Looking down toward Horseshoe Bend and the Colorado River at dusk
Raft the smooth waters of the Colorado River near Horseshoe Bend.

Beginner's Guide to Arizona's Outdoors

Venturing into the great outdoors can seem a bit daunting at first, with skills to acquire, equipment to figure out, and lingo to learn. But don’t worry. Here are beginner-friendly suggestions to get you started. You’ll feel like an Arizona outdoors pro in no time.

Easy hikes to start your Arizona outdoors journey

Double Butte Loop Trail
Papago Park
Phoenix/Tempe

Over the course of 2.2 miles, the Double Butte Loop Trail circumnavigates the large red sandstone Papago Buttes that are visible from vantage points throughout much of metro Phoenix. The rocky dirt trail is generally wide and flat, making it a pleasant hike for the whole family (and even a pooch on a leash).

Blue Mesa Trail
Petrified Forest National Park
Holbrook (3 hours northeast of Phoenix)

Blue Mesa Trail transports hikers into another world with a 1-mile loop strewn with petrified wood and petroglyphs among white and blue-hued bentonite clay badlands. Alternately paved and gravel, the mostly flat loop is a bit steeper at the beginning and end.

Aspen Loop Trail
Coconino National Forest
Flagstaff

Located at Arizona Snowbowl on the western side of the San Francisco Peaks, the 2.5-mile Aspen Loop Trail is an easy hike that's among the most photogenic in the state: lined with aspen, spruce, pines and wildflowers, and serving up views of volcanic fields, meadows, mountains and on clear days, even the Grand Canyon.

Smooth water sailing—or kayaking, paddleboarding, rafting, etc.

Tempe Town Lake
Tempe

For the past 20 years, 2-mile-long Tempe Town Lake has been the urban answer for boaters who want a quick water fix. Onshore, Tempe Boat Rentals and Northshore WaterSport Rentals both offer a selection of kayaks and stand-up paddleboards (SUPs) to choose from. Want to improve your paddling skills? The City of Tempe hosts a wide range of classes.

Lynx Lake Recreation Area
Prescott National Forest
Prescott (2 hours north of Phoenix)

A 55-acre reservoir, Lynx Lake surrounds boaters with Ponderosa pine and juniper, and you might even spot mule deer, javelinas, bald eagles or osprey. It's a small lake, but that means it's perfect for paddling newbies to get their sea legs. The Lynx Lake Café, Store & Marina rents canoes, kayaks and SUPs, and the lake's boat ramp is nice and wide for easy put-in.

Colorado River
Page

Not ready for whitewater rafting, but still want to ride the waves of the mighty Colorado River? The 15-mile section from Glen Canyon Dam to Lee's Ferry is a soothing flatwater rafting experience that keeps adrenaline levels low while still offering spectacular scenery. The river's path weaves through sandstone cliffs and famous sites such as Petroglyph Beach and Horseshoe Bend. Outfitters offer a variety of half-and full-day float trips on the Colorado River suitable for all ages and abilities.

Smooth cycling and novice mountain biking trails

Country Club Trail
Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest
Pinetop-Lakeside (about 3 1/2 hours northeast of Phoenix)

Among more than 200 miles of non-motorized paths in the White Mountains TRACKS Trail System, the 3.5-mile Country Club Trail is a great introduction for novice mountain bikers. The loop trail is a well-marked single track, following an old railroad bed that passes through forests and alongside Whitcomb Meadow.

The Loop
Tucson

Formally known as the Chuck Huckelberry Loop, this system of 131 miles of mostly paved lanes connects Tucson to Marana, Oro Valley and South Tucson, as well as to several city parks. Views alternate from riverbeds to city streets, and you may spot a farmer's market or two on the weekends. Motorized traffic isn't allowed, but bikers share the lanes with walkers, runners and inline skaters.

Indian Bend Wash Greenbelt
Scottsdale

With 11 miles of wide concrete paths, this greenbelt system is perfect for a day of two-wheeling through parks, around golf courses and alongside lakes. Whether you're on a road bike, mountain bike or beach cruiser, you'll enjoy the ease of the route, which is largely flat and features 24 grade-separated crossings to avoid major road traffic.

No-fuss camping with Arizona State Parks

Not sure how to set up a tent, build a campfire or catch a fish? Arizona State Parks' Family Campout program has you covered. These weekend-long sessions around the state will get you started on the basics of tent camping, with a guided introduction to activities such as hiking, fishing, archery and more.


The Arizona Office of Tourism and Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics would like to ask new and experienced outdoor enthusiasts to help us protect and enjoy natural lands responsibly by remembering to plan ahead, dispose of waste properly, leave what you find, respect wildlife and be considerate of others. For more on Leave No Trace, see below.

Arizona Outdoors 101

Safety Tips

  • Sunscreen is a must, particularly in higher elevations.
  • Hydrate yourself before and during activities.
  • Bring a first-aid kit—and needle-nose pliers if you're in cactus country.

Outdoor Etiquette

  • Keep music and conversations at a reasonable volume.
  • On trails, move safely aside—hikers yield to equestrians; mountain bikers yield to all others.
  • Keep dogs leashed at all times.
  • Stay on designated trails and avoid muddy areas and vegetation.
A man and a little girl paddle on a lake, surrounded by buildings and mountains
Tempe Town Lake (Credit: An Pham)

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About the Author

Jake Poinier

Jake Poinier is a veteran freelance writer, editor, and author whose work has appeared in USAToday, Blue Water Sailing, and Golf Illustrated, among numerous other publications. When he's not at his desk writing for corporate clients and editing books, he can probably be found hiking or fishing along the Mogollon Rim, skiing in the White Mountains, or sailing just about anywhere.