11 Best Arizona State Parks in 2023 (By a Local)
I’m an Arizona native and in this guide, I’ll share the best of the best Arizona state parks!
These state parks are some of the top places to visit in Arizona and offer a myriad of incredible attractions. This guide will point you to natural works of art, historic architecture, and so much more in the Grand Canyon State.
Table of Contents
- 11 Best State Parks in Arizona
- FAQs About Arizona Parks
Disclosure: Travel Lemming is an independent reader-supported blog. You can support us by purchasing via the affiliate links on this page, which may earn us commissions. See our Advertising Policy for further explanation. Thank you!
11 Best State Parks in Arizona
Lost Dutchman State Park
Named after a lost gold mine, this park 30 minutes east of Phoenix allows you to camp and hike at the base of the Superstition Mountains
📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Lost Dutchman State Park Website
Calling all hikers, campers, and explorers. Lost Dutchman State Park is home to some of the best trails in the Phoenix area. The Superstition Mountains are fabled to be the site of an abandoned gold mine (hence the name of the park). Tell spooky stories under a blanket of stars in the shadows of these jagged peaks when you camp along the Apache Trail State Route 88.
Take in the sights of the Sonoran Desert landscape by pedaling the newly opened mountain bike path. Or explore on foot – there are several hiking trails that wind through the Superstitions and the surrounding Tonto National Forest. With such immeasurable beauty and easy access from the capital city, Lost Dutchman State Park tops our list of Arizona state parks.
📚 Related Reading: 19 Best Places to Go Camping in Arizona
Catalina State Park
Go horseback riding, hiking, birdwatching, and picnicking in this lush Sonoran Desert scenery just north of Tucson
📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Catalina State Park Website
Located just north of Tucson and on the outskirts of Oro Valley, Catalina State Park is a local Tucson favorite for outdoor recreation. This incredible park is situated at the base of the gorgeous Santa Catalina Mountains.
Miles and miles of excellent hiking trails, mountain biking paths, and equestrian trails wind through this Sonoran Desert terrain. After the monsoon rains, the babbling brook that runs through the park becomes a raging river, and the desert foliage turns bright green.
If you’re looking for a challenging hike with great rewards, the Romero Pools trail is just what you need. The destination is home to some of the best cliff diving in the Coronado National Forest. Note that dogs are not allowed in this section of Catalina State Park due to bighorn sheep protection regulations.
🐍 Look Out: Keep an eye out for rattlesnakes, mountain lions, and mule deer in this densely populated habitat. This is one of the wildest Arizona state parks!
Kartchner Caverns State Park
Explore one of the most magnificent limestone caves in Arizona
📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Kartchner Caverns State Park Website
The limestone hills surrounding Kartchner Caverns State Park are gorgeous, but what lies beneath the surface will take your breath away (literally!). Miles of underground rooms, expansive caverns, and winding hallways make up this incredible site.
No cave in Arizona is so delicately preserved and diligently protected as this one. This cave features magnificent stalagmites and stalactites. They have been forming for thousands of years, and some of the formations are larger than a school bus!
The park was opened just over 20 years ago, so it’s fairly new compared to other Arizona state parks. Kartchner Caverns can only be explored through guided tours, so make sure to reserve a spot before arriving at the park. However, the surrounding hiking trails can be explored at your leisure.
🔍 Local Trivia: Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts discovered the cave in 1974 but kept it a secret for years to keep others from finding and defiling it.
Lake Havasu State Park
Check out the London Bridge and enjoy a day of watersports and boating at this vacation hotspot
📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Lake Havasu State Park Website
Welcome to watersports galore! Lake Havasu State Park is the ideal place to rent a boat for a day of waterskiing, jet skiing, wakeboarding, tubing, and more. This happening place boasts waterfront restaurants, lively bars, and a section of the London Bridge.
Lake Havasu State Park is family-friendly, but note that it becomes party central when college students are on break. Try to avoid spring break and summer vacation time if you seek a relaxing getaway. But if boat parties and clubbing are up your alley, join in on the fun during the busy season!
Lake Havasu is one of the best lakes in Arizona and is a unique destination to spend a few days off. If you’re looking to camp, Cattail Cove State Park is just 20 miles away and offers some of the best beachfront camping in Arizona.
🚣♂️ Local Trivia: Lake Havasu is one of the most populated ports of entry to the Colorado River.
Red Rock State Park
Behold the beautiful red rocks of Sedona in this stunning environment
📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Red Rock State Park Website
Located just southwest of Sedona, Red Rock State Park is one of the most scenic Arizona state parks. Views of the majestic formations of Sedona loom behind fields of tall grasses and riparian foliage nurtured by Oak Creek. This area is stunning, and since it’s just outside of the popular tourist areas, you can occasionally enjoy it all to yourself.
Any outdoorsman will thrive in this Arizona state park. You can make a day out of rock crawling, tubing, and hiking. Or simply park a chair in Oak Creek and soak your worries away in the cold water (swimming is not allowed but you can hang out on the banks).
Breathtaking mountain views are the best part of this gorgeous landscape. Check out Slide Rock State Park just upstream in Oak Creek Canyon for a thrilling splash through natural waterslides.
👉 Pro Tip: Road tripping? Park in the State Park Parking Area at the turnoff on Red Rock Loop Road for the best meeting point.
