14 Outdoor Adventures You Can Only Have in Arizona

Adventurers, take note: Whatever you’re into, you can get into it in Arizona

Sunny skies, year-round perfect weather, and stellar sunsets complemented by rugged backcountry terrain make Arizona an adventurer’s dreamland. From the North Country’s pine-forested rim that drops into the depths of the Grand Canyon to the picturesque Sonoran Desert landscape of central and southern Arizona, all the ingredients for the quintessential American adventure recipe are at your fingertips.

Check my list of some of the can’t-miss experiences, possibly life-changing opportunities, and adventures that give a glimpse into the incredible backcountry world of the amazing state of Arizona.

Superstition Mountain Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Search for the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine

Nothing more perfectly sums up Arizona’s sense of adventure than the search for the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine. The truth behind the legend is harder to pin down than a Gila monster but the gist is that somewhere hidden in the Superstition Mountains just east of Phoenix is a gold mine once tended by German immigrants Jacob Waltz and Jacob Weiser.

The two men pulled untold amounts of the precious metal from the mountain before a murderous run-in with—depending on who you ask—Apaches or each other left all who knew the mine’s location dead.

To this day, adventurers set out into the Superstitions in search of the mine. Sadly, more than a few have met the same fate as Waltz and Weiser.

If you’re not particularly interested in hunting for gold there are still more than a dozen access points into the surrounding wilderness that can take you on a short day walk or a multi-day expedition. Give the Peralta Trail a shot—this nearly five-mile hike is one of the state’s most popular.

Mount Lemmon Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Longboard (or bicycle) down Mount Lemmon

Rising 9,000-plus feet in the north of TucsonMount Lemmon is the highest peak in the Santa Catalina Mountains and for longboarders one of the truly epic runs in the country. The 20-plus miles of highway are paved smooth and offer great views and a challenging ride.

Don’t take my word for it—check out the plentiful YouTube videos. And watch out for the cactus!

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Hike the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim

You simply can’t have a conversation about Arizona adventures without mentioning the Grand Canyon. The 24-mile Rim-to-Rim hike is an immense challenge that gives those who complete it an intimate understanding of the canyon that’s impossible to attain without dipping below its surface.

Start on the North Kaibab Trail and descend 6,000 feet to the bottom of the canyon where the Colorado River awaits. On the way down, you’ll pass through every ecosystem that exists between Canada and Mexico. Cross the Colorado and connect with the Bright Angel Trail and return to the surface along the South Rim passing hundreds of millions of years’ worth of history preserved in the surrounding rocks.

Most guides suggest planning on two to five days to complete the trail at a regular pace.

4. Ride horses around the legendary landscape of Sedona

If the red-rock cliffs that preside over Sedona don’t make you pause it’s time to book a trip to Mars because Earth has nothing left to offer. In the early evening, the spires reflect a reddish-purple hue that no photo could ever hope to do justice. Whether or not you subscribe to New Age beliefs, it’s easy to understand why people say there’s energy here that’s different than anywhere else on the planet.

There are many ways to explore the desert scenery around the cliffs but none gives you the chance to interact with nature on its own terms quite like riding a horse. Horseback trips typically last between one and three hours with sunrise and sunset options available. Beyond the red rocks, you can catch glimpses of the Verde Valley, the Mogollon Rim, and if you’re lucky some wildlife as well.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Explore the Petrified Forest

While it may not be the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park, Petrified Forest National Park offers an amazing place to see extinct species. Many of the fossilized logs that dot the floor of the 146-square-mile national park belong to long-extinct trees. Interestingly, the site of the park is not where an actual forest stood but rather an ancient riverbed where fallen plants accumulated.

To get the most out of your Petrified Forest adventure, forget the trails—the National Park Service administers eight off-the-beaten-path routes. Check out Devil’s Playground, an especially old part of the park. Only three permits are handed out for it each week with information on how to access the route supplied only to those granted permission to take on the journey.

6. Off-road to ghost towns

While Arizona is a state known for its epic highways and scenic views, even more, it happens off the state-maintained thoroughfares. For every ghost town worth a visit there’s the main road to take you there and a secret second entrance for those with a hearty sense of adventure and a 4-wheel-drive vehicle.

