Whether you’re trying to escape the winter's cold, taking a family vacation to the Grand Canyon, or even headed to a summer work conference, Arizona has plenty to offer outdoor enthusiasts. Planning the perfect outdoor excursion can be overwhelming when you’re visiting an area, so Tripping.com is here to save you some time and give you tried and true ideas on where to go for Arizona’s best outdoor activities.
Image Credit: Pete Petrash
1. Arizona Swimming
The summers are hot so it makes sense that there is no shortage of pools in Arizona with many residents having their own in their backyard for convenience, but why swim in a pool if you can get to one of the many great swimming lakes?
Slide Rock, near Flagstaff and Sedona, is one of the most notorious swimming spots for people escaping Arizona’s summer heat. It actually gets so packed that people arrive early to set up spots in the shade for their swimming experience. If you want something a little less crowded, check out Red Rock Crossing. It’s certainly not secluded, but it won’t be as much of a battle for a shady spot.
A bit of a drive and a short hike away from Phoenix, there is Ellinson Creek - which tends to get more traffic on the weekends than weekdays, so if you’re looking for a weekday escape, pack up some good water shoes (chacos or tevas) and take the drive out for this little oasis.
If you’re closer to Tucson, you’re in for a bit of a drive for any of these swimming holes, but they are worth it to escape that summer heat. Many will drive the 200+ miles to Slide Rock State Park, but another noteworthy spot, Hell’s Gate is less than 150 miles away and not as trafficked as it also requires a hike to get to the cool creek.
2. Arizona Hiking
Every year millions of people visit the Grand Canyon for it’s stunning views. Because the rocks are so beautiful, it’s hard to resist the temptation of taking a hike, but Arizona has many other hikes to offer in other areas of the state.
If you’re close to Tucson, Saguara National Park is just a short drive away and has several trails for hiking at varying levels of difficulty. Near Phoenix, you can make a quick escape to Camelback Mountain where you’ll find some gorgeous views of the city along the way. Heading north, hiking at all levels is easy to find in the Flagstaff region, just an hour and a half from the Grand Canyon.
You can hike in Arizona year round but bear in mind, the winter months are cooler throughout the days, while the summers will be hotter, which means getting an early start on summer mornings is a great strategy to prevent getting stuck in scorching temperatures. Regardless of when you decide to take your hike, remember that Arizona is a dry state and be sure to pack plenty of water.
To find the best hike for you, check out everytrail.com or download the app called AllTrails, both of which are great resources for finding hiking based off of distance, difficulty, and location throughout the U.S.
3. Arizona Stargazing
Arizona offers incredible stargazing both in and out of the cities. The best first hand experiences will be outside of the cities and away from the lights, but between Flagstaff’s Atmospheric Research Observatory and Tucson’s Flandrau Science Center offering opportunities to look at the sky from a new perspective, you can have a true outdoor, or outer atmosphere, experience even within the city limits.
If you just want to experience the stars first hand, any of the national and state parks little light pollution and if you want to stay nearer to a town or city, Sedona, AZ is actually ranked #1 in the state for its stargazing since it is a low light community. Even so, if you’re closer to Phoenix, driving on the Sun Valley Parkway, the White Tank Mountains block most of the city lights. Tucson, too, has plenty of opportunities to get out near any of the many observatories in the area where lighting is always kept low for the best astronomical views.
4. Arizona Camping
With all of these fantastic outdoor activities, experience them all by camping in one of the National or State Parks. Plenty of locations offer spots for both luxury RV’s and tents, so whatever your style, this is going to be a surefire way to experience Arizona’s great outdoors.
If the fishing and boating seemed like your ideal vacation, the Bartlett Reservoir is open year round. Saguaro National Park offers camping to go with the lake, where you can also find many trails to hike.
If you are interested in the hiking and rafting of the Grand Canyon, make it into a longer trip and camp, but know that the park only issues 13,000 camping permits each year and applying for permits requires knowing which dates you would like to take your trip. The sooner you apply, the more likely you are to get the dates you desire - but the earliest you can apply four months prior to your desired trip, so start planning early for this experience.
5. Arizona Bird watching
If you’ve never been to Arizona before, one thing you’ll notice is that there is an abundance of delightful birds that will sing sweetly through the days. No matter what time of year you’re in Arizona there will always be opportunities for bird watching, but some months are better than others.
Since birds are migratory based on the season and Arizona has great differences in the seasons, it’s definitely important to take note of which birds will be available during your trip. The winter months from October-April are some of the more quiet months, but still have resident birds to be heard. Between May-August there will be plenty of birds to give a resounding wake-up call, but if you’re after specific birds, like the Yellow Grosbeak, it will be important to research prime times as they make very rare appearances in the summer.
If this is an activity that peaks your interest, try to check out the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory. They can help you out with resources, workshops and even guided tours to help you see the birds you’d most like to find.
6. Arizona Boating
With two of the largest manmade lakes in the country, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, finding a place for boating in Arizona is not difficult. If you aren’t planning to bring your own boat on a trailer, many of the lakes offer rentals of speedboats, jet skis, and pontoons.
Some popular boating lakes near Phoenix include Saguaro Lake, Lake Pleasant and Canyon Lake. These are just a short trip on the city outskirts to provide you with some summer fun.
If you’re looking for more of the full on lake experience, take a trip to Lake Powell, which crosses the border into Utah. This lake is considered the houseboat capital of America as it stretches 188 miles, giving you time to enjoy as many days on the lake as desired.
Even more, lakes along Arizona’s west coast are also large with Lake Havasu being one of the most popular spring destinations in the country.
7. Arizona Fishing
From chub to catfish, Arizona’s lakes provide great success for those looking to fish. Many of the lakes are accessible for both day and overnight trips to give you the optimum fishing experience.
Small lakes surrounding Flagstaff, AZ have great offerings of trout, while the Verde River has more of a variety of catfish and bass. If you mostly have trout on your mind, the Arizona Game and Fish department stocks lakes from April-September. Camping is only available from starting in May, but fishing in Canyon Creek or East Clear Creek would be well worth it in the spring or fall months.
If you plan to fish on your trip, make sure you get a valid fishing license before you cast your line! You can find all of the regulations, and even more tips and locations, you would like to know at the Arizona Fish and Game website.
8. Arizona Rafting
Both locals and tourists agree that rafting is a definite highlight of the Arizona outdoor experience. Some people like to take it easy with tubing along the Salt River while others like the thrill of taking several days to experience the Grand Canyon from the Colorado River.
Better as a summer activity, if you don’t have your own equipment for a tubing or rafting adventure, there are many companies open from May - September that rent out everything from tubes to full on tours. If you are not experienced with rafting, you can take a day trip with a group with an experienced guide to take you through the rapids.
While this is definitely fun way to experience Arizona and cool off - remember to pack extra water and protect your skin from the summer sun!
Arizona’s outdoor activities do not end here, but perhaps this list is just enough inspiration to get you dreaming about that next trip you take. Whether it is incorporating some short activities between meetings or planning a more extended trip, the possibilities for outdoor adventure are endless in Arizona.
This article was written by Kim Cowan.