canyon de chelly national monument, similar to the grand canyon, has canyons and scenic drives along the rims

24 Unique Arizona National Parks & Monuments Not To Miss

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Arizona national parks and monuments are some of the most interesting landscapes and attractions you can explore within the state.

From the iconic Grand Canyon National Park in Northern Arizona to Saguaro National Park near Tucson, Arizona provides travelers with an abundance of opportunities to explore some of the most breathtaking natural scenery in the country.

For those looking for a more historical adventure, numerous national monuments are also located throughout Arizona. These include the missions of Tumacácori National Historical Park and the cliff dwellings of Walnut Canyon National Monument.

National Parks In Arizona: What’s Included

Wondering why some lists have 3, some 22, and some 29 or more? Well, it is because what is considered Arizona national parks (or units) can be up to interpretation.

For our list, we have chosen to stick to only national units overseen by the NPS (National Park Service). So if you know of a designated national area in Arizona we missed, it is likely because it is overseen by the US Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management.

The national park service oversees 420+ national units, which include parks, historic sites, monuments, recreation areas, and more.

Below you will find the three national parks and 19 national units that are located in Arizona. Plus, an additional two historic national trails that run through Arizona.

Arizona National Parks

1. Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park is by far the most popular of the national parks in Arizona, with more than 4 million visitors per year. In fact, in 2021, it was the 4th most visited park in the US.

It is considered one of the world’s seven natural wonders and is a UNESCO world heritage site.

the most popular of arizona national parks is Grand canyon.  There is the expansive canyon with some low lying clouds

The Grand Canyon is a spectacular gorge carved out by the Colorado River over millions of years. This has exposed colorful layers of sedimentary rock. The park spans 1.2 million acres and preserves immense biological diversity due to its varied elevation and climate zones.

Hiking trails can be found along the upper rim, as well as winding through the imposing canyon walls. If you head into the inner rim, you can find some secluded spots where you will see some of the most stunning scenery in the world.

The Grand Canyon has tons of activities to do during a visit. Everything from riding the train to helicopter tours and even riding a mule to the bottom.

We suggest making sure you take one of these tours for a unique experience.

📖 The Grand Canyon is super popular, but is it worth visiting?

2. Petrified Forest National Park

By far, the most unique of the Arizona national parks must be Petrified Forest National Park, with its impressive array of landscapes and prehistoric artifacts.

The park is home to petrified wood, which forms when wood becomes buried in sediment and then undergoes a process of fossilization.

This ancient forest contains some of the largest logs on earth, up to 200 feet long. In addition to seeing petrified wood, you can also explore dinosaur fossils, ancient ruins, and native plants.

The park spans 221,391 acres of colorful badlands, grassy prairies, and wooded hills, providing a dramatic backdrop for exploration.

Don’t miss the Blue Mesa Trail while visiting Petrified Forest National Park. This easy one-mile trail takes you through some of the park’s most beautiful areas, including petrified wood and the colorful badlands.

3. Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park is an incredible desert park located on the outskirts of Tucson.

saguaro national park is one of three arizona national parks, seen is saguaro cactus throughout with a mountain backdrop

The park is renowned for its iconic namesake cactus – the saguaro – which grows in abundance here. These majestic plants can reach up to 60 feet tall and live as long as 200 years. They are an impressive sight to behold and a must-see for anyone visiting the area.

Explore its scenic drives and hike its many trails to get up close and personal with the stunning desert landscape and its diverse wildlife.

Saguaro National Park is the perfect place to visit if you are interested in birdwatching. Species like vultures, hawks, quails, roadrunners, and more call this area home.

On your visit to the park, make time to explore the desert at night. While close to Tucson, the mountains block most of the light pollution, providing some pleasant stargazing opportunities.

You can also see animals like bats, coyotes, and javelinas that come alive after dark.

📖 Planning on driving from Saguaro NP to Petrifried Forest NP? We have the perfect road trip with some epic stops.

National Units In Arizona

These aren’t official national parks in Arizona, but the following are all monuments and historically relevant sites that the NPS oversees.

4. Canyon De Chelly National Monument

Canyon de Chelly National Monument is a stunning canyon that was home to the Ancient Puebloan people for thousands of years and is still home to the Navajo.

canyon de chelly national monument is similar to the grand canyon but on a smaller scale, seen here is the canyon with spider rock formation at the bottom right
Photo Credit: Ben Esteves

Covering more than 83,000 acres, this area encompasses three canyons; Monument, del Muerto, and de Chelly.

Like the Grand Canyon, you begin your journey at the upper rim of the canyon. Unlike the Grand Canyon, the canyon floor is restricted. You can only have access if you go with a guide or book a tour.

We recommend you spend your time driving the North and South Rim Drives to take in the picturesque views.

See if you can spot some of the ancient ruins along the canyon walls from the overlooks. And look for Spider Rock while driving the South Rim.

5. Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument is one of the most amazing archaeological sites in the United States.

The site dates back to about 1350 and showcases remnants of a four-story adobe structure, aka the Great House. This house was built by the ancient Hohokam people who lived in the area.

Unfortunately, due to its delicate nature, you are not allowed into the building.

Instead, you are welcome to roam the perimeter and learn more about its history through interpretive exhibits around the structure. There are also some smaller ruins scattered around that you can examine.

📖 Did you know that St George, Utah, is the perfect location to visit the Grand Canyon but also several other national parks in the area?

6. Chiricahua National Monument

Chiricahua National Monument is home to some interesting and unique rock formations.

The park’s namesake, Chiricahua Mountains, is composed of eroded volcanic and sedimentary rocks, creating an impressive landscape of hoodoos and spires.

Among the hoodoos sits a variety of unique, balanced rocks to marvel at during your visit.

The park has a scenic drive available. But we recommend you get out and hike the more than 17 miles of trails within the park.

If you head to Chiricahua National Monument, you shouldn’t miss a chance to visit Faraway Ranch Historic District. This historic area preserves some houses and buildings dating back to the late 1800s.

Today, you can explore the area and learn more about life on the Arizona frontier during that time. It also provides stunning views of the surrounding mountain range.

7. Coronado National Memorial

Coronado National Memorial commemorates the 1540 expedition of Spanish explorer Francisco Vázquez de Coronado.

a small creek runs next to a cactus covered hillside in coronado national memorial
Photo Credit: Theodore Wathieu

The park offers several ranger-led programs providing insight into Coronado’s expedition, as well as the history and culture of the area.

You can also hike more than eight miles of trails.

One trail we recommend if you don’t mind dark, small(er) places, is the Coronado Cave Trail. It is one of the most popular trails and takes you to the mouth of an undeveloped cave.

Head inside if you feel adventurous to inspect the 600 ft cave.

📎 Tip: Bring a light source and ensure favorable conditions before going inside.

8. Fort Bowie National Historic Site

Fort Bowie National Historic Site is a historic site that commemorates the former US Army post of Fort Bowie.

The fort was established in 1862 during the conflicts with the Chiricahua Apache. It served as a base for military operations until it was abandoned in 1894.

Take a self-guided walking tour of the ruins of the original fort and other building remnants, such as the barracks and officers’ quarters.

Then head into the visitor center, which displays artifacts from the Apache Wars and a timeline of events.

To get to the visitors center, you will need to hike 1.5 miles. But along the way, you will have the opportunity to see the cemetery and other historic sites.

📖 While you are roaming all around Arizona checking out these cool national parks and monuments, consider stopping in Tombstone. It is a fun way to spend a couple of days.

9. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (also in Utah)

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is an expansive park that covers 1.2 million acres of spectacular terrain in Utah and Arizona.

glen canyon national recreation area seen for a distance where the lake is seen flowing between and around rock formations
Photo Credit: Jeremy Bishop

The area is known for its incredible beauty and offers you the chance to explore a variety of landscapes, from the vivid red sandstone canyons to rugged mountains and vast deserts.

Popular activities here include boating, fishing, and kayaking on Lake Powell. The lake is the second largest artificial reservoir in the United States, after Lake Mead.

Alternatively, you can hike the various trails that circle the lake. Or visit nearby areas for beautiful views of the sandstone landscape.

We recommend hiking to Horseshoe Bend. It is one of the park’s most recognized and photographed places, but with excellent reason.

