Best 5K Run 2019 | Papago Park Fitness Trail | Fun & Games | Phoenix

Some people were angry about this trail when it was first installed in 2016. It's 3.1 miles of crushed granite, with several concrete drainage support structures, slicing through a wide swath of the 1,500-acre Papago Park. In the end, it's worked out as a multiuse trail, allowing for easy hiking, jogging, and cycling. (We've even seen off-road-style wheelchairs on the trail.) The park is situated conveniently on the borders of Phoenix, Tempe, and Scottsdale, and the trail has become one of our favorite features in it. The Fitness Trail is the perfect place to train for a 5K — well, you said you like hills, right? This ain't no sidewalk jog. Start at the West Buttes parking lot off Galvin Parkway, just west of the Phoenix Zoo. The trail rolls like a gray ribbon across pink, cactus-covered hills, never flat for too long, but with nothing steep enough to blow out your knees. Up and down, twisting and turning, taking you the long way around the golf course but always west of Galvin Parkway — it all adds up to a deliciously full workout, like eating half the leftovers as well as the main meal. The next time you do a flat 5K, it'll feel like a snack.

Not all turkey trots are created equal. Ditch the neighborhood Thanksgiving Day dawdle for some serious trail running on the Saturday after Turkey Day. Fat Turkey offers both a 5K and a 10K, with plenty of scenery as you hit the rocky red ups and downs of Papago Park. As an extra incentive, the race organizers bring in an extra-fast pacesetter dressed in a turkey suit to run the course. Yeah, he looks silly. And he's probably going to kick your ass. One of our jogging partners actually beat the turkey last year, winning a shot glass — and knee pain he complained about for the next two months. As moderate trail runners, we don't try to go that fast. But after sampling the 5K version a couple of years ago, we did the 10K after last Turkey Day. Maybe it was the residual tryptophan, or maybe it was that the race begins with tough hills on a gravelly, uneven desert single-track trail, but we were fighting every instinct to give up and sneak away from the whole damned thing within the first mile. Fortunately, we worked past that nonsense and the next five miles were pure, fat-burning bliss. Everyone gets a T-shirt and a finisher's medal. Our two medals hang proudly at home — and the next one's coming up soon.

Best Place to Go Climbing Without a Partner

Focus Climbing Center

As much as we love bouldering, the art of rock climbing while staying relatively low to the ground, sometimes we need to get high. But without a partner and rope for a belay, climbing high on technically difficult terrain isn't a rational option, unless you're Alex Honnold. Or, that is, unless you have access to an auto-belayer. If so, while the rope is still mandatory, the partner isn't. Focus is the better of two gyms that we're aware of that employ auto-belayers. We like the vibe there from both the laid-back, though professional, employees, and the clientele of mostly young, ripped, personable bouldering aficionados. Opposite the top-notch bouldering walls, the climbing walls are served by six auto-belayers, which are box-like machines affixed near the ceiling. A climbing rope dangles from the center of the boxes to near the floor. Climbers clip into the end of that rope and begin scaling the wall. In a fall, the auto-belayer doesn't let the climber plunge to the ground. Instead, it pays out the rope slowly and places the climber on the floor gently. This system allows us to climb the wall's 30 feet again and again, racking up hundreds of vertical feet in minutes with no belayer, and no fear of crashing to the ground. It's even safer than bouldering higher than five or six feet, since a fall even on padded ground could result in a sprain or break, while the auto-belayer acts as a guardian angel, always depositing climbers on the ground at the same, slow speed. What it won't do is talk to you. While they won't help your social life, the auto-belayers at Focus will get you ready for the next big wall.

Come for the bouldering, stay for the weights, yoga, wine, and massages. Dozens of routes that sprawl over the gym's two cavernous sections range from the beginner-friendly V-basic rating to the rip-skin-off-your fingers V8s and above. Build strength by scaling overhangs and gripping tiny, crimpy holds as you practice footwork and train your mind to "read" routes before you hop on the wall. Veteran-owned and -operated, Black Rock is staunchly a bouldering gym — leave your harnesses at home, folks — and embracing that identity distinguishes it from gyms that try to offer it all. A monthly membership will set you back $79, which pays off after four visits. Regularly set routes test your technique and push your mind and body to solve fresh puzzles. Meanwhile, Black Rock's open gym has all the weights, resistance cords, and other equipment you need to get stronger. Yoga classes are offered almost every night, so you can stretch out. Monthly offerings include ladies' bouldering night (it comes with wine) and back massages.

