Birdwatching in Arizona – Best Free & Paid Birding Options

October 8, 2021 // 21 minute read

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Bird-watching enthusiasts in Arizona are often pleasantly surprised to find out that it’s such a wonderful birding state. What makes it so special?

Places like the Grand Canyon, Sierra Vista, the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, and the Chiricahua Mountains are all perfectly fantastic places to see all of your favorite birds including Red-faced Warblers, Montezuma Quail, Whiskered Screech Owls, and plenty more of your preferred birds.

Keep reading to discover everything you needed to know about the top bird-watching destinations in The Grand Canyon State.

By the way, did you know that the Cactus Wren is Arizona’s state bird?

cactus wren
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photo credit: david mark from pixabay

Also, be sure to check out birding locations in states that neighbor Arizona: California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico.

Bird Watching Destinations In Arizona: Free Destinations

Do you live in Arizona or plan to visit soon? You’ll have an exciting and fun-filled adventure as you visit the most exhilarating bird-watching destinations in The Copper State.

Chiricahua Mountains – Free Entrance

One of the most beautiful things about visiting this part of southeastern Arizona is the isolated mountain ranges. Within the mountains, there are remote grasslands and low land desert that make it perfect for birders from far and wide. It’s fairly close to the New Mexico border, and it’s a great hotspot to visit to see some of your favorite outdoor birds and other wildlife.

Location:

Douglas Ranger District
1192 W. Saddleview Rd.
Douglas, AZ 85607
Phone: 520-388-8436

GPS: 31.9298° N, 109.3823° W

Hours of Operation:

This mountain range and wildlife area is open to the public 24 hrs. a day, seven days a week, and it’s even open on holidays. Although, the district office certainly remains closed on national holidays and other important yearly events.

Popular Birds Found At This Destination:

Hiking Trails:

The exciting thing about visiting these hiking trails is they vary in length, difficulty, and ease of navigation. So, if you are an expert hiking aficionado or your brand new to the sport, there’s definitely plenty of trails for everyone.

The names of the most exciting trails to consider include:

  • The Big Loop – hard difficulty, 13.2 miles, six hours and 20 minutes to complete
  • Heart of Rocks Loop from Echo Canyon Trailhead – moderate difficulty, 6.9 miles, three hours and 50 minutes to complete
  • Sugarloaf Mountain Trail – easy difficulty, 1.8 miles, one hour and five minutes to complete
  • Bonita Canyon Scenic Drive – easy difficulty, 7.8 miles, three hours and 45 minutes to complete
  • Echo Canyon Grottoes – easy difficulty, 1 mile, 25 minutes to complete
  • Silver Spur Meadow Trail – easy difficulty, 2.6 miles, one hour and 10 minutes to complete
  • Inspiration Point – hard difficulty, 5.2 miles, two hours and five minutes to complete
  • Echo Canyon to Visitor Center – moderate difficulty, 4 miles, one hour and 40 minutes to complete
  • Snowshed Trail #246 – hard difficulty, 16.9 miles, eight hours to complete
  • Burro Trail #240 – hard difficulty, 15.5 miles, eight hours to complete
  • Baker Canyon Trail #225 – hard difficulty, 11.1 miles, six hours to complete
  • Faraway Ridge Trail – easy difficulty, 0.9 miles, 20 minutes to complete
  • Jones Ridge Trail #365 – hard difficulty, 12.2 miles, six hours and 10 minutes to complete
  • Burro-Horseshoe Ridge Trail #282 – hard difficulty, 17.7 miles, nine hours to complete
  • Bonita Creek Trail – easy difficulty, 1.3 miles, 35 minutes to complete
  • Bonita Creek Loop – easy difficulty, 0.3 miles, 10 minutes to complete
  • Lower Rhyolite Canyon – moderate difficulty, 3.9 miles, two hours and five minutes to complete
  • Rhyolite Canyon Trail – easy difficulty, 4.8 miles, two hours and 35 minutes to complete
  • South Fork Trail #242 – easy difficulty, 4.1 miles, one hour and 55 minutes to complete
  • Massai Point Overlook – easy difficulty, 0.4 miles, 10 minutes to complete
  • Chiricahua Natural Bridge Trail – moderate difficulty, 4 miles, two hours and 20 minutes to complete
  • Heart of Rocks Loop from Visitor Center – hard difficulty, 6.5 miles, three hours and 45 minutes to complete
  • Echo Canyon Loop – moderate difficulty, 4 miles, one hour and 40 minutes to complete

