What Is the Most Beautiful Arizona National Park?
Home to the Grand Canyon and Horseshoe Bend, Arizona is one of the most coveted national park destinations in the U.S.
But while you certainly want to spend time visiting these beautiful places, the state's other national parks are also worth visiting — especially if you want to avoid crowds. The best part is, you can visit all of them in a matter of days.
Here are Arizona's three national parks, ranked by natural beauty.
1. Grand Canyon National Park
Size: 1,902 square miles
Annual visitors: 5.97 million*
Best gateway town: Grand Canyon Village
*Visitor numbers are from 2019, since they provide a more accurate picture of travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Experience: Grand Canyon National Park
The most famous Arizona national park is the breathtaking Grand Canyon. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this deep red and golden canyon stretches over 277 miles and offers a variety of activities.
You can kayak on the Colorado River, hike to Havasu Falls and then swim in the emerald water of its pool, or ride a donkey along narrow paths on steep cliffs.
People come from all over the world to see this natural wonder with their own eyes. In fact, this is the second-most-visited national park in the United States, with almost six million yearly visitors.
Making a quick stop along a viewpoint is possible, but we encourage anyone to give themselves at least two days in this wild and surprisingly diverse land.
2. Saguaro National Park
Size: 143.3 square miles
Annual visitors: 1.02 million
Best gateway town: Tucson
The Experience: Saguaro National Park
Right outside Tucson is a desert landscape marked by saguaros. This species of cactus is tall, with their average height being 40 feet — that's the equivalent of an upright bus. Standing next to one and having to bend over backward just to see its tip as it reaches out for the sky is an incredibly magical experience.
But that's not the only thing that makes Saguaro National Park unique. Around the rows of desert plants, you'll find spiral petroglyphs made by the Hohokam people. The park is fairly small, measuring around 143.3 square miles, but that just means you get to take your time discovering it.
Pro tip: Make sure you stay the night so you can see the star-studded skies above the cacti.
3. Petrified Forest National Park
Size: 229.6 square miles
Annual visitors: 131,802
Best gateway town: Holbrook
The Experience: Petrified Forest National Park
This dry park looks like it belongs in a Dr. Seuss story. Once a verdant forest crossed by a river, the land dried up, petrifying and crystalizing the trees. As minerals accumulated around the area, things gained swirls of colors in subdued tones. This is why the national park is known as the Rainbow Forest.
As you walk around, you'll see hills of dark purple, grey, deep red, gold and blue. You'll also stumble upon tree stumps — now more crystal than wood — that look as if they've been painted by a surrealist artist.
Don't skip seeing the petroglyphs hidden at the heart of the park and the ruins of a native village now known as Puerco Pueblo.
Map of Arizona National Parks