What To Do While The Forests Are Closed

Visit Some 'Cool' And Awesome Arizona State Parks


The Visitor Center at Kartchner Caverns has lots of fun things to do.

Hopefully we will get some rain soon - and during the summer months - and the forests will re-open, but if not, there are still places you can go to enjoy the outdoors. Arizona's State Parks are super places to visit - John and the girls and I have been to many of them. Here are a few of our favorites, with cooling-off in mind.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park

This beautiful place is near Superior, Ariz., on highway 60. It does get warm there during the day, but they open at 6 a.m. from May – September, so you can get there early, do some great hikes, then enjoy strolling through the inside places.

This is a fantastic place to take kids. The High Trail is the one our granddaughters enjoy the most - just keep smaller kids close so they don't take a tumble. The Arboretum has a pond, bridges, an Australian Outback area with buildings, and all kinds of fun stuff to see and do. It's a great place for birding, too.

You'll see tons of different kinds of plants from all over the world, a hidden canyon, cliffs, and specialty gardens. The main trail is about a mile and a half, but there are lots of offshoot trails, so seeing the whole place in one day is a challenge.

The High Trail is less than half a mile, and includes some beautiful little stone steps at one point - I love it. There is also a trail that tells you about native medicinal and edible plants. The gift shop sells books, gifts, drinks, snacks, and sandwiches as well as desert plants and cacti. https://azstateparks.com/boyce-thompson

Kartchner Caverns State Park

It doesn't get much cooler than in a cave in summer, and Kartchner Caverns are not only immense and awesome, they also are cool and dark - the perfect summer getaway. This place is incredible, and if you haven't seen it yet, you really need to go. Make reservations online at https://azstateparks.com/reserve/tours/ or call (877) MY-PARKS.

The Big Room Tour is only available from mid-October to Mid-April, but the Rotunda/Throne tour is open all year. It's a half-mile tour and takes about an hour and a half. You will be blown away.

Tours are $23 for adults, $13 for kids 7-13. Kids under 7 are $5. On Saturdays you can take the Helmet and Headlamp Tour, where the only light is from your headlamps, just like the original discoverers. It's half a mile and takes an hour and fifteen minutes. This one isn't available for kids under 10.

All the tours are guided, and you should make reservations as early as possible to make sure you get a spot. You're not allowed to take anything into the cave - not even a cell phone. There are lockers available where you can stash your stuff till you get out.

You absolutely need to show up half an hour before your tour start time. The cave has an average temperature of 70 degrees year-round, and it's humid. There is also a café where you can have lunch, and a nice gift shop. Read more about it on their website.

Riordan Mansion State Park

This State Park is a big log house in Flagstaff, right outside Northern Arizona University at 409 W Riordan Road. We've taken the girls there so many times that John now jokes about it, but they love it every time.

Tours start on the hour every hour from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you get there early, grab a guide pamphlet for the outside, and go explore. There's a little cabin-like structure outside, and some fun stuff to look for - faces, tiles, etc. The girls love that part.

Once you're inside on the tour, you'll get to see how some of the original residents of Flagstaff lived, and learn quite a bit about the history of this part of the state. You'll even find out who Lake Mary was named after.

The Park is open 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday through Monday. The mansion is over 13,000 square feet and was built in 1904 for two families. You will love seeing the gorgeous furnishings and learning how they lived. It's a gorgeous place.

Tour fees are $10 for 14+, $5 for 7-13, and kids 6 and under are free. https://azstateparks.com/riordan-mansion/

Lake Mary

After your tour, drive out to Lake Mary (now that you know the history of the lake) and you can take a swim, have a picnic, take a little hike, or just relax in the shade and watch the water. The lake is open but of course no fires are allowed right now. The forest is closed across the road from the lake.

There are boat ramps and no motor limit if you want to bring a boat, and the fishing can be awesome for pike, catfish, sunfish, etc. During the summer (May-October), there is a $9 per vehicle day-use fee that you can pay at the kiosks. It's $1 a day for walk-ins, bikes, and motorcycles.

Lake Mary is a beautiful lake surrounded by pines and a fantastic place to spend the day. Rent a kayak in town and paddle around - there are plenty of places to rent stuff like that in Flag; just check Yelp.

Coconino's Handy Option

Coconino National Forest has a very handy option on their website right now. Just go to the app store and download the Avenza Map app for free and set up an account (also free). Then go to My Maps, touch the + in the corner, then touch the square that looks like a QR code and a camera window will pop up.

They have the codes on the website – just point your camera at them one at a time and the forest closure maps will upload to your phone – and you can see closures relative to your current position. It's pretty cool.

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park

This is another place we've been to several times. It's one of those places where you can go over and over [and always enjoy]. When the kids were little, we just stayed on the paths, but now that they are older, it's fun to go all the way through.

The Natural Bridge is actually more like a huge tunnel, and going through requires a bit of rock hopping and boulder climbing. Your feet may get wet, too, but that's half the fun. There is almost always a wispy waterfall coming down over the entrance, and inside it's gorgeous and cool and shady. It can get pretty warm walking in the sun, though.

The Waterfall Trail is also a favorite - there are actually several trails and you can get a map in the Ranger Station. The trails are all pretty steep, but not very long - and no pets are allowed. Make sure you bring plenty of drinking water, and wear a hat and sunscreen. You will all love this place - I know we do.

From the Gowan Trail, this is looking up above the Tonto Natural Bridge.

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park is on Highway 87 near Pine. You can get maps and directions, and even print a map of the park at https://azstateparks.com/tonto/explore/maps.

The park is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the summer. Adults are $7, kids 7-13 are $4, and 6 and under are free.

There is a Ranger Station and a gift shop at the entrance, and there are picnic tables and lots of shade. You may see javelina in the picnic areas. We usually do. You can't swim under the bridge, but take the trail to Pine Creek and you can swim there. If you aren't able to hike, there are four places where you can see the bridge from the parking lot. Your kids will love this place.

These are just a few of the awesome Arizona State Parks. Hopefully we will get a good monsoon this year and the forests will all re-open, but even if the forests open up soon, these are still great places to take the family this summer.


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