The Ultimate Guide to Arizona State Parks

Jessica DunhamSeptember 16, 2020
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Patagonia Lake State Park; Photo by Brandon Sullivan; Models: Miguel, Manoah & Amenity Caldera/Ford Robert Black Agency
Patagonia Lake State Park; Photo by Brandon Sullivan; Models: Miguel, Manoah & Amenity Caldera/Ford Robert Black Agency
Lakeside retreats! Historical gems! Secluded cabins!

From deep dives to quick snapshots, this compendium of facts, figures and travel tips about each of Arizona’s 34 marvelous state parks will inspire your weekend adventuring for months to come.

Original photography by Eric Cox, Brian Goddard, Kevin Kaminski, Richard Maack and Brandon SullivanAdditional photography courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails

Founded in 1953, Arizona State Parks and Trails has evolved into an important part of the state’s recreational ecosystem. Though the pandemic has curtailed out-of-state sightseers in 2020, the system is enjoying an uptick in local usage, according to spokesperson Michelle Thompson. “Several parks are seeing higher-than-usual visitations… and many first-time [Arizona] visitors have been coming to have adventures in their home state.”

Arizona State Parks Dashboard

Fast Facts
Oldest State Park: 

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park, founded in 1958

Newest State Park:

Rockin’ River State Park (due late 2021)

Closest to Downtown PHX: 

Lost Dutchman State Park (41 miles)

Farthest from DTPHX: 

Lyman Lake State Park (236 miles)

Largest:

Oracle State Park (4,000 acres)

Smallest: 

Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park (12,000 square feet)

Annual Visitors:

3.2 Million (2019)

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News Update!

Current Parks Director Robert Broscheid replaced embattled ex-director Sue Black in early 2019. Black was fired by Governor Doug Ducey for unlawful development of Native sites and other archaeological assets, and procurement violations. Broscheid previously ran Colorado’s park system and spent 18 years with the Arizona Game & Fish Department.

Parks Pass

Arizona State Parks sells two annual passes to help you save money and time. The Standard pass ($75/year) allows day-use access for you and up to three adults at all parks except for Lake Havasu, Cattail Cove, Buckskin Mountain and River Island. The Premium pass ($200/year) allows day-use access at all parks for you and up to three adults. azstateparks.com

Alamo Lake State Park
Alamo Lake State Park

Fees
Per vehicle: $10
Individual/bicycle: $3

Alamo Lake State Park

Drive time from Valley: 2 hours, 10 minutes

As far as lakeside parks go, this one in western Arizona has no beach and not much shoreline hiking. But! It’s considered one of the best bass fishing lakes in the country. Anglers: Pack your gear and reserve one of the cabins ($65/night), where the front porch makes for an ideal spot to spin yarns about the catch of the day. From Wenden, take Alamo Road 33 miles north to the park entrance, 928-669-2088, azstateparks.com/alamo-lake

Buckskin Mountain State Park

Drive time from Valley: 2 hours, 30 minute

The Colorado River ribbons through this park’s striking rock formations – edged arches, natural bridges – and invites you to swim, play, picnic and hike along its curved shoreline. The real treat, though? The park’s riverfront campsites. Reserve early to secure one of these gems. 5476 N. US-95, Parker, 928-667-3231, azstateparks.com/buckskin

Buckskin Mountain State Park
Buckskin Mountain State Park

Fees
Per vehicle: $7
Individual/bicycle: $3

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Catalina State Park

Drive time from Valley: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Anchoring the rugged Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, this park sprawls through the Coronado National Forest’s wild backcountry. Trails dotted with hikers, bikers and horseback riders trace the spines of high-elevation ridges and snake through deep canyons. One challenging trek, the Sutherland Trail, navigates the steep slopes to deliver determined hikers to Mt. Lemmon, the highest peak of the Catalinas. Another trail climbs 80 steps up to the stone and adobe ruins of a Hohokam village from 500 A.D. In the 19th century, Francisco Romero built a ranch on the land, likely using this same stone to fortify his home from the Apaches. 11570 N. Oracle Rd., Tucson, 520-628-5798, azstateparks.com/catalina

Fees
Per vehicle: $7
Individual/bicycle: $3

Catalina State Park; Photos by Eric Cox
Catalina State Park; Photos by Eric Cox
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Bird Journal

Birding isn’t for everyone, we get it. But more than 170 diverse species inhabit the park, so you’re bound to spot a winged creature worthy of mention, whether you intend to or not. The 1-mile Birding Trail offers an easy loop for ambling. Bonus points for the signage with bird facts.

