Phoenix Top Ten Outdoor Activities - Page 2

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Picture of South Mountain Park, Phoenix
The view from South Mountain Park, Phoenix  (Alistair Wearmouth)

5. See the Spring Wildflowers
Deserts evoke a stillness and aridity that belie the profusion of life that actually thrives within the barren terrain. The Sonoran Desert is no exception. Straddling seven of eight climactic zones, you can actually find something blooming pretty much year-round, though spring rains bring a particularly effusive vigor to the desert's ingenious animal and plant life. The best months for wildflower viewing are typically late February through April in the lower-lying Phoenix Valley area, which occupies the desert's northern plain. Head to the city's Desert Botanical Gardens for an eye-popping precursor of what you'll find in easy-to-access South Mountain Park and Preserve. In the East Valley area near Mesa, tackle Jacob's Crosscut Trail in Lost Dutchman State Park for an impressive hike over the cliffs at the base of the Superstition Mountains. To the west of Phoenix, Mesquite Canyon Trail in White Tank Mountain Regional Park is another superlative hike, with or without the seasonal blooms.

4. Play the Desert Slots
The pristine desert slots surrounding Phoenix are prime for canyoneering, though the technical nature of the sport, not to mention its inherent dangers (cf.: Ralston, Aron), mean visitors should go with an outfitter. (Besides, canyoneers are notoriously secretive about their stashes.) The knowledgeable guides at 360 Adventures will pinpoint the best local spots given your group's skill levels and conditions on the ground. Parker Canyon, east of Phoenix, is a deep, technical gorge with lots of big rappels and variable water flow through the narrows. Salome Canyon is another sublime gorge in the same area, with waterfalls, tubes, and swimming holes. Late April through May is typically the best time for canyoneering, with all the canyons sitting beautifully with high flows from the spring rains.

3. Take a Flightseeing Tour of the Grand Canyon
The Big Ditch merits so much more than a mere day of your time, but if you can't afford a longer foray to the world wonder 180 miles north (as the crow flies) of Phoenix, then ditch the day-tripping coach tours and do it in style. Westwind Aviation operates a daylong fly-and-hike adventure to Grand Canyon National Park that departs Phoenix Deer Valley Airport, swoops north over Tonto National Forest, Sedona, and Flagstaff, before dropping you close to the park's southern entrance. Here you'll transfer into the knowledgeable hands of the guides from Arizona Outdoor Adventures, with whom you'll descend into the billion-year-old gut of the Grand Canyon down the South Kaibab Trail. Enjoy gourmet sandwiches, organic granola bars, and trail mix while drinking in the views at one of the best picnic spots on the continent.

2. Bike the Trails at McDowell Mountain Regional Park
The Phoenix area might not have the epic swoops, vistas, and drops of Colorado's or Utah's best singletrack, but what you get out here is accessible, all-season riding (OK, maybe not at the height of summer, unless you're really hardcore). McDowell Mountain Regional Park, about 40 minutes from downtown Phoenix, is the region's best mountain-biking venue. A competitive race circuit provides amped-up technical riding on three separate loops, totaling about 15 miles. Or go au naturel on an additional 25 miles of trails, which weave along easy-riding doubletrack past thickets of cholla cacti, over undulating rocky pitches, and down into the dry washes of the Verde River Basin. For an even more epic ride, hook up with Windgate Windmill Pass, which threads the McDowell Mountains and McDowell Sonoran Preserve right into downtown Scottsdale. Keep your eyes out for the the pair of mountain lions who prowl the higher ridgelines here.

1. Explore the Country's Largest Urban Park
Buttressing the southern end of metro Phoenix's epic sprawl, South Mountain Park and Preserve unfurls into wilderness with the suddenness of a voodoo spell. At 16,000 acres, it's the country's largest urban park. One minute you're driving through low-slung residential 'hoods, the next you're hitting a dusty trail through fields of meteor-sized boulders and sentinel saguaros. There are over 60 miles of trails from which to choose. For an easy two-hour loop, head up toward 2,690-foot Mount Suppoa on the Kiwanis Trail before cutting east to Fat Man's Pass and Hidden Valley. On the hike home, take the spur for the Holbert Trail to glimpse a series of prehistoric petroglyphs carved into the rocks by the region's Hohokam people thousands of years ago. If you have a shuttle vehicle available, continue from Fat Man's Pass on the National Trail for an excellent full-day hike.

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