Big Nose Kate's Saloon, Tombstone

Complimentary Arizona

By: Nora Burba Trulsson

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Enjoy only-in-Arizona attractions for free.

About the author

Nora Burba Trulsson

Nora Burba Trulsson

Nora Burba Trulsson is a long-time Arizona resident and a freelance writer specializing in travel, food, lifestyle, architecture and design topics. Her articles have appeared in Sunset, Arizona Highways, Vegas Seven, Houzz.com, Valley Guide, Scottsdale Magazine, United Airlines Hemispheres, Westjet's Up!, Renovation Style, Beautiful Homes and other publications and websites. She can be reached through www.noraburbatrulsson.com.

Travel should be about fun and new discoveries, not how quickly your vacation funds go "poof!"

Visit Arizona and you'll find plenty of attractions and activities that won't blow your travel budget. From national monuments outdoors to sites where the Old West lives on, explore Arizona gratis.

Outdoor exploration


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 the Navajo Nation in northeastern Arizona, 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.

Canyon de Chelly National MonumentCanyon de Chelly National Monument / Credit: Tom Narwid

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.

Awesome astronomy


Clear nights and internationally recognized dark sky communities make Arizona an astronomer's paradise.

At Kitt Peak Observatory in southern Arizona, visitors can take part in self-guided tours, hands-on activities, and exhibits—all for free. Special night-time tours and a Dark Sky Discovery program are also among the offerings. Check the observatory's calendar for a lecture series.

Of course, with 14 International Dark Sky parks and communities within Arizona, such as Sedona, Flagstaff, Camp Verde, Grand Canyon National Park, Wupatki National Monument, and Tumacácori National Historical Park, all you really need to enjoy the stars is to step outside and let the skies do their thing.

For more information about Arizona's dark skies, check out www.visitarizona.com/dark-skies.

Abundant art


In Mesa, just east of Phoenix, the Mesa Arts Center is an architecturally striking arts campus that makes a great photo stop. Its contemporary art museum highlights work by local and regional artists, and many free concerts and festivals are held year-round.

The Center for Creative Photography on the University of Arizona campus in Tucson houses an impressive collection of American photographic fine art, including work by Ansel Adams, who co-founded the center. Access to their permanent collections and traveling exhibitions are free and open to the public.

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.

Multiple cities also host "First Friday" (or "Second Saturday") events in their downtown areas with sidewalk vendors, food trucks, and performances by local musicians and artists. In Phoenix, galleries and some museums will even offer free admission those evenings. In addition to Flagstaff and Phoenix, check out Mesa'sTucson's and Bisbee's monthly art walks.

Prescott's landmark Courthouse Plaza has its own "stage," which hosts performances throughout the summer and early fall. Past events have included 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 the tombstones at Boothill Graveyard, which includes gems such as, "Here lies Lester Moore. Four slugs with a .44. No Les. No more."

An easy hike is the best way to enjoy Fort Bowie National Historic Site, in southeast 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 tribe in the late 1800s.

In DouglasSlaughter 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.

A burro in Oatman tries to enter a closed shop.An Oatman burro checks out a closed shop / Credit: Nick Fox

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.

Family fun


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. (Tickets are required for the train, carousel, and museum at $2 a ticket, or a book of 6 for $10.)

In Window Rock, Navajo Nation Zoo and Botanical Park showcase native gardens and more than 100 animals native to the Navajo Nation, including black bears, wolves, porcupines, eagles, and snakes.

Want more ideas? Browse our Events page for more free activities.

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