Perhaps you have glanced the name Boyce Thompson on the internet while researching your Arizona trip. Or you have friends who have visited and you have yet to make it out there. Either way, this unique garden will have caught your eye both for its exceptional aesthetic and rave reviews. But it is far from all the big Arizona cities. Phoenix proper is about an hour away and Tucson is even further. So, is Boyce Thompson Arboretum worth visiting when the Desert Botanical Garden is closer? Is it worth the drive is explore a spot that’s not quite so famous?
My immediate answer is yes! If you have an appreciation for plants, and the weather cooperates for you, there is no question that you should try to give this spot some of your time. Not only is Boyce home to an exceptional collection of desert plants from around the world, but it is nestled in a landscape you won’t see anywhere else. It also has extensive hiking trails for the adventurous among you. And the Arboretum is perfect for people traveling with small kids or just looking for a more relaxed experience. With its historic buildings, stone mazes, and verdant main grounds, this place will open your eyes even before you buy your ticket.
Learn more about visiting Boyce Thompson Arboretum in this short guide to Central Arizona’s secret, garden paradise.
Is Boyce Thompson Arboretum Worth Visiting?
I know that I already said yes above, but if you are still on the fence about making the drive, I want to give you a list of reasons that you should try to take this day trip from Phoenix, AZ if you can.
- There is no other garden in the world like this one. The Desert Botanical Garden might have a similar collection of desert plants from around the world. And there might be other gardens with hiking trails. But nowhere else has the grounds and views that Boyce does. At the foot of the towering Picketpost Mountain, the Arboretum trails weave their way through rock formations that are alive with Sonoran Desert flora and fauna. All the while, historic buildings look down on visitors from cliffside perches, or peek out from shallow caves.
- No matter what kind of group you are traveling with, Boyce will make everyone but an ardent outdoor hater happy. The kids will have fun exploring historic buildings, rope bridges, and rock mazes. (Let’s be honest, so will the adults). Hikers can spend hours out on the trails. Photographers can play with both close-up images and landscape captures. Folks who can’t walk far can enjoy the immediate beauty of the garden. And solo travelers can comfortably take it all in at their own pace.
- Visiting Boyce Thompson Arboretum is a great way to introduce yourself to the Sonoran Desert. Yes, they have plants from all around the world. But they also showcase Arizona plants and in the most exceptional way imaginable. You can see the Sonoran Desert in its full glory here. And besides connecting with the ecology of Arizona, there is a lot of history to be uncovered in this garden as well.
Boyce Thompson: The Main Trail
If you are open to a nice walk, but aren’t looking to set out on the more rugged trails in the Arboretum, you have a couple options. One is to just explore the walking paths near the visitor center. There are many branching routes that you can take at your leisure. And there is even a greenhouse near the front of the garden that I really adore.
But you might also consider walking the main loop trail of the Arboretum. This will take you through some of the main highlights of the park. This is what I did most recently, and we found that it was a nice middle-ground for the hikers and non-hikers in our group. This trail is about 1.5 miles on a route that consists of wide, well-packed tracks. There is a little incline towards the middle of the trail, but otherwise nothing too challenging.
You will also get to see all the best stuff that will have you agreeing with my answer to the question – is Boyce Thompson Arboretum worth visiting?
Some of these highlights include:
- The green house!
- The Clevenger House which is a pioneer structure that was built in a shallow cave.
- The suspension bridge.
- Queen Creek!
- The man-made Ayer Lake, which reflects the kind of dreaming and landscape manipulation that we would never consider these days.
- Boojum Cove!
Point being, if you can make it through this trail, you will get to see a lot of the things that make Boyce unique. There are also some great birding spots along this route, if you are able to come early enough to avoid the more crowded times of the day.
Now, regardless of whether you are just going to do this main trail, or you are wanting to hike more when you are visiting Boyce Thompson Arboretum – you should do the main trail in its entirety. There are just too many cool things along the way for you to miss it!
