Arizona the Beautiful -- If you're planning on visiting Grand Canyon National Park, some of the state's other national parks and monuments, and perhaps some of the national parks in southern Utah, New Mexico, or Colorado, you should consider getting an America the Beautiful -- National Park and Federal Recreational Lands Pass. This pass costs $80 and is valid for 1 year. In Arizona, the pass will get you into Grand Canyon National Park, Saguaro National Park, Petrified Forest National Park, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Montezuma Castle National Monument, Wupatki National Monument, Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, Tonto National Monument, Tumacácori National Historical Park, and a handful of other sites. A pass can be purchased at any national park or national monument that charges an admission fee. For more information, go to www.nps.gov/fees_passes.htm, or call the United States Geological Survey/USGS (tel. 888/275-8747), which issues the passes.
With its wide range of climates, Arizona offers good biking somewhere in the state every month of the year. In winter, there's good road biking around Phoenix and Tucson, while from spring to fall, the southeastern corner of the state offers good routes. In summer, the White Mountains (in the eastern part of the state) and Kaibab National Forest (btw. Flagstaff and Grand Canyon National Park) offer good mountain biking. There's also excellent mountain biking at several Phoenix parks, and Tucson is one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the country.
Backroads, 801 Cedar St., Berkeley, CA 94710-1800 (tel. 800/462-2848 or 510/527-1555; www.backroads.com), offers 6-day multisport and family trips that take in southern Utah and the Grand Canyon. These trips range in price from $1,898 to $2,698. Sojourn Bicycling & Active Vacations, 939 Ferry Rd., Charlotte, VT 05445 (tel. 800/730-4771 or 802/425-4771; www.gosojourn.com), offers weeklong bike tours of the Sonoran Desert near Tucson. Tours are $2,395. Western Spirit Cycling Adventures, 478 Mill Creek Dr., Moab, UT 84532 (tel. 800/845-2453 or 435/259-8732; www.westernspirit.com), has a number of interesting mountain-bike tours, including trips to both the North and South rims of the Grand Canyon and through the desert south of Tucson. This company also offsets its carbon emissions and consequently is a carbon-neutral company. Each trip lasts 5 days and costs $1,185.
Arizona Outback Adventures, 16447 N. 91st St., Ste. 101, Scottsdale, AZ 85260 (tel. 866/455-1601 or 480/945-2881; www.aoa-adventures.com), does 3-day trips in the Sonoran Desert for $599.
WomanTours, 2340 Elmwood Ave., Rochester, NY 14618 (tel. 800/247-1444 or 585/256-9807; www.womantours.com), offers a couple of different Arizona bike tours that are exclusively for women. You'll pay $1,790 for a 7-day tour.
If you plan to do much mountain biking around the state, pick up a copy of Fat Tire Tales and Trails, by Cosmic Ray. This little book of rides is both fun to read and fun to use; it's available in bike shops around the state.
Arizona is a birder's bonanza. In the southeastern corner of the state, many species found primarily south of the border reach the northern limits of their ranges. Combine this with several mountains that rise like islands from the desert and provide appropriate habitat for hundreds of species, and you have some of the best bird-watching in the country.
Birding hot spots include Ramsey Canyon Preserve (known for its many species of hummingbirds); Cave Creek Canyon (nesting site for elegant trogons); Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Sanctuary (home to 22 species of flycatchers, kingbirds, and phoebes, as well as Montezuma quails); Madera Canyon (another "mountain island" hot spot that attracts many of the same species seen at Ramsey Canyon and Sonoita Creek); Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge (home to masked bobwhite quails and gray hawks); and the sewage ponds outside the town of Willcox (known for avocets and sandhill cranes). To find out which birds have been spotted lately or to join a bird-watching field trip, call the Tucson Audubon Society's Rare Bird Alert line (tel. 520/629-0510, ext. 3; www.tucsonaudubon.org).
