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The 10 Best Arizona National Parks

The 10 Best Arizona National Parks

Don’t be fooled by the nickname, The Grand Canyon State. This one claim to fame sometimes eclipses the other Arizona national parks and monuments, but there are so many amazing Arizona national parks to explore.

Arizona national parks are great places to experience Native American culture, unique geological formations, and local natural beauty. Here are the 10 best Arizona national parks.

10 Best Arizona National Parks

1. Navajo National Monument

Navajo National Monument is one of the lesser known Arizona National Parks

Navajo National Monument protects three ancient cliff dwellings. These cliff dwellings date back to 1300 AD and were built by the Ancestral Pueblo people. This monument is located in the northwest portion of the Navajo Nation and is a nice stop on your way to Monument Valley.

A visit to this Arizona national park grants visitors a chance to gaze at these historic homes from an overlook on the 1.3-mile Sandal Trail.

Alternatively, experienced hikers can take a strenuous guided tour to the Betatakin cliff dwelling for a closer look. The park limits the number of visitors per tour so be sure to sign up as soon as you arrive.

See more of the state! Here are the best things to do in Arizona with kids.

2. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona

Explore one of the best examples of Sonoran Desert wilderness at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. This UNESCO Biological Reserve is the only location in the US where organ pipe cactus grow wild.

In addition to discovering unique plants and desert animals, visitors will also uncover cultural diversity. American Indian, Mexican, and European groups have used this land and signs on their presence here are preserved.

To best see the park, pick up a free guidebook at the visitors center then take a 21-mile scenic drive on Ajo Mountain Road. There are also trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. 

3. Montezuma Castle National Monument

Montezuma Castle National Monument

A short, 90-minute drive from Phoenix brings families to one of the best preserved cliff dwellings in North America.

Staying in Phoenix? Discover the Top 10 Things to do in Phoenix with Kids.  

Montezuma Castle overlooks the Verde Valley from high in the limestone cliff. Stroll through the sycamore grove and gaze in wonder at the 900-year-old structure towering above. A small museum in the visitor center teaches about what life was like for the Sinagua people who used to live here.

Montezuma Castle is close to Sedona and a popular day tip. Check out what else there is to do in and around Sedona with kids.

4. Chiricahua National Monument

The 10 Best Arizona National Parks 1
Chiricahua National Monument, Photo Courtesy of the Arizona Office of Tourism

Climbing around and over unique rocks brings out the child in all of us at Chiricahua National Monument. This remote Arizona national park unit in the southeastern portion of the state was formed by erosion of compacted volcanic ash from the eruption of an ancient volcano.

Discover over 17 miles of hiking trails past desert wilderness and striking rock formations. Or view it all from your air-conditioned car on the scenic drive. The Echo Canyon Loop makes it way through impressive rock formations with names like Grottoes and Wallstreet. 

This Arizona national park isn’t all about rocks. The historic Faraway Ranch, once home to Swedish immigrant family Neil and Emma Erickson, is available to tour on weekends. 

5. Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Arizona

For nearly 5,000 years the canyons of Canyon de Chelly National Monument provided protection to native people. Even today, Navajo people farm and raise livestock here.

Today, visitors can view the ruins of past inhabitants from two scenic drive trails with overlooks into the canyon. Alternatively, take a tour into the canyon with a Navajo guide (fee required). Either way, families will experience picturesque views and gain a better understanding of Native American peoples.

Tour options include combination jeep/hiking tours as well as horseback riding adventures.

Additional resources for experiencing Native American Culture can be found in our article, Learning about Native American Culture and History Through Travel.

6. Sunset Crater & Wupatki National Monuments

Wuptaki National Monument
Wupatki National Monument, Photo courtesy of Flagstaff Convention and Visitors Bureau

Yes, I did sneak two in here, but since the cost of admission to one park includes access to both Arizona national monuments, I feel like can share the spotlight with one another. Both are located near Flagstaff.

Start your visit off at the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument visitor center where interactive exhibits explain the unique geological composition of the area. Then head off to hike the one-mile trail through the Bonito Lava Flow which cooled to rock about 900 years ago.

Continue on with a scenic 17-mile drive to Wupatki National Monument and watch as ponderosa pine forests give way to open grasslands. Once at Wupatki, explore the 900-year-old pueblos. There are six different pueblos to explore.

Be sure to visit the Wuptaki Pueblo, the largest in Northern Arizona, and go all the way down the trail to the blowhole to experience some natural air conditioning.  

Spend more time in Flagstaff! Here are all our favorite Things To Do in Flagstaff with Kids.

7. Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona

Did you know fossilized trees become sparkling rainbow rocks? At Petrified National Park, guests are encouraged to examine the 200 million-years-old logs and see for themselves the wonders of nature.

In fact, the whole park is bursting with color. The striated canyons of the Painted Desert and Blue Mesa testify of the beauty of the desert. In addition to the colorful wonders, you will also find evidence of past inhabitants of the area, including petroglyphs and pueblo ruins.

There are several short trails which are perfect introductions to the park’s highlights. Unlike most national parks in the West, leashed dogs are allowed on the trails.

8. Walnut Canyon National Monument

Walnut Canyon National Monument
Scenic View of Walnut Canyon, Photo Courtesy of the National Parks Service

Imagine life living on the cliffs of the breathtaking Walnut Canyon. A visit to Walnut Canyon National Monument guides families through the lives and homes of the native Sinagua people.

Take the one-mile Island Trail past 700-year-old cliff dwellings and glimpse more across the canyon. Another trail, the 0.7 mile Rim Trail, offers a chance to explore a partially rebuilt pit house and pueblo. You’ll also experience the beauty of the pinion pine and juniper forest as viewed from above. 

9. Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park

Nothing represents the Wild West like the towering Saguaro cactus. At Saguaro National Park these giant American symbols provide a majestic backdrop for hiking, camping, and wildlife viewing. This national park is best visited in the early spring, when the desert comes alive with a riot of wildflower color.

Since this Arizona national park is divided in two by the city of Tucson, families need to plan their trip accordingly. Consider starting at the Rincon Mountain District in the cool of the morning. Try to catch a glimpse of the diverse wildlife on the west side like road runners, jackrabbits, Gila monsters, and javelinas.

Then take a break in Tucson during the heat of the day before heading into the Tucson Mountain Region. Be sure to stay late enough to catch a famous desert sunset punctuated by silhouetted Saguaro cactus.

Read more about visiting Saguaro National Park in our full guide to the Desert National Parks of the Southwest.

10. Grand Canyon National Park

Things to do in Grand Canyon with Kids

Five million people make the trek to Grand Canyon National Park every year. Visiting the vast and wondrous crevice in the earth’s crust is an experience everyone should have on their bucket list.

But make sure to plan more time than just a quick stop, because the deeper (pun intended) you explore this national park, the more you’ll love it.

Trekaroo has a comprehensive guide to Visiting the Grand Canyon South Rim with Kids which covers everything from getting there to guided tours, hikes, food, lodging, and special programs. The South Rim is the most heavily visited area of the park due to its easy access from Las Vegas and Phoenix. It is open year round.

While the North Rim of the Grand Canyon may only be 18 miles away from the South Rim as the crow flies, it takes about four hours to drive from the South Rim to the North Rim. For this reason, along with its seasonal opening during the summer months only, only 10% of Grand Canyon visitors see this area of the park.

If you ask me, the North Rim is the most scenic and has the best hikes along the rim. It is certainly worth the effort to get there. You can read about what to do, where to stay and more in our Complete Guide to the Grand Canyon North Rim.