While we haven’t yet been ourselves, it is at the very top of our list. We can’t wait to head back to Arizona and see it in person.

📖 Planning a road trip from Houston to the Grand Canyon? We have just the itinerary for you!

10. Hohokam Pima National Monument

Hohokam Pima National Monument is a monument that you can’t visit at this time.

So why are we mentioning it? Well, it is a national unit overseen by the NPS in Arizona and meets the parameters of our article.

The monument protects and preserves the ruins of an ancient, pre-Columbian civilization that flourished along the Gila River around 300-1200. It is known as Snaketown today.

What are you missing? The site has been excavated on a couple of occasions for research but then promptly backfilled to protect it. So if you were to gain access today, it would be mounds of dirt with ruins hidden underground.

The site is located on the Gila River Indian Reservation. They have chosen not to open it to the public.

However, if you want to learn more about Snaketown, you can find some artifacts and information at Casa Grande Ruins (#5 above).

11. Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site

Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site preserves the former trading post established by John Lorenzo Hubbell in 1878 to trade with the Navajo.

The site includes the original buildings, which were constructed with handmade adobe bricks.

During your visit, you can learn about this area’s history, including the Navajo Nation’s rich culture. You can explore old artifacts on display and purchase recently made arts and crafts.

The site also offers a variety of programs, such as demonstrations in weaving rugs.

We recommend you check out Hubbell’s homestead, including the livestock. And walk Veterans Trail for a bit of beautiful nature.

📖 Looking for even more to do in Arizona? We have some interesting stops between Scottsdale and Tombstone to suggest.

12. Lake Mead National Recreation Area (also in Nevada)

Lake Mead National Recreation Area is a 1.5 million-acre park in Nevada and Arizona.

the rocky landscape around lake mead is beautiful with its multiple colored layers and calm waters
Photo Credit: Emal Rezaie

The area is known for its stunning scenery, with the vast Lake Mead reservoir providing a beautiful backdrop to explore.

You can participate in various water activities such as boating, fishing, swimming, and kayaking on the lake’s many bays.

The area also offers miles of scenic trails for hiking and biking.

Other attractions include the historic Hoover Dam, which you can explore on a guided tour. If you visit the dam, make sure to make your way across Bypass Bridge for some fantastic views.

13. Montezuma Castle National Monument

Montezuma Castle National Monument is located in the Verde Valley of central Arizona.

one of the arizona national parks, montezuma castle national monument has a beautiful cliff dwelling in the limestone wall as seen here
Photo Credit: James Molnar

The park contains impressive ancient cliff dwellings, built sometime between 1100 and 1300 by the Sinagua people, a pre-Columbian Native American culture that lived in the area.

The monument’s primary structure consists of a five-story complex of 20 rooms built into a limestone cliff face.

Visitors to the Montezuma Castle National Monument can enjoy stunning views of the dwellings. You can also explore a trail that weaves through the area and get a better sense of the environment where the Sinagua people lived.

Staying in Sedona? You can do an incredible tour that includes FIVE different national monuments, including Montezuma Castle. This private tour requires a minimum of four guests, but this 5 ⭐️ tour may be just what you are looking for.

Book the Private Tour of FIVE National Monuments

📎 Tip: While lesser know, about 20 minutes down the road you can visit Montezuma Well. The sinkhole is fed from an underground spring and always has a constant water supply.

14. Navajo National Monument

Navajo National Monument is situated in the northern part of Arizona’s Navajo Nation, near the Four Corners region.

It is known for its ancient cliff dwellings, made from sandstone and mud that were built by ancestral Puebloans around 1250. The park consists of three main sites; Betatakin, Keet Seel, and Inscription House.

If you prefer self-touring, you can hike the Sandal Trail to an overlook to view Betatakin.

Otherwise, you will need to take a guided tour for a closer view of Betatakin or Keet Seel. The hikes are considered strenuous.

There is no way to access the Inscription House at this time.

📖 If you happen to be in Vegas, so many Vegas Grand Canyon tour excursions are available. Why not check them out?

15. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is home to various unique plant species, including the organ pipe cactus, which gives the park its name.

