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It’s no secret that summers can be downright brutal in Arizona, so when fall rolls around, it’s time to head outside to enjoy the season and start feeling a little more comfortable. Whether you’re trying to stay safe with social distancing, get some exercise, or just explore the diverse nature that the state has to offer, these are some of the best things to do outdoors this fall in Arizona.
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Many people don’t think about Arizona for fall foliage, but you can see some really beautiful colors around Mt. Lemmon. Take a scenic drive along the Catalina Highway, also known as the Sky Island Scenic Byway, to experience the highest peak in the Santa Catalina Mountains. The road doesn’t go all the way to the summit, but it is definitely cooler up here and stunningly beautiful in the fall. Popular spots in the area to see fall foliage is Bear Wallow, Marshall gulch, and the summit area.
There are many pumpkin patches in Arizona that make wonderful outdoor activities for the fall. Pumpkin patches have more than just pumpkins here too and often include corn mazes, petting zoos, food, drinks, hayrides, and games. For example, there’s MacDonald’s Ranch in Scottsdale, Mortimer Farms in Dewey, and the Enchanted Pumpkin Garden in Carefree. Other popular pumpkin patches are Marana Pumpkin Patch in Tucson, Schnepf Farms in Queen Creek, and Vertuccio Farms in Mesa.
Grand Canyon National Park is a popular outdoor tourist destination all throughout the year. But it’s a particularly great place to check out in the fall because the crowds tend to thin out and the temperatures begin to drop. Check the park’s website for updates about what is currently open and closed before you make the trip here. This is a wonderful place for camping and backcountry hiking as you explore the great outdoors. Popular places to go here include the South Rim Village, Desert View Drive on Highway 64, North Rim, and Tuweep. Other outdoor opportunities here are bicycling, guided tours, mule riding, and river rafting.
Antelope Canyon is a local spot on many Arizona outdoor photographer’s bucket lists and a great place to check out in the fall. It is operated by Navajo Nation Parks, so check the park’s website to confirm opening times within the health order requirements. Generally, there are multiple tour options available of Upper Antelope Canyon, Lower Antelope Canyon, helicopter tours, and other canyons worth checking out too. Tour guides are mandatory in all areas of Antelope Canyon.
Camelback Mountain is known as the must-hike mountain in Phoenix, but it can get blisteringly hot here in the summer. For your fall outdoor adventure, you can hike up this mountain, which has an elevation of 2,704 feet and offers beautiful scenic views. It’s 20 minutes from downtown Phoenix and has two difficult trails that ascend to the top. Echo Canyon Trail is 1.2 miles out and back, and Cholla Trail is 1.5 miles out and back. There are many native wildlife species, such as rattlesnakes and cottontail rabbits, along the trail, as well as various kinds of cacti and mesquite trees.
Saguaro National Park is best known for its namesake cacti, but it’s also fun to come here in the fall to admire and learn about ancient petroglyphs. Rock art can be found throughout the park and pre-dates modern written history. It was created by the prehistoric Hohokam by scraping and etching on the surface of rocks. Walk along the Signal Hill Trail in the Tucson Mountain District (West) to see the petroglyphs as the trail climbs to a hill covered with these 800-year-old carvings.
Sedona, Arizona is known for its healing and mystical energy, which also makes for an awesome outdoor experience for the fall. There are spiritual vortexes among the red rock formations here that have magnetic, electrical, and balanced energies. Well-known vortexes to visit in the autumn are Cathedral Rock, Boynton Canyon, Airport Mesa, and Bell Rock. These are places that you can explore on your own or with a group. They’re also ideal destinations for meditation, yoga, and personal reflection as the season’s transition.
For an unforgettable outdoor adventure in the fall in Arizona, consider a rafting trip on the Colorado River. You can experience the river at the Grand Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and other places and really get an appreciation for the peaceful grandeur of the landscapes. Local river guide companies will take you out onto the water and equip you with everything you need to be safe and have fun. There are single-day, two-day, and five-day whitewater rafting trips available, and package deals often include transportation, hiking, meals, and even overnight camping accommodations.