Notable Flora

The nearby Saguaro National Park boasts a lot (like, millions) of its namesake cactus, but Catalina is home to nearly 5,000 of them. Not too shabby. Throughout the state park, thick clusters of the mighty saguaro jut from the hillsides, giving way to glittering city views of Tucson.

Photo courtesy Adobe Stock Images
Photo courtesy Adobe Stock Images
Cattail Cove State Park; Photo courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails
Cattail Cove State Park; Photo courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails

Fees
Per vehicle: $10-$25
Overnight per vehicle: $15-$20
Individual/bicycle: $3

Cattail Cove State Park

Drive time from Valley: 3 hours

Looking for a tranquil Lake Havasu experience? Then set up your towel and umbrella on the white sandy beaches of Cattail Cove. To avoid lazy beach bum status, rent a paddleboard or a kayak ($65/four hours) from the ranger station to ply the lake’s calm waters. From Lake Havasu, take US-95 south for 15 miles to the park entrance, 928-855-1223, azstateparks.com/cattail-cove

Colorado River State Historic Park; Photo by Richard Maack
Colorado River State Historic Park; Photo by Richard Maack
Colorado River State Historic Park

Drive time from Valley: 2 hours, 40 minutes

Over the years, the buildings at this park have served an oddball assortment of government agencies. Starting in 1864, the U.S. Army used them as a supply depot for forts in the Arizona Territory; later, the Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Customs and the U.S. Weather Service were all tenants. Today, the buildings maintain exhibits on the rich history of the Colorado River region, including a research library open to professionals and curious members of the public. 201 N. Fourth Ave., Yuma, 928-783-0071, azstateparks.com/colorado-river

Fees
Adult: $6
Youth, ages 7-13: $3
Child, ages 6 and younger: free

Dankworth Pond State Park; Photo courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails
Dankworth Pond State Park; Photo courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails

Fees
Per vehicle: $10
Individual/bicycle: $3

Dankworth Pond State Park

Drive time from Valley: 3 hours

Bring your binoculars for a peaceful morning of wildlife watching. A few creatures you might see: foxes, mule deer, raccoons, bobcats, coyotes, Gambel’s quail and the great horned owl. This Safford park, popular with the fishing crowd, is the quieter cousin to Roper Lake State Park, just down the way. 8600 US-191, Safford, 928-428-6760, azstateparks.com/dankworth-pond

Dead Horse Ranch State Park; Photo by Kevin Kaminski
Dead Horse Ranch State Park; Photo by Kevin Kaminski

Fees
Per vehicle: $7
Individual/bicycle: $3

Dead Horse Ranch State Park

Drive time from Valley: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Attention RV campers: More than 100 spacious sites ($20-$35/night) grace the grounds of this riverfront getaway in the Verde Valley. If you can’t snag a campsite or one of the park’s cabins, drive up for a hiking day trip – nearly a dozen trails wind through the sprawling high desert environs along the Verde River. 675 Dead Horse Ranch Rd., Cottonwood, 928-634-5283, azstateparks.com/dead-horse

Fool Hollow Lake Recreation Area; Photo by Kevin Kaminski
Fool Hollow Lake Recreation Area; Photo by Kevin Kaminski

Fees
Per vehicle: $7-$10
Individual/bicycle: $3

Fool Hollow Lake Recreation Area

Drive time from Valley: 3 hours

Travel north to the cool pines of Show Low for a family-friendly adventure. Fool Hollow’s 120 campsites lace through the trees and weave around the 150-acre lake – some sit steps from the water, others hide in the forest. If you visit in summer, the lakeside shop rents all sorts of outdoors gear, from mountain bikes and boats to fishing supplies. 1500 N. Fool Hollow Lake, Show Low, 928-537-3680, azstateparks.com/fool-hollow

Fort Verde State Historic Park

Drive time from Valley: 1 hour, 25 minutes

In Camp Verde, living history programs and historical homes furnished down to the tiniest detail in 1880s period décor bring to vivid life the experiences of frontier soldiers and their families. From 1865 to 1891, General Crook’s U.S. Army soldiers were based at Fort Verde; many of the fort’s original buildings stand on this tidy, 12-acre historical park to this day. 125 E. Hollamon St., Camp Verde, 928-567-3275, azstateparks.com/fort-verde

