Family adventures can be a great way to explore new places! We made some special memories in early 2021. My husband Andy and I took our 3 kids and our cat, Frankie on a RV trip to Arizona. We stayed for 3 months and camped at a variety of state parks and RV campgrounds. Here are some of the highlights of our adventures in Tucson, Arizona!
Tucson Family Adventure Video
Tucson, Arizona is home to tall Saguaro cacti, beautiful sunsets and lots of desert trails. At almost every campground, we were surrounded by prickly plants. We often alternated between boondocking in the open desert, and staying at state park campgrounds. Our young family of 5 found plenty of things to do during our RV stay in Arizona!
Gilbert Ray Campground
Our first night in Tucson we camped at Gilbert Ray Campground. My husband Andy backed up our RV toy hauler next to a towering saguaro cactus and a jumping cholla tree. Our kids quickly learned on this trip to give cacti plenty of space and to wear good shoes while walking in the desert.
Around the campground we explored the many desert trails. We didn’t see many wild animals, but on our hikes we often looked for scorpions, hawks, kangaroo rats, and rattlesnakes. At most, we saw a few mice and squirrels.
Hikes at Saguaro National Park
The trail at Saguaro National Park was one of our favorite family hikes. We headed over there one afternoon with our 3 kids. Of course, we brought several water bottles and wore good hiking shoes for this adventure.
We saw so many cool desert plants along the trail at Saguaro National Park! In the Pacific Northwest, we don’t have anything like these prickly plants. We thought all the cholla, cacti, and prickly bushes were really unique.
This fishook barrel cactus was really pretty, with its bright yellow fruit. We saw many desert plants like this at Saguaro National Park. Needless to say, it’s much better to look at it and not touch!
International Wildlife Museum
Another afternoon, we visited the International Wildlife Museum in Pima County, Arizona. This museum is full of amazing specimens of taxidermy animals. We really enjoyed seeing life-like displays of beautiful birds, insects and reptiles and learning about each species. My kids also saw huge wolves and bears up close in the Predators and Prey exhibit.
We thought each of the rooms at the International Wildlife Museum were amazing. One particular room was packed with all sorts of deer, elk, moose and caribou. We also saw a taxidermy bear, tiger, mountain lion and crocodile. This museum visit was the first time my kids had seen a lot of these animals up close. I’d definitely recommend stopping by this amazing nature museum the next time your family is in Tucson.
Catalina State Park
Additionally, we loved our stay at Catalina State Park! We stayed at several camp sites at Catalina. My husband Andy reserved our spots in advance and we often could only get a few days at a time. We had to move to a different camp site at least twice. The spacious Catalina campground was a change of scene from the cactus-filled desert state parks. Our RV was surrounded by flat ground with sparse patches of grass and pretty desert trees. Our kids had plenty of space to ride their bikes and scooters, and our cat Frankie enjoyed exploring. We attached him to a 30 ft. leash so he could observe the ground squirrels.
Catalina State Park is located at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Even when we went to Walmart and out for ice cream, we could see these beautiful mountains towering nearby. The campground offers 120 camp sites with electric and water hook-ups. While camping, we got into a family routine of doing homeschool in the morning, followed by afternoon walks and bike rides. We occasionally did laundry in our RV and hung the clean clothes out to dry in the warm air.
The Santa Catalina Mountains provide a dramatic backdrop for the spacious camp sites at Catalina State Park.
Catalina Highway Overlook
Not far from our camp site, one day we went on a scenic drive along the Catalina Highway. We stopped at a scenic overlook, and our kids had a chance to do some rock scrambling. We made sure they stayed close to us and understood their limits, to not get close to an edge. Rocks like the one below jut out all over the place, with maybe a 3-foot drop beneath at most. Our kids had a blast climbing, being adventurous, and discovering awesome views!
We discovered this pretty view through the rocks, of more rocks and mountains at the Catalina Highway Overlook.
Patagonia Lake State Park
After Catalina, we headed to Patagonia Lake State Park. Our camp site here was less private and it was situated in a loop of other camp sites. The nearby campers often commented they enjoyed watching our kids run around and play together. We took the kids on several walks (they rode their bikes) down to the lake and around the campground. One of our favorite things about camping is just enjoying simple family time together. One night Andy made ribs over the fire. Occasionally we had a family movie night in our RV or watched a BBC nature episode.
Family Horseback Riding in the Desert
One afternoon during our time in Tucson, Arizona, we took the kids on a horseback ride. We found this company by searching for local trail riding services in the area. My kids were excited to ride their own horses and hold the reins.
Horseback riding was a fun family activity for our crew of inexperienced riders. The trail ride took us through the desert just before sunset. The horses were very gentle with our kids and they followed the well-traveled path at a slow pace.
My 8-year-old daughter Kiera handled her horse like a pro! On the trail, we passed by all sorts of desert plants, dry creek beds and scraggly brush. Horseback riding was an interesting way for us to experience the desert up close.
Last but not least, about 2 hours away from Tucson we checked out the Echo Canyon Grottoes hike. Sadly the weather this day was not great, but we still enjoyed seeing the amazing stacked rocks and interesting wind-carved grottoes. You can find our full video of this cool Arizona hiking experience here!
We went on a lot of adventures in Arizona and made great memories with our kids! Our family lived regular life on the go and didn’t feel too hindered by our mobile lifestyle. We would definitely like to do an extended RV trip like this again! Which area of the United States do you think we should explore next?
Hi, I’m Katie! I live with my husband and 3 kids in beautiful Coeur d’Alane, Idaho. I love Jesus, coffee, DIY projects, photography, homeschooling my kids, traveling, and serving people. I’ve previously worked as a graphic designer, web designer, journalist and barista. I started Create. Play. Travel. to share some of our creative projects and family adventures. I hope you enjoy the highlights of our creative family life!