Where is Kartchner Caverns State Park
Located in the southern portion of the state, Kartchner Caverns State Park resides completely within the state of Arizona. The limestone caverns that provide the state park with its name are the park’s most notable feature. However, the state park also contains several miles of hiking trails, a designated overnight campground, several reservable cabins, a variety of wildlife, and areas designated for picnics and night sky viewing. The closest city to Kartchner Caverns US State Park is Benson, Arizona and the state park is located 242 miles (a three hour and thirty-minute drive) west of Las Cruces, New Mexico. And in about 166 miles (a two hour and thirty-minute drive) southeast is Phoenix, Arizona. The Park is also 54 miles and (fifty-minute drive) east of Tucson, Arizona. Kartchner Caverns State Park is also located near several other outdoor recreation areas. These outdoor areas include Las Cienegas National Conservation Area, Tucson Mountain Park, and Saguaro National Park.
How Large is Kartchner Caverns State Park
Kartchner Caverns State Park covers a total area of around 750 acres. The caverns found in the state park contain around 2.4 miles of passages. The geography of Kartchner Caverns State Park mainly consists of the underground limestone caverns and a surface area dominated by desert grasslands. The average elevation of the park is around 4,734 feet above sea level. Major features of the park’s caverns are large soda straw formations and a high column named Kubla Khan. One of the world's largest stalagmites is found in the Throne Room at Kartchner Caverns State Park. In addition to the underground caverns, the park also contains several miles of surface hiking trails. The longest hiking trail found in Kartchner Caverns State Park meanders across the park’s surface for about four miles.
Kartchner Caverns State Park Weather
The weather at Kartchner Caverns State Park varies frequently throughout the year. In the summer, temperatures in the park average between 45- and 100-degrees Fahrenheit. In winter, these temperatures cool considerably and average between 20- and 70-degrees Fahrenheit. The warmest temperatures of the year arrive at the park in June, July, and August, and the coldest temperatures find the park in December and January. On average, Kartchner Caverns State Park receives around 35 days of rain per year. These 35 days of rain accumulate to a yearly average of around 12 inches. Kartchner Caverns State Park rarely experiences snowfall at any point throughout the year. However, occasionally snowfall will fall upon the park in the winter months of December, January, and February. The park’s yearly snowfall totals average less than one inch.
When did Kartchner Caverns Become a State Park
Kartchner Caverns State Park first became a state park in 1988. The caverns contained within Kartchner Caverns State Park were first discovered in 1974 by cavers Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts. The two men found a narrow crack at the bottom of a sinkhole. Warm air blowing out of this crack prompted the two men to keep exploring and led to their discovery of more than two miles of open passageways. Tufts, Tenen, and several other conservation minded geologists eventually sought out a relationship with the Arizona state government to protect the park for the foreseeable future. Today, Kartchner Caverns State Park is managed and maintained by the Arizona Parks and Wildlife Department.
Things to do in Kartchner Caverns State Park
Kartchner Caverns State Park offers visitors the opportunity to participate in a wide range of outdoor recreation activities within its borders. Our State Park Visitors Guide has outlined the most popular and intriguing adventures found in the state park below.
Explore the Visitor Center
The visitor center at Kartchner Caverns State Park is often referred to as the park’s discovery center. However, no matter what you prefer to call it, the visitor center is the best place visitors can start their Arizona state park adventure. The visitor center or discovery center contains various exhibits and displays that are educational and informative. These displays mostly discuss topics related to the park’s geology, geography, history, ecology, or nightskies. Visitors can also obtain cave tour tickets, park maps, and other park information from the visitor center. Park staff working in the discovery center are a great resource for visitors who may have specific questions about the park or their trip.
Participate in an Interpretive Program
Visitors who are still looking to learn more about a specific topic or in general about Kartchner Caverns State Park should look to join in on one or more of the interpretive programs offered by the park. These programs discuss a variety of topics relating with the park’s history, geology, and ecology. Programs in Kartchner Caverns State Park operate on a week to week rotating schedule and are all led by knowledgeable park staff or seasoned volunteers. The weeks schedule for these events is normally posted on the park’s website and displayed in the visitor center.
Take a Tour of the Caverns
The caverns at Kartchner Caverns State Park draw visitors from around the country. Visitors eager to see inside and learn more about the caverns should purchase tickets for a cavern tour from the park’s visitor center. Kartchner Caverns State Park offers visitors the opportunity to choose between four separate tour offerings. These tours include the Rotunda and Throne Tour, the Big Room Tour, the Headlamp Tour, and the Photo Tour.
