Traveler, writer, editor
Best Arizona State Parks in the Spring
Start / End
Tucson / Phoenix
539 miles (867 km)
Reach new highs, hike new miles, and explore new realms with the new year. While spring flowers are blooming and the year is fresh, head to southern Arizona and follow this itinerary of trails, reservoirs, birds, caves, and much more.
Because you’ll travel from high elevations to underground during the spring season, come prepared for sunny days that will start off chilly and could get hot. Bring your sunscreen, bug spray, and extra layers for stargazing. As you explore, remember to Leave No Trace.
For this route, we suggest flying into Tucson and departing from Phoenix and giving yourself 10 full days to explore these outstanding state parks.
TUCSON & KARTCHNER CAVERNS STATE PARK
This park is one of the gems of Arizona, and as your first stop on vacation you’ll want to spend a few days here settling in and unwinding. Rent a cabin or park your RV and start exploring. First, get the lay of the land and some fresh air on the above-ground trails in the beautiful Whetstone Mountains.
Then, embark on a cave tour to learn all about this unique cavern system. There are remarkable—and totally unique—formations that you have to see to appreciate. Notably, this cave wasn’t discovered until 1974 and was kept a secret for 10 years before Arizona State Parks was approached to preserve and protect this astounding resource.
In the evenings, watch for bats and other wildlife, and at night gaze at the stars from this international dark sky park. Before April 15, both sides of the cave are open for separate tours, before the migratory bat population comes back to their maternity roost for the summer. You’ll want to spend at least two nights here before moving on to your next Arizona State Park.
CATALINA STATE PARK
1 HOUR, 20 MINUTES – 71 MILES/114 KM
Get your hiking boots ready, because Catalina State Park is a hiking mecca. Spend at least a couple of days here to explore the wide variety of hiking environments, from sandy to steep ascents, from peaceful birding loops to an archaeological tour of sites that date back to 500 A.D. Pro tips: don’t miss the Romero Ruins Interpretive Trail for history and the Sutherland Trail to walk through the Desert Bighorn Sheep Management Area.
If you prefer, you can also explore this sizable park via equestrian trails from from the equestrian center or on bike!
Between hikes, spend some time in the Visitor Center or at park events learning about the wildlife, desert plants, and early people of this part of Arizona.
Conveniently, you can pop into Tucson for hot meals and supply refills before heading back into the great outdoors with your family or on to your next park!
PICACHO PEAK STATE PARK
45 MINUTES – 167 MILES/58 KM
Another short, 45-minute drive north, and you’ll arrive at Picacho Peak State Park. As you approach on I-10, it will become clear exactly where you’re headed, as the park’s namesake’s unique shape rises up from the desert floor.
You may be thinking of it as a place for epic hikes and peaceful camping—and it is. But Picacho Peak State Park also has a fascinating history. From the Anza Expedition in the 1770s to gold-seeking 49ers to being site of the westernmost Civil War Battle in 1862, this park has a lot of stories to tell.
This park is rich in outdoor recreation opportunities—including up Hunter’s Peak for incredible views of the wilds and of the metropolis below. Couple all those trails with wildlife watching and, when the season is right, remarkable wildflower blooms, and you have reason to spend at least two full days here.
LOST DUTCHMAN STATE PARK
1 HOUR, 30 MINUTES – 73 MILES/118 KM
A 90-minute drive through the Phoenix area (fill up on whatever food you keep craving in camp and some extra sunscreen), and you’ll arrive at a goldmine. Almost literally. The legends abound in Lost Dutchman State Park, as do unique views and iconic desert hikes.
If you have your bike with you, give the new bike loop a try, or simply hit the trail to suit your hiking ability right from your campsite or cabin. The next day, hike deep into the Superstition Mountains (take extra water, sunscreen, and know where you’re going) to see what treasures you might find (fair warning: it will probably be epic views and wildlife). And don’t miss the famous Watch Me Grow saguaro, which the park started measuring 25 years ago!
ALAMO LAKE STATE PARK
3 HOURS – 173 MILES/278 KM
Get a morning hike in at Lost Dutchman State park, then hit the road. Alamo Lake State Park is just over three hours west, and you’ll want to be there before the sun gets too low in the sky. In fact, watching the sun set over Alamo Lake will be the perfect way to kick off your stay here.
You’ve seen caves, peaks, ruins, wildlife, and more. Now it’s time to settle in next to the lake shore for the grand finale of your Arizona State Parks spring vacation. Whether you seek spring wildflower blooms, outstanding bass fishing, or just some R&R by the lake, you’ll find it here. As your vacation wraps up, get every last minute out of it, including enjoying the night skies undiluted by city lights.
Spend a couple days here, then make the short 2.5-hour drive to Phoenix International Airport to head home.