The Complete Guide to Arizona Spring Training (Cactus League)

Everything you need to know if you’re headed to the Valley of the Sun for baseball spring training and other activities

Are you a baseball fan who is craving a warm weather getaway? Then you need to check out spring training in Arizona—aka, the Cactus League.

A spring training trip is the perfect excuse to watch your favorite baseball team play a few no-stress games all while enjoying an amazing RV road trip somewhere warm and sunny while you’re at it. Sounds pretty awesome, right?

It’s every baseball lover’s dream and this Complete Guide to Arizona Baseball Spring Training will help you plan the perfect getaway to sunny Phoenix without a hitch.

Are you ready to get started? Keep reading for all my helpful tips!

Phoenix © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About the Cactus League

During spring training, Major League Baseball (MLB) teams hold a series of practices and exhibition games which allows them to try out new players and practice existing players before the regular season starts.

The Cactus League is one of two spring training leagues (the other is the Grapefruit League in Florida) that are home to the MLB during the baseball spring training season.

Phoenix and the cities in its metropolitan area (Scottsdale, Mesa, Tempe, Goodyear, Glendale, Surprise, and Peoria) are home to the Cactus League. Within a 50-mile radius, you’ll find 10 facilities that host 15 major league baseball teams during spring training which typically runs mid-February through March (February 22-March 26, 2024).

Papago Park, Phoenix © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15 teams across 10 stadiums

American Family Fields of Phoenix

Location: 3600 N. 51st Street, Phoenix

American Family Fields of Phoenix is the spring training home to the Milwaukee Brewers. They were formerly known as Maryvale Baseball Park the facility is owned and operated by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. The facility can hold up to 10,000 people.

Camelback Ranch-Glendale

Location: 10710 W. Camelback Road, Glendale

A state-of-the-art baseball facility like no other, Camelback Ranch-Glendale celebrates its eleventh season as Spring Training home of the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers. This Sonoran Desert-inspired facility offers baseball fans more than top-quality playing fields and facilities; the site also features picturesque walking trails, landscaped grounds, citrus groves, and extensive water features. One of the largest facilities in the Cactus League, Camelback Ranch-Glendale’s main stadium boasts a capacity of 13,000 which includes 3,000 lawn seats, 12 luxury suites, and a party deck.

Goodyear Ballpark

Location: 1933 S. Ballpark Way, Goodyear

Goodyear Ballpark is the spring training and player development home of the Cleveland Guardians and Cincinnati Reds. A great deal of emphasis is put on the fan experience—guests enjoy a fun atmosphere with between-inning promotions, giveaways, kids’ days, family-friendly ticket pricing, and the largest kids zone of all Cactus League facilities.

Desert Botanical Gardens, Phoenix © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hohokam Stadium

Location: 1235 N. Center Street, Mesa

Hohokam Stadium is the spring training baseball home of the Oakland Athletics. The venue puts fans near all the action and up close to their favorite players from the major leagues.

Peoria Sports Complex

Location: 16101 N. 83rd Ave., Peoria

Peoria Sports Complex is a baseball complex and Spring Training Home of the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres. There are twelve practice fields around the main baseball stadium.

Salt River Fields at Talking Stick

Location: 7555 N. Pima Road, Scottsdale

Salt River Fields, the Spring Training home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies, is the first Major League Baseball Spring Training facility built on American Indian land. The ballpark seats 11,000—7,000 fixed seats and 4,000 lawn seats—and features two large hospitality suites, the Pepsi Patio and Miller Lite Loft/American Airlines Deck for large groups and special events.

Scottsdale Stadium

Location: 7408 E. Osborn Road, Scottsdale

Scottsdale Stadium is the spring training home to the San Francisco Giants. The baseball field located near Old Town Scottsdale was designed by the owner of the Baltimore Orioles’ Camden Yards. The new stadium was built in 1992 and holds 12,000 people.

McDowell Mountains Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sloan Park

Location: 2330 W. Rio Salado Pkwy., Mesa

Sloan Park is the Spring Training home of the Chicago Cubs. Distinctive touches of Wrigley Field align nicely with 360 views and a convenient location in this 15,000-seat stadium. Sloan Park is conveniently located next to Riverview Park with playgrounds extraordinaire, splash pads, shaded picnic areas, and miles of accessible sidewalks.

Surprise Stadium

Location: 15930 N. Bullard Ave., Surprise

Surprise Stadium is located at the Surprise Recreation Campus athletic facility. The venue was opened in 2002 and is the spring training home to both the Kansas City Royals and the Texas Rangers. The stadium holds just over 10,000.

Tempe Diablo Stadium

Location: 2200 W. Alameda Drive, Tempe

With amazing views of the Buttes, Tempe Diablo Stadium is the spring training home of the Los Angeles Angels.

Weather

The average high temperature in the Phoenix area in March ranges from 72 degrees at the end of February to 80 by the time March ends. In a typical spring training season many afternoons can get into the low to mid 80s which is quite comfortable given the low humidity. 

Pro tip: That low humidity means that once the sun goes down it can be a bit chilly at night. Light jackets or sweatshirts are useful to bring along if you’re going to sample the nightlife.

Papago Park, Phoenix © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Getting around Phoenix during spring training

No matter which teams/stadiums/games you come to Arizona to visit, you know you’ll need to get to Phoenix, find campgrounds and RV parks in the area and get to know the layout of the region. A car and a handy map and/or a reliable GPS are pretty much all you need to enjoy a Cactus League sojourn but here are a few handy tips.

It helps to think of Phoenix as the dividing line of a valley that is typically split geographically into two regions—the East Valley containing Tempe, Scottsdale, and Mesa among other suburbs, and the West Valley containing Glendale, Peoria, and Goodyear among others.

Only one team, the Brewers, trains in Phoenix proper and their complex in the Maryvale section of the city is closer to the West Valley than to the East.

Depending on which teams you wish to see most consider concentrating your search for an RV park or campground to one side or another (see recommendations below). However, count on a drive of 30-45 minutes minimum to cross over—something to consider if, say, you try to attend an afternoon game in the West Valley and then head over to an evening game in the East Valley.

For reference, Surprise Stadium and Hohokam Stadium are the two venues with the most distance between them at just less than 40 miles.

Get to know Loop 101, the freeway that connects both valleys as it carves a giant inverted U through the region. Not only is it an alternative to driving through a crowded Interstate 10 through downtown Phoenix during rush hour but five Cactus League venues (Camelback Ranch, Peoria, Salt River Fields, Scottsdale Stadium, and Sloan Park) are within a few miles of it.

Public transportation isn’t an option for any Cactus League venue. Phoenix’s Valley Metro light rail doesn’t go near any of the ballparks. As for parking, the cost varies at each ballpark (some have offered free parking for weekday games) but expect rates starting at $15-20.

Desert Botanical Gardens, Phoenix © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth seeing in the Cactus League

Thanks to a building boom in the 2000s, the Cactus League is full of newer and renovated venues. The newest park is Sloan Park opened for the Cubs in 2015 to replace its longtime home of Hohokam Stadium (which was promptly renovated in order to become the A’s new spring base).

So if you’re a fan of stadium architecture or just like new things be sure to check out Sloan Park, Salt River Fields, Camelback Ranch, and Goodyear Ballpark, all opened over the last 15 years. The Brewers unveiled a renovated ballpark and complex in Maryvale in 2019.

If you’re a fan of regional food many of the ballparks offer specialties of the home teams’ cities in their concession stands. Some notable items worth mentioning: Skyline Chili at Goodyear Ballpark; Chicago deep-dish pizza and pork tenderloin sandwiches at Sloan Park; K.C. and Texas barbecue at Surprise Stadium; fried cheese curds at Maryvale Park; and Dodger dogs at Camelback Ranch.

Queen Creek Olive Mill, Queen Creek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All 10 Cactus League ballparks have some form of berm seating in the outfield. While they are typically the cheapest tickets offered, they are also some of the most popular throughout spring training. This is particularly true on weekends.

Be sure to bring a blanket to sit on and some sunscreen though many venues have installed sunscreen dispensers in the berm sections.

