Natural Wonders

10 Arizona State Parks That Are Great Alternatives To Grand Canyon National Park

Summary

  • Explore the scenic beauty of Lost Dutchman State Park, just outside Phoenix, where you can hike, bike, and camp in a serene desert landscape.
  • Immerse yourself in the breathtaking red rock views and diverse flora and fauna of Red Rock State Park in Sedona, Arizona.
  • Visit Tonto Natural Bridge State Park in Payson to witness the world’s largest natural travertine bridge and enjoy the park’s scenic beauty and historic exhibits.

There are plenty of natural wonders in Arizona. Thousands of years of geological and cultural history are condensed into more than 100,000 square miles in the sixth-largest state in the US. The goal of several state and national parks is to conserve, maintain, and highlight the distinctive qualities of the Copper State, which include canyons, ponderosa pine forests, desert landscapes, caves, and the ultimate water slide, an 80-foot-long, slick red rock sandstone cascade. Although the Grand Canyon is an incredible natural wonder, other natural wonders in Arizona are worth visiting. Here are 10 Arizona state parks that are great alternatives to Grand Canyon National Park.

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10
Lost Dutchman State Park

Mysterious legends, Superstition Mountains, scenic desert landscape


Superstition Wilderness in the Superstition Mountains near the Lost Dutchman State Park in Apache Junction, USA
Photo by Isa Macouzet on Unsplash

Superstition Wilderness in the Superstition Mountains near Lost Dutchman State Park in Apache Junction

Just 40 miles outside of Phoenix, Lost Dutchman State Park is a stunning natural retreat from the crowded Grand Canyon. It is named for a gold mine that may or may not actually exist. While some come in quest of gold, others come to enjoy the serene bike and hiking paths or the expansive sky next to their tent. Visitors will not necessarily win big, but they will undoubtedly leave with memories and a vacation of a lifetime.

  • Entrance fee: $24.95 per visitor
  • Opening schedule: May through September, from 6:00 AM to 3:00 PM, and October through April, from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM
  • Location: Superior, Arizona
  • Why is it an alternative to Grand Canyon National Park: Golden-hued Superstition Mountains and legend of the Lost Dutchman’s mine, not as vast as the Grand Canyon but closer to Phoenix

9
Red Rock State Park

Red rock views, serene nature, bird-watching opportunities, scenic drive


Sedona, Arizona, USA at Red Rock State Park
Shutterstock

Scenic view of Red Rock State Park in Sedona, Arizona

This 286-acre Arizona state park and environmental education center boasts breathtaking views. Paths meander through manzanita and juniper forests in the park, leading to the lush banks of Oak Creek. Red sandstone slopes surround verdant fields. A stream traverses the park, creating a diverse riparian ecosystem rich in flora and fauna. This riparian nature provides the park with a backdrop and an opportunity to focus on environmental education.

  • Entrance fee: $20 per vehicle, $10 per motorcycle, $8 per bicycle, and $5 per pedestrian
  • Opening schedule: Daily, from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM
  • Location: Sedona, Arizona
  • Why is it an alternative to Grand Canyon National Park: Towering red sandstone peaks, Sedona’s spiritual vortexes, and less crowded trails than the Grand Canyon

8
Tonto Natural Bridge State Park

Largest travertine bridge, pine forest, scenic beauty


Tonto National Forest, Arizona
Shutterstock

Tonto National Forest, Arizona

Nestled in a secluded valley in Payson, Arizona, Tonto Natural Bridge State Park boasts the world’s largest natural travertine bridge, evolving over millennia. Standing 183 feet high and spanning a 400-foot tunnel, the bridge offers breathtaking views. A brief stroll leads to the river, providing a unique perspective from below. The park features the historic Goodfellow Lodge, now a visitor center, offering interpretive exhibits on the bridge, lodge, and the region’s prehistoric inhabitants. As visitors descend, the scenery becomes increasingly spectacular, culminating in Pine Creek, where they can swim at their own risk, experiencing the park’s beauty firsthand.