Fort Verde State Historic Park; Photo courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails
Fort Verde State Historic Park; Photo courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails

Fees
Adult: $7
Youth, ages 7-13: $4
Child, ages 6 and younger: free

Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park

Drive time from Valley: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Visit this somber, walkable monument to the Granite Mountain Hotshot firefighters who died in the 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire. Interpretive signs and 19 memorial plaques – one for each firefighter – guide the way on the Hotshots Trail. A tribute wall greets you at the observation deck. From here, look down. You’ll see the Fatality Site encircled by 19 gabion baskets. Located 2 miles south of Yarnell on SR-89, azstateparks.com/hotshots

Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park; Photo courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails
Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park; Photo courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails

Fees
None

Coming soon!

Havasu Riviera State Park

Drive time from Valley: 3 hours

The first phase of this day-use park in Havasu City will open in spring 2021. The master plan for the park includes a six-lane boat launch, marina and waterfront restaurant. 928-855-2784, azstateparks.com/havasu-riviera

Homolovi State Park

Drive time from Valley: 3 hours

Both an active research center and a state park, Homolovi – “place of the little hills” in Hopi – preserves more than 300 archaeological sites relating to the migration period of the Hopi from the 1200s to the 1300s. The short, paved Homolovi II Trail transports you to the largest of the park’s sites, a 14th-century pueblo with nearly 2,000 rooms. From I-40 near Winslow, take Exit 257, then drive 1.5 miles north on Highway 87 to the park entrance, 928-289-4106, azstateparks.com/homolovi

Homolovi State Park; Photo courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails
Homolovi State Park; Photo courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails

Fees
Per vehicle: $7
Individual/bicycle: $3

Jerome State Historic Park; Photo by Richard Maack
Jerome State Historic Park; Photo by Richard Maack
Jerome State Historic Park

Drive time from Valley: 2 hours

Less of a park and more of a home tour, this 2.5-acre property shows off the Douglas Mansion with its commanding views of the Verde Valley. James Douglas, owner of the Little Daisy copper mine, built it in 1916 as a hotel for mining investors. Today the manse’s luxurious rooms exhibit photographs and artifacts about Jerome’s mining history. But you can only look and browse – no overnighters. 100 Douglas Rd.,
Jerome, 928-634-5381, azstateparks.com/jerome

Fees
Adult: $7
Youth, ages 7-13: $4
Child, ages 6 and younger: free

Kartchner Caverns State Park; Photos courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails
Kartchner Caverns State Park; Photos courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails
Kartchner Caverns State Park

Drive time from Valley: 2 hours, 25 minutes

Once upon a time there was a sea. It blanketed the land, layering sediment that hardened into limestone, which in turn lifted the ground skyward to form mountains. But a chunk broke free. That massive limestone block plunged thousands of feet beneath the earth where water and air slowly carved narrow passages and big rooms through it – humid, dark spaces where tiny minerals could gather and grow into shapes over the millennia. Speleothems. Stalactites. Stalagmites. Eons later, these formations are still evolving inside what is now Kartchner Caverns, a “living cave” and one of our state’s most magical natural wonders. Guided tours take you into the belly of the cavern. Above ground, the Discovery Center highlights the cave’s geology, ecosystem (2,000 bats take up residence inside the cave) and history, including how two men found it in the 1970s and kept it a secret until they could ensure its preservation. 2980 S. US-90, Benson, 520-586-4100, azstateparks.com/kartchner

Fees
Per vehicle: $7
Individual/bicycle: $3
Cave tour Adults: $23
Youth, ages 7-13: $13;
Child, ages 6 and younger: $5

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“But I’m Afraid of the Dark.”

If underground exploration isn’t for you, then hit the trail. Three hiking paths traverse the foothills of the Whetstone Mountains in the park. The newest, the 1.7-mile Ocotillo Trail, treats you to sightlines of the San Pedro River Valley, Dragoon Mountains, Rincon Mountains and Sky Islands.