Boyce Thompson for Hikers
In addition to the main loop, there are a lot of hiking options that should inform your thoughts on the question – is Boyce Thompson Arboretum worth visiting? First, there is the Wallace Main Trail, which is a relatively easy route that you can add onto your itinerary if you are just looking for an additional loop. There are a couple gazebos that you can visit while walking in this area, and the trail will take you across Queen Creek twice. (Super fun!)
For folks looking for a little more of a challenge, or a more rugged hike, you will also notice several yellow trails on the Boyce map. These are their more wild and steep trails. There are two loops that come off of the Wallace Trail as well as a couple short loops that branch from the main trail.
Most exceptional though is the trail that you can take to or from the suspension bridge, along the edge of Queen Creek. What’s super beautiful about this trail is that it braves some of the rolling, stone formations so that you can get up-close and personal with the beautiful, lichen covered rocks of this area. Of course, it also showcases the natural beauty of the Sonoran Desert.
If you are a hiker and you take this day trip from Phoenix, AZ, consider checking out these trails. You can spend so much more time at the garden by exploring these routes. And it’s great to appreciate the beautiful natural scenery of this area as well. I’m telling you, it is special.
Lunch Stop in Superior, AZ
While visiting Boyce Thompson Arboretum, you should definitely think about stopping at the nearby town of Superior. This is a historic mining town, and while it isn’t super big and popping, there are some great little shops and food stops.
When I last visited, my family and I visited the Silver King Smokehouse and Saloon for lunch. After a bad experience at a saloon in Tombstone, I had all but sworn them off. But I am so glad that we gave this place a try. They have pretty great reviews on Google, and the people were not wrong.
We all ordered the pulled pork sandwiches, so I can’t speak to their other options. But darn if we didn’t all enjoy our meal. Considering that some of my family are very picky eaters, I think I can safely say that Silver King Smokehouse does a great job with its food. It’s tasty, high quality, and local!
Please include Superior as an additional consideration for our thesis question – is Boyce Thompson Arboretum worth visiting? Because the answer continues to be YES.
Need to Know Information
Of course, when planning your day trip from Phoenix, AZ, you will want to be knowing how expensive it is to visit! As of 2023, adult tickets are about $25. Children ages 5-12 is $10. They do have seasonal hours, so make sure you are going when they are open. Please check their website for the most up-to-date information. Their hours in the summer are shorter than in the winter due to the heat. They also only have food and beverage onsite on the weekend from 8:30-2:30p.
In order to get to Boyce Thompson Arboretum, you will basically need to find your way to the 60. If you are traveling from Phoenix, you will head southeast on this freeway. And if you are coming from Tucson, you will take the 79 north to connect up with the 60. Then the arboretum is just outside of Superior, on the south side of the highway. Keep your eyes peeled for signage or use the good old Google maps.
Logistics are an important park of the calculation for what your answer is for – is Boyce Thompson Arboretum worth visiting?
Dehydration and You
While it might seem a little strange, there are safety considerations for visiting Boyce. That isn’t to say that the park doesn’t do a great job taking care of its guests, but Arizona is a unique backdrop that many visitors are unprepared for. It is easy to become dehydrated at any time of year in this part of the world. The air is dry and the sun is powerful. So, please come prepared with your re-useable water bottle full of water, and make sure to drink while you are out on the trails.
This is particularly important in the summer. I have gotten very dehydrated at the smaller Desert Botanical Garden when visiting in the summer. It’s just too easy to head out on the trails at a garden and not worry about the supplies that you need to bring with you. It feels like such a tame and safe area. But physics doesn’t take a break while we are on vacation.
When I worked at the Garden, our rangers had to work very hard to help people who accidentally got dehydrated and overheated in the summer. So, besides bringing water with you (and drinking it), be choosy about when you visit. If you are in Arizona in the summer and you want to do Boyce, try to make it out in the early morning, right when they open.
More On Exploring Arizona
Arizona has amazing things to see, experience, and eat in every little corner. If you want to explore more of the state, from trails in Phoenix, to restaurants in Jerome and Bisbee, check out our Guide to Arizona.
Want to save this for later? Consider pinning it!