Sure we’re the Grand Canyon State, but there are so many other great places where you can really enjoy Arizona’s wild side. From expansive stands of giant saguaros in the Sonoran Desert to the coolness of ponderosa pine forests or lakes or rivers—prepare yourself for fabulous fun!
“To me, one of the best parts of getting outside is just to enjoy being outside—listening to the sound of nature,
seeing things you haven’t seen, exploring. And there are many ways to do that on any number of fronts,” shares Carrie Templin, public affairs officer with the Tonto National Forest. “There are games you can play out in the woods, there are geocaches where people hide things and you can try to find them using a GPS unit. Apps called discovery agents where younger children can play games and learn things about the forest.”
Have your camera ready and keep an eye out for Arizona wildlife! From hummingbirds and hawks to bobcats and black bears, countless critters call Arizona home. Read on for some Wild Arizona destinations!
Tonto National Forest
North and east of Phoenix
The Tonto National Forest covers a vast area of Central Arizona and includes lakes and rivers, desert areas and cool, forest-covered mountains. Some areas are developed (like a resort at Apache Lake), while others remain PRISTINE. Tonto is just under 3 million acres, making it the fifth-largest National Forest in the nation!
“It covers a lot. We’re fortunate enough to go all the way from Sonoran Desert and saguaro cactus all the way up to ponderosa pine and even into some spruce and fir in a couple of places,” Templin points out.
She notes that the wildlife is just as varied. “If you’re down in the deserts, you’re likely to see coyotes, birds and javelina and maybe some mule deer. And maybe if you’re driving up in the higher elevations, you are likely to see elk and white-tail deer. And we have quite a few eagles—bald and golden eagles,” she adds.
Templin suggests trying a daytrip, maybe a picnic, scenic drive or day hike. On the National Forest, there are picnic and camping areas with grills and ramadas…some even have outhouses and running water. “You can be as primitive or as developed as you’d like,” she says.
Most of all, Tonto is about water, with its mountain watersheds supplying water for Phoenicians. There are five lakes to enjoy—the biggest is Roosevelt Lake. You pay by the vehicle, $8 per day for most day-use sites. Fourth-graders can join the “Every Kid in the Park” program to earn a yearlong free pass for their family to enjoy National Forests and National Parks! If you aren’t a fourth-grader, Tonto also offers seven fee-free days in 2018.
To see the possibilities, visit www.fs.usda.gov/main/tonto/
Saguaro National Park
Districts east and west of Tucson
Spring is a fine time to get out and enjoy the amazing natural beauty of Saguaro National Park. “Come out and just have a picnic. Maybe take a little hike. You don’t need to be a hiker—just go for a quiet stroll up a wash trail,” Park Guide Heather Taylor encourages.
And bring a camera if you can! “I love spring. Since we had a little bit of rain, the ocotillos are bright orange with their flowers and green. Trees are getting leaves again,” she says. But this National Park really SHOWCASES giant saguaro cacti—by the thousands! And it’s right in Tucson’s backyard. “This is the only area within the United States where the saguaro grows, here in the
Sonoran Desert,” Taylor says.
The visitor center is beautiful and helps give patrons an idea of what makes this region so special. But you really need to get out and experience it—the desert wildlife including dozens of kinds of birds, listening to the sounds as the sun sets, feeling small as you look up close at a giant. “You gotta take a selfie with a cactus!” Taylor laughs. And consider becoming a Junior Ranger while you’re there, it’ll do you and the desert a world of good!
The fee is $15 per car and is good for both east and west districts. The next fee-free day is Caesar Chavez Day. Visit www.nps.gov/sagu/index.htm.
Bearizona Wildlife Park
1500 Historic Route 66, Williams, AZ
You might see bear cubs wrestling each other or climbing trees. Maybe a Bighorn sheep, elk or mule deer will trot by your vehicle. You can see wolves, mountain goats and bison, too.
This drive-through wildlife park is located along the historic Route 66 in Williams, Arizona. You can see different North American animals in a natural setting, then walk through the zoo-like area called Fort Bearizona to get a glimpse of some smaller critters. Thrill to the Birds of Prey show or learn more about certain animals at a keeper chat.
Enjoy the Ponderosa pines and the cool climate of the Kaibab National Forest in Williams when you visit Bearizona. It is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Bearizona is located at 1500 Historic Route 66, Williams, 25 miles west of Flagstaff. For more information, visit bearizona.com.
Getting Ready for Your BIG Adventure!
Things to Know Before You Go!
When you’re out and about, you and your family need to be prepared to help ensure you have a fun and an amazing time. There may be little or no cell phone service in many of these Wild Arizona areas, so the people you go with need to be more self-sufficient—help may be hours or even days away!
Here are some important tips from Carrie Templin, public information officer for the Tonto National Forest, and Heather Taylor, Park Guide for Saguaro National Park:
• Let a reliable adult know where you are heading and when you plan to be back. Just saying, “We’re going to Tonto” isn’t enough—there’s 3 million acres to Tonto National Park. Maybe you’re going to the Apache Lake Marina or up to Payson—that’s more specific.
• Make sure your family automobile is in good working order, even if it’s just for a picnic out in a remote area. You may be on some rough dirt roads!
• Bring a map of where your family is driving and hiking. Remember, your smartphone might not work like it does in the city.
• Always bring more water in the car than you need! Our dry, hot climate can be dangerous, so stay hydrated. If you’re hiking, bring several water bottles or a gallon jug, and when you’ve used up half your water, it’s time to turn around and head back to camp!
• Wear appropriate clothing and sunscreen! Long sleeves and a wide-brimmed hat will help protect you from the sun. Sneakers or comfortable boots should be good.
• Have snacks (to replace your electrolytes if you’re being active) and enough food if you get lost or your car breaks down.
• Use mosquito repellent or Skin So Soft during wet seasons.
Phoenix Edition Below:
Tucson Edition Below: