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Over 30 of the Best Things to do in Arizona with Kids

Over 30 of the Best Things to do in Arizona with Kids

Most people who have never been to Arizona probably only know it for two things- cacti and the Grand Canyon. The truth is, there is lots of family fun in Arizona to be had and so many great things to do in Arizona with kids!

Don’t know what to do on your Arizona family vacation? This state is full of diverse natural beauty, fun urban attractions, and some incredible national parks. We cover all the best places to visit in Arizona, from historic sites to baseball to active family adventures in jaw-dropping locations.

Looking for a great place to stay? Check out the best resorts with water parks in Arizona.

The Best Things to do in Arizona with Kids

Discover Ancient Native Cultures on Your Arizona Family Vacation

things to do in Arizona
Montezuma Castle National Monument

With over 250,000 Native Americans living within the state’s borders, native culture plays an important role in Arizona. Much of the ancient culture is preserved by the National Park system. Many of the country’s best preserved ancient structures can be found in Arizona, thanks in part to the region’s dry climate.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, in between Phoenix and Tucson, preserves the 14th century ruins of the Hohokam people and is one of the largest prehistoric structures ever built in North America.

While you can take a self-guided tour, I highly recommend taking a free, ranger-guided tour so that your family gets a better understanding of what you are looking at the amazing stories behind this vibrant culture.

Montezuma Castle National Monument near Sedona protects 800-year-old cliff dwellings. It is definitely worth a stop when visiting the area. This is a spot where a self-guided experience along the paved, wheelchair and stroller friendly trail makes sense. There are several viewpoints along the trail to check out the cliff dwelling and the surrounding nature along Beaver Creek is a lovely place to enjoy a picnic.

Walnut Canyon National Monument
Walnut Canyon National Monument

Wupatki and Walnut Canyon National Monuments are near the mountain town of Flagstaff. Both made our list of the best things to do in Flagstaff with kids. Both Wuptaki and Walnut Canyon are home to several ancient pueblo ruins built by the Ancestral Puebloan people about 800 years ago. These ruins include multi-room dwellings, ceremonial structures, and ball courts.

Walnut Canyon National Monument is also a nice place to hike, including on the Island Trail which leads visitors down into Walnut Canyon where they can get close-up views of the various dwellings.

Flagstaff is also home to some of the best cabins in Arizona to stay in for a mountain getaway.

One of the best ways to learn about Native American culture is to visit Phoenix’s Heard Museum, the best Native American museum in the United States. It features 10 galleries filled with American Indian art and artifacts. Kids will enjoy the hands-on activities, such as making Yaqui-inspired paper flower or a bandolier bag.

Experience the Old West on Your Arizona Family Vacation

Things to do in Arizona iwth Kids Tombstone
Tombstone’s Main Street by Gillfoto

When Arizona was first settled by Americans, it was a wild and woolly place. Characters like Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday called the silver boom town of Tombstone home back in the 1880’s, and participated in the legendary gunfight at the OK Corral.

These days, visitors will find Tombstone to be much less dangerous and much more family-friendly. Highlights include a mine tour, historic buildings and cemeteries, and Wild West shows at the original OK Corral.

Arizona family vacation include horseback riding in the desert.
Horseback Riding at McDonald’s Ranch

Those looking for Western-style fun in the Valley of the Sun should check out the kid-friendly horseback riding at North Scottsdale’s McDonald’s Ranch. They also play host to an amazing pumpkin patchin the fall.

There are several ghost towns in Arizona worth visiting as well. One of the most popular to visit is Jerome, perched on a steep mountainside in between Prescott and Sedona. It once boomed to a population of 15,000 hoping to seek their fortune in mining. Today, less than 500 permanent residents remain in this tourist destination filled with galleries, rock shops, ghost tours, and incredible views.

Jerome, Arizona
Jerome, Arizona

Don’t miss a visit to Jerome State Historic Park which is a great place to learn about the town’s history and grab a bite to eat at the popular Haunted Hambuger restaurant, named one of the best burger joints in the state! Here is our guide to the 10 best ghost towns to visit in Arizona.