The park is the only place the organ pipe cactus grows wild in the United States.

organ pipe cactus national monument after dark with stars set behind tall cactus
Photo Credit: Backroad Packers

The monument was established in 1937 and spans over 330,000 acres. It contains natural wonders such as rugged peaks, sweeping desert vistas, and vast stretches of cacti.

It features a variety of trails for hiking, backpacking, and horseback riding that range from easy to challenging. These trails allow you to explore geological landscapes and vistas from various angles and locations.

The park also has a variety of scenic drives if hiking isn’t your preference.

We recommend you drive along the Ajo Mountain Drive loop for breathtaking views of the cacti and other plants and animals that call this area home. Stop off at the numerous overlooks and take in the beauty of the desert along the way.

16. Pipe Spring National Monument

Pipe Spring National Monument is a historic and scenic site on the Kaibab Indian Reservation.

The monument preserves the homestead and fort of early Mormon settlers from around the 1860s. Initially established as a cattle ranch, conflicts with Native American tribes led to a fort being established.

You can explore Winsor Castle (aka the fort) to see the living quarters of 19th-century ranchers and their families.

Head to the corrals to see horses and longhorn cattle. And if it is in season, enjoy the benefits of the garden and orchard.

Make sure to swing by the visitor center to learn about the Mormon settlers and how they interacted with the Kaibab Paiute tribe. You will find exhibits as well as artifacts.

17. Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument is a testament to the power of nature and its ability to shape the landscape.

sunset crater volcano national monument is one of the unique arizona national parks to see, with views seen here of the crater between the cone
Photo Credit: Jim Witkowski

The monument encompasses more than 3,000 acres surrounding an extinct volcano that erupted sometime around 1085. It is renowned for its unique geological features, including its cinder cone and lava flow field.

Visitors to the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument can explore the area on foot or by car.

While a scenic drive circles the crater and provides a viewpoint, we recommend enjoying a hike for a closer look.

The Lava Flow Trail is a popular one-mile walking trail that winds its way near the base of the cinder cone, offering stunning views of the monument’s otherworldly features. You can also check out the Bonito Vista Trail, which provides an impressive view of the lava flow.

📎 Note: You are no longer allowed to hike to the summit of Sunset Crater due to erosion.

18. Tonto National Monument

Tonto National Monument is an archaeological site located along the Salt River. This prehistoric cliff dwelling was constructed by the Salado people, who lived there from 1250 to 1450.

The monument consists of two separate cliff dwellings, the upper and the lower. The lower dwelling contains 20 rooms, while the upper has around 40.

The lower dwelling can be visited during a short self-guided hike. You are allowed to enter a few of the rooms for a closer look.

You will need to book a guided tour to access the upper dwelling. During this tour, you will get the opportunity to learn more about the Salado people who once lived in these dwellings, as well as see this dwelling up close.

19. Tumacacori National Historical Park

Tumacacori National Historical Park is a special place with a rich history.

the mission Tumacacori is the most popular mission to visit as part of the historic park that contains 3 missions, it has been restored so you can go inside
Photo Credit: Dat7

Located in southern Arizona, it preserves the ruins of three Spanish colonial missions, including Los Santos Angeles de Guevavi (est 1691), San Jose de Tumacacori (est 1753), and San Cayetano de Calabazas (est 1756).

You can explore these missions, learn about their history, and experience the area’s culture.

San Jose de Tumacacori is the most popular to visit and was restored to some of its former glory. Look around the grounds to see the cemetery, fountain, and mortuary, and head inside to look at the mission itself.

Additionally, on weekends during the winter when the weather is cooler, you can enjoy craft demonstrations and purchase some artwork.

If you wish to visit the Calabazas and Guevavi mission ruins, you must book a guided tour.

20. Tuzigoot National Monument

Tuzigoot National Monument is an ancient Sinagua ruin.

The monument consists of a two-story pueblo situated atop a mesa overlooking the Verde Valley. It was built around 1125 by the Sinagua people and abandoned around 1400.

The pueblo has around 110 rooms and is considered one of the best-preserved Sinagua ruins in this area.

When visiting Tuzigoot National Monument, you should explore the museum at the visitor center. The museum has extensive displays of the history and lifestyles of the Sinagua people, as well as artifacts, ceramics, and textiles found during the excavation.