Off-roading or wheeling to the initiated is a great way to see Arizona’s wildlands and get a dose of history as well. Many off-road trails pass through old mining towns and other long-abandoned remnants of human habitation. The Bradshaw Mountains Trail takes you past the ghost town of Bumble Bee which was once a stagecoach stop for the U.S. Cavalry.

Traveling by these backroads is probably one of the most vastly under-appreciated ways to explore the state. There’s simply no way to not feel like a pioneer when you cross a mountain path or stream named for some long-deceased prospector. For a good off-roading guidebook, try the Guide to Arizona Backroads & 4-Wheel-Drive Trails, or check out the Off-Highway Vehicle Program at AZStateParks.com.

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

7. Explore both well-known and secret ancient cliff dwellings and ruins

Arizona is home to some of the most famous cliff dwellings in the world. Montezuma’s Castle in the Verde Valley is an 800-year-old, five-story structure built by the Sinagua Indians and one of the best-preserved examples of such a site. Three hours northeast on Navajo Land is Canyon de Chelly and its White House Ruins.

While many of Arizona’s ruins require a guide or sit inside well-developed tourist sites there are still plenty that demand a more intrepid spirit. The Sycamore Canyon Cliff Dwellings north of Clarkdale lie at the end of a tough drive and hike but exploring these magnificent ruins away from the masses is a worthy payoff. Just remember that when there’s no park ranger to keep an eye on things, it’s up to you to ensure these locations remain intact and pristine for the following generation of explorers.

8. Stand in a shaft of light in Antelope Canyon

There are other slot canyons but few if any can truly compete with the beauty of Antelope Canyon. Located east of Page on Navajo tribal land, the roughly quarter-mile-long canyon is a tight squeeze through a wonderland of colored sandstone, speckled shafts of light, and a smooth sandy floor. There are two canyon routes here, the Crack and the Corkscrew; both offer jaw-dropping palettes of light and color. Don’t you dare enter without your camera (and the mandated guide)!

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. See the biggest cacti in North America at Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park boasts some absolutely huge cacti. They dominate the desert landscape and make for some very cool photo ops. Located in the Sonoran Desert, it’s worth dedicating at least a couple of days to this park. Tackle the 1.5-hour King Canyon, Gould Mine Loop hike, walk the Signal Hill trail out to ancient petroglyphs, or go for some backcountry camping if you’re looking for a real adventure. 

10. Tour Hopi country

If you’re fortunate enough to take part in a tour of Hopi land you won’t just see some of the most beautiful terrain in the Southwest—you’ll also be given a lesson in the importance of living in harmony with nature and showing respect for all things, alive and otherwise.

The Hopi inhabit 12 villages spread across three separate mesas in northeastern Arizona. These homes have been occupied continuously for centuries, longer than most—if not all—settlements in the U.S. Your tour will include explanations of Hopi beliefs and culture, panoramic views from the high villages, and of course culinary treats.

Make sure to review the visitor etiquette (which includes refraining from taking photos or recordings of any kind) before you go. This is one Arizona-only adventure you can’t post to Facebook—which makes it all the more special.

Off-road adventure at Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Off-road in Sedona

It’s easy to imagine Zeus and the other Greek gods bickering over whether to settle on Mt. Olympus or in Sedona’s sandstone red rocks. During the evening, the massive outcroppings turn a shade of red so intense and worthy of contemplation that they feel like massive antennae signaling to the New Agers who flock from across the planet to admire them.

Like so much of Arizona, Sedona is a place that holds onto its secrets. Many beautiful views are accessible from the road but an entire world opens up when you have an off-road vehicle and a knowledgeable guide. To accommodate, there are several companies offering jeep tours to remote locations among the red rocks. Trips typically last between two and three hours and will take you to sweeping desert views and the ruins of ancient Native American dwellings.

12. Walk in Geronimo’s shadow at Chiricahua National Monument

Chiricahua National Monument is a maze of volcanic rock spires in the southeastern corner of Arizona. Boulders balance on top of each other so precariously it can feel as if the laws of physics have been suspended.

