Top Ten Things to do in Arizona

Most people who have never been to Arizona probably only know it for two things- cacti and the Grand Canyon. While both of these things are central to Arizona’s identity, the state offers so much more to families looking to explore. Arizona is full of diverse natural beauty, fun urban attractions, and some fantastic family-friendly resorts. Here are our picks for the top ten things to do in Arizona, with a fun video to get you started.

Top 10 things to do in Arizona

10.  Discover ancient native cultures

things to do in Arizona

Photo by: Sharlene Earnshaw

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 ruins of the Hohokam people. Montezuma Castle National Monument  protects 800 year old cliff dwellings. The ancient native homes of Wupatki and Walnut Canyon National Monuments are near Flagstaff. Phoenix’s Heard Museum features 10 galleries filled with American Indian art and artifacts. Kids will enjoy hands-on activities, such as making Yaqui-inspired paper flower or a bandolier bag.

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9. Experience the Old West

things to do in Arizona

Photo by: Sharlene Earnshaw

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.

Was there an Old West experience that your family loved? Write a review and share you story.


8. Explore the Sonoran desert

Things to do in Arizona

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 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 a leisurely float down the chilly Salt River.

Find kid-friendly lodging in Tucson and Phoenix.

7. Visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

things to do in Arizona

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.

Have you visited this amazing museum? Write a review of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

6. Enjoy the national pastime at Spring Training

Things to do in Arizona


Photo by: Sharlene Earnshaw

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.

Looking for a place to stay during Spring Training? Check out these kid-friendly hotels in the Phoenix area.


5. Ride a train

Things to do in Arizona

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 little 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

things to do in Arizona

Photo by: Sharlene Earnshaw

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, the world’s largest natural arch, is a 1-mile hike from the lake.


3. Spend the day at Papago 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. The park is also home to Desert Botanical Garden , a sprawling garden set on 145 acres. It is home to more than 50,000 desert plants and 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, and a fun playground with a Saguaro cactus shaped slide.

Find family-friendly lodging in and around Phoenix.


2. See the red rocks of Sedona

Photo by: Sharlene Earnshaw

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. Those yearning for a thrilling day in the water will have a blast whizzing down the natural water chutes of Slide Rock State Park.

Do you love Sedona? Share your experiences and write a review.


1. Visit the Grand Canyon

Photo by: Sharlene Earnshaw

There are few places more iconic than the Grand Canyon. Views on both sides take your breath away. The North Rim is more remote than the South Rim, and offers a more wooded experience. Take a mule ride down into the canyon or the tough hike down to the canyon floor via the Bright Angel Trail.  The trail is for experienced hikers only; it’s a steep 10.5 miles back up! For the ultimate whitewater adventure, ride the Colorado River rapids in a dorie.  Those less adventurous will find the views and wildlife of the Grand Canyon Rim Trail just their speed.

Look for the best hotel prices in Arizona

Find more fun and family-friendly things to do in Northern Arizona.

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

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About the author

Sharlene Earnshaw is Trekaroo’s Editor in Chief. She lives in sunny Orange County, CA, with her husband and 10-year-old son and daughter (twins!). She is a self-proclaimed National Park junkie and has the goal of visiting each and every one with her kids. When she isn't traveling to places like Norway, Peru, Disney World, and Hawaii with her family, she enjoys hiking, beach days, obsessively rooting for the San Francisco 49ers, and planning her brood's next trip.

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