Arizona national parks are iconic landmarks of history and beauty. The Grand Canyon is world-renowned for its expansive vistas, with the Colorado River carving its way through it far below. Petrified Forest National Park offers glimpses into what the land looked like millions of years ago before the trees became stone through the ages. And Saguaro National Park is home to one of the largest natural collections of the mighty saguaro in the state.
Let’s zoom in on these popular parks in Arizona as well as some other National Park Service sites you shouldn’t miss.
How Many National Parks Are in Arizona?
Arizona has 24 National Park Service (NPS) Areas, including national parks, trails, monuments, historic sites, recreational areas, and more. Out of these 24 NPS areas, Arizona has three national parks, each with its own unique characteristics. They are Grand Canyon National Park, Petrified Forest National Park, and Saguaro National Park.
Each park, located in three different regions of the state, offers a variety of stunning scenic views, varying flora and fauna, and a diverse range of activities to please any outdoor enthusiast.
About Grand Canyon National Park
The Grand Canyon is a world-renowned national park. People from all over the world come here to experience the layers of millions of years of geologic history that create the breathtaking views here that you can’t experience anywhere else on earth.
How to Get There
In the northwest corner of Arizona, the massive canyon was created from the Colorado River carving its way through the rock over millions of years. Today it’s one mile deep and 18 miles wide.
Consisting of two rims, the North and South, you’ll have to decide which one you want to visit because they are over 200 miles apart by vehicle.
The South Rim is open all year and is located 60 miles north of Williams, Ariz., via Route 64. If you come from Flagstaff, it is 80 miles northwest via Route 180.
The North Rim closes in the winter and is only open from mid-May through mid-October. It’s 30 miles south of Jacob Lake, Ariz., located on the scenic Highway 89A in the northern part of the state.
Camping is available year-round on the South Rim, although it has limited facilities in the winter. The South Rim has three official campgrounds, all offering RV and tent sites. One even has full hookups, including sewer. All sites, except 10 at the Mather Campground, you must reserve ahead of time.
Camping on the North Rim is seasonal, and only one campground hosts both tent and RV campers. While this area has no full hookups, it does have a dump station on site. You must reserve all campsites ahead of time.
Backcountry camping is also available throughout the park, but you will need a backcountry permit. You can also find dispersed campsites and other campgrounds just outside of the park, offering a variety of amenities from nature-only to full hookup sites.
Pro Tip: Make sure your trip to the Grand Canyon lives up to all of your bucket list dreams with these tips on How to Plan an Epic RV Trip to the Grand Canyon.
The entrance fee costs $35 per vehicle for seven days and includes both the North and South Rim of the park. Annual passes for the Grand Canyon cost $70.
You can also purchase the America the Beautiful annual pass, giving you access to more than 2,000 federal recreational areas. This pass covers any entrance fees for federal land.
When to Go
Spring and fall are the best times to visit this Arizona National Park because of the crowds in the summer. However, if you don’t mind the cold, winter can offer gorgeous views with the glistening, white snow covering the multicolored rocks.
About Petrified Forest National Park
Petrified Forest National Park is one of the most pet-friendly national parks in the nation. So grab Fido and your hiking gear. Wandering through this Arizona national park is like strolling back in time with its many geological wonders of moonlike landscapes and petrified wood. Petrified Forest National Park also includes the Painted Desert.
How to Get There
This Arizona National Park stretches north and south between Interstate 40 and Highway 180 in the state’s northeast corner. It has two entrances depending on which direction you come from.
If coming from westbound I-40, take Exit 311. You can then drive the 28 miles through the park for access to backcountry camping and hiking. If you’re heading eastbound on I-40, take Exit 285 into Holbrook, then travel 19 miles on Highway 180 South to the park’s south entrance.
You can only backpack or hike into designated camping areas here. Car, RV, and front country camping are not allowed anywhere in the park, so pack appropriately if you plan on heading into the backcountry to camp.
