Boyce Thompson Arboretum – A Must See

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Sometimes it can seem like Arizona has a different state park around every corner, but trust us when we say that Boyce Thompson Arboretum is different. This arboretum is no longer a state park but is specifically set up to showcase around 4,000 different plant species from desert regions of the Southwest United States, Mexico, and around the globe. Visitors are invited to meander throughout the 326-acre site at the foot of the Superstition Mountains at their own pace. Not only are you sure to learn something at Boyce Thompson Arboretum, but you’re also bound to enjoy yourself while doing so!

Keep reading through this article to find out more about what Boyce Thompson Arboretum is known for, the park’s must-see sights, hiking trails, open hours, entrance fees, and nearby campgrounds and accommodations.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

1. What is Boyce Thompson Arboretum Known For?

Boyce Thompson Arboretum is the largest and oldest botanical garden in the state of Arizona. The arboretum is located in the Upper Sonoran Desert, just a short one hour drive down Highway 60 from Phoenix, and has been open to the public since 1929. The purpose of this “park” is to promote an appreciation of plants through educational, recreational, research, and conservation-based opportunities. 

Simply put, the Boyce Thompson Arboretum is a “living museum” with a wide variety of desert gardens showing off seasonal beauty for visitors to admire year-round. The arboretum is well known around the world for its different seasons, bird watching, wildlife, and events.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Changing Seasons

Believe it or not, over 2,600 species of plants from AROUND THE WORLD can be found within Boyce Thompson Arboretum. Agaves, aloes, boojum trees, cork oaks, jujube trees, legume trees, red gum Eucalyptus trees, cacti, and succulents all grow inside the park. No matter what time of year you visit, Boyce Thompson Arboretum won’t disappoint. It changes with the seasons and always has something beautiful to offer.

  • Spring – Budding life and colorful vibrancy bursts across the park as a variety of wildflowers and cacti bloom.
  • Summer – Both exotic and native cacti show off some of the most beautiful cacti blooms in the world. The park’s Saguaro and Cardon cacti bear fruit during the first months, and Opuntia grows its renowned “prickly pears” in the later months.
  • Fall and Winter – Many of Boyce Thompson’s trees and plants turn colors during the fall and winter. It can feel like an entirely different park than during the spring and summer months!

Regardless of which season you decide to visit Boyce Thompson, always make sure you prepare yourself appropriately. In the summer, make sure to pack plenty of water. In the fall and winter, bring layers of clothing to adjust based on temperatures. 

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Bird Watching and Wildlife

Boyce Thompson Arboretum is located between two bodies of water. For this reason, the park attracts a wide array of Sonoran Desert wildlife and migrating birds. In fact, the Audubon Society has designated Boyce Thompson Arboretum as an Important Bird Area. There are over 270 bird species that have been spotted in the park. 

There are no captive animals at Boyce Thompson, but there are dozens of native species that have been spotted in the gardens. Every year, visitors report seeing bobcats, javelinas, coatimundis, rattlesnakes, gila monsters, hawks, hummingbirds, and vultures during their time at the arboretum.  


Over the last ninety years, Boyce Thompson Arboretum has cultivated an impressive membership program and events calendar with something going on every month of the year. Visitors are welcome to partake in general tours, photo clubs, bird watching, lizard spotting, butterfly observing, and a number of other educational tours and events.

You do not have to be a member to enjoy the park’s educational programming, but members do gain free unlimited entry to the park and are granted access to special events like the annual Spring Plant Sale. Other annual events include the Fall Color Festival in late November, Australia Day in January, Herb Festival in October, South Africa Day in February, and more. The Arboretum currently has over 5,000 members and attracts over 75,000 visitors every year! 

2. Top Spots to See in Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Lucky for you, Boyce Thompson Arboretum provides an efficient and effective way to see all of the must-see spots within the park on your own schedule. Visitors are invited to walk a 1.5-mile loop that will lead them through each of the must-see exhibits, as well as the visitor center.