If you visit Prescott at the beginning of July, you won’t want to miss Prescott Frontier Days which is home to the World’s Oldest Rodeo. No matter the time of year you will want to check out Whiskey Row, a historic street lined with saloons, shops, and restaurants well over a century old.

Have Some Family Fun in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert

Things to do in Arizona with kids include visiting the desert
Photo by: Flickr/OmarOmar

Much of the Arizona landscape is desert, with the Saguaro cactus standing as the state’s most famous living icon. One of the great things to do in Arizona is to visit Saguaro National Park.

It flanks either side of Tucson metropolis, providing protection for an important ecosystem, and the opportunity for families to truly get to know the desert.

Be sure to check out the petroglyphs of Signal Hill, and easy hike with nice picnic ramadas near the trailhead. If you want to see wildlife, look over by the wash behind the visitor center or on the one-way Bajada Loop Drive around twilight. Both are popular spots to see coyotes, javelinas, and various reptiles.

Check out these 10 great national parks in Arizona.

The ideal time to visit is late winter or early spring. Temperatures are mild, wildflowers are in bloom, and desert hiking won’t result in heat exhaustion.

If your family makes it to the area in June, the Saguaro cacti will be showing off their short-lived blooms. And if you’re looking for a great place to stay in Tucson, we recommend the JW Marriot Tucson Star Pass Resort. Here are our favorite things to do in Tucson with kids.

If you are in the Phoenix area and eager for some desert exploration, consider a day hike up Pinnacle Peak or at the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. There are trails of all different lengths and difficulty levels, and the scenery is wonderful.

Wild Horses on the Salt River
Wild Horses on the Salt River

During the warm season a leisurely float down the chilly Salt River can’t be beat! We loved our kayaking day trip with Riverbound Sports. We saw dozens of wild horses and even a couple bald eagles. Children as young as six can participate.

Apache Trail is a popular desert drive that takes families on a true desert adventure to some wild and remarkable vistas. First a Native American footpath and then a stagecoach route before becoming a scenic drive. Portions of the drive are unpaved but regular cars due just fine on the route.

Petrified Forest

Looking to check another National Park off your list? Petrified Forest National Park is located in Eastern Arizona is a great place to stop if you are on a road trip on Interstate 40. It is home to one of the largest concentrations of petrifid wood in the world (admire but don’t take!) as well as the Painted Desert, a landscape colored by volcanic ash, mineral deposits, and layers of rock.

Visit Arizona’s Kid-Friendly Museums

best places to visit in Arizona include the r4emarkable Arizona Sonora Desert museum
Cougar at Arixona- Sonora Desert Museum, photo by: Flickr/Bruce-Fulton

Located just south of the Saguaro National Park, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum shows off all that is wonderful about the Sonoran Desert. Part zoo, botanical garden, and natural history museum, the museum does an impeccable job of seamlessly blending its animal enclosures into the surrounding desert landscape.

Families can stroll along a trail and discover a coyote peeking out from behind a Saguaro cactus, watch a javelina saunter past a silvery agave plant, and see a Ferruginous Hawk soar freely above their heads all while being surrounded by 140 different cacti and other desert plants.

Must see exhibits include the hummingbird aviary, Cat Canyon, and a cave that gives visitors a glimpse of what life is like underground.

Don’t miss the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix. It is incredibly fascinating to see and hear musical instruments from around the world. Kids of all ages will especially love the Experience Gallery where they can play all sorts of fun instruments from across the globe.

The Arizona Science Center in Phoenix is another great option for family fun. Over 350 interactive exhibits get kids excited about learning about everything from the human body to electricity.

A 3-minute walk from the Science Center is the Children’s Museum of Phoenix. It’s a good option for indoor play during the summer.

This museum is geared towards younger children (ages 1-10) and is focused on learning through play. Kids especially love the Noodle Forest, Block Mania, and the Market where kids can go shopping for groceries just like mom and dad.

