Dead Horse Ranch State Park


Get Your Kids Outdoors with Arizona State Parks and Trails

By Michelle Thompson

The desert is heating up. Summer will soon be here and finding ways to keep the kids entertained can seem like a full-time job. Let Arizona State Parks and Trails write you an adventure itinerary that can occupy a day, a weekend, or a week! The Grand Canyon State offers so many amazing outdoor places to explore that it won’t take long to get the kids hooked and excited to plan the next trip.

To introduce kids to the outdoors, we’ve prepared special tips to making the adventure comfortable, fun, and easy to plan. Check out for ways to help your kid enjoy spending time outside and look forward to the next trip to a park.

At every park, kids can become Junior Rangers. Kids will learn more about being responsible stewards of our land, all while completing activities and having fun. Collect the activity sheet at one of our park’s visitor centers, complete it during your visit, and bring it to a park ranger. When the park ranger sees the kiddo’s hard work, they’ll read the pledge, give them a Junior Ranger button and swear them in as our newest Junior Ranger. Each park has its own unique ranger button so your kids can collect them all! There is also a poster to mark progress and encourage you to visit all of the parks!

Making a home base at a campsite and venturing off for day trips to other parks is a great way to see more of the state and keep kids entertained with variety. Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood, with its funny name and beautiful campground, is a perfect central-Arizona destination. Locals may know about this hidden gem, but many Arizona residents don’t! The park has campsites for tents or RVs as well as climate-controlled cabins. Three lagoons offer fishing, kayaking, or canoeing, and the park has access to the Verde River for more water fun. Horseback riding is also available in the park through a concessionaire, and the trails will show off plenty of wildlife, birds, and nature.

If you want to start off with shorter day-trips to get the kids interested, head to north-central Arizona to Red Rock State Park, a nature conservancy and environmental education center. The park is teeming with activities for kids and has amazing trails that showcase the red rocks of Sedona, with hands-on displays and exhibits in the visitor center. Oak Creek runs through the park, increasing your odds of seeing fun wildlife during your visit. Plus, check out the monarch waystation to learn more about how butterflies contribute to the world around us.


Tonto Natural Bridge State Park


Another great day trip not far from the Phoenix-metro area is Tonto Natural Bridge State Park in Payson. This stunning park is a great quick escape to cooler weather, but the bridge itself, towering over the water, never fails to capture the imagination. Trails wind their way down to Pine Creek, where kids can wade in the water and check out the unbelievable travertine bridge above them. The park is also home to herds of javelina, who spend mornings and early evenings exploring the picnic grounds. Deer, coatimundi, and plenty of reptiles also enjoy this park. Remember to enjoy wildlife from a distance and take pictures instead of approaching.


Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park


For southern Arizona adventures, you have tons of great choices. To learn about the wild west, a visit to Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park in southern Arizona is bound to fascinate. Explore the sheriff’s office, learn about cowboy life in the old west, visit the mining exhibits, and learn about law and order from early Tombstone. The park is home to many popular items from the 1800s that seem very funny now. Take some time in the “town too tough to die,” and get a new perspective of Arizona’s history.


Throne Room at Kartchner Caverns State Park, AZ


Kartchner Caverns State Park in Benson is a park not to be missed. The cave tours in this park amaze with stunning formations, and kids will jump at the chance to explore the underground environment. The Rotunda/Throne Room tour shows off how the cave was discovered (footprints still show the original path through the mud) as well as the largest column formation in the state – called Kubla Khan. Trust us, kids will be astonished at the world below them. If you can’t quite fit all the park exploring into one day, Kartchner makes a great pit stop for the weekend. A campground for RVs or tents is available, as well as easy-to-use cabins with bunk beds (plus a queen bed for the adults) and air conditioning. Kartchner is also an International Dark Sky Park, so wonders above and below abound.

Closer to Tucson, Oracle State Park has miles of trails with boulder fields, wildflowers, and wildlife. The park is at a higher elevation than Tucson, so it’s cooler and has a later wildflower season, making it a great late spring or summer destination. A picnic in the shade is a great way to regroup after a hike, or you can explore the Kannally Ranch House and learn about ranchers in the 1900s. This is the other International Dark Sky Park in our state, so stay after dark to explore the night skies and learn some astronomy.

If you want a weekend or week-long getaway, there’s no better place than western Arizona along the Colorado River. Four parks make their home here, but Buckskin Mountain State Park in Parker is one of the best bets for a relaxing time with fun for the kiddos. The park has a campground including waterfront camping, beach, hiking trails, picnic area, basketball and volleyball court, and plenty of water activities. You can get out on the water in a float, a paddleboard, a kayak or canoe, or any motorized option like boat or jet ski. Kids will love the laid-back atmosphere but still have plenty to keep them busy. There is even a park tortoise!

Arizona State Parks and Trails has more than 30 parks around the state, each offering a different experience and a great way to learn about Arizona. Whether you have a whole week or just a day to explore, you can find a park and start your adventures.

Find tons of other great resources at to make sure you get the most out of your trip – so you can concentrate on making amazing memories!

Learn more about Arizona’s state parks and plan for your visits at


Michelle Thompson is the Chief of Communications at Arizona State Parks and Trails. For information about the more than 30 Arizona State Parks and Natural Areas, trails, grants, Off-Highway Vehicle Program, and State Historic Preservation Office, call 1-877-MY-PARKS or visit

More from Arizona State Parks and Trails:

Exploring Arizona State Parks Responsibly




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