Pima County is a county in the south central region of the U.S. state of Arizona. As of the 2010 census, the population was 980,263, making it Arizona’s second-most populous county.
The county seat is Tucson, where nearly all of the population is centered. The county is named after the Pima Native Americans who are indigenous to this area.
Originally founded as a Mormon settlement in 1879, Pima was originally called Smithville, after Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church.
With just shy of 3,000 residents, Pima is located in southeastern Arizona’s Graham County near its border with New Mexico.
Pima County comprises the Tucson, AZ Metropolitan Statistical Area. Pima County contains parts of the Tohono O’odham Nation, as well as all of the San Xavier Indian Reservation, the Pascua Yaqui Indian Reservation, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Ironwood Forest National Monument and Saguaro National Park.
The vast majority of the county population lies in and around the city of Tucson, filling much of the eastern part of the county with urban development. Tucson, Arizona’s second largest city, is a major commercial and academic center. Other urban areas include the Tucson suburbs of Oro Valley, Marana, Sahuarita, and South Tucson, a large ring of unincorporated urban development, and the growing satellite town Green Valley.
Though typically Pima is just a town most visitors pass through on their way elsewhere, the town and area have some interesting and unique historic and natural sites, including massive and majestic national and state parks that are just a few hour’s drive away.
Below are things to do in Pima, Arizona.
1. Eastern Arizona Museum
Located on North Main Street, the Eastern Arizona Museum’s exhibits largely focus on Graham County’s history – from the pre-settlement days to the modern era.
The items on display include historic photographs, mining tools, Native American artifacts, and historical documents, many of which are from the 1800s when Arizona was a territory before it became a state.
The museum is a great place to start your Pima adventure; if possible, check it out first to get a complete overview of the area’s history and culture.
Admission is inexpensive and it’s conveniently located downtown.
2. Discovery Park
Located on South 20th Avenue, Discovery Park is one of those convenient and free places that you’ll want to enjoy when in the Pima area.
The park is full of displays – many of which are geared towards kids. Perhaps the most interesting part is the space shuttle simulator which will give you a tour of the solar system that’s truly a one-of-a-kind experience.
There’s also an observatory and movie room onsite. If you’d like to get outdoors and stretch those legs, there’s an area in the park’s lower portion where you can relax by a pond, feed some ducks and check out some cool fish.
3. Pima Air and Space Museum
If airplanes and spacecraft from bygone eras get your heart racing, then a trip to Pima Air and Space Museum is one of the things to do in Pima that you won’t want to miss.
Located in Tucson, the 127-acre site boasts 300 aircraft of nearly every shape and size.
It’s also home to the Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame, which is a particularly interesting segment of aviation history showcasing the role Arizona played in the industry’s development.
Perhaps the most spectacular exhibit is the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane, which routinely flew over the Soviet Union at speeds approaching 2,500 miles an hour.
4. Roper Lake State Park
Despite being one of the driest states in the country, Arizona is home to a surprising number of lakes and reservoirs that are big attractions for outdoor lovers.
Roper Lake has over 30 acres of surface area and is located on U.S. Route 91 near the town of Safford.
The lake is really a manmade reservoir created by the state in the early ‘70s.
Amenities include a boat launching ramp, picnic areas, a campground and even cabins that are available to rent.
Admission is dirt-cheap and the lake is filled with lots of game fish if you’d like to wet a line. Source: Roper Lake State Park / Facebook
5. City of Safford
Though many of Arizona’s rustic cowboy towns are turning into boringly modern tracts of non-distinct homes and businesses, Safford has largely clung to its roots and charm.
With a population of about 10,000, the City of Safford is Graham County’s county seat and one of those cool places you should check out when in the area.
The downtown neighborhood includes a tree-lined park, while the historic, renovated city hall looks like its straight out of a movie from the ‘50s.
You’ll see lots of people wearing cowboy boots and hats, and it’d be worth asking them what to do while in the area. Source: City of Safford / Facebook
6. Indigo Mountain Toy and Gift Shop
Located on West Main Street in nearby Safford, Indigo Mountain Toy and Gift Shop is a quirky and cool, locally-owned business that has been catering to toy lovers of all ages for years.
There are plenty of Arizona trinkets and souvenirs available, as well as health and wellness products like supplements, herbs and natural teas that are purported to aid one’s overall physical and mental health.
Since you’ll probably be in Safford anyway, stop to check it out. You’ll find a lot of wonderful things that you weren’t expecting, and it’s a great place to pick up some gifts for those back home. Source: Indigo Mountain Wellness, Toys & Gifts / Facebook
7. Greenlee County Historical Museum
Located in the tiny town of Clifton, Arizona, the Greenlee County Historical Museum is located in a historic building that was built in the early part of the 18th century; it is a great example of western-American architecture.
