Tucked in the foothills of the Whetstone Mountains of Coronado National Forest, Kartchner Caverns State Park is only a short drive from Tucson but you'll feel like you're worlds away. Experience the dark skies and deep caverns as you step into the abyss and enjoy this unique Arizona state park for yourself.
With 62 campsites, big rig access, tent camping, cabins, and more, Kartchner Caverns State Park provides a variety of accommodations. Kartchner Caverns boasts hiking and biking trails, cave exploration, and stargazing. Karchner Caverns State Park is recognized as a Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association and is famous for its lack of light pollution, renowned by astronomers and amateur stargazers for its astonishingly bright display of the cosmos.
RV campers will appreciate well-paved, flat roads, broad sweeping turns, and ample parking. A relatively small campground area provides a tight-knit community feel. Gather around the campfire for dinner, then go to sleep to the coyote's howl. Rise again to sun draped mountains and grand, open skies. Whether you require a brief respite or a place to drop anchor and stay for a while, Kartchner Caverns State Park fits the bill.
Kartchner Caverns State Park provides easy access, ample parking, and well-paved roads. RV campers will appreciate the broad, sweeping turns, large pull-off area, and general layout of the campground area. The roads within the park are minimal, reducing the chances you might get turned around, and getting to the park entrance couldn't be easier, as it is well marked and directly off of Arizona Highway 90.
Located right after the entrance, the main parking area is large enough for the typical traffic this park receives, even in peak months. Continuing on, campers will find a pull-off dump station at the southernmost tip of the park, before the campground. The campground area is consolidated, the cabins are right near the turn-in, and both back-in and pull-through sites are sprinkled about.
Kartchner Caverns State Park has no vehicle or driving restrictions, and campsites provide plenty of room for both your rig and your haul vehicle. Nearby, Tucson offers a brilliant culture, food, and drink. Or if you need to gear up and resupply, the small towns of Benson and Sierra Vista are only 20 and 30 minutes away, respectively.
Located off of the main parking and campground areas, trail access is very easy to find. And, when you're ready to dive into the darkness and visit the cave, you can hike there or drive back toward the entrance where the tram road takes you right to the visitor area.
Benson KOA is conveniently located just a mile off the interstate in a quiet desert valley near Tombstone, Bisbee, Kartchner Caverns, Chiricahua National Monument, and the burial site of Apache Chief Cochise in Cochise Stronghold. RV sites include full hookups with cable and Wi-Fi. Some sites are designed for pull-throughs and some have gravel site pads. The campground features restrooms and showers, laundry facilities, a seasonal pool, a hot tub, miniature golf, a Kamping Kitchen, a playground, recreational facilities, a dump station, and more. Stay in comfort, spend time in the park, and then check out nearby towns like Bisbee or Tombstone. Relive the Old West in the stomping grounds of Wyatt Earp before returning to the park to explore the caves. Staying at KOA will make your southwest experience easy.
With 62 campsites, including cabins, RV sites, and tent sites, Kartchner Caverns State Park provides a variety of options regardless of your preference. Most campsites have a paved pad, picnic table, water hookups, and electric hookups. There are three ADA-accessible sites, as well as 12 pull-through sites and 43 other sites. Sites vary from 35 to 60 feet in length and have plenty of room for pop-outs.
All registered campers have access to restroom facilities with hot water and showers, as well as bottled water vending machines. There are dishwashing sinks located on the rear, east side of the campground. Do beware, there is a 14-night stay limit within any 30-day period. Also, the entrance gate closes every night at 10 p.m.
Although reservations are recommended for RV sites, tent campers arriving before 5 p.m. can select an unreserved site on a first-come, first-served basis.
Cabins at Kartchner Caverns sleep six comfortably. Each two-room cabin includes a queen bed and two sets of twin bunk beds. These modern cabins come with amenities such as heat, air conditioning, a small refrigerator, and a microwave oven. Fire pits and BBQ grills are supplied at each cabin. Restrooms and showers, however, are not provided in the cabins, but are within walking distance.
Sit on the front porch after a fun-filled day in the caves and watch an Arizona sunset before spending a restful night in the comfort of one of these adorable cabins. Be sure to make a reservation well in advance during the peak cabin season of May through December. Additionally, you will need to bring your own linens and specialized cooking utensils. Cabins are conveniently located near park attractions, so you won't have far to walk to enjoy all the park has to offer.
