The Best Outdoor Activities in Phoenix, Arizona

With a desert climate and average summer temperatures well in excess of 100 degrees Fahrenheit, Phoenix, Arizona, can sometimes make even the most hardcore outdoors enthusiasts want to spend a little time indoors.

But with a little effort, you can find fun and safe ways to get some exercise and sunshine while avoiding the heat. Start your day early in the morning, and you can enjoy the beautiful scenery and challenging trails of Phoenix safely.

If you’re visiting Phoenix, you may want to join a group kayak or ATV tour to get out into the wilderness and truly experience the desert. Tours are especially useful when you’re not familiar with the area. Let your guides do the work!

From rafting to golf to hiking, these are some of the best outdoor activities in Phoenix and the surrounding area.


Outdoor Activities in Phoenix: Here are Several Great Options

Make sure to pace yourself and take note of the weather when planning your activities! During the summer, it’s best to schedule your adventures early in the morning or later in the evening.

outdoor activities in phoenix
Mountain biking is one of the coolest outdoor activities in Phoenix!

Be sure to bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and sturdy hiking shoes. It’s also a good idea to check the weather forecast before you go.

Hike or Bike at McDowell Mountain

See deer and coyotes while hiking or mountain biking on the trails at McDowell Mountain Regional Park in Fountain Hills. There’s a 15-mile horseback riding trail and a campground with 76 tent and RV sites.

McDowell is a terrific place to get some exercise — just be sure to arrive early! The park opens at 6 a.m. so that visitors can get their fill of nature before the midday heat sets in.

Take a Balloon or Helicopter Ride

For a day of relaxation in the sun, soar over the mountains with a hot air balloon ride. At least six companies offer balloon trips in the Phoenix area, so you have plenty of different options for taking in the beautiful desert scenery from above.

To crank up the intensity just a bit, consider one of the multiple helicopter companies that provide tours of the desert.

For a really cool life experience, try the Sunrise Hot Air Balloon Ride, which provides four hours of spectacular views as you soar above the desert!

Enjoy a Desert ATV Ride

Have you ever ridden in an all-terrain vehicle? The Arizona desert is one of the coolest places to try it!

Join a Guided Arizona ATV Tour to go off-road and see the back trails of Bradshaw Mountains up close. Helmets and goggles are provided, along with a knowledgeable guide. No previous experience necessary!

Water Activities: Whitewater Rafting, Tubing, Kayaking

You may not picture Phoenix as a hotbed for whitewater rafting, but in the spring, when the snow melts in the White Mountains a couple hours east of the city, the Salt River becomes the best place for aquatic adventure in Arizona.

Newcomers should take a private tour with one of the guided rafting companies in the region.

Here are a couple water-related outdoor activities in Phoenix to help you beat the heat.

Salt River Tubing

You can spend a day tubing down the Lower Salt River, which is a real-life lazy river, although there are some sections of rapids.

You’ll see a mix of families, couples, and friends bringing along waterproof speakers, coolers filled with plenty of drinks and snacks. This activity is incredibly popular and gets very busy!

The tubing adventure lasts around 2-4 hours, depending on how fast the river is flowing. You’ll float past beautiful scenery, including the Sonoran Desert and the Tonto National Forest.

Salt River Kayaking

The kayaking trip is similar to tubing, except that you’ll have a lot more control over your direction. And you’ll get more of an upper body workout!

Take a 2-hour Guided Kayak Trip on the Salt River for an affordable adventure on the river. You may even glimpse the park’s pack of wild horses.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park

Lake Pleasant Regional Park is a great place to enjoy water activities in Phoenix. The park is located about 35 miles north of downtown Phoenix and offers a variety of activities, including boating, fishing, kayaking, and paddleboarding.

The lake is one of the largest in the area, covering over 10,000 acres. There are several boat ramps and marinas around the lake, making it easy to launch your boat or rent one from a local company.

For a more relaxing experience, rent a kayak or paddleboard and explore the lake at your own pace. You can also fish for a variety of species, including bass, catfish, and crappie.

Cool Off at the Waterpark

Sometimes you want to bypass the strenuous workout and cool down at the pool. For family fun during the sultry days of summer, check out one of the Phoenix area’s multiple waterparks.

Six Flags Hurricane Harbor Phoenix (formerly Wet ‘n Wild) is the largest waterpark in the state, offering more than 20 slides, raft rivers, and thrill rides. Several resorts and amusement parks have their own water ride sections.

phoenix outdoors mountains
The mountains are always looming in the distance in Phoenix. Get out there and explore!

Climb Camelback Mountain

How many cities have great rock climbing just 20 minutes from downtown? Camelback Mountain in Echo Canyon Recreation Area has a few dozen solid climbing routes and some smaller bouldering options as well.

If you’re not a climber, you’ll find plenty of good hiking trails here. Not surprisingly, due to its location, this is a very popular outdoor destination, so get here early to avoid finding a full parking lot.

The Camelback Mountain Summit Trail is a 2.5-mile hike with an elevation gain of over 1,200 feet.

The trail is rocky and steep, and requires some scrambling, so it’s not recommended for beginners. However, if you’re up for the challenge, the views from the top are breathtaking.

Other Hiking Trails in Phoenix

With its stunning desert landscapes and mountain ranges, Phoenix offers some of the best hiking trails in the country. In addition to those already mentioned, here are some of the most popular hiking trails in Phoenix.

Piestewa Peak

The second-highest point in the Phoenix Mountains, Piestewa Peak is another popular hiking destination in Phoenix. The Summit Trail is a 1.2-mile hike with an elevation gain of over 1,100 feet.

The trail is steep and rocky, but the views from the top are worth the effort. On a clear day, you can see for miles in every direction.

South Mountain Park

South Mountain Park is one of the largest municipal parks in the country, with more than 16,000 acres and over 50 miles of hiking trails. The park has trails for hikers of all skill levels, from easy, flat trails to challenging, steep trails.

The most popular trail in the park is the Mormon Trail, which is a 4.5-mile hike with an elevation gain of over 1,000 feet.

Golf Courses

Phoenix is a golfer’s paradise, with over 200 golf courses in the area. Both seasoned pros and beginners have some great options.

TPC Scottsdale

TPC Scottsdale is a premier golf course located in North Scottsdale. It’s a 36-hole course that hosts the Waste Management Phoenix Open, (yes, that’s the event’s actual name.) It’s one of the more popular events on the PGA Tour.

The course was designed by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish and offers cool views of the McDowell Mountains. The Stadium Course is the more well-known of the two courses, famous for its rowdy 16th hole, known as “The Coliseum.” The Champions Course is also a challenging and beautiful course.

Troon North Golf Club

Troon North Golf Club is another top golf course located in North Scottsdale. The Monument Course is known for its unique rock formations, while the Pinnacle Course offers more elevation changes. Both courses are well-maintained and provide a great golfing experience.

Outdoor Activities Outside the Phoenix Area

Phoenix is an ideal stop if you’re traveling from Austin, Texas to Los Angeles, California on a road trip! I also consider Phoenix one of the top Christmas vacations in the USA.

Willing to travel a bit further? When you’re in Arizona, consider seeing one of the iconic sites of the state, the Grand Canyon!

I have a special affinity for the North Rim, where you can hike the North Kaibab Trail and see lots of interesting wildlife.

Also don’t overlook Saguaro National Park near Tucson. This park is split into two separate units. I like the underrated East Unit, which has scenic drives, desert hiking, and thousands of the famous saguaro cactus.

And see my road trip itinerary for a drive between Phoenix and Las Vegas.

What are your favorite outdoor activities in Phoenix?

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