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Calling adventurous souls! Check out these must-try outdoor activities to truly explore Phoenix!

Hey there, adventurous souls! If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably stood at the edge of Phoenix’s desert landscape, wondering if there’s more to do than just bake under the sun.

Well, I’m here to tell you that Phoenix is packed with thrilling things to do outdoors. Just last weekend, I stumbled upon a hidden waterfall after a hike that felt like a scene out of an Indiana Jones movie—minus the boulder chase, thankfully.

From rock climbing to mountain biking under a sky full of stars, these experiences are the must-try activities that will make you feel like you’ve truly explored Phoenix. So, grab your gear, and let’s dive into the adventures that await in this sun-soaked playground!

1. Explore the Arizona desert through ATV guided tours

Media: azoutdoorfun

The thrill of an ATV tour through Arizona’s rugged Sonoran Desert lets you explore stunning landscapes guided by reputable off-road tour companies. Usually, you’ll traverse the Bradshaw Mountains and rivers for an unforgettable adventure.

Guided by knowledgeable experts, participants can expect to encounter diverse wildlife and learn about the region’s fascinating geological and botanical wonders. One such company offering these immersive experiences is Arizona Outdoor Fun.

During these excursions, riders typically navigate the desert aboard single-rider ATVs, conquering rugged trails and rocky terrains amidst the scenic Bradshaw Mountains. Crossing the Aqua Fria River also adds an extra element of excitement to the journey.

The guides accompanying these tours are well-versed in the area’s plant life, wildlife habitats, and historical significance. Additionally, tour packages often include essential amenities such as helmets, goggles, bottled water, and safety training.

Pro tip:
Familiarize yourself with the ATV’s controls and practice basic maneuvers in a safe area before venturing onto the trails. This will boost your confidence and ensure a smoother ride.

2. Mountain biking at nighttime

Media: Phoenix Bike Park

Nighttime mountain biking is a thrilling way to experience the beauty of Phoenix’s desert landscape. With hundreds of miles of singletrack available, there’s no need to put your bike away during the hot summer months.

Many local bike shops and ride groups organize regular night rides to help cyclists beat the heat. Riding at night offers a unique challenge, allowing intermediate riders to hone their skills and discover a different side of the desert.

McDowell Mountain and San Tan regional parks are popular spots for summer night ride series. Hundreds of riders gather to enjoy the trails under the stars, creating a vibrant and communal atmosphere.

Pro tip:
Being familiar with the trail beforehand makes a big difference. Riding a trail during the day first will help you navigate it more confidently at night. Familiarity with the terrain can also reduce the chances of surprises.

3. Set out on a hike up Camelback Mountain

Media: brendaflows

Located just 20 minutes from downtown Phoenix, Camelback Mountain is a must-visit for hiking enthusiasts. The mountain offers two challenging trails that climb 1,420 feet to a summit, providing stunning 360-degree views of the city below.

Camelback Mountain is part of the Phoenix Mountains Preserve and gets its name from two rock formations that resemble a camel’s head and back. Established as a city park in 1968, it’s located near the Arcadia neighborhood and the town of Paradise Valley.

Phoenix is known for its over 200 miles of trails, making it a hiker’s paradise. Camelback Mountain features some of the most popular and scenic trail systems, catering to hikers of all skill levels, from easy paths to strenuous climbs.

Echo Canyon is a favorite for those seeking a tough workout, offering a 1.23-mile hike that ascends over 1,200 feet to the summit. For those up for a challenge, both Echo Canyon and Cholla Trail are rated extremely difficult.

Pro tip:
Start early in the morning to avoid the intense midday heat. The sunrise views from the trail are absolutely worth the early wake-up call.

4. Catch the sunset at South Mountain

Watching a sunset at South Mountain is one of the most enchanting outdoor activities in Phoenix. For the best experience, drive to the top of South Mountain by heading south on Central Avenue.

The panoramic view from South Mountain is breathtaking. You can see the entire downtown Phoenix skyline and even the University of Phoenix Stadium, over 20 miles away.

As the sun sets and the sky transforms with vibrant colors, the collective awe from the crowd is palpable, much like a Fourth of July celebration. Arriving early is key to securing a good parking spot and the best viewing location.

Pro tip:
Bring a blanket or portable chair as sitting directly on the rocks can get uncomfortable after a while. Having something soft to sit on can make the experience much more enjoyable and relaxing.

5. Discover tranquility at the Japanese Garden

Address: 1125 N 3rd Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85003


Contact Details: +1 602-274-8700, [email protected]

Operating Hours: Monday: Closed, Tuesday-Thursday: 9 AM–4 PM, Friday-Sunday: 9 AM–7 PM

The Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix offers a serene escape from the bustling city life, inviting visitors to immerse themselves in a tranquil oasis. It’s not just a garden but also a cultural gem, providing insights into Japanese traditions and aesthetics.