Riordan Mansion State Historic Park
Learn about a unique Arizona family in the mountainous college town of Flagstaff
📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Riordan Mansion State Historic Park Website
Riordan Mansion State Historic Park features a famous Flagstaff family’s residence that was built in 1904. This is one of the best Arizona state parks to visit during the summer. The pleasant Northern Arizona weather and indoor setup will keep you cool. The whole family will enjoy perusing this historic structure, as well as the surrounding college town hotspots.
The architecture of Riordan Mansion is ahead of its time, artfully built to last with modern plumbing and electricity. It was designed by Charles Whittlesey, the same man who designed El Tovar Hotel which rests precariously on the edge of the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. Handcrafted with massive pine logs and volcanic rocks, this cabin will impress any architecture fan.
📚 Related Reading: 21 Best Day Trips from Phoenix
Patagonia Lake State Park
Escape the desert heat with a trip to the lake just south of Tucson
📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Patagonia Lake State Park Website
Patagonia Lake State Park is the perfect place to escape the summer heat. It’s one of the top day trips from Tucson, located less than an hour south and on the way to the Nogales border.
This high-desert landscape is cool and beautiful. Wildlife like coyotes, whitetail deer, and mule deer abound. Rent a boat at the marina and enjoy a day on the water, or set up lunch at the picnic areas on the beach. This is one of the best Arizona state parks for recreational opportunities.
Patagonia Lake is also one of the best places to camp in Arizona. Set up a tent beside the shore or hitch up your RV at the lakeside campground. The site offers hot showers, flush toilets, a convenience store, and other modern amenities. The whole family will be sure to enjoy this Arizona state park.
Picacho Peak State Park
Put on your best hiking boots because this steep trek is going to make you feel the burn — but the views make it all worth it
📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Picacho Peak State Park Website
If you enjoy hiking, Picacho Peak is the Arizona state park for you. Rising prominently from the flat desert alongside I-10 on the way to Phoenix, you can’t miss this volcanic peak.
Two trails wind their way to the summit, one virtually vertical and the other meandering around the backside of the mountain. Both are difficult but offer rewarding views. You can also camp at the base of the mountain if you prefer admiring Picacho Peak from the desert floor.
Picacho Peak State Park is lovely year-round, but its beauty is amplified in the springtime. This is when the sheer cliffs are covered in purple, yellow, and orange wildflowers. I recommend visiting around April for the prettiest desert scenery.
Want to see it all from above? Go skydiving in Eloy just north of the exit on I-10!
👉 Pro Tip: Bring gloves on your hike. You’ll have to grab onto metal cables near the summit, which can be rough and hot on your hands.
Tonto Natural Bridge State Park
Explore the largest natural travertine bridge in the world near the central Arizona town of Payson
📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Tonto Natural Bridge State Park Website
Nature lovers will be blown away by this Arizona state park. It’s located just north of the mountain town of Payson in the high desert of the Coconino National Forest.
This natural travertine bridge is said to be the largest in the world! The bridge is nearly 200 feet tall and over 400 feet long. It’s an impressive piece of art designed by Mother Nature herself.
Nearby is a picnic area perfect for family gatherings and history lessons. Learn about the prehistoric inhabitants of this area at the Tonto Natural Bridge Visitor Center.
This natural bridge has been part of an extensive Arizona past involving American Indians and gold prospectors. Aside from its natural beauty, Tonto Natural Bridge is one of the most historically rich and popular state parks in Arizona.
Oracle State Park
Go stargazing, spelunking, and mountain biking along the Arizona Trail on the backside of Mount Lemmon
📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Oracle State Park Website
Oracle State Park is one of my favorite Arizona state parks. This gorgeous landscape along SR 77 is just 27 miles north of Oro Valley, one of the best places to stay in Tucson.
Winding around the north side of Mount Lemmon, this high desert scenery is breathtaking. Massive boulders and vivid cacti dot the rolling hills. When it snows, Tucsonans at lower elevation flock to this winter wonderland.
Choose from a multitude of hiking trails and mountain biking paths. A portion of the famous Arizona Trail runs along the crest of the Santa Catalina Mountains to the south. The trailhead is easily accessible via car.
If you continue along S Mount Lemmon Road, you can make it all the way to Summerhaven, the mountain town at the top of the range. You’ll need four-wheel drive to achieve this!
Crawl on your hands and knees into Peppersauce Cave if you don’t mind tight squeezes. Unaccompanied by tour guides, this is my favorite cave to explore in all of Arizona. There is so much to experience in Oracle State Park, yet many explorers seem to skip it. I appreciate this area all the more for its smaller crowds and more rugged feel.
Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park
Visit one of the most unique Arizona state parks to learn about the famous prison that once held outlaws
📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park Website
Who wouldn’t want to learn about the history of a famous prison that once held legendary robbers and Wild West outlaws? The Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park provides a close-up look at what life behind bars was like in the 19th century.
The prison also offers beautiful views of the Colorado River. This is a must see if you ever find yourself passing through the California-Arizona border town of Yuma.
FAQs About Arizona Parks
How many state parks are there in AZ?
There are 31 state parks in AZ, all managed by the Arizona State Parks agency.
Does AZ have a state park pass?
AZ does have a state park pass. The annual Arizona State Parks Pass is either $75 or $200, depending on location and time restrictions. You can purchase your State Parks Pass here.
If you make your way through the Grand Canyon State on foot or by car, these Arizona state parks are must-sees. Prepare for the itinerary of a lifetime. Happy exploring and safe travels through the best state parks of the Southwest!
Help us help you travel better!
Your feedback really helps ...
What did you like about this post? Or how can we improve it to help you travel better?