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Why Papago Park is Worth a Visit Your All-in Guide

Why Papago Park is Worth a Visit: Your All-in Guide

While Phoenix may be best known for its beautiful sunny weather, it’s also known to be a prime destination for recreational outdoor activities.

Whether you’re into hiking, fishing, or even scenic driving, the Valley of the Sun has no shortage of it.

One such place that offers everything we just mentioned (and more!) is Papago Park near Downtown Phoenix. Over the years, it has become a local favorite and a tourist destination for its stunning views and the lot of activities it offers.

Now you might be wondering what exactly is there to see and do here. So, allow us to take you through a narrative tour of this historic municipal park.

Is Papago Park worth visiting?

Papago Park is worth visiting for five main reasons – hiking, fishing, golfing, educational tours, and lovely picnics. It’s a hub for family-friendly activities that’s just a few minutes away from Downtown Phoenix.

In fact, it’s designated as one of Phoenix’s Points of Pride. And with over 1,500-acres of land, it’s home to many historical sites that enrich the story of how the city came to be.

Do you have to pay to get into Papago Park?

Entrance to the park is completely free! However, attractions such as the zoo, museums, or golf course do warrant fees. 

Where do you enter Papago Park?

The main entrance of the park is at 625 N. Galvin Parkway. Follow McDowell Road then turn south at 64th Street and Galvin Parkway.

There are a bunch of signs leading to the park, so don’t worry about getting lost. It’s relatively easy to find, and the trailheads are found at the parking lot, too.

Can dogs hike at Papago Park?

Dogs are completely welcome to hike with you at Papago Park if that’s what you’ll be doing. 

Just make sure to keep them on a leash, pack them water, and maybe bring a soothing balm for their paws.

Can you get married at Papago park?

Why Papago Park is Worth a Visit Your All-in Guide

Image Source: Papago Events

You can get married at Papago Park! The golf course, the botanical garden, and the heritage center inside the park are well-known reception and wedding venues. 

The plus side is that they offer gorgeous views of the red buttes that are even prettier at sunset.

Things To Do at Papago Park

Now that we’ve answered a few of your questions, we’d like to lay down some of the best things to do at Papago Park. Keep reading for the full list of reasons why we love coming here.

1. Go on a hike.

Whether you’re a hiking pro or a beginner looking to get into the activity, Papago Park has several trails that are worth your time and effort. Below are some of our favorite ones.

1. Hole in the Rock Trail

Hole in the Rock Trail

Image Source: Viva Phoenix

Level of Difficulty: Easy

Trail Length: 0.5 km

Average Completion Time: 7 minutes

Trailhead: 625 N Galvin Pkwy, Phoenix, AZ 85008

The Hole in the Rock Trail is one of the most popular beginner trails not just in this park, but in the entirety of Phoenix as well. It alludes to one simple reason – the most stunning overlooking city view.

Okay, another reason would be that it’s such an easy climb that even kids and dogs are allowed on the trail. Plus, it only takes an average of less than 10 minutes to complete.

At the summit is, well, a giant hole in the rock. It’s a unique opening on one of the mountain’s distinct red buttes that serves as a gorgeous overlooking point of the valley below.

Interestingly enough, it’s widely-believed that Phoenix’s earliest inhabitants – the Hohokam tribe – used the hole as a calendar. Apparently, the hole marked the beginning and end of summer and winter solstices then.

This is because there are several marked areas and boulders inside the hole where the sun amply hits at varying times in the year. It’s been said that these markings helped the tribe properly schedule all their agricultural activities. 

The trailhead is quite easy to find as it’s right next to the allotted parking space near the entrance of the park. It starts off relatively flat that leads to man-made stairs all the way to the top.

One thing we will say is that the trail is usually very crowded. Even though it’s wide enough, you’ll likely find yourself bumping with other climbers, especially during the weekends.

Still, it’s a short and quick hike that’ll get your heart pumping. We highly-recommend trying it out at least once if you’re within the area.

2. Double Butte Loop Trail

Double Butte Loop Trail

Image Source: Modern Hiker

Level of Difficulty: Easy

Trail Length: 3.5 km

Average Completion Time: 45 minutes

Trailhead: 625 N Galvin Pkwy, Phoenix, AZ 85008

The Double Butte Loop Trail is another relatively-easy hike as it takes just an average of less than an hour to complete. It’s also well-marked and pretty easy to follow.

