Sponsored by Visit Phoenix
January and February aren't exactly Seattle's finest months. (We save the good stuff for summertime.) And since the need for fresh air and adventure is constantly coursing through our veins, we're currently on the hunt for travel destinations with warmer climes and excellent outdoorsy options.
That's why we're thinking of heading south—a mere three-hour nonstop flight—to Phoenix where the typical daytime temperature in January and February ranges from 68 to 72 degrees and its year-round sunny skies make for a splendid backdrop while exploring. Not to mention the opportunities for hiking, biking, rafting, climbing and even picnicking are plentiful.
"Phoenix has so much to offer," says Maryanne Heald, a former Pacific Northwesterner and EMT-certified guide with Arizona Outback Adventures. "There are so many parks and preserves that it’s easy to find a way for every person to enjoy the desert no matter your limitations. That might mean rock climbing some of the challenging routes near Queen Creek, it could be picnicking at Papago Park, or maybe it’s simply visiting the Desert Botanical Garden."
So allow us to suggest some fantastic outdoor adventures in warm, sunny and (most importantly) dry Phoenix. Before you go, download this handy and helpful Phoenix Trail Guide for trail tips and expert picks.
1. Piestewa Peak
Photo: Jim David
Just a quick 20-minute trek from downtown Phoenix is this rocky peak with a 2,600-foot summit that's the third-highest point in the city. The spot was named after Army Specialist Lori Ann Piestewa, the first known Native American woman to die in combat, and hosts thousands of view-seeking climbers (locals and visitors) each week. Make sure you're properly prepped for this one: The total elevation gain on this trail is 1,190 feet. Expect to see ample Arizona cacti varieties as well as desert lavender, sage shrubs and ironwood trees. As for critters, be on the lookout for mockingbirds, gila monsters and horned lizards.
2. McDowell Mountain Regional Park
Photo: Jeff Berting
This desert destination in the lower Verde River basin boasts more than 21,000 acres and more than 50 miles of multiuse trails of varying difficulty levels. Here, visitors can set up camp, ride horses, hike for a spectacular view of the Phoenix/Scottsdale skylines and northern mountain ranges, zip around on a mountain bike, gaze at brilliant stars and explore the park where wildlife roams. "The parks and preserves in Phoenix and the surrounding area are always expanding, changing and improving," says Megan Anderson, a guide at Arizona Outback Adventures. "I just recently learned about a great mountain bike trail called Marcus Landslide that runs from the Tom’s Thumb trailhead in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve down into the McDowell Mountain Regional Park near Fountain Hills. It’s one of my new favorites."
3. South Mountain Park and Preserve
Photo: Courtesy of Visit Phoenix
Take a scenic and winding drive along Summit Road to access Dobbins Lookout, where you'll soak in sweeping vallywide views. Travel a little farther to the Gila Lookout for expansive vistas of the Gila River Valley. Note that January 24 and February 28 (the fourth Sunday of every month) are Silent Sundays, a day when the park's main access roadways are closed to motorized vehicles and reserved for non-motorized purposes. (This pristine park is also a popular site for races and events, so check the 2016 road closure dates before heading out on your next adventure.) Additionally, the South Mountain Park and Preserve has more than 16,000 acres on which to hike, bike and ride horses and is one of the largest municipally operated parks in the country.
4. Cave Creek Regional Park
Photo: Courtesy of Maricopa County Parks Dept.
Named after a small stream, this 2,922-acre park is situated in the upper portion of the Sonoran Desert and ranges in elevation from 2,000 to 3,060 feet. Experienced hikers and mountain bikers should opt for this spot's Go John Trail, a moderate 5.7-mile loop, while more easy-going adventurers might enjoy a trek on the 3.8-mile Slate Trail. Peruse upcoming events at Cave Creek, including outdoor yoga and a bird walk.
5. Desert Botanical Garden
Photo: Bruce Munro, Water-Towers. Desert Botanical Garden (Phoenix, AZ, USA. 2015)_Photographer, Mark Pickthall
This 140-acre garden in Papago Park features more than 50,000 plant displays in outdoor exhibits, including 139 species that are currently endangered, rare or threatened. The decades old plant haven boasts five distinct trails on which garden-goers can see the extensive agave and cacti collections, desert wildflowers, succulents, herbs and beyond. Grab lunch in the garden at Gertrude's—named after one of the garden's founders, Gertrude Divine Webster—then take in the latest exhibit, Bruce Munro: Sonoran Light, a gorgeous, glowing interpretation of the Sonoran Desert featuring eight, large-scale light-based installations throughout the Botanical Garden with hundreds of miles of fiber optics. The exhibit runs through May 8.