Here are some of our favorite day hikes in the best national parks in Arizona.
Arizona’s a fabulous state, and I’d say it often gets overlooked when vacationers begin dreaming up travel destinations. Arizona offers an outdoor experience like no other. Standing on a mountaintop overlooking any of Arizona’s various canyons is a somewhat magical experience that simply requires your presence. No picture or video can do it justice. That’s why we’re highly recommending that you head to these national parks in Arizona. These areas are preserved because of their spectacular beauty.
Perhaps the best way to make the best of your experience is to hike. By traversing where the cars can’t go, you’ll experience the tranquility of the scenery, and appreciate the depths of these canyons. The Grand Canyon is totally worth seeing, and we’ll show you our favorite hikes at the north and south rim of Grand Canyon. However, the list of Arizona’s best national parks doesn’t end there. Arizona’s 100,000 square miles offers some crazy different scenery, and we’ll show you how you can sample it all with these national parks in Arizona.
Saguaro National Park
If you haven’t seen this incredible cactus in person, head to Saguaro National Park. These huge cacti are often over a century old, and all look totally unique, with arms and knobs growing out in all directions. Like the name suggests, Saguaro National Park is covered in Saguaro, as well as a variety of beautiful desert vegetation. This park, one of the best national parks in Arizona, is located close to Tucson and makes for a great trip when paired with Sabino Canyon. Additionally, there are some great picnic areas. Pack a dinner and watch the sunset out here in the desert; it’s beautiful!
Hiking in Saguaro National Park: Hugh Norris Trail
If you are up for some hiking in one of the best national parks in Arizona, we suggest the Hugh Norris Trail. In total, the trail is 4.9 miles and leads to Wasson Peak, but it’s also worth it to hike as far as you want and then return. This hike is located a little over a mile down the road from the visitors’ center. You’ll turn onto a pretty rugged dirt road, but most cars can make the short trek. There will be a small, unpaved parking lot (large enough for just a few cars).
You’ll begin to climb up the mountain, past some impressive Saguaros. At the top, you can explore the rocks and look out towards the other impressive mountain ranges to the south. At this point, you can head back to the car, or follow the rock steps down the other side of the mountain. We chose to continue a bit longer, and strolled along the flat part of the trail here. Once you’re on this other side, the terrain changes a bit, and you’ll get to see some more spectacular views.Enter your text here…
Coronado National Forest/Sabino Canyon
Credit: US Forest Service
The Coronado National Forest, managed by the US Forest service, cover 1.78 million acres of land in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. The whole national forest, though titled a forest, isn’t covered in deciduous trees. Instead, you’ll find different wilderness areas with vast, open spaces, canyons and mountains, cacti and desert brush. Some of these wilderness areas are really remote, such as the Santa Teresa. If you’re willing to venture out there, you might get to see some black bear, mountain lions and other species that prefer plenty of isolation.
Within the Coronado National Forest, we suggest heading to the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. It’s close to Tucson. We suggest arriving early in the day to Sabino Canyon, since the parking lot gets full. The visitor’s center offers some neat displays that help introduce the vegetation and mountaintops you’ll see. You can buy tickets for the tram, which will take you into Sabino Canyon. The tram has various stops, which makes hiking around Sabino Canyon great; you can get back on the tram after hiking your desired length. Additionally, the narrated tram will provide interesting information about the plants and mountains you’ll see on your hike. If you gaze up from the tram, about three-quarters of the way up the mountain, you’ll see some people walking on Phoneline Trail, the one we suggest trying!
Hiking in Sabino Canyon: Phoneline Trail
Our favorite day hike in Sabino Canyon is called Phoneline Trail. It’s approximately 4.5 miles, but it’s possible to hop back on the tram after a shorter distance, and ride back to the visitor’s center parking lot. Take the tram to the top and you’ll notice people zig-zagging up the mountain. It’s steep and often crowded there for a little bit, but many turn back to catch the tram. Besides the very beginning and end, the trail is relatively flat.
We love this trail because the views the entire way are absolutely spectacular. Most of the time, you’ll get to enjoy the scenery of Sabino Canyon below you, as well as the other mountain ranges out in the distance. Towards the end, you’ll come to a trailhead sign, providing the option to take the tram, or walk the rest of the way to the visitor’s center. We chose to walk, and as a result, we were amazed at the totally different terrain on the descent. As with any hike in Arizona, make sure to bring plenty of water (available at the visitor’s center).