The loop will take you around the entirety of the west side of the park, which affords you gorgeous views of the red buttes. It features a slight elevation gain – not too much that it’s too tiring, but also not easy enough to provide a bit of a challenge.

Once you reach the part of the trail with distinct coral-like rocks, you’ll come across a couple of side trails that you can take. Don’t worry, they all connect together and you’re less likely to get lost.

The end of the trail will bring you back to where you started – the parking lot. While there’s not really a summit or a high-point to the climb, you do get a nice workout and a nice tour of the buttes that have been here for centuries.

A few things to note: the trail isn’t wheelchair-friendly, dogs are allowed (but must be kept on a leash), and there are no water stations around. Make sure to bring your own jug and stay hydrated throughout.

3. Big Butte Loop

Big Butte Loop

Image Source:

Level of Difficulty: Easy

Trail Length: 3.5 km

Average Completion Time: 45 minutes

Trailhead: West Buttes, 626 N Galvin Pkwy, Phoenix, AZ 85008

For a less crowded trail, the Big Butte Loop would be a great choice. It’s also on the west side of the park, but it’ll take you around and out of the Big Butte.

The trailhead begins right across Phoenix Zoo. There’s a water station right here where you can fill your jug up, but there’s no restroom.

This trail features nice views of Barnes Butte which stands high at over 1,700-feet! It continues to  a small path right along East McDowell Road where you’ll come across an interesting amphitheater built into the slope.

Continue heading east and then towards the south side of the loop to see portions of the Little Butte. Be careful as there’s an active bee around here, so maybe keep an ointment in your pack for safety reasons.

Another thing we will say is that this is a pretty urban hike. There’s a lot of street noise in several areas and it’s pretty close to the highways.

If you’d prefer quieter hikes, then this trail might not be for you. Still, we think it’s worth visiting for a good, quick run if you’re within the area.

4. Elliott Ramada Loop

Elliott Ramada Loop

Image Source: Jordan Herrick via

Level of Difficulty: Easy

Trail Length: 4.5 km

Average Completion Time: 35 minutes

Trailhead: West Park Parking Lot, Papago Park, Phoenix, AZ 85008

Another relatively easy and pleasant trail in the park is the Elliott Ramada Loop. It starts off at the west side of the park, too, where you’ll need to hike counterclockwise alongside the golf course.

What we like about this trail is that it’s family-friendly in the sense that even kids can conquer it. It’s also paved for the most part, which makes it accessible for wheelchairs, mobility equipment, and strollers.

There are also a few resting stops along the way with water stations and shade. Benches can be found all throughout for your convenience.

Along the way, you’ll encounter several species of desert plants and foliage. It’s a nice contrast, as the red buttes in the background sit amidst the lush greenery of the path.

The Elliot Ramada can be found atop the north end of the loop. You can’t miss its distinct structure and it’s honestly a nice place to just sit and relax after a leisurely hike.

Continuing the hike, you’ll be sharing the trail with the 5K Fitness Loop that people take for the Double Butte Loop Trails. Once you reach the fork, stick to the side of the gold course on the left and follow it back to the trailhead. 

The thing about this trail is that it can lead to a lot of other trails in the park. So, if you want to take that extra challenge and go for a much longer trail, this would be a good starting point.

5. Papago Buttes

Papago Buttes

Image Source: Courtney Pratt via

Level of Difficulty: Easy

Trail Length: 3.7 km

Average Completion Time: 25 minutes

Trailhead: West Park Parking Lot, Papago Park, Phoenix, AZ 85008

Following the Papago Buttes Trail is no easy feat. Since it’s connected to a lot of other trails, one can easily stray off path.

Don’t worry about getting lost, though! The landscape is quite open and flat, and you can always pull out your map to guide you.

This trail is more of a nature walk, at least, in our own opinion. You’ll pass by a lot of cacti, tumbleweeds, and desert foliage.

There’s also very little elevation and the ground isn’t too rocky. Suffice it to say, it’s a relaxed hike that won’t take much effort, but will still give you a nice outdoor experience.

If you’re a beginner, we highly-suggest trying out this trail. There’s really no right or wrong way to go about it; just walk wherever you feel like heading to and you’ll eventually find yourself back at the trailhead.

2. Go fishing at any of the three Papago Ponds.

Is fishing more up your alley? You’re in luck – Papago Park has three fishing ponds you can choose from, each one with varying depths.

