During our Arizona RV rental trip, we road-tripped from Phoenix to northern Arizona. And on our trip, we had the pleasure of exploring and documenting some epic National Parks in Arizona. (and adding them to our national park checklist) So make sure you add these four national sites to your next Arizona road trip.
To say that this is an impressive site would be an understatement – it is history coming alive right in front of your eyes. Here are a few things to get you started on a trip to Wupatki:
Wupatki is considered a national monument made up of ancient pueblos and other archeological treasures of civilizations of the past. Learn about the history of these communities, hike the trails to the pueblos and overlooks, explore the archeological sites, become a Jr. Ranger, and get your NPS stamp.
Located just north of Flagstaff in northern Arizona and south of the Grand Canyon, it’s nestled in a cluster of 3 national parks along with Sunset Crater and Walnut Canyon. The drive to the Visitors Center is actually a 34-mile scenic loop road that takes around an hour. But the drive is stunning with forever views of grasslands and the Painted Desert – so sit back and enjoy the ride!
We visited in late October, and the weather was perfect. It’s Arizona, so take into consideration that summers are insanely hot, but winter, spring, and fall are beautiful times to go.
Wupatki is traditionally associated with 13 different Native American tribes throughout 150 years, from hunters and gatherers to farmers, herders, ranchers, and caretakers.
Because of the long drives throughout the land, you’ll need a vehicle to get to the site. We drove in our RV, so any type of vehicle will do. Just remember to take in the beauty of the drive along the way!
Legacy landscape, incredible views, history at your fingertips – take your pick! You will not be disappointed with any aspect of this incredible national park in Arizona.
There’s a reason why the Grand Canyon is called Grand! With it’s stunning views for days, gorgeous landscapes, and a beautiful sunset moment, you’ll be picking up your jaw with every stop. The Grand Canyon is a monumental national park for sure!
A visit to the Grand Canyon is one of those bucket list moments – so why not stay a few days to really take it in? Here are some options of where to stay inside the Grand Canyon, South Rim:
There are a variety of lodges to choose from, the most popular being Yavapai Lodge which has a restaurant, cafe, tavern, and gift shop – AND wi-fi. Since it’s right next to Trailer Village, we ended up spending some time there.
What we loved about staying right in the park was the convenience factor. Each place has quick and easy access to the FREE bus system that takes you around the park to all the lookout points. We were also near hiking paths, the on-site grocery store, the visitors center, bank, and post office (for all you postcard senders).
And, we got to see some wildlife right outside our window!
While pretty much every viewpoint is incredible at the GC, not each point is suitable for those sunset shots. So here are the 𝗧𝗢𝗣 3 𝗩𝗶𝗲𝘄𝗽𝗼𝗶𝗻𝘁𝘀 to capture the sunset at the South Rim:
𝗟𝗲𝘁’𝘀 𝘁𝗮𝗹𝗸 𝗮𝗯𝗼𝘂𝘁 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗚𝗿𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗖𝗮𝗻𝘆𝗼𝗻 𝗝𝗿. 𝗥𝗮𝗻𝗴𝗲𝗿 𝗣𝗿𝗼𝗴𝗿𝗮𝗺! I have nothing but GREAT things to say about it. So, of course, when we went to the Grand Canyon, Mia was excited to get her booklet and badge. And let me tell you, the GC program is a fantastic one!
Just as vast as the Grand Canyon is, the picture idea possibilities are just as grand! So while you’re there and taking all the typical family poses, try to get in some untraditional shots, too. Like walking down into the Grand Canyon, hugging, and pictures with the Grand Canyon in the background with your subjects in the forefront. They just might end up being your favorites.
Walnut Canyon tends to be an underestimated national park in Arizona since it’s so close to the Grand Canyon, but it’s still impressive and worth the visit! Want to plan a trip to Walnut Canyon? We’ve got you covered:
Walnut Canyon is a national moment made up of small cliff dwellings with views to die for. Hike, see incredible views, get the kids involved with the Jr. Ranger Program, and enjoy a day in nature.
There are two main hiking trails at Walnut Canyon.
Located just east of Flagstaff in northern Arizona it’s one of the three national parks in Arizona this area. We camped at the Flagstaff KOA, and it was just a 5-minute drive from the campsite.
We visited in late October, and the weather was nice. It was crazy windy the day we went, so make sure you come prepared with warmer clothes in the winter.
The park closes at 4:30, so if you are looking at doing the Island Trail, they close access at 3:30. Make sure to arrive before then.
There is no public transportation to Walnut Cove, so you’ll need a vehicle to get to the site. If you’re coming from Flagstaff, take Interstate 40 towards Albuquerque and take exit 204. The visitor center is located about 3-miles at the end of the road.
Many hikers prefer Walnut Canyon over the Grand Canyon because you can actually hike down inside the Canyon in one day and without additional permissions. Plus, the views are seriously gorgeous!