San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area – Free Admittance

The beautiful thing about visiting this site is its 40 miles long and it travels along the San Pedro River. Besides the gorgeous scenery, there is also a wide array of your favorite birds in the region. In fact, this Sierra Vista birding hotspot is one of the best that Arizona has to offer, so you’re bound to see your favorite winged friends the next time you visit for the ultimate birding experience.

Location:

4070 South Avenida Saracino
Sierra Vista, AZ 85615
Phone: 520-258-720

GPS: 31.4588° N, 110.2563° W

Hours of Operation:

The great thing about visiting forests and state parks and mountain ranges is they are all part of nature and you’ll very rarely have to pay admittance to get into these parks. Plus, just like this one, they are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and even on holidays.

Popular Birds Found At This Destination:

Hiking Trails:

The hiking trails at San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area are lush, plentiful, and perfect for beginners, intermediates, and novice hikers, and bird watchers. You’ll find many amazing birds along the trails, and they all vary in difficulty so some are going to be easier than others. But none of these trails are so hard that you won’t be able to handle them.

The names of the hiking trails in question are as follows:

  • San Pedro River Trail from Palominas Trailhead – easy difficulty, 8 miles, three hours and 15 minutes to complete
  • San Pedro River Trail from Murray Springs – moderate difficulty, 6 miles, two hours and 30 minutes to complete
  • San Pedro River Trail: North from Hereford Bridge – easy difficulty, 1.7 miles, 40 minutes to complete
  • Carr Canyon Ranch – easy difficulty, 1.4 miles, 35 minutes to complete
  • San Pedro River from Fairbank – easy difficulty, 1 mile, 25 minutes to complete
  • San Diego River Trail: North from Fairbank – moderate difficulty, 7.2 miles, two hours and 55 minutes to complete
  • Millville Historic Townsite and Rock Art Discovery Trail – easy difficulty, 1.8 miles, 50 minutes to complete
  • Fairbank Loop via San Pedro Trail – easy difficulty, 3.9 miles, one hour and 40 minutes to complete
  • San Pedro River Trail: South from San Pedro House – easy difficulty, 10.7 miles, four hours and 20 minutes to complete
  • San Pedro River Trail: South from AZ-82 – moderate difficulty, 8.3 miles, three hours and 20 minutes to complete
  • San Pedro House, Garden Wash, Old San Raphael Del Valley Road Bed – easy difficulty, 2.2 miles, 55 minutes to complete
  • San Pedro River Trail: North from Charleston Road – moderate difficulty, 6.6 miles, two hours and 40 minutes to complete
  • San Pedro River Trail: South from Escapule Trailhead – moderate difficulty, 7.6 miles, three hours and five minutes to complete
  • San Pedro River Trail: South from Charleston Road – moderate difficulty, 3.3 miles, one hour and 20 minutes to complete

Huachuca Mountains – Free Bird Watching

This destination is wonderful for birdwatching because, as far as the Sky Island Mountain ranges are concerned, this is the third-highest one in the southeast portion of Arizona. It’s 4500 feet in elevation and it’s high above the desert floor, and the beautiful landscapes and oak pinewood woodlands are filled with gorgeous birds. So, it’s an amazing place to visit to scratch your birdwatching itch.

Location:

Supervisor’s Office
300 West Congress St.
Tucson, AZ 85701
Phone: 520-388-8300

GPS: 31.4001° N, 110.3000° W

Hours Of Operation:

The beautiful thing about the mountains in Sierra Vista and the Coronado National Forest is that it’s open to everyone all year round. You can visit at any time from Monday to Sunday, 24 hours a day, and it’s even open on holidays.