Where to Stay

Take advantage of Kartchner Caverns’ remote location in Southern Arizona to overnight at one of the park’s log cabins ($59/night). Located just a short walk from the Discovery Center, each cabin sleeps six people and provides electricity, AC and heat. If you’re spending the night, time your stay to coincide with an astronomy Star Party. They’re temporarily postponed due to COVID-19, but will likely resume post-pandemic.

Lake Havasu State Park

Drive time from Valley: 3 hours

You could easily mistake the palm-tree-lined beaches and azure waters of Lake Havasu for an oceanside locale in Florida. Colorful speedboats zip by, music thumps from portable speakers and a distinctly festive – dare we say, “party” – vibe electrifies the air. Take the energy level down a notch with a stroll through the park’s Arroyo-Camino Interpretive Garden. 699 London Bridge Rd., Lake Havasu, 928-855-2784, azstateparks.com/lake-havasu

Lake Havasu State Park; Photo courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails
Lake Havasu State Park; Photo courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails

Fees
Per vehicle: $15-$20
Individual/bicycle: $3

Park Factoid
Havasu is the most popular state park, with 550,000 (2019) annual visitors.

Lost Dutchman State Park

Drive time from Valley: 45 minutes

Since the 1840s, many have claimed to know the location of the Peralta family’s lost gold mine in the Superstition Mountains, but none of these would-be fortune-seekers became more famous than “the Dutchman” Jacob Waltz. The German prospector purportedly hid caches of the precious metal throughout the Superstition Wilderness. Fact or fiction, Waltz’s windfall gave the park its name. You might not find gold during your visit, but other treasures include great hiking and biking trails, and five cabins with sunset views. 6109 N. Apache Trail, Apache Junction, 480-982-4485, azstateparks.com/lost-dutchman

Lost Dutchman State Park; Photo courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails
Lost Dutchman State Park; Photo courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails

Fees
Per vehicle: $7-$10
Individual/bicycle: $3

McFarland State Historic Park; Photo courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails
McFarland State Historic Park; Photo courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails

Fees
None

Park Factoid
Hate crowds? McFarland is the least-visited state park, with 6,800 annual visitors.

McFarland State Historic Park

Drive time from Valley: 1 hour

On a tidy street corner in Florence, tour the preserved first Pinal County Courthouse, built in 1878 during the Arizona Territory period, and the 1882 jail. Travel advisory: The park was closed due to COVID-19 as this issue went to press. 24 W. Ruggles St., Florence, 520-868-5216, azstateparks.com/mcfarland

Oracle State Park; Photo courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails
Oracle State Park; Photo courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails

Fees
Per vehicle: $7
Individual/bicycle: $3

Park Factoid
Oracle is one of 10 Dark Sky spots in Arizona, and one of two that are state parks. The other? Kartchner Caverns.

Oracle State Park

Drive time from Valley: 2 hours

As a designated International Dark Sky Place, Oracle’s celestial sights are something to behold. Join a Star Party to see the heavens through the lens of an astronomer’s telescope. If you visit during the day, hike or bike Oracle’s 15-plus miles of trails, including a scenic part of the Arizona Trail. 3820 Wildlife Dr., Oracle, 520-896-2425, azstateparks.com/oracle

Lyman Lake State Park; Photo courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails
Lyman Lake State Park; Photo courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails
Jerome State Historic Park

Drive time from Valley: 2 hours

Less of a park and more of a home tour, this 2.5-acre property shows off the Douglas Mansion with its commanding views of the Verde Valley. James Douglas, owner of the Little Daisy copper mine, built it in 1916 as a hotel for mining investors. Today the manse’s luxurious rooms exhibit photographs and artifacts about Jerome’s mining history. But you can only look and browse – no overnighters. 100 Douglas Rd.,
Jerome, 928-634-5381, azstateparks.com/jerome

Fees
Per vehicle: $7
Individual/bicycle: $3

Park Factoid
Lyman is the only lake at an AZ state park that doesn’t have motor size limits for boats – usually it’s 10 hp max.