Go fishing at any of the three Papago Ponds

Image Source: Papago Park via

The ponds are located on the east side of the park. You can’t miss them – as your eyes will naturally gravitate towards the calm waters and the beautiful palm trees surrounding them.

As we’ve mentioned, the ponds vary in depth. The first one is 1-acre big and 8-feet deep, the second one is 2-acres big and 7-feet deep, and the last one is 3-acres big and 11-feet deep.

Swimming is strictly not allowed, but there are a few benches around that would be good for a picnic. It’s also near the Phoenix Zoo, so you can bring the little ones along for a fun family day out. 

Boating is also strictly prohibited and any alcoholic beverages you might want to bring warrant permits. 

What fish are in Papago Park?

At Papago park, you can catch some catfish, rainbow trout, largemouth bass, bluegill, and red dear sunfish. There are also some tilapia and carp stocked by the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

Below is your guide on the maximum bag limit per day:

  • 2 catfish
  • 2 trout
  • 1 bass
  • 5 sunfish
  • 1 white amur

How late can you fish at Papago Park?

How late can you fish at Papago Park

Image Source: Jennifer S. via

You can start fishing as early as 5:30AM up to 11PM. Note that you need a class U Urban Fishing License that you can purchase from the Arizona Game and Fish Department online or at any of the local license dealers.

3. Try out the scenic Papago Golf Course.

Golf enthusiasts will have a field day at the beautiful Papago Golf Course. It’s located right at the center of the park and gives visitors a unique experience amidst striking red Papago Buttes and a native desert landscape.

Try out the scenic Papago Golf Course

Image Source: Troon

The course was designed by William Francis Bell in 1963, a renowned golf course designer best known for the Torrey Pines in San Diego. To this day, it’s recognized as one of the top municipal courses in the region

The Papago Golf Course is also considered to be the home of the Arizona State Sun Devils, the nine-time NCAA Champions for the sport. And, it was described by as the coolest practice facility in college golf.

Suffice it to say, the course is a destination on its own. 

Naturally, it comes with its own challenges. The strategic setting at the base of the buttes makes it quiet and ideal for concentration, but its geographic features are anything but easy.

It features strategically-placed bunkers and tricky moundings framed by undulating greens. There are several water hazards on a lot of its 18 holes, as well.

Papago Golf Course Water Hazards

Image Source: Arizona Golfer

Don’t worry, though, as it was designed to be playable for all skill levels. Even though it’s a relatively tough course, it’s pretty straightforward and fun to take on.

Is Papago Golf Course walkable?

Papago Gold Course is absolutely walkable If you want to save a few bucks from renting a cart, you may opt to take leisurely strolls around the course. 

In fact, a lot of people make the walk as an added form of exercise since it’s such a pleasant atmosphere.

What does it cost to play Papago Golf Course?

The community rate varies depending on how many players there are and the time chosen. We’ve seen some schedules that go for $93 for up to 2 players, and $149 for up to 4 players. 

These are considered to be relatively-affordable and quite frankly, a steal. Golfing could easily start at $150 for some other courses, which is why a lot of people love coming here instead.

And considering how lovely and well-maintained the facilities are, you’d think that you were at a private course.

We suggest booking your tee time online, as walk-ins aren’t always guaranteed a schedule. You may reserve your slots through this website.

4. See the many iconic tourist sites.

Papago Park is also home to a lot of educational and iconic sites. Keep reading as we take you through each of them.

1. Governor Hunt’s Pyramid Tomb

Governor Hunt’s Pyramid Tomb

Image Source: Arizona is Fun!

On one of Papago Park’s high points, you’ll notice a stark, white-tiled pyramid that stands out amidst the red buttes. No, it’s not an Egyptian homage; rather, it’s the tomb of Arizona’s first governor, George W. P. Hunt.

Gov. Hunt served in office from 1912 to 1933. He was fondly referred to as “Old Walrus” for his impressive girth, bald head, and mustache.

He was well-loved by the citizens because he pushed for progressive reforms during his time. For one, he was a proponent of women’s right to vote and allowed such an act 8 full-years before the rest of the country followed suit.

He also strongly fought the abolition of child labor. And, he was elected governor 7 times which is a rare occurrence even to this day.

There are many interesting tales about Gov. Hunt. He was known to do all the grocery shopping for their home (a chore that was often given to women) and he also famously knitted scarves for soldiers stationed abroad during World War I.

Gov. Hunt was also a freemason, which is the reason why his burial marker is shaped as such. It’s commonly known that the mason’s favorite symbol is a pyramid, hence, the 20-foot tall structure of what would be his tomb.