Covering nearly 12,000 acres, this is where Native American warrior Geronimo and other Apaches hid and planned attacks against the invading U.S. Army. Today, the national monument is notable for hiking trails and birdwatching—look out for bald eagles and prairie falcons. For an unbeatable view, be sure to check out Massai Point.

Jerome State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Mine the ramshackle history of Jerome

Lots of people recognize Jerome as a great day trip but it’s time to think bigger. Spend a night or two in this mountainside artist community soaking up the culture and general weirdness.

Visit Jerome State Historic Park which preserves a rambling 8,700-square-foot mansion built in 1916. Once the opulent home of mine owner James Douglas, it now serves as an informative museum filled with photographs, artifacts, mining, equipment, minerals, and models of the network of shafts and tunnels dug through the mountains.

Sitting a mile north of Jerome, Gold King Mine and Ghost Town harbors an assortment of ramshackle buildings, a menagerie of friendly animals, and a sprawling array of rusted machinery that forever teeters between ruin and redemption.

Coronado Pass looking east © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Picnic at Montezuma Pass, hike to a cave

Nestled in the foothills of the Huachuca Mountains abutting the Mexican border, Coronado National Memorial commemorates and interprets the Coronado Expedition of 1540-1542 and its lasting impacts on Southwest culture. Located about 20 miles south of Sierra Vista, the memorial is part of Arizona’s Sky Island Mountains filled with spectacular scenery.  

Enter on the park road, which climbs from verdant grasslands into oak woodlands and continues through heavier forest up Montezuma Canyon. Past the visitor center the road is paved for a mile and graded dirt for the upper 2 miles. It twists around tight switchbacks (vehicles over 24 feet are prohibited) and steep grades as the world falls away below.

Montezuma Pass Overlook sits at 6,575 feet flanked by picnic tables and interpretive signs, a perfect spot for an end of summer picnic celebration. Afterward you can make a short scramble (0.8 mile round-trip) to the summit of Coronado Peak, crowned with a shade ramada and additional signs describing the Coronado Expedition.

Adventurous types will want to visit Coronado Cave, one of the few open, undeveloped caves in southern Arizona. You don’t have to worry about squeezing through. The large cavern is 600 feet deep and in most places about 70 feet wide. Legend has it that Chiricahua Apache leader Geronimo often hid out in the cave.

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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

Pinal County: Exploring the Heart of Southern Arizona

Experience many of Arizona’s unique attractions with a road trip in Pinal County, the heart of Southern Arizona, between Phoenix and Tucson

At a sprawling 5,374 square miles, Pinal County has two distinct geographical regions. The eastern portion is mountainous with breathtaking views at elevations up to 6,000 feet while the western portion is primarily low valleys filled with gorgeous desert vegetation. You can find it all here in the heart of the desert.

You’re in Arizona, so slip into the saddle for a horseback riding adventure at Apache Junction’s Superstitions O.K. Corral Stables.

Goldfield Ghost Town © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then head up the Apache Trail (SR-88) into the Superstition Mountains to Goldfield Ghost Town, an 1890s gold mining town and Historic Goldfield Museum. Entrance is free with fees for some attractions including a zipline, narrow gauge railroad, mine tours, and gold panning with free gunfight shows.

Superstition Mountain Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Superstition Mountain Museum is situated on a scenic 15-acre site just beneath the west end of Superstition Mountain. On the grounds is a restored 20-stamp ore mill, two historic buildings salvaged from Apacheland Movie Ranch, a labelled nature trail, Boot Hill, and an extensive model railroad display. The museum building itself boasts an exhibit gallery, a gift shop, and a bookstore.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Named after the fabled lost gold mine, Lost Dutchman State Park is located nearby. Several trails lead from the park into the Superstition Wilderness and surrounding Tonto National Forest. Take a stroll along the Native Plant Trail or hike the challenging Siphon Draw Trail to the top of the Flatiron.

The campground has 135 sites and three group camping areas: 68 sites with electric (50/30/20 amp service) and water and the remainder 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. 

