Amateur outdoor enthusiasts may scoff at the idea of there being a variety of adventurous activities in Arizona. They doubt how much of a good time the desert can actually offer up. But avid adventure addicts know better.
The Grand Canyon State is jam packed with elemental enthusiasm, from watching the sun rise over the Sonoran to roadtripping west from Prescott to catch a glimpse of the Colorado River. The only logical component worth questioning is which things to do outdoors in Arizona to tick off your list first.
All-inclusive resorts may seem inviting, but going independent is most certainly best. Face your fears at wild heights, get the adrenaline pumping in the mountains, or soak in the river water. The elements are ready and waiting for your participation.
Earth: Nature Hikes and Mountain Biking
If soaring the skies is too much of a stretch, then start by keeping your feet on the ground. A solid option being to reserve a few trails in Grand Canyon National Park. Please note, however, that some of these trails are extensive and can take more than eight hours to accomplish.
Head to Chiricahua National Monument in Willcox for plenty of unusual views. This jagged mountain is a Sky Island (because the elevation—5,400 feet—plants and animals on it are so different from the surrounding desert) that features hundreds of tall thin rock spires known as hoodoos. Deliver an adventurous appetizer to your wanderlust by meandering past towering rock formations and interesting flora, and squeezing through narrow passageways on your way to the peak.
Then venture south to Prescott, a town with 250 miles of mountain biking trails suitable for all levels of experience. Every April, the Whiskey Off-Road, brings devoted bikers from all over. This three-day race tests endurance while filling folks with live music and whiskey. And afterwards, pop into Prescott town to indulge your senses with great food and good times on Whiskey Row.
Air: Skydiving and Hot-air Ballooning
Perhaps romance serves as the foundation of this outdoor expedition. If so, take to the skies in the most nostalgic of dirigibles: a hot-air balloon. Experience an entirely different version of desert life from 2,500 feet above the ground, the light of sunrise slowly unveiling the statuesque saguaro cacti and magnificent landscapes.
If floating above the desert isn’t adventurous enough, why not take the plunge with skydiving instead? The clear cobalt blue skies mean that professional divers flock to Arizona—especially the stretch between Tucson and Phoenix—all year long. First-timers need not worry though, newbies jump tandem with an expert. As safe as it may be, the adrenaline from this experience will stay on overdrive for hours afterwards.
Water: Rafting and Hot Springs
Cool down by splashing around in one of Arizona’s 128 lakes. Or head to the Colorado River, which has been etching out one impressive waterway for millions of years. White-water rafting at its best is found at Grand Canyon National Park. As one of the only locations to experience class 10 white water, this activity is best suited for avid adventurers. Rafting the Canyon provides unmatched views. You may be soaking wet, but your blood will be pumping, and your mouth smiling bigly with adventurous success. Be sure to plan ahead because it’s on a lot of folks’ bucket lists.
Turn up the heat and relaxation at Verde Hot Springs overlooking the eponymous lake. Originally belonging to a hotel, since burned down, these hot springs have been favorited by locals since the 1960s. Located off route 260, these springs take a solid hour and a half plus to get to. The roads are widely unpaved and require additional hiking, and river crossings to reach the springs themselves. Plan accordingly and adventure responsibly.
Additional elemental experiences abound in Arizona, but let this guide serve as a solid jumping-off point. A checklist of sorts as the best of the best suggestions for outdoor adventuring in the Grand Canyon State. The truth is, this desert is overflowing with adventure-full experiences. One only needs to look outside the car, RV, or hotel window. Whether it’s by land, up in the air, or splashing in the water, the desert has an adventure suited to everyone.
As always, remember to apply common sense while adventuring. Always travel with plenty of water, wear appropriate attire, and plan for the worst when it comes to weather. Sunscreen is a must when outdoors, so have it readily available for reapplication during explorations. Remember to notify someone about your whereabouts when hiking in open nature and always carry a travel-sized first aid kit. Lastly, appreciate Arizona and leave no trace.
The options are yours: Get sky-high at sunset or sunrise floating over the desert in a hot air balloon. Dangle over the edge of an open door of a plane that’s 30,000 feet in the air or speed downhill on a mountainside. Perhaps it’s hiking to a relaxing natural hot spring or confronting the rushing waters of the Colorado River. Whatever the elemental enthusiasm you seek to fulfil in nature, the desert can deliver. Which nature-driven adventure in Arizona speaks loudest to you?