Patagonia Lake State Park; Photos by Brandon Sullivan; Models: Miguel, Manoah & Amenity Caldera/Ford Robert Black Agency
Patagonia Lake State Park; Photos by Brandon Sullivan; Models: Miguel, Manoah & Amenity Caldera/Ford Robert Black Agency
Patagonia Lake State Park

Drive time from Valley: 3 hours

South of Sonoita, the blue waters of Patagonia Lake glisten for 265 acres in either direction. Unlike the craggy escarpments that border many desert lakes, here it’s all rounded corners and gentle slopes. The surrounding hills ease down to the tall grasses that line the shore. A trail meanders from the beach to Sonoita Creek, which formed the lake when it was dammed. And a marina provides boat rentals for the chill at heart: canoes, pontoons, rowboats and paddleboats. In a former life, this land was the home of the Sobaipuri and Papago tribes, both related to the Pima Indians. Today, it’s the home away from home for swimmers, sunbathers, boaters and anglers. 400 Patagonia Lake Rd., Patagonia, 520-287-6965, azstateparks.com/patagonia-lake

Fees
Per vehicle: $15-$20
Individual/bicycle: $3

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Wildlife Viewing

Have you ever seen the “gray ghost” of the desert? No? Then midday, keep your eyes on the lakeshore. That’s when the elusive Coues whitetail deer make their presence known before retreating to the hills for the evening. If you miss the rare sighting, you’ll still enjoy watching the great blue herons wade in the water.

Where To Stay

You’ll find 105 perfectly acceptable campsites at Patagonia Lake, but for the money experience, reserve one of the 12 boat-in campsites ($20/night). Accessible by boat only, each comes with a picnic table and a fire pit and not much else – except for a remote spot with uninterrupted water views. Like we said… money.

Picacho Peak State Park; Photo by Kevin Kaminski
Picacho Peak State Park; Photo by Kevin Kaminski

Fees
Per vehicle: $7
Individual/bicycle: $3

Picacho Peak State Park

Drive time from Valley: 1 hour

Picacho rises from the desert seemingly out of nowhere, its sharp buttes like lighthouses guiding travelers home. It wasn’t always a sight for road-weary eyes, though. In 1862, Confederate and Union soldiers clashed here in the Battle of Picacho Pass, a fight marked in history as the westernmost battle of the Civil War. These days during the spring, vibrant wildflowers carpet the ground; come winter, the challenging trails that ascend the sunny peaks draw thrill-seeking hikers. I-10 at Exit 219, Eloy, 520-466-3183,
azstateparks.com/picacho

Red Rock State Park; Photos by Brian Goddard; models Veronica Clark & Jeff Deglow/Ford Robert Black Agency
Red Rock State Park; Photos by Brian Goddard; models Veronica Clark & Jeff Deglow/Ford Robert Black Agency
Red Rock State Park

Drive time from Valley: 2 hours

Oak Creek runs for nearly 2 miles throughout this 286-acre state park, wreathing the sandstone mesas and red boulders with leafy riparian habitats. If we’re judging Sedona hiking hot spots, it doesn’t get much better than the park’s juniper-studded trails and vortex-framed vistas. Red Rock State Park is one of the most ecologically diverse parks in Arizona, which is why it makes sense that it serves as an important environmental education hub. From the Visitor Center’s kid-friendly interactive exhibits and insightful film presentations to guided nature walks and full moon hikes, the robust programming offers invaluable insight into Sedona’s majestic landscape. 4050 Red Rock Loop Rd., Sedona, 928-282-6907, azstateparks.com/red-rock

Fees
Adult: $7
Youth, ages 7-13: $4
Child, ages 6 and younger: free

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Photo courtesy Adobe Stock Images
Photo courtesy Adobe Stock Images
Animal Encounters

When it comes to Arizona wildlife, you’ll see the usual suspects – javelina, mule deer, maybe a coyote – but to meet the cutest, most playful creatures ever, hike the Apache Fire Trail. It leads to Oak Creek, where the resident river otters frolic. Cross Kingfisher Bridge to glimpse them below.

Before You Go

Due to the park’s popularity, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind before your visit. Of note: Most of the trails are off-limits to cyclists; there is no swimming or wading in Oak Creek; don’t climb the rocks; and keep your four-legged buddy at home

Riordan Mansion State Historic Park; Photo Courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails
Riordan Mansion State Historic Park; Photo Courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails

Fees
Adult: $12
Youth, ages 7-13: $6
Child, ages 6 and younger: free
Tour fee not included with Arizona State Parks Pass.