Ro Ho En, as it’s known in Japanese, features meticulously designed landscapes, complete with stone footbridges, traditional lanterns, and a mesmerizing Koi pond. This 3.5-acre garden showcases over 50 plant varieties curated from Japan.

Exploring the garden is like taking a leisurely stroll through a living artwork, with each element carefully chosen to evoke a sense of peace and harmony. The sound of flowing streams and the sight of colorful Koi fish add to the enchanting atmosphere.

Apart from its visual appeal, the garden also serves as a venue for cultural events such as traditional tea ceremonies. Visitors can partake in these immersive experiences, deepening their understanding of Japanese customs and practices.

Pro tip:
Packing a small picnic can be a delightful addition. There’s nothing like enjoying a snack in such a serene environment, but make sure to check the garden’s rules about where you can eat.

6. Spend a day fishing at Encanto Park

Media: tdlee0856

Address: 2605 N 15th Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85007


Contact Details: +1 602-261-8991, [email protected]

Operating Hours: Monday-Sunday: 5:30 AM–11 PM

Encanto Park in Phoenix offers a diverse range of outdoor activities, making it a favorite spot for locals and visitors alike. Whether you’re an avid angler or simply enjoy spending time in nature, fishing at Encanto Park is a must-try experience.

The park boasts several stocked lakes where you can reel in bass or catfish to your heart’s content. It’s a peaceful setting, perfect for unwinding and enjoying a leisurely day of fishing.

Beyond fishing, Encanto Park offers a host of amenities and attractions. You can explore the miles of hiking and biking trails, perfect for a scenic stroll or an invigorating bike ride.

For families, the park features picnic areas, playgrounds, and even paddle boats and canoes on the lagoon. It’s a fantastic destination for a fun-filled day outdoors with loved ones.

Pro tip:
Explore different areas of the lake. Fish tend to gather in different spots depending on factors like water temperature and time of day, so don’t be afraid to move around.

7. Tubing at Lower Salt River

Address: 9200 N Bush Hwy, Mesa, AZ 85215


Contact Details: +1 480-984-3305, [email protected]

Operating Hours: Monday-Friday: 9 AM–6:30 PM, Saturday & Sunday: 8 AM–6:30 PM

For an unforgettable outdoor experience in Phoenix, tubing at Lower Salt River is a must-try activity. This relaxing yet thrilling adventure allows you to soak in the stunning desert scenery while floating down the gentle waters of the Salt River.

One of the highlights of tubing at Lower Salt River is the opportunity to encounter local wildlife like javelinas, coyotes, and even wild horses along the riverbanks. Keep your camera ready for some amazing nature sightings!

Here, you’ll rent inner tubes and additional tubes for belongings, and enjoy roundtrip shuttle service for hassle-free river tubing experience. You can also customize your tubing trip by selecting different drop-off and pick-up locations.

The duration of your tubing adventure can vary from 1.5 to four hours, allowing you to tailor your experience based on your schedule and the pace of the river flow.

Pro tip:
You can opt for a guided tour if you’re new to tubing or unfamiliar with the area. Guides can provide valuable information about the river’s currents, wildlife, and safety tips.

8. Rock climbing at the Lookout Mountain Preserve

Media: skyehighiker

Address: 15800 N 16th St, Phoenix, AZ 85022


Contact Details: +1 602-262-7901

Operating Hours: Monday-Sunday: 6 AM–7 PM

Lookout Mountain Preserve is a premier destination for rock climbing enthusiasts in Phoenix. Nestled conveniently in the north-central part of the city, this outdoor gym offers a challenging yet exhilarating experience.

Its single crag boasts about a dozen bolted routes, presenting varying degrees of difficulty, ranging from 30 to 50 feet high. To access the climbing area, visitors follow a trail from the parking lot that leads up and right to the sheer cliffs.

However, caution is advised as some sections may have loose rocks, posing potential risks of rock fall. Despite the solid nature of most of the basalt rock, Lookout Mountain is not tailored for novices.

Here, climbers should be comfortable leading routes rated 5.10 or 5.11. Following the closure of other climbing spots in the Valley, Lookout Mountain remains a gem with multiple quality routes on a single wall.

Its proximity allows climbers to swiftly transition between routes, offering a workout that surpasses indoor gym experiences. Moreover, unlike many climbing gyms, there is no entry fee, making it an accessible and cost-effective outdoor activity.

Pro tip:
Hydration is key, especially in the desert heat. Carry more water than you think you’ll need to stay refreshed throughout your climb.

9. Bird watching at Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch

Media: akhilas_photos

Address: 2757 E Guadalupe Rd, Gilbert, AZ 85234


Contact Details: +1 480-503-6200

Operating Hours: Monday-Sunday: 5:30 AM-10 PM

Bird watching at the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch offers a peaceful and engaging way to connect with nature. This 110-acre oasis in Gilbert has a dynamic landscape teeming with desert flora and fauna, making every visit a new adventure.