Gov. Hunt Tomb

Image Source: Nostalgjyeah via

He also chose the site himself. And in 2008, the tomb was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Sadly, he was interned in it just a year after leaving his post. His wife, in-laws, and a few other relatives were also buried in the pyramid with him.

Today, there are a few benches around the pyramid where visitors can come and pay their respects to the late governor. 

2. Phoenix Zoo

Phoenix Zoo

Image Source: Phoenix New Times


Ticket Rates: $37.95 for adults; $27.95 for kids

Address: 455 N Galvin Pkwy, Phoenix, AZ 85008

Contact Number: (602) 286-3800

Business Hours: Monday to Sunday, 9AM–4PM

The Phoenix Zoo is the largest, privately-owned and non-profit zoo nationwide. It was founded by Robert Maytag back in 1962 and is now designated as one of Phoenix’s Points of Pride.

The zoo features over 3,000 animals and has welcomed nearly 43 million guests since it opened its doors. It spans over 125-acres within Papago Park with cafes, shops, and water landscapes on top of their animal encounters.

Here, you’ll find an assortment of animals from all over the world. Bornean orangutans, Asian elephants, Sumatran tigers, Masai giraffes, and Komodo dragons are just a few of them.

Phoenix Zoo

Image Source: David Wagner via Phoenix Zoo

The zoo is also divided into 4 themed trails – the Arizona Trail, the Africa Trail, the Tropics trail, and the Children’s Trail.

The Children’s trail is widely-popular because of the petting zoo inside. Kids can get up close with an emu, an ocelot, a caracal, golden lion tamarins, and the famous Fernando – the zoo’s two-toed sloth!

The trail also goes through Harmony Farm, which showcases more farm animals and demonstrations related to farming and agriculture specifically-catered towards kids.

If you’ll be coming with a big party, we recommend going on a discovery tour. It’s a 90-minute trip around the zoo in an eco-shuttle where you’ll be taken through all the best spots and animal enclosures.

3. Desert Botanical Garden

Desert Botanical Garden

Image Source: Experience Scottsdale


Ticket Rates: $24.95 for adults; $14.95 for kids

Address: 1201 N Galvin Pkwy, Phoenix, AZ 85008

Contact Number: (480) 941-1225

Business Hours: Monday to Sunday, 9AM–5PM

The Desert Botanical Garden is another popular destination in Phoenix. It’s a 140-acre desert oasis founded by the Arizona Cactus and Native Flora Society in 1937. 

Today, the garden is home to over 379 species of more than 50,000 plants showcased in beautiful outdoor exhibits. What’s interesting is that they have rare, threatened, and even endangered plants in their collection.

There are many activities that one can go on here. You can try out their guided tours, see the butterfly pavilion, or dine at Gertrude’s, a Diner’s Choice Award winner for their sumptuous farm-to-table selections.

We also recommend trying out Desert Detective Bingo, where kids who complete their cards receive a special prize. Plant Passports are also a great way to add fun to garden tours!

However, what a lot of people come here for are the many trails that’ll take you through the Sonoran Desert. 

The Sonoran Desert Nature Loop Trail

The Sonoran Desert Nature Loop Trail

Image Source: Desert Botanical Garden

To start with, there’s the Sonoran Desert Nature Loop Trail which gives you sweeping mountain views and an organ pipe cactus at the summit. You’ll also get to know more about the desert plants survival strategies in the Arizona heat.

The Center for Desert Living Trail

The Center for Desert Living Trail

Image Source: Desert Botanical Garden

Second is the Center for Desert Living Trail. Here, you’ll be introduced to fragrant herbs and vegetable beds, along with an educational guide on how to create your own water-wise home garden.

The Desert Discovery Loop Trail

The Desert Discovery Loop Trail 

Image Source: Desert Botanical Garden

Then there’s the Desert Discovery Loop Trail, which is the garden’s main trail and showcases desert plants from all over the world. Its diverse historic plant collection also features a wide array of cacti and succulents.

The Harriet K. Maxwell Desert Wildflower Loop Trail

The Harriet K. Maxwell Desert Wildflower Loop Trail 

Image Source: Desert Botanical Garden

The Harriet K. Maxwell Desert Wildflower Loop Trail is a meandering trail surrounded by vivid blooms and their pollinators. It’s a great trail to take if you want to learn about the essential role of bees, hummingbirds, and other insects in a desert ecosystem.