Discover some free things to do in Phoenix

Enjoy the National Pastime at Spring Training

Things to do in Arizona with kids include enjoying Spring Training

Every March, thousands of fans flock to Arizona to watch their favorite major league teams play pre-season baseball. Spring Training games are relaxed, inexpensive, and perfect for kids.

The smaller Cactus League stadiums often have grassy areas behind the outfield, ideal for letting little ones stretch their legs between innings. The relaxed atmosphere results in players being more willing to sign autographs or toss practice balls to eager kids.

In all, there are 10 different staiums spread throughout the Phoenix metropolitan area. Some of our favorites include Scottsdale Stadium (home to the San Francisco Giants) which is in the heart of town, Salt River Fields at Talking Stick which is home to the Cplroado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks.

Check out our complete guide to Arizona Spring Training.

Ride a Train

Arizona family vacation should include a trip on the Grand Canyon Railway
Photo by: Flickr/Maarten_Otto

We all know that kids and trains go together like peanut butter and jelly. Little train enthusiasts will be happy to hear that there are plenty of railroad-themed things to do in Arizona.

Scottsdale’s McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park is like heaven on earth for train-loving kids. Visitors can take rides on the Paradise and Pacific Railroad and explore the expansive indoor model train display. There is also a carousel and two large playgrounds (one is shaded from the hot Arizona sun).

Here are the best things to do in Scottsdale with kids.

Verde Canyon Railroad
Verde Canyon Railroad

Those looking for a uniquely Arizonan experience should hop on board the Verde Canyon Railroad or Grand Canyon Railway. Both of these Northern Arizona railways feature classic train cars and stunning vistas. On the Verde Canyon Railroad passengers can choose between indoor seating or outdoor observation platforms which are ideal for enjoying the canyon scenery.

The 2.5 hour ride on the Grand Canyon Railway is filled with fun including a Wild West shootout. Roving actors and musicians that entertain passengers in frontier-style. We love this option for families looking to take a day trip to the Grand Canyon and their Polar Express experience during the holidays is top notch.

Check out the best downtown Scottsdale restaurants for every meal.

Cool Off in Arizona’s Desert Lakes

Arizona family vacation Lake Powell
Lake Powell

There is no denying that Arizona summers are hot, hot, hot! Luckily, the state has lakes that are perfect for camping, boating, and of course, swimming. Lake Havasu, straddling the California/Arizona  border , is a popular destination for water sports enthusiasts.

In between jet skiing, water skiing, and tubing, make time to stop by the original London Bridge. It spanned the River Thames in England until it was dismantled in the late 1960’s and brought to Lake Havasu City.

Houseboaters love Lake Powell in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The narrow lake has dozens of quiet coves surrounded by painted desert canyons and mesas. Rainbow Bridge is the world’s largest natural arch. This awe-inspiring National Monument is accessed by boat and is a 1-mile hike from the lake.

After your visit to Lake Powell, explore the area and make time to visit nearby Antelope Canyon in the Lake Powell Navajo Tribal Park. This canyon is known for magical sandstone formations. Iconic Horseshoe Bend is nearby as well. It is a great place for photo opps but be sure to keep a close eye on kids near the edge.

Over 30 of the Best Things to do in Arizona with Kids 1

Lake Havasu is a popular destination for water sports for families in Arizona and California. It sits on the state’s western border and is part of the Colorado River. The lake’s clear, warm waters and sandy beaches make it a great spot for boating, swimming, jet skiing, water skiing and paddleboarding.

Outside of Phoenix, you will find Saguaro Lake, Lake Pleasant, and Apache Lake. These are all great places to get out on the water and cool off during the summer months. These lakes have gorgeous desert scenery and are wonderful places to spend the weekend.

You can also cool off in the many fabulous resort pools around the state. Here are our favorite resorts with water parks in Arizona. See which made our list of the best hotel pools in the USA.

Spend the Day in Phoenix’s Papago Park

Places to visit in Arizona include Pagao Park
Photo by: Flickr/Donjd2

Papago Park is a must-visit for those traveling to Phoenix. Families will find picnic areas, several small fishing lakes, hiking trails, and bicycle paths.

Hole in the Rock, a sandstone butte with a large hole in the middle, offers great views of the city beyond.

Desert Botnical Gardens
Photo via Desert Botnical Garden

The park is also home to Desert Botanical Garden, a sprawling garden set on 145 acres. It is houses more than 50,000 desert plants and has a variety of programs geared towards kids. Cacti Quest incorporates desert ecology, map reading, nature observation, and adventure to create a fun experience for children ages 8 and up.

The most popular destination within Papago Park is the Phoenix Zoo. While many folks explore this sprawling zoo on foot, guests are allowed to bring their bikes and ride from exhibit to exhibit, making a day at the zoo that much more fun.

Popular experiences include the Arizona Trail, Monkey Village, the Giraffe Encounter, pedal boats, a Safari Train, petting zoo, and a fun playground with a Saguaro cactus shaped slide.

Discover the Top 10 Things to do in Phoenix with kids. And, if you are hungry, check out our article on the Best Mexican Food in Phoenix

See the Red Rocks of Sedona

Places to visit in Arizona Sedona

There is an old adage that says “God created the Grand Canyon but he lives in Sedona.”

This spellbinding city is said to have a special energy and those of us who come back again and again have to agree. Sedona is a great place to stay for a few days so you can really soak it in. I love Sedona so much that I often find myself browsing real estate and day dreaming about living in this town that is as gorgeous as any national park.

Pink Jeep Tours take families on off-road adventures to destinations with names like Diamondback Gulch and Chicken Point. They share with their passengers with their knowledge of local history, geology, and native culture. Plus it is really fun to climb around on the offroad trails in the vibrant desert.

Cathedral Trail
View from the top of Cathedral Trail

Families looking to stretch their legs will enjoy hiking in Red Rock State Park. There are many interesting rock formations to enjoy and climb upon. We love the hike to Boynton Canyon trail to the Subway Cave, Bell Canyon at sunset, and to the top of Cathedral Rock via the Baldwin Trailhead so we include some time along lovely Oak Creek.

Those yearning for a thrilling day in the water will have a blast whizzing down the natural water chutes of Slide Rock State ParkThen head further up in to Oak Creek Canyon and enjoy the cool forest vibes mixed in with the virbant red rock colors.

Arizona has not shortage of amazing nature and landscapes. Here are the Top 10 Arizona State Parks.

Day trips include visits to Montezuma Castle and Casa Grande National Monuments or Out of Africa Wildlife Park where you can feed giraffes and tigers.

Visit the Grand Canyon

What to do in Arizona Grand Canyon
View from Grand Canyon North Rim

There are few places more iconic than the Grand Canyon. Views on both sides are quite different, but they will both take your breath away. The North Rim is more remote than the South Rim, and offers a more wooded experience. 

Trekaroo has a complete guide Grand Canyon South Rim with kids as well as a full guide to the Grand Canyon North RimWhile the South Rim is open year round, the North Rim is only open during the summer, so plan accordingly. But don’t worry, we give you the full scoop in our guides.

For the ultimate whitewater adventure, ride the Colorado River rapids in a dorie. A journey down to the brilliantly blue Havasu Falls, which are located on the Havasupai Indian Reservation, is a popular trip for active families as well. Those less adventurous will find the views and wildlife of the Grand Canyon Rim Trail just their speed.

The small western town of Flagstaff, Arizona is the gateway to the Grand Canyon. While the park has camping and lodges, more comfortable hotels can be found in Flagstaff. And we have a great guide highlighting all the best things to do in Flagstaff as well. In the winter, this mountain town is perfect for skiing but in the summer it is a great escape for the lower elevation heat waves.

If you are looking for an epic hike in the Grand Canyon, check out this hike along Havasu Creek to Havasu Falls.

Lead Photo by: Flickr/harshlight. Videos courtesy of Visit Phoenix, Visit Sedona, and creative commons. Music used by permission.

Sharlene Earnshaw