Arizona's best free attractions: 21 things to do that don't cost a cent – The Arizona Republic

It feels good to save a little money on road trips, especially when prices are already high. One way you can stretch your Arizona travel dollar is by taking advantage of the freebies. Pull over for some of the sights that don’t cost a nickel.
Arizona is loaded with plenty of hidden gems that won’t dent your wallet. Plan ahead and you can add a little no-cost fun on your next road trip by exploring scenic wonders, manmade attractions, slices of history and artistic endeavors.
Here are some of the best free things to see and do all across Arizona.
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A true hidden gem, Montezuma Well is a detached unit of Montezuma Castle National Monument. It costs $10 per adult to see the castle portion of the monument but admission to the well, 11 miles away, is free.
What appears to be a placid pond is actually a limestone sinkhole pumping out 1.5 million gallons of water each day from an underground spring, an amount unvarying since prehistoric times.
The well doesn’t overflow because there is an outlet, like a bowl with a crack near the top. Water travels through an underground cave and ends up in Beaver Creek, with some being channeled by an ancient canal built by the Sinagua people.
Morning sun glints off the water. Ducks glide across the surface. It’s a peaceful scene, but don’t be fooled. When the sun sets, the seemingly placid waters teem with thousands of leeches. These endemic invertebrates don’t suck blood, instead they snack on amphipods, which are tiny crustaceans.
Montezuma Well supports five endemic species, small creatures that exist nowhere else in the world. It is a place that is geologically, historically and biologically remarkable.
To get there, take Interstate 17 to Exit 293. Continue through the towns of McGuireville and Rimrock, following the signs 4 miles to the park entrance.
Details: 928-567-3322,
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Keep in mind that Arizona contains several national parks and monuments that are free every day of the year. Arizona’s free parks include:
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In 1966 Roy Purcell painted a set of murals called “The Journey” on towering slabs of granite in a canyon just outside of the tiny town of Chloride in northwestern Arizona.
Purcell was an art student who worked part time as a miner when he created the 2,000-square-foot murals. He returned 40 years later to repaint the vivid scenes that include a writhing serpent, a rising goddess, ancient symbols, a community threatened by a giant bird foot with talons.
They can be viewed by traveling just over a mile on a dirt road. Look for ancient rock art adorning surrounding boulders in this open-air exhibit.
“The Journey” launched Purcell’s professional career. Chloride, nestled at the base of the Cerbat Mountains north of Kingman, is considered Arizona’s oldest continuously occupied mining town.
A handful of shops are open for business and there’s usually a restaurant or two serving grub. Pay attention as you wander the tiny town because almost every home sports some weird quirky folk art.
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Sedona is known as an artist community, but the most compelling work of art doesn’t hang in a gallery. It rises from the ground and merges elegantly with surrounding towers of stone. The Chapel of the Holy Cross was designed by sculptor Marguerite Brunswig Staude and completed in 1956.
The chapel perches 200 feet above the valley floor, thrusting upward between two burly pillars of rock. High cliffs of salmon hues form the backdrop.
The interior is simple and unadorned. A few benches, some tapestries and flickering candles create a serene, meditative oasis, while soft sunlight streams through the floor-to-ceiling window. Come for the sweeping views, a little quiet contemplation or both.
Details: 780 Chapel Road, Sedona. 928-282-7545,
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Las Lagunas is a tucked-away wetland saved and restored in Nogales. This spot is also incredibly rich in history.
In 1775, Juan Bautista de Anza led nearly 300 people on an expedition that founded the city of San Francisco, the far northwestern frontier of New Spain. The company camped at Las Lagunas on Oct. 14, 1775. It was their first campsite in what is now Arizona.
The wetlands are now named Las Lagunas de Anza and the area is shaggy and shady and deliciously green. The small pond is muddy at the edges, fringed with algae, full of reeds and cattails and teeming with life. The chorus of birdsong is joyful. Butterflies wobble past and squadrons of dragonflies zip past. Water in the desert invites a happy chaos.
There’s a picnic area, a pollinator garden, some small shrines and informational signs. This is one of the last remaining freshwater marshes in the upper Santa Cruz River basin.
Details: 966 W. Country Club Drive, Nogales. 520-287-7051,
A surprising trove of neon can be found in the small desert community of Casa Grande. In 2019, the town opened the cozy Neon Sign Park at the edge of downtown. Now every evening at dusk, they flip the switch and flood the night with a medley of hues.
The park features 14 signs of mostly local origin that have been salvaged and rehabilitated. Rustic benches made from old truck tailgates are positioned amid landscaped walking paths throughout the small park.
The neon is personal here. The signs have been removed from their once lofty perches and positioned not for traffic but for pedestrians. They hang just overhead, a treetop nebula. The glow is warm as summer moonlight. Colors are as juicy as fresh picked fruit. In the deepening dusk a graceful cascade of light drops from above, reminding  visitors of days gone by.
Details: 408 Sacaton St., Casa Grande.
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There’s a lot to love about Flagstaff with its snowy winters, fall colors and cool summer days. It also has an amazing downtown with blocks of historic buildings packed together, loaded with charm.
Next time you’re there, delve a little deeper with a self-guided walking tour. There are several, including ones that cover Route 66, historic downtown and haunted downtown. Or you can do something a little more eclectic and take a public art tour.
Explore more than 20 pieces in Flag’s public art collection that are contained within a 1.5-mile walkable loop through downtown and the Southside Historic District. You’ll enjoy a wide range of sculptures, murals and more while discovering quaint corners and interesting places to eat and shop.
Grab a map at the visitor center in the train depot on Route 66 or download one online.
Details: One E. Route 66, Flagstaff. 928-213-2951,
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Calling itself “a sanctuary for nature and the spirit,” the Navajo Nation Zoo provides shelter for rescued animals. More than 50 animal species native to tribal lands are here.
Nearly all the animals came to the zoo because they were injured or orphaned in the wild. Informational signs teach more than just standard biology. Visitors also learn the traditional Navajo stories relating to the animals.
Located in Window Rock, the Navajo Nation capital, this is the only Native American zoo in the country. One of the zoo’s goals is to help the Navajo people maintain their link to the natural world through native plants and animals. The spacious Eagle Sanctuary contains non-releasable golden eagles and serves as a legal source of molted feathers for Navajos and other Native Americans.
Details: The zoo is in Building 34 on State Route 264 in Window Rock. 928-871-6574,
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