Arizona has more than 30 state parks where you can hike, camp, boat, fish, and appreciate the state’s natural beauty. Some even honor historical sites, such as the Tombstone Courthouse, while others protect caves and prehistoric communities' remains. These parks are managed by the State of Arizona and are not national parks managed by the National Park Service.
But that doesn’t mean they are any less deserving of a visit. In fact, these parks can be just as awe-inspiring as their national park counterparts, not to mention usually less expensive to visit and less crowded. Set aside a day to explore one of these parks on your next visit.
Lost Dutchman State Park
The closest state park to Phoenix, Lost Dutchman State Park is known for the legendary Lost Dutchman Gold Mine some claim is still hidden within its boundaries. If you venture deep enough into the Superstition Mountain Wilderness within the park, you may still find treasure hunters seeking it today.
Most visitors come to hike, though. The park has trails ranging from the ¼-mile, paved Native Plant Trail near the Visitor Center to the 4-mile, extremely challenging Siphon Draw Trail. Experienced hikers can branch off from the Siphon Draw Trail and take the unmaintained route to the mountain range’s iconic Flatiron.
Combine a hike at the park with a visit to nearby Goldfield Ghost Town, an 1880s-mining-community-turned-tourist-attraction. Or, a stop at Superstition Mountain Museum to learn about Jacob Waltz, who discovered the gold mine, as well as local flora, fauna, geology, and history.
Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park
As depicted in the movie “3:10 to Yuma,” there really was a Yuma Territorial Prison, and prisoners dreaded being incarcerated there. Situated on a bluff overlooking the Colorado River and surrounded by desert, water, and quicksand, it was nearly impossible to escape, not to mention unbearably hot during the summer. Today, the territorial prison is one of Arizona’s most popular state parks.
Visits begin in the museum, where you can watch a video about the prison, view prison artifacts, and learn about the convicts who served their time there, including stagecoach robber Pearl Hart and nine Mormon leaders convicted of polygamy. Outside, you can walk the original cell block and, if you’re brave enough, step inside the infamous dark cell.
Nearby, Colorado River State Historic Park showcases an Army supply depot that operated there from 1864 to 1883.
Lake Havasu State Park
One of the best lakes for watersports in the state, Lake Havasu stretches 60 navigable miles along Arizona’s border with California. Boating is the main draw, but the lake is also home to the London Bridge, moved brick-by-brick to Lake Havasu in 1971. You can cross the bridge on foot, exploring the shops and restaurants on both sides of the humanmade channel it spans, or boat underneath the bridge.
If you’re not a boater, you can swim in the lake, sunbathe on its beaches, camp on the shoreline, and fish for record-setting bass. Or, check out the lighthouses. Lake Havasu City has more lighthouses than any other city in the country. You can hike to most of these functioning replicas of famous American lighthouses using this map.
Kartchner Caverns State Park
Discovered in 1974, Kartchner Caverns features brilliantly-colored living formations and is home to one of the world’s longest soda straw stalactites. It also boasts the world’s most extensive formation of brushite moonmilk, the first reported occurrence of “turnip shields,” and many other unusual formations.
Tours of the caverns in southern Arizona are available year-round. First-time visitors should take the Rotunda/Throne Tour, which includes a stop at Kubla Khan, the state's largest column formation. Kartchner Caverns State Park also offers a tour of the Big Room seasonally and a headlamp tour on Saturdays. Watch the video about the cavern’s discovery and learn about its formation, hydrology, and history in the visitor center.
Crazy for caves? Check out Colossal Cave Mountain Park just south of Tucson in Vail.
Red Rock State Park
Colored a bright orangish-red because they contain iron and are actually rusting, the rock formations surrounding Sedona are one of Arizona’s most striking landscapes. Sure, you can ooh and awe over them from a restaurant patio in downtown Sedona, but to truly appreciate them, head to Red Rock State Park.
The 286-acre park has a 5-mile trail network that winds through manzanita, juniper, other native vegetation, green meadows, red rocks, and riparian habitat. You can learn about the flora, fauna, and early human inhabitants at the Miller Visitor Center and through interpretive panels throughout the park.
For a longer hike, try the 15-mile Lime Kiln Trail, which connects Red Rock State Park with Dead Horse Ranch State Park.
Slide Rock State Park
Long before the Travel Channel named it one of the “10 Top Swimming Holes in the United States,” Slide Rock State Park boasted a line of cars waiting to get into its parking lot most summer days. Originally the Pendley Homestead, the park features an 80-foot-long natural waterslide through Oak Creek. (Be sure to bring water shoes since algae makes the creek’s rocks slippery.)
Those unwilling to tackle the natural slide can cool off in the water, sun themselves on rocks, or hike. The park has several short trails, including the Pendley Homestead Trail, which cuts through the homestead’s apple orchards and passes historic farm implements. Signage at the homestead displays information about the park and area.
Tubac Presidio State Historic Park
This historic park protects the remains of the oldest Spanish colonial garrison, or Presidio, in the state. It also marks the starting point for Juan Bautista de Ansa III’s expedition to California, which resulted in the founding of San Francisco in 1776.
Set aside a day to explore the state park and the art galleries in Tubac. In the park, begin at the Visitor center with the 7-minute video about the Presidio and hands-on table displaying historical items. The museum features exhibits on Native Americans, the Spanish Colonial period, mining, Arizona’s territorial days, and more. End your visit with a look at the excavated portions of the Presidio’s original foundation, walls, and the Commandant’s quarters' plaza floor.
The park also maintains eight gardens growing everything from cacti and succulents to heritage produce and the 1885 territorial schoolhouse.
Tonto Natural Bridge State Park
Home to the world’s largest travertine bridge (most natural bridges are made of sandstone or limestone), Tonto Natural Bridge State Park is a favorite among Phoenicians looking to escape triple-digit heat during the summer. You can view the bridge, which measures 183 feet high and 150 feet wide, from four parking lot viewing points or hike trails down to its base.
To get to the base, take the half-mile Pine Creek Trail to the even shorter Anna Mae Trail and be prepared for some minor bouldering. Or, consider the steep, down-and-back Gowan Trail, which leads to a creek-bottom observation deck. While pets are allowed on the paved paths near the parking lot, they are not allowed on the trails below the rim.
Jerome State Historic Park
Mining played an important role in Arizona’s past, drawing settlers to the state and creating wealth. To learn about mining during Arizona’s territorial period, head to Jerome State Historic Park.
Housed in the iconic Douglas Mansion, the park’s museum tells the story of the mining town of Jerome through artifacts, historic photographs, and memorabilia. Visitors can tour the period-furnished library, upstairs bathroom, and adjacent carriage house and see authentic mining equipment before continuing into Jerome to shop its boutiques and art galleries.
Just outside the park, stop at Audrey Headframe Park to peer into the glass-covered Little Daisy Mine, once owned by the mansion’s builder, James S. Douglas.
Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park
Located in the legendary mining town of Tombstone, this state park preserves the courthouse that figures prominently in the disputes between the Earps and the Clantons, before and after their infamous shootout at the OK Corral.
Inside the courthouse, the museum includes exhibits on Tombstone’s history, Wyatt Earp, and the gunfight. You’ll also see a period lawyer’s office and the courtroom. Outside, a reproduction gallows serves as a “warning” to troublemakers.
After spending about an hour at the courthouse, you can visit popular Tombstone attractions such as the Bird Cage Theater, Crystal Palace Saloon, and the actual site of the gunfight.