Stay cool and get outdoors this fall with some watersports on Lake Powell. You can bring your own water vessels to put in the lake or rent a boat, stand-up paddleboard, or kayak from a local vendor when you get here. Jet ski rentals are also popular on Lake Powell. The average water temperature is 75 degrees in the summer and still stays pretty warm in the fall season too. Families like to go swimming by Lone Rock Beach, fishermen come here for bass fishing, and there are around 254 square miles of water for everyone to explore. Tubing, water skiing, wakeboarding, flyboarding, and extreme water sports are other options when you spend your fall vacation here.
Off-roading enthusiasts love coming to Imperial Sand Dunes near Yuma and along Interstate 8. There are over 40 miles of dunes here and dunes that reach 300 feet in height. OHV riders come here for the scenery, adventure, and wide-open spaces along the Arizona-California border. Besides the main dunes, you can check out the North Algodones Dunes Wilderness for a tranquil alternative. Walking and horse-riding are other activities to do in this Bureau of Land Management (BLM) region. You can buy seasonal and weekly sand dune permits online.
Another fun way to get outdoors this fall is to plan a rock climbing trip in Arizona. There are cool climbing spots around the state, including Mount Lemmon near Tucson, Queen Creek Canyon near Superior, and the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff. Rock climbing is also popular at the Grand Canyon and in the Phoenix area for bouldering at Piestewa Peak and Camelback’s Echo Canyon Trail. First-timers should climb with an experienced local guide for safety and to know where skill-appropriate routes are located. You can also join a climbing clinic, climbing and yoga retreat, or day of rappelling adventures with an Arizona guide.
Although many people think of farmers’ markets as something to do in the spring and summer, there are farmers’ markets in Arizona that extend throughout the fall season. These are great places to stock up on healthy fall vegetables like pumpkins and squash. There’s the Ahwatukee Farmers’ Market in Phoenix, Carefree Farmers’ Market, and Super Farm Market at Superstition Farms in Mesa. The Gilbert Farmers Market is another popular spot and open year-around on Saturday mornings.
Phoenix and other parts of Arizona too are top destinations for golfers, which is a fun outdoor activity to do in the fall. In fact, there are over 200 golf courses in the Phoenix area! Some of the top courses in the area to play at here include TPC Scottsdale, Grayhawk Golf Club, and Quintero Golf Club. From these courses, you’ll get lovely views of the desert landscape and mountains as you play your favorite game.
Who says you have to keep your feet on the ground to have outdoor adventures in Arizona? You can get a bird’s eye view of these epic landscapes and gain a whole new perspective by going for a hot air balloon ride high above the desert. Aerogelic Ballooning and Rainbow Ryders are a couple of companies that operate here and offer ride experiences. For example, you can take a sunrise balloon ride with prickly pear mimosas, romantic sunset rides, full moon rides, and enjoy package deals that include a champagne toast and hors d’oeuvres.
Camping in Arizona is a great way to experience the outdoors for an extended time and really connect with nature. Although Arizona is best known for its deserts, there are also some beautiful national forests here where you can get some shade and beat the fall heat. For example, there’s the Coconino National Forest, Tonto National Forest, and Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. There are multiple campgrounds in these forests that are wonderful for pitching a tent and enjoying the fall season.
Arizona is a fun place to go mountain biking in the fall to challenge yourself and get out on a rugged trail. Some of the best mountain biking trails in Arizona are the Hangover Trail in Sedona, 50-Year Trail/Golder Ranch in Tucson, and Schultz Creek Trail in Flagstaff. There are trails for all skill levels in the state’s mountain biking areas so you can try the sport out as a beginner or enhance your skills as a more experienced biker. Wherever you end up going, this is an awesome way to find some solitude in nature and enjoy a true adventure.