After learning more about the monument and its people, head to the pueblo on a self-guided tour of the ruins. The trail is easily accessible and provides stunning views of the Verde River.

If you love taking guided tours, this tour is a perfect option as it combines Montezuma Castle (#13) and Tuzigoot. And if that isn’t enough it is also a PRIVATE tour for just you and your loved ones.

Book the Montezuma Castle/Tuzigoot Private Tour

21. Walnut Canyon National Monument

Walnut Canyon National Monument is another ancient Sinagua ruin similar to Tuzigoot.

dwelling ruins at walnut canyon national monument
Photo Credit: Jan Dommerholt

The monument consists of about 80 cliff dwellings built under the limestone wall overhangs of Walnut Canyon. It was settled by the Sinagua people, who lived there from around 1100 to 1250.

You have two options to view the ruins.

The first is to take the Island Trail, a 1.5-mile loop that winds through the canyon and past as many as 25 of the cliff dwellings.

This is not for the faint of heart, as the trail consists of 736 steps. But the views from the trail are spectacular, allowing you to appreciate these ancient structures up close and learn more about how people once lived in Walnut Canyon.

The second option is to hike the Rim Trail. While this paved path is not nearly as strenuous, you will see the cliff dwellings only from a distance.

After exploring the canyon and its history, head to the visitor center museum for additional exhibits about the Sinagua people.

22. Wupatki National Monument

Wupatki National Monument is an ancient Puebloan site used by various civilizations. Not only did the Sinagua people live here, but so did the Cohonina and the Kayenta.

That means that this area was used on and off for hundreds (if not thousands) of years.

The monument consists of numerous archaeological sites, including the Wukoki and Lomaki pueblos.

The pueblos range from tiny pit houses built by early hunter-gatherer groups to large pueblos constructed by the Sinagua people in the mid-1100s.

Make sure to take the time to explore Wupatki Pueblo, the largest and best-preserved of all the ruins in the national monument. The pueblo site houses a multi-story building with over 100 rooms, a ball court, and a community room.

petrified forest national park has amazingly colorful mounds with distinct linear coloring
Photo Credit: Petrified Forest NP, Leon Wu

Arizona National Trails

We are just going to touch on these quickly. Both of these trails run through part of Arizona and many of the stops that can be seen along the trails are national and state-protected sites.

23. Juan Bautista De Anza National Historic Trail

The Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail is a 1,200-mile route that follows the path of Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza.

It commemorates the 1775-76 expedition of Bautista de Anza, who led over 200 settlers from northern Mexico to California.

The trail is significant as it serves as an early example of successful immigration and settlement that ultimately led to the founding of one of the most vibrant cities in America today, San Francisco.

24. Old Spanish National Historic Trail

The Old Spanish National Historic Trail is a 700-mile historic trail that stretches from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to Los Angeles, California.

The trail signifies the 19th-century trade route of traders and travelers who crossed the vast lands of the American West.

The trail winds through some of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes in the western United States.

Rundown Of The National Parks In Arizona

Recap Of Our List of 24 Sites

Here is a quick recap of all the Arizona national parks & monuments. Feel free to download it and use the checklist during your travels.

a list of the 24 arizona national parks and monuments we discussed in our post at traveling in focus

Map of Arizona National Parks

To visually see where all the national parks in Arizona are located, we are providing this map. If you want to use the map on a mobile device, you can click the square at the top right, and it will open our map automatically inside the google maps app.

The purple stops indicate the three official national parks, and the green stops are the rest of the national units under NPS care.

We have not included the two trails on the map as there is not a single location, but rather miles and miles of the route you can follow.

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To Finish – Unique Arizona National Parks & Monuments

Arizona is a beautiful and diverse state with many amazing national parks and monuments worth exploring.

From the majestic Grand Canyon to the historical Navajo Nation Monument, there is something for everyone in Arizona’s outdoors. With its wide-open spaces and stunning scenery, it’s no wonder why so many people come to visit these incredible places.

Arizona has it all, whether you’re looking for an adventure or just a peaceful escape. So get out there and explore all the fantastic Arizona national parks and monuments this great state offers.