Boyce Thompson Arboretum is known for its exhibits showcasing Arizona-native plants, as well as plants from around the globe. Here are a few examples of what you’ll have a chance to experience throughout the park’s loop trail:

  • Cactus Garden featuring bizarre shapes in cacti
  • Shaded trees in Queen Creek Canyon
  • Palm and eucalyptus groves with one of the largest red gum eucalyptus trees in the United States (known as “Mr. Big”)
  • Australian plants exhibit including trees and shrubs native to the Land Down Under
  • South American plants exhibit
  • Aloe garden
  • Herb garden
  • Children’s Garden providing hands-on activities such as digging for buried treasure

A full day is encouraged to see each of the exhibits in detail.

Visitor Center

Before you leave, be sure to swing by the visitor center! Here, you’ll find more educational exhibits and a gift shop with drinks, bottled water, snacks, books, prints, posters, and seed packets. You can also purchase cactus, other succulents, trees, shrubs, ground covers, and herbs to take home and make your own.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

3. Hiking and Trails Information

In addition to the circular 1.5-mile trail loop that showcases Boyce Thompson Arboretum’s exhibits, there are a handful of other trails available within the state park as well. Most of these shoot off from the main loop trail and can be located on the Boyce Thompson Arboretum park map. We recommend asking a park ranger or staff member for their recommendations, but here are some examples:

  • High Trail a rugged half-mile trail through the Upper Sonoran Natural Area.
  • Magma Ridge Trail – quick .02 mile side trail to observe funky rock formations and volcanic cliffs.
  • Curandero Trail – 0.3-mile trail near the visitor center that exhibits native medicinal and edible plants. 

Boyce Thompson is located at the base of Picketpost Mountain and its massive presence dominates the view to the south of the Arboretum. For those who are looking for a more intense day hike, you can find longer developed trails such as the Arizona Trail and the trail to the summit at Picketpost Mountain. These more intense trails can be accessed from Highway 60 just west of Boyce Thompson Arboretum; there is no direct access from the park to these other trails that exist outside of the grounds.

4. Park and Camping Information

Park Hours

Boyce Thompson Arboretum operates on an alternating schedule between summer and winter. From May through September, the park is open daily from 6:00 am to 3:00 pm with final admission at 2:00 pm. From October through April, the park is open daily from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm with the last admission at 4:00 pm. Visitors are strongly encouraged to arrive at least two hours before closing in order to see the gardens.

Entrance Fees

  • General Admission: $15
  • Children Admission (Ages 5-12): $5
  • Member Admission: $0
  • Medical Professional Admission (through summer 2020): $0


While there is no camping available inside of Boyce Thompson Arboretum, there are plenty of camping opportunities nearby! Superior RV Park (open to tent campers too) is just two miles east of the Arboretum on Highway 60. The Tonto National Forest also has campsites available seven miles east of Boyce Thompson at the wonderful Oak Flat Campground. If you’re willing to travel a little further, Arizona’s Lost Dutchman State Park also has campsites available about 30 miles from Boyce Thompson.

5. Where to Stay

Looking for a bed-and-breakfast, hotel, or motel to stay overnight near Boyce Thompson? Easy! For those who are looking for a romantic getaway, Gold Canyon Golf Resort is just 25 miles west of the state park and has 83 hillside casitas, many with private Jacuzzi rooms. The Noftsger Hill Inn Bed-N-Breakfast is another great choice about 40 minutes east of the Arboretum in the historic mining community of Globe, Arizona. 

If you’re looking for simpler nearby accommodation, we recommend checking out the options available in Globe, Arizona or Gold Canyon, Arizona. Phoenix is also just about an hour away.

No matter how long you stay in the area, we’re sure you’ll find Boyce Thompson Arboretum to be a very special place. And the best part is that its scenery is always changing! Swing by in the summer to enjoy vibrant colors and come back in the winter to enjoy a brisk walk; the landscape may change, but Boyce Thompson will always be just as incredible as you remembered.