San Tan Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The San Tan Mountain Regional Park is a 10,000 acre rural/suburban park with picnicking and a well-equipped visitor center. The park ranges in elevation from about 1,400 feet to over 2,500 feet. The Park has over 20 miles of non-motorized trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding.

If you are looking for an easy, relatively short hike the Moonlight Trail is the perfect choice as it provides a scenic and rather mild hike for all to enjoy. The Moonlight Trail begins at the San Tan Trailhead near the Visitor Center and guides you along the base of a mountain located in the central valley of the park and connects to the San Tan Trail at the west end.

San Tan Mountains Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you are looking for a longer more difficult hike try the 6.4-mile San Tan Trail. The trail starts at the San Tan Trailhead and encompasses a large portion of the park and intersects with other trails at various points. Enjoy scenic mountain views at the south end of the park near Rock Peak and the Malpais Hills or hike to the central valley of the park to explore its unique beauty.

Look for petroglyphs and Sonoran plants and animals from javelinas to Gila monsters. Special events include stargazing with provided telescopes.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Coolidge is home to the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, a true Arizona treasure. The four-story building was built in about 1350 by the Hohokam Indians and named Casa Grande (Big House) by Spanish Missionary Father Eusebio Kino in 1694.

Archeologists have discovered evidence that the ancestral Sonoran Desert people who built the Casa Grande also developed wide-scale irrigation farming and extensive trade connections which lasted over a thousand years until about 1450.

Casa Grande Monument National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This was the first historic site to receive protected status by the United States Government in 1892.

The Museum of Casa Grande provides a detailed look at the area’s heritage. Explore the early days of Arizona with artifacts and exhibits from pre-history to modern day. Many special programs and events are scheduled throughout the year.

Don’t miss Skydive Arizona in Eloy, the world’s largest parachuting resort and frequent host of National and World Skydiving Championships! Check out the famous Bent Prop Saloon & Cookery.

Ostrich Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch in Picacho fills the need for something different and unusual on this road trip. The family-owned ostrich ranch and petting zoo has been featured on numerous television shows. There are many different critters to feed with an amusement park, outdoor recreational activities, and affordable family fun for all ages.

Discover the world in a 3.14-acre laboratory with active research systems spanning from ocean to desert environments at Biosphere 2 in Oracle now a University of Arizona Earth-Science research facility. Built to study living in an artificial environment, the 7.2 million cubic foot enclosed ecological system is the largest closed system ever built. Time-Life Books calls it “one of the 50 must-see wonders of the world.”

Boyce Thompson Arboretum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Boyce Thompson Arboretum near Superior is Arizona’s largest and oldest botanical garden with 4.75 miles of trails. With over 3,900 plant species from around the world the riparian area attracts Sonoran Desert wildlife and over 270 migrating bird species.

Enjoy 4.7 miles of trails throughout the arboretum in gardens representing 11 different regions of the world. The trails provide many opportunities to stop and take beautiful landscape, fauna, and flora photos.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As an Audubon Important Bird Area, Boyce Thompson Arboretum and the adjacent Arnett and Queen Creeks are known for spectacular birding opportunities. Some 275 different species have been sighted. Guided bird walks take place between October and May.

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

Show Me the Weird

Say goodbye to boring road trips

One of the reasons people travel in RVs is to see things. They see epic places like The Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and the Black Hills of South Dakota. On the way to the big stuff, there are plenty of small sites that capture the public’s attention, too, like the World’s Largest Roadrunner, historical markers, and that corny attraction in Mitchell, South Dakota.

With wanderlust and weirdness in mind, we road-tripped across the country and found the oddest, most wonderful, and most puzzling roadside attractions where we least expected. Better stock up on boudin and pork cracklins, kolache and doughnuts, and other snack foods: there are going to be many, many detours in your future.

Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Basically Everything in Roswell

Is it fair to call an entire town a roadside attraction? Probably not! But the sheer number of alien-related stuff populating the streets of Roswell makes it unavoidable. There are makeshift spaceships you can tour. Straight-up UFO “museums.” A fake-ass alien autopsy site. Gift shops galore. If there are actual aliens tucked away in Roswell, they pulled the ingenious move of hiding in plain sight, surrounded by every kind of gaudy, over-the-top kitsch as possible. Well played Martians.