Popular Birds Found At This Destination:

  • Violet-Crowned Hummingbird
  • Sulfur-Bellied Flycatcher
  • Yellow-Eyed Junco
  • Montezuma Quail
  • Zone-Tailed Hawk
  • Buff-Breasted Flycatcher
  • Red-Faced Warbler
  • Whiskered Screech-Owl
  • Flame -colored Tanager
  • Eared Quetzal
  • Magnificent Hummingbird
  • Painted Redstart

Hiking Trails:

The best part about this gorgeous area of Arizona is that there are numerous hiking trails to enjoy and appreciate. The great thing about these trails is that they vary from easy, moderate, and hard difficulty with pretty much something for everyone.

The names of these exciting hiking trails, along with other pertinent information, include the following:

  • Deer Spring Trail – moderate difficulty, 2.5 miles, one hour to complete
  • Blacktail Canyon – moderate difficulty, 3.1 miles, one hour and 15 minutes to complete
  • Blacktail Pond – hard difficulty, 5.6 miles, two hours and 15 minutes to complete
  • Sawmill Trail – moderate difficulty, 3.9 miles, two hours and five minutes to complete
  • Huachuca Ridge Trail – hard difficulty, 4.4 miles, three hours and five minutes to complete
  • Parker Canyon Lake – moderate difficulty, 4.8 miles, two hours and five minutes to complete
  • Huachuca Canyon Trail – easy difficulty, 4.2 miles, one hour and 40 minutes to complete
  • McClure Canyon Trail – moderate difficulty, 5.1 miles, three hours and 20 minutes to complete
  • Blacktail Pond and Deer Spring Loop – hard difficulty, 7.5 miles, four hours to complete
  • Split Rock Canyon Trail – hard difficulty, 4 miles, two hours and 40 minutes to complete
  • Scott’s Peak – moderate difficulty, 1.5 miles, 40 minutes to complete

Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve – Free Birding

This gorgeous location is one of the finest birding destinations near Patagonia on Highway 82. This is protected land that falls under the jurisdiction of the Nature Conservancy, which means you’ll have a wonderful opportunity to see many of your favorite birds and other wildlife creatures in their natural habitat. In fact, according to the preserve, there are more than 250 species of birds in the area at any given time.

Location:

150 Blue Heaven Rd.
Patagonia, AZ 85624
Phone: 520-394-2400

GPS: 31.5280° N, 110.7754° W

Hours Of Operation:

Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve is currently closed to the public. But when it eventually reopens, the hours are as follows:

  • Wednesday-Sunday in April-September – 6:30 AM-4 PM
  • Wednesday-Sunday in October-March – 7:30 AM-4 PM
  • Closed every Monday and Tuesday, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day

Popular Birds Found At This Destination:

  • Yellow-Green Vireo
  • Ruddy Ground-Dove
  • Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet
  • Gray Hawk
  • Thick-Billed Kingbird
  • Rufous-Crowned Sparrow
  • Black-Chinned Hummingbird
  • Gila Woodpecker
  • Zone-Tailed Hawk
  • Neotropic Cormorant
  • Lucy’s Warbler
  • Bridled Titmouse

Hiking Trails:

Hikers, you may find this expanse a little disappointing because there’s actually only one hiking trail in the area, it’s less than 2 miles long, and it’s fairly easy to navigate. So, if you’re looking to experience a challenging hike while you’re here, you aren’t going to find one which is a shame for many people.

But on the other hand, if you’re coming here to see the amazing birds in the area, you’re definitely in luck because there are more than 250 species that you can view along the nature trail.

The important details about this trail are as follows:

  • Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Nature Trail – this is a fairly easy trail to navigate as you will learn when you visit this stunning location. The trail itself is only 1.9 miles long, so it isn’t going to take all day to get from beginning to end. In fact, we estimate that it should only take about 50 minutes to finish the entire trail. The terrain is easy to navigate, well-maintained, and in excellent condition. The only problem is that it’s also closed at the moment because of Covid 19.

