For some, the swelteringly hot days of summer make a perfect excuse to hide away in the darkest, coolest place you can find. After all, why would anyone venture outside when heat seems to radiate off of every single surface and the sun beats down so strongly you can feel the weight of its rays on your neck?
But the truth is, there are plenty of reasons to love these long, hot Phoenix summers. There are even those of us who think the purple-pink sunrises make the perfect backdrop for an early-morning run and who revel in the chance to explore the Valley’s trails by night.
Yes, contrary to what you may have heard, you can enjoy the great outdoors in metro Phoenix all year long. And if you don’t believe it, we’re here to tell you how.
If running is your preferred way to enjoy the great outdoors, then know that even during the summer, you don’t have to go it alone. Phoenix runners don’t stop when the weather gets hot; they just get up earlier to take advantage of the cool-ish early-morning hours.
Arizona’s largest running club, Arizona Road Racers, hosts a five-race Summer Series that kicks off in May and ends in August. Held at various parks in Phoenix, Tempe, and Peoria, the races range from about three to four miles with entry fees starting at $25 for nonmembers. Hosted by Startline Racing, the Arizona Sunrise Series also runs from late May to August, with seven 5K races held all over the Valley from Scottsdale to Glendale. Runners can choose to register for single events for $30 or commit to the entire series for less than $200.
But whether you run alone or race hard, summer sprinters will need to work harder to stay healthy. A few basic tips include adjusting your pace to compensate for the weather (a fancy way of saying slow down) and planning routes that are shady, have water fountains, or avoid asphalt and concrete, which absorb heat and radiate it back to your poor, sweaty body. Running before the sun hits the horizon also means you’ll be out during the coolest hours of the day.
But not everyone will be thrilled to rise before the sun, and so we have outdoor options for night owls, too. Hit the Valley’s mountains by night to see even the most familiar trails in an entirely new light — or, uh, lack thereof.
For a fully urban adventure, head up Tempe’s A Mountain (officially named Hayden Butte Preserve) to take in glittering views of downtown Tempe at night. Located just off Mill Avenue, it’s a perfect, easy jaunt for most. Not far from there, you’ll find Papago Park with more than four miles of easy, loping trails suitable for hikers of all experience levels. And though parking areas around the park officially close by 7 p.m. or sunset, all trails stay open until 11 p.m.
If you’re looking for something a little more intense, there’s always the 2,608-foot summit of Piestewa Peak. During the day, you’d fight thick crowds to reach the top of the highest mountain in the Valley, but by night, you’ll have plenty more space and quiet to enjoy the hike. Take Trail #300 to the top of the peak after parking in the lot at the first driveway on the left in Phoenix Mountains Recreation Area.
Scared to brave the outdoors alone at night? Maricopa County Parks and Recreation also hosts guided night hikes throughout the summer, including moonlit hikes at Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area, Usery Mountain Regional Park, and Estrella Mountain Regional Park in June and July.
And yes, even at night, hikers must be prepared with ample amounts of water and an extra set of batteries for the headlamp or flashlight you absolutely can’t forget. For safety, always let someone know when you head out for a hike, and since even familiar trails can be hard to navigate in the dark, plan on a slower pace than you usually take during the day.
Of course, it wouldn’t be summer without a day of swimsuits, sunscreen, and a large body of water. Yes, we may be in the desert, but there are still places to take a dip. Tempe Town Lake offers opportunities to skim along the surface of the water in rentable pontoons, kayaks, pedal boats, and more, but for a more enjoyable experience, we’d recommend heading about 45 minutes north to Lake Pleasant Regional Park. At Scorpion Bay Marina, visitors can rent boats, kayaks, wakeboards, waterskis, and paddle boards, as well as enjoy amenities including the Scorpion Bay Grill restaurant and bar and a general store. Day-use entry opens at 6 a.m. daily, and two campsites, both with restrooms and showers, are open for reservations 365 days a year.
Wanna do more than just splash around in the sun? Skill up this summer with Saguaro Scuba, a Mesa-based dive shop that takes students to Lake Pleasant for open-water training dives about once a month. You’ll have to complete an online course and pool training before you can explore beneath the surface of the lake, but once you’re a certified diver, you can go diving on one of Saguaro’s group trips to more exotic locales like Mexico and the Cayman Islands.
Summer often does bring with it the itch for a road trip — and if you’re hitting the road, you may as head somewhere cooler. Sure, there are plenty of outdoor adventures to be had in Flagstaff and Sedona, but we’d recommend giving Prescott a try, too. Just about two hours outside of the Valley you can explore Watson Lake and the Granite Dells, a beautiful hiking area with granite formations, lush forest canyons, and, of course, a large lake for a mid-hike dip. It doesn’t get quite as cool there as at destinations farther to the north, but even a 10-degree break will make a difference.
So there you have it — places to hike, dive, swim, and run your way around Phoenix this summer.
Sounds exhausting, right? We know. But at least you won’t be bored.