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What to See When Visiting the 3 Spectacular Arizona National Parks

I live in Houston and have worked as a nurse. I have a lifelong passion for traveling, nature, and photography (preferably all together!).

The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon

Arizona's National Parks

Considering that only twenty-seven of our fifty states contain any national parks at all, the three that each have three different and fantastic treasures set aside as national parks are indeed fortunate for those who live there or travel to those locales.

Arizona is one of those states. The other two, which each contain three national parks, are the states of Florida and Washington. Texas will soon also have that distinction of having three national parks within its borders.

Reading this post should broaden one's reference concerning these unique places if planning a trip to visit them or simply gaining more knowledge of what there is to do and see while in Arizona.

Petrified Forest National Park

Any artist would be hard-pressed to find any colors not already resplendently displayed in the landscape of northeastern Arizona in the badlands area now known as the Petrified Forest.The petrified forest is an archeological wonderland and a place that had captured a slice of earth's history going back some 200,000,000 years ago when this area was once a subtropical land filled with marshes and giant reptiles and amphibians.

There were nearby volcanoes back then and upland forests where tall trees once grew. Rivers flowed towards a sea that no longer exists. Many upland trees, which died of various causes, were swept up by floods and carried to the swampy lowlands filled with water.

The woody cells of the trees gradually transformed into quartz and other minerals. This transformation occurred over eons of time, and more mineralized and fossilized trees piled on top of one another. We now know that depth is around 1,000 feet or more! Of course, the vast majority of them broke up into chunks, with only a few of the longer logs staying intact.

This timing all predated the significant changes in the topography due to our restless earth. The Rocky Mountains came into being, the inland seas were dried, and what was once the tropical floodplain was also elevated and dried out.

Suddenly the now the upper elevations of the petrified wood became exposed to the surface. The prehistoric Native Americans (the Anasazi, Mogollon, and Sinagua tribes) used some of the pieces of these jewel-like stones to erect structures to house them. The ruins, like the Agate House, can be seen there today. Petroglyphs also stand as a testament to the ancient tribes who once called this land their home.

This land is far from a lifeless one. All kinds of birds, rodents, snakes, coyotes, bobcats, and other animals call this colorful landscape home. Most of them wait until dark to do their hunting and gathering. They rest in their dens or other places during the hot and sun-filled days.

It is unlawful to pick up any of these jewel-toned pieces of petrified wood in the national park. There are plenty of stores selling fragments of petrified wood where it has been gathered outside of the park boundaries for visitors to take home as souvenirs. I have some pieces made into bookends and have one slice of a tree displayed on an easel in our home. I also have some jewelry.

Saguaro National Park

Anyone familiar with television westerns originating from the United States has probably seen these iconic cacti from the southwest. No other plant has this exact form or shape nor gets this tall when allowed to grow and mature.

Near the sun-kissed city of Tucson in the Sonoran desert of southern Arizona is where you will find these cactus. Some also grow south of our U.S. border into Mexico. Roads go through the national park, where one sees the saguaro cactus and other vegetation gracing the desert landscape. The landscape also has the nearby Tucson Mountain District and the Rincon Mountain District adding to the beauty.

In the mountain districts of the Saguaro National Park, one encounters different plant life. It includes pine and conifer forests in the higher Rincon mountain range, which gets up to elevations of 8,666 feet above sea level.

So for people allowing enough time for hiking and exploring the plant and animal life in this national park, there are various things to see and enjoy. Animals include everything from roadrunners and Gila monsters, etc., on the desert floor to deer and even black bears in the higher elevations.

One must be prepared for the heat of the desert and dress accordingly using protective measures such as using sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, good hiking shoes, and be sure to carry enough water. Temperatures can easily exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit on the Sonoran Desert floor. Temperatures in the mountains vary according to the time and season but are generally colder than the lower elevations.

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Bonfires of the evening sun

Merge in final unquenched glory

From horizon up to heaven,

While grotesque saguaro fingers

Paint lofty silhouettes against the sky.