Scottsdale Stadium stands out among its Cactus League brethren because it is part of the downtown Scottsdale district within walking distance of many restaurants, bars, and other entertainment options.

However, this also means there’s limited space around for other ballpark operations while the Giants’ major-leaguers utilize an adjacent practice field their minor-league complex is actually a couple miles away.

Mesa Market Place Swap Meet © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Things to do in Arizona during spring training

As one of the largest cities in the U.S. you’ll find every kind of attraction in Greater Phoenix. If you’re not sure where you should start I’ve rounded up the top attractions everyone should check off their Greater Phoenix bucket list.

Camelback Mountain

The panoramic view from the hump of this iconic landmark named for its resemblance to a kneeling camel is worth scaling its two tricky trails, Echo Canyon and Cholla. Hikers gain 1,200 feet in elevation to the summit which looks out over the city and Phoenix Mountains Preserve. Camelback is one of the most popular urban hiking spots in Phoenix so expect trail traffic and consider hiking on weekdays.

Papago Park

Just minutes from downtown is iconic Papago Park, home to red rock buttes looped with trails, scenic views from the intriguing rock formation atop Hole-in-the-Rock Trail, and two of the city’s top attractions: Desert Botanical Garden and Phoenix Zoo. 

Sun Retreats Phoenix West, Buckeye © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Mountain Park and Preserve

Boasting 50 miles of trails through 16,000 acres of the Sonoran Desert, this municipal park is perfectly suited for outdoor adventure just minutes from the city. The skyline views and Sonoran Desert flora aren’t the park’s only perks. Keep a lookout for ancient petroglyphs carved into the rocks. If you’d rather drive than hike, bike, or hoof it up the trails hop on the 5.5-mile Summit Road up to Dobbins Lookout, the highest accessible point in the preserve.

Desert Botanical Garden

The winding paths of this 50-acre desert garden showcase a fantastic variety of arid plants from towering saguaros to delicate blooms. This beautiful landscape is also the backdrop for the garden’s seasonal events.

Taliesin West

Tours of Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home offer insight on how the masterful architect was inspired by the desert surroundings. Visitors walk through rooms, gardens, walkways, and Wright’s entertainment pavilion on the grounds while learning about his organic architecture.

Cotton Lane RV Resort, Goodyear © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Phoenix Zoo

One of the nation’s largest nonprofit zoos is home to more than 1,400 animals. See Sumatran tigers roam the savanna, feed giraffes in an up-close encounter, and discover the local flora, fauna, and critters of the Sonoran Desert on the zoo’s Arizona Trail.

Heard Museum

The tradition, culture, and history of 22 regional American Indian tribes converge in the Heard Museum’s immersive exhibits and authentic art shop as well as annual events like the World Championship Hoop Dance Contest (February 17-18, 2024).

Phoenix Art Museum

The Southwest’s largest fine art museum features a collection of contemporary work and global masterpieces. Complementing the museum’s galleries of fine art and objects from Asia, America, Europem, and beyond are rotating exhibitions.

Pueblo El Mirage RV & Golf Resort, El Mirage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RV parks and campgrounds

Consider your preferred teams when selecting an RV park or campground. I’ve selected the following list of parks from those personally visited.

West Valley

  • Pueblo El Mirage RV Resort, 11201 North El Mirage Road, El Mirage
  • Destiny RV Resort, 416 N. Citrus Road, Goodyear
  • Cotton Lane RV Resort, 17506 West Van Buren Street, Goodyear
  • Sun Retreats Phoenix West (formerly Leaf Verde RV Resort), 1500 S Apache Road, Buckeye
  • White Tank Mountain Regional Park Campground, 20304 W White Tank Mountain Road, Waddell
  • Pleasant Harbor RV Resort, 8708 W. Harbor Blvd., Peoria

East Valley

  • Monte Vista RV Resort, 8865 E Baseline Road, Mesa
  • Campground USA, 2851 S Tomahawk Road, Apache Junction
  • Usery Regional Park Campground, 3939 N Usery Pass Road, Mesa
Campground USA, Apache Junction © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Additional resources

Here are a few links that may help you prepare for your RV trip to Phoenix:

Enjoy your trip… and bring lots of sunscreen (and trust me on the sunscreen).

Worth Pondering…

Alone in the open desert, I have made up songs of wild, poignant rejoicing and transcendent melancholy. The world has seemed more beautiful to me than ever before.

I have loved the red rocks, the twisted trees, and sand blowing in the wind, the slow, sunny clouds crossing the sky, the shafts of moonlight on my bed at night. I have seemed to be at one with the world.

—Everett Ruess

Super Bowl and Phoenix: Planning Your Arizona Getaway

If you’re coming to Phoenix for the Super Bowl, have you thought about how you’ll spend your time when you’re not at the game?

Football fans (and fans of multi-million dollar commercials) rejoice because the 57th installation of the Big Game is upon us. In the spirit of its return to Arizona, here’s an introduction to the Valley of the Sun. So whether you’re looking for a home base away from the tailgate or just an excuse to take in the beauty of the desert, I’ve got you covered with a list of activities and campgrounds, and RV parks to explore in the Valley of the Sun.

Activities

When it comes to gorgeously painted landscapes and outdoor excursions, Phoenix is pretty tough to beat. Here are a few reasons why.

Desert Botanical Garden © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Desert Botanical Garden

Founded by the Arizona Cactus and Native Flora Society, this 140-acre botanical garden has preserved the beauty of more than 50,000 plants for over 85 years. Come for the vegetation, stay for a cocktail, and leave with some prickly pear jelly. Just what the doctor ordered. 

Camelback Mountain

If the adrenaline of a football game isn’t enough, consider an extra 2,704 feet of elevated soul-searching via Camelback Mountain. With two challenging trails and plenty of distinct desert flora, this is a must for any avid hiker.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Papago Park

A round of golf almost feels like a right of passage in Phoenix and if you can also throw in some fishing and hiking, you’re all the better for it. Fortunately, Papago Park has you covered with all of the above as well as archery, a zoo, and the previously mentioned Desert Botanical Garden.  

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Regional Park

Usery Mountain, one of 13 Maricopa County Regional Parks, is a 3,648-acre preserve at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains, adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. Located on the Valley’s east side near Mesa the park offers over 29 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding.

South Mountain Park and Preserve 

Whether you’re looking for adventurous trails or just want to soak in a gorgeous desert sunset, South Mountain Park has it all with some breathtaking views along the way. Be sure to check the trails rating guide on the website to find a route best suited to your preferred difficulty level.  

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park

Located near the Superstition Mountains and about 40 miles east of Phoenix is Arizona’s Lost Dutchman State Park. As you might suspect, the park is full of towering red rock formations, cacti, and enough hiking trails to keep you occupied for days.

Wildlife World Zoo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium & Safari Park, Litchfield Park

Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium & Safari Park has Arizona’s largest collection of exotic and endangered animals with more than 600 separate species, rides, a petting zoo, and daily shows.

Meet amazing animals from North and South America like the tapirs, mountain lions, and red fox. The aquarium offers guests a glimpse into the wild underwater world of many aquatic animals including sharks, rays and more.

Mystery Castle

A quirky, mysterious mansion randomly built in the desert? Say no more. Created by a loving father to dote upon his daughter long ago, Mystery Castle is a one-of-a-kind mansion made of stone and located in the Foothills of South Mountain Park.

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch

There are several good reasons for paying a visit to the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, a 110-acre park in Gilbert. The astounding variety of cacti, probably varieties than you ever knew existed, is itself worth stopping by for. But there are also many other species of plant and animal life in and around this artificial wetland created with reclaimed water. You can view fish, birds, reptiles, and mammals of many different kinds on a pleasant little hiking trail. It’s an especially excellent place for bird watching.

Packing for the desert

As you gear up for a weekend in the Southwest, you’ll want to make sure to pack appropriately. In addition to your team’s colors, consider bringing a few extra seasonal items.

Layers

While there are plenty of reasons a snowbird might flock to Arizona, winter seems to be the chief among them with clear and sunny temps in the 70s. That said, with the dry air it gets chilly in the evenings so bring an extra layer for early morning and late day activities.