Serious birders eager to add lots of rare birds to their life lists may want to visit southeastern Arizona on a guided tour. These are available through High Lonesome Birdtours, 570 S. Little Bear Trail, Sierra Vista, AZ 85635 (tel. 443/838-6589; www.hilonesometours.com), which charges $1,150 per person for a 5-day trip, $1,475 for a 6-day trip, and $2,450 for an 8-day trip.
Okay, so maybe these sports don't jump to mind when you think of the desert, but there are indeed rivers and lakes here (and they happen to be some of the best places to see wildlife). By far the most memorable place for a flat-water kayak tour is Lake Powell. Multiday kayak tours are offered by Hidden Canyon Kayak, P.O. Box 2526, Page, AZ 86040-2526 (tel. 800/343-3121 or 928/645-8866; www.diamondriver.com/kayak), which charges $760 to $1,000 for 4- to 6-day trips. Guided kayak trips are also offered by Kayak Powell (tel. 888/854-7862; www.kayaklakepowell.com), which charges $495 for a 2-day tour, $695 for a 3-day tour, $795 for a 4-day tour, and $895 for a 5-day tour.
There are also a couple of companies that rent canoes and offer trips on the Colorado River south of Lake Mead.
The fishing scene in Arizona is as diverse as the landscape. Large and small lakes around the state offer excellent fishing for warm-water game fish such as largemouth, smallmouth, and striped bass. Good trout fishing can be found in lakes atop the Mogollon Rim and in the White Mountains, as well as in the easily accessible section of the free-running Colorado River between Glen Canyon Dam and Lees Ferry just upstream from the Grand Canyon. In fact, this latter area is among the country's most fabled stretches of trout water.
Fishing licenses for nonresidents are available for 1 day, 5 days, 4 months, and 1 year. Various special stamps and licenses may also apply. Nonresident fees range from $17 for a 1-day license (valid for trout) to $70 for a 1-year license ($58 additional for a trout stamp). A separate license ($49) is available for fishing just the Colorado River. Keep in mind that if you're heading for an Indian reservation, you'll have to get a special permit for that reservation. For information on Arizona state fishing licenses, contact the Arizona Game and Fish Dept., 5000 W. Carefree Hwy., Phoenix, AZ 85086-5000 (tel. 602/942-3000; www.azgfd.com).
For many of Arizona's winter visitors, golf is the main attraction. The state's hundreds of golf courses range from easy public courses to PGA championship links that have challenged the pros.
In Phoenix and Tucson, greens fees, like room rates, are seasonal. In the popular winter months, greens fees at resort courses generally range from about $150 to $250 for 18 holes, although this usually includes a golf cart. In summer, fees often drop to less than half this amount. Almost all resorts offer special golf packages as well.
For more information on golfing in Arizona, contact the Arizona Golf Association, 7226 N. 16th St., Ste. 200, Phoenix, AZ 85020 (tel. 800/458-8484 in Arizona, or 602/944-3035; www.azgolf.org), which publishes a directory listing all the courses in the state. You can also access the directory online. In addition, you can pick up the Arizona Golf Guide (www.azgolfguides.com) at visitor centers, golf courses, and many hotels and resorts.
Hot Links -- You don't have to be a hotshot golfer to get all heated up over the prospect of a few rounds of golf in Arizona. Combine near-perfect golf weather most of the year with great views and some unique challenges, and you've got all the makings of a great game. Phoenix and Tucson are known as winter golf destinations, but the state also offers golf throughout the year at higher-altitude courses in such places as Prescott, Flagstaff, and the White Mountains.
State water-conservation legislation limits the acreage that new Arizona golf courses can irrigate, which has given the state some of the most distinctive and difficult courses in the country. These desert or "target" courses are characterized by minimal fairways surrounded by natural desert landscapes. You might find yourself teeing off over the tops of cacti or searching for your ball amid boulders and mesquite. If your ball comes to rest in the desert, you can play the ball where it lies or, with a one-stroke penalty, drop it within two club lengths of the nearest point of grass (but no nearer the hole).