You’ll have to carry in and out everything you’ll need. But the adventures and the tranquility will be worth the effort of hiking in with a pack on your back. Plus, you can bring your furry friend along with you.
Plan ahead, though. You’ll need a backpacking wilderness permit to camp here. It is free and available at both of the onsite visitor centers at the park until 4 p.m. the day of.
Entry fees cost $25 per vehicle for seven days of access. You can also purchase an annual pass to the Petrified Forest National Park for $45. Or you can get the America the Beautiful annual pass for $80, which works for all national parks and recreation sites across the country.
When to Go
Being located in northern Arizona in a semi-arid climate, temperatures vary dramatically in this Arizona national park. Summer weather can bring temps over 100 degrees, while winter can get well below freezing and include snow.
The best time to visit the Petrified Forest National Park is in the fall when you’ll have a better chance of experiencing mild temperatures without much precipitation.
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About Saguaro National Park
The desert surroundings of Saguaro National Park are abundant with both animal and plant life, including 25 species of cacti that call this Arizona national park home. You’ll find everything from the mighty Saguaros to the tiniest cacti species called the mammillaria and everything in between.
How to Get There
Saguaro National Park, located just outside of Tucson, Arizona, has two districts that you can get to easily: the Rincon Mountain District or Saguaro East. Head east on I-10 and take exit 275. Head north for 8 miles. Turn right on Escalante Road. Make a left turn on Old Spanish Trail in 2 miles, and the park entrance will be on your right.
West Saguaro, also known as Tucson Mountain District, is west of the city. You’ll head to Kinney Road from Tucson proper and go north for 4 miles. At Mile Wide Roads, make a right turn into Saguaro National Park.
Remember that the east side has no parking spaces for RVs, and the west has no RV parking on the loop.
There is no camping on the west side. You can only camp on the east side, which doesn’t allow RV, car, or front country camping. Camping is limited to backcountry only, and you must have a backcountry camping permit reserved ahead of time for $8 per night. The area has six backcountry campgrounds, and each of them requires that you bring in everything you need and pack everything out.
Saguaro National Park has a $25 per vehicle entry fee valid for seven days and gives you access to both parks. If you plan on visiting here throughout the year, an annual pass to this park costs $45.
When to Go
Summertime has temperatures over 100 degrees. The monsoon season hits mid-June running through September, bringing precipitation with possible floods.
On the other hand, late April through June is when the Saguaro flowers bloom. So if you want a chance to see the mighty saguaros all decked out in their finest wildflowers, spring is the best time to experience this Arizona national park.
Other National Parks Service Sites in Arizona
The three national parks in Arizona are only just the beginning. With its diverse environments, from the northern mountainous regions to the southern desert landscape, you’ll find many places to explore.
Chiricahua National Monument
Chiricahua National Monument, billed as a “Wonderland of Rocks,” lies in the southeast corner of Arizona, about 120 miles from Tucson. Here you can explore the 8-mile scenic drive or 17 miles of trails. Those that want to explore this area for more than just a day can go RV and tent camping.
Montezuma Castle National Monument
You’ll step back into history when visiting this Arizona national monument. This 20-room apartment-style dwelling built into a cliff wall tells tales of ancient Native American life.
Located in central Arizona in Verde Valley, you’ll experience history, wildlife, plant life, and a unique habitat from the Montezuma Well, a collapsed limestone sinkhole.
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument lies about 5 miles north of the Arizona/Mexico border. It is home to “a pristine example of an intact Sonoran Desert ecosystem,” giving it the International Biosphere Reserve status. Hiking, RV, tent, and backcountry camping adventures are great ways to explore Organ Pipe.
Pro Tip: Add Kofa National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona to your itinerary! Here’s why!
Visit the National Parks of Arizona
Whatever Arizona national park or service area you choose to visit, you’ll get a unique experience. The diversity in the ecosystems and wildlife in these parks, monuments, and forests are second to none. Arizona’s natural wonder and its three national parks and other 21 NPS areas offer plenty of evidence to support that.
What park do you want to visit next? Tell us in the comments!
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