Many people think of the Arizona landscape as nothing more than a barren desert, but not so fast, my friend!
If you’re looking for some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country, you need to check out Arizona National Parks and Monuments.
From the Grand Canyon to Saguaro National Park, Arizona is home to some of the most stunning natural wonders in the world.
This blog post provides an overview of the National Parks in Arizona, including information on what makes each one special.
So pack your bags and get ready for an adventure. We’re about to change your perspective on the great state of Arizona.
National Parks in Arizona (Monuments Too)
Grand Canyon National Park
We start with the biggest and baddest of them all, Grand Canyon National Park, one of the best national parks in Arizona and the US.
The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is about 2 hours north of Flagstaff, AZ, and it’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States.
However, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is about 4 hours from Flagstaff, so it takes serious effort to get there.
There’s something about the Grand Canyon that makes you feel small. Maybe it’s the scale of the canyon itself or how the Colorado River has carved out such an impressive landscape over the years.
Whatever the reason, there’s no denying that the Grand Canyon is an exceptional place.
Most people visit the South Rim since it’s the most accessible.
If you’re considering visiting, summer is the hottest time.
Fall and spring are much nicer. But, for me, the sweet spot is mid-October, when the weather is excellent and plenty of activities keep you busy.
Hiking is a popular option, and there are trails to suit all abilities. Some of the most popular trails are the Bright Angel Trail and the South Kaibab Trail.
Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, try whitewater rafting down the Colorado River.
No matter when you visit or what you do while you’re there, one thing is sure: the Grand Canyon will leave a lasting impression.
Related: Things to do in Sedona
Petrified Forest National Park
The Petrified Forest National Park is a popular tourist destination for those who love the outdoors.
The park is open year-round but is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The best time to visit the park is during the spring and fall when the weather isn’t scorching like it is in the summer. But the temps can drop below freezing during the winter.
So be prepared for whatever the weather has in store, no matter what time of year you go.
The Petrified Forest National Park is home to various plant and animal life and some of the world’s most beautiful geological formations.
Hiking, biking, and backpacking are popular activities, and numerous trails wind through the park.
Several scenic driving routes offer fantastic landscape views for those who prefer to explore by car. But, no matter how you choose to experience it, the Petrified Forest National Park is a unique place.
With so much to do and see, this is one of Arizona’s most unique National Parks.
If you want more information about the park, you can pick up a brochure or a lecture at the Painted Desert Visitor Center, open daily from 8-5.
Saguaro National Park
The Saguaro Cactus is iconic to Arizona, and there’s no better place to see it than Saguaro National Park.
Nestled in the Sonoran Desert, this incredible park has abundant wildlife and natural beauty.
Visitors can explore endless hiking trails, see towering cacti, and enjoy stunning views of the surrounding mountains. Best of all, Saguaro National Park is just a short drive from Tucson, Arizona.
If you are looking for things to do in Tucson, Saguaro National Park is a great place to explore.
Saguaro National Park has two parts: the Rincon Mountain District and the Tucson Mountain District.
The Rincon Mountain District (RMD) is located east of Tucson. In contrast, the Tucson Mountain District (TMD) is located west of Tucson.
Both districts offer plenty of opportunities for hiking, picnicking, and sightseeing.
The park is not super big like some others, so you can visit in just a few hours if you are short on time. Saguaro is one of the best Arizona National Parks.
But I encourage you not to rush through; take your time. The visitor center is also pretty small but has a good selection of gifts.
The best time to visit Saguaro National Park depends on what you want to see and do. If you’re interested in hiking, spring or fall are typically the best times to go, as temperatures are not too hot or cold.
Summer brings extreme temperatures and Monsoon storms. The weather can change in a heartbeat in the summer, so be prepared.
Related: Things to do in Scottsdale
Canyon de Chelly National Monument
The Canyon de Chelly National Monument is located in northeastern Arizona. It is home to amazing canyons, plateaus, and mesas. It’s hard to describe the experience.
Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “shay”) is one of the most popular national monuments in the US.
The canyon is home to various plant and animal life and numerous ruins. In addition, human habitation in the Canyon de Chelly area dates back over 4,000 years.