Water bottle

Maybe this goes without saying, but heat exhaustion is no joke. Stay hydrated with a trusty water bottle in tow. 

Be aware of the cholla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Footwear

Phoenix boasts impressive landscapes and city-scapes meaning its best to bring more than one pair of shoes to make the most of the hikes and nightlife. 

Sun protection

When you’re in the heat of the afternoon and that sun’s beating down, you’ll want to be covered. Sunscreen, lip balm, long sleeves, and a broad-brimmed hat will serve you well. 

Campgrounds and RV Parks

Between the pigskin, hiking, golf, and fishing, you’ll need some R&R. Here are a few great places to lay your head.

Leaf Verde RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Leaf Verde RV Resort, Buckeye

Leaf Verde RV Resort offers spacious back-in and pull-through RV sites with full hookups including 20/30/50-amp electric service. Enjoy gravel pads with concrete patios, complimentary Wi-Fi to keep you connected, and a picnic table for your outdoor enjoyment. Other amenities include a swimming pool, shuffleboard, game room, clubhouse, pet area, laundry facilities, restroom, and shower facilities. Located in the West Valley off Interstate 10 at Exit 114.

Usery Mountain Regional Park Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Regional Park, Mesa

The previously mentioned Usery Mountain Regional Park offers 73 camping sites. All sites are paved and have water and 50/30-amp electric service, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, fire ring, and can accommodate up to 45-foot RVs. Other facilities include modern washrooms with flush toilets and hot showers and a dump station. 

Destiny RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Destiny RV Resort, Goodyear

A walled and gated community, Phoenix Destiny RV Resort offers 20/30/50-amp service on every site, a heated pool and spa, fitness center, laundry facility, shuffleboard courts, horseshoe pits, pickleball courts, putting green, billiard room, and fenced-in pet areas and a shaded turf dog run. Destiny offers a quiet, peaceful, and friendly atmosphere with easy access to I-10 (Exit 123; Citrus Road).

Lost Dutchman State Park Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park, Apache Junction

The aforementioned Lost Dutchman State Park has 135 sites for camping: 68 sites with electric (20/30/50 amp service) and water and the remainder of non-hookup sites on paved roads for tents or RVs. Every site has a picnic table and a fire pit with an adjustable grill gate. There are no size restrictions on RVs.

Worth Pondering…

Newcomers to Arizona are often struck by Desert Fever. Desert Fever is caused by the spectacular natural beauty and serenity of the area. Early symptoms include a burning desire to make plans for the next trip south. There is no apparent cure for snowbirds.

Explore Phoenix Naturally

Desert, mountains, lakes, diverse wildlife, and a variety of attractions await exploration within and outside the limits of this bustling Arizona city

Getting out of busy, congested cities to soak in the natural beauty of our planet has long been my favorite thing to do and I wanted to see the natural side of Phoenix.

Phoenix often becomes overshadowed by Tucson or Sedona and it frequently is viewed by visitors as a refueling stop on a journey to the Grand Canyon or Joshua Tree. What many don’t realize is that there is much to see and do in and around Phoenix.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Downtown architecture displays a mix of silver skyscrapers, adobe missions, and vintage Spanish Colonial homes. Phoenix boasts numerous galleries and museums including the Heard Museum with its extraordinary collection of Southwest American Indian art. Another interesting place to visit is the famous Taliesin West home built by architect Frank Lloyd Wright in nearby Scottsdale.

I wondered what area campgrounds were like and soon headed out to explore. Starting at the small town of Apache Junction, I took the Apache Trail Scenic Drive (State Route 88) to Lost Dutchman State Park located 40 miles east of Phoenix.

Superstition Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the 1870s, a Prussian immigrant named Jacob Waltz reportedly found gold in the Superstition Mountains. He kept the whereabouts of the mine secret, only revealing the location to his caregiver on his deathbed in 1891. She and countless others since have tried to find the Lost Dutchman Mine without success.

Related article: Family-friendly Road Trips Through Arizona: Phoenix and Tucson

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The state park campground has 138 sites; 68 of them with 50/30/20-amp electric service and water and a paved road network to all sites. The campground has no RV size restrictions. Several hiking trails lead visitors from the park deep into the Superstition Mountains Wilderness and surrounding Tonto National Forest. In March, a carpet of wildflowers takes over the park. Lost Dutchman is in the middle of an area with diverse wildlife habitat, so don’t be surprised to see a desert mule deer, a jackrabbit, a greater roadrunner, or a Gila monster stroll through your campsite.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An internet search for Tonto National Forest yields a five-star-rated description of the desert, mountains, rivers, and camping. What more could one ask for?

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Leaving Lost Dutchman State Park on Apache Trail Scenic Drive, I headed north straight into Tonto National Forest. This is one of the most scenic drives in Arizona. However, a warning: Drivers encounter narrow shoulders and steep grades along parts of this route and some of it is unpaved. Large RVs are not recommended on certain sections of the 120-mile loop. And it’s advisable to check road conditions before heading out.

Tonto National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But, this scenic route is well worth the endeavor although nervous drivers or passengers may want to take a pass. Twisting and turning around buttes of alternating layers of rose-, cream-, and rust-colored sandstone canyons sprinkled with stubby pine bushes suggests a scene right out of an old John Wayne movie. It’s best to avoid this road on weekends.

Related article: 15 Amazing Places to Discover in Phoenix

Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I made it as far as Canyon Lake that day. Known for its shorelines with easy access for boaters seeking seclusion, Canyon Lake resembles a turquoise gem trapped between rocky cliffs. Many picnic areas, private campgrounds, and RV resorts surround the lake. Most places are set in a typical desert atmosphere with campsites surrounded by conifer, oak, and aspen trees, depending on their location on the lake. The Canyon Lake Marina and Campground offers marina services, a restaurant, and a beach, as well as 28 RV sites with electric and water hookups.

Tonto National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tonto, the largest national forest in Arizona consists of almost 3 million acres of cactus-studded desert among pine-covered mountains. Because of its proximity to Phoenix, the forest is considered one of the most “urban” forests in the United States with more than 3 million people visiting every year.

Some people claim that the forest was not named after the famous sidekick of the Lone Ranger but the Tonto Basin at its core was found on historic maps created when the land fell under Spanish rule. Why the Spanish named the basin Tonto is a mystery. A few historians claim the term tontos which is Spanish for fools or crazy people was often heard in early pioneer days about the Apache Indians. Most speculate the name resulted from the early settlers’ impression of a people who dressed and talked very differently from themselves. Hmm; maybe that ghost was not Roy.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Established around the construction of Roosevelt Dam, the forest was created in 1905 to protect the watersheds of the Salt and Verde rivers. These has two scenic rivers are known for their fast-moving clear water, fossil rock formations, and guided raft or kayak excursions. Another terrific place is Tonto National Monument which showcases cliff dwellings occupied by the Salado Indians starting in the 13th century. The museum there hosts a fine collection of pottery and textiles.

Related article: Amazing Places to Discover in Phoenix’s East Valley

Tonto National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tonto National Forest is large with many camping options. Elevations range from 1,300 to 7,900 feet and some areas are difficult to reach with large RVs so it is important to research the many private and public campgrounds in the area. The main question to ask yourself is what Arizona habitat you wish to embrace for your stay—the desert flats or the forested mountains.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I spent a day enjoying nature within the city at Papago Park. The 1,200-acre park is home to “Hole in the Rock” a red rock that is distinctive to its landscape. Its massive, otherworldly sandstone buttes set Papago Park apart, even in a city and state filled with numerous world-class natural attractions. While visitors to Papago can enjoy its extensive trail network through the Sonoran Desert habitat, they can also enjoy the park’s two major residents, the Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Garden, world-class attractions that draw millions of visits each year.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beautifully designed with more than 21,000 cacti and desert flora, Desert Botanical Garden is made for a calming stroll along prickly cacti. Desert plants of many colors were showing off spring blooms of red, lavender, and yellow. Many sizes were represented as well with one cactus as tall as a two-story building. The garden boasts of nurturing 4,400 different species in its Living Collection and 485 plants that are rare and endangered species.

