Best Lake Camping 2011 | Rim Lakes, Woods Canyon Group Campground | Sports & Recreation | Phoenix
There are many campgrounds to choose from in Arizona, and there are many lakes, surprisingly. The area of Rim Lakes at Apache Sitgreaves National Forest — Woods Canyon Group Campground specifically — is ideal because it is rustic and wooded. And just through the woods, along a path, is a stocked lake where boats can be rented and campers can become fishermen. The small store at the lake sells fishing equipment, and you can purchase a fishing license on-site.
Bummed you can't hit Slide Rock State Park because the fecal bacteria counts are too high? Not us. In fact, we won't dip a toe in Sedona's cesspool, even when the rangers say it's okay. Neither should you. Not as long as Arizona still has places like Fossil Springs to enjoy. The swimming hole on Fossil Creek north of Payson is fairly far from a trailhead or road, which is probably what helps keep this spot so pure — or at least free of used diapers. You might catch some teenagers sipping tallboys under the cottonwood trees that shade the rocks surrounding this cool, deep pool, but it's a little too far for most families hauling giant coolers — which is what keeps it nice and fairly clean. There's a back way, but we recommend the pleasant four-mile trail from the ridge down through the canyon. It's just outside Strawberry, so the drive is pretty short and the swim-in cave, which reminds us a little of the famed Playboy Mansion grotto, will impress even a true swimming-hole snob (read: the kind of person who wouldn't dare submerse themselves in the filthy waters of Sedona).
Metro Phoenix is an urban kayaker's dream — if you don't mind ignoring a few posted signs and are willing to drag your 'yak a couple of yards down to the shore, that is. Case in point, the lakes of Mesa's Dobson Ranch neighborhood. These pretty little canals loop around for several miles, giving pleasant views of nice homes and cute little parks. Technically, you're doing just a teensy-weensy bit of trespassing if you paddle without permission. And since you probably don't pay HOA dues, you don't, in the strictest sense, have permission. Don't be a sissy — so long as you don't appear to be casing the houses, no one is gonna notice you're poaching their water. Hey, it's not like this is the similarly devised 'hoods of The Lakes in Tempe or The Islands of Gilbert, where strangers can actually raise a few eyebrows. Folks are chill in the DOB, man. Drop in from one of the grassy parks tucked into corner lots along the snake-shaped lakes. If someone on a pontoon boat asks what you're doing, keep paddling. If they ask again, say you're visiting your friend Tom over on Javelina Street. What do you mean you don't know Tom? He used to be the president of the HOA. He draws a lot of water in these parts, buddy!
The way we figure it, the water in the small lap pool at our local gym must comprise at least 10 percent sweat. It looks relatively clean and gets the job done — our arms feel like strands of linguine after 70 laps. But who knows what's in that water? And don't get us started on Tempe Town Lake. In our quest to someday complete a triathlon, we love to work out at the eight-lane outdoor pool at the McDowell Mountain Ranch Park Aquatic Center. Every time we've been there, the pool clearly (get it?) has been sparkling clean and has an upscale sheen our crappy gym lacks. The view of the McDowell Mountains is stellar, and it's located near one of our favorite long bike rides, up the Beeline Highway to Bush Highway, making it a convenient place to cross-train. If we could just manage to add a run on top of one of those marathon workouts, we'd be ready for the big league.
Once the temperatures zoom above 100 degrees, parents start the summer scramble for what to do with the kids. The Splash Playground at Tempe's Town Lake meets their demand with gusto. The entrance to the playground welcomes with a metal circle of clouds that rains mist onto visitors. Thunder claps and lightning flashes. Waterfalls turn into streams and water rushes into canals. This splash pad is the best in town because it keeps the kids cool and offers education about the rain in the desert. A lifeguard-style attendant is on hand to help parents keep an eye on the kids around flowing water.
Years ago, having a large pool with a wave-maker and a slide or two was good enough to call yourself a "water park." But thanks to establishments like Golfland Sunsplash, modern water parks more resemble amusement parks, with a variety of rides and water slides seemingly engineered by thrill-seeking adrenaline junkies. Sunsplash boasts attractions like the Master Blaster Water Coaster, Thunder Falls (a raft ride that starts nearly seven stories high and features three huge drops), the Stormrider (a massive drop into the water from about 70 feet), and the Sidewinder (a half-pipe slide that allows riders to zip from one end of the bowl to another). Of course, there's the standard wave pool (all 450,000 gallons of it), but Sunsplash also offers a separate "activity pool" for water sports, a toddler pool for the wee ones, and even the Endless River (which ends after about 800 feet) for emulating tubing at the Salt River — minus the salt water, beer coolers, and rock-ravaged rear ends. With so many ways to get wet, why would we go anywhere else?
Desert West had a taste of the limelight when its 2011 PhxAM Skateboard Tournament aired on ESPN. But while cameras zoomed in on amateurs and professionals performing kick-ass kick-flips, manuals, and serious airtime, our eyes were stuck on the park's features — more than 25,000 square feet of skateboard-only curbs, bumps, hips, steps, and three full bowls. Sounds sick enough for national coverage, but the park scored big when local artists Thomas Marcus Breeze and Lalo Cota exhausted an army of spray paint cans when they canvassed the concrete with their signature interlocking designs and grinning skeletons. Now, that's a pretty sweet view — even if you're spending less time landing tricks and more time eating the painted pavement.
Summertime in Phoenix blows chunks, especially if your hobbies include skateboarding, biking — or, hell, any outdoor activity. That's why we love this new skate park, which includes 30,000 square feet of ramps, foam pits, bowl corners, and a coffee shop for sipping lattes after grinding the rails. The 30-foot Velcro wall is a little creepy (though we're betting there's a fetish for that), but kids and adults alike can bounce to their heart's delight on the full wall of trampolines. Even BMX racers and kids with Razor-style scooters can get in on the action with weekly nights devoted to their preferred modes of transport. Just one word of advice: Don't head to Xtreme Skate Park after eating, or the only thing that'll be coming up during a bounce session is your lunch.
This spot near Warner and Hardy roads was called the Tempe Sports Complex until this year, but our dog doesn't care. What he does know about the excellent dog park located within the 60-acre complex is that the drive takes longer than the trip to our usual park — and that it's worth the wait. The two-acre doggy park, unlike many such facilities, is open seven days a week and has been highly populated every time we've gone. That means the big galoot has plenty of buddies to slobber on him and play chase with. It also means there's more of a chance you'll meet someone who socializes with species other than canines.
Even though they're man's best friends, your fur babies can't survive on human affection alone. When Fido starts to crave a little doggy socialization, bring him to Foothills Dog Park, where he can sniff as many dog butts as his little nose desires. This off-leash grassy zone lets your precious pup romp with other friendly dogs — we've never encountered aggression problems here — while you socialize with like-minded dog lovers. Foothills Park offers plenty of shade for relief from sunny days, water to keep your dog hydrated, and an agility course if your pup is the next Lassie in the making. There's also plenty of seating, so you can kick up your own tired paws while Fido burns off some energy.

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