Located in the southwestern United States, Phoenix, Arizona, serves as a gateway to an array of stunning national parks within a day’s drive. From the majestic saguaro cacti of Saguaro National Park to the awe-inspiring vistas of the Grand Canyon, and from the ancient petrified wood at Petrified Forest National Park to the unique rock formations of Joshua Tree National Park, nature enthusiasts are overloaded with parks to choose from.
Additionally, the breathtaking landscapes of Zion, Death Valley, Mesa Verde, and Bryce National Parks offer unforgettable experiences just a short drive away. Embark on a journey to these eight remarkable national parks and immerse yourself in the unmatched beauty of the Southwest.
Note: Below each park are the hours and miles it’s located from Phoenix, Arizona.
1. Saguaro National Park
(2 hr. 17 Min., 148 mi.)
Saguaro National Park, located near Phoenix, Arizona, is a desert oasis that showcases the iconic saguaro cacti and their profound significance. With their towering presence and outstretched arms, these majestic cacti have become symbols of the American West.
The park offers two distinct sections: the Tucson Mountain District (west) and the Rincon Mountain District (east). Both sections are characterized by vast expanses of saguaro forests, where these remarkable cacti dominate the landscape. The saguaro cactus is an impressive sight to behold. It plays a crucial role in the desert ecosystem, providing shelter and sustenance for numerous species.
Saguaro National Park boasts scenic drives that wind through these picturesque desert landscapes. You can embark on the Bajada Loop Drive in the Tucson Mountain District or the Cactus Forest Loop Drive in the Rincon Mountain District. These drives offer panoramic vistas of the saguaro-studded hillsides, providing a mesmerizing glimpse into the beauty of the Sonoran Desert.
For those seeking a more immersive experience, the park offers an extensive network of hiking trails. From short nature walks to longer treks, these trails allow you to explore the diverse desert flora and encounter wildlife along the way. For instance, the Valley View Overlook Trail rewards you with stunning views of the Tucson Valley. At the same time, the Douglas Spring Trail in the Rincon Mountain District showcases the park’s unique desert ecosystem.
The park is also a haven for wildlife enthusiasts and birdwatchers. It also supports a wide range of animals, including javelinas, desert tortoises, and coyotes, which can often be spotted during hikes or scenic drives. Birdwatchers will be delighted by the park’s avian diversity, with opportunities to observe species like the Gila woodpecker, cactus wren, and elf owl.
2. Petrified Forest National Park
(3 hr. 18 Min., 203 mi.)
Petrified Forest National Park, located in northeastern Arizona, is a captivating destination that offers a blend of natural wonders and rich cultural history.
The park is renowned for its unique petrified wood, which dates back millions of years. These ancient trees have transformed into colorful, mineralized fossils, creating a fascinating and otherworldly landscape. You can marvel at the preserved logs, which display a remarkable array of vibrant colors, ranging from reds and oranges to blues and purples. The petrified wood serves as a testament to the geological processes that occurred in this region long ago.
In addition to the petrified wood, the park showcases breathtaking badlands. These intricate formations feature a kaleidoscope of colors, with layers of red, yellow, and purple sedimentary rocks that have been eroded over time. The badlands create a striking backdrop for exploration and photography, providing a truly unique and mesmerizing environment.
There are also a variety of hiking trails that allow you to immerse yourself in the park’s natural wonders. The trails lead through petrified wood forests, offering up-close encounters with the fossilized remains of ancient trees. Some popular trails include the Blue Mesa Trail, which winds through vibrant badlands, and the Crystal Forest Trail, which provides a close-up view of the dazzling petrified wood.
Throughout the park, you can find viewpoints that offer panoramic vistas of the surrounding landscapes. These viewpoints, such as the Painted Desert Rim Trail and the Puerco Pueblo overlook, provide stunning views of the vast expanse of colorful badlands and the distant horizon.
Petrified Forest National Park is also significant for its cultural history. The park preserves numerous ancient Native American sites, including petroglyphs and ruins of Pueblo villages. These sites offer a glimpse into the lives and traditions of the indigenous people who once inhabited this region, adding an enriching layer of historical significance to the park.
