise or sunset tour of the South Rim in Grand Canyon National Park or hike the trails in Walnut Canyon, there’s a national park adventure for everyone.
Let’s find out!
1. Saguaro National Park
|Saguaro National Park|
|Animal to See||Gila Monster|
|Attraction to See||Old Tucson|
Saguaro National Park is named after the largest saguaro cactus in the park, and it is truly a beautiful place to visit during all seasons. Visit the park to see some of the most iconic southwestern landscapes and the breathtaking views of the cactus forest.
The most popular area to visit is the Tucson Mountain District. Watching sunsets from Tucson is one of the most incredible things to do in Saguaro. The giant saguaros in the Mountain District are particularly scenic, backed up by the magnificent mountain scenery in the backdrop.
Take a mild hike to the eastern parts of the park to see Gila monsters, collared peccaries, and javelinas in the washes. Animals hide during the daytime when temperatures are a bit higher. So, you should look for them early in the mornings and late in the evenings.
2. Grand Canyon National Park
|Grand Canyon National Park|
|Animal to See||Mountain Lion|
|Attraction to See||Havasu Falls|
Grand Canyon National Park protects some of the largest canyons in the world. The Grand Canyon is one of the perfect destinations in the United States and is also a critical biosphere in Arizona. It has unique red rock formations and vast landscapes that reveal millions of years of geological history.
There is a vast range of activities to explore in the park, such as biking, camping, picnicking, or taking a scenic drive. If you want to wake up to an awe-inspiring view of the desert ecosystem, you can spend the night at Yavapai Lodge, located on the South Rim.
Read about how the Grand Canyon was formed.
3. Petrified Forest National Park
|Petrified Forest National Park|
|Animal to See||Mule Deer|
|Attraction to See||Puerco Pueblo|
The Petrified National Forest, located in northeastern Arizona, is densely packed with petrified wood, Newspaper Rock petroglyphs, and the multi-hued badlands of the Chinle Formation. Besides the ruins of Puerco Pueblo, there are also archaeological sites and old buildings in the park.
Hike the Blue Forest Trail or the Blue Mesa Trail to see many wildlife species. The Petrified Forest is home to black-tailed jackrabbits, badgers, mule deer, skunks, bobcats, coyotes, ringtails, and desert cottontails.
You may join a ranger for a guided tour of some archeological sites. Don’t miss out on geocaching. Petrified Forest is among the few national parks that still play this worldwide game.
4. Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
|Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument|
|Animal to See||American Pronghorn|
|Attraction to See||Arizona Snowbowl|
Established in 1930, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument is an amazing place to visit. Sunset Crater last erupted around 1085 A.D., which lasted for many weeks and months. Since then, no eruption has been reported, except for some steam rising from the crater in 2015.
Hiking is the best way to explore the park. The adventurous hiker will love wandering off trails highlighting cinder fields, natural environments, and undulating landscapes. You can climb to the top of Lenox Crater Volcano or walk to the Bonito Lava Flow to get a breathtaking view of the hardened lava flow.
Keep an eye out for American pronghorn, coyotes, bobcats, and herds of elk at Sunset Crater early in the mornings and late in the evenings. Mountain lions and bears are also within the monument, though a bit elusive.
5. Meteor Crater National Monument
|Meteor Crater National Monument|
|Animal to See||Chipmunks|
|Attraction to See||The Meteor Crater|
Meteor Crater National Monument was designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1967. It’s not federally protected as a national monument since the crater is privately owned. There is something to interest everyone here, especially if you’re into astronomy or geology.
Join a ranger or a scientist to guide you along the rims. You may also choose to view the meteor crater from some of the air-conditioned observation areas within the monument. Meteor Crater offers an outdoor pet ramada for anyone with pets.
Catch a glimpse of chipmunks foraging in the grasses near the Meteor Crater. However, they are not the main center of attraction in the monument.
6. Montezuma Castle National Monument
|Montezuma Castle National Monument|
|Animal to See||Elk|
|Attraction to See||Montezuma Well|
Witness the incredible legacy of the Sinagua people who struggled for survival in the Verde Valley at Montezuma Castle National Monument. Hike through the monument, stopping at some important overlooks to see sycamore groves beneath towering limestone cliffs.
Visit the Montezuma Well, where water enters from two underground springs. Swimming in the well may not be a good idea since its water is packed with creepy crawlers like water scorpions and leeches.
Approximately 50 species of animals live in the monument. Elks, mule deer, ground squirrels, and cottontails are some of the animals that can be easily spotted at Montezuma. Mountain lions also inhabit the monument but sighting them can be a bit difficult.
7. Canyon de Chelly National Monument
|Canyon de Chelly National Monument|
|Animal to See||Black Bear|
|Attraction to See||Spider Rock|
Dotted with several prehistoric rock formations, Canyon de Chelly National Monument is a beauty to behold. It may not be as famous as the Grand Canyon, but it’s full of the stunning scenery of towering sandstone cliffs and Spider Rock spires.
Canyon de Chelly is home to diverse animals, including mountain lions, black bears, jackrabbits, cottontails, badgers, gophers, and coyotes. These animals can be spotted on the cliff faces of canyons at dawn and dusk.
Spend your night at Thunderbird Lodge for a fantastic night experience of the canyons. The hotel also serves some of the best dishes, such as continental cuisine and other Native American dishes.
8. Wupatki National Monument
|Wupatki National Monument|
|Animal to See||Coyote|
|Attraction to See||Wukoki Pueblo|
Wupatki National Monument is among the best places to visit, especially if you have never seen Mesa Verde and the pueblos. It’s a perfect destination for history buffs with a special interest in Native American archaeological sites.
Take a hike along Wupatki’s loop trails to see some unique landscapes and incredible wildlife. Wupatki is home to mule deer, pronghorns, coyotes, and numerous species of reptiles and birds.
Enjoy a scenic drive to Wukoki Pueblo and at the Sunset Crater for amazing views of the monument. Explore the old ancestral Puebloan site with a three-story tower at Wukoki Pueblo.
9. Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park
|Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park|
|Animal to See||Desert Spiny Lizard|
|Attraction to See||Monument Valley|
Framed by sandstone masterpieces, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is one of the best places that offers a magical escape from the hectic city life. It’s home to the famous Totem Pole, Mitten Buttes, Yei-bi-chai, and the great Monument Valley, from which the park’s name was derived.
Drive or hike the trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway, which offers world-class scenery of the surrounding dunes and rugged rocky areas. You are not allowed to hike or drive off the posted track.
You may see various animals, such as the desert spiny lizard, loggerhead shrike, and the western whiptail while on your way to or from the Monument Valley. You will also pass by incredible attractions, like Goosenecks State Park and Valley of the Gods.
10. Walnut Canyon National Monument
|Walnut Canyon National Monument|
|Animal to See||Wild Turkey|
|Attraction to See||Cliff Dwellings of the Sinagua|
Visit Walnut Canyon National Monument to witness the incredibly diverse ecosystem. Located southeast of Arizona, Walnut Canyon offers incredible views of rocks and ancient cliff dwellings with carved limestone walls.
Hike the paved trails to see some of the cliff dwellings built into the alcoves of the steep canyon walls. Walk along the Rim Trail for amazing views of the canyons and the surrounding green vegetation.
The south side of the canyon, together with the steep terrains, provides habitat to coyotes, wild turkeys, rock squirrels, mountain lions, and numerous lizards. Spend some ample time in the forest on the rim to see pronghorn antelopes, rabbits, and herds of elk.