The magic of travel should be the discovery and sense of wonder it inspires, not how quickly your vacation funds go “poof!”
Visit Arizona and you’ll find plenty of attractions and activities that stretch your travel budget because they don’t require an admission charge or ticket fee. Here are just a few things you can enjoy in Arizona for free.
Arizona’s breathtaking scenery and Instagram-worthy sunsets are always free, but there’s more.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument and Navajo National Monument, both in Northeastern Arizona’s Navajo Nation, are admission-free parks that preserve American Indian history and culture, as well as sculptural canyons.
At Canyon de Chelly, try scenic rim drives or hike down to the White House Ruins, a cliff dwelling site. Navajo National Monument offers free guided hikes to the nearly 800-year-old Betatakin cliff dwelling and free permits to hike to the more remote Keet Seel site.
Near Lake Havasu City, wildlife lovers flock to Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge along the Colorado River in Western Arizona to enjoy short hikes, glimpses of bighorn sheep or yellow warblers and, if you have your own kayak or canoe, a paddle down the calm river.
In Southern Arizona, the Friends of the San Pedro River organization in Sierra Vista offers interpretive walks through the lush riparian zone, where cottonwoods and willows attract hundreds of migrating and nesting bird species.
For something different, head to Flagstaff, where you’ll find warm-weather disc golf courses at the city’s Thorpe and McPherson parks, on Northern Arizona University’s campus and on the lower slopes of Arizona Snowbowl ski resort.
Clear nights and communities with dark-sky regulations make Arizona an astronomer’s paradise.
Flagstaff’s Atmospheric Research Observatory, on the Northern Arizona University campus, is open on Fridays and Saturdays for clear-night-sky viewing when volunteer astronomers are there to help point out the celestial sights.
At Kitt Peak Observatory in Southern Arizona, self-guided tours, hands-on activities and exhibits are some of the free offerings. Check the observatory’s calendar for a lecture series.
In nearby Tucson, visitors to the University of Arizona’s Flandrau Science Center’s observatory can see seasonal highlights in the night sky when volunteer astronomers are available.
Safford’s Discovery Park is an impressive facility in Southeastern Arizona, with an observatory and exhibit building that houses a camera obscura and a Space Shuttle Polaris simulator ride. On Saturday nights, visitors can enjoy free stargazing and use of Discovery Park’s telescopes, weather permitting. You can also stroll the park’s nature trails, which wind past a restored wetland.
Hit Arizona’s art scene immediately by flying into Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, where the Phoenix Airport Museum boasts more than 900 works of art and dozens of display areas throughout the terminals. Look for pieces like artist-designed terrazzo floors in the Sky Train stations, paintings and bronzes in the gallery and photographs in display spaces, all before you hit security checkpoints.
In nearby Mesa, Mesa Arts Center is an architecturally striking arts campus that makes a great photo stop. Its contemporary art museum highlights works by local and regional artists. The center also has a full calendar that includes many free concerts and festivals.
Flagstaff’s Coconino Center for the Arts dates to the 1970s and hosts seven major exhibitions a year, many featuring the work of Flagstaff artists. The center also has numerous free performances in its theater and sponsors the First Friday Artwalk events in Flagstaff’s historic downtown.
Prescott’s historic downtown has its own “stage” at the landmark Courthouse Plaza, where a summer performance series runs through early September. Prescott courthouse plaza events include outdoor movies, jazz concerts, karaoke contests and performances by local and regional bands. Dancing is encouraged.
Best of the Old West
Explore the legends and lore of cowboys, outlaws, miners and Indian chiefs throughout Arizona.
In Southern Arizona, Tombstone maintains its Wild West heritage as the place where Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp once strode, and the gunfight at the O.K. Corral seared its way into Arizona history. You can amble past Tombstone’s historic buildings, watch mock gunfight performances in the streets or read “Here lies Lester Moore. Four slugs with a .44. No Les. No more” on a tombstone at Boothill Graveyard.
An easy hike is the best way to enjoy Fort Bowie National Historic Site, also in Southern Arizona. Along the interpretive trail from the parking lot to the fort, you’ll see the old post cemetery and the remains of the Butterfield Stage Coach station. The remains of the fort are ghostly remnants of a large and surprisingly sophisticated military outpost built to quell the conflict with the Apache people – including Cochise – in the late 1800s.
In Douglas, Slaughter Ranch is a reminder of a slightly more peaceful time in history, when cattle was king. The open-air museum includes a pond, lush grounds and restored buildings that date to the 1880s when the property, owned by John Slaughter, was a 100,000-acre cattle ranch straddling the Arizona-Mexico border.
Oatman, in Northwestern Arizona, has it own rootin’ tootin’ gold mining history. Visitors can strike it rich by strolling down historic Main Street, photographing the town’s wild burros (descended from miners’ pack animals) or watching mock gunfights in the middle of the street.
Do you have some youthful members in your entourage? Arizona’s free family activities range from pure fun to educational.
Near Phoenix, the town of Gilbert offers a charming historic downtown, a landmark water tower and, for the wee ones, Water Tower Plaza, with its splash pad, water walls, floating granite ball and runnel feature. Get out the beach towels.
For a drier playtime experience, head to Scottsdale’s McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park to cut loose on big stretches of grass and two extensive playgrounds. You can also peek into the model railroad exhibit building or enjoy the summer concert series.
In Window Rock, Navajo Nation Zoo and Botanical Park showcases native gardens and more than 100 animals that are native to the Navajo Nation, including black bears, wolves, porcupines, eagles and snakes.