— Helen Castle, "Saguaro at Sunset," in Arizona Highways, 1973

Grand Canyon National Park

Are there any superlative descriptions left that have not already been in use describing the Grand Canyon? I seriously doubt it. After all, it is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

This living river that continually passes through the mile-deep canyon, tumbling over rocks in its path and twisting through deep gorges with episodes of relatively calm as well as those of frothing and roaring white water teems with life.

For those intrepid travelers who brave the Colorado River on rafting trips through the Grand Canyon, they have the opportunity of seeing some of the spectacular side canyons where many types of birds, fish, and other animals make the canyon their home.

The breathtaking waterfalls in the canyon, and the beauty of the canyon walls, are more intimately appreciated when looking up at the rising cliffs. Of course, the vast majority of people who visit the Grand Canyon never see it from the bottom looking up but rather the reverse. They stare in wonder at the beautiful and overwhelmingly beautiful site by looking down at it where every moment of the time of day or fleeting cloud or season of the year changes its appearance.

Capturing the nuances of the Grand Canyon has become a lifelong pursuit for many photographers. Of course, the best lens of all is the human eye. Once viewed in person, the Grand Canyon becomes seared into one's memory and becomes an experience never forgotten.

“This landscape is animate: it moves, transposes, builds, proceeds, shifts, always going on, never coming back, and one can only retain it in vignettes, impressions caught in a flash, flipped through in succession, leaving a richness of images imprinted on a sunburned retina.”

— Ann Zwinger, Downcanyon: A Naturalist Explores the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon

Locations of the Three National Parks in Arizona


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Peggy Woods

Comments are welcomed!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on March 24, 2021:

Hi Sandra,

Perhaps you will get a chance to spend more time in Arizona someday. There is much to admire in addition to the three national parks. I have always enjoyed spending time in that state.

Sandra on March 23, 2021:

Wish I had spent more time in Arizona. You have showcased much of the beauty of the desert, the rocks, the canyons and the mountains.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on March 22, 2021:

Hi Dennis,

The Grand Canyon is indeed a national treasure. Like you, I have had the privilege of seeing it more than once. Three times, in fact! Twice was with family members, and once with my German girlfriend. She was moved to tears when she first gazed at it.

Dennis on March 22, 2021:

The Grand Canyon is a national treasure I have enjoyed visiting more than once. To my mind saguaro are the true "sentinels of the desert".

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on January 05, 2020:

Hi C E Clark,

These national parks in Arizona are all great places to visit. Many of the state parks are also worth seeing if spending any amount of time in that state.

C E Clark from North Texas on January 04, 2020:

Have been to all of these places/parks and they are definitely worth seeing. Won't be long and people will start thinking about where they'll go on this year's vacation, and you have some great ideas for them here.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 28, 2018:

Hi C E Clark,

I agree with you that Arizona is a terrific state to visit if not already living there. It has so many beautiful sites.

C E Clark from North Texas on June 28, 2018:

Arizona has a lot of incredible and interesting places to see. This article will be a big help to people trying to decide where to go on vacation this year and in planning their itinerary if Arizona is their choice. Visiting Arizona should definitely be on everyone's bucket list if they aren't already living there.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 23, 2018:

Hi Chitrangada Sharan,

It is wonderful that you have gotten to visit the Grand Canyon National Park. Hopefully someday you will get to see the other two national parks in that state someday. All of our national parks are worth visiting. You certainly came a long way to see the Grand Canyon! It is certainly one of the most famous of our national parks.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on April 23, 2018:

Excellent article about the National parks, and especially, The Grand Canyon National park, Arizona. I have visited this amazing place just four months back, and your article reminded me of all the wonderful time, we spent there.

You have presented the details beautifully. We took lot of photographs there, but all the beauty of this amazing location can’t be captured in camera.

I would love to visit the other ones, the information to which you have provided so beautifully.

Thanks for sharing this wonderful article, with lovely pictures and videos!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 17, 2017:

Hi Patricia,

So nice that your friend was able to walk with her friends at places in Arizona at the age of 74. It is such a beautiful state filled with many wonders.

Hugs to you and your family.

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on November 15, 2017:

O Peggy this is indeed a spectacular place to visit. My friend went on her second walk with her friends last year at age 74. And again it enthralled her and her fellow travelers.

Thank you for showcasing one of the many wonders in our special land.

Know that Angels and hugs are headed to you ps

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on February 12, 2015:

Hi colorfulone,

We are exact opposites in that I LOVE visiting our national parks. Each and every one is so different and the scenery is often spectacular. I guess I am just drawn to nature.

What is your favorite kind of scenery? I know Minnesota has all of those lovely lakes, hills and trees much like Wisconsin where I was born and lived for a while. I also like that kind of scenery.

Susie Lehto from Minnesota on February 12, 2015:

I have never been to Arizona. It is another world as far as the landscape goes in comparison to what I am use to. I do like seeing photos, and scenes on shows ... but, I just have no desire to see these national parks. Although, I am sure I would miss some spectacular sights in the right light.

Wonderful hub, Peg. Thank you for the virtual tour.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 16, 2014:

Hello GetitScene,

A "secret shame" is what you call it? I call it a tragedy! Ha! Maybe you will still visit the Grand Canyon someday. :)

Dale Anderson from The High Seas on September 15, 2014:

OK, OK, ya finally got it outta me. I admit that I lived in Arizona for a decade and never went to the grand canyon. I hope you feel happy for making me admit this secret shame.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 19, 2014:

Hello thomdrilling,

Very glad to know that you enjoyed this.

Big Dan on August 18, 2014:

Great photos and information Peggy

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 16, 2014:

Hi Au fait,

This is surely a great time of year for vacationers especially those with children out of school right now. Thanks for the pin and share. We have had some grand times spent in Arizona through the years.

C E Clark from North Texas on July 16, 2014:

Came back here because it's summer vacation time when lots of people like to visit the Grand Canyon and take that mule/horseback ride down into the canyon. This is a great article with lots of good information to help people know what's available and plan a good trip. All of these places you describe are well worth seeing.

Pinned this to my 'Green' board, yes the saguaro cactus pic is green. Already on my 'Travel' board. Also sharing with my followers.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 30, 2014:

Hi Graham,

So glad you enjoyed this overview of some of the wonderful places to visit in Arizona. One could spend endless amounts of time in just this one state in order to see all of the many worthwhile sites. Hope you get a chance to visit it someday. Appreciate your comment and votes.

Graham Lee from Lancashire. England. on June 30, 2014:

Hi Peggy. Just great. I always said if ever I got to the states I would go to Arizona. You are correct about the cacti and the western film connection. Tucson Arizona. It was wonderful as a boy to see the films and the 'cowboys'

Your hub is first class covering so much information and the images and videos Tip Top.

Voted up and all.


Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 16, 2014:

Hi Larry,

Nice that you have visited the Grand Canyon once. It is awe inspiring no matter when or how often one gets to experience it.

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on May 14, 2014:

I've had the pleasure of going to the Grand Canyon on one occasion. It is truly an awe-inspiring sight. I found your article very informative. Thanks for the insight into our National Park System.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 24, 2014:

Hi Pamela,

I agree that they are all worth visiting. Hope you get a chance to return out west someday and see more of these national parks.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on April 20, 2014:

The parks are so beautiful and your hub really did justice to all that may be seen if we visit. It has been many years since I have traveled in the west and I would love to take a tour through these parks as I haven't seem them all. Voted everything across except funny.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 15, 2014:

Hi Author Cheryl,

Hope you get to cross it off of your bucket list someday and get to see whichever of these parks made that list.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 09, 2014:

Hi Shyron,

It is wonderful that you got to see these parks with your family. I agree with you that there is so much natural beauty in this country and our national parks are each and every one fabulous! Thanks for the share and votes.