Desert Botanical Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Water features are scattered throughout inviting visitors to stop and rest their feet. I highly recommend the Desert Wildflower Loop Trail and the enclosed Butterfly Pavilion is a must-see.

Related article: Top 10 Day Trips From Phoenix

Programs for children, families, teachers and gardeners are held routinely at the Desert Landscape School with online or in-person activities.

Desert Botanical Garden © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Few Fun Facts

  • At Tonto National Forest starting in early November, a special permit can be purchased to cut down your own Christmas tree.
  • The Salado Indians settled along the Salt River near where the original city of Phoenix was built. Salado in Spanish means salty.
  • The Desert Botanical Garden is a popular venue for weddings and nature photographers. During the winter holiday season, 8,000 flickering luminaria candles light up the garden in the evening at the Las Noches de Las Luminarias throughout December.

Worth Pondering…

Alone in the open desert, I have made up songs of wild, poignant rejoicing and transcendent melancholy. The world has seemed more beautiful to me than ever before.

I have loved the red rocks, the twisted trees, and sand blowing in the wind, the slow, sunny clouds crossing the sky, the shafts of moonlight on my bed at night. I have seemed to be at one with the world.

—Everett Ruess

The Best Stops for a Spring Road Trip

Whether you park for ten minutes or ten days, what destinations do you pull off the highway for?

At some point, everyone starts to think about their dream road trip. For some, it’s a jaunt to the Grand Canyon or touring the Mighty Five in a decked-out RV. For others, it’s traveling Historic Route 66 or the Blue Ridge Parkway. No matter the destination, though, everyone needs to make stops on the way. What are some of your favorites?

For my purpose, a stop is anything from a national park to a state park or a roadside attraction to a Texas BBQ joint. Anything that gets you to pull off the highway, turn off your engine, and stretch your legs a bit—whether it’s to hike a mountain trail or tour a living history museum is up to you.

My vote for the perfect road trip stop is multifaceted and an ongoing list as I travel to new places and explore America’s scenic wonders.

Morse Farms Maple Sugarworks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks, Montpelier, Vermont

Vermont Maple has been the standard by which all syrups are judged. I think you can taste eight generations of experience in Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks. The Morse Family has been making maple syrup and related products in Vermont for 200 years. And their folksy maple farm is an interesting place to visit any time of year.

Nestled on a hilltop just 2.7 miles outside of Montpelier, the smallest state capital in the U.S., Morse Farm is a throwback to a simpler, quieter time when generations of the same family worked together to carve out a living on the land.

Morse Farms Sugarworks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

You’ll hear an informative and fascinating presentation about the history and operation of the farm and you can take a stroll on the trail among some of the sugar maple trees. There are farm animals to feed and of course there is a gift shop with a wide assortment of the farm’s products for sale.

Open daily, with slight variation in hours by season. No admission charge. Harvesting season is mid-March to Mid-April. Ample parking is available, including pull-through parking for RVs.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Catalina State Park, Tucson, Arizona

Several hikes and activities await the visitor to Catalina State Park. One of the prettiest hikes is the Romero Canyon Trail, which climbs up to the Romero Pools with trees, rocks, and water. Visitors can also picnic, spot birds and wildlife, ride trail bikes, or take a trail ride on horseback.

Related Article: 10 Inexpensive Outdoor Activities for Spring

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Catalina State Park is located off Highway 77/Oracle Road. Best times to visit are fall through spring; summer can be very hot. A per-vehicle day-use fee is collected at the entrance station. RV camping with 50/30-amp electric service and water are available at the site. Showers and a dump station are available.

Middleton Place © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Middleton Place, Charleston, South Carolina

America’s oldest landscaped gardens and a great deal of history can be found at Middleton Place, a former plantation near Charleston. The estate was the primary base of the Middleton family, who owned 19 plantations in the area (staffed by as many as 1,000 slaves). One member of the family was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The main house is in ruins but a guest house still stands furnished to give a glimpse into the opulent lifestyle of the plantation’s heyday.

Middleton Place © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The plantation is open year-round but during warmer weather you’ll have more opportunities to observe demonstrations of blacksmithing, pottery, and other period trades. The camellias begin blooming in February.

St. Martin de Tours Church © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

St Martin de Tours Church, St. Martinville, Louisiana

Cajuns refer to this as the ‘Mother Church of the Acadians’ as it was here in St. Martinville that the largest immigration of Acadians took place in 1785. The church is the focus of St Martin Square where you’ll find a number of monuments and statues. St Martinville’s wider historic district is home to 32 buildings dating from 1820-1931 and the Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site.

Evangeline Oak © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Behind the church sits the statue of Evangeline, the fictional Acadian heroine immortalized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem set in the time of the Expulsion of the Acadians.

Related Article: 12 of the Best State Parks for Spring Camping

Bernheim Arboretum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, Shepherdsville, Kentucky

At 15,625 acres, Bernheim Arboretum boasts the largest protected natural area in Kentucky. It’s also one of the area’s premier recreational venues, ideal for those individuals who enjoy strolling through nature while taking life at a pace conducive to easy enjoyment. Bernheim contains a 600-acre arboretum with over 8,000 unique varieties of trees.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Take a scenic drive through the forest on paved roads or bicycle around the Arboretum, a living library of trees. Over 40 miles of trails with varying degrees of ease and difficulty weave their way through the forest at Bernheim; no matter what level you are looking for, there’s a trail for you. Some are handicap accessible.

La Conner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

La Conner, Washington

La Conner is one of those places that people love to visit—time and time again. The reasons are many, but one that stands out is that there are so many things to do in—and around—La Conner. A waterfront village in northwestern Washington, La Conner is nestled beside the Swinomish Channel near the mouth of the Skagit River. La Conner is a unique combination of a fishing village, artists’ colony, eclectic shops, historic buildings, and tourist destination. Relax by the water, enjoy fine restaurants, browse through unique shops and art galleries, and visit the beautiful tulip fields of Skagit Valley.

Acorn woodpecker at Ramsey Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Ramsey Canyon Preserve, Hereford, Arizona

15 species of hummingbirds, the elegant trogon and the lesser long-nosed bat are just a few of the species found in this ecological crossroads operated by the Nature Conservancy. Enjoy spotting dozens of bird species or sit in shaded seating areas along Ramsey Creek and watch hummingbirds feed. Hike up the Hamburg Trail along the creek past old cabins to an overlook where it joins a network of trails in the Coronado National Forest and the Miller Peak Wilderness Area.

Open Thursday through Monday. Hours change by season. Admission charged. Parking is limited. Bookstore and gift shop, restrooms in the visitor center.

Wigwam Motel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Wigwam Motel, Holbrook, Arizona

Get off the Interstate and drive a portion of historic Route 66 in Holbrook. Spend the night in a wigwam right on Route 66 with vintage cars parked all around! With only 15 wigwams, making a reservation is a good idea. This is a good base for a day trip to Petrified Forest National Park and Historic Route 66.

Woodford Reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Woodford Reserve Distillery, Versailles, Kentucky

If you’re looking for Kentucky majesty, you’ll be hard-pressed to find grounds more beautiful than those of the Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles. Woodford can claim that it is the “oldest” distillery in Kentucky because it’s been located in the same place since 1812. Other distilleries have moved their operations over the years. Because of this, Woodford Reserve is a national historic landmark. Woodford holds special significance for me as being the first bourbon distillery visited and one of only two distilleries we have visited on two separate occasions, the other being Maker’s Mark.

Related Article: America’s 10 Best Scenic Byways for a Spring Road Trip

Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Hoover Dam, Boulder City, Nevada

A modern wonder, Hoover Dam was constructed in the 1930s. The facts and figures are staggering: the dam is 726.4 feet high, 1244 feet wide, 660 feet thick at the base, and was constructed with 3.25 million cubic yards of concrete. The water held behind the dam in Lake Mead, North America’s largest man-made reservoir, meets the needs of more than 20 million people and generates huge amounts hydroelectric power. And yet nothing quite prepares you for the immensity of this awe-inspiring feat of engineering. Tours are available.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Town Too Tough To Die, Tombstone, Arizona

Live out all of your Wild West dreams in Tombstone, Arizona, the location of the infamous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Cowboys, cowgirls, and wannabes fill up the town’s saloons and the O.K. Corral museum puts on reenactments of Wyatt Earp’s 1881 shootout. The buildings are so well maintained and the townsfolk so authentic that at times it’s easy to think you’ve landed on a John Wayne movie set.