Riordan Mansion State Historic Park

Drive time from Valley: 2 hours

Architecture and interior design fans will appreciate touring this historical Flagstaff home, built in 1904 in the American Arts and Crafts style and showcasing a collection of original Craftsman furniture. Travel advisory: The park was closed due to COVID-19 as this issue went to press. 409 W. Riordan Rd., Flagstaff, 928-779-4395, azstateparks.com/riordan-mansion

New Park!

Rockin’ River Ranch State Park

Drive time from Valley: 1 hour, 30 minutes

We’re at least a year from the opening of Rockin’ River Ranch near Camp Verde. Arizona State Parks promises to include public input as part of the planning of the 209-acre day-use site, so if you’d like lots of swimming holes or miles of bike trails, speak up. azstateparks.com/rockin-river

River Island State Park; Photo Courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails
River Island State Park; Photo Courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails

Fees
Per vehicle: $10
Individual/bicycle: $3

River Island State Park

Drive time from Valley: 2 hours, 35 minutes

Nestled on the banks of the Colorado River, and with a sweet cove providing shelter for swimming and fishing, this park is a true, serene oasis among the lively destinations along Arizona’s West Coast – otherwise known as the Arizona Riviera. 5200 N. US-95, Parker, 928-667-3386, azstateparks.com/river-island

Roper Lake State Park

Drive time from Valley: 3 hours

One of Arizona’s more pristine bodies of water, Roper Lake sparkles beneath the shadow of Mt. Graham, the highest peak in Southern Arizona. Take a dip in the natural hot springs, fish for largemouth bass and trout or watch the sunrise from the porch of one of eight cabins ($65-$70/night). 101 E. Roper Lake Rd., Safford, 928-428-6760, azstateparks.com/roper-lake

Roper Lake State Park; Photo Courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails
Roper Lake State Park; Photo Courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails

Fees
Per vehicle: $10
Individual/bicycle: $3

San Rafael State Natural Area; Photo Courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails
San Rafael State Natural Area; Photo Courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails
San Rafael State Natural Area

Drive-time from Valley: 3 hours, 15 minutes

Near the U.S.-Mexico border and tucked in the San Rafael Valley lies 21,131 acres of rolling grassland – native to the region and sacrosanct in that it’s one of the last remaining stands of the grassland ecosystem in the Southwest. A conservation easement protects the majority of the acreage while Arizona State Parks preserves 3,557 acres as the San Rafael State Natural Area. The park isn’t open to the public, but an on-site ranger grants access by special request. azstateparks.com/san-rafael

Slide Rock State Park; Photo Courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails
Slide Rock State Park; Photo Courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails

Fees
Per vehicle: $10-$30
Motorcycle: Entrance fee is half of the “per vehicle” fee.
Individual/bicycle: $5

Slide Rock State Park

Drive time from Valley: 2 hours

Take 80 feet of sandstone, let time and erosion weather it into a chute, slime it with algae for a slippery ride and you have Slide Rock. The “slide” is the main attraction here, but this Sedona park also has an apple orchard that is celebrated each year with an action-packed, family-fun harvest festival. 6871 N. US-89A, Sedona, 928-282-3034, azstateparks.com/slide-rock

Sonoita Creek StateNatural Area

Drive-time from Valley: 3 hours

The perennial stream of Sonoita Creek feeds this natural area’s bounty of trees: cottonwood and willow, ash and walnut, mesquite and elderberry. Hike 20 miles of remote trails where you’ll likely encounter nobody save for the dozens of species of dragonflies and butterflies. Use Patagonia Lake State Park to enter the natural area. 400 Lake Patagonia Rd., Patagonia, 520-287-2791, azstateparks.com/sonoita-creek

Sonoita Creek State Natural Area; Photo Courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails
Sonoita Creek State Natural Area; Photo Courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails

Fees
Per vehicle: $15-$20
Individual/bicycle: $3

Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park

Drive-time from Valley: 2 hours, 45 minutes

Get to know Wyatt Earp. Stand in a reproduction of the gallows where convicted baddies met their demise. And learn all about the other gunfight at the OK Corral. The museum inside the courthouse exhibits interpretive displays on all of this and more, including the history of Tombstone and Cochise County. 223 Toughnut St., Tombstone, 520-457-3311, azstateparks.com/tombstone

Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park; Photo Courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails
Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park; Photo Courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails

Fees
Adult: $7
Youth, ages 7-13: $2
Child, ages 6 and younger: free

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park; Photo Courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails
Tonto Natural Bridge State Park; Photo Courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails
Tonto Natural Bridge State Park

Drive time from Valley: 2 hours

When you encounter what is believed to be the largest travertine bridge in the world, you won’t know where to rest your gaze first. There’s the jagged stone mouth of the 400-foot-long tunnel created by the bridge. There’s the waterfall splashing down into a placid pool. There are slick moss-covered rock walls, and there are oak trees and junipers jockeying for position. And then, of course, there’s the bridge itself. Molded by time and lava and water and shifting faults, the 183-foot bridge looms over Pine Creek. Pick a place to sit and stay awhile – legends weren’t made overnight. From Payson, drive north on Highway 87 for 10 miles, 928-476-4202, azstateparks.com/tonto

Fees
Adult: $7
Youth, ages 7-13: $4
Child, ages 6 and younger: free

Photo by Richard Maack
Photo by Richard Maack
Photo by Richard Maack
Photo by Richard Maack
Tonto Tips

There are four trails to the bridge, and each is steep and strenuous. Wear sturdy hiking shoes. To reach the bridge, opt for the Anna Mae Trail or the Pine Creek Trail. To see the waterfall, take the Waterfall Trail, a 20-minute hike down uneven steps. You can also see the bridge from four viewpoints in the parking lot, no hiking required. The observation deck is currently under repair, so one or all of the trails may be closed. Call ahead before your visit.

Make a Day of It

Pop into the park’s historic Goodfellow Lodge to check out the museum with exhibits on the site’s early inhabitants, artifacts and photographs of the history of Tonto Natural Bridge and information about the lodge itself. Bring a picnic to enjoy lunch outdoors, as well as your bathing suit. You can’t swim under the bridge, but you can swim upstream or downstream from it. Overnight accommodations available for groups.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park; Photo Courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails
Tubac Presidio State Historic Park; Photo Courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails
Tubac Presidio State Historic Park

Drive time from Valley: 2 hours, 15 minutes

As part of the expansion of “New Spain” throughout Mexico and the Southwest, the Spanish Empire built Catholic missions along with forts, or presidios, to protect them. At Arizona’s first state park, dedicated in 1958, see the ruins of the oldest Spanish presidio in the state, San Ignacio de Tubac, established in 1752. 1 Burruel St., Tubac, 520-398-2252, azstateparks.com/tubac

Fees
Adult: $7
Youth, ages 7-13: $2
Child, ages 6 and younger: free

Verde River Greenway State Natural Area

Drive time from Valley: 1 hour, 45 minutes

This natural area’s raison d’être is preservation of the Verde River’s delicate riparian ecosystem, so although swimming, fishing and hiking are allowed, a “light footprint” is encouraged. Connect with the riverside trails from Dead Horse Ranch State Park. 2011-B Kestrel Rd., Cottonwood, 928-639-0312, azstateparks.com/verde-river

Verde River Greenway State Natural Area; Photo Courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails
Verde River Greenway State Natural Area; Photo Courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails

Fees
None

Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park; Photo Courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails
Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park; Photo Courtesy Arizona State Parks & Trails

Fees
Adult: $8
Youth, ages 7-13: $4
Child, ages 6 and younger: free

Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park

Drive time from Valley: 2 hours, 40 minutes

After 33 years housing hardened criminals, the Yuma Territorial Prison gained new life as Yuma Union High School in 1910. Cellblocks became classrooms and the hospital held assemblies. We’re sure there’s a joke to be made likening school to jail, but the truth is the history of this prison is too darn fascinating. Take Pearl Hart, for example. In 1899, she chopped off her hair, donned men’s clothing and, armed with a revolver, robbed a stagecoach bound for Florence. She became a national media sensation for the crime, and even though she was sentenced to five years in the all-male Yuma Prison, she got out in two thanks to what’s politely been described as “deft use of her feminine wiles.” The prison’s preservation today is impressive; you’ll see the guard tower, original cellblocks and a museum displaying artifacts and stories of notable convicts. Plus: Great gift shop! 220 N. Prison Hill Rd., Yuma, 928-783-4771, azstateparks.com/yuma-territorial

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