3. Joshua Tree National Park
(3 hr. 20 Min., 227 mi.)
Located in Southern California, Joshua Tree National Park is a desert gem renowned for its mesmerizing blend of iconic Joshua trees and unique rock formations. The park offers a plethora of hiking and climbing opportunities, as well as a captivating environment for stargazing.
Iconic Joshua Trees and Unique Rock Formations:
Joshua Trees: These distinct trees, with their twisted branches and spiky leaves, dominate the park’s landscape, creating an otherworldly atmosphere.
Rock Formations: Joshua Tree showcases an array of striking rock formations shaped by wind and water erosion. The rocks provide a captivating backdrop for exploration and photography, from towering monoliths to massive granite boulders.
Hiking and Climbing Opportunities:
Hiking: The park boasts a vast network of trails catering to all skill levels. From short nature walks to challenging treks, you can explore hidden oases, pristine desert wilderness, and panoramic vistas.
Climbing: With its renowned climbing scene, Joshua Tree entices climbers of all levels. Its granite outcrops and boulder formations offer diverse challenges and countless routes to test climbers’ skills and agility.
Dark Sky Experience: Joshua Tree National Park is recognized as an International Dark Sky Park, offering exceptional stargazing conditions. The park’s remote location and minimal light pollution allow you to witness stunning displays of stars, planets, and the Milky Way.
Stargazing Opportunities: Whether you choose a designated stargazing spot or simply look up from your campsite, Joshua Tree’s expansive night sky offers breathtaking views and the chance to witness celestial phenomena like meteor showers and astronomical events.
4. Grand Canyon National Park
(3 hr. 15 Min., 224 mi.)
Grand Canyon is undoubtedly one of Arizona’s most iconic national parks. This area is a world-renowned natural wonder that will captivate you with its breathtaking beauty and awe-inspiring geological history. The park showcases a dramatic landscape shaped by millions of years of erosion.
Iconic Features and Geological History:
Grand Canyon: The park’s crown jewel is the immense Grand Canyon, carved by the Colorado River. Its sheer size, depth, and colorful rock layers offer a glimpse into the Earth’s geological past, spanning millions of years.
Layered Rock Formations: The exposed rock layers in the canyon walls reveal the region’s geological history. Each layer tells a story, showcasing different geological eras and ancient environments.
Popular Viewpoints and Hiking Trails:
South Rim: The South Rim offers iconic viewpoints like Mather Point and Yavapai Observation Station, providing panoramic vistas of the vast canyon and its intricate details.
North Rim: The North Rim boasts viewpoints like Bright Angel Point and Point Imperial, offering more secluded and stunning canyon vistas.
Rim-to-Rim Trails: Hiking trails like the Bright Angel Trail and the Kaibab Trail allow you to hike from one rim of the canyon to the other, providing a unique perspective and immersive experience.
Helicopter Tours: Helicopter tours provide a thrilling aerial perspective of the Grand Canyon’s vastness and offer unparalleled views of its majestic beauty.
River Rafting: For an exhilarating adventure, you can embark on a river rafting trip along the Colorado River, immersing yourself in the canyon’s ancient geological formations and enjoying the thrill of the river’s currents.
5. Zion National Park
(5 hr. 47 Min., 377 mi.)
Zion National Park, located in Utah, is a mesmerizing natural sanctuary renowned for its stunning red rock canyons and dramatic landscapes. The park’s unique geology, shaped by millions of years of erosion, offers an unforgettable outdoor experience.
Red Rock Canyons and Dramatic Landscapes:
Zion’s Canyons: The park is characterized by deep, narrow canyons, towering sandstone cliffs, and vibrant red rock formations, creating a breathtaking visual spectacle.
Virgin River: The Virgin River carves its way through the canyons, adding a tranquil element to the dramatic landscapes and providing opportunities for water-related activities.
Angel’s Landing: This iconic hike offers an exhilarating adventure with steep switchbacks and a narrow ridge leading to a breathtaking viewpoint. It rewards you with panoramic views of the park’s expansive vistas.
