What better to experience the beauty, history, and culture of Arizona than through its parks? Ancient ruins and modern playgrounds reside beside picturesque trails and overlooks. They reflect the diversity and beauty of the Grand Canyon State.
From national parks to local parks, we’ve compiled a list of the best parks in Arizona. Our list includes the best of the best of Arizona’s national parks, state parks, and local parks. All of them have something special to offer families.
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Best Parks in Arizona: National Parks
1. Canyon de Chelly National Monument
The walls of Canyon de Chelly protected the native people for nearly 5,000 years. Navajo people still raise livestock and farm here. Today, visitors can view the remains of ancient pueblo villages, such as White House Ruins, from overlooks on the two scenic drives around the canyon rims.
This park is located on Navajo tribal land and the United States shares it with the Navajo Nation. To go inside the canyon, you must take a tour with a Navajo guide (fee required). Choose from a horseback ride or guided jeep tour. Families experience picturesque views and better understand Native American peoples either way.
For additional resources about for Native American Culture experiences check out our article, Learning about Native American Culture and History Through Travel.
2. Sunset Crater & Wupatki National Monuments
To begin your tour of these two amazing national monuments, visit the Sunset Crater Visitor Center where interactive exhibits explain the unique geological composition of the area.
Sunset Crater is actually one of the cinder cones of Northern Arizona’s San Francisco volcanic field. Although you cannot climb the cinder cone itself, you can, and should, enjoy the short hiking trail through the ancient lava flow.
A scenic 17-mile drive connects Sunset Crater to Wupatki National Monument. Watch as ponderosa pines give way to open grasslands. Once at Wupatki, discover the well-kept ancient ruins of the 900-year-old pueblo. Make certain to see the blowhole at the bottom to experience some natural air conditioning.
Both parks are close to Flagstaff. Here are the best Things To Do in Flagstaff with Kids.
3. Petrified Forest National Park
200 million-year-old logs are transformed over the centuries into shiny rainbow-hued rocks at Petrified Forest National Park. There, guests are encouraged to examine these fossils close-up, but please don’t take any of these special fossils home so future generations can enjoy them as well
Beyond the petrified logs, the whole park is bursting with color. Blue Mesa and the striated canyons of the Painted Deserts showcase the natural beauty of this region. You will also find evidence of past inhabitants of the area at this park, including pueblo ruins and petroglyphs.
Petrified Forest National Park made our list of the best national parks in Arizona. See what else made the list!
4. Walnut Canyon National Monument
Step back in time as you visit Walnut Canyon National Monument. Families hike through the lives and homes of the native Sinagua people along the one-mile Island Trail.
700-year-old cliff dwellings and breathtaking canyon views fill the cliff sides. Or check out the Rim Trail, which offers a chance to explore a pueblo and a partially rebuilt pit house. You’ll also experience the majesty of the juniper and pinyon pine forest from above.
5. Saguaro National Park
The towering Saguaro cactus at Saguaro National Park preside over families as they hike, camp, or view wildlife. Remember, this park is divided in two by the city of Tucson, so plan accordingly.
Start at the Rincon Mountain District in the cool morning. While there, observe the diverse wildlife of the west side and take a short hike to walk among the prickly skyscrapers.
Then rest in Tucson during the hot afternoon before driving into the Tucson Mountain Region. At the end of the day, watch the sun slip over the horizon punctuated by silhouetted saguaro cactus.
While between parks, explore Tucson. Here are the best Things to do in Tucson with Kids.
6. Grand Canyon National Park
With 5 million visitors a year, Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most popular national parks in Arizona. Gaze at the Colorado River a mile below the canyon rim. And experience native American culture, amazing views, and adventurous trails.
The South Rim is the most visited region of the Grand Canyon. Trekaroo has an article dedicated to Visiting the Grand Canyon South Rim with Kids. It covers how to get there, hikes, lodging, food, and guided tour options.
The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is a four hour drive from the South Rim, even though they are only 18 miles apart as the crow flies. It is only open seasonally, typically from May through October.
While only 10% of visitors makes it to the North 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.