World’s Largest Pistachio Nut © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

World’s Largest Pistachio Nut, Alamogordo, New Mexico

Erected outside McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch in 2008, the world’s largest pistachio nut is a truly impressive piece of engineering. Standing 30 feet tall and so substantial that it required a concrete base 9 feet deep, this giant steel-and-concrete nut is now firmly established as one of New Mexico’s most distinctive roadside attractions.

Free samples at McGinn’s © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Don’t just stop for the photos, as well as an amazing selection of pistachio products, McGinn’s also sells great ice cream and a wide range of New Mexico wines and foods. Tours are available.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Papago Park, Phoenix, Arizona

Filled with sandstone buttes that provide gentle but stimulating hiking trails and photogenic spots like the Hole in the Rock, Papago Park is a scenic wonder only 10 minutes from downtown Phoenix. Home of the Phoenix Zoo and the Desert Botanical Garden, the park also offers many activities including archery range, golf course, fishing lagoons, and an orienteering course. That little pyramid you’ll see is the tomb of Gov. George Wiley Paul Hunt.

Blue Bell Creamery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Blue Bell Creamery, Brenham, Texas

The main attraction in Brenham is the Blue Bell Ice Cream factory, which opened in 1907. Visitors can stop by the creamery’s Ice Cream Parlor for a generous scoop, learn about the history from the visitor’s center, shop the Country Store, and watch the production from the observation deck. Be sure to take a photo with the statue of the brand’s iconic logo, a little girl leading a cow on a rope.

Moki Dugway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Moki Dugway, Mexican Hat, Utah

A winding, scenic drive along the edge of Cedar Mesa offers panoramic views. Valley of the Gods is below. Monument Valley is off in the distance. A drive to nearby Muley Point near the top overlooks the Goosenecks of the San Juan River. Built originally for trucks hauling uranium ore, this is a popular route, though not for the faint-hearted! The road is unpaved but graded. The State of Utah recommends that only vehicles less than 28 feet in length and 10,000 pounds in weight attempt to negotiate this steep (10% grade), narrow, and winding road. It’s also spelled as Mokee Dugway.

Worth Pondering…

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,

Healthy, free, the world before me,

The long brown trail before me leading wherever I choose.

—Walt Whitman

Family-friendly Road Trips Through Arizona: Phoenix and Tucson

To help you plan your family-friendly road trip through Arizona, I’ve put together this list of awesome road trip stops. Keep reading to learn about my favorite spots and campgrounds along the route.

With its vast landscapes and colorful topography, the American Southwest is one of the best regions in the country to take an old-fashioned road trip—in fact, that’s the only way to see most of it. Arizona, specifically, is home to the only Natural Wonder of the World in the U. S., numerous national parks, picturesque state parks, and 21 American Indian tribes. So, what better way to spend spring break this year than packing up the kids for a four family-friendly road trips through Arizona?

Phoenix from Hole in the Rock at Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since the possibilities for an Arizona road trip are endless, I’ve organized these family-friendly road trips into four paths. Each of these road trip routes includes a selection of my favorite stops. I’ve traveled along each of these paths—most more than once. There is truly something for every member of the family to be enjoyed in each of these road trips.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Earlier articles highlighted Northern Arizona and the Grand Canyon and Sedona and the Verde Valley. Today we drive 115 miles south to Phoenix.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Food and culture trails through Phoenix

The capital of Arizona, Phoenix is known for its resorts, golf courses, great food and wine, and fantastic desert views. While road-tripping through Arizona, stop here for some culture and tasty morsels.

Desert Botanical Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take in the art of Native Americans at the Heard Museum. Let the kids loose at the Arizona Science Center where STEM exhibits both teach and entertain. Race fans will love the Penske Racing Museum with its amazing collection of cars, trophies, and racing memorabilia chronicling the career of the Penske family one of the most successful race dynasties.

Related Article: Amazing Places to Discover in Phoenix’s East Valley

Ring-necked duck at Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then, drive about 30 miles northeast of town to visit Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s desert sanctuary and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a stunning museum celebrating the genius of Wright’s architecture and design.

White Tank Mountains Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After taking in all those amazing places, visitors will have worked up an appetite. Phoenix’s dining scene is rich and varied with something for every taste.

Fountain Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Housed inside a 1950s bank building, the midcentury gem Federal Pizza serves up delicious wood-fired pizza in a relaxed atmosphere that’s perfect for families. Or try modern Mexican fare made with fresh local ingredients at Joyride Taco House with misters on the patio to keep you cool in the hot summer months.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Right across the street is Churn, a nostalgic candy and ice cream shop that will make all your kids’ dreams come true with shelves of retro toys and candy, artisan ice cream, and fresh-baked treats. Check out the Instagrammable wall of cassette tapes in the back (and have fun explaining what cassettes are to your kids).

Desert Botanical Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Filled with sandstone buttes that provide gentle but stimulating hiking trails and photogenic spots like the Hole in the Rock, Papago Park is a scenic wonder only 10 minutes from downtown Phoenix. Home of the Phoenix Zoo and the Desert Botanical Garden, the park also offers many activities including an archery range, golf course, fishing lagoons, and an orienteering course. That little pyramid you’ll see is the tomb of Gov. George Wiley Paul Hunt.

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are several good reasons for paying a visit to the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, a 110-acre park in Gilbert. The astounding variety of cacti, probably varieties than you ever knew existed, is itself worth stopping by for. But there are also many other species of plant and animal life in and around this artificial wetland created with reclaimed water. You can view fish, birds, reptiles, and mammals of many different kinds on a pleasant little hiking trail. It’s an especially excellent place for bird watching. The picnic and playground areas are imaginatively and artistically designed and laid out.

Related Article: Top 10 Day Trips From Phoenix

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another family-friendly adventure is Schnepf Farms, an organic farm where you can pick your own fruits and vegetables. With 300 acres, Schnepf Farms is the perfect place to enjoy fresh air and naturally grown, pesticide-free produce (peppers, cucumbers, kale, and green onions, among others). They are especially known for their peaches with picking season usually in May.

Queen Creek Olive Mill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re into clean eating, check out the Queen Creek Olive Mill. You can tour the grounds and learn how to make extra virgin olive oil, the best uses for it in the kitchen and why it’s so healthy.

Presidio-Old Pima County Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eat your way through Tucson plus a dose of nature

Tucson is another Arizona destination worth repeat visits with history, culture, and outdoor activities galore. Plus, its food game is beyond your wildest expectations. Tucson is a UNESCO City of Gastronomy, named in 2015 (the first in the U.S.). Tucson gave us the Sonoran dog—a bacon-wrapped street dog forged in nearby Sonora and packed into a bun filled with burrito toppings.

Old Presidio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucson’s designation acknowledges that the chefs and residents of Tucson value the role food has historically played in the city. Many local chefs use ingredients that the Indigenous people of the area have used for thousands of years.

Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whatever else is on the agenda, save time to explore an area the city has designated “The Best 23 Miles of Mexican Food.” Start along Tucson’s 12th Avenue for an authentic taste of the Best 23 Miles and work your way from there. From street food to taquerias to fine dining, the Mexican food scene in Tucson is often described as the best outside of Mexico.

Related Article: A Southern Gem: 14 Reasons to Visit Tucson

Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Laying claim to being the oldest Mexican restaurant in the U.S. is El Charro, with a menu offering a mix of traditional dishes and Mexican favorites. This colorful eatery was established in 1922 by Monica Flin (credited with inventing the chimichanga) and has been in continuous operation by the same family ever since.

Tucson Mountain Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the historic Hotel Congress, the more than 100-year-old lobby restaurant Cup Cafe is something of a local legend. The food here is dependable and tasty — from French dip sandwiches with an interesting Southwest flavor twist to gargantuan breakfast-for-lunch omelets. For dessert, an old-fashioned spiraling glass display case shows guests a variety of sweet, homemade treats.