There are three main canals that provide paths for walking, jogging, or cycling, but Arizona Canal is the best. These waterways have been entertaining Phoenicians for decades, as well as delivering the life-sustaining water for homes and our remaining farms. We know two people who used to water-ski in the canals behind cars back in the day. Now, you'd be thrown in jail for doing that — plus you'd run over a jogger, most likely. The Arizona Canal cuts through the finest part of the empire known as metro Phoenix, passing through neighborhoods and commercial sections of east Phoenix and Scottsdale, all the way to the west Valley. The canal paths are flat, with surfaces of both dirt and asphalt, so the only drawback is the occasional street crossing — be careful on those. The clean water, which contains catfish and other aquatic life, can be mesmerizing for desert dwellers who know little but dust and cactus. It's one of our mandatory pleasures to jog along the canal; stare at the water and open spaces of backyards, parking lots, and what have you; and let the brain take a siesta while the heart and lungs pump away. It's pure, Phoenix-style bliss.

Twenty-five miles of nearly uninterrupted bicycle path. You heard right. That's a huge stretch of pavement without worrying about cars or 18-wheelers taking you out. True, there are often other obstacles to weave through, like pedestrians, roller-bladers, and the scourge of humankind, electric scooters. But they probably won't kill you, and if it's later at night or hot, or if you get lucky, you'll have nearly the whole trail system to yourself. Doing the math: The ride could be a 50-miler out-and-back if begun at one end. In reality, that might be difficult to do. But the beauty of this ride is you could live in south Phoenix, Tempe, south Scottsdale, or north Scottsdale and still access the trail easily for a long, no-car bike ride. There are no signs, and not even a single online map for this one. Here are the tricks (start from either end): Catch the west end of the Rio Salado bike path at about 19th Avenue and the south bank of the Salt River riverbed. Continue through the Tempe Beach Park, and connect to Scottsdale's Indian Bend Wash path by either taking the pedestrian bridge to the north side, or using the walkway on Rural Road. That path soon bends north and runs all the way to Shea Boulevard. You might want to pack a lunch.

Don't get us wrong: There are plenty of bike trails with beautiful scenery all over the Valley, but there's something about looping through Usery Pass that feels epic. Once you ride up the 1,000 feet of rolling hills inside this county park, you can see downtown Phoenix from over 30 miles away on a clear day. There is lush greenery along North Bush Highway, which runs parallel to the Salt River. You can take a selfie next to one of the oddly shaped saguaro cactuses along the road, Bike anywhere from 20 to 40 miles, but come prepared —occasional debris from the large pickups hauling boats can flatten your tire real fast.

Metro Phoenix straightaways can be mind-numbing for the motorcyclist, causing us to crave any kind of handlebar action more interesting than a U-turn. Motoring out on our favorite longer rides, like to Tortilla Flat or Prescott, involves about an hour of arrow-straight freeway riding from our central Valley homestead before hitting any twisties. Going to South Mountain's summit, the fun starts much sooner. Easily accessible from much of the Valley, the entrance to the 11,000-acre park can be found by simply driving south on Central Avenue toward South Mountain. Soon enough, you're putting your bike through some paces with some nice back-and-forth driving. Watch out for gravel on the road, and mind the speed limit. There's a YouTube video out there featuring a guy taking a dirt dive from missing a curve — you don't want to provide a sequel. The lower speed limit (25 mph, 15 around blind curves) and treacherous cliffs make this a fun place for riders who feel the need for safety more than speed. Take the road up to Dobbins Lookout, or all the way up to the TV towers. It's a great place for improving beginner motorcycle skills or chasing away the boredom of the street grid.

The unassuming North Mountain Park sits on the southern side of the North Mountain and Shaw Butte area, on the northern end of Sunnyslope. Set back just enough from the cars racing along North Seventh Street, this desert park is a respite from the hum and grit of one of the city's busiest streets. From it, at night, downtown Phoenix is a sight to behold. The park, which comes with picnic tables and grill areas, slopes gently upward at the base of North Mountain, giving nighttime visitors a clear view straight down Seventh toward the glow of downtown against the jagged backdrop of South Mountain. If you slip into the park before the gates close around sunset, a ranger is unlikely to kick you out (in our limited experience), and if you're feeling particularly adventurous one night, we suspect the evening views from the top of North Mountain would be even better than from down below.

Tucked back in the Madison area of uptown Phoenix, Granada Park is a quiet, green area ideal for a quick lunch away from your desk or for an afternoon on the grass. A fishing lagoon jam-packed with ducks and turtles occupies the center of the park, while the dramatic Piestewa Peak dominates the scenery. Picnic tables and grills help with planned outings, while trees and grass make for perfect plop-down spots with a blanket, a book, yourself, and maybe a dog. There's also a tennis court, a playground, and a multipurpose field for those in your picnic party who are interested. Overseen by the city of Phoenix, Granada Park is open daily.

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