The National Park Service and the Navajo Nation manage the monument, and visitors can enjoy hiking, camping, picnicking, and wildlife watching.
You can explore the canyon by car, along the rim roads, and view the canyon from scenic overlooks. Taking the South Rim Drive to Spider Rock Overlook is a great place to start.
There is one self-guided hike, the White House Trail.
Private tour companies offer tours of the canyon. So you can explore the canyon by car, on foot, or on horseback via tour.
If camping is your jam, Cottonwood Campground has 93 campsites available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
The Canyon de Chelly National Monument is truly a place of natural beauty and historical significance.
Chiricahua National Monument
Chiricahua National Monument is an undeniable natural beauty and home to some unique rock formations.
The stone spires and columns are fantastic, and the hiking trails offer stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
Volcanic eruptions formed the rocks at Chiricahua National Monument. The molten lava cooled and hardened, forming the strange and beautiful shapes we see today. The rock formations are insane!
However, the monument is more than just a pretty face. It is also home to various plant and animal life, making it a truly unique place to visit.
Visitors can help by remaining on designated trails, respecting wildlife, and doing their part to keep the area clean.
In addition to 17 miles of hiking trails, you can enjoy an 8-mile scenic drive around the park. How you choose to explore is up to you.
Spring is the best time to visit Chiricahua National Monument. The temperatures are mild, the flowers are in bloom, and the wildlife is active.
Spring is also a great time to hike. Although the trails might be crowded, the scenery is breathtaking. Spring is the perfect time to enjoy all the monument has to offer.
The visitor center is excellent, so if you can stop in, go for it.
Whether hiking through the stone forest or enjoying the views, Chiricahua National Monument will leave you with lasting memories.
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
The Sonoran Desert is a beautiful and unique place. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a great way to experience this unique desert landscape.
The monument is home to various cacti, including the namesake organ pipe cactus native to Arizona and Mexico.
The monument is also home to various other desert plants and animals, making it a unique spot in the southwest. In addition, the night sky at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a great place to stargaze.
Finally, the monument has a long history dating back to the time of the Native Americans living there. Today, visitors can explore this rich history through various hikes and tours.
The drive through the park is well worth it, and the grounds are well-maintained.
Camping and hiking are the two most popular activities at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.
Whether you’re interested in plant life, animals, stargazing, or history, there’s something for everyone at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.
Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Lake Mead National Recreation Area is a very popular destination all year long.
Spanning nearly 1.5 million acres, Lake Mead is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts of all stripes.
Whether you’re looking to fish, hike, camp, or enjoy the stunning scenery, there’s something for everyone at Lake Mead. Its proximity to Las Vegas makes it the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
Lake Mead National Recreation Area is beautiful to spend a day on the water. Plenty of boat and watersports rentals are available, so you can find the perfect activity for your group. You can enjoy boats, jet skis, kayaking, paddle boarding, etc.
Whether you want to relax on a pontoon boat or get your heart rate up with waterskiing, there’s something for everyone.
In addition, you can also explore the area’s many caves and hiking trails. In addition to its natural beauty, Lake Mead National Recreation Area is also home to many historical and cultural sites.
These include the Hoover Dam, built in the 1930s, and the Boulder City Hoover Dam Museum, which offers a glimpse into the dam’s construction.
Extreme summer heat and Monsoon storms can make conditions at Lake Mead National Recreation Area unpredictable. However, with proper planning and preparation, you can safely enjoy all this amazing place offers.
With so much to see and do, it’s no wonder that Lake Mead National Recreation Area is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country.
Montezuma Castle National Monument
Nestled in the heart of Arizona’s Verde Valley, Montezuma Castle National Monument is a popular tourist destination. The monument is home to a series of well-preserved cliff dwellings built by Sinagua people hundreds of years ago.
Today, visitors can explore the ruins of these ancient homes and discover what life was like for the Sinagua people.
Yet, Montezuma Castle is more than just a historic site – it’s also a beautiful example of nature at its best.
The towering cliffs and surrounding vegetation provide a breathtaking backdrop for this unique piece of American history.
Montezuma Castle is an excellent example of Native American architecture, providing insight into the daily life of the Sinagua people.
