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5 Awesome Arizona Adventures Right in Your Backyard
Road trips are easy when you live in a state like Arizona, where towering pines, cool lakes, breathtaking red rock vistas and serene desert plains are all within a few hours’ drive. Read on for five awesome Arizona adventures that you can have in just a day or two!
If you want to get your travel on, you don’t have to go far. One of the biggest perks of living in the Grand Canyon State is that hundreds of parks, museums, cultural sites and other adventures are just a few hours away. Some are more obvious, like the aforementioned giant hole in the ground. Others are mainly known to Arizona locals.
Kick your spirit of adventure into overdrive with a quick trip to these five in-state travel hotspots frequented by those in the know:
Go With the Flow
The longest lava tube in Arizona, Lava River Cave near Flagstaff looks like something out of a science fiction movie. The rounded, hollowed-out tunnel was formed around 700,000 years ago by molten rock from a nearby volcano – yes, we had those here back then!
The best time to check out Lava River Cave is in late spring or summer when the frost and rain have passed. (Technically the cave is open year-round, though you’ll have to ski or snowshoe here when the forest roads are closed in wintertime.) The terrain is slippery, so hiking boots or other “grippy” footwear is a must.
Take a side trek: Pick up a “beer passport” and take a walking tour of Flagstaff’s awesome craft brewery scene.
There’s No Place Like Om
Architect Paolo Soleri envisioned a self-contained, eco-friendly wonderland when he founded Arcosanti 70 miles north of Phoenix in 1970. His experimental alternative to urban sprawl never really took off as a place to live, but the serene compound with its curved concrete buildings and metal foundry is still worth a day trip. The site offers guided tours daily where visitors can get a behind-the-scenes look at the undulating structures. Those interested in a more intensive, hands-on art experience can sign up for classes in everything from metalsmithing and glassblowing to lighting design.
Nearby: Get your Paolo Soleri fix anytime at Cosanti, his famous wind bell making studio and gallery in Paradise Valley. Shop anytime or tour the workshop and watch the bronze bells being poured in the late morning hours.
Go Onward and Upward
Ready to fulfill a bucket list item? While Albuquerque is famous for its balloon festival, metro Phoenix’s low winds and mild fall, spring and winter weather make the area a hotspot for hot air balloonists. It’s safe, it’s easy and there are no crowds, making it the perfect activity for a romantic date or family fun. The Rainbow Ryders offer scenic sunrise and sunset balloon rides which include 45 minutes to one hour of flight time, plus prickly pear mimosas for the 21+ crowd. The entire experience lasts around 3-3.5 hours, leaving you plenty of afternoon and evening to explore the rest of the city.
Side trek: Chandler, AZ is known for its annual ostrich festival, but you don’t have to limit your big-bird time to one weekend a year. About an hour south of Phoenix metro off the I-10 is Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch, featured on Extreme Roadside Attractions and Chef vs. City. Home to bunnies, deer, goats, donkeys, ducks and stingrays (yes, in the desert!), this open-air facility is like a petting zoo on steroids. Explore the ranch, feed the animals and maybe even take home a souvenir ostrich feather duster!
Take a Not-So-Fari
Going to Africa might be out of your travel budget, but you can still see lions, rhinos and giraffes up close at Out of Africa Wildlife Park in nearby Camp Verde. Regular admission is no more expensive than dinner out. For a little bit more cash, you can stamp your passport to fun with an all-day Expedition package that includes park admission, a tiger feeding show and a scheduled “Super Mog” Adventure touring the plains in an open vehicle.
In the Valley: Phoenix metro is also home to some spectacular wildlife (and we’re not talking about Old Town Scottsdale on a Saturday night). Wildlife World Zoo in Litchfield Park boasts 600+ animals, while Scottsdale’s OdySea aquarium reveals the hidden beauty of the earth’s underwater ecosystems.
Climb to Greater Heights
Thrills? Check. Adventure? Definitely. If the challenge of suspended bridges, swings, slides, and zip lines 80 feet in the air gets your blood pumping, check out Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course in Fort Tuthill County Park. Founded and run by adrenaline junkies, this self-guided course includes 30+ zip lines and obstacles designed to put your strength, agility and nerve to the test. There’s a kids version for little ones and a date night special for thrill-seeking couples. The course is open year-round, weather permitting. Reservations are required.
Stay a while: From seeing stars at Lowell Observatory to camping around Sunset Crater, there’s no shortage of nature activities in and around Flagstaff. If you’re looking for a longer vacay, consider a Colorado River rafting trip or a scenic hike of Fatman’s Loop Trail.
There are Arizona tourist sites that are so crazy busy that there’s a lottery to get in — *cough, cough* The Wave — and easier-access places that locals still love visiting. That’s why it’s so great to live in the 48th state. Many of the sweetest destinations in the Southwest are just a few hours away from home!