From cactus to canyons: Exploring national parks near Phoenix

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Phoenix, Arizona, is known for its beautiful desert landscapes, sunny weather and outdoor recreation opportunities. One of the most popular activities for locals and tourists is visiting the nearby national parks. 

Whether you’re looking for scenic drives, hiking trails or unique geological formations, several national parks within a few hours’ drive of Phoenix offer something for everyone. After you’ve checked out these national parks, why not check out these national parks near Vegas or maybe enjoy camping near Antelope Canyon?

a piece of petrified wood in the Petrified Forest National Park.
Petrified Forest National Park. Photo Credit: NPS.

Top national parks near Phoenix

Visiting the national parks near Phoenix is a must-do activity for anyone looking to experience Arizona’s natural beauty and rich history. With various parks and monuments located within a short drive of the city, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. 

Plan a road trip and see all of the national parks near Phoenix. This is extremely popular in the winter in the van life community because there is so much Bureau of Land Management land where you can camp for free.

Whether you’re interested in hiking, wildlife viewing or exploring ancient ruins, these parks offer many opportunities to get outside and explore. From the towering saguaro cacti of Saguaro National Park to the colorful petrified wood of Petrified Forest National Park, these parks offer a unique and beautiful glimpse into the natural world.

In addition to their natural beauty, the national parks near Phoenix offer a chance to explore the region’s rich cultural history. From the ancient ruins of the Hohokam and Salado people to the petroglyphs and cliff dwellings of Sinagua, these parks offer a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the people who lived in the Southwest thousands of years ago. 

With so much to see and do, it’s easy to see why visiting the national parks near Phoenix is a favorite activity for locals and visitors alike.

Grand Canyon National Park

Located just a few hours from Phoenix, Grand Canyon National Park is a must-visit destination. The park is home to one of the most iconic natural wonders in the world, the Grand Canyon. Visitors can take in the breathtaking views from the South Rim. 

This natural wonder is an unmissable hotspot for anyone traveling to Arizona. The canyon is over 1904 square miles, and a trip to the bottom of the canyon and back is a two-day journey. Visitors can hike, bike, camp or simply enjoy the stunning views. 

If you’re camping, be sure to read this post on how to set up your camping kitchen. Some of my favorite camping recipes are these Blackstone chicken recipes

Grand Canyon national park
Grand Canyon National Park. Photo Credit: NPS.

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park is just outside Tucson, about 2 hours from Phoenix. The park is named after the iconic saguaro cactus, which can grow up to 78 feet tall.

Visitors to the park can explore the unique desert landscape on foot or by car, taking in stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. The park features over 170 miles of hiking trails, ranging from easy nature walks to challenging backcountry treks. 

Along the way, hikers can spot various desert wildlife, including roadrunners, horned lizards, Gila monsters and kangaroo rats. The park is home to some of the darkest skies in the country, making it a popular destination for astronomy enthusiasts.

Saguaro National Park with cactus
Saguaro National Park. Photo Credit: NPS.

Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park is home to one of the world’s largest and most colorful concentrations of petrified wood, as well as various other geological wonders and ancient cultural sites. Visitors can explore the park’s many hiking trails and enjoy the stunning views. 

One of the most popular attractions in Petrified Forest National Park is the Painted Desert. It’s a vast expanse of colorful badlands that stretches across the park’s northern region. You can also see these in parts of Grand Canyon National Park. Visitors can hike through the Painted Desert and marvel at the layers of sedimentary rock that have been exposed over millions of years. 

The park is also home to several ancient petroglyphs and ruins, offering a glimpse into the lives of the people who lived in the area thousands of years ago.

Phoenix is surrounded by some of the country’s most beautiful and unique National Parks. Whether you’re looking for breathtaking views, outdoor adventures or a chance to connect with nature, there’s something for everyone.

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More to see near Phoenix

There are several national monuments near Phoenix, Arizona, that offer visitors an opportunity to explore the region’s unique natural beauty and cultural history. 

deer in the Petrified Forest National Park
Petrified Forest National Park. Photo Credit: NPS.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument is an ancient archaeological site that preserves the remnants of an ancestral Sonoran Desert people’s four-story earthen structure, often called the Casa Grande. 

Believed to have been built around 1350 CE, it is one of the largest prehistoric structures in North America. The site allows visitors to explore the ruins, learn about the ancient Hohokam culture, and gain insights into the region’s rich history.

“Located about an hour south of downtown Phoenix, the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument is a fascinating archaeological site that details the lives of the Hohokam people who lived in this region about 1,000 years ago. Visitors can take a guided tour to learn more about the Great House, the largest structure on the compound, and children can earn a Junior Ranger badge during their visit.”

— Sage Scott, Everyday Wanderer 

Tonto National Monument

Tonto National Monument features two well-preserved cliff dwellings of the Salado people, who lived in the area from the 13th to the 15th century. These ancient dwellings, built into the cliffs of Tonto Basin, provide a glimpse into the lives and culture of the people who once lived there.

Visitors to the monument can take a guided tour of the cliff dwellings and learn about the history and culture of the Salado people.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is home to a diverse range of plant and animal species, including the rare organ pipe cactus. Visitors to the monument can explore the desert landscape on hiking trails, take a scenic drive, or attend ranger-led programs.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Canyon de Chelly National Monument features a series of deep canyons carved into the sandstone by millions of years of land uplifts and stream cuttings. Various Native American cultures have inhabited it for thousands of years. The canyon walls display impressive geological formations, including sheer cliffs and towering spires, creating a stunning natural landscape.

Visitors to the monument can explore the canyons on foot or by guided tour, and learn about the history and culture of the Navajo people who have lived there for centuries.

Montezuma Castle National Monument

On December 8, 1906, Montezuma Castle became the third National Monument with a mission to protect and honor Native American culture. This remarkable high-rise apartment, comprised of 20 rooms, rests snugly within a majestic limestone cliff. It narrates a tale of resourcefulness, resilience, and triumph amidst the challenging backdrop of the unforgiving desert terrain.

It offers a remarkable glimpse into the architectural achievements of the Sinagua culture. The surrounding area also boasts a diverse desert ecosystem with unique flora and fauna, making it a fascinating destination for nature enthusiasts.

“Our family flew to Phoenix for our trip to the Grand Canyon. The drive from Phoenix is about three and a half hours and takes you right by Montezuma Castle and Well, which are just off the highway. Driving through the Red Rock Scenic Byway through Sedona to get from the Montezuma Castle National Monument to the Grand Canyon National Park is a little longer than the more direct highway route but worth it. It is one of the prettiest drives in America.” 

—Lisa MarcAurele,

Overall, these National Parks near Phoenix, along with the National Monuments, offer a unique opportunity to explore the natural beauty and cultural history of the American Southwest.

Lara is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Personal Trainer. She is also a photographer and recipe developer at her food blog She shares easy, primarily low-carb recipes, bowling, and travel adventures. Whether you’re cooking with an air fryer, Blackstone or Instant Pot, she has you covered with healthy recipes.

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