Organ Pipe Cacti
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

9 Little-Known Parks in Arizona

Hoodoos, cacti and castles: Choose from a wide range of fascinating adventures in and around Arizona state and U.S. national lands.

Grand Canyon is Arizona's best-known national park, but there are more than 50 state and national parks that add to the state's historic and recreational locations.

Here are nine less-known parks in Arizona, with ideas on how to expand your visits at nearby communities.

Arizona's West Coast

Several Arizona beaches line the Colorado River along the state's western border. Buckskin Mountain State Park is but one that offers watersports and swimming opportunities. Dry off hiking the trails to nearby vistas, then set up camp to enjoy the sunset and starry skies.

Not a camper? Stay in Parker, a 15-minute drive south of the park. It's a riverside jumping point to historical places, including the Colorado River Indian Tribes Museum and the Poston Memorial Monument, marking a World War II internment camp for Japanese Americans.

Tucson and southern Arizona

Hoodoos, balancing rocks and other unusual geologic formations beckon at Chiricahua National Monument, where you can see the sites along a scenic drive or from hiking trails. Explore the restored Faraway Ranch—an early 20th-century residence and guest ranch, now open for tours.

Willcox, 37 miles northwest of the Chiricahuas, is a relaxing agricultural town. Enjoy fresh produce at U-pick farms, and sample local wines at 13 vineyards, wineries and tasting rooms.

Can you tell the difference between the many-armed saguaro and the multi-stemmed organ pipe cactus? You will after hiking, bicycling or driving through Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in the Sonoran Desert wilderness.

The tiny town of Ajo—15 miles north of the monument—offers a refreshing stop after your desert adventures. Hit the gift shops in Ajo Plaza, where you can enjoy the Spanish Colonial architecture and historical buildings.

Phoenix and central Arizona

McFarland State Historic Park is on Florence's history walk. The 1878 adobe complex housed the townsite's first courthouse, the sheriff's office and jail. In 1891 it was converted into a hospital. See a restored 19th-century courtroom, artifacts and photos, as well as an exhibit of a nearby World War II prisoner of war camp.

After the tour of the historic downtown of Florence, enjoy a spiritual retreat amid the gardens and chapels of St. Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery.

On the outskirts of Apache Junction lies the Superstition Mountains, dominated by the 4,900-foot Flat Iron Peak. Hardy explorers can traverse it from one of the many hiking trails, and one mountain biking trail, that start from Lost Dutchman State Park, named for the legend of a lost gold mine.

Make a point to see Apache Junction's other Old West attractions. Learn about the mining legend at the Superstition Mountain Museum, see attractions at the Goldfield Ghost Town and take in Western entertainment at Barleen's Dinner Show.

North-central Arizona

Hike into a creek-fed canyon at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park and see what's under one of the world's biggest natural travertine bridges—a gaping 400-foot-long tunnel you can walk through. Not a hiker? You can see the bridge from above at four viewpoints.

Complete your visit with a cruise down Main Street in Payson, 14 miles southeast of the park, for antique and art shops, the Rim Country Museum and a look at the replica of author Zane Grey's forest cabin.

Montezuma Castle National Monument protects a 1,000-year-old high rise. Take the self-guided trail past the five-story, 50-room Sinagua cliff dwelling. Stop at Montezuma Well to hike past more cliff dwellings, as well as pueblo ruins and a pithouse.

Four miles south is Camp Verde, where you can learn about recent history at the 19th-century Fort Verde State Historic Park, in a self-guided tour of 13 historical buildings and among antique stores and trading posts.

Northern Arizona

There are many ways to enjoy Canyon de Chelly National Monument, where people have lived for nearly 5,000 years. Drive to 10 overlooks for views of the canyon's rock formations and cliff ruins, hike down for a close up of White House ruins or hire a guide for tours of the valley floor.

Stop in Chinle at the entrance of the monument to shop for Navajo arts and crafts.

About the Author

Elena Acoba

Since moving to Tucson in 1988, freelance writer Elena Acoba has enjoyed traveling to the four corners of Arizona. Her favorites spots in her adopted state: the natural wonders and the rich historical sights.

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From the abundance of Saguaro cactuses and unique wildlife in the Sonoran Desert to the high country and forests of the White Mountains to the breathtaking Grand Canyon, Arizona’s regions are full of experiences that don’t disappoint.