9 Little-Known Parks in Arizona

By: Elena Acoba

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April 29, 2015

Choose from a wide range of fascinating adventures in and around state and national lands.

About the author

Elena Acoba

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.

Grand Canyon is probably Arizona’s best-known national park, but did you know that the US National Park Service runs two dozen other public sites in Arizona? The state’s park department adds 31 history and recreational locations.

Here are nine gems in these park systems, plus ideas on how to expand your visits at nearby communities.

Arizona's West Coast

Several beaches – yes, in Arizona – line the Colorado River along the state’s western border. Buckskin Mountain State Park has a nice one for camping, putting in watercraft and swimming. Hike the trails to nearby vistas. 

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 be able to after hiking, bicycling or driving through Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in the Sonoran Desert wilderness. 

Tiny 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 a 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 historical downtown 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 mine legend at the Superstition Mountain Museum, see attractions at the Goldfield Ghost Town and take in Western entertainment at Barleen’s Arizona Opry Dinner Theatre.

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.

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