Escape the Heat: Visit Arizona State Parks this Summer
Adventurer & Photographer
Arizona State Parks Summer Itinerary
Start / End
Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, Red Rock State Park, Lyman Lake State Park, Alamo Lake State Park
530–610 Miles (853–981 KM)
At least 6 days
There are so many incredible state parks in Arizona that we encourage visitors to make an itinerary that works depending on their travel plans! But if you’re starting from scratch, the following is an expert-approved approach to experiencing some of the best the state has to offer. Fly into Phoenix and follow along, or for those driving from California or New Mexico––consider visiting each park in turn.
TONTO NATURAL BRIDGE STATE PARK
Kick things off in Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, where a viewing platform makes catching every angle of the largest travertine bridge in the nation easy. Located two hours and twenty minutes from Phoenix, you’ll depart the beaten path almost immediately. Pick up lunch to-go before you leave city limits either in Phoenix or Payson, and enjoy it at one of the many picnic tables at the park. You’ll have the company of resident javelinas, squirrels, and the occasional deer––just remember not to feed the wildlife!
Then, explore the natural feature that gives this park its name: Tonto Natural Bridge. The 183-foot high arch stands above a 400-foot long tunnel that measures up to 150-feet wide. All that is to say, this is a big bridge. A number of trails access different viewpoints to the park, such as the Waterfall Trail that ends at a waterfall cave. Alternatively, opt to take Pine Creek Trail and view the bridge from below. Swimming is allowed here in Pine Creek beneath the bridge and is a great way to cool off on a hot summer day!
That night, find lodging in Cottonwood, between Tonto Natural Bridge State Park and Sedona, an hour and a half to the north to set yourself up for success the following day.
RED ROCK STATE PARK
1 HOUR, 38 MINUTES – 80.3 MILES/130 KM
Wake up within striking distance of one of Sedona’s quietest parks—Red Rock State Park. Although this area is home to one of the many famous vortexes of Sedona, it’s easy to find solitude among the trails here, even on busy weekends. Plus, this unique area is actually a wildlife preserve, making it a prime destination to spot more native wildlife. Javelina, mule deer, coyotes, and skunks abound. You might even see a bobcat!
Get started at the Miller Visitor Center, where a junior ranger program keeps the whole family engaged and educational displays help describe the unique aspects of the park. Here you can also pick up a map that outlines the five miles of nearby trails. Adventure-seekers will enjoy the 1.53-mile Eagle’s Nest Loop that takes you to the highest point in the park with phenomenal views, while the .64-mile Kisva Trail beats temps by staying down low in the riparian zone of Oak Creek.
After you’ve hiked to your content, find a quiet spot by the creek to watch for birds. Red Rock State Park is in the Lower Oak Creek Important Bird Area recognized by the National Audubon Society. Look out for the Common Black Hawk, Wood Duck, and Common Merganser. Please note that there is no swimming here because you’re in a wildlife preserve, but you’ll find the shade of the native cottonwoods, sycamores, and Arizona alders to be quite refreshing!
Spend the rest of the day enjoying the solitude of the park before another night–or two–in Sedona.
LYMAN LAKE OR ALAMO LAKE STATE PARKS
ALAMO LAKE: 3 HOURS AND 43 MINUTES – 213 MILES / 343 KM
LYMAN LAKE: 3 HOURS AND 29 MINUTES – 195 MILES / 314 KM
Ready to explore more of Arizona? Hit the road for your next destination of choice—either Lyman Lake State Park to the east or Alamo Lake State Park to the west. Spending two or three nights at either park can be a wonderful way to slow down the pace and really immerse yourself in the beauty of Arizona’s wild spaces.
Can’t decide? We encourage making a selection based on your interests! Boat and OHV-enthusiasts will love the energy at Alamo Lake, while those searching for a quiet place to stand-up paddleboard or hike might prefer Lyman Lake. There is camping in both of these state parks, so you’ll want to come prepared with a grocery haul and plenty of sunblock! You can choose a campsite for either tents or RV’s, or rent a cozy cabin with lake views.
After arriving in the afternoon, get settled into camp for the adventure to come.
ALAMO LAKE OR LYMAN LAKE STATE PARK, CONT.
Take the day to get in sync with the lifestyle of your state park of choosing. For those visiting Lyman Lake, take a short quarter-mile hike on Peninsula Petroglyph Trail. You’ll get to view a number of petroglyphs, including a water serpent, whose history is described on interpretive signs. Consider following this with the two-mile long Buffalo Trail, where you’ll get a great view of the lake after a climb. Then, spend the afternoon on a self-guided tour of the lakeshore by kayak or paddleboard.
Alamo Lake State Park goers will be eager to hit the trails! Spend the day ripping around just outside the park and return to camp ready for a feast at your RV or tentsite, or perhaps you’ve opted to rent a beautiful lakeside cabin.
The American Southwest is known for its sunsets, and Arizona is second-to-none when it comes to beautiful evening skies. Enjoy hues of pink and orange reflecting the lake (a time known as magic hour for photography fans), and continue watching—the stars at both Lyman and Alamo Lakes will be sure to put on a show.
MORE OF LYMAN LAKE OR ALAMO LAKE STATE PARK
At Lyman Lake, spend the morning looking for wildlife. Egrets, blue herons, and sandpipers are all local residents, and coyotes and mule deer can be spotted by the discerning eye. Get on the lake as the day warms up, or pedal your bike around its shores to Rattlesnake Point Ruins, a fourteenth century pueblo. This remarkable ruin reminds us that we are following in the footsteps of others and that this is a sacred area to protect for millenia to come. Download the guide here for more information and visitation guidelines.
At Alamo Lake, enjoy the best largemouth bass and crappie fishing in the entire state. At 3,500 acres in size, you’ll have plenty of room to cast even if you’re visiting on a holiday weekend. This is a sport for the whole family to enjoy, from kids who have never reeled one in before to adults who live for competitions.
Of course, at either of these multi-use state parks you might opt to spend the entire time playing on the water. Motorized watercraft are welcome and a huge draw for those who enjoy waterskiing, wakesurfing, and tubing. On a hot summer’s day in Arizona, there’s truly nothing better.
The next time your travels take you to Arizona, be sure to visit more of their incredible state parks!