Phoenix Spring Escapes

Five Great Excursions in the Valley of the Sun
By Judy Wade & Bill Baker
Page 1 of 6   |  

If you think of Phoenix, Arizona, as a barren desert with bleached bones and sand dunes, you're in for a pleasant surprise. The Sonoran Desert is an incredibly rich environment, providing diverse habitat for a wide array of plants, animals and outdoor enthusiasts. Within minutes of the city proper are secluded hideaways for those seeking refuge, and further out are hiking, biking, and boating alternatives that rival any Western metropolis.

Winter rains have blessed Phoenix this year, assuring a proliferation of desert wild flowers come March and April. It's possible to get glimpse of this blooming flora at the Desert Botanical Garden (in Papago Park at 64th and McDowell Road; 602-754-8190), but for a wilderness experience amidst giant saguaro cacti, a nearby alternative is the Superstition Mountains. There are numerous trails within the range (and many more in the surrounding Tonto National Forest), but one particularly nice way to enjoy desert solitude is on a moonlight hike at Lost Dutchman State Park. For day hikes through the Superstition Wilderness, our favorite is the Massacre Ground Trail— which offers spectacular views of 4,535-foot Weavers Needle.

But outdoor excitement around Phoenix isn't limited to the Superstitions. At the south end of the city is South Mountains Park, the largest municipal park in the world, which offers a host trails for hikers, equestrians and mountain bikers. Those on two wheels need venture no further than the 14.3-mile National Trail to get a sense for the vast and varied terrain this parcel has to offer. And for anyone who still has energy after tackling these steep grades, the rest of the city is flat and easy to navigate.

Further afield, the Salt River offers exciting Class II and III whitewater when the spring snowmelt starts to flow— a trip that often includes a laying out on sun-baked river rocks and getting dunked in the frigid waters of the river. And for people looking to see Phoenix from an entirely different angle, we highly recommend the hot air balloon flights that generally lauch at dawn.

If you're going to book accommodations, shop around. Spring is the high season in Phoenix and rates are at their peak. A good bet is the city's only hostel, The Metcalf House, downtown. It has 35 beds and a large common room in a great old home built in a Craftsman-cottage style. So whether you're coming for a weekend or an extended vacation make your plans in advance and bring your recreational garb— the valley of the sun awaits you.

Judy Wade and Bill Baker are freelance writers/photographers who pack and unpack in Phoenix.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 7 Dec 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »