Posted by: Lori Reinhold
The Grand Canyon is the most famous National Park in Arizona. One of the seven wonders of the natural world, it receives more than 5 million visitors per year and is a bucket list destination for people from all across the world. Though the Grand Canyon gets all the glory, there are many other amazing national parks and monuments in Arizona that aren’t nearly as famous. From volcanic craters to rugged desert plateaus, Arizona boasts some of the most beautiful and diverse national parks in the country. At these lesser known state treasures, you’ll find incredible natural beauty with fewer crowds and cheaper entrance fees. Just in time for the moderate temperatures of spring, we have compiled a list of our favorite national parks and monuments in Arizona (that aren’t the Grand Canyon.)
The Montezuma Castle National Monument is considered one of the best preserved cave dwellings in North America. Located an easy 45 minute from drive the Alma de Sedona Inn, this is a great way to get a glimpse into ancient Native American history & culture. The cliff dwelling was built around AD700 by the Singuna people. Think about the monument like a massive, 20-room high-rise apartment built into a towering limestone cliff. We recommend you take an hour or so to visit the museum and then stroll through the beautiful sycamore groves on the grounds.
Located just north of Flagstaff, the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument actually encompasses two different volcanoes: the namesake 1,000 foot cinder cone volcano that erupted in roughly 1085 C.E and the nearby Lennox Volcano, an even older cinder cone volcano that is approximately 300 feet tall. The eruption of the Sunset Crater volcano completely reshaped the landscape of the area forever, forming a variety of colorful and rugged geological features that look like no place else on the planet. There are some lovely trails around the monument that take you through ponderosa pine forests, lava flows, and the O’Leary and San Francisco Peaks. You can also take guided tours through the park with their expert ranger guides.
If you are visiting the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, considering making a detour to the stunning Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, located on the border with Utah. Here you will find some of the most stunning landscapes in all of Arizona: towering cliffs, deep canyons, sandstone buttes, and the grand Paria Plateau. If you go, make sure you see the Wave, a psychedelic rock formation that looks like something from outer space. It is also a great place to view wildlife, including California condors.
It might be hard to believe that Arizona was once a temperate subtropical rainforest. Of course, that was back when dinosaurs roamed by the earth, but you can still see traces of this rich geological history at the Petrified Forest National Park in Northeastern Arizona. These striking, rainbow-hued hills formed when fallen trees were buried under sediment with a high content of volcanic ash and then converted into quartz crystals. The National Park is well-known for its fossils of plants, reptiles, and even dinosaurs. Make sure you take a stroll down the Giant Logs Trail, where you will find some of the largest and most well-preserved trees in the park. If you’re feeling adventurous, get off the beaten path on their many rugged backcountry trails to places like Devil’s Playground and the Red Basin.
The Saguaro cactus is one of the most iconic and instantly recognizable symbols of Arizona. You see it on licence plates, postcards, t-shirts, and other souvenirs. The best place to see one in real life is the Saguaro National Park. Within this stunning national park on the outskirts of Tucson, you will find over 100 saguaro cacti, some towering over 50 feet tall. But the park has so much more to offer than just cactus. You’ll have the chance to see a variety of unique wildlife, such as horned lizards and kangaroo rats, as well as prehistoric Hohokam etchings and artifacts. There are also 150 well-marked and well-maintained trails throughout the park for hiking, walking, and horseback riding. The best time to visit the park is May through early-June, when big white flowers bloom on the saguaros, attracting bats, birds, and other creatures. But remember, like most of Arizona, it can get sweltering during the summer months. Aim to go in the early mornings and leave by the afternoon.
Planning a trip to one of Arizona’s many stunning National Parks? Book a stay at the Alma de Sedona Inn, a tranquil desert escape with spectacular red rock views.