From October through March, the Riparian Preserve and Desert Rivers Audubon Society offer free family bird walks on the third Saturday of each month. These walks are a great chance to see nearly 200 bird species in the preserve.

The Riparian Preserve blends water resource management, wildlife habitat preservation, education, and outdoor recreation. It features seven aquifer recharge basins with varying water levels to support diverse habitats and attract various wildlife.

Designated as an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society, the preserve is home to approximately 298 bird species. Besides birds, the preserve hosts many insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals, creating a rich and varied ecosystem.

The best time for bird watching is early morning or late afternoon when birds are most active. Bringing binoculars and a bird guide can enhance your experience, helping you identify the numerous species you encounter.

Pro tip:
Always maintain a respectful distance from wildlife to avoid disturbing them. Also, be mindful of other visitors by keeping noise levels down, which helps create a peaceful environment for everyone to enjoy.

10. Motorcycling to Bartlett Dam

Media: Steven Junior

Location: Tonto National Forest, Maricopa County, near Phoenix

Embarking on a motorcycling journey to Bartlett Dam is undoubtedly one of the finest outdoor activities to experience in Phoenix. The route offers diverse scenery, starting from the bustling streets of North Scottsdale.

You will then transition into the serene landscapes of Carefree, reminiscent of a modern-day Mayberry nestled in the desert. The journey itself becomes part of the adventure even before reaching the final stretch leading to Bartlett Lake.

Regardless of your starting point, whether it’s the south on Scottsdale Road or the west on Carefree Highway, the ride promises excitement. You’ll also pass through scenic locales like Cave Creek with its charming biker bars.

As you leave civilization behind, the ride transforms into a paradise for motorcyclists. While not as twisty as the road to Tortilla Flat, Bartlett Dam Road boasts plenty of curves and dips in its last few miles, offering a thrilling ride.

The round-trip excursion usually takes around two to three hours from most points in the Valley, yet it gives the impression of a much more remote and adventurous expedition. Upon reaching Bartlett Lake, the options for relaxation and exploration are plenty.

You can choose to unwind by the water’s edge, dipping your toes into the cool lake, or continue riding along the smaller, more enjoyable park roads encircling the lake.

Pro tip:
While the road to Bartlett Dam offers thrilling twists and turns, always ride within your limits and adhere to speed limits. Safety should be a priority to enjoy the ride responsibly.

11. Discover Tonto Natural Bridge Falls

Media: explorepine

Location: Payson, AZ 85547


Contact Details: (928) 476-4202

When most people think of Arizona, they imagine miles and miles of dry rock, sand, and mountains. Though we can’t deny parts of our state fit that description, those who know better also are aware of gems like Tonto Natural Bridge Falls.

This impressive waterfall spills over the side of the Tonto Natural Bridge, known as the world’s largest natural travertine bridge. Visitors can see the waterfall from observation decks at the top of the canyon or take the easy 300-foot hike to the bottom.

Located in central Arizona near Payson, Tonto Natural Bridge Falls offers a refreshing change from the typical desert landscape. The bridge itself stands 183 feet high over a 400-foot-long tunnel, measuring 150 feet at its widest point.

Exploring Tonto Natural Bridge Falls involves choosing from three hiking trails that vary in difficulty, catering to both casual walkers and seasoned hikers. Each trail offers unique perspectives of the bridge and the surrounding lush environment.

The park also features a picnic area, perfect for a leisurely lunch after a morning of exploration. Group use areas provide a great spot for gatherings, making it a versatile destination for families and friends.

Pro tip:
The trails can be a bit rocky and slippery near the falls, so sturdy hiking shoes with good grip make a huge difference in safety and comfort.

12. Explore the Hieroglyph Canyon

Media: Becca Merrill

The Hieroglyph Canyon offers a blend of natural beauty and ancient history. Located on the south face of Superstition Mountain above Gold Canyon, this area is rich with petroglyphs created by the Hohokam people.

The petroglyphs, etched into basalt rock, date back to between 700 and 1100 AD. These ancient carvings provide a glimpse into the lives and cultures of the Hohokam people, making the canyon an intriguing destination for history enthusiasts.

The Hieroglyphic Trail, a 2.9-mile hike, leads you into the mouth of the canyon. Along the way, stunning desert landscapes unfold, offering breathtaking views and a variety of local flora and fauna.

Despite its official name, Hieroglyph Canyon features petroglyphs, not hieroglyphs, which are part of a different writing system. This misnomer does not detract from the wonder and historical significance of the site.

The canyon is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, highlighting its importance and preserving its history. Exploring these petroglyphs allows adventurers to connect with a piece of ancient history while enjoying the natural splendor of the area.

Pro tip:
While it’s tempting to get up close for a better look, avoid touching or defacing the petroglyphs. These ancient carvings are fragile and should be preserved for future generations.
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