Exhibits include documents, photos, books and artifacts from the area’s pioneer era, and include the nearby towns of Morenci and Metcalf.
Be sure to check out the gift shop before heading out; it’s got some great books that are among the most thorough accounts of the region’s history.
There are also portions dedicated to contemporary Arizonans like Sandra Day O’Conner.
8. Morenci Pool and Aquatic Center
Not surprisingly, due to its brutal sun and stifling heat, Arizona is home to more than its fair share of pools and aquatic centers.
Located in the nearby town of Morenci, Morenci Pool and Aquatic Center is a wonderful place to get some exercise, do a bit of socializing, and learn a thing or two in the process.
Swimming lessons and other classes are offered if you’re interested; there’s even a dedicated area for the little ones called “Splash Zone,” which will keep them engaged for hours.
There are family cabanas, a towering water slide, and a vortex-style wave pool too. Source: morencitown.com
9. Colossal Cave Mountain Park
For a unique experience that you won’t likely forget, head to Colossal Cave Mountain Park in Vail, Arizona. Vail is nestled into southern Arizona’s majestic mountains and surrounded by endless desert vistas that span the horizon.
The park includes nearly 2,500 acres of land. You’ll have the choice of dozens of activities, like taking a guided cave tour, horseback riding, a petting zoo, and even a butterfly garden.
There are picnic areas if you’d like to bring your own food or there’s a nice little café if you’d rather take a load off and let someone else worry about the cooking.
The park is open year-round except for major holidays. Though admission isn’t dirt-cheap, it’s not too expensive either, considering all you’ll have access to.
10. Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area
The Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area lies near the Gila River in the southern Arizona counties of Greenlee and Graham.
Consisting of nearly 25,000 acres of protected land, the conservation area was set aside to protect the rare desert-river environment that is so important to the area’s ecology.
Camping areas are available if you’d like to spend a day or two enjoying the park and there are plenty of well-marked and maintained trails that’ll take you to all of the wonderful things there are to see.
The section of the Gila River in the area is also a hotspot for tubers, kayakers, and those looking to beat the heat with a dip in the refreshing waters.
11. Titan Missile Museum
Located on West Duval Mine Road in Sahuarita, the Titan Missile Museum is a slice of living history paying tribute to the men and machines who guarded the nation around the clock from the threat of nuclear war.
The Titan missiles were America’s cold war sentinels and the largest of the country’s land-based missile defense system.
From the early ‘60s to the late ‘80s, these front-line missiles – that were more than 100 feet long – sat in the Arizona desert waiting for their orders, which thankfully never came.
Guided tours are available, and are usually given by ex-military personnel who worked on the sites.
12. Mount Graham Wilderness Study Area
Located inside the Coronado National Forest, Mount Graham Wilderness area is home to the area’s majestic Mount Graham, towering nearly 11,000 feet over the desert below.
Hiking is a popular way to see the breathtaking sites, and the Arcadia Trail #328 is one of the most used.
Though it’s long and will take an hour or two to complete, the trail will take you through significant changes in elevation and near to Eagle Rock, which is just under 10,000 feet high.
The trails are well-marked and there are restrooms. If you’d like to spend a night or two in a tent under the stars, sites are available at the Shannon Campground.
13. Visit Kartchner Caverns State Park
Located near the town of Benson, Kartchner Caverns offer an absolutely unique and stunning look into a subterranean world that is rarely seen, making them one of those must-see things to do on your trip to Pima and southern Arizona.
The visitor’s center includes a museum full of amazing exhibits and tidbits of geologic history that are really interesting to learn about.
You’ll need to book in advance for a guided tour; during peak times, they fill up quickly, so it’s best to plan ahead and book in advance.
The caves were discovered in the ‘70s by a couple of local spelunkers who were doing a bit of exploring in the Whetstone Mountains and stumbled upon this icon of natural beauty.
14. The Thing
If you’ve ever wondered what ‘The Thing,’ is and why there are so many highways signs about it in southern Arizona, then a trip to Benson may be in order.
At the risk of ruining the whole experience, you may be surprised to discover that ‘The Thing’ is purported to be the centuries-old mummified remains of a mother and child – though some claims it’s a hoax and shameful money-making scheme.
At just $1, it’s worth a look. You may also be surprised to hear that there’s some legend and historical documentation suggesting that in the early years of the 20th century, remains and artifacts were discovered in the Grand Canyon that were very similar to those found in ancient Egypt.