Hike the Park’s Trails
While most people travel to Kartchner Caverns State Park to recreate underground, the state park also contains several hiking trails that visitors of the park can utilize to become familiar with the park’s and surrounding area’s ecosystems. The two most popular trails found in the park are Guindani Trail and the Foothills Trail. The Guindani Trail is 4.2 miles long and the Foothills trail is 2.5 miles long. More information regarding current trail conditions and difficulty can be found at the park’s visitor center.
Wildlife Viewing in the Park
Kartchner Caverns State Park provides a home to a wide variety of wildlife species. The species most commonly spotted with Kartchner Caverns State Park include coues whitetailed deer, jackrabbits, cottontails, squirrels, and javalinenas. The caverns are largely void of any animal life. However, in late spring as many as 2000 bats find their way into the caverns at Kartchner Caverns State Park.
Camping in Kartchner Caverns State Park
The campground at Kartchner Caverns State Park contains sites suited for recreational vehicles and tent campers. The park also contains several cabins visitors can reserve. Reservations for the park’s campsites and cabins can be made online through the park’s website and reservation portal. Visitors looking to camp in the park during the summer or peak season should look to make their reservations several weeks in advance.
When to Visit Kartchner Caverns State Park
Kartchner Caverns State Park is open year-round, and visitors can plan their trip to the state park during any season of the year. However, visitation is the highest during the summer, and the spring and summer are the preferred seasons to visit the park by most visitors. The temperatures of these seasons allow visitors of Kartchner Caverns State Park to enjoy all activities below and above the surface in the park. These temperatures also make camping in the park an enjoyable experience. Wildlife in the park is most active in spring. Bats migrate to the caverns found in the park in late spring.
Must Have Items to Bring to Kartchner Caverns State Park
There are several items visitors will want to bring with them to Kartchner Caverns State Park. The items listed below will keep visitors hydrated, protected, and comfortable during their state park adventure.
Water & Snacks
Water and snacks are two essential items List of Parks advises every visitor should make sure they bring along with them to Kartchner Caverns State Park. The average person should pack around two liters for every hour they plan to spend recreating in the sun. The best snacks for hiking and other outdoor recreation activities are lightweight, easy to consume, and energy packed. Beef jerky, trail mix, protein bars, and dried fruit are great options.
Sturdy Hiking Boots
Every visitor planning to hike the trails found at Kartchner Caverns State Park should come prepared with a sturdy pair of hiking boots. Visitors looking to go on a cave tour should also bring a sturdy pair of hiking boots to keep them comfortable and safe. Visitors looking for added protection and comfort should look to invest in a lightweight and waterproof pair of hiking boots.
Wildlife Field Guides & Binoculars
Visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of the various wildlife species that call Kartchner Caverns State Park and the surrounding area home will want to bring along an Arizona or North America specific field guide. The best field guides include color photos and lengthy descriptions that make identification simple and effortless. The state park also contains various species of vegetation that visitors can identify using a field guide tailored towards the flora of North America or southern Arizona.
Visitors planning to embark on one of the cave tours offered at Kartchner Caverns State Park will want to bring a set of old clothes to the park. The cave tours at Kartchner Caverns State Park can occasionally leave visitors with stained shoes and clothes. These old clothes will come in handy and ensure nothing valuable gets damaged while visitors are exploring the cave.
Where to Stay Near Kartchner Caverns State Park
Visitors looking to stay within Kartchner Caverns State Park can make a reservation for one of the park’s campsites or cabins. These reservations can be made online through the park’s website and reservation portal. Visitors looking to stay in a hotel in the surrounding area can first look for options in Benson. Visitors looking to stay in a larger city can decide between making the drive to Tucson or Phoenix.
Food Near Kartchner Caverns State Park
The closest food to Kartchner Caverns State Park is located in Benson and the city’s surrounding areas. The city contains a host of restaurants and a few grocery stores that visitors can visit to grab a meal or stock up on supplies. Visitors looking for a larger culinary scene will want to make the drive to Tucson or Phoenix. These cities possess a numerous list of bars, restaurants, and grocery stores that offer a wide arrangement of drinks, entrees, and supplies.
Airports Near Kartchner Caverns State Park
The closest international airport to Kartchner Caverns State Park is located in Tucson. The Tucson International Airport is 48 miles and about a forty-five-minute drive away from the park. The next closest international airport to Kartchner Caverns State Park is located in Phoenix. The Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is located 162 miles and a two hour and fifteen-minute drive northwest of Kartchner Caverns State Park.