Arizona's Outdoor Adventures

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Arizona's Outdoor Adventures
There is always an opportunity for outdoor exploration in Arizona, no matter the season. Hike among the desert cacti and wildflowers, test the waters at one of dozens of lakes, or hit the powdery-white slopes during wintertime.
By Katarina Kovacevic, AFAR Local Expert
Photo courtesy of Arizona Office of Tourism
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    National Parks
    Arizona’s three national parks include one of the world’s seven natural wonders: the Grand Canyon. About 90 percent of the canyon’s five million annual visitors view it from the South Rim, but there’s more to see on all sides, including the glass-bottomed Skywalk along the western edge and the North Rim’s alpine hiking trails. Just east of Winslow you’ll find the Petrified Forest National Park, known for the aptly named Painted Desert. Rounding out the bunch is Saguaro National Park near Tucson, where you can view endless expanses of the giant cacti—some soaring to nearly 60 feet.
    Photo courtesy of Arizona Office of Tourism
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    Time for Tee
    Golf courses stretch the entire state but the majority are in and around Phoenix. Scottsdale, the city most often associated with Arizona golf vacations, hosts more than eight million rounds each year. It’s here you’ll find the state’s most award-winning clubs—The Boulders, We-Ko-Pa, and Troon North among them. Then there’s the PGA TOUR Waste Management Phoenix Open. Part golf tournament, part massive lawn fete, the event draws around 500,000 rowdy spectators to TPC Scottsdale every January. In Tucson, Tom Fazio’s desert greens at Ventana Canyon wind through the Santa Catalina foothills, while Tom Lehman’s Sonoran Course at the Omni resort is more of a traditional play.
    Photo courtesy of the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau
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    Highways and Byways
    Road-tripping through Arizona, you’ll feel like you’re on the set of a movie. The state’s signature landmarks have starred in many of Hollywood’s most memorable productions—Thelma & Louise, Forrest Gump, and Tombstone, to name just a few. Scenic roads throughout the state are as varied as the landscape. The longest stretch of Route 66 also winds its way through Arizona, offering a drivable timeline through U.S. history from Kingman to Holbrook. Alternatively, take in the wonders of the Colorado Plateau along the 31-mile San Francisco Peaks Scenic Road, which is particularly colorful in the fall.
    Photo by Riley Caton/age fotostock
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    High-Octane Adventure
    There’s something about the West that awakens your inner daredevil. Wide-open spaces, sprawling skies, and rugged landscapes make Arizona a thrill-seeker's playground. Up north, the Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course attracts explorers of all ages with its treetop obstacle course. Drive about four hours north and hike down to the blue-green waters of Havasupai Falls. Near Phoenix, rappel cascading waterfalls and wade the rivers surrounding the city on a guided canyoneering tour with 360 Adventures. Another unique experience is to drive a TomCar through the Sonoran Desert with Desert Wolf Tours or Green Zebra Adventures.
    Photo courtesy of the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau
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    Hiking the Trails
    There are hiking opportunities all over Arizona. In Phoenix alone you’ll find enough trails to fill a week’s worth of exploration. Camelback Mountain is the most rigorous but its summit views are worth the 1,200-foot trek to the top. The McDowell Sonoran Preserve is an experience you won’t find elsewhere. Smack in the middle of Scottsdale, the protected land will eventually grow to over 36,000 acres, encompassing one-third of the city. It’s perfect for hiking, mountain biking, and even rock climbing. Other trails around the state take you through juniper forests, Native American ruins, sandy desert washes, and more. Try the 3.7-mile Tom's Thumb trail in Scottsdale, or go for broke with the multiday, 23-mile Grand Canyon rim-to-rim trail.
    Photo courtesy of the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau
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    Take to the Skies
    Part of Arizona’s charm is exploring the small towns you encounter on the way to popular spots like the Grand Canyon and Sedona’s Red Rock State Park. But if you don’t have time to pound the pavement, you can take to the skies. Companies like Westwind Air Service and Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters will take you to and from the landmarks as part of a day tour, flying high over other stately sites. Get the lay of the land on Desert Splash Adventures’ Apache Air Trail tour of Saguaro Lake, Salt River Canyon, and the Tonto Indian Ruins. For a more tranquil ride, hot-air balloon flights offer inspiring bird’s-eye views of certain areas around the state.
    Photo courtesy of the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau
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    Water Sports
    Many people are surprised to learn that Arizona is full of water, with the state’s lakes and rivers offering up plenty of opportunities for boating, fishing, kayaking, and jet-skiing. Tempe Town Lake near Phoenix hosts everything from stand-up paddleboard lessons to Ironman triathlons, and Lake Havasu’s beaches are so popular that Lake Havasu City and its surrounding towns have been dubbed “Arizona’s West Coast.” Lake Roosevelt, Lake Pleasant, and Lake Mohave are also popular with water sports enthusiasts. Possibly the most awe-inspiring of them all is Lake Powell, with its sharp red spires and winding canyons.
    Photo courtesy of Arizona Office of Tourism
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    Skiing and Snowboarding
    The northern and eastern regions of Arizona are prime winter destinations, with the state’s two largest downhill skiing and snowboarding areas—Sunrise Park (near Greer) and Arizona Snowbowl—just outside of Flagstaff. Two often-missed skiing destinations are the family-oriented Elk Ridge Ski Area (it’s small and has only two surface lifts but usually gets a lot of snow) and Mount Lemmon Ski Valley near Tucson. Keep in mind that this is the southernmost ski region in the United States, so there’s not always a ton of powder. For Nordic or cross-country skiing, head to the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff.
    Photo by Thomas J. Brownold/age fotostock
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    Arizona Birding
    Birding is one of the main attractions of Southern Arizona. In fact, nearly 500 different types of bird fly through this area on their annual migrations, making it one of the top five bird-watching destinations in the country! The forests surrounding Ramsey Canyon Preserve draw birders from all around the world, who hope to get a glimpse of more than 170 species—including the elusive berylline hummingbird. Alternatively, Whitewater Draw plays host to migrating snow geese, sandhill cranes, and peregrine falcons. Elsewhere around the state, you’re likely to spot heron rookeries, bald eagles, and several types of woodpecker.
    Photo by John Cancalosi/age fotostock