Cheryl A Whitsett from Jacksonville, Fl on March 29, 2014:

One of these is definitely on my bucket list. Great hub.

Shyron E Shenko from Texas on March 28, 2014:

Peggy, we visited these parks when I was a child. Every person should see the wonders of this beautiful country.

You gave us much to think about. I had forgotten how wonderous these parks are, and how fortunate that my family got to see these places.

Thank you for sharing your adventures with us.

Sharing your hub, voting up, UABI.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 18, 2013:

Hi Suzanne,

I have been there several times but never went down to the bottom. Some friends of ours did and rode the mules. They had very sore bottoms! :) Glad you liked this article. Appreciate the votes and share.

justmesuzanne from Texas on July 17, 2013:

I went to the Grand Canyon once but didn't go down into it. I really need to go back one day and take the trip to the bottom. Voted up, beautiful and shared! :)

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 20, 2013:

Hi Martie,

So nice to know that you enjoyed this virtual look at the national parks in Arizona. Would love to see your neck of the woods someday. It also sounds beautiful.

Martie Coetser from South Africa on June 19, 2013:

Beautiful! We have many nature reserves down here as well, and quite a few canyons. This hub of yours was like a most pleasant break-away. Fabulous videos! Indeed spectacular National Parks in Arizona. Thanks, Peggy!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 16, 2013:

Hi Au fait,

Arizona is certainly a great state in which to vacation as it has so many natural wonders as well as historic sites. Add that to the unique is a winner! Thanks for the pin and share. Nice to know that you have been to the national parks there.

C E Clark from North Texas on June 13, 2013:

Great info and information on places I have visited, and spectacular photos too! Pinning this hub to my "Travel" board and sharing again with followers since they may be planning a vacation soon -- it's that time of year.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 03, 2013:

Hi Au fait,

We did visit Tucson but only briefly and did not see the Gun Smoke set. Wish I had known it was there. Would have been fun to see. So happy that you enjoyed this hub and thanks for all of your shares, etc.

C E Clark from North Texas on June 02, 2013:

Sorry, had to come back because I forgot to say I gave you another 5 stars.:)

C E Clark from North Texas on June 02, 2013:

Been to all of these places and they are indeed worth seeing! Great photos and videos which I look forward to whenever I visit one of your hubs. Lots of good information here and a very helpful hub I think for helping someone plan their summer vacation. The Grand Canyon isn't that far from Texas and the Petrified Forest is even closer. The saguaro National Park is right near Old Tucson where Gun Smoke was filmed. I wonder if they still allow sightseeing on that set? Most people probably don't even know what it was anymore!

Voted up, BAUI, and will share!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 24, 2013:

Hi Suzanne,

From my travel experiences to these fabulous national parks in Arizona + the others who have written hubs about their experiences, you will have much information upon which to plan a trip should you decide to visit these places someday. Thanks for your comment and the shares.

justmesuzanne from Texas on May 22, 2013:

I have Tweeted, Pinned and Facebooked your lovely guide! :)

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 23, 2013:

Hi Stephanie,

I agree with you and many people from other countries also have the Grand Canyon on their bucket list as one of the wonders of the world. For people with enough time, the other 2 national parks in Arizona are also well worth visiting. Thanks for your comment and the pin.

Stephanie Henkel from USA on April 23, 2013:

The Grand Canyon is an incredible National Park, and one that everyone should have on their bucket list! Great hub, great photographs! Voted up and pinned!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 22, 2013:

Hello Elias Zanetti,

All of these national parks in Arizona are worth time getting to see and enjoy. Thanks for your comment. As to the Petrified is absolutely amazing seeing all of that petrified wood on the surface especially knowing that so much more is still underneath and not exposed. The jewel like colors are so pretty.