Sweetwater Wetlands Park – This Public Park Is Free to Enter

The thing I find most fascinating about Sweetwater Wetlands Park is that visitors have categorized and documented around 300 different bird species visiting the area since 1998. And since it’s right near downtown Tucson, the entire area is easily accessible to anyone. In fact, it’s considered one of the hottest birding locations in the region.
Location:

2511 West Sweetwater Dr.
Tucson, AZ 85745
Phone: 520-791-4331

GPS: 29.6174° N, 82.3221° W

Hours Of Operation:

Sweetwater Wetlands Park opens every Tuesday through Sunday from sunrise to sunset. On Mondays, the location opens up to visitors beginning at 9 AM. They ask visitors to wait until they complete the larvicide application which happens on Monday mornings, which is a very good idea.

Popular Birds Found At This Destination:

  • Ladder-Backed Woodpecker
  • Harris’s Hawk
  • Black-Headed Grosbeak
  • Lucy’s Warbler
  • Marsh Wren
  • Virginia Rail
  • Western Tanager
  • Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher
  • Leased Grebe
  • Vermillion Flycatcher
  • Curve-Billed Thrasher
  • Lazuli Bunting

Hiking Trails:

Like our previously mentioned bird-watching destination, this area is rife with birds, but it isn’t exactly a hiker’s paradise, which is unfortunate. But there is one main hiking trail that goes in a loop, which is relatively easy to navigate but it’s going to take some time for you to get from the start of the loop and all the way back to the finish line.

The important thing to know about this hiking trail includes:

  • Sweetwater Loop – since it’s the only hiking trail in the area, I’m happy to tell you that it’s easy to navigate and it’s well-maintained, so anybody can walk along it without too much trouble because it’s flat. It’s also relatively long for many people, because it’s 3.4 miles in total distance. On average, it will take a typical hiker around an hour and 25 minutes to complete the entire loop from end to end. The best part is there are more than 300 bird species in the area, so there are plenty of wonderful winged creatures to look at and enjoy while hiking.

Bird Watching Destinations In Arizona: Paid Destinations

Grand Canyon National Park – Paid Entrance

One of the astonishing things that I love about Grand Canyon National Park is that it has a North Rim and a South Rim. Most people tend to visit the South rim, but there are many great bird-watching opportunities in either spot. Although let it be known that the North rim is much harder to get to, it’s more secluded, and it’s wilder, which means there’s a plentiful number of birds and other gorgeous wildlife in the area.

Location:

20 South Entrance Rd.
Grand Canyon, AZ 86023
Phone: 928-638-7888

GPS: 36.1069° N, 112.1129° W

Hours Of Operation:

The Grand Canyon National Park is a state park, which means it’s open 24 hours a day no matter what day of the week it happens to be. And even better, it’s open on weekends, holidays, and every other day of the year.



Entrance Fees:

  • Individual Permit for $20 – this permit is for individuals visiting via shuttle bus, bicycle, walking, rafting, or via Grand Canyon Railway. Persons 15 years of age or younger get in for free. Everyone else must pay the $20 entrance fee.
  • Motorcycle Permit for $30 – this permit is for an eligible individual driving a noncommercial, private motorcycle with passengers. 
  • Vehicle Permit for $35 – this admittance fee is for a noncommercial private vehicle and all of its passengers. Organized large groups will not be eligible for a vehicle permit.

Hiking Trails:

As you can imagine, the Grand Canyon National Park is humongous and it’s filled with a plethora of hiking trails of varying degrees of difficulty. In fact, there are 124 named trails
throughout the national park, but I’m only going to share my top 25 with you below. 