Plants & People of the Sonoran Desert Loop Trail

Plants & People of the Sonoran Desert Loop Trail

Image Source: Desert Botanical Garden

Finally, there’s the Plants & People of the Sonoran Desert Loop Trail. Here, you can wander through various desert habitats and learn about indigenous people’s way of life.

The Desert Botanical Garden is a place that we think both kids and adults will really enjoy. We highly-recommend visiting if you ever find yourself within the area. 

4. Hall of Flame Museum

Hall of Flame Museum

Image Source: Hall of Flame Museum via


Ticket Rates: $17 for adults; $15 for kids

Address: 6101 E Van Buren St, Phoenix, AZ 85008

Contact Number: (602) 275-3473

Business Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 10AM–6PM; Sunday to Monday, CLOSED

The Hall of Flame Museum was established in Phoenix in 1974. It’s right in front of the Phoenix Zoo and the Phoenix Municipal Stadium.

The museum spans 70,000-feet and has over 35,000-square feet of exhibit galleries. It also has 5 galleries, a restoration shop, a theater, and a museum shop.

Here, you’ll find a vast collection of fire apparatus, uniforms and equipment, firemarks, alarm room equipment, and more. There’s also a massive fire safety exhibit that has a safety house, a mini-theater, and lots of interactive exhibits for the young ones.

The National Firefighting Hall of Heroes is their way of giving tribute to American firefighters for their heroism. It also pays tribute to those who have died in the line of duty.

It may be a niche and specific museum, but it is quite interesting to see as you get to learn all about firefighting. We think kids will have a blast here, as well!

5. Arizona Heritage Center

Arizona Heritage Center

Image Source: Arizona Heritage Center via


Ticket Rates: $15 for adults; $7 for kids

Address: 1300 N College Ave, Tempe, AZ 85288

Contact Number: (480) 929-0292

Business Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 10AM–2PM; Sunday to Monday, CLOSED

Another museum located at Papago Park is the Arizona Heritage Center. It’s chock full of historical items, artifacts, and journal articles that have withstood the test of time.

Surprisingly, the museum is larger than one would assume from the outside. There are two levels filled with a variety of exhibitions, as well as a library with historical archives.

Among the exhibits you can take a look here are ones that tell the stories of the rise of Arizona’s past, World War II, and the diversity of the Southwest. 

From water availability, immigration, free trade, up to the urban development of the city – it’s one of the more narrative museums out there, if we do say so ourselves.

They also have an impressive collection of artifacts and manuscripts that can be used for educational outreach programs and community-based research. 

It’s definitely the park’s hidden gem. Do yourself a favor and enrich your mind with Phoenix’s equally rich history.

5. Go on a lovely picnic.

Go on a lovely picnic

Image Source: Hike & Bike Phoenix

Papago Park is one of the best places to set up a nice family picnic, or even a romantic date. In fact, it has several ramadas that you can reserve for any occasion.

Here’s a general summary of which ones are on a first-come-first-served basis. Note that maximum capacities are strictly enforced and restrooms close at 7PM.

First Come, First Served
RamadaLocationAmenitiesMax. CapacityAvailable Parking
Ramada #11Lake # 22 Tables 
1 Grill 
1 Fireplace 
Ramada #12Lake # 11 Table, 21′ Long 
1 Grill 
Ramada # 13Lake # 11 Table, 21′ Long 
1 Grill 
Ramada # 14Lake # 12 Tables, Each 21′ Long 
2 Grills
Ramada # 15Lake # 14 Tables, Each 21′ Long
4 Grills 

As for the reservable ramadas, below is a general guide. Reservation times are from 8AM–6PM daily and beer permits cost $28.

Reservable Ramadas
RamadaLocationAmenitiesFeeMax. CapacityAvailable Parking
Ramada # 2Near Desert Botanical Garden4 Tables, each 18′ long 
3 Grills 
Amplified music is permitted 
Restrooms across roadway  
Ramada # 9 and # 10Lake # 3 IslandAccessible
Stage with grass seating
2 Horseshoe pits 
Ramada # 16Lake # 34 Tables, each 21′ long
3 Grills 
Restrooms at end of lake

To reserve, you may contact Ramada Reservations at (602) 495-5458 or you may visit any City of Phoenix Parks Office or Community center.  

As always, we’d love to hear from you. Let us know down below if we’ve missed any spots or fun activities to do at Papago Park!

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