Elias Zanetti from Athens, Greece on April 22, 2013:

Simply awe inspiring places! And the petrified forest seems as a very interesting location to visit. Great hub!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on March 24, 2013:

Hi Bill,

I have also been to the Grand Canyon several times but never took the mule ride down to the bottom. We had friends who did so and while they liked it, they admitted to having rather sore rear ends. Ha! I guess people who regularly ride horses would probably be more used to the position of riding mules. I think that the Grand Canyon presents a "wow" moment for all who gaze upon it. Perhaps you will visit the other national parks in Arizona someday? Thanks for your comment and the rest.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on March 23, 2013:

Hi Sheila,

Hope you do get back to Arizona someday with a bit more time to explore these national parks. The Grand Canyon is amazing to see in person and so are the other two national parks...each in their own way. Appreciate your comment, votes + the share.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on March 23, 2013:

Hi Peggy. Don't know how I missed this one. Of the three Arizona NP's I've only been to the Grand Canyon, although I did visit twice, once to the south rim and once to the north rim. I must say that the first time I saw the Grand Canyon was most certainly one of those "wow" moments for me. I took one of the mule rides down into the canyon, which I highly recommend. Certainly one of my favorite travel memories. Thanks for sharing this beautiful hub, love the photos and video, brought back many good memories. Voting up, sharing, pinning,etc...

Sheila Brown from Southern Oklahoma on March 23, 2013:

Awesome hub! Really great detailed information. I have been through the petrified forrest, but didn't get to stop. We did stop at the Grand Canyon, it is really amazing to see in person. I would love to make another trip that direction when we have more time so we can stop at all three parks. Great hub! Voted up and across, except for funny! :)

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on February 11, 2013:

Hi bingskee,

The Grand Canyon is indeed lovely and the Petrified Forest is anything but petrifying. The colors of the petrified wood are amazing and the geology is very interesting as to how it all occurred. Appreciate your comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on February 11, 2013:

Hello girishpuri,

Glad that you liked the pictures of the Grand Canyon and other national parks in Arizona. Thanks for your comment.

bingskee from Quezon City, Philippines on February 10, 2013:

lovely Grand Canyon. the Petrified Forest looks petrifying. :D

Girish puri from NCR , INDIA on February 10, 2013:

Nice to know about great Canyon, awesome place, beautiful pics. Thanks and God bless.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on February 08, 2013:

Hi Leah,

Nice that your boys have cousins who live in Phoenix. Good reason to work in visits to Arizona and see sites like the great national parks and other interesting areas in that state. As you know from your camping trips...there are many! Thanks for your comment.

Leah Lefler from Western New York on February 08, 2013:

We used to go camping in Arizona every summer. We'd stay in Flagstaff and travel to the Grand Canyon every year, and one year we went to the Petrified Forest and the Meteor Crater. I love Arizona, the scenery is so spectacular! We're so far away from the state now, but I plan on taking my boys there one day to see the desert (and their cousins, who live in Phoenix)!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on February 06, 2013:

Hello CarNoobz,

One has to have quite a bit of time and stamina to hike down into the Grand Canyon or even take the burro rides down. Taking a whitewater rafting trip through it would be fabulous...but again, takes time. Hope you get to fulfill your wishes someday. Thanks for your comment.

CarNoobz from USA on February 06, 2013:

Wow. Those are awesome! I've been to the Grand Canyon a couple times on road trips, but never had the chance to go down in there. Maybe some day...

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on February 06, 2013:

Hello TravelinJack,

Get your suitcases packed and after you visit the Grand Canyon I'll be curious as to your impressions of this well known national park. If you write a hub about it, let me know. Am sure you will be happy that you experienced the Grand Canyon in person. Thanks for your comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on February 05, 2013:

Hello DDE,

These national parks in Arizona are truly awesome. Happy to know that you liked the photos and information. Thanks for your comment.

Jack Baumann from St. Louis, Missouri on February 05, 2013:

Wow, love the pics! I have been planning a trip to the Grand Canyon for a long time. This hub has definitely encouraged my immediate departure!