Wall Drug © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mother of All Tourist Traps

One of (if not the) the most prominent tourist traps has to be Wall Drug. You can’t miss it: Not only because it’s massive, but because you’ll see hundreds of hand-painted signs across multiple states, luring tourists in with the promise of free ice water and $.05 coffee (the ice water’s great, the coffee not so much).

Related article: 10 Unusual Roadside Attractions to Stop For

Wall Drug © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And even if you wish to avoid it, you kind of can’t: At the intersection of East and West, North and South, it’s one of the last places to get gas for a while, regardless of where you’re going. Just grab a “where the heck is Wall Drug” bumper sticker, eat a donut, and soak in the Americana.

Prehistoric sculpture © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monsters in the Desert

Something prehistoric. Something mythical. Something otherworldly. Here, in the middle of the desert, is a magical array of free-standing sculptures that will astound you. Imagine driving along Borrego Springs Road and something catches your attention—a dark form in the desert landscape. You spy a horse as it rears off to the side of the road. You look again and it is big, but it doesn’t seem to be moving. Then you look again and you realize it is a huge sculpture that has captured your attention.

Prehistoric sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then, rising out of the flat desert landscape, an elephant appears. Alarmingly close by, a T-Rex bears its maw chasing a saber-tooth tiger. From the corners of your eyes, these large structures can be deceptively realistic. This is not a mirage but the gifts of visionary benefactor Dennis Avery (now deceased) and the craft of artist/welder Ricardo Breceda.

Related article: 12 Must-See Roadside Attractions for the Perfect Road Trip

Hole N” The Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hole N” The Rock

You’re driving down US Highway 191 south of Moab, thinking vaguely of finding a place to pull over and stretch, maybe get some snacks, when you see, in the distance: a massive red rock face with blazing white detailing. You drive closer. “HOLE N” THE ROCK”.

Hole N” The Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Is it … literally a hole in the rock? It is, kinda, yes. Hole N” The Rock is a 5,000-square-foot home carved into the rock where you’ll also find a trading post, general store, art collection, and petting zoo—camels, zebras, albino raccoons. You are wondering whether you can feed them, yes you can.

“WE ARE NOT YOUR DESTINATION:” explains/yells the Hole N” The Rock website, “WE ARE AN AMAZING STOP ALONG THE WAY.”

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum

Nestled in the scenic hills of Desert Hot Springs, a Hopi-inspired pueblo sits against a hillside. Not just any pueblo but one built with natural materials collected throughout the desert. Yerxa’s pueblo is a four-story, 5,000-square-foot structure. It has 160 windows, 65 doors, 30 rooflines, and 35 rooms. When homesteader Yerxa Cabot settled in Desert Hot Springs, he used re-purposed materials and a little ingenuity to build a home so unique it remains a preserved museum to this day.

Mitchell Corn Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

World’s Only Corn Palace

This corn crazed prairie town in South Dakota is home to the high school sports teams the Kernels, local radio station KORN, and the “architectural showplace of the world” known as the Mitchell Corn Palace. Its czarist-Russia exterior and intricate murals are made entirely out of local corn and grains (it’s refurbished annually), and the onion domes and minarets make it the world’s only corn palace, but would the world really need more than one of these?

Related article: Blow Your Mind at the Weirdest Roadside Attractions across America

World’s Largest Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One Really Big Nut

One of the largest pistachio tree grooves in New Mexico, PistachioLand is a destination that can be enjoyed by all ages. Located in the Tularosa Basin outside of Alamogordo it’s an easy day trips from Las Cruces and can be combined with a visit to White Sands National Park.

PistachioLand is the home of the World’s Largest Pistachio, Pistachio Tree Ranch, McGinn’s Country Store, and Arena Blanca Winery.

