Arizona’s hinterland has long been synonymous with the frontier grounds of the fabled Wild West. It’s here that Hollywood placed its roaming cowboys and men with no names, here that the vast red rock canyons echoed with the legends of old America, and here that the grand majesty of the continent’s mountains and creeks converged to form the wondrous hoodoo hills and limestone passageways of the land.
With such an enthralling backstory it’s perhaps not surprising that the state parks around the city of Phoenix figure as one of the region’s major draws. Here, we’ll consider five of the top outdoor destinations within reach of the capital and take a look at what each one has to offer.
Hundreds of thousands of years of geological metamorphosis and attrition has conspired to produce the spectacular monolith arch that is the centrepiece of the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park. Today it is hailed as the largest natural travertine bridge in the whole world, and attracts visitors from right across the globe to the backcountry just a short drive northeast of the state capital at Phoenix. On-site there are a number of well-maintained hiking trails, along with a dedicated visitor’s centre that helps to chronicle Tonto’s regional history.
In a dramatic landscape dominated by juniper forests and sycamore groves, the iconic hoodoo bluffs of this State Park tower overhead; a quintessential example of the craggy red sandstone hills that pepper the country here north of Phoenix. What’s more, the park comes complete with an on-site visitor’s centre and no less than five miles of maintained hiking track, meaning it offers one of the best introductions to the unique natural habitats that cluster around Oak Creek and its surrounding canyons.
Most visitors come here to explore the deep chasms and winding passages of the Kartchner Caves that give the park its name. Although only discovered in 1974, they are the product of thousands of years of geological development, and represent some of the most magnificent subterranean passages in all of North America. Guests are invited to take guided tours almost two and a half miles into the depths of the Whetstone Mountain ridges, where they can learn about the caves’ unique natural history and curious journey to the forefront of Arizona’s sightseeing line up.
Just seven miles north of Sedona, this unique natural attraction is nestled on the red rock ridges surrounding Arizona’s Oak Creek. In the last century it has featured as the backdrop for cowboy movie shootouts and early touristic advancements into the west, while today most people come to enjoy the slide-like geological formations that first gave the park its name. What’s more, the region around Slide Rock is famed for its isolated beauty and rustic charm, making it the perfect destination for holidaying couples or honeymooning travelers.
Spread over more than 300 acres of Arizona’s wild backcountry, the Lost Dutchman State Park offers up some of the most defining vistas of the Wild West. Here, the dusty plains and red rock bluffs are clustered with cacti and shrub, while the dramatic rises of the Superstition Mountains and their smattering of legendary old gold mines adds something of a mystical and alluring ethereal charm. The Lost Dutchman is also home to a number of shaded picnic areas, an RV park and a large campground with more than 134 individual pitch sites.