Hopefully you packed your mountain bike in your RV because Kartchner Caverns State Park has one of the most beautiful biking trails you've never pedaled. While many of the trails are shared and non-motorized, the one that stands out for biking is the Guindani Trail. The trailhead is on the west end of the main access road, at the Upper Volunteer Village. The trail winds its way out of park boundaries, through the Whetstone Mountains, and into Coronado National Forest. If the four-mile loop doesn't suffice, pick up a trail map and continue onto Cottonwood Saddle Trail and beyond. Make sure to carry sufficient water with you as this beautiful trail is in the desert.
Ready to dust your boots? Fantastic, since Kartchner Caverns State Park has plenty of trails to explore. From the two-mile Foothills Loop Trail, you can make your way to the scenic Mountain Viewpoint, or branch out for a more challenging hike on the 4.2-mile Guindani Trail. Or if you want a peaceful walk without running into any cyclers or motorized vehicles, hike the foot-traffic-only Ocotillo Trail, which covers roughly 3.2 miles of beautiful desert terrain. In addition, there are trails connecting the parking area to different sections of the campground if you just want to get off the beaten path for a walkabout.
The park's main attraction, of course, is the pristine Kartchner Caverns. Discovered by Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts in 1974, the caverns are now a protected conservation area. Head over for a guided cave tour of the Big Room and Rotunda-Throne Room, which is considered one of the best Arizona state park attractions. Witness limestone formations that have been growing for many thousands of years, including one of the world's longest soda straw stalactites, standing at a staggering 21 feet and three inches long. If you're lucky, you might get to experience absolute darkness, when your cave guide prepares the group and turns out the cave lighting. The experience is the nearest thing to absolute blindness a sighted person will ever know.
Whether you are catching lunch before a bat cave tour or taking a break from a rigorous bike ride, Kartchner Caverns State Park is the perfect place for a serene desert respite. Outside the Discovery Center, you’ll find a generous concession stand and a covered picnic area surrounding it. You don’t have to buy food at the concession stand to utilize the picnic area though. For a less populated environment, check out the picnic tables near the main parking lot under the shaded cover. Of course, you can always pick a spot along the hiking trails and throw down a blanket for a more natural, secluded experience.
Birding anyone? You've got your work cut out for you. With a 63-entry birding list available at the Discovery Center you will have the opportunity to notch everything from the common dark raven to the rare, elusive peregrine falcon, the fastest animal in the world!
In addition, Kartchner Caverns State Park boasts an impressive biological diversity including gila monsters, plodding tortoises, walking sticks, Mexican free-tailed bats, jackrabbits, coyotes, and deer that are even more likely to be spotted sunning themselves in the cooler winter months.
Mind your step and do not leave pets unattended as the occasional mountain lion and several species of rattlesnakes have also been sighted within park limits and the surrounding area. Do not feed wild animals or birds and avoid leaving food unsecured or unattended.
Visitors will enjoy the Kartchner Caverns Discovery Center, located right next to the main parking area. Inside, you will find incredible science and natural history exhibits as well as good eats at the Bat Cave Cafe. After you fuel up, start the self-guided scavenger hunt. Children can experience crawling through the narrow passages of the caving wall and explore the exhibits in search of scavenger hunt answers to questions like "what do most bats eat?" Quench your youthful passions with this invigorating experience for you and the kids. Visiting the center before exploring the caves will add excitement and interest to an already fabulous spelunking experience as the kids will know exactly what to look out for on their adventure.
Headquartered in nearby Tucson, the International Dark-Sky Association (IDSA) has granted Kartchner Caverns State Park the "One Star at a Time" award. Along with Alamo Lake State Park, Kartchner Caverns was the first state park in the United States to receive this great honor. Recognized by the IDSA as an International Dark Sky Park, Kartchner Caverns State Park provides unparalleled access to the cosmos. The IDSA defines an International Dark Sky Park as public land with an exceptional view of starry skies due to the lack of light pollution from nearby cities that inhibit the brightness of stars visible to the naked eye. So, turn out the lights in your camper, and turn your eyes to the skies for a live-stream like nothing you've ever witnessed. For an even better show, pack your mini-telescope and see how many constellations you can identify.
If you are lucky enough to be visiting from early March to mid-April, you will want to catch the return of the bats! While the snow is still falling in the Whetstones, the bats begin their trek back to the caves of Kartchner. Rangers believe the bats may winter in the Huachuca Mountains before returning to Kartchner Caverns to spend the summer and have their offspring. Some 1,500 bats spend the summer in Kartchner Caverns, but you might see them taking wing at the end of winter and the beginning of spring heading back to the caves. Be sure to bring your camera in case you get to witness this spectacular event.