The Narrows: A unique and unforgettable experience, this hike takes you through the Virgin River within the towering walls of the narrowest section of Zion Canyon. Along the way, you’ll wade through the river and immerse yourself in the stunning slot canyon scenery.
Scenic Drive along Zion-Mount Carmel Highway:
Zion-Mount Carmel Highway: This scenic drive offers panoramic views of the park’s majestic landscapes. The road winds through a series of tunnels and switchbacks, providing awe-inspiring vistas of red cliffs, towering peaks, and the surrounding beauty of Zion.
6. Death Valley National Park
(6 hr. 20 Min., 412 mi.)
Death Valley National Park, situated in California and Nevada, is a captivating destination known for its unique desert landscape and extreme climate. It showcases a vast expanse of barren salt flats, rugged mountains, and mystical geological formations.
The park is one of the hottest and driest places on Earth, with scorching temperatures and minimal rainfall. Its extreme conditions add to the park’s allure and create a sense of otherworldliness.
Badwater Basin: Located at 282 feet below sea level, Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America. It offers a surreal landscape of vast salt flats, crystallized salt patterns, and an unearthly atmosphere.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes: These iconic sand dunes are a photographer’s paradise with wave-like shapes and golden hues. You can explore and capture the beauty of the dunes, especially during sunrise or sunset.
Scenic Drives and Stargazing:
Scenic Drives: Death Valley offers several scenic drives, such as Artist’s Drive, Dante’s View, and the aptly named Death Valley Scenic Byway. These routes provide breathtaking vistas of the park’s diverse landscapes and geological formations.
Stargazing: The park’s remote location and minimal light pollution make it an excellent destination for stargazing. The clear desert skies offer awe-inspiring views of stars, planets, and celestial phenomena.
7. Mesa Verde National Park
(6 hrs. 16 min., 419 mi.)
Mesa Verde National Park, located in southwestern Colorado, is a captivating destination that preserves the ancient cliff dwellings and cultural heritage of the ancestral Puebloan people. The park offers a unique opportunity to step back in time and explore these remarkable archaeological sites.
Well-Preserved Ancestral Puebloan Cliff Dwellings:
Cliff Dwellings: Mesa Verde is renowned for its exceptionally well-preserved cliff dwellings, showcasing the architectural ingenuity of the ancestral Puebloans who inhabited the region over 700 years ago.
Balcony House, Cliff Palace, and Spruce Tree House: These iconic cliff dwellings are among the park’s most impressive and accessible sites, allowing you to enter and explore these ancient structures.
Archaeological Sites and Guided Tours:
Step House and Long House: These archaeological sites offer insight into the daily lives and cultural practices of the ancestral Puebloan people. Guided tours provide in-depth knowledge and interpretation of the site’s historical significance.
Ranger-led Programs: Mesa Verde offers a range of ranger-led programs, including guided tours of cliff dwellings, cultural demonstrations, and informative talks, enhancing your understanding of the ancestral Puebloan culture.
Scenic Drives and Hiking Trails:
Mesa Top Loop Road: This scenic drive provides panoramic views of the park’s expansive mesa tops, showcasing the impressive landscape and archaeological sites.
Petroglyph Point Trail: This moderate hike leads you to a mesa top with ancient petroglyphs and offers views of Spruce Tree House and Cliff Palace along the way.
Prater Ridge Trail: This is another moderate hike that offers stunning vistas of the surrounding canyons and the opportunity to see diverse flora and fauna.
8. Bryce Canyon National Park
(6 hr. 36 Min., 423 mi.)
Bryce Canyon National Park, located in southern Utah, is a mesmerizing natural wonder that showcases a unique and surreal landscape of towering hoodoos, natural amphitheaters, and breathtaking vistas. Despite its name, Bryce Canyon is not actually a canyon but a series of amphitheaters carved out of the Paunsaugunt Plateau.
Hoodoos: The park’s most distinctive feature, hoodoos are tall and thin rock spires that stand like sentinels throughout the park. Their varying shapes and vibrant colors create a surreal atmosphere.
Natural Amphitheaters: These naturally formed bowl-shaped depressions showcase a multitude of hoodoos, offering panoramic views and stunning photographic opportunities.
Bryce Amphitheater: One of the park’s largest amphitheaters, Bryce Amphitheater is a magnificent spectacle with a vast collection of hoodoos, including the iconic Thor’s Hammer.
Rim Trail: This easy-to-moderate trail offers breathtaking views along the rim of the amphitheaters, allowing you to witness the dramatic landscape from different perspectives.
Navajo Loop Trail: Descending into the heart of the canyon, this popular trail takes you through towering walls of hoodoos, such as Wall Street and Two Bridges.
Fairyland Loop Trail: A longer and more challenging hike, the Fairyland Loop Trail showcases a diverse array of hoodoos, rock formations, and expansive vistas.
Bryce Canyon Scenic Drive: This 18-mile drive winds through the park, offering stunning viewpoints, pullouts, and overlooks to admire the dramatic landscape and expansive vistas.
Rainbow Point and Yovimpa Point: These overlooks at the end of the scenic drive provide sweeping panoramic views of the park, showcasing the vastness and intricacy of the hoodoo-filled amphitheaters.
Other Popular Activities:
Ranger Programs: The park offers ranger-led programs, including guided hikes, stargazing events, and educational talks, providing you with in-depth knowledge and a deeper understanding of the park’s geology and natural history.
Horseback Riding: You can also explore the park on horseback, providing a unique perspective into the park’s rugged landscape and surrounding hoodoos.
Other National Park Service Units Worth Visiting:
In addition to these remarkable US National Parks, there are seven other National Park Service units within a day’s drive of Phoenix worth visiting:
- Tonto National Monument (32 min., 30 mi.): Found near Roosevelt, Arizona, it preserves two well-preserved cliff dwellings known as the Lower and Upper Ruins, showcasing the ancient Salado culture’s architectural achievements.
- Casa Grande Ruins National Monument (1 hr 7 min., 68 mi.): Located in Coolidge, Arizona, it preserves the ancient Hohokam archaeological site featuring the Casa Grande (“Great House”), an impressive four-story adobe structure.
- Montezuma Castle National Monument (1 hr 27 min., 94 mi.): Situated near Camp Verde, Arizona, it protects well-preserved cliff dwellings built by the Sinagua people, showcasing their remarkable masonry and engineering skills.
- Walnut Canyon National Monument (2 hrs. 16 min., 154 mi.): Situated near Flagstaff, Arizona, it features ancient cliff dwellings constructed by the Sinagua people within a picturesque canyon setting.
- Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (2 hrs. 22 min., 144 mi.): Located on the Arizona-Mexico border, this park showcases the unique and diverse Sonoran Desert ecosystem, home to the rare organ pipe cacti and a variety of wildlife.
- Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument (2 hrs. 28 min., 163 mi.): Located northeast of Flagstaff, Arizona, it preserves a volcanic landscape with lava flows, cinder cones, and the iconic Sunset Crater, showcasing the area’s volcanic history.
- Wupatki National Monument (2 hrs. 52 min., 188 mi.): Situated north of Flagstaff, Arizona, it encompasses ancient Puebloan ruins, including the well-preserved Wupatki Pueblo, showcasing the cultural and architectural heritage of the Sinagua and Anasazi people.
There are a wealth of incredible national parks near Phoenix featuring a wide variety of landscapes and activities for you to enjoy.
From the iconic saguaro cacti of Saguaro National Park to the awe-inspiring beauty of the Grand Canyon, and from the captivating landscapes of Zion National Park to the unique rock formations of Joshua Tree National Park, the Southwest offers a diverse and breathtaking array of natural wonders to explore.
Additionally, the nearby national monuments, such as Casa Grande Ruins, Montezuma Castle, and Tonto National Monument, provide opportunities to delve into the region’s rich cultural and archaeological heritage.
Whether hiking through majestic canyons, marveling at ancient ruins, or gazing at starlit skies, the wonders surrounding Phoenix are waiting to be discovered and appreciated. Don’t wait! Plan your next ultimate road trip to these beautiful Arizonan national parks today!
Want a FREE complete list and recap of all our US National Parks as well as downloadable maps and other great resources? Check out our US National Parks List and Map guide!