With more than 200 golf courses, the Phoenix metropolitan area has the greatest concentration of fairways in the state. Whether you're looking to play one of the area's challenging top-rated resort courses or an economical-but-fun municipal course, you'll find plenty of choices.
For spectacular scenery at a resort course, it's just plain impossible to beat the Boulders (tel. 480/488-9028), north of Scottsdale in the town of Carefree. Elevated tee boxes beside giant balanced boulders are enough to distract anyone. East of here, near the town of Fountain Hills, you can play amid spectacular desert scenery at the We-Ko-Pa Golf Club (tel. 866/660-7700), which is on the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation. Also on the east side of the valley in Apache Junction, the Gold Canyon Golf Resort (tel. 480/982-9449) has what have been rated as three of the best holes in the state: the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th holes on the Dinosaur Mountain course. Jumping over to Litchfield Park, on the far west side of the valley, you'll find the Wigwam Golf Resort & Spa (tel. 800/909-4224 or 623/935-9414) and its three traditional 18-hole courses; the Gold Course here is legendary. The Phoenician Golf Club (tel. 800/888-8234 or 480/423-2449) is another noteworthy resort course in the area. It has a mix of traditional and desert-style holes. The semiprivate Troon North Golf Club (tel. 480/585-7700), a course that seems only barely carved out of raw desert, garners the most local accolades (and charges some of the highest greens fees in the state). If you want to swing where the pros do, beg, borrow, or steal a tee time on the Stadium Course at the Tournament Players Club (TPC) of Scottsdale (tel. 888/400-4001 or 480/585-4334). The area's favorite municipal course is Phoenix's Papago Golf Course (tel. 602/275-8428), which has a killer 17th hole.
Tucson may not have as many golf courses as the Valley of the Sun, but the courses here are every bit as challenging and memorable. Among the city's resort courses, the Mountain Course at the Ventana Canyon Golf and Racquet Club (tel. 520/577-4015) is legendary, especially the spectacular 107-yard, par-3 hole 3. The 8th hole on the Sunrise Course at El Conquistador Country Club (tel. 520/544-1801) is another of the area's more memorable par-3 holes. If you want to play where the pros have played, reserve a tee time at the Omni Tucson National Resort (tel. 520/575-7540), which for many years was home to the Tucson Open. Randolph Golf Course (tel. 520/791-4161), Tucson's best municipal course, has been the site of the city's annual LPGA tournament. The Silverbell Golf Course (tel. 520/791-5235) boasts a bear of a par-5 17th hole, and at Fred Enke Golf Course (tel. 520/791-2539), you'll find the city's only desert-style municipal golf course.
Courses worth trying in other parts of the state include Los Caballeros Golf Club (tel. 928/684-2704), which is part of a luxury guest ranch outside Wickenburg. Golf Digest has rated this course one of Arizona's top ten. For concentration-taxing scenery, few courses compare with the Sedona Golf Resort (tel. 877/733-6630), which has good views of the red rocks; try to get a sunrise or twilight tee time. Way up in the Four Corners region, in the town of Page, you'll find the 27-hole Lake Powell National Golf Course (tel. 928/645-2023), which is one of the most spectacular in the state. The fairways here wrap around the base of the red-sandstone bluff atop which Page is built. South of Tucson, the Tubac Golf Resort (tel. 520/398-2021) has cows grazing along its fairways for a classic Wild West feel. For dramatic views near the Colorado River in western Arizona, check out the Emerald Canyon Golf Course (tel. 928/667-3366), a municipal course in Parker that plays up and down small canyons and offers the sort of scenery usually associated only with the most expensive desert resort courses.