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Petrified National Park
Petrified National Park is a pretty unique terrain. It ’s worth getting to see, especially since we’ve declared it one of the best national parks in Arizona. The layers of rock formations tell time with their rich red, brown and orange colors. There’s plenty of wide open space here in Petrified National Park, as well as unique rock formations, and of course, petrified logs. The logs were transported here and now look as if they were sliced and turned to rock. To see some really neat petrified trees, head to the south side of this national park, to the Rainbow Forest. Here, you’ll get to see the jackpot of various colors, sizes, and shapes of the rock and petrified wood. Even better, there’s plenty of information here in the Rainbow Forest Museum to help you answer the “whoa, how does that happen?” that you’ll definitely be thinking.
Hiking in Petrified National Park: Agate House and Rainbow Forest
Credit: National Park Service
From Rainbow Forest, you’ll have some good hiking options. To begin, there are some easy trails that lead you around the petrified logs. While it’s not all perfectly smooth (not super easy for strollers), you can still stroll leisurely through the walking paths around Rainbow Forest. If you’re looking for a bit more of a hike, we suggest the Agate House Trail. This one also begins at the Rainbow Forest Museum Parking lot, which is easy to find within the park. It’s a two-mile round trip. Unlike other hikes within Petrified National Park, this one has a clear destination: the Agate House. Archeologists guess that this 700-year-old pueblo had eight rooms. In addition to the neat destination, the hike gives you the chance to soak up the Arizona sun, as well as the impressive expanse of the surrounding land.
Grand Canyon National Park
If at all possible, visit the Grand Canyon. It’s one of those places that demands your in-person presence; pictures and videos can’t do it justice. The Grand Canyon is the best of the national parks in Arizona in our opinion, and there’s just so much to explore. We’ll show you the highlights that we’ve enjoyed. First, the Grand Canyon encompasses two sides: the north rim and the south rim, plus the famous Horseshoe Bend, where the Colorado River seems to make a U-turn. While both are impressive, the north and south rim do have different terrains, and different viewpoints.
The south rim of the Grand Canyon tends to be more popular, and therefore more crowded. The north rim requires slightly more work to get to some of the impressive view points. Additionally, the north rim has more “green” than the south. Both the north rim and south rim have visitors’ centers, lodges and dining available. Regardless of the specific destinations, you head in this huge national park in Arizona, we believe you’ll be amazed at the Grand Canyon.
Hiking in Grand Canyon National Park: North Rim
Bright Angel Point Trail
This easy trail has a totally awesome payoff. You’ll park in the visitor’s center, and head towards the lodge. (Even the parking lot has a cool view through the trees). Follow the path, and signs for Bright Angel Point. This trail is ruggedly paved, and wraps around a rocky peak. The drop-offs are pretty drastic, and if you’re afraid of heights, you can just stay close to the rocks on your right. If you’re daring, you can climb a little bit higher on the rocks, like you’ll see many people doing. The top point of the trail allows you to take in some almost 360-degree views. This popular north rim “hike” is less than a mile total. The total elevation at this point is over 8,000 feet, and the Roaring Springs River is over 3,000 feet below the point!
North Kaibab Trail
Credit: Grand Canyon National Park
We’ll begin with a big downside of this hike, but only because we’re confident that it’s still worth it. The mules on this trail stink. Well, not the mules themselves, necessarily, but rather what they leave behind on the trail. Therefore, you’ll just have to walk around it, and catch your breath once you’ve passed. Regardless, this beautiful trail switchbacks down for a bit, then leads out to a spectacular overlook. Walk out on the huge rock if you’re daring, or enjoy a snack under a tree while you look out over the canyon.
You can turn around at this point, or continue further down into the canyon. If you go all the way, the trail will connect with the south rim. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the whole return trip is uphill. Thankfully, there’s water available at the top. Another benefit of this trail is the shade; large trees add to the scenery and keep you out of the sun for your uphill trip.
Of course, there’s always the option to hike from rim to rim. You’ll hike for 14 miles along Kaibab Trail, then join up with the Bright Angel trail for another 9.6 miles. However, we left that to the totally committed hikers, since it can actually be quite dangerous in the heat. (Plus, it’s quite the change in elevation).
We’ve chosen these national parks in Arizona thanks to the great day hiking they offer.
Credit: Diego Delso
We love getting to explore new places by hiking, and Arizona’s a great place to do that. These national parks in Arizona highlight the beautiful expanses of open land. Head up the mountains, or down in the canyons to spot wildlife, gaze out to the horizon, and be awestruck at the scenery. The national parks in Arizona have a lot to offer; get out there and see it!
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