Grand experiences: top outdoor activities around the Grand Canyon
Many make the journey to Arizona solely for its whopping 277-mile-long chasm, the Grand Canyon, and we don’t blame them. This mile-deep formation carved by the Colorado River is one of the most spectacular things a person can see, but to neglect the rest of the state would be a monumental mistake.
Arizona has always been a place for rebels and risk takers. One hundred years ago cowboys crossed the deserts in search of fortune, and they settled things with shootouts and saloon sessions. Nowadays, the West isn’t quite as wild, but Arizonans still get their kicks through adventure, whether it’s cycling the rim of the Grand Canyon, launching themselves from treetop canopies or surfing waves on its lakes.
Experience the rush of wakesurfing
At Lake Pleasant, just north of Phoenix, there are stacks of activities to be tried, from hiking and scuba-diving to kayaking and nature spotting (bald eagles have been seen here in recent weeks). Meanwhile, speedboats in the area go zipping along the water dragging doughnuts and wakeboards behind them, but it’s wakesurfing that’s really taken off here. A wakesurfer rides behind a speedboat, using the wake like an endless wave big enough to surf on without needing a tow rope. With wakesurfing, you get the weightlessness and freedom of surfing combined with the rush and speed of wakeboarding.
Do it: Travelers can rent a wakesurf board for $45 per day, and rent a sports boat for $570 per day (max eight people per boat) at Scorpion Bay Marina and Yacht Club (scorpionbaymarina.com).
Kayak into secret coves
Driving up to Watson Lake Park, visitors will set eyes on an alien-like land of exposed bedrock and large boulders of granite. Next to these bizarre rippled and distorted formations, travelers can explore the rock pools and mangrove nooks and crannies that have evolved over the past century since the reservoir was created. Dock your boat and hike on one of the many trails near Prescott. Take a tent or RV and you can camp under the stars (amenities include picnic ramadas, showers and pits for bonfires).
Do it: Entrance to the park is $2 and kayak hire starts from $15 for the first hour and $10 thereafter with Prescott Outdoors (prescottoutdoors.com).
Explore the iconic West
Sedona’s striking rock formations have been used in the backdrop of Westerns throughout the years (including The Quick and the Dead and the original 3:10 to Yuma). One way to experience this distinctive Southwest terrain is on an extreme off-road adventure. In Red Rock State Park dirt tracks wind between fascinating desert plants, protruding rocks and secret, ancient cliff dwellings. Spot desert wildlife like lizards and deer against the handsome milieu, and learn that elks, chipmunks and desert cats also inhabit the surroundings. Rocks in the distance go by affectionate names like Snoopy Rock, Twin Nuns, Coffeepot Rock and Rabbit Ear Rock. It’s believed that Walt Disney visited the area and named his famous theme park ride Thunder Mountain after one of the peaks in Sedona. Guided 4x4 trips run daily in the area, or go it alone – camp or park up in the desert and hike the gorge.
Do it: Pink Jeep tours start from $95 per adult (for a two-hour tour), including a guide, pinkjeep.com.
Tackle a treetop obstacle course
From first glance, Fort Tuthill County Park looks like a normal woodland area, but this is where those looking to get their kicks come to fly like monkeys through the treetops via zip-lines and canopy obstacle courses. Clamber up cargo nets, crawl through tunnels and tremble as you work your way around the high wire course with only a safety clip to stop you plummeting to your doom. Further thrills can be found at one of Flagstaff’s three BMX parks (a free dirt track with a dozen ramps is also located in Fort Tuthill County Park).
Do it: The Flagstaff Extreme full high-wire course for $49 per adult (flagstaffextreme.com).
Bike around the rim of the Grand Canyon
Dozens of hiking paths line the Grand Canyon’s epic geological features, and each stop is sure to take your breath away, but you’ll need weeks to see it all. Those without the budget for a helicopter or several weeks to experience the canyon on foot can circle the rim on two wheels. A three-hour ride along the historic Hermit Road route will take you away from the camera-clicking hordes to some of the grandest views on the South Rim. Purpose-built paths meander around shiver-inducing views, but keep your wits about you as parts of the trail lack rails or safety nets – you don’t want to end your trip like Thelma and Louise.
Do it: Bright Angel Bicycles offers guided tours for $58 adult or do your own route at your own speed from $12 per hour, bikegrandcanyon.com.
Jade traveled to Arizona with support from Arizona Office of Tourism (tourism.az.gov). Lonely Planet contributors do not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.