Arizona National Parks Hold Expansive Beauty and Historical Value
Since their founding by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916 the National Park Service has protected monuments and historical lands for over a century. Yellowstone was the first to start the massive movement to preserve our natural wonders, but since then 57 other parks have joined the ranks. Arizona national parks and monuments are some of the most stunning and expansive the US has to offer so we’re listing our 10 favorites!
Grand Canyon National Park
The Grand Canyon is practically synonymous with Arizona drawing in some 6 million+ visitors every year. To put that into perspective, Arizona’s population is just over 7 million. The canyon spans 277 miles of desert, contains 9 different Native American tribes, and is truly a sight to behold. The best view obviously comes from helicopter or airplane tours. However, if you’re looking for a more intimate experience give a mule ride down the cliff side. There is no arguing that the Grand Canyon is one of the greatest Arizona national parks!
Saguaro National Park
Nothing is quite as symbolic to Arizona as the image of a towering Saguaro cactus. These majestic giants are found only in a very small portion of the southwest in Arizona, Sonora, Mexico, and tiny bits of southern California. If you’ve never seen a 60 foot tall cactus cast against the copper backdrop of a desert sunset then plan your trip now! It’s also perfect for camping, hiking, and even offers a camp for kids 6-11 years old. This is one of the best Arizona national parks for families.
Petrified Forest National Park
Travel through time in one of the oldest Arizona national parks. This barren plot of unsuspecting desert land lies 225 million years of geographical history perfectly preserved in petrified wood. What was once a massive sprawling prehistoric forest is now a flat, yet equally spectacular park of adventure and discovery. It comes as a surprise to many that the trees are in fact no longer standing. But the nearby painted desert has breathed new life into them, bestowing some incredibly vibrant and unique colors.
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
The Vermilion Cliffs lie isolated in the far North of Arizona with a handful of signs to point it out. So if you are looking for some truly remote adventuring then this is the place for you. Most visitors come to see the vibrant smooth waves of sandstone at The Wave, Buckskin Gulch, and Paria Canyon. However, admission requires advanced planning and knowledge of dangerous wildlife and flash floods.
Arizona National Parks: Meteor Crater
50,000 years ago a 150 foot long meteor crashed through earths atmosphere into the heart of Arizona instantly uplifting millions of tons of rock, destroying everything within several miles, and creating a 558 foot deep crater. Thanks to its young age and Arizona’s dry climate this is the best preserved impact crater on Earth. Slight erosion has caused the crater to lose about 270 feet in depth since its initial impact. But one look down from the precipice is all you need to put it into perspective.
Chiricahua Monument in Bisbee
Chiricahua National Monument lies unsuspectingly in the Southeast corner of Arizona 37 miles off of interstate 10. You can’t catch this attraction on a pass-by so some detouring might be necessary. But the incredible balanced rocks and natural volcanic spires make this fantasy like attraction worth it! This visit is perfect for hiking, camping, scenic pictures, and sighting some Arizona wildlife.
If you have ever seen a photo of the Southwest it’s likely you’ve seen Monument Valley. It’s defined by the long stretches of desolate desert interrupted only by large sandstone towers of what used to lie there millions of years ago. Although it can be appreciated with a simple pass-by, the best way to experience Monument Valley is like the Navajo people who still live, cultivate, and practice their ancient traditions here!
Buckskin Mountain State Park
Buckskin Mountain State Park is a hidden gem of the Colorado River and a great family visit for recreational activities. This scenic stop features great hiking trails, well maintained campgrounds, and the best view of the Parker Strip. The river becomes very popular for swimming and jet skiing during the summer and the winter brings in fishers from all over. Buckskin Mountain State Park is also just a few miles from Parker Dam, the deepest dam in the world!
Montezuma Castle National Monument
Contrary to the name, Montezuma Castle is actually an ancient Sinagua structure that is remarkably well preserved. It was discovered, forgotten, and rediscovered, then thought to be created as a castle by the ancient Aztecs. In reality it is more like a 5 story apartment high rise with 20 rooms. Montezuma Castle is considered to be one of the best preserved cliff dwellings in North America. It even played a large role in the US historical preservation movement.
Canyon De Chelly National Monument
This unsuspecting Arizona valley may not be as Grand as say the Grand Canyon but it sports a cultural history just as rich and alive today as it was centuries ago. Navajo families have been living in Canyon De Chelly for 5,000 years. They live, cultivate, and celebrate their tradition on the canyon floor even today, making it one of the longest inhabited places in North America. It is located entirely on Navajo land meaning it is the only national monument not owned by the federal government.