  • Entrance fee: $7 per adult, $4 for young people (7 to 13) and free for children
  • Opening schedule: Every day, from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM
  • Location: Pine, Arizona
  • Why is it an alternative to Grand Canyon National Park: Cool, shady oasis with the second largest natural bridge in the U.S., perfect for a shorter, scenic break

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7
Slide Rock State Park

Natural water slides, red rock beauty, family-friendly, refreshing swimming


Slide Rock State Park featuring natural rock water slides in Oak Creek Canyon, Coconino, near Sedona, Arizona, USA
Shutterstock / Fotoluminate LLC

Slide Rock State Park featuring natural rock water slides in Oak Creek Canyon, Coconino, near Sedona, Arizona, USA

Nestled in Oak Creek Canyon, just north of Sedona, this park offers a refreshing alternative to the Grand Canyon, especially on hot days. Known for one of the Southwest’s top swimming holes, the creek transforms into a natural water slide, providing a cool escape. Along the trails, find inviting lakes for activities like swimming and cliff jumping. In different seasons, explore historic orchards and marvel at towering canyon cliffs. Perfect for leisurely picnics, this park invites visitors to savor the moment. Whether enjoying water features or historical charm, it promises a diverse and enjoyable experience.

  • Entrance fee: $10 per vehicle from November to February; $20 per vehicle from Labor Day to October 31; $20 per vehicle from Monday to Thursday, and $30 per vehicle from Friday to Sunday
  • Opening schedule: Daily, from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM
  • Location: Sedona, Arizona
  • Why is it an alternative to Grand Canyon National Park: Natural water slide carved into red sandstone, refreshing dip in Oak Creek Canyon, ideal for families

6
Picacho Peak State Park

Hiking adventures, desert beauty, wildflowers, historical significance, panoramic views


On the side of the mountain at Picacho Peak State Park
Shutterstock

On the side of the mountain at Picacho Peak State Park

Approximately 76 miles southeast of Scottsdale, on the sides of a mountain that is a portion of an eroded volcanic flow, the westernmost engagement of the Civil War took place. The serenity of the Arizona park stands in stark contrast to the distant violence of the past. Trekking routes weave through the unique spire that emerges from the desert floor. During springtime, Picacho transforms into a spectacle of color with waves of golden poppies cascading down the hills, offering one of the state’s most breathtaking wildflower displays when conditions align.

  • Entrance fee: $7 per vehicle and $3 per person or bicycle
  • Opening schedule: Daily, from 5:00 AM to 10:00 PM
  • Location: Interstate 10 between Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona
  • Why is it an alternative to Grand Canyon National Park: Historical landmark with WWII-era watchtower, panoramic views and desert flora, great for birdwatching

5
Dead Horse Ranch State Park

Verde River beauty, camping, fishing, hiking, tranquil environment


Abandoned wood cabin in Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Arizona
Shutterstock 

Abandoned wood cabin in Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Arizona

A short drive from Old Town Cottonwood, Dead Horse Ranch State Park is located along the Verde River and was named for the dead horse that was lying in a field when the previous owners bought it in 1950. Despite being only 423 acres, it provides more recreational options than the majority of state parks in Arizona. Dead Horse Ranch is also a fantastic starting point for visiting neighboring national and state parks, Sedona, and local vineyards.

  • Entrance fee: $7 per vehicle and $3 per person or bicycle
  • Opening schedule: Daily, from 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM
  • Location: Cottonwood, Arizona
  • Why is it an alternative to Grand Canyon National Park: Lush riparian corridor along the Verde River, abundant birdlife, and excellent kayaking opportunities

4
Lake Havasu State Park

Boating paradise, London Bridge, water activities, scenic desert landscape


Lake Havasu
Via Pixabay

Rock formations on Lake Havasu in Arizona

Beautiful beaches, nature paths, boat ramps, and handy campgrounds may all be found along Lake Havasu State Park’s picturesque shoreline, making it a great alternative to Grand Canyon State Park. This location, next to Lake Havasu City’s well-known London Bridge, is a true paradise for water sports enthusiasts. Boat ramps, campsites, seaside cottages, a picnic area, a beach area, and a special events area are all accessible in the park. The 1.75-mile Mohave Sunset Trail meanders along the seashore and across the lowland desert. The varied life found in the park and this region of the desert is highlighted in the Arroyo-Camino Interpretive Garden. It is usual to see birds, lizards, and desert cottontails.