But this funky little town is chockablock with art, drawing from indigenous cultures, trippy desert landscape, and the fact that heat and desolation can really bring out the weirdness in people.

Tucson Museum of Art © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Home to the University of Arizona, the city nurtures a vibrant downtown arts scene with the contemporary Tucson Museum of Art forming the backbone of a flourishing community of painters, glass-blowers, and jewelers. When the heat drops at night, that same downtown comes alive with bars, breweries, and upscale restaurants embracing the uniquely Tucson convergence of Mexican and Arizona influences, a dose of green chiles, open-faced quesadillas (cheese crisps), and those exquisite hot dogs.

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucson also happens to host one of the country’s biggest annual gem and mineral shows each winter when the city is taken over by rockhounds from around the world.

Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

View a great variety of plants and animals of the Sonoran Desert at Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum. Two miles of paths lead through 21 acres of displays. Live demonstrations and tours daily. The museum is a zoo, natural history museum, and botanical garden all rolled into one.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A desert oasis, Sabino Canyon Recreation Area is a hiker’s paradise. Tucked in a canyon in the Santa Catalina Mountains in the Coronado Forest, it is easily accessible from Tucson. Ride the narrated shuttle bus and you can get off and back on at any of the stops for a picnic, hike, or a walk back. Trails off the main road explore the canyon or lead into the high country.

Related Article: Why Tucson Is Your Next Great Outdoor Adventure

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The West is full of beautiful national parks but one of the most iconic symbols of the Old West is the saguaro cactus—and Saguaro National Park is full of them. These majestic plants are only found in this part of the U.S. and can live to be as much as 200 years old and grow up to 60 feet tall. Learn about cacti in the gardens on the east and west sides of the visitor center and take in beautiful sunsets on the Tanque Verde Ridge Trail (a half-mile hike) from the Javelina Rocks pullout on the east or from the Gates Pass on the west side.

Tucson/Lazydays KOA © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Places to stay along this route

With so much to explore, you may want to book a campground or RV park along the route. Here are some recommendations for places to rest your weary heads:

Worth Pondering…

The saguaro cactus is the Sonoran Desert’s singular icon, the largest native living thing that exists here, and it appears to be a stunningly robust presence in a harsh land.

—Larry Cheek, Cheek, Born Survivor

What Are You Waiting For? Get Outdoors in the Sonoran Desert NOW!

From hiking and mountain biking to hot air balloon rides and rafting trips, here are the most-thrilling ways to get outdoors in the Phoenix area

The largest city in the Sonoran Desert—and surrounded on all sides by mountains—Phoenix is a paradise for outdoorsy types. Here, you can hike past towering saguaro cacti, take guided horseback rides on tribal land, and kayak on scenic lakes, all just minutes from the city.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best of all, the area promises ideal weather. Fall and winter offer pleasant temperatures while spring brings a burst of colorful wildflowers. And in the summer months, travelers can cool off with water activities at Lake Pleasant Regional Park or the Lower Salt River.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether you want to explore by land, air, or water, there’s an adventure waiting for you in this stunning Sonoran Desert landscape. Read on for the most thrilling ways to experience the Phoenix area and spend some quality time in the great outdoors.

Related Article: Where It All Began: My Love Affair with the Southwest

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take an (Awe-inspiring) Hike

There’s a scenic trail for every skill level just a short drive in any direction from downtown Phoenix. If you’re looking for something easy follow one of the meandering walking paths through the Desert Botanical Garden, home to 140 acres of local flora, or explore a saguaro forest on the Go John Trail in Cave Creek Regional Park. There’s also the Blevins Trail in Usery Mountain Regional Park where you can see quintessential Sonoran Desert scenery or the half-mile hike in Papago Park to the popular Hole-in-the-Rock viewpoint.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a slightly more strenuous hike, try the Tom’s Thumb Trail in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve which starts with a series of challenging switchbacks and passes upland boulder fields and desert flora on the way to the top. You could also opt for the two-mile Waterfall Trail in White Tank Mountain Regional Park, home to ancient petroglyphs, massive saguaros, and that namesake waterfall (though only after it rains), or the 3.5-mile Hidden Valley via Mormon Trail loop in the South Mountain Park and Preserve which requires squeezing through a crevice called Fat Man’s Pass and some hand-over-hand clambering toward the top.

White Tank Mountains Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the most challenging hikes near Phoenix is the Siphon Draw Trail in Lost Dutchman State Park which starts in an open desert, travels through a basin of smooth, polished rock, and ends in a flat clearing with breathtaking views to the west. Hikers here must be prepared for some hand-over-hand rock faces and rugged, unmarked areas. There’s also the Summit Trail up Piestewa Peak (the second-highest point in the Phoenix Mountains Preserve) and the steep, rocky Echo Canyon Trail up the famous Camelback Mountain.

Related Article: There Is No Winter like a Desert Winter in the Valley of the Sun

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore by Mountain Bike

Setting out on two wheels is another great way to discover the Sonoran Desert. 360 Adventures offers mountain-biking tours through the desert on trails selected for your skill level while the REI Co-Op Adventure Center boasts half-and full-day excursions on everything from smooth, groomed flows to big rock drops. If you prefer dirt bikes, opt for Extreme Arizona which features guided trips into the Table Mesa area as well as self-led outings in Tonto National Forest.

Horseback riding at Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hit the Trails on Horseback

Playing cowboy with a horseback ride through the desert stimulates the senses with an authentic experience of history. Horseback rides offer a memorable way to enjoy the scenery. Ponderosa Stables has guided tours in South Mountain Park and Preserve where trails wind past magnificent saguaros while the Koli Equestrian Center located in the Gila River Indian Community features excursions led by American Indian wranglers who take you through their tribal lands while teaching you about their history, culture, and surroundings.

Huhugan Heritage Center at Gila River Indian Community © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go Off-road with an ATV Tour

For an adrenaline-pumping experience, try a guided ATV tour with Arizona Outdoor Fun during which you’ll navigate twisting mountain trails to explore Hohokam Indian ruins, visit a former turquoise mine, and learn about Arizona’s history and wildlife. If driving an authentic, military-grade TomCar UTV is more your speed, go with Desert Wolf Tours which covers thousands of acres of Sonoran Desert wilderness to teach cowboy history while soaking up the scenery. Whichever you choose, you’ll get to cover more ground than on a hike or bike ride—all without breaking a sweat.

Related Article: Arizona Lakes: 6 Sonoran Desert Oases

Tonto National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take to the Sky with a Hot Air Balloon Ride

See the desert from a whole new perspective by soaring above the coyotes and jackrabbits in a hot air balloon. Begin on the ground to view the inflation process then take to the sky for an hour during which you’ll float at different elevations to spot local wildlife, plants, and landmarks. Flights with Hot Air Expeditions and Rainbow Ryders take place at sunrise year-round and sunset rides are available in the winter months.

Along the Salt River east of Phoenix © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore the Waterways

On Phoenix’s eastern edge you’ll find the Lower Salt River where you can indulge in stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, and rafting tours to spot wild horses and eagles along the shore. On the upper part of the river, Arizona Rafting leads whitewater rafting experiences from March through May which include a hot fajita lunch, complimentary wet suit rentals, and some of the best rapids between California and Colorado.

Saguaro Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For something less intense, consider a tour with Salt River Tubing in Tonto National Forest during which you’ll mosey down mountain-stream waters at a pace that makes enjoying a floating picnic possible.

Along the Bush Highway east of Phoenix © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About 45 minutes northwest of downtown Phoenix, you’ll even find Lake Pleasant Regional Park one of the area’s most scenic water recreation areas. The 1,000-acre lake has rentals available on-site, as well as opportunities for swimming, fishing, camping, hiking, picnicking, and more.

Read Next: Top 10 Day Trips From Phoenix

Worth Pondering…

This was as the desert should be, this was the desert of the picture books, with the land unrolled to the farthest distant horizon hills, with saguaros standing sentinel in their strange chessboard pattern, towering supinely above the fans of ocotillo and brushy mesquite.