Visitors to the monument can learn about the culture and history of Sinagua through self-guided or ranger-guided tours. Although you can’t walk through the sites, it’s still amazing to see.
One of the great things about the monument is the beautiful trees, Sycamore et al. There is also plenty of shaded areas to sit down and take a break.
Montezuma Castle is a must-see for anyone interested in Native American history or archaeology. So be sure to add Montezuma Castle National Monument to your list.
Navajo National Monument
Located in northeastern Arizona, the Navajo National Monument (part of the Navajo Nation) is a culturally significant site home to several ancient cliff dwellings.
The three large pueblos tower over the desert landscape and the surrounding area is home to various plants and animals. The monument was created in 1909 to protect these pueblos.
The monument is also rich in cultural history, with petroglyphs and ruins that offer insight into the lives of the Native Americans who once inhabited this land.
Today, Navajo National Monument is a popular destination for hikers, campers, and photographers.
If you are lucky, you might spot coyotes, mountain lions (maybe not so lucky), and foxes, to name a few of the desert residents. If you are hiking or camping, watch out for scorpions and snakes.
As with many other sites in Arizona, summer brings extreme heat, and winter temps drop below freezing. Therefore, the best time to visit Navajo National Monument is spring or fall.
The location is tough to get to but well worth the effort, as it is one of Arizona’s most beautiful sites.
Whether you are looking for a place to explore or learn, Navajo National Monument is worth visiting.
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
Most people think of the American Southwest picture wide open spaces and deserts.
However, one of the region’s most iconic images is man-made: Lake Powell, located in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
Created in the 1960s by the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam, Lake Powell is one of the largest man-made lakes in the country. It’s also a popular destination for boaters, anglers, and nature lovers.
Today, Glen Canyon is a popular destination for hikers, campers, and boaters. In addition to its natural beauty, the recreation area also offers a variety of outdoor activities, such as fishing, hiking, and swimming.
Or you can paddle a kayak or SUP through the canyons for a unique perspective of this beautiful area.
With so much to offer, it is no wonder that Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is such a popular recreation site.
The Glen Canyon area, established in 1972, is known for its beautiful scenery and popular attractions, such as Rainbow Bridge National Monument and Glen Canyon Dam.
Glen Canyon is one of the most underrated spots in Arizona. Unfortunately, water levels have dropped significantly, making some areas difficult to reach or completely inaccessible.
Whatever your interest, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area has something for you. So be sure to add it to your bucket list of places to see in Arizona.
Tonto National Monument
Situated in the heart of the Arizona desert, Tonto National Monument is a remarkable piece of history. The monument contains two ancient cliff dwellings built by the Salado people over 700 years ago.
Construction of the cliff dwellings is a magnificent feat; no wonder they have been designated as a National Monument.
Today, the ruins offer a fascinating glimpse into the lives of these early inhabitants. Visitors can explore the dwellings and learn about the culture and traditions of the Salado people.
The monument is also home to various plants and animals, making it a popular destination for hikers and nature lovers. In addition, the monument offers stunning views of the surrounding desert landscape.
Tonto National Monument is open all year round. Still, the best time to visit is October through April since summer temperatures can be extreme. The desert landscape is impressive to see in the spring.
Be sure to bring plenty of water if you plan to hike.
With its unique history and beautiful setting, Tonto National Monument is a must-see for any traveler to Arizona.
Walnut Canyon National Monument
Nestled within canyon walls of northern Arizona, Walnut Canyon National Monument is a hidden gem. The monument is an easy 7.5-mile drive east of Flagstaff.
This beautiful canyon is home to a diverse array of plant and animal life, as well as an array of human artifacts. The canyon is also an excellent example of how erosion can shape the landscape.
Visitors can hike the one-mile round-trip Island Trail and access 25 dwellings. Enjoy the spectacular views of the canyon and surrounding area from the Island Trail.
Walnut Canyon is open year-round, and unlike other Arizona spots, temperatures are pleasant in the summer. But, make sure to wear appropriate clothing and bring plenty of water.
If you want unique things to do in Flagstaff, add Walnut Canyon National Monument to your list.
Whether you’re an avid hiker or simply looking for a place to appreciate nature, Walnut Canyon National Monument is well worth visiting.
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument is partially closed due to the Tunnel Fire in the spring of 2022. However, it is a great place to see an example of a cinder cone volcano when it is open.
Cinder cones are the most common type of volcano, formed when lava and ash are ejected from a single central vent. The lava and ash fall back to the ground and build up around the vent, forming a cone-shaped mountain.
Sunset Crater Volcano is one of the best-preserved cinder cones in the United States. It gives visitors an excellent opportunity to learn about this type of volcano.
You can drive through and see much of the area, but I recommend a short hike if you have the time. The Lava Flow trail has a nice sidewalk that is handicap accessible, with great views along the way.
The monument is about 12 miles north of Flagstaff, and the summer weather is beautiful. I highly recommend checking it out when it reopens.
Fort Bowie National Historic Site
Fort Bowie National Historic Site is special because of its unique location and history. It’s the most remote and isolated of all the NPS units in Arizona.
The 1.5-mile hike (after traveling on a dirt road) helps keep visitors to a minimum. You have to want to get there.
The fort operated in the late 1900s during the conflict between the US Army and the Chiricahua Apache. The fort was home to many famous figures during its time, including Colonel George Crook and Geronimo.
Today, the fort is a tourist destination, and visitors can explore the ruins of the fort and enjoy the rugged views of the surrounding area.
Fort Bowie National Historic Site is a great place to visit to see a settlement from the old west. The location is remote but worth it.
Coronado National Memorial
The Coronado National Memorial is a beautiful reminder of the drama and history of the Southwest. The memorial commemorates the 1540 expedition of Francisco Vazquez de Coronado, who was searching for the fabled Seven Cities of Gold.
The memorial is located in the mountains of southeastern Arizona, and it offers stunning views of the surrounding desert landscape.
Coronado National Memorial is a great place to go for a hike. There are various trails to choose from, so you can find one that suits your fitness level. Enjoy a picnic in one of the many scenic areas, or stroll through the tranquil grounds. The Coronado National Memorial is a great place to enjoy the natural beauty of Arizona and learn about the state’s rich history.
Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail
The Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail is a 1,200-mile trail that follows the route of Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza.
The trail stretches from Nogales, Arizona, to San Francisco, California. It passes through some of the most beautiful and historic landscapes in the American West.
Along the way, hikers can experience the diverse cultures of the Native Americans, Hispanics, and Euro-Americans, who have all called this region home.
The trail also provides a unique opportunity to see firsthand how different cultures have interacted and shaped the landscape.
Whether you’re looking for an adventure or simply a chance to learn about America’s complex history, the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail is sure to please.
Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
The Casa Grande Ruins National Monument is an ancient archaeological site in Coolidge, Arizona, about 55 miles southeast of Phoenix.
Related: Things to do in Phoenix
The monument includes the ruins of a large adobe structure known as the Great House, which the Hohokam people built.
The Casa Grande Ruins are one of the few remaining examples of their architectural style. The Great House is four stories tall and consists of dozens of rooms, some used for storage, others as living quarters or ceremonial chambers.
In addition to the Great House, the monument includes several other Hohokam structures and a museum with exhibits on the history and culture of the Hohokam people.
The Casa Grande Ruins National Monument is a fascinating glimpse into the past and a must-see for anyone interested in Arizona’s history.
The best times to visit are any time that is not summer. Unfortunately, summer in Arizona is HOT, and you must be aware of monsoon storms that roll through the area. So no matter when you visit, take plenty of water and sunscreen.
Arizona has some of the country’s most beautiful and historical National Parks. So whether you’re looking for an adventure or simply a chance to learn about America’s complex history, Arizona’s National Parks have something for everyone.
Steve Morrow owns Paddle About, an outdoor recreation and travel blog. Steve loves to travel, kayak, paddle board, camp, hike, and spend time outdoors with his wife and two kids. When he's not exploring the great outdoors, Steve enjoys writing about his adventures and sharing tips for getting the most out of your outdoor experiences. He has a lot of interesting stories to share, and he's always happy to help others get more out of life.