  • Entrance fee: $15 per vehicle from Monday to Thursday and $20 from Friday to Sunday
  • Opening schedule: 24/7
  • Location: Lake Havasu City, Arizona
  • Why is it an alternative to Grand Canyon National Park: 7 miles of shoreline on Lake Havasu, water sports paradise with boating, swimming, and fishing

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3
Patagonia Lake State Park

Water recreation, diverse wildlife, camping, tranquility, scenic hills


Dramatic view of a beautiful sunset in Patagonia Lake State Park Beach, Nogales, Arizona
Photo by Lfbrauer on Dreamstime

Dramatic view of a beautiful sunset in Patagonia Lake State Park Beach, Nogales, Arizona

Nestled in the scenic hills of southeastern Arizona, Patagonia Lake State Park, established in 1975, is a hidden gem offering diverse recreational opportunities. Surrounded by rolling hills, the park is a haven for wildlife, featuring roaming whitetail deer and herons along the shoreline. Boasting a campground, beach, picnic area, creek trail, boat ramps, and marina, visitors can enjoy activities like fishing for crappie, bass, and trout. The Lakeside Market provides boat rentals and supplies. Beyond the lake, hikers can explore the Nature Conservancy in Patagonia, discovering remnants of the historic New Mexico/Arizona railroad and observing various bird species along the creek trail of Arizona’s state park.

  • Entrance fee: $15 per vehicle from Monday to Friday and $20 per vehicle on Saturday, Sunday, and holidays
  • Opening schedule: Daily, from 4:00 AM to 10:00 PM
  • Location: Nogales, Arizona
  • Why is it an alternative to Grand Canyon National Park: Tranquil mountain lake in southern Arizona, surrounded by forests and meadows, ideal for camping and fishing

2
Kartchner Caverns State Park

Subterranean wonders, unique formations, guided cave tours, geological marvels, tranquility

panoramic view of Kartchner Caverns State Park, AZ

Kartchner Caverns takes tourists to the enigmatic world of caverns and is home to the longest stalactite structure in the world. Marvel at the highest natural column structure in Arizona while exploring the interior of a living cave. This ADA-accessible park in Southern Arizona is conveniently close to Benson, which is close to Tucson.

This alternative to the Grand Canyon was discovered by Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts when they were investigating the limestone hills near the eastern foot of the Whetstone Mountains in November 1974. Having discovered a previously unknown cave, the duo decided to keep their extraordinary find under wraps. It wasn’t until February 1978, after locating the landowners James and Lois Kartchner, that they finally revealed the hidden cave.

  • Entrance fee: $7 per vehicle and $3 per person or bicycle
  • Opening schedule: Daily, from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM
  • Location: Benson, Arizona
  • Why is it an alternative to Grand Canyon National Park: Underground wonderland with stunning stalactites and stalagmites, guided tours reveal hidden depths

1
Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park

Botanical diversity, tranquil trails, educational experience, serene retreat, unique flora


Beautiful view of Ayer Lake in the Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park, Superior, Arizona
Shutterstock

Beautiful view of Ayer Lake in the Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park, Superior, Arizona

Nestled in the heart of Arizona, Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park is a botanical haven spanning 392 acres. Established in the 1920s, this living museum showcases a diverse collection of arid plants from around the world. Visitors can embark on winding trails, encountering towering cacti, vibrant wildflowers, and unique desert flora. The park’s centerpiece is the towering Magma Ridge, offering panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. With themed gardens, educational exhibits, and guided tours, Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park is a serene retreat for nature enthusiasts and a living testament to the beauty and resilience of arid ecosystems.

  • Entrance fee: $24.95 per adult or youth and $10 per child (5 to 12)
  • Opening schedule: May through September, from 6:00 AM to 3:00 PM, and October through April, from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM
  • Location: Superior, Arizona
  • Why is it an alternative to Grand Canyon National Park: Diverse desert plant collection, cacti galore, and interpretive trails showcase unique flora

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