—Dorothy B. Hughes

The Ultimate Arizona Road Trip: 16 Places to See & Things to Do

In many ways the beauty of Arizona is embodied by its most famous natural landmark, the Grand Canyon but there is so much more. Discover the endless possibilities now.

Arizona is well-known for its beautiful landscapes and scenery. These beautiful, must-experience places are bucket-list worthy; some are well-known while others are hidden gems you might not have known about. From national landmarks to historical towns and breathtaking outdoor landscapes, here are 16 places to visit on your next Arizona road trip.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon

The most obvious landmark and Arizona road trip (and the most breathtaking of them all) is the Grand Canyon. If you have never experienced the sight of this outstanding view, you absolutely have to add this to your bucket list. The hiking trails will leave you speechless. Plus many photo opportunities! Check out the El Tovar Hotel, a historic property that opened its doors in 1905 and has entertained celebrities and presidents for over 100 years. Just steps away from the Grand Canyon’s edge, the dining room is as close to the canyon as you can get as well.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bisbee

One of Arizona’s best-kept secrets is the historic town of Bisbee. The former mining town is a small, unique community that sits high in the mountains in the far southeast corner of Arizona. With plenty of things to do, activities, events and festivals, shops, and galleries plus hiking, birding, gallery-gazing, or dining, Bisbee offers a plethora of choices to keep you entertained.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Home to Lake Powell, The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is a stunning region of blue water with desert landscape and dramatic stone walls. One of the largest manmade lakes in the United States, this area is known for both land-based and water-based recreational activities. You can enjoy a summer’s day with perfect weather, cool water, amazing scenery, and endless sunshine. This is the perfect place to escape to and rent a houseboat, stay at a campground, or enjoy lodging.

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montezuma Castle National Monument

Montezuma Castle, near Camp Verde, has nothing to do with Montezuma, nor is it a castle. The Sinagua built the five-story, 20-room pueblo about 1150 but abandoned it in the early 1400s, almost a century before Montezuma was born. Montezuma Castle is built into a deep alcove with masonry rooms added in phases. A thick, substantial roof of sycamore beams, reeds, grasses, and clay served as the floor of the room built on top.

Hoover Dan © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hoover Dam

Linking Arizona and Nevada, Hoover Dam is one of America’s great engineering marvels and a fantastic Arizona road trip. Completed in 1935, this massive and hard-to-miss structure crosses the Colorado River and sits at a total of 726 feet high and 1,244 feet long. You are able to walk across the dam or take a tour. The visitor center provides information on the tours and has a café where you can stop for some basic grub.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome

An old mining town-turned ghost town-turned tourist attraction, Jerome sits on a mountainside just above the desert floor. Jerome is unique and quirky, to say the least, with the Sliding Jail in Jerome that was originally built around 1928. While you’re there, you can visit the town’s most appreciated historical landmarks including the Gold King Mine Museum and the Jerome State Historic Park.

Last year at this time, these were the most popular articles:

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley

Along a 17-mile one-way gravel road, you will find the heart of the valley, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. While visiting this area, which straddles the border between Arizona and Utah, you’ll experience the true Arizona desert feel with miles and miles of beautiful landscape and scenery of mesas and buttes, shrubs and trees, and windblown sand, creating all the wonderful and majestic colors of the Valley.

Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prescott

With its small-city feel and defined seasons, Prescott has tall Ponderosa pine trees, lakes, and the occasional sprinkle of snow. This charming town has many things to offer, including the old courthouse, Whiskey Row, Elks Theatre, and numerous other tourist attractions. You can grab a bite to eat at one of the downtown restaurants.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park

One of Tucson’s most popular attractions is Saguaro National Park which is a great place to experience the desert landscape around this well-known town and see the famous saguaro cacti up close. With an east and west portion, the park has two sections, approximately 30 minutes apart. Both sections of the park offer great opportunities to experience the desert and enjoy hiking trails.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park

Jutting out of the Sonoran Desert some 1,500 feet, you can’t help but see Picacho Peak for miles as you drive along Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Tucson. Travelers have used the peak for centuries as a landmark and continue to enjoy the state park’s 3,747 acres for hiking, rock climbing, spring wildflowers, and camping

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone

After getting its start as a silver mining claim in the late-1870s, Tombstone grew along with its Tough Nut Mine becoming a bustling boomtown of the Wild West. From opera and theater to dance halls and brothels, Tombstone offered much-needed entertainment to the miners after a long shift underground. The spirits of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the Clanton Brothers live on in the authentic old west town of Tombstone, home of Boothill Graveyard, the Birdcage Theatre, and the O.K. Corral.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Papago Park

Just minutes from downtown Phoenix, Papago Park offers great hiking and a wide array of recreational facilities. Comprised primarily of sandstone, the range is known for its massive buttes that rise and fall throughout the park. Papago is home to two of the region’s most visited attractions, the Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Garden.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona

Sedona is a well-known hotbed of energy—one that’s conducive to both meditation and healing—and this is one of the reasons 4.5 million travelers flock here annually. That and the region’s red rocks: stunning sandstone formations that jut upward thousands of feet and change colors from orange to rust to crimson as the sun passes through the sky.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

A comparatively little-known canyon, Canyon de Chelly has sandstone walls rising up to 1,000 feet, scenic overlooks, well-preserved Anasazi ruins, and an insight into the present-day life of the Navajo, who still inhabit and cultivate the valley floor. From the mesa east of Chinle in the Navajo Nation, Canyon de Chelly is invisible. Then as one approaches suddenly the world falls away—1,000 feet down a series of vertical red walls.

Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucson

Surrounded by mountains, Tucson is a beautiful city set in the Sonoran Desert and is the second-largest city in Arizona. With many historic sites and cultural attractions, Tucson is a place to unwind and explore. Highlights include the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Saguaro National Park, Sabino Canyon, El Presidio Historic District, and Old Tucson Studios. You will also discover hiking trails, and afterward, you can find a bite to eat at one of the many wonderful restaurants Tucson has to offer.

Organ Pipe National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

The remote Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a gem tucked away in southern Arizona’s vast the Sonoran Desert. Thanks to its unique crossroads locale, the park is home to a wide range of specialized plants and animals, including its namesake. The organ pipe cactus can live to over 150 years in age, have up to 100 arms, reach 25 feet in height, and will only produce its first flower near the age of 35.

Worth Pondering…

The trip across Arizona is just one oasis after another. You can just throw anything out and it will grow there.

—Will Rogers

The Most Beautiful Places in Arizona (That Aren’t the Grand Canyon)

Half the state looks like it was drawn by Dr. Seuss.

Just over three decades ago we made several stops in Arizona on a cross country journey in an RV. My first reaction was how could anyone choose to live in this big, desolate god-forsaken desert? While camping at Usery Mountain, a Maricopa County Regional Park, I entered into a conversation with the campground host. A full-time RVer originally from Michigan, she had similar sentiments upon seeing Arizona for the first time and within several weeks fell in love with the desert and never left. I, too, fell in love with the Sonoran Desert and its flora and fauna and have returned to Arizona more than a dozen times.

Sedona from Airport Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona will completely shatter any pessimistic expectations you may harbor. Arizona is an absolute stunner! It’s a state where orange-hued slot canyons and colorful sandstone formations could trick even the most experienced explorer into thinking they’ve wandered off to Mars. Here, ancient deserts seem painted by unseen artists. That canyon? It is indeed grand! But look beyond it and you’ll discover a state whose beauty all but ensures you’ll want to stay for the long haul or return again and again.

Cathedral Rock, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona

I can’t tell you exactly what it was at the time, but something brought me to Arizona… looking back, maybe it was the pull of Sedona’s vortexes. And I’m not the only one feeling the tug of some sort of unknown spiritual energy. Nearly 3 million tourists visit Sedona annually; a figure that’s tripled over the last decade or so. Just a day trip from Phoenix, Sedona is a gem of a town surrounded by forests and red-rock buttes that thrust skyward; all obvious reasons why so many seek out the new-agey Northern Arizona town. Recognized for their powerful energy and scenic views, Bell Rock, Boynton Canyon, Airport Mesa, and Cathedral Rock are said to be the strongest vortexes around the town. What does a vortex feel like, exactly? You’ll have to experience it for yourself in Sedona. 

