Summertime in the Southwest can certainly get sticky, but there are ways for intrepid travelers to beat the heat. Discover the perfect Arizona State Parks for your interests this coming season with the help of our guide below. Or if you’ve got the time (or decision fatigue), tie them all together in a memorable five-day itinerary!
This story was created in partnership with Arizona State Parks & Trails.
If you’re looking for…
…The Perfect Photo Op, Try Tonto Natural Bridge State Park
Tonto Natural Bridge State Park is a photographer’s dream destination. A fairly undiscovered natural feature in Arizona (at least to non-locals), this spot is yet to see an influx of visitors in search of that perfect photo. The 183-foot tall natural travertine bridge is the largest in the nation, and at various times each year it is veiled in a picturesque waterfall that captures the light just right.
The best part of Tonto Natural Bridge State Park is that you’re allowed and encouraged to explore its every corner. Pine Creek Trail will take you to the base of the bridge where you can investigate the 400-foot-long tunnel below. Otherwise, stay up top and observe from a bird’s-eye-view. After you’ve exhausted your memory card, settle down for a picnic lunch outside of the historic visitors center. If you’re lucky, a local javelina might come around to greet you. Quick, grab the camera!
…Sedona Views (Without all the People), Try Red Rock State Park
Nestled into the base of the Colorado Plateau, the town of Sedona is famous for its stunning red rock formations. And because of its easy access from Phoenix (less than two hours away) and Flagstaff (a mere 50 minutes), you can see why Sedona is an epic bucket list destination. (In fact, there are several Arizona State Parks near Sedona to discover.)
Get away from the crowds, even on busy weekends, by visiting Red Rock State Park. As a wildlife preserve home to endemic species such as coyotes, mule deer, and tremendous bird life, it is naturally very quiet. Pack your hiking boots and enjoy exploring by foot on several of the loops within the park. The 1.53-mile Eagle’s Nest Loop ascends 300 feet above Oak Creek to offer beautiful views of the surrounding area, while the creekside Kisva Trail is a great place to find respite from hot midday sun.
…an Adult-Friendly Playground, Try Alamo Lake State Park
Alamo Lake State Park is an excellent alternative to bustling Lake Havasu. Tucked discreetly into the desert just east of the well-known spring break paradise, Alamo Lake has all the fun with a fraction of the crowds. Off-road enthusiasts will love the direct access to miles of OHV trails surrounding the lake, while wakeboarding, surfing, and tubing are other popular pastimes.
But all these motorsports aren’t to say you can’t find a slower pace at Alamo—in fact, this is one of the best fishing lakes in the entire state. Cast a line for largemouth bass and crappie and set the kids up with a bobber and worm for sunfish and bluegill. It’s easy to while the day away reeling in the park’s fishy friends. (Catch and release is encouraged to keep the population thriving for years to come.) After you’re all fished out, enjoy spotting the many wild burros who call the shores of Alamo Lake home. Bring your tent or RV and set up for the weekend, or opt for four walls with a quaint lakeside cabin rental.
…Unexpected Ancient History, Try Lyman Lake State Park
Farther to the east, you’ll find another remote corner of Arizona that locals would probably rather keep secret: Lyman Lake State Park. While boating is popular here as well as at Alamo Lake, you can find quieter pursuits along the shoreline.
Bring your bike for a breezy pedal, or hike the Peninsula Petroglyph Trail, which leads to a number of petroglyphs. Also not to miss are the Rattlesnake Point Ruins, an ancient ruin where Hopi ancestors once lived. Of course, when visiting any Arizona State Park please remember to be mindful of your impact so we can preserve these treasures well into the future.
Looking to gain some elevation after your history lesson? Tackle the two-mile long Buffalo Trail to earn panoramic views of the lake below. That extra s’more around the campfire later that night will be well deserved!
When you’re ready to plan your summer visit to Arizona’s State Parks, check our our itinerary!