Superstition Mountain Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Lost Dutchman

Superstition Mountain Lost Dutchman Museum is the keeper and purveyor of the colorful tales of bygone days, both true and mythical. Located on the Apache Trail (Arizona Highway 88), the museum is comprised of numerous outdoor structures including the Apacheland Barn and the Elvis Chapel, the last surviving structures from Apacheland Movie Ranch, a huge working 20-stamp gold mill, a historical model railroad, Western storefronts, an exhibit hall and gift shop/bookstore, and nature trail.

World’s Largest Roadrunner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An Encounter with the World’s Largest Roadrunner

The Roadrunner is the official state bird of New Mexico. A giant recycled roadrunner—20 feet tall and 40 feet long—has been an icon of Las Cruces ever since artist Olin Calk built it in 1993. It was made exclusively of items salvaged from the landfill.

Related article: Wacky and Fun Roadside Attractions across America

In early 2001, Olin stripped off the old junk, replaced it with new junk, and moved the roadrunner to a rest stop along Interstate 10, just west of the city. Signs around the sculpture warned of rattlesnakes, but when we stopped by to visit people were blissfully trudging out to the big bird anyway, to pose for snapshots or examine the junk (We did, too).

Worth Pondering…

Because the greatest part of a road trip isn’t arriving at your destination. It’s all the wild stuff that happens along the way.

—Emma Chase

Amazing Places to Discover in Phoenix’s East Valley

Explore my list of fun things to see and do in the East Valley of Arizona’s largest city

Consider this your introduction to the East Valley of Arizona’s largest city—the essential, can’t miss, make-sure-you-check-out things to see and do in the towns of Gilbert, Mesa, Queen Creek, Apache Junction, and beyond.

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

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert

Stroll 110 acres of greenery, ranging from marshland and riparian habitats to upland vegetation areas. Over 4.5 miles of trails weave through the park with interpretive panels on wildlife and vegetation throughout. Viewing blinds have been established at various locations near the edge of several ponds.

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

Approximately 298 species of birds have been identified on the site. A floating boardwalk crossing the northern end of the lake allows visitors a close-up view of the fish and ducks on the water. Additional educational areas include an ethnobotanical garden, a paleontology dig site, a hummingbird, and a butterfly garden. 

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

Also at the preserve: the Gilbert Rotary Centennial Observatory where you can see comets, meteors, planets, and the sun Just be sure to check the hours—the trails are generally open from dawn to dusk, but the observatory operates separately.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

McDowell Mountain Regional Park

Nestled in the lower Verde River basin, the 21,099-acre park is a desert jewel in the northeast Valley. Elevations in the park rise to 3,000 feet along the western boundary at the base of the McDowell Mountains. Visitors enjoy a full program schedule, over 50 miles of multi-use trails, and spectacular views of the surrounding mountain ranges. McDowell Mountain Regional Park offers 76 individual sites for tent or RV camping. Each site has a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45-foot RV with water and electrical hook-ups, a dump station, a picnic table, and a barbecue fire ring.

Related Article: 15 Amazing Places to Discover in Phoenix

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Regional Park

Located on the Valley’s east side, this 3,648-acre park is located at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. The park contains a large variety of plants and animals that call the lower Sonoran Desert home.

Gambel’s quail at Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along the most popular feature of the park, the Wind Cave Trail, water seeps from the roof of the alcove to support the hanging gardens of Rock Daisy. Usery Mountain Regional Park offers a campground with 73 individual sites. Each site has a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45-foot RV with water and electrical hook-ups, a dump station, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, and a fire ring.

Saguaro Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro Lake

Saguaro Lake was formed by the Stewart Mountain Dam which was completed in 1930. It was the last of the reservoirs to be built on the Salt River. The lake is named for the Saguaro Cactus which stands majestically in the surrounding desert landscape.

Saguaro Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro Lake has more than 22 miles of shoreline creating a great environment for boating, kayaking, sailing, skiing, jet skiing, fishing, and camping. Discover canyon-walled Saguaro Lake aboard The Desert Belle. Relax in air-conditioned comfort on one of her 80 minute narrated cruises and see exotic Arizona wildlife, towering canyon walls, and dramatic desert vistas. Live music cruises, wine, and live music cruises, and craft beer, and live music cruises are also available.

San Tan Mountains Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Tan Mountain Regional Park

Consisting of over 10,000 acres, the southeast Valley park is a fine example of the lower Sonoran Desert. San Tan Mountain Regional Park ranges in elevation from about 1,400 feet to over 2,500 feet. The park offers over eight miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Park trails range in length from 1.1 miles to over 5 miles, and range in difficulty from easy to strenuous.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apache Trail

Named after the Apache Indians who once used the route, the Apache Trail (AZ 88) links Apache Junction at the eastern edge of the Greater Phoenix area with Theodore Roosevelt Lake through the Superstition Mountains and the Tonto National Forest. This mostly unpaved road winds past magnificent scenery of twisted igneous mountains with dense forests of saguaro and several deep blue lakes.

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

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The road though has been mostly closed since late 2019 because of landslips and other damage associated with the Woodbury Fire. The worst affected is the steepest section just west of Fish Creek; the only part still open to vehicular traffic is the (paved) 18 miles from Apache Junction to Tortilla Flat.

Goldfield Ghost Town © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goldfield Ghost Town

Established in 1893, Goldfield was a mining town with saloons, a boarding house, general store, blacksmith shop, brewery, meat market, and a schoolhouse. The grade of ore dropped at the end of the 1890s and the town was all but deserted. The town came back to life from 1910 to 1926.

Goldfield Ghost Town © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, visitors can tour the historic Mammoth Gold Mine, visit the Goldfield Museum, pan for gold, take a ride on Arizona’s only narrow gauge train, explore the shops and historic building, eat at the Mammoth Steakhouse and Saloon, and witness an old west gunfight performed by the Goldfield Gunfighters.

Fountain Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fountain Hills

Some cities have a clock that chimes on the hour—Fountain Hills has a fountain (the fourth-tallest in the world) that shoots water 562 feet in the air for 15 minutes on the hour. But there’s much more than that. Jump in on a docent-led art walk around the city and see a large collection of sculptures on public display as the docent explains how each piece was created. Meander some more in the Fountain Hills Desert Botanical Garden where a half-mile trail weaves you past 29 desert plants, interesting rock formations, wildlife, and the abandoned P-Bar Ranch campsite.

Superstition Mountain Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Superstition Mountain Museum

Hikers, horseback riders, photographers, and tourists come to enjoy the beauty and wonder of the Superstition Mountains now preserved in the Superstition Wilderness Area. But, many are curious about the history and mystery of this intriguing area and visit the museum comprised of a central 4,900-square-foot exhibit hall and Museum Shop and numerous outdoor structures and exhibitions including the Apacheland Barn and the Elvis Chapel, the last surviving structures from Apacheland Movie Ranch, a huge 20-stamp gold mill, a mountain man camp, Western storefronts, and a labeled Nature Walk.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park

Named after the fabled lost gold mine, Lost Dutchman State Park is located in the Sonoran Desert at the base of the Superstition Mountains 40 miles east of Phoenix. Several trails lead from the park into the Superstition Mountain Wilderness and surrounding Tonto National Forest.

Related Article: Top 10 Day Trips From Phoenix

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a stroll along the Native Plant Trail or hike the challenging Siphon Draw Trail to the top of the Flatiron. Depending on the year’s rainfall, you might be treated to a carpet of desert wildflowers in the spring but there are plenty of beautiful desert plants to see year-round. Enjoy a weekend of camping and experience native wildlife including mule deer, coyote, javelin, and jackrabbit.

Huhugam Heritage Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Huhugam Heritage Center, Chandler

This modern cultural center highlights the ancestral, historic, and current cultures of the Gila River Indian Community made up of two tribes—the Akimel O’otham and the Pee Posh. The Huhugam Heritage Center was built in 2003 to create a place for community, culture, land, tradition, and spirit: a place to honor and preserve their Him dak (our way of life).

Huhugam Heritage Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience its unique and calming architecture. The Center stair-steps up out of the desert, the building silhouettes designed to blend in with the nearby mountain ranges and hills.

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