By Jill “MamaBug” Frier
Arizona is known for being a fantastic place to get outside and enjoy the wonders of nature, regardless of the activity you choose. Fortunately for us, our state is not only home to 22 National Parks and Monuments in the National Park Service, but we also have one of the best managed state park systems in the United States. In 2017, the Arizona State Parks & Trails system was awarded the Gold Medal for being the best-managed state park system in the nation from the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration in partnership with the National Recreation and Park Association.
Arizona State Parks & Trails are located throughout the state on more than 64,000 acres of pristine Arizona wilderness, near lakes, deserts, forests, and natural wonders. There are 35 state park areas around Arizona, with 18 recreational parks, nine historical parks, seven conservation areas, and one memorial park. Here are a few of our favorites parks to visit in different parts of the state.
Red Rock – Sedona
One of the most beautiful state park areas to visit in Arizona is Red Rock State Park. This 286-acre nature preserve and environmental education center sits in the heart of Red Rock country and offers gorgeous forest and creek-side hiking trails with amazing views of the giant red rock formations that define Sedona. The park also has a fantastic visitors center, educational facilities and libraries, and many fascinating environmental classes and programs.
Tonto Natural Bridge – Payson
Tonto Natural Bridge is a hidden gem of geological wonder located near Payson on the Mogollon Rim. This small state park lets you hike down trails, stairs, and bridges to a stream fed by natural springs. The stream flows directly through the giant wonder of the only known travertine natural bridge in North America. It’s a great spot for picnics, short hikes, and wildlife watching, with a historic lodge and visitors center. The park is a great day trip from Phoenix and a perfect excuse to visit Rim Country.
Boyce Thompson Arboretum – Superior
One of the best reasons to venture east of Phoenix on Highway 60 is to visit the diverse beauty of Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park. Founded in the 1920s by mining magnate Col. William Boyce Thompson, the 323 acres of the Arboretum is both the oldest and the largest botanical garden in Arizona. The Arboretum features flowers, trees, and plants from deserts around the world, set into the sheer cliffs of mountainous terrain through a high desert forest next to a flowing stream. This is a beautiful spot for a day trip, and a must-see drive into the mountains near Superior on the way to Globe.
Catalina – Tucson
If you’re looking for fantastic natural views of Sonoran Desert mountains, you must pay a visit to Catalina State Park in Tucson. Nestled in the foothills of the Catalina Mountains just north of Tucson, this park provides 5,500 acres of fantastic hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails, through canyons, streams, and desert in the Coronado National Forest. A favorite spot for bird and wildlife watching, the park offers beautiful views of mountains, desert flora, and wildlife.
Kartchner Caverns – Benson
Celebrating their 20th Anniversary this year, Kartchner Caverns is a world-class Arizona State Park that features fantastic caves and beautiful desert vistas. A well-kept secret for decades, the park opened in 1999 and provides facilities for camping, hiking, and of course touring the pristine and previously untouched caverns. A visit to Kartchner Caverns is worth the trip south to Benson, but be sure to book your cave tour tickets in advance because tours book up very quickly.
We are so fortunate to live in a state that is full of natural wonders and a world-class state park system that lets you experience these locations firsthand. Take time to visit all of our state parks and enjoy the beauty of Arizona up close, and be sure to visit www.LadybugsBlog.com for more ideas and information about places to visit and explore everywhere in our great state.