Steeped in Native American history, it’s one of the very first sites dedicated as a national monument back in 1906. Montezuma Castle is made up of dwellings built by the Southern Sinagua tribe. It’s a smaller national monument, so you don’t need much time to explore. I think we spent around an hour and covered everything.
Walk around the short, paved loop to view the 5-story cliff dwellings, have a picnic at the picnic area, and enjoy the nature around you. You can also explore Montezuma Well, just a short drive from the Castle.
The hiking level at Montezuma Castle is -sxtremely easy and stroller-friendly. The paved walk is only about a 1/3 mile loop, suitable for pretty much everyone.
Located in Camp Verde, Arizona, 45 minutes south of Flagstaff and 90 minutes north of Phoenix, it’s a great stop on an Arizona road trip to break up the driving.
We visited in late October, and the weather was nice. We even got to see some beautiful Fall foliage throughout the walk. I highly suggest visiting in early Spring or Fall, before the hot summer sun shows her face.
It’s a quick drive to the site after you exit I-17, exit 289
𝗙𝘂𝗻 𝗙𝗮𝗰𝘁: Montezuma Castle actually has nothing to do with the Aztec emperor, Montezuma. Early Americans named it such because it looked to them like an Aztec structure. Personally, I think it should be renamed to reflect the true owners.
Located inside the gorgeous Tonto National Forest, the Tonto National Monument is one of those monument gems that not too many people add to their National Park lists. But definitely should! It’s a fantastic little park with gorgeous views and incredible history. Here’s what you need to know before heading to Tonto National Monument.
The main attraction at Tonto NM is the cliff dwelling. There are actually two separate sections – the Lower and the Upper Cliff Dwellings. The Lower cliff dwellings are open to the public daily during operational hours. But the Upper cliff dwellings are only available to see by guided tour from the months of November through April.
There are also historical movies to watch during your visit to Tonto National Monument and don’t forget to grab a Jr. Ranger packet for your littles.
UPPER DWELLING TOUR TIP: If you’d like to tour the Upper dwellings, you need to reserve in advance. Reservations open on Oct. 1st for the upcoming season and fill up months in advance. You can sign up here: Upper Dwelling Tour Reservations
Tonto National Monument is about a 2-hour drive from Phoenix, AZ, inside the Tonto Forest. You can either take the AZ 87/188 or AZ 60/188 to arrive at the monument. Currently, the AZ88 route that takes you through Tortilla Flat is closed in certain sections, so it’s not accessible all the way to the Monument. Make sure you check before heading on this route.
Entrance to Tonto National Park costs $10/person, and kids under 16 years old are FREE. If you have the annual National Park Pass, this park is covered with the pass.
The trail inside Tonto National Monument is quite short but steep. It is a 1-mile roundtrip hike on paved trails. It takes around an hour from the bottom of the trail to the Cliff Dwellings and back to complete. It’s considered an easy trail with a couple of benches along the way for stops. Our 5-year-old had no trouble hiking to the top.
It’s important to note that during the summer months (June – August), the trails at Tonto National Monument are only open from 8:00 a.m. to noon. And you must start your hike before noon.
Yes, Tonto National Monument is one of the National Parks designated as a dark sky park. They offer night sky programs from November to April. This is one of the best parks in the US for dark sky photographers!
We visited Tonto NM in late November, and the weather was absolutely perfect! The temps were in the low 70s with sunny skies. As with all Arizona parks, the best time to visit is during the months of September – May. The Summer months of June through August have limited available hours due to extreme heat, so if you’re going to visit in the summer, make sure you get started in the early hours of the day.
There certainly are some additional stops you can make during a trip to Tonto National Monument inside the Tonto Forest. Roosevelt Lake is adjacent to the monument, so stopping at the lake or Roosevelt Dam is a great stop to add to your trip. Tortilla Flat is also a really fantastic place to stop and eat, and Goldfield Gosttown is a cool family-fun stop located along the Tonto Forest route.
Tonto National Monument is such a fantastic park to add to your national park list and completely worth it! It’s not a huge park like many of the national parks, so you can spend just a few hours and experience it all. Especially for non-hikers or young children, the short trails are a bonus. You’ll also see incredible views, learn about the history of the cliffs and area, and see the beautiful cacti all around you. Definitely worth it!
Visiting national parks in the US is such a great way to see the landscape and learn about the history of the country. If you’re planning on visiting more than one on your trip, we highly suggest buying the America the Beautiful Park Pass. Valid for one year, it will provide access for your entire family to all national parks and federal recreational lands. Cost: $80.
Another great resource is the National Park app. It has information, maps, tours, and more information on every park in the US. It’s FREE and available on both Apple App Store and Google Play.
If you love national parks as much as we do and want to learn about even more national parks, you’ll love our National Park Trippers community. Guides, podcast episodes, tips, and more to enhance your future RV rental trips.