Best Place to Watch the Sunrise 2023 | Hole in the Rock | Fun & Games | Phoenix

We're spoiled when it comes to places to enjoy the sunrise after a long night out. Heck, you can stand on any random corner and still get a primo view. But for our money, the best choice has to be Hole in the Rock. The decidedly novel geological formation is found at Papago Park and requires a mere 10-minute hike from the parking lot. (It's not overly strenuous, and you may find that it helps burn off some of those bad decisions from the prior evening.) It's hard to describe the sheer beauty of this spot in a way that captures the quiet awe of it all. The rocks themselves seem to extend the deep hues of red and orange, making it seem like the earth and sky are nearly one for a brief moment. The shape of the hole almost feels like a stage backdrop, and that adds even more power and emotionality to what's an otherwise hugely stirring moment. It's easy to get jaded with this town's accessibility to great nature spots, but Hole in the Rock is a reminder that these places have to be revisited as we maintain a connection to our surroundings.

Yeah, we know. It's not an original pick. But our camel-shaped rock right in the middle of the Valley remains the top hike for locals and visitors alike thanks to its iconic shape and stellar views of metro Phoenix. There are two ways to the top: Echo Canyon, which is shorter and steeper, and Cholla Trail, which is slightly longer but less strenuous. Neither is easy, though, and inexperienced hikers should know there's no shame in turning back before the summit. As high-altitude climbers say, "Getting to the top is optional; getting down (preferably without a helicopter rescue) is mandatory." But for all the new Phoenicians and out-of-towners who will read this over the next year, let us be clear: We want you to enjoy our favorite hike, but please do it in mild temperatures with appropriate shoes and plenty of water. Safety comes first.


We crave the feeling of self-satisfaction we get after we complete a hike, but truth be told, sometimes we're not in the mood for a serious trek. Our pick for when we're in the mood for a quick journey is the Big Butte Loop Trail, a super-simple hike at Papago Park. The path starts at the Elliot Ramada and takes hikers through the park's desert terrain. The trail goes around one of the more prominent sandstone buttes in the park, then passes the theater on McDowell Road and returns to where it begins. The path is flat, so it's easy-peasy to walk on. If you like taking selfies around rocks, you'll adore this trail as there are mysterious-looking rock formations all around. Plus, the breathtaking views of the Valley are a few steps away, providing a breather from the hustle and bustle of metro Phoenix without leaving town.

Launching from Lost Dutchman State Park on the east side of Apache Junction, this almost 11-mile trail begins with an ascent leading to the iconic Flatiron. This portion of the trail involves a continuous uphill climb, demanding that hikers have sure-footedness navigating along a path guided by painted markings on the rocks. Upon reaching the Flatiron, you'll continue on the trail toward Superstition Peak, an incredible vantage point nearing 4,860 feet. On clear days, hikers can see the distant Santa Catalina Mountains. When coming down the trail, it's a steep descent ending at Carney Springs Trailhead. This is one of the most challenging hikes in metro Phoenix, but it's well worth it if you can make it to the Superstition Peak. If you want to do some recon before you attempt it, pull up YouTube videos to get tips from pro hikers.

Tourists have several choices when it comes to hiking locally, and Pinnacle Peak Trail will satisfy bucket list goals for visitors with an easy-to-moderate hike, memorable views of the city and those Instagram-worthy shots to show off their athletic skills. This 3.8-mile hike has several outlook points where you can admire the vistas and mountains and stop if you need a breather. Along the way, there are informational plaques about the foliage and desert animals as well as mile markers to chart the progress of your hike. The park is open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., and the best times to hike are between November to May. The trail is popular, and sometimes parking can become challenging, so it's better to get to the trail early so you can spend the rest of the day enjoying the rest of the Valley.

When the city streets get to be too much, or you just have a Saturday afternoon to enjoy, hop in your car and head toward Tortilla Flat. As you drive out of the city, the hills start to hug the road as it winds through fields of saguaros and past Arizona landmarks, including the Superstition Mountains, Goldfield Ghost Town and the Elvis Chapel. Continue on and the mountains get steeper until you reach a high point with overlooks that offer your first glimpse of deep blue waters below. As you wind down the hill toward Canyon Lake, kayakers and the Dolly Steamboat come into view sailing around the steep cliffs that descend sharply into the water. As you near the shore, there are a number of bridges only wide enough for one car. While you wait your turn to cross, take a peek at the canyons and creeks that bring streams of water to the lake. Stop at the marina, campgrounds and beach pull-ins for a better view of the lake before continuing to Tortilla Flat. This tiny town is often filled with motorcyclists who are in the know about the gorgeous drive. If you can find parking, stop for an ice cream at the general store. But if parking is full, pick your adventure: Continue driving the winding mountain road, or turn around and do it all in reverse as you head back toward the city.

You don't have to go very far from town for some wonderful kayaking. A morning on the Salt River is a great easy paddle with beautiful views and plenty of wildlife. Want to try it out? Meet a buddy and drop one vehicle at the Phon D Sutton Day Use Area and head up to the Water Users Recreation Site parking lot a few miles away. (Note: All cars that park at either of those lots need to display a Tonto Pass.) From there, set out on your journey. Depending on the current level of water flow, you may encounter a few short periods of Class I rapids around the part they call the Pinball, but most of your trip will be smooth sailing — er, kayaking. Keep your eyes peeled for water birds, otters, raccoons and bighorn sheep, but most of all the famous Salt River horses, which tend to congregate on the riverbank or in the shallow water close to the shore. It's easy to forget how near you are to the city when you feel this close to nature.

Kayaking isn't the only way to enjoy a trip down the Salt River. Paddleboarding is another popular pastime. If purchasing one of your own isn't something you're ready to commit to, you can rent one for the day at WildHorse Paddleboards. This Mesa-based female-owned company is making waves in the Valley due to the sheer love and passion owner Jonique Beach has for Arizona's nature and sharing it with customers. WildHorse currently charges $25 for a half-day rental (up to six hours) and $40 for a full day, and Beach is only too happy to impart her experience-based wisdom on how to get the most out of your paddleboard experience.

We don't get many opportunities to be on the water in the Valley of the Sun, so when we do, we treasure it. If you're looking for an activity to delight an out-of-town visitor or you just want to take a little ride, we suggest an excursion with Desert Belle Cruises. With Desert Belle, you get to explore Saguaro Lake on a sightseeing tour. During the high season, there's at least one cruise per day and often several on the weekends. You can opt for the basic narration cruise, in which a knowledgeable host tells you interesting facts about the lake, or you can check the schedule for one of Desert Belle's live music, craft beer and music, or wine and music cruises. Whichever you choose, you're setting sail for a good time.

Best Communing With Creatures of the Night

Phoenix Bat Cave

Here's a fun fact: Arizona is home to 28 species of bats, second in the nation to Texas. They're spread all over the state, but one colony of Mexican free-tailed bats has claimed as its summer home a flood-control tunnel near Camelback and 40th Street. The colony reportedly numbers 10,000-20,000 bats, which leave the tunnel nightly in search of some tasty insects. To witness this exodus, park near the intersection before sunset and start following the canal at the northwest corner of the intersection. Walk on the right side of the canal, and when you see a path heading off to your right, follow it until you arrive at the tunnel. You'll need to be quiet while you wait, as the bats don't like a lot of commotion. But eventually, you'll be rewarded with the sight of thousands of bats heading out for dinner. Don't worry, the bats aren't interested in humans and we've never seen a bat run into a spectator. As you head back to your car, keep your eyes peeled for bats picking off bugs from the surface of the canal.

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