The names and other pertinent information about these hiking trails include:

  • South Kaibab Trail to Ooh Aah Point – moderate difficulty, 1.7 miles, 45 minutes to complete
  • South Kaibab Trail to Skeleton Point – hard difficulty, 5.8 miles, three hours to complete
  • Grand Canyon Rim: Mules to Mather Point – easy difficulty, 6 miles, two hours and 25 minutes to complete
  • Plateau Point Trail Via Bright Angel Trail – hard difficulty, 13.3 miles, seven hours to complete
  • Grand Canyon Rim Trail – easy difficulty, 12.7 miles, five hours and 10 minutes to complete
  • Bright Angel Point Trail – easy difficulty, 0.9 miles, 30 minutes to complete
  • Rim to Rim: North Kaibab to Bright Angel – hard difficulty, 27.3 miles, multi-day hiking trail
  • Grand Canyon Rim: Village to Hermit’s Rest – easy difficulty, 17 miles, six hours to complete
  • Cape Royal Trail – easy difficulty, 1 mile, 30 minutes to complete
  • Hermit Trail – hard difficulty, 17.5 miles, 10 hours to complete
  • North Kaibab Trail to Supai Tunnel and Coconino Overlook – moderate difficulty, 3.7 miles, 2 ½ hours to complete
  • Transept Trail – moderate difficulty, 2.9 miles, one hour and 20 minutes to complete
  • Grandview Loop Trail – hard difficulty, 12.5 miles, seven hours and 45 minutes to complete
  • Cape Final – easy difficulty, 4 miles, one hour and 55 minutes to complete
  • North Kaibab Trail to Colorado River – hard difficulty, 28 miles, multi-day hiking trail
  • Coconino Overlook – easy difficulty, 1.3 miles, 40 minutes to complete
  • Hopi Point Trail – moderate difficulty, 3.8 miles, one hour and 35 minutes to complete
  • Grand Canyon S. Rim Scenic Dr.: Cameron to Grand Canyon Village – easy difficulty, 55 miles via automobile
  • Tanner Trail – hard difficulty, 16.9 miles, nine hours and 50 minutes to complete
  • Uncle Jim Trail – easy difficulty, 4.7 miles, two hours and 25 minutes to complete
  • Boucher Trail to Hermit Trail Loop – hard difficulty, 20.2 miles, multi-day hiking experience
  • Phantom Ranch to Phantom Overlook – moderate difficulty, 2.4 miles, one hour to complete
  • Ribbon Falls from the North Rim Via North Kaibab Trail – hard difficulty, 16.8 miles, 10 hours and 25 minutes to complete
  • Grand Canyon Greenway to Rim Trail – easy difficulty, 4.9 miles, one hour and 55 minutes to complete
  • Tanner Trail to Grandview Trail to Grandview Point – hard difficulty, 31.6 miles, multi-day hiking experience

Arizona Birdwatching Clubs

The state of Arizona is truly a special place to visit, or live in, if you happen to love birdwatching and all things birding-related. Not only can you see and appreciate the sights and sounds of the Grand Canyon and all of the lovely wildlife that it has to offer, there are also national parks, forests, and other desert habitats that are perfect for birds and other natural wildlife.

Better yet, even with so many beautiful birds to view in this incredible state, it’s often more fun to get together with other like-minded individuals and avid birders to experience birdwatching at a higher level. You can join one of the amazing birdwatching communities that I’m about to share with you below, and I highly recommend getting involved in community events and other birdwatching related activities

Desert Rivers Audubon Society


The best thing about joining this chapter of the Arizona Audubon Society is they are responsible for covering a great many counties. They currently serve Chandler, Mesa, Gilbert, San Tan Valley, Apache Junction, Queen Creek, and part of Maricopa County as well. 

This organization has a regular newsletter, the Desert Rivers Audubon Magazine, regular events, field trips, bird walks, a kids club, a nature store, and so much more. It’s truly the perfect birding club to join if you live in the area and want to connect with other like-minded birders to participate in fun-filled events and field trips.

