Arizona is a state graced with an abundance of noteworthy national parks, monuments and recreation areas. But though it would be downright silly to deny the allure of the Grand Canyon, say, or overlook watery outdoor meccas like Lake Mead or Glen Canyon, this isn’t just a popularity contest. Which is why, with cultural enlightenment in mind, it’s worth adding to your list of things to do on your next Arizona vacation some national historic sites.
Arizona only has five counting a stretch of the Old Spanish National Historic Trail, so this isn’t exactly mission impossible. In fact, said trail cuts right across the north end of Arizona, making it a very easy detour if you’re already in the area visiting blockbuster sites like Rainbow Bridge or the aforementioned Grand Canyon. If you decide you like following in the footsteps of those who helped shape this neck of the woods, you’ll also want to consider a hike along the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, which winds from the border town of Nogales, Arizona, all the way to San Francisco, California. This makes for a fine driving tour, but there are also designated recreational trails along the way that offer hiking opportunities. While you’re exploring this southern part of the state, pencil in a stop at the state’s sole national historic park, Tumacacori (note that a part of the Juan Bautista Trail cuts right through the park). The main attractions here are the evocative ruins of three Spanish colonial missions, but there are also cultural demonstrators throughout the year, and a variety of educational programs to supplement your self-guided tour.
If you’re looking for Arizona’s two national historic sites, you’ll need to head east and north. Fort Bowie National Historic Site is roughly 110 miles east of Tucson, and provides a lasting link to the days when soldiers battled it out with the Apache. Hike in to see the ruins of Fort Bowie (two of them) and enjoy a glimpse of an old Arizona little changed by the march of time (Geronimo!) before you continue on in air conditioned comfort. Arizona’s other national historic site, Hubbell Trading Post, is farther north, roughly 175 miles northeast of Flagstaff. To put Fort Bowie’s ruins in perspective, this trading post is both well-maintained and operational, so you can watch a Navajo weaver at work, explore the Hubbell family homestead (complete with real animals) and pick up some special souvenirs at the trading post to commemorate your historic tour of the state. Now that’s an Arizona vacation with a future.