After the holidays, as we look ahead to the new year with hopeful hearts, we all start thinking about vacation. Where in the world will the next year take us? One of the many advantages of the lower-elevation parks in southern Arizona is that you don’t have to wait until summer to find out. This spring, head to these state parks in Arizona and discover an underground realm, new scenic vistas, lost gold, crystal-clear waters, and myriad trails.
This story was created in partnership with Arizona State Parks and Trails.
Alamo Lake State Park
Cradled by mountains, the crystal-clear, manmade Alamo Lake is a peaceful getaway in the Bill Williams River Valley. If you time your visit with spring rains, you’ll get the chance to enjoy hiking trails decorated with wildflower blossoms, too. Because it’s 40 miles from the nearest city, you can go from bass fishing and birdwatching by day to stargazing by night thanks to unpolluted night skies. When it’s time to get off the water, hit the trails around the lake. Keep an eye out for wildlife and wildflowers, as well as cultural history. The area was occupied by the Patayan from as early as 5000 BC, and you can still find sleeping circles, shrines, intaglios, and trail markers while you explore.
Catalina State Park
The 5,500-acre Catalina State Park sits below the Santa Catalina Mountains and connects to the Coronado National Forest, making this outdoor playground even more massive. Bike, hike, or ride a horse for miles and miles through thousands of Saguaro cacti and diverse landscapes the reach from valley bottoms up into the mountains. Note how the flora and fauna change with elevation as you cover the miles (don’t forget extra water, snacks, and sunscreen!). The park is a designated Audubon Society Important Birding Area, so keep an eye out for varied bunting, yellow-billed cuckoo, and more. After you’ve exhausted your curiosity and your legs, head into Tucson, just a few miles away, for a great meal. Catalina State Park’s convenient proximity to Tucson means you can camp in the park or stay in town, depending on your mode of vacation.
Kartchner Caverns State Park
The extraordinary caves at this site hold a number of records, including the world’s most extensive formation of brushite moonmilk. It was only discovered in 1978, and now you can learn all about how it formed, how it was found by two young locals on a quest, the bats that call it home, and what the variety of formations and colors mean. We highly recommend taking the fascinating tours to learn as much as possible while you soak up the bizarre beauty of this underground architecture. But it’s not over when you re-emerge at ground-level. Outside the caverns, explore the foothills of the Whetstone Mountains on the growing trails system around Kartchner Caverns State Park.
Lost Dutchman State Park
The views of Superstition Mountains at sunset will take your breath away, as will the views from the top of the Flatiron at sunrise. And if you camp at Lost Dutchman State Park, you will have easy access to both right outside your RV, cabin, or tent. There are numerous hiking trails throughout the park, as well as a bike trail that loops around the campground. We’re looking forward to learning a new way to explore without leaving a trace by giving Earthcaching a shot. And wile we’re on the hunt, we’ll be looking for gold, too, as the Dutch miner for whom the park was named has never been found, and neither was his gold!
Picacho Peak State Park
Since before history, Picacho Peak has been a landmark in the Arizona landscape. In the 1700s it was reportedly used by the Anza Expedition. Did you know there was a single Civil War Battle in Arizona, and this is where it happened? Today, you can learn about its volcanic history as well as its human history, a lot more more at the Picacho State Park visitor center. Then, it’s time to hit the trails, which will lead you through several levels of desert habitats on the extensive trail network, and even to the top of Picacho Peak.
Feeling inspired to head to these outstanding spring destinations in Arizona? Find even more ideas for a spring adventure in all of these Arizona State Parks here.