Best Parks in Arizona: State Parks
7. Dead Horse Ranch
Contrary to the name, Dead Horse Ranch State Park is lovely and inviting. Fishing lagoons, river access, multi-use trails, and lots of space to play beg for recreation.
Choose to spot wildlife from the shore or kayak down the Verde River. And because all ranch visits should involve sitting on a horse, Trailhorse Adventures, located inside the park, offers guided trail rides.
8. Slide Rock State Park
Oak Creek flows over an 80-foot long chute of sandstone and algae, creating the perfect waterslide at Slide Rock State Park. This natural water park also features areas for wading or swimming.
Interestingly, this park houses a historic, and still functioning, commercial apple farm. Hike the short path down the Pendley Homestead Trail to glimpse the original packing shed and apple orchards.
While in the area, head into Sedona and explore this red rock wonderland. Here are the best things to do in Sedona with kids.
9. Kartchner Caverns State Park
Discover an underground paradise in the depths of Kartchner Caverns State Park. A guided tour leads visitors past amazing formations such as the massive “Khuba Khan” column and the world’s longest soda straw. Tours tend to fill up, so book tickets in advance.
Before your cave tour, check out the family-friendly Discovery Center. Everyone loves watching the videos, seeing the fossils, and being able to touch everything. Experience the beauty above ground after exploring the caves. Hike options are available for all skill levels.
See this park and more with our Epic 10-Day Arizona Road Trip.
10. Tonto Natural Bridge State Park
A picturesque pine forest combines with the world’s largest natural travertine bridge to create the glorious Tonto Natural Bridge State Parks.
First, enjoy the view from above at one of four parking lot view points. Then head down to Pine Creek by one of the trails for a view of the waterfall and the underside of the bridge.
Starting at Gowan Trail, then continuing under the bridge and across the river to Pine Creek Trail is my favorite route. Explore the tunnel and scramble over boulders as your family meanders along with the stream. Finally, relax with a picnic on one of the shaded picnic tables or sprawling lawns.
Keep the fun going by seeing the 10 Best State Parks in Arizona.
Best Parks in Arizona: Local & Regional
11. Gilbert Regional Park in Gilbert
One of the hallmarks of a great park is a great playground, and the one at Gilbert Regional Park is hard to beat.
The multi-level playground equipment plus unique climbing features and slides keep families entertained for hours. The park also features a 4,000 square foot splash pad with loads of interactive water features.
The fun continues with a fishing pond, event lawn, and enough variety of sports courts to satisfy any athlete.
12. Lake Pleasant Regional Park in Morristown
The glittering oasis of Lake Pleasant beckons sun weary Phoenicans to come play. This watery wonderland offers boating, swimming, and even scuba diving.
The local wildlife also love to visit Lake Pleasant, so keep a look out for wild burros.
13. McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park in Scottsdale
One of the best parks in Arizona for train lovers is the McCormick Stillman-Railroad Park. In addition to the Paradise & Pacific train ride, the 10,000 square foot model railroad building houses interactive model trains. And the Scottsdale Railroad museum resides inside historic railway cars.
This park also features a vintage carousel and multiple themed playgrounds. There is even a water feature to cool off on hot days. Complete the experience with a picnic on the grassy lawns or picnic table that cover the grounds.
Did you know Scottsdale is full of fun adventures for families? Check out the 10 Best Things to do in Scottsdale with Kids.
14. Papago Park in Phoenix
Hiking trails, attractions, ponds, and playgrounds make Papago Park one of the best parks in Arizona.
A short hike to the iconic Hole in the Rock rewards trekkers with a sprawling view of downtown Phoenix. And the paths around and between the buttes provide perfect terrain for hiking and biking.
In addition to hiking trails, Papago Park is home to the Phoenix Zoo, Arizona Heritage Center, and Desert Botanical Garden. Learn more about these attractions and more with our Top 10 Fun Things to do in Phoenix with Kids.
15. South Mountain Park and Preserve in Phoenix
Meander through the hills of South Mountain on over 50 miles of multi-use trails. Maintained trails for all skill levels reflect the serenity of the Sonoran desert. And plenty of parking, restrooms and ramadas can be found at each trailhead.