Arizona’s Wildly Different Desert Regions
Arizona is the only state in the U.S. that contains four separate desert regions, each with their own environment, flora and fauna.
Depending on who you ask, you’ll find three—arguably four—deserts in Arizona: the Chihuahuan in the southeast, the Mojave in the upper west, and the massive Sonoran taking up most of the southwest and central part of the state.
The fourth, the Great Basin Desert, either extends south into the Navajo Nation—comprised of the Colorado Plateau—or stops along the Nevada-Utah border. Still others consider that area an entirely separate desert, the Navajoan.
What’s certain is that, though they share the name, these deserts are home to vastly different environments.
The Sonoran Desert
Home to an Arizona Icon
Is it dry? Yes. Is it green? Also yes. And during wildflower season from March to mid-April, the Sonoran Desert turns shades of yellow, purple, red, white and pink. It’s also here that you’ll find that most iconic of Arizona symbols—the saguaro cactus.
The Sonoran Desert also surrounds Arizona’s two largest cities, Phoenix and Tucson, making it possible to hike remote desert trails in the morning, explore downtown in the afternoon and relax by a pool in the evening. Multiple national and state parks sit within the desert, as well, with their own trails and camping options.
The Mojave Desert
Arizona’s Own Joshua Tree Forest
The driest desert in North America, the Mojave crosses the Colorado River from California into northwestern Arizona and sits between the towns of Wickenburg and Kingman. Should you decide to drive from Kingman to Peach Springs and Grand Canyon West, you’ll inevitably pass through it. How will you know? Keep an eye out for the forest of Joshua trees that dot the landscape along the road.
The Joshua trees are unique to this Arizona desert and are a favorite photo op for road-trippers.
The Chihuahuan Desert
Hoodoos to Grasslands
Resembling the grasslands of Oklahoma more than the cactus-filled images of a stereotypical desert, the Chihuahuan Desert takes up much of southeastern Arizona, including the cities and towns of Sierra Vista, Bisbee, Tombstone and Willcox. And sitting almost right in the middle are the Chiricahua Mountains, whose sea of pillar-shaped rock formations known as “hoodoos” stretch impossibly high into the sky.
After exploring the waving hills and hoodoos, sample award-winning wine in Arizona’s largest wine-growing region, Willcox; walk the Western streets of Tombstone; or get funky in the arts-loving community of Bisbee.
Explore Our Deserts
Catalina State Park
Bring your horse, bicycle, or just your hiking boots and you’re bound to have a good time at Catalina State Park. Located less than 20 miles...
Chiricahua National Monument
A national monument with towering vertical columns of rock formations. Hike on 17 miles of trails, camp at Bonita Canyon Campground, or visit...
Glen Canyon & Lake Powell
Spread over 1.25 million acres, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is an outdoor haven, renown for its stunning scenery and geologic wonders,...
Lake Havasu State Park
With year-round ideal weather, Lake Havasu State Park makes a splash with its beautiful beaches and nature trails and an abundance of things to...
Lost Dutchman State Park
Visit the Lost Dutchman State Park for the fabled Lost Dutchman gold, or enjoy the scenic hiking and biking trails. Camping also available.
Oracle State Park
Immerse yourself in the beauty of the Sonoran Desert in Oracle State Park, an hour from Tucson. Take a hike and visit the historic Kannally...
Picacho Peak State Park
Don’t miss Picacho Peak, the most famous summit in the Sonoran Desert, which you can spot on the interstate between Tucson and Phoenix.
Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park in Tucson features giant saguaros in their native environment, plus access to wildlife viewing, hiking and scenic drives.
South Mountain Park & Preserve
South Mountain Park / Preserve is a point of pride for Phoenix. As the largest municipally operated park in the country, it is an enjoyable...
Tubac Presidio State Historic Park
Explore Tubac Presidio State Historic Park, Arizona’s oldest European community and the best-preserved Spanish Colonial presidio site in the...
Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park
Journey back to the Wild West at Yuma Territorial State Historic Park and learn about the infamous inmates of this former Arizona prison.