Budget-Friendly Family Vacations this Summer in Arizona
Patagonia Lake State Park. Credit: An Pham

Budget-Friendly Family Vacations this Summer in Arizona

Pump up your summer vacation's cool factor with these affordable ideas to beat the summer heat.

Arizona's famously dry heat may be perfect for lazily lounging by a pool, but the state also offers plenty of summertime adventures sure to keep your family cool—and under budget.

Things to do this summer in Southern Arizona

1. Cool off at Patagonia Lake

Budget-Friendly Family Vacations this Summer in Arizona

A hidden gem among the rolling hills of southeastern Arizona, Patagonia Lake State Park is a manmade reservoir ideal for water skiing, bird watching or simply splashing about. Families can rent a kayak or canoe on-site for exploring the water—see if you can spot the tracks of the New Mexico/Arizona railroad, which lie beneath the lake. Discover the area by foot on a hike and, if you're quiet, you may glimpse a whitetail deer or elegant trogon. Overnight camping and cabins are also available for multi-day stays.

2. Explore indoor, kid-friendly museums

Budget-Friendly Family Vacations this Summer in Arizona
Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures, Tucson

These Southern Arizona museums are anything but a snooze. The Children's Museum (with locations in Tucson and Oro Valley at Tohono Chul) encourages play and exploration with interactive exhibits so children learn while also having fun. The Ignite Sign Art Museum's historic, restored neon lights and signage offer a bit of history via electrifying displays. Be sure to check the website for news on neon-bending demonstrations and other events. At The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures, you may have to squint to see every detail of the exhibits, including more than 500 antique and contemporary dollhouses. (Pro tip: Bring a flashlight to get a better view of the more intricate doll rooms.)

3. Head up Mount Lemmon

Budget-Friendly Family Vacations this Summer in Arizona
Views from Mt. Lemmon (Credit: Visit Tucson)

There's so much to do on Mount Lemmon, starting with the drive up. For suggested stopping points and fun facts (example: "Do you know what a Sky Island is?"), download the free Mount Lemmon Science Tour app (available on Apple’s App Store or Google Play)—a narrated audio guide timed for the ascent up Catalina Highway. Locals love fishing at Rose Canyon Lake, mountain biking among the many trails, playing in the water at the Marshall Gulch Picnic Area, splitting an ice-cream-topped cookie at the Mt. Lemmon Cookie Cabin or riding the Sky Ride among towering pine trees.

4. See surprising spires

Budget-Friendly Family Vacations this Summer in Arizona
Chiricahua National Monument

Wander a landscape that feels like it's from another planet. Chiricahua National Monument is an outdoor playground of stacked rock formations and skyscraper-like spires formed over millions of years. Take in the view on an eight-mile scenic drive that ends at a lookout. Or, hike the "Wonderland of Rocks" by way of 17 miles of trails (the short, easy Bonita Creek Loop is a good one for little kiddos and older knees).

Summertime in Eastern Arizona

5. Focus on the cosmos

Budget-Friendly Family Vacations this Summer in Arizona
Credit: @skyglowproject

Take a guided tour at a cool 10,720 feet on Mount Graham, located in the Coronado National Forest, to see the Large Binocular Telescope—the world's most powerful telescope—at MGIO—Mount Graham International Observatory. Tours of this world-renowned observatory begin at Eastern Arizona College's Discovery Park in Safford, three hours east of Phoenix. Exhibits encourage visitors to ponder the origins of the universe, as well as the complexities of building the tools to explore it. Tours are offered for free, with lunch provided; however, advance registration is required. Call (928) 428-6260 for details.

6. Play! Recreate! Rest!

Budget-Friendly Family Vacations this Summer in Arizona
Credit: Sunrise Park Resort (www.sunrise.ski)

Sunrise Park Resort, nestled in the heart of the White Mountains at 9,200 feet, morphs from a winter ski resort to a refreshingly cool summer adventure destination. Enjoy downhill mountain biking, the 3D archery course, water sports and disc golf. If your family's adventurous, don't miss the airbag jump (like cannonballing into a pool, without the water) and zip-line tours. For more relaxed families, there are scenic ski lifts and horseback rides.

Things to do this summer in Northern Arizona

7. Tour a cool modern marvel

The Hoover Dam is a National Historic Landmark that draws more than a million visitors each year. And why shouldn't it? Guests have the opportunity to stand atop a modern engineering wonder, then traverse concrete tunnels within the dam, as well as see powerful generators and feel the power of water rushing through pipes. Three tour options are available, all wheelchair-accessible, starting with self-guided tours at the visitor center complex for $10 per person.

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About the Author

Melissa Wenzel

A native of Phoenix, Melissa Wenzel is a freelance writer and public relations consultant. Her writing can be found in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Raising Arizona Kids Magazine and Veteran's Magazine.

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