Arizona can easily be considered nature’s playground with its remarkable canyons, colorful geologic formations, picturesque rivers, towering cacti and vast deserts. With so many sights to immerse yourself in, it’s only right to explore the region through epic outdoor excursions.
As you begin planning your family adventure, we’ve rounded up seven nature-filled activities that won’t disappoint. From kayaking down Arizona’s rivers and hiking through its numerous state parks to spotting wildlife and unique plants, your wild bunch will never grow tired of the Grand Canyon State.
Run, don’t walk to these incredible experiences that only Arizona can provide!
1. Hike Arizona’s Breathtaking State Parks
When one thinks of Arizona, the first thought that comes to many travelers’ minds is the Grand Canyon, but the state’s beauty extends far beyond the natural wonder its nicknamed for. Home to lush forests, cacti-lined deserts, sprawling canyons and caverns, sandstone water chutes (a.k.a nature’s water slide) and, unexpectedly, snow-capped mountains (yep, certain areas of the state see snow.)
While there are 34 state parks and over 22 awe-inspiring national parks and monuments to explore, you won’t go wrong with starting at Kartchner Caverns State Park. Located in Cochise County, the living limestone cave includes 2.4 miles of passages to feast your eyes on massive mineral formations, like the impressive 21-foot-long soda straw stalactite. For additional guidance during your Arizonian adventure, download the free AZ Parks Passport app.
2. Take a Driving Tour Through Bearizona Wildlife Park
Nestled within three miles’ worth of Ponderosa Pine forests, Bearizona Wildlife Park is a one-of-a-kind experience for seeing wildlife in their natural habitat. Wander through the animal sanctuary on foot, by car or by shuttled bus—especially if you want to avoid carrying a tired tot—and count the different species you spot.
As a member of both the Zoological Association of America and the American Association of Zoo Keepers, Bearizona is committed to education, conservation and preservation efforts of North American animals, including bears, bison, wolves and deer. This has led way to the park’s fun and interactive animal encounter sessions, where an animal ambassador or keeper provides an up-close view at one of the many animals or reptiles to teach your family more about the environment they live in.
3. Explore the World of Botany at Ramsey Canyon Preserve
In Sierra Vista, your budding botanists will appreciate all of the different plants that have set roots in the local nature conservancy, Ramsey Canyon Preserve. Thanks to the area’s various ecoregions, you can snap Instagram-worthy photos of cacti, maples, pines sycamores and desert wildflowers throughout your guided walk.
When in the Hummingbird capital of the World, don’t forget to keep a close eye out for speedy hummingbirds. The preserve is home to 15 different species of the tiny avians as well as a variety of other birds, such as woodpeckers, owls, flycatchers, thrashers and more.
4. Dive Deep into Nature at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
At the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, your child can do more than just read traditional, static displays. The all-encompassing attraction features a zoo, botanical garden, aquarium, natural history museum and art gallery for an immersive, educational experience.
Your little learners can explore 98 acres of indoor and outdoor exhibits to see hundreds of animals and plant species up close, from live-animal demonstrations and an indoor playhouse to free-flying bird zones and a stingray petting space. Your family will be entertained for hours.
5. Visit Biosphere 2 For Sights of Earth’s Ecosystems
Calling all young environmentalists and scientists, Biosphere 2 is for you. Based in Oracle, Arizona, the scientific research facility is a striking see-through structure dedicated to climate research. It was initially constructed as part of a large study, in which two small groups of scientists lived in the completely-sealed environment, replicating potential off-planet habitation, for two years during the 90s.
Today, Biosphere 2 houses six of nature’s wonders all under one glass roof, which you can see firsthand during a 75 minute-tour. Plan a field trip during your Arizona stay, which is great for adolescents in your family, to see six ecosystems at once, including a rainforest, miniature ocean, savanna grassland, swamp and desert.
6. Hunt for Dinosaur Fossils at Petrified Forest National Park
If there’s one word to perk up the mood of any child it’s dinosaurs. At Petrified Forest National Park, your tiny paleontologists can hunt for fossils dating back to the Triassic period. These awe-inspiring relics of reptiles and early dinosaurs have been preserved within the park’s petrified wood, perfect for a fusion lesson of science, archeology and history.
Hike any of Petrified Forest’s designated trails that are three miles long and under, making it a doable trek with children in tow. Enjoy stunning views of desert terrain, vibrant rock formations, petrified logs and purple- and blue-colored badlands.
7. Kayak Down Verde River & Take a Ride on the Railroad
Trade in your hiking boots and backpacks for a kayak and paddle to absorb Arizona’s alluring scenery along the Verde River. Choose a gentle paddle tour down the river to safely take your little ones on an adventure that being on foot can’t provide. Try to spot wild horses along the banks!
After an afternoon on the waters, head to Verde Canyon Railroad for a relaxing ride through the state’s backcountry that’s only accessible by train. Your wild bunch will appreciate the exclusive views of Arizona’s breathtaking landscapes, unique rock formations, bright red canyons, and desert flora and fauna—all from their seat. You’ll be transported to the past as you make your through a hundred-year-old tunnel that spans 734 feet.
Try to Spot All of These Sights
As you and your wild bunch explore the great outdoors—and revel in its breathtaking landscapes—be sure to look out for one-of-a-kind sights. We’ve created a fun checklist to help you get started!
Now that you’re ready to pack your suitcase, it’s time to start planning your Arizona excursion. Head to visitarizona.com/family-fun for additional recommendations on outdoor activities that your wild bunch will want to immediately experience.