When people think of Arizona, most of the images that come to mind are full of desert sand, cacti, and open spaces; while there are some highly photographic landscapes of this sort (especially during sunrise/sunset), Arizona also has plenty of outdoor adventures near Phoenix as well as Tempe and around the state.
Lakes near Phoenix include Apache Lake (by the Apache Trail in Superstition Wilderness, with coves, painted canyon walls and largemouth bass-fishing); Canyon Lake (smaller but more scenic, with high walls that make many spots accessible only by boat, or better yet, Jet-Ski); Roosevelt Lake (created in 1911 because of the Roosevelt Dam) was the largest man-made lake in the world and resulted in much of the surrounding area becoming fertile; and Saguaro Lake (named for the Saguaro Cactus that dots the landscape). These four lakes were formed by dams on the Salt River. Lake Pleasant is the biggest in the Phoenix area, with 118 miles (190 km) of shoreline. All these areas have some combination of hiking, camping, boating, fishing, kayaking, and canyoning. Alternatively, Tempe Town Lake (in the city of Tempe) is for those who want to bookend their lake activities with some downtown dining and shopping; it’s also walking distance from Arizona State University.
The famous Colorado River (which once carved the Grand Canyon) has predictably fabulous whitewater rafting, but the two rivers closer to the Phoenix area are the Gila River (class I–II) and the Salt River (class III–IV).
Don’t discount mountain biking. Singletrack can be a bit intense if you’re not used to it (so be sure to know your limits), but pedaling your way around some of the nation’s best desert trails is as thrilling as it is a workout. The Desert Classic, Corona Loma, Javalina Canyon, Holbert, Telegraph Pass, Alta, and Bajada trails are all there for those who are willing to risk taking a tumble (and work up an extreme sweat) for an unforgettable ride.
Another popular Arizona activity is horseback riding, and for good reason. Especially for people who enjoy films about ‘the Old West,’ galloping around the desert as the sun sets is about as Western as it gets. For an extra kick, you can spend some time at a cattle ranch to work on your cowboy skills. There are also horse trails closer to Phoenix proper if you can’t make it all the way out into what feels like the middle of nowhere.
Want to see the sights from above? Take a Phoenix Hot Air Balloon Ride!
Lastly, there are (surprisingly) winter sports in the mountainous areas in the state. Although it’s a bit of a drive from Phoenix, Snowbowl (15 miles/24 km from Flagstaff, in the San Francisco Peaks) has 32 runs, base is 9,200 ft (2,800 m) and the summit is 11,000 ft (3,350 m); its terrain park welcomes snowboarders as well as skiers. Other options are Sunrise Park in the White Mountains (65 runs), Mt. Lemmon Ski Valley (near Tucson), and Elk Ridge (near the Grand Canyon, with skiers-only Thursdays).