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Arizona national parks

There’s good reason why so many travelers head south for the winter, and it can be summed up in one word — Arizona. From stunning canyons to petrified forests, from saguaro cactus to cliff dwellings, plus a myriad of historic hotels, this Southwestern splendor delivers a national state park experience that can’t be rivaled in North America.

Grand Canyon Arizona

If there’s one destination you should visit in all of Arizona, it’s Grand Canyon National Park. While Earth boasts longer, wider and deeper canyons, this marvel is perhaps the most famous of Arizona national parks, known for its display of geological colors, layering of erosional formations and labyrinth of side canyons. An epic canyon at 277 miles long, 18 miles wide and more than a mile deep, nearly two billion years of the Earth’s geological history is exposed here. The canyon’s South Rim is open year-round, and visitors can take a mule ride into the canyon there, or they can simply drive up to one of the South Rim’s many overlooks. The North Rim is more secluded, offering a rugged peacefulness that cannot be rivaled. But its higher elevation yields snow that closes the area from October to May, unless visitors have a backcountry permit for hiking, snow shoeing or cross country skiing.

The closest historic hotels:

  • Bright Angel Lodge & Cabins on the South Rim of Grand Canyon Village
  • El Tovar Hotel on the South Rim of Grand Canyon Village
  • Phantom Ranch, approximately one mile below the South Rim and only accessible by foot, mule or raft

Petrified Forest National Park

Don’t let Arizona’s rugged landscape fool you. More than 225 million years ago, the eastern part of Arizona was once a subtropical rainforest where dinosaurs and trees towered together. Petrified Forest National Park is evidence of Arizona’s greener past, where volcanic ash and quartz crystals petrified an awe-inspiring collection of fallen trees in the area’s muddy marshes, preserving a land that once was. Now, this national forest is littered with petrified logs that look like colorful stones, creating what is now known as Arizona’s Painted Desert. The high quartz content makes the wood so hard that only a diamond-tipped saw can cut these petrified remains. The petrified wood isn’t the only thing that has been preserved in this Arizona land. Fossils of plants, reptiles and dinosaurs also can be found here.

The closest historic hotels:

Saguaro National Park

The symbol of the Southwest, the saguaro cactus, is an iconic silhouette in the Arizona desert. Despite its ubiquity on souvenir garb, the nation’s largest cactus is only found in a small slice of southern Arizona — in the protective confines of Saguaro National Park and on the outskirts of Tucson. The saguaro cactus can live over 250 years, grow 70 feet tall and weigh several tons, but its soft flesh makes this Arizona treasure particularly vulnerable, and so it’s illegal to harm this cactus. The best time to visit Saguaro National Park is in late May or early June when this park treasure is in bloom with the Arizona state wildflower — the saguaro’s waxy, white flowers, which are as iconic as the cactus itself. Saguaro National Park offers more than 165 miles of hiking trails.

The closest historic hotels:

  • Hacienda del Sol Guest Ranch Resort in Tucson, Arizona

Tonto National Monument cliff dwellings

Nestled in Arizona’s many canyons, archeological discoveries are abundant — even the man-made kind. Home to some of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in North America, these ancient Indian ruins can be found throughout the state. Montezuma Castle National Monument is history’s version of a twenty-room, high-rise limestone apartment just 45 minutes away from Flagstaff. Another favorite among the Arizona national parks is Tonto National Monument. In the northern Sonoran Desert, two 700-year-old Salado-style cliff dwellings are particularly well-preserved. Meanwhile, Casa Grande Ruins National Monument is a walled village of caliche mud buildings. Believed to have been built as long ago as 1350 C.E., these ruins form one of the largest prehistoric structures ever built in North America.

The closest Historic hotels:

Near Montezuma Castle National Monument:

Near Tonto National Monument and Casa Grande Ruins National Monument:

  • Hotel San Carlos in Phoenix, Arizona
  • Royal Palms Hotel and Casitas in Phoenix, Arizona
  • The Wigwam in Litchfield Park
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