The Sonoran Desert: Outdoor Adventures in Phoenix

By: Katarina Kovacevic

April 2, 2014

The great thing about visiting a city like Phoenix is that you don’t have to journey far to find adventure. In Phoenix, nature is all around and outdoor fun is just a short drive away.

Hike Camelback Mountain

If you really want to do as the Phoenicians do, hit the trails for a hike up Camelback Mountain. This natural landmark is easily accessible by car because it’s smack-bang in the middle of the city, but affords some of the best desert views in town.

Horseback Riding on Gila River Indian Reservation

On the southern outskirts of Phoenix sits the Gila River Indian Reservation, a nation of peoples whose roots run deep in the region. Get an up-close look at this ancient, rugged landscape on a horseback tour with Koli Equestrian Center.

Phoenix destinations: 10 things to do in the desert - Superstition Mountains

The storied Superstition Mountains boast some of Phoenix’s most scenic hiking trails © Visit Mesa

Superstition Mountains

Take a drive to Phoenix’s Mesa suburb and on through to the storied Superstition Mountains. Home to the Apache Trail, a historic stagecoach route and one of Phoenix’s most scenic roads, the peaks rise some 2,000 feet into the sky and are the backdrop to the legend of the Lost Dutchman gold mine.

Seaplane Tour

What better way to see the Sonoran Desert in all of its glory than from the clear-blue skies? Desert Splash Adventures will pick you up from Scottsdale’s municipal airport and you’ll fly high over the area’s iconic natural sites, including Tonto Indian Ruins, Weavers Needle, The Spires and more.

Phoenix destinations: 10 things to do in the desert - McDowell Sonoran Preserve

The McDowell Sonoran Preserve will eventually protect one-third of Scottsdale’s land © Experience Scottsdale

McDowell Sonoran Preserve

After a major growth spurt in the 1970s and 80s, Scottsdale residents voted to protect nearly one-third of its natural habitat as part of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Today, the Preserve encompasses 27,800 acres of mountains, cacti and wildlife with 100 miles of trails ripe for hiking, biking and rock climbing.


Phoenix is known as the Valley of the Sun because it’s surrounded by several major mountain ranges. Some of these foothills contain a series of canyons perfect for exploration. 360 Adventures takes you a couple of hours north to Salome Canyon for full-day canyoneering tours that will have you rappelling, rafting and waterfall jumping.

Phoenix destinations: 10 things to do in the desert - Paddle boarding on Saguaro Lake

Stand-up paddle boarding on Saguaro Lake is just a short 20-minute ride from Mesa © Visit Mesa

SUP on Saguaro Lake

Just 20 minutes outside of Mesa, in the Tonto National Forest, sits Saguaro Lake. Its sandy shoreline – dotted with Saguaro cactus and craggy cliffs – is popular for boating and water sports, of which the newest edition is stand-up paddle boarding (SUP). Learn the ropes with experts from Southwest Stand Up Paddle.

TomCar Tour

Take adventure into your own hands with self-driven journeys from Desert Wolf Tours and get behind the wheel of a TomCar, an off-road vehicle once reserved only for the Israeli Defence Forces. You’ll meet your expert guide in the town of New River and then head out for a wild ride through the winding desert trails.

Phoenix destinations: 10 things to do in the desert - Tomcar

The TomCar is a rugged off-road vehicle once reserved for the Israeli Defense Forces © Experience Scottsdale

Rock Climbing at The Boulders Resort

You don’t always have to leave the comforts of your plush resort to find some excitement. The Boulders Resort is a desert hideaway popular with outdoor enthusiasts. It may have something to do with its 1,300-acre “backyard,” which features the resort’s namesake 12-million-year-old formations ideal for rock climbing.

Yoga in the Desert

More than 30 miles of trails wind through Usery Mountain Regional Park, climbing just high enough in elevation to afford some pretty spectacular views of Phoenix’s skyline. The park hosts 60-minute, open-air yoga sessions every Saturday where you can downward dog amongst the creosote and cholla.

10 Things to do in the Sonoran Desert | Phoenix

Usery Mountain Regional Park hosts 60-minute yoga sessions every Saturday © Visit Mesa

Connecting you to numerous destinations across the United States and Canada, our partnership with Delta makes booking a trip to Phoenix simple.

Have you explored the Sonoran Desert? What did you get up to when you were there? Let us know in the comments section below.

Written by Katarina Kovacevic


Katarina Kovacevic

Katarina Kovacevic is a freelance travel writer, author of The Food Lovers’ Guide To Phoenix & Scottsdale, and founder/editor of Style Jaunt, a blog about fashionable travel. Her work has appeared in publications like American Spa, The New York Post, Travel + Leisure online, and more. Follow her travels on Twitter @Little_K and Instagram @Little_K_Kata.

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