Arizona offers some of the most fascinating and challenging hiking in the country. All across the state's lowland deserts, parks and other public lands are laced with trails that lead past saguaro cacti, to the tops of desert peaks, and deep into rugged canyons. The state also has vast forests, many of which are protected in wilderness areas, which have many more miles of hiking trails. In northern Arizona, there are good day hikes in Grand Canyon National Park, in the San Francisco Peaks north of Flagstaff, near Lake Powell, and in Navajo National Monument. In the Phoenix area, popular day hikes include the trails up Camelback Mountain and Piestewa Peak, and the many trails in South Mountain Park. In the Tucson area, there are good hikes in Saguaro National Park, Coronado National Forest, Sabino Canyon, and Catalina State Park. In the southern part of the state, there are good day hikes in Chiricahua National Monument, Coronado National Forest, Cochise Stronghold, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, and the Nature Conservancy's Ramsey Canyon Preserve and its Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Sanctuary.
The state's two most unforgettable overnight backpack trips are the hike down to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon and the hike into Havasu Canyon, a side canyon of the Grand Canyon. A third popular backpacking trip is through Paria Canyon, a narrow slot canyon that originates in Utah and terminates in Arizona at Lees Ferry. There are also many overnight opportunities in the San Francisco Peaks north of Flagstaff and in the White Mountains of eastern Arizona.
Guided backpacking trips of different durations and difficulty levels are offered by the Grand Canyon Field Institute, P.O. Box 399, Grand Canyon, AZ 86023 (tel. 866/471-4435 or 928/638-2485; www.grandcanyon.org/fieldinstitute), and by Discovery Treks, 28248 N. Tatum Blvd., Ste. B1, no. 414, Cave Creek, AZ 85331 (tel. 888/256-8731; www.discoverytreks.com).
Backroads, 801 Cedar St., Berkeley, CA 94710-1800 (tel. 800/462-2848 or 510/527-1555; www.backroads.com), better known for its bike trips, also offers a 6-day hiking/biking trip to Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Zion national parks for between $1,898 and $2,698.
Vermont-based Country Walkers, P.O. Box 180, Waterbury, VT 05676 (tel. 800/464-9255 or 802/244-1387; www.countrywalkers.com), has a 6-day hiking-oriented trip that takes in the Grand Canyon and Sedona and costs $2,998.
Horseback Riding/Western Adventures
Saddle up that palomino, pardner, and let's ride. Arizona is a city slicker's dream come true. All over Arizona there are stables where you can climb into the saddle of a sure-footed trail horse and ride off into the sunset. Among the more scenic spots for riding are Grand Canyon National Park, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, the red-rock country around Sedona, Phoenix's South Mountain Park, the foot of the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix, and the foot of the Santa Catalina Mountains outside Tucson.
Among the most popular guided adventures in Arizona are the mule rides down into the Grand Canyon. These trips vary in length from 1 to 2 days; for reservations and more information, contact Grand Canyon National Park Lodges/Xanterra Parks & Resorts (tel. 888/297-2757, 303/297-2757, or, for last-minute reservations, 928/638-2631; www.grandcanyonlodges.com). You'll need to make mule-ride reservations many months in advance. However, if at the last minute (1 or 2 days before you want to ride) you decide you want to go on a mule trip into the Grand Canyon, contact Grand Canyon National Park Lodges at its last-minute reservations phone number , or stop by the Bright Angel Transportation Desk, in Grand Canyon Village. Spaces sometimes open up when there are sudden cancellations.
It's also possible to do overnight horseback rides in various locations around the state. For information on overnight rides into the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix, contact Don Donnelly's D-Spur Ranch & Riding Stables (tel. 602/810-7029; www.dondonnelly.com).
Want to kick it up a notch? At the Arizona Cowboy College, Lorill Equestrian Center, 30208 N. 152nd St., Scottsdale, AZ 85262 (tel. 888/330-8070 or 480/471-3151; www.cowboycollege.com), you can literally learn the ropes and the brands and how to say "Git along little doggie!" like you really mean it. This is no city slicker's staged roundup; this is the real thing. You actually learn how to be a real cowboy. Six-day programs cost $2,250.
