What outdoor enthusiast doesn’t love a good road trip? A cooler of libations and sammie ingredients. The fresh desert air fanning the pyre of adventure with every passing mile. Harmonic beats of the perfectly compiled playlist painting the backdrop of another epic outdoor adventure across the diverse topography of Arizona.

The scene, now undoubtedly set, awaits you. But, before loading your vehicle, read this guide to determine which of Arizona’s National Parks are worth the road trip. I’m not one to direct the alluring odyssey that is spontaneous discovery while road tripping, but allow me to offer valuable insights to ensure that a good time is had by all.

Read on to discover which National Parks are worth prioritizing depending on time, the direction of travel, and adventure preference.

Here’s to adventure!

Where to Start an Arizona Road Trip?

When it comes to Arizona National Parks, it’s recommended that you begin in the south and head north, or vice versa. Either starting point, though, places three of the must-see parks within easy driving distance of one another.

A well-planned route planned with this in mind makes for smart traveling. You’ll also want to consider where you’ll stay. Camp or park sites are available at most, but not all, National Parks in Arizona. Plus, certain parks require reservations months in advance.

But whether your trip begins in California, Nevada, or from the Four Corners, prioritizing stops in Arizona’s best National Parks maximizes road trip efficiency and enjoyment.

Let’s get started in the south, shall we?

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park, so named for the native candelabra-shaped cacti, offers mountain biking, hiking trails, and ancient petroglyphs. As one of the largest National Parks (the largest is Grand Canyon National Park) in Arizona, Saguaro is a perfect starting point for your road trip. It is bisected by cultural and historic Tucson, so you’ll probably want to choose a side when you visit.

Hiking and biking adventures are best in the east, where the landscape is more mountainous. But we’d suggest heading west for even more adventure.

The western portion of the park is home to the lowlands and saguaro forests that the park is named after, making this the recommended starting point for those in a time crunch. Explore the Desert Discovery Trail in the late afternoon to catch one of the best sunsets in Arizona is an enchanting way to end an adventurous day.

Gain a deeper understanding of the ancient history of this area in the northwest, where you’ll find petroglyphs left by the Hohokam people. These prehistoric rock carvings dot the trails of Signal Hill, the end-point of a 90-minute hiking trail that’s recommended for day-trippers and is accessible from the designated parking lot.

Saguaro is doable as a day trip, but those looking to explore more can stay at the park’s backcountry campsites. However, vehicles are not allowed in the designated campsites, and permits are required.

Now, let’s push on northward.

Petrified Forest National Park

Butting up to the New Mexican border, the Petrified Forest National Park boasts a truly unique landscape that’s made even more captivating by the occasional thunderstorm. Winding roads and storm cloud scattered skies should make for plenty of photo opportunities.

Petrified Forest offers natural wonders, plenty of hiking trails, and loads of fossils from the Late Triassic period. The beloved Rainbow Forest in the south of the park abounds with colorful petrified woods. Captivating, yes, but urban legend has it that removing a piece of wood from the Forest invites bad luck.

For history buffs, the park has two museums to explore: the Painted Desert Inn and the Rainbow Forest Museum. Or visit Newspaper Rock and nearby Puerco Pueblo to observe the more than 650 petroglyphs and ruins of a village left by the Ancestral Puebloans.

Although you can spend the night in the park, there is no car or RV camping or parking, and you’ll have to hike to your camping spot.

Our final stop on this trip is one that cannot be missed on this Arizona voyage.

Grand Canyon National Park

Just over 280 miles from where our road trip began, we arrive at the Grand Canyon National Park. As the most popular National Park in Arizona, it’s strongly suggested that you plan ahead for this one. With reservations required for nearly all activities, trails, and campsites, winging a Grand Canyon visit isn’t realistic.

For maximum adventure, you’ll probably want a minimum of three days at the park. And the time of year you visit will determine where you go: the South Rim is open all year long, while the North Rim is open seasonally from May through October.

It’s good to note that the majority of activities in the park are paid, but there are plenty of things to do for free in Grand Canyon National Park. There’s also fun for all travelers whether you’re going solo, or traveling with your family or pet.

Overnight parking is available for a fee, but most camping is reserved for RVs or backcountry campsites. It’s worth noting that campgrounds at the Grand Canyon are reserved six to eight months in advance.

Adventure on

With 24 National Park and Monument sites, Arizona has an abundance of jaw-dropping natural landscapes. Now that you’ve seen the best of the Grand Canyon State’s National Parks, why not explore the tribal lands or take a day trip for an out-of-this-world hike?