Phoenix Top Ten Outdoor Activities

From biking to hiking to riding in a hot-air balloon, we present the best things to do in and around one of Arizona's premier outdoor cities.
  |  Gorp.com
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Mountain biking in Mcdowell Mountain Regional Park
Mountain biking in Mcdowell Mountain Regional Park  (Phoenix, CVB)

10. Saddle Up for Wild West Adventure
Bumble Bee Ranch in Canyon City, an hour north of Phoenix, lets you saddle up and make like the Lone Ranger along the rocky canyons and creeks splitting Prescott and—where else?—Tonto national forests. A former stagecoach outpost, trail rides head up Bumble Bee Creek and into the foothills of the Bradshaw Mountains, where you'll get into the frontier spirit with tales of wildlife and even wilder Wild West behavior. The ranch also offers wrangler-led pony rides for younger cowboys and girls and cattle drives on the property's working cattle ranch.

9. Take to the Skies
The descent into Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport will already give you a sense of the scale of the rugged high-desert landscape framing the Phoenix Valley, though you very quickly also realize the extent of the sprawl that makes this the nation's 12th-largest metropolitan area. Besides hiking, biking, and paddling away from the human conurbations of Maricopa County, you should also consider floating above it. A number of hot-air ballooning outfitters offer sunrise and sunset floats from remote launch pads around the desert; more daring adventurers might want to strap in for a paragliding adventure from South Mountain Park. Fly High Paragliding offers tandem flights four times daily, plus a number of more technical classes.

8. Raft the Verde River
Arizona's only federally-designated Wild & Scenic River, the 200-mile Verde flows south from its headwaters in Prescott National Forest toward Phoenix, offering intriguing glimpses of the Sonoran Desert's distinct flora and fauna. There's a 60-mile section between Beaslet Flats and Horseshoe Reservoir good for multiday floats, plus a number of accessible stretches for day trips out of Phoenix. Whitewater can hit Class IV during heavy spring snowmelt or rains, though it's mostly a family-friendly Class II to III ride.

7. Be a Cowboy at Saguaro Lake Ranch
Saguaro Lake Ranch sits in a tranquil spot just beneath the dam that holds back ten-mile-long Saguaro Lake, about 40 miles east of downtown Phoenix. Downstream, the Salt River twists beneath the striking Bulldog Cliffs and Goldfield Mountains before flowing toward the Greater Phoenix metro area. This guest ranch has been run by the same family for four generations, and it shows in the hospitality and homey touches in evidence throughout the riverside property. Guests sleep in simple but comfortable "ranchettes," first built to house the workers who constructed Saguaro Lake's Stewart Mountain Dam between 1928 and 1930. These days, however, you can also count on free property-wide WiFi, hooked up by the current owner's grandkids (but happily no phones or televisions in the rooms). Daytime activities include hiking and horseback riding along the desert trails of Tonto National Forest, kayaking and tubing on the Salt River, or special programs such as art weekends and family reunions. Meals are shared buffet-style in a communal dining room, where you'll feast on homemade treats such as BBQ chicken, biscuits, and fresh-baked cookies.

6. Scale the Praying Monk
On weekends and holidays, Phoenix's Camelback Mountain/Echo Canyon Recreation Area becomes a literal conga line of hikers and trail runners shuffling toward the 2,407-foot summit, one of Phoenix's signature red-rock peaks. Instead, get off the popular trail and negotiate over 50 accessible climbing routes that see a fraction of the crowds, from easy beginner faces to more strenuous routes that include the 80-foot face of the Praying Monk, a 5.7-rated climb. Hook up with a local outfitter such as 360 Adventures for excellent half- and full-day guided adventures that will have even the easily-intimidated giving it a go.

Published: 9 Dec 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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