For much of the year, the desert has the perfect environment for hot-air ballooning -- cool, still air and wide-open spaces. Consequently, dozens of ballooning companies operate across the state. Most are in Phoenix and Tucson, but several others operate near Sedona, which is by far the most picturesque spot in the state for a balloon ride.
With the Colorado River turned into a string of long lakes, houseboat vacations are a natural in Arizona. Although this doesn't have to be an active vacation, fishing, hiking, and swimming are usually an essential part of spending time on a houseboat. Rentals are available on Lake Powell, Lake Mead, and Lake Mohave; however, the canyon scenery of Lake Powell makes it the hands-down best spot for a houseboat vacation. Make reservations well in advance for a summer trip. No prior experience (or license) is necessary, and plenty of hands-on instruction is provided before you leave the marina.
Although Arizona is better known as a desert state, it also has snow-capped mountains and even a few ski areas. The two biggest and best ski areas are Arizona Snowbowl (tel. 928/779-1951; www.arizonasnowbowl.com), outside Flagstaff, and Sunrise Park Resort (tel. 800/772-7669 or 928/735-7669; www.sunriseskipark.com), on the White Mountain Apache Reservation outside the town of McNary in the White Mountains. Snowbowl is more popular because of the ease of the drive from Phoenix and the proximity to good lodging and dining options in Flagstaff. However, despite the convenience and the fact that Snowbowl has more vertical feet of skiing, Sunrise is my favorite Arizona ski area because it offers almost twice as many runs. Both ski areas offer rentals and lessons.
When it's a good snow year, Tucsonans head up to Mount Lemmon Ski Valley (tel. 520/576-1321; www.skithelemmon.com), the southernmost ski area in the U.S. Snows here aren't as reliable as they are farther north, so be sure to call first to make sure the ski area is operating.
During snow-blessed winters, cross-country skiers can find plenty of snow-covered forest roads outside Flagstaff, at Sunrise Park outside the town of McNary, at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, in the White Mountains around Greer and Alpine, and on Mount Lemmon outside Tucson.
After golf, tennis is probably the most popular winter sport in the desert, and resorts all over Arizona have tennis courts. Keep in mind that many resorts require you to wear traditional tennis attire and don't include court time in the room rates. No courts anywhere in the state can match the views you'll have from those at Enchantment Resort, outside Sedona. Other noteworthy tennis-oriented resorts include, in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area, the Phoenician, the Fairmont Scottsdale, the Arizona Grand Resort, and the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort; and, in Tucson, the Lodge at Ventana Canyon, the Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Golf & Tennis Resort, the Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa, the Westward Look Resort, and the Omni Tucson National Resort.
The desert doesn't support a lot of roaring rivers, but with the white water in the Grand Canyon, you don't need too many other choices. Rafting the Grand Canyon is the dream of nearly every white-water enthusiast -- if it's one of yours as well, plan well ahead. Companies and trips are limited, and they tend to fill up early.
For 1-day rafting trips on the Colorado below the main section of the Grand Canyon, contact Hualapai River Runners (tel. 888/868-9378; www.grandcanyonwest.com). For a half-day float on the Colorado above the Grand Canyon, contact Colorado River Discovery (tel. 888/522-6644 or 928/645-9175; www.raftthecanyon.com), which runs trips between Glen Canyon Dam and Lees Ferry.
Rafting trips are also available on the upper Salt River east of Phoenix. Wilderness Aware Rafting (tel. 800/462-7238; www.inaraft.com), Canyon Rio Rafting (tel. 800/272-3353; www.canyonrio.com), and Mild to Wild Rafting (tel. 800/567-6745; www.mild2wildrafting.com) all run trips of varying lengths down this river (conditions permitting).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.