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mission San Xavier del Bac

Located just 10 miles from Downtown Tucson, this stunningly beautiful mission was founded in 1692 and built in 1700 which makes it the oldest intact European structure in the state of Arizona and the best example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the country. Referred to as The White Dove of the Desert, the church’s interior is brimming with original statuary and detailed mural paintings that portray motifs influenced by both the Spanish and Tohono O’odham people. The style is truly unique to Arizona and is a must-stop when passing through Tucson or nearby Saguaro National Park.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley 

Since the 1930s, Monument Valley’s iconic desert landscape has been featured in dozens of movies and western-style films. With its tower-like red sandstone bluffs and long-stretched highway, Monument Valley’s panoramic scenery is essentially the picture of the American Southwest. Parts of the area including Hunts Mesa and Mystery Valley are only accessible by guided tour. However, road-trippers can drive through the park on a dirt road that winds 17-miles. A trip through the park takes about two to three hours from start to finish. Monument Valley also made our list of Most Beautiful Places in Utah.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bisbee

Bisbee’s reputation for being a little eccentric isn’t exactly a lie. The town has been nicknamed “Mayberry on Acid.” Hell, they even printed it on t-shirts. Nestled in Southeastern Arizona’s Mule Mountains and just 10-miles north of the Mexico Border, this mining town turned arts colony provides travelers an offbeat experience against a backdrop of historic mines, psychedelic art displays, and staircases leading to houses on stilts. What made Bisbee so… Bisbee? After a lucrative and long-running mining boom, creative souls from near and far found a home in the sleepy desert town. And there is certainly no denying that the creative influence remains very, very strong today in this underrated small town.

Painted Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Painted Desert

Millions of years in the making and spanning more than 953,000 acres from Grand Canyon National Park to Petrified National Forest, the aptly named Painted Desert is a living canvas featuring a palate of red, pink, and lavender. The unique landscape consists of innumerable impressive formations and features created by volcanic eruptions, floods, and earthquakes. About 25 miles east of Holbrook is Petrified Forest National Park. It takes some imagination to see it, but this area of what we know call Painted Desert was flourishing with vegetation and trees some 200 million years ago before volcanic lava basically destroyed everything in its path. The petrified wood, made mostly of quartz, is all that’s left today. 

Lake Powell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Page

For the uninitiated, Page looks like nothing more than a desolate spot on the map near the state-line crossing into Utah. Look a little closer. Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend, local secrets for years, have become some of the most photographed natural attractions in the Southwest (thanks to Instagram). A quick hike will get you to the Horseshoe Bend overlook where you can get a bird’s eye view of the Colorado River and horseshoe-shaped meander below. And in a state with no shortage of unique geological formations, some of the most puzzling and fascinating is to be found at Antelope Canyon. Guided tours are required, but the supernatural beauty of it all is definitely worth it. And a short drive to simmering Lake Powell and the stunning Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

Fountain Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fountain Hills

The Fountain Hills fountain is one of those strange sights that only seems to make sense in Arizona. There’s something especially impressive about a fountain that reaches a height of 330 feet, in the middle of the desert—even if it is man-made. The spray cranks up to 560 feet high on special occasions (like St. Patrick’s Day and Fourth of July), but it’s a captivating sight anytime, and it’s available for your viewing pleasure for 15 minutes every hour, on the hour, from 9 am to 9 pm every day.

Hole in the Rock at Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Phoenix

One of the first things you’ll learn about this state is that it’s beloved for its colorful sunsets, and one of the most quintessential ways to watch an Arizona sunset is by viewing it through the famous “Hole-in-the-Rock” at Papago Park, a naturally-formed opening in the red butte. In addition to its beauty, the park also holds historical significance—it was the home of ancient Hohokam Indians, served as a prisoner camp during World War II, and some areas of the park are still used for Arizona National Guard training today.

Worth Pondering…

To my mind these live oak-dotted hills fat with side oats grama, these pine-clad mesas spangled with flowers, these lazy trout streams burbling along under great sycamores and cottonwoods, come near to being the cream of creation.

—Aldo Leopold, 1937

Stunning Papago Park: A World-Class Attraction

Papago Park features a wide variety of outdoor fun opportunities

Papago Park is located on the east-side of Phoenix, near the border of Tempe and South Scottsdale. The 1,200 acre park is home to “Hole in the Rock” a red rock that is distinctive to its landscape. Its massive, otherworldly sandstone buttes set Papago Park apart, even in a city and state filled with numerous world-class natural attractions.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

It is not the largest park in the city of Phoenix, a distinction that belongs to South Mountain Park. But Papago features the widest variety of outdoor fun and is home to some of the most visited attractions in the Phoenix area making it a popular destination for both residents and vacationers. 

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Papago’s desert trails are generally smooth, easy treks with little elevation gain, making it a great place for a family hike or to hone your mountain biking skills. While visitors to Papago can enjoy its extensive trail network through Sonoran Desert habitat, they can also enjoy the park’s two major residents, the Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Garden, world-class attractions that draw millions of visits each year.

Hole-in-the Rock Butte at Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

It is also home to the Arizona Historical Society Museum and Hunt’s Tomb, the tomb of George W.P. Hunt (1859-1934), Arizona’s first governor. The Papago Golf Course is also located within the park. Oh, and did we mention it’s only 10 minutes from downtown Phoenix.

Looking through the Hole-in-the-Rock at Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

But did you also know that its 1,200 acres were once known as Papago-Saguaro National Monument? Part of the homeland for the Hohokam, local tribes—the Maricopa and Akimel O’odham—and rich in petroglyphs, archaeological sites, desert plant life, and scenic qualities, this area stood out among many other spots in Phoenix for a national monument status.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

In 1914, about 1,700 acres surrounding Hole-in-the-Rock butte was designated Papago-Saguaro National Monument by President Woodrow Wilson. The intention of this was to federally protect the archaeological sites, per the Antiquities Act of 1906, as well as create a scenic area for locals and tourism.

Desert Botanical at Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Despite the lofty designation, however, Papago-Saguaro suffered from severe funding issues, something that many national park sites are still struggling with today.  Eventually, in 1930, Congress abolished Papago-Saguaro National Monument and transferred ownership to the state and local city governments.

Desert Botanical Garden at Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

During World War II, the area housed German prisoners of war from 1943 to 1946. After the war, the prisoner camp was converted to a Veterans Administration Hospital from 1947 to 1951. It became the District Headquarters for Arizona’s largest Army Reserve Unit from 1953 to 1966. In fact, today an “off-limits” portion of Papago Park is used for Arizona National Guard training.

The hole-in-the-rock is the most prominent icon in Papago Park and carries evidence that the prehistoric Hohokam Indians settled this area thousands of years ago. The red butte was created 6 to 15 million years ago and naturally formed with a series of openings caused by erosion.

Desert Botanical Garden at Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The openings and chamber (hole) near the butte’s summit are easily accessed from the rear via a smooth, but somewhat steep path. Those that trek to the chamber hole-in-the-rock are rewarded with great views across the city.

Desert Botanical Garden at Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The ancient Hohokam People noticed that a hole in the ceiling in the chamber creates a ray of light that changes positions on the chamber’s floor during the year depending upon seasonal movements of the sun. They marked the occurrence of the summer solstice by grinding a bedrock “metate slick” at the location where the ray of light falls during the day at noontime.

Desert Botanical Garden at Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The winter solstice is marked by the ray of light interaction with a natural seam in the bedrock. They also marked the equinoxes, the seasonal halfway point between the summer and winter solstices with a bedrock metate slick. The boulders near the hole-in-the-rock appear to provide other solstice and equinox markers.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

While Papagp Park may not be part of the original vision when the area become a national monument, it is an area where a portion of Phoenix’s original natural beauty still manages to flourish.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

Alone in the open desert,

I have made up songs of wild, poignant rejoicing and transcendent melancholy.

The world has seemed more beautiful to me than ever before.

I have loved the red rocks, the twisted trees, the sand blowing in the wind, the slow, sunny clouds crossing the sky, the shafts of moonlight on my bed at night.

I have seemed to be at one with the world.

—Everett Ruess