State Parks Road Trip through the Heart of Arizona
Adventure & Storyteller
State Parks in the Heart of Arizona
Start / End
481 miles / 774 km
This trip through the heart of Arizona will take you to some of the Southwest’s under-the-radar natural wonders and historic sites. Winter and spring are the ideal time to visit, when you’ll be treated to warm days, cool nights, and the desert flora in full bloom. This is also a great time to get out on the water, so pack your preferred method of floating gear and your fishing rod to make the most of this trip.
Phoenix is the best starting point for this itinerary, but change it up however you’d like depending on where you’re coming from. This is also a great place to stock up on camping supplies and sneak in a few good meals before venturing out (pro tip: Phoenix is the most underrated city for some of the best pizza you’ll ever have outside of Italy). As you venture into the wonders of Arizona’s outdoors, remember to Appreciate AZ as you go.
LOST DUTCHMAN STATE PARK
45 MINUTES (41 MI/66 KM)
Even though it’s less than an hour from Phoenix, the Superstition Mountains feel a world apart. As the name suggests, these mountains are chock full of legends and tall tales as colorful as the wildflowers. Jacob Waltz, our namesake “lost Dutchman,” met his early demise here in search of gold. We don’t recommend following in his footsteps, but do highly recommend enjoying the park for its natural wonders. The four mile out-and-back Siphon Draw Trail is a great introduction to the rugged character of the area. For well-prepared and experienced hikers, continue past the end of the trail on a steep, exposed, and un-maintained route to the top of The Flatiron, a lung-busting scramble to one of the best views in the Valley of the Sun.
At the end of the day, post up at the campground in the foothills of the park. Nearby Apache Junction is your go-to town for any supplies you may need.
TONTO NATURAL BRIDGE & JEROME STATE PARKS
1 HOUR, 45 MINUTES (92 MI/148 KM)
From Lost Dutchman State Park, head north to your next stop, Tonto Natural Bridge. Standing at 183 feet tall with a 400 foot long tunnel, this is believed to be the largest natural travertine bridge in the world. You can easily spend a few hours here picnicking and hiking down to the bridge or to various viewpoints. This is a day use area only, so hit the road when you’re ready to move on to your next stop.
Jerome State Historic Park
1 HOUR, 30 MINUTES (73MI/117 KM)
Perched atop Cleopatra Hill overlooking the Verde Valley, the historic Douglas Mansion is now home to a museum chronicling the area’s mining history. The Little Daisy Mine tunnels underneath the museum, which struck it big when demand for copper soared during World War I, catapulting Jerome to the fourth largest city in the state. As most mining towns do, Jerome hit a bust, but has now developed a thriving art, culinary, and wine scene.
The park doesn’t offer any camping nearby, but the town of Jerome has a number of historic inns and bed and breakfast options. If anything goes bump in the night, it’s probably just one of the town’s resident ghosts.
ALAMO LAKE STATE PARK
Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park
2 HOURS (90 MI / 145 KM)
From Jerome, make your way west towards Alamo Lake State Park, but pay your respects along the way to the Granite Mountain Hotshots crew at this memorial park near Yarnell. On June 30, 2013, 19 wildland firefighters lost their lives here battling the Yarnell Hill Fire. One of the worst tragedies in wildland firefighting history, the site is now dedicated to their memory. A 3.5 mile trail (one-way) leads to the memorial, which was completed in 2016.
From here, continue on for about another two hours to Alamo State Park, where you’ll set up camp or rent a cabin to explore the lake the following day.
Alamo Lake State Park
1 HOUR, 40 MINUTES (52 MI / 84 KM)
Far from any towns or city lights (or any lights for that matter), Alamo Lake is well known among bass fishermen and stargazers alike for its remoteness. Located in the Bill Williams River Valley, this is the perfect place to break out your fishing gear, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, or other watercraft. The cattail studded shoreline is a popular hangout for birds, making this an excellent spot for wildlife viewing. The usual RV and tent sites are available, as well as cabins for rent.
BUCKSKIN MOUNTAIN STATE PARK
2 HOURS (108 MI/174 KM)
Nestled in the Parker Strip along the Colorado River, Buckskin Mountain State Park is another oasis for water sport enthusiasts. Beachside campsites offer easy access to the river, while hiking trails along the banks give hikers panoramic views of the river and beyond. Springtime wildflowers are best seen along the half-mile Lightning Bolt Trail, and the Copper Mines Trail (0.6 miles one way) and Lamb Springs Trail (2.3 miles one way) take you on an abandoned mine tour. Riverside camping is available, but during summer weekends a two-night minimum is required, while a three night minimum is required for holiday weekends, so be sure to plan ahead and make reservations in advance.