Writer & Traveler
Southeastern Arizona’s State Parks
Start / End
Phoenix / Sedona
553 miles (890 km)
6 – 10 days
PHOENIX TO PICACHO PEAK STATE PARK
1 HOUR, 5 MINUTES – 70 MILES/113 KM
Upon arrival at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, hop in your rental car and immediately head south to Picacho Peak State Park. The park’s natural 1,500-foot namesake landmark has been used for centuries to aid with land navigation. Challenge yourself to a rigorous hike to enjoy beautiful vistas of the surrounding Sonoran Desert or enjoy a leisurely stroll spotting various wildlife. In the spring, the park is known for its magical wildflower display, but visit during off seasons to beat the crowds.
Make a stop in the nearby town of Eloy to stock up on camping supplies for overnight stays in the park. Because Picacho is such a wonderful, we recommend making campsite reservations in advance.
KARTCHNER CAVERNS STATE PARK
1 HOUR, 21 MINUTES – 92 MILES/148 KM
The next day, pack up camp and head for Kartchner Caverns State Parks. This unique area located directly east of the Whetstone Mountains has a story as unique as the park itself. The land was privately owned until just a few decades ago when two cave explorers discovered a secret cavern system. After making the case to the property owners to have the land turned into a state park and years of legislative and development setbacks, Kartchner Caverns State Park was finally dedicated in 1999.
While the incredible caves often steal the show at this Arizona state park, don’t underestimate the other natural wonders along the way, including a variety of cacti. Grab a midday bite at the family-friendly Bat Cave Cafe located on the park premises. Later on, tuck in under the stars at your campsite or cabin after a long day of exploring above and below the Earth’s surface.
Need a break from the tent? Book a room in the nearby towns of Benson or Sierra Vista, where you can enjoy restaurants, bars and shopping, all just a short drive from Kartchner Caverns State Park.
ROPER LAKE STATE PARK
1 HOUR, 28 MINUTES – 90 MILES/143 KM
If water activities are your preferred method of adventure, you’ll appreciate what’s in store at Roper Lake State Park. Here you can paddle your way across the picturesque Roper Lake by kayak, canoe or paddle board. Thanks to the lake and a few surrounding ponds in the area, Roper Lake State Park has an abundance of lush plant life including flowering cactus plants. It’s also a popular watering hole for migratory birds and wildlife.
There are several campgrounds on site with a variety of amenities including water and electric hookups. Visitors can also opt for one of the quaint waterfront log cabins. Be sure to reserve your space early! If you venture off the park property, consider checking out the various natural hot springs in the area such as Hot Well Dunes.
Note that droughts can affect water activity regulations. Check the latest park updates ahead of your trip and plan accordingly.
LOST DUTCHMAN STATE PARK
2 HOURS, 41 MINUTES – 141 MILES/227 KM
Your journey to Lost Dutchman State Park may be the longest stretch of road on the itinerary, but we promise it’s well worth the trip. Headed east back towards your starting point in Phoenix, Lost Dutchman State Park is perfectly situated in the Sonoran Desert near the Superstition Mountains and Tonto National Forest. Many versions exist of the tale of the Lost Dutchman himself and his secret mine containing caches of hidden gold. We think the best way to solve the mystery is to get out and explore the park yourself!
Known for its wildflowers and intriguing year-round desert cacti, visitors can explore ancient caves that were once the dwellings of indigenous people. Geocaching is another popular activity in the park. Or, hop on a mountain bike and go for a ride on the well-maintained trail system.
With so many activities in Lost Dutchman state park, we recommend committing at least a full day or two to exploring this park. Due to its proximity to larger cities like Phoenix, you’ll want to plan in advance to reserve your campsite and give yourself some extra time to take advantage of all that the park has to offer.
RED ROCK STATE PARK
43 MINUTES – 31 MILES/50 KM
The last stop on our southeastern Arizona road trip itinerary is Red Rock State Park, a nearly 300-acre nature preserve and environmental conservation area. Red Rock State Park embodies all that Sedona is revered for, including captivating rock formations, deep canyons, and pine forests. Oak Creek, which cuts through the state park, is also home to a rich riparian habitat. Native Americans believed Sedona had healing properties, and one day spent exploring the scenic trails of Red Rock State Park will affirm that belief. There are hundreds of mulit-use trails in the area, including accessibility-friendly ones, open for hiking, biking and even horseback riding.
After voyaging across Arizona’s gorgeous landscape, Red Rock is where you can find out how to better protect it through one of the park’s educational events or programs.
Be sure to give yourself some extra buffer time at the end of your trip so you don’t miss any of the area’s must-do activities, including exploring nearby Phoenix or Flagstaff. When you’re ready to head home, Phoenix International Airport is just a short drive away.