Arizona for Families

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Arizona for Families
From Wild West attractions to playful resort pools and family-friendly museums, Arizona is an experience for every age and stage. It’s a place that inspires adventure and rewards curiosity.
By Katarina Kovacevic, AFAR Local Expert
Photo courtesy of Verde Canyon Railroad
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    Riding the Rails
    Chug along with 100 years of Arizona history on board the Verde Canyon Railroad, a 20-mile journey through the landscape surrounding Sedona. The fully restored vintage FP7 locomotive’s open-air cars make it easy to view bald eagles and Verde Canyon’s geological landmarks. Polar Express rides with the Grand Canyon Railway bring the classic children’s book to life in winter, but their year-round train rides are just as magical—and even come with a staged Wild West robbery. In Scottsdale, McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park’s train is an exact 5/12 reproduction of a Colorado narrow-gauge railroad.
    Photo courtesy of Verde Canyon Railroad
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    The Wild, Wild West
    Arizona is all about indulging your childhood cowboy dream. Tombstone is a bit of a tourist trap, but there’s still something to be said about a town where daily shootouts at the O.K. Corral were just business as usual. Faux Western towns like Rawhide in Phoenix’s Chandler suburb, Blazin’ M Ranch outside of Cottonwood, and Old Tucson Studios—where many classic cowboy flicks were staged—evoke play and imagination in the best possible way. Horseback riding is available pretty much statewide, and you can even learn how to rope and ride at Arizona Cowboy College in Scottsdale. Want a more authentic experience? Saddle up at a dude ranch like Rancho de los Caballeros in Wickenburg or Greer’s Hidden Meadow Ranch.
    Photo by Bruce Bi/age fotostock
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    Dinosaur Fossils, Living Caves, and the Night Sky
    Sneak in a little education on your trip with a visit to see dinosaur fossils at Petrified Forest National Park, or to Kartchner Caverns’ living cave system. Discover ancient civilizations at Pueblo Grande Museum Archaeological Park. Go underground in Bisbee or Oatman and explore the Queen Mine and Gold Road Mine. In Flagstaff, the Lowell Observatory gives you an up-close view of the night sky through one of the country’s largest telescopes, while the 550-foot-deep Meteor Crater near Winslow offers a peek at earth some 50,000 years ago. Learn how to cultivate the land at family-run farms like Superstition in Mesa, Agritopia in Gilbert, or Schnepf, south of Chandler.
    Photo by Phil Schermeister/age fotostock
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    Local Heritage Festivals
    Given Arizona’s history, it’s no surprise that some of its top cultural events for families have to do with American Indian traditions and Western heritage. One of the best experiences is during Scottsdale’s Native Trails, a series of free noontime Native American song and dance performances held every January through April. Gold Rush Days in Wickenburg celebrate the town’s ranching and gold mining past and present, while Picacho Peak State Park hosts annual Arizona Civil War reenactments. There are many more nations that can be explored, such as the Hawaiian Islands during the Arizona Aloha Festival, and Asian culture via the Arizona Dragon Boat Festival, both held in Tempe.
    Photo courtesy of the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau
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    Family-Friendly Museums
    Many of Arizona’s family-friendly museums, such as the Arizona Science Center, Musical Instrument Museum, and the Children’s Museum of Phoenix, encourage hands-on discovery. The Arizona Museum of Natural History lays claim to the state’s largest collection of dinosaur fossils, but you’ll encounter more prehistoric giants, including a fierce Therizinosaurus, at the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff. Pioneer history takes center stage at Prescott’s Sharlot Hall Museum. Down south, the nineteenth-century Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park is scary-good fun.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Zoos, Parks, and Gardens
    There are plenty of opportunities for Arizona adventure in a controlled environment, and if your children are fascinated by wild animals you are spoiled for choice. At the Phoenix Zoo and at Tucson’s Reid Park Zoo you can see giraffes, lions, rhinos, and more. Out of Africa Wildlife Park near Camp Verde is a safari-like jaunt where you can feed camels and watch Bengal tigers play. Tuscon's Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is the best place to watch nature run its course, as coyotes and javelina (a medium-sized, pig-like herd mammal; also called the collared peccary) roam free on its 21 acres of preserved landscape. For creature-free walks, head to the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix or Sabino Canyon near Tuscon.
    Photo courtesy of Visit Phoenix
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    Make a Splash
    Kids are free to be kids at many family-friendly resort pools across Arizona. Making waves is expected at the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort and Spa at Gainey Ranch. The resort’s 2.5-acre water wonderland includes 10 pools, 20 fountains, and 45 waterfalls, plus a three-story waterslide and a sandy beach shoreline. Alternatively, The Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa features one of Tucson’s longest waterslides—the 177-foot Slidewinder. Many resorts also screen seasonal "dive-in" movies where you can take in a flick without ever having to leave the pool.
    Photo courtesy of The Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa
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    Spring Training
    Since 1947, Arizona has been hosting Major League Baseball’s top teams for Cactus League Spring Training. Today, 15 teams call stadiums around Phoenix home during the off-season—including the San Francisco Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Colorado Rockies in Scottsdale; Chicago Cubs in Mesa; and Los Angeles Angels in Tempe. Held during arguably the best time of year in Phoenix (March temperatures typically average in the 70s), spring training is made even sweeter with never-ending sunshine and grassy lawns perfect for picnicking. Many stadiums even host designated autograph sessions before the opening pitch.
    Photo courtesy of the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau