Most people who have never been to Arizona probably only know it for two things- cacti and the Grand Canyon. While both are central to Arizona’s identity, the state offers so much more to those looking to enjoy an Arizona family vacation.
Don’t know what to do in Arizona? This state is full of diverse natural beauty, fun urban attractions, and some incredible national parks. Here are our picks for the top ten things to do in Arizona with kids. We cover all the best places to visit in Arizona, from historic sites to baseball to active family adventures in jaw-dropping locations.
Top 10 things to do in Arizona with Kids
10. Discover Ancient Native Cultures
With over 250,000 Native Americans living within the state’s borders, native culture plays in important role in Arizona. Much of the ancient culture is preserved by the National Park system. Casa Grande Ruins National Monument preserves the 13th century ruins of the Hohokam people. Montezuma Castle National Monument protects 800-year-old cliff dwellings. Wupatki and Walnut Canyon National Monuments are near the mountain town of Flagstaff.
Phoenix’s Heard Museum is 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.
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9. What to do in Arizona? Experience the Old West!
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.
Those looking for Western-style fun in the Valley of the Sun should check out the entertainment and activities at Rawhide Western Town in Chandler or kid-friendly horseback riding at North Scottsdale’s McDonald’s Ranch. There are several ghost towns in Arizona worth visiting as well. Here is our guide to the 10 best ghost towns to visit in Arizona.
8. Explore the Sonoran Desert on Your Arizona Family Vacation
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 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.
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.
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. During the warm season a leisurely float down the chilly Salt River can’t be beat!. Apache Trail is a popular desert drive that takes families on a true desert adventure to some wild and remarkable vistas.
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.
7. Visit Arizona’s Kid-Friendly Museums
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.
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6. Enjoy the National Pastime at 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.
Check out our complete guide to Arizona Spring Training.
5. Ride a Train
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).
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. 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.
Find more family-friendly fun in Scottsdale and check out the best downtown Scottsdale restaurants for every meal.
4. Cool Off in Arizona’s Desert Lakes
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.
3. Spend the Day at Papago Park
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.
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.
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2. See the Red Rocks of Sedona
There is an old adage that says “God created the Grand Canyon but he lives in Sedona.”
Those that have had the privilege of experiencing the splendor of the red rocks understand how a saying like that came to be. Pink Jeep Tours take families on off-road adventures to destinations with names like Diamondback Gulch and Chicken Point. They passengers with their knowledge of local history, geology, and native culture.
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. Those yearning for a thrilling day in the water will have a blast whizzing down the natural water chutes of Slide Rock State Park. 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.
1. Visit the Grand Canyon
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 Rim.
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.
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Lead Photo by: Flickr/harshlight. Videos courtesy of Visit Phoenix, Visit Sedona, and creative commons. Music used by permission.