Contact Info:

Membership Contact Page: http://www.desertriversaudubon.org/contacts.html

Mailing Address:

Desert Rivers Audubon Society
137 East Elliot Rd. #2298
Gilbert, AZ 85299

Past and Future Events

  • Gilbert Family Bird Walks – this recurring event takes place once a month on the third Saturday from October through March. Each one of these bird walks is free and they are located at the Gilbert Riparian Preserve. This fun birding adventure is great for kids and adults alike, because there’s an opportunity to see more than 200 different bird species at this location. And the East Valley is considered one of the best birding hotspots in the area. These events start at 8 AM and last until noon every third Saturday of the month.
  • Chandler Family Bird Walks – this event is very similar to the previous one except it’s held on the first Saturday of every month from 8 AM until noon. And these birding trips take place from November through April each year. The group will get together and visit Veterans Oasis Park in Chandler. Everyone will have an opportunity to view many dozens if not hundreds of different birds on these early-morning hiking excursions on the weekend. It’s a fun filled trip for everyone and the kids really seem to love spending time in nature with family members and friends.

Membership Fees:

Becoming a member of the Desert Rivers Audubon Society is very easy to accomplish. They have a convenient webpage that you can visit right here. On that page, they share the steps that you need to take to either join or renew your membership and become an avid member of this community.

If you intend to join Desert Rivers for the first time, the membership fees at each level are as follows:

  • Individual Membership – $30
  • Family Membership – $50
  • Student and Senior Citizen 65+ Membership – $25
  • Senior Couple Membership – $40
  • Corporate Membership – $300 +

Joining this group at any of these membership levels gives you complete access to various events, meetings, newsletters, magazines, and everything else involved with this incredible organization.

Tucson Audubon Society


Avid birders in the Tucson area will definitely have a remarkable and wonderful experience when they finally join the Tucson Audubon Society. The mission of this organization is to bring people together to enjoy and experience birding at the highest level. They focus on education, recreation, restoration, protection, and keeping the environment safe for birds, wildlife, and human beings for many years to come.

The best way to get involved with this prestigious organization is to join their cause and become a member. I will share more about their membership in a different section below.

Contact Info:

Tucson Audubon Society
300 E. University Blvd., #120
Tucson, AZ 85705
Phone: 520-629-0510
Email: [email protected]

Past and Future Events:

  • Sweetwater Wetlands – the Tucson Audubon Society is going to visit this popular birding hotspot on Wednesday, July 28 beginning at 6 AM. If you’d like to go on this trip, please visit the following page and add your name to the waitlist. The event is being led by Luke Safford and Thomas Brown, and you’ll see many exciting bird species hiding in the reeds of this enchanting birding hotspot. You’ll walk through marshes, wetlands, and more to see waterfowl and other gorgeous birds.
  • Southeast Arizona Birding Festival – this birding event is being held in person and online virtually this year. It takes place from August 11-15, 2021, and it costs $20 to register for the event. You’ll have a chance to see more than 230 bird species and participate in activities, cultural field trips, workshops, photography, guided birding, nature presentations, and so much more. It’s truly going to be the birding event of the year in Southeast Arizona, so you should definitely check it out if you love everything about birdwatching in this beautiful state.
  • Empire Gulch Field Trip – this field trip is being held on Thursday, August 12 from 6 AM to 11 AM. It costs $30 per person, so it isn’t free, but it’s definitely worth it. You’ll take a moderately difficult trek and walk across some uneven rocky terrain and also plenty of flat hiking trails at the same time. As you walk through the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area, you’ll have an opportunity to see many different types of birds including Summer Tanager, Yellow Warbler, Blue Grosbeak, and Gray Hawks to name a few of the many bird species in the area.

Membership Fees:

It’s very easy to become a member of the Tucson Audubon Society. As long as you’re willing to join in and participate, they’ll be glad to have you as one of their newest members.

Membership levels and prices are as follows:

  • Introductory Friend – $35
  • Individual Friend – $45
  • Family Friend – $60
  • Contributor – $100
  • Sponsor – $250
  • Guardian – $500
  • Steward – $1000
  • Leadership Circle – $2500

If you’re ready to join, please visit this page to fill out the membership application and submit your details. If you need to renew your membership, please visit this page and follow the renewal prompts. Or, if you’d like to send a gift to the Tucson Audubon Society, please send your gift via this page here.

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