This article was originally published in April 2017 and updated in October 2019
Soaking up the sunshine at a luxe resort, playing a round of golf, and maybe doing a bit of hiking or sightseeing are the gold standard when it comes to most trips to Phoenix. But if you manage to pry yourself away from the pool, you’ll find plenty of other great activities in this desert city and nearby spots like Mesa, Scottsdale and Gilbert–including some of the most quirky, fun things to do in Arizona.
Fancy a yoga session? Up the ante by trying goat yoga in a farmyard. Tired of boring hotel rooms? Why not book in for a night of glamping in a revamped, vintage Airstream trailer surrounded by orchards. There are plenty of gorgeous, easy hiking trails in Phoenix, or you could get your workout in with a session on a flying trapeze! For those looking for something different in the desert, here are some of the most unique things to do in Phoenix and the surrounding area.
Soar over the desert on a hot air balloon ride
Greeting the sunrise from thousands of feet above ground is truly magical, so it’s no wonder hot air balloon flights are at the top of many people’s bucket lists. Arizona is a fantastic place for this popular excursion, where guests can marvel at the saguaro-spotted Sonoran Desert below while peacefully floating high above the clouds.
WATCH: A hot air balloon ride in Arizona
Numerous companies operate Phoenix balloon rides, including Hot Air Expeditions which launches from Deer Valley. Crews inflate the balloon before your eyes, and if you’re lucky you’ll be up, up and away in the basket just as the sun rises.
Reaching heights of up to six thousand feet, soak in the views of the so-called Valley of the Sun, and mountain ranges including Four Peaks, the Bradshaws and Daisy Mountain. Capped off with a champagne breakfast, there’s truly no better way to start the day.
Dine under the desert sky
Inspired settings, fabulous food and community connection combine at the incredible long table dinners organized by Cloth & Flame, making their events one of the top Phoenix activities and the hottest ticket in town. The dining series takes place in various locations throughout the area, like lunches served up with a backdrop of vineyards or orchards, and multi-course meals enjoyed under twinkling lights and moonlit sky in the Superstition Mountains. Menus are prepared with locally-sourced ingredients, expertly paired with feature cocktails and free-flowing wine, making this elevated dining experience something that’s not to be missed.
Show off your downward dog at goat yoga in Gilbert
Did you know you can try goat yoga in Arizona? I kid you not (#SeeWhatIDidThere). This unusual workout is like a mix between yoga and a petting zoo, and has been all anyone’s talking about since classes started at a farmhouse in Gilbert late 2016.
Participants lay their mats in a circle and are led through a practice, while the brood of adorable goats jump on people’s backs while they’re trying to hold poses like downward dog and planks. As you can imagine, hilarity ensues, making this activity one of the most fun things to do near Phoenix.
WATCH: Goat yoga in Gilbert, Arizona
Is it an amazing workout? Well, not really as you’ll likely spend more time oohing and aahing over the furry kids and taking selfies than working on your flexibility. Is it worth trying? Absolutely. Bah-maste!
READ MORE: Goat yoga: Where barnyard meets downward dog
Enjoy the scenic hiking around Phoenix
Waking up at the crack of dawn usually isn’t anyone’s idea of fun (especially on vacation), but those spectacular sunrises are one of the best things to see in Arizona which makes it well worth getting out of bed early.
There are plenty of places to watch the pink and purple hues dance across the sky, whether it’s from the comfort of your hotel balcony or an unobstructed view from the top of a mountain in the Sonoran desert.
Tackling the Camelback Mountain hike in Scottsdale is one of the most popular spots for a quick, early-morning workout, as you’ll see the city spread out below while admiring the scarlet sky. Those with more time on their hands should check out:
- The McDowell Sonoran Preserve: With more than 30-thousand acres of bike paths, hiking and horseback riding trails, this is the largest urban preserve in the USA. Popular trails include the interpretive Bajada Nature Trail Loop which is ideal for families, the Gateway Loop which has glorious panoramic views as it passes over the Gateway Saddle, and the Windgate and Bell Pass Loop which have steep inclines and rugged desert terrain.
- Lost Dog Wash Trailhead: The gateway to the preserve’s southern regions, the lush vegetation means you might spot animals like a bobcat or mule deer. Head up to the Taliesin Overlook for views of north Scottsdale and Phoenix, or Sunrise Peak which has magnificent views of the desert landscape.
Some of the other hiking trails in Phoenix are found in Usery Mountain Regional Park and the Superstition Mountains, which are in Lost Dutchman State Park about a 40 minute drive from the city. Top day hikes near Phoenix include:
- Wind Cave Trail: One of the most popular hikes in Mesa, this trail winds through Usery Mountain Regional Park high up to the side of a mountain, where high winds have carved out a section of the caves.
- Pass Mountain Trail: A cacti-filled forest lines this seven-mile pathway through Usery, with plenty of opportunities to see the Sonoran Desert’s stately saguaros.
- Flat Iron Summit: This tough trail is guaranteed to give you a good workout, and the burn is worth it for the gorgeous views of surrounding Lost Dutchman State Park.
WATCH: A sunrise hike in Usery Mountain Regional Park
Eat a meaty peanut butter and jelly sandwich
Got a hankerin’ for some BBQ? Head to Jalapeno Bucks in Mesa, a roadside diner that’s always packed thanks to its secret sauces, mouthwatering pulled pork, fresh salsas and great outdoor seating areas surrounded by citrus groves. While their burritos get rave reviews, it’s the peanut butter, jam and brisket sandwich that really gets foodies talking. This southern twist on the classic PB&J is exactly what it sounds like…and tastes exactly how you’d imagine.
Go glamping in Arizona
The agriculture town of Queen Creek in Maricopa County is home to popular spots along the Fresh Foodie Trail like the Queen Creek Olive Mill, as well as a special place called Schnepf Farms which also happens to be one of the places to go glamping in Arizona.
This family-owned farm has been around since 1941, when Ray and Thora Schnepf purchased a section of desert literally in the middle of nowhere, and planted chip potatoes, veggies and peach trees. Their operation flourished over the decades, expanding to add a bakery, cafe, amusement park and wedding venues, as well as events like the Schnepf Farms Peach Festival and fall favourite Pumpkin & Chili Festival.
The latest offering at Schnepf Farms is The Cozy Peach, which just might be the cutest trailer park you’ve ever seen. Nearly a dozen vintage trailers and Airstreams have been completely redesigned, each with its own fun, individual theme. Retro touches like 8-Tracks blend seamlessly with newer features like flat-screen TVs set up with Netflix, and each trailer has its own bathroom, kitchenette and outdoor area. Guests are free to grab a cruiser bike and explore the property, work alongside the owner Carrie in the vegetable garden, or laze around in a hammock while reading a book from the secret library.
Try a flying trapeze
Channel your inner acrobat by trying out the I.FLY Trapeze at the luxurious Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale. Safe for those aged four and up, the one-hour sessions start with instructors demonstrating trapeze techniques on the ground, before guests are strapped in a harness to head up the ladder to the suspended platform.
There, they’ll literally get talked off the ledge and coached on how to fly on the aerial trapeze, trying tricks like only holding on with their legs before doing a backflip onto the net below (which fortunately is much easier than it sounds, and is guaranteed to impress your friends). If all goes well, the final part of the class includes a chance to attempt a “catch and release” where you’ll let go of the trapeze mid-air and be caught by one of the instructors simultaneously flying on another trapeze. Watch out, Cirque du Soleil.
The writer experienced these activities as a guest of Visit Mesa and Visit Phoenix, As always, hosts have no editorial influence on articles
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