BICYCLING

As we’ve said elsewhere, be a bit careful whenever you’re out on the street. This is a car town slowly coming to terms with alternative means of transportation—and here that means anything that isn’t a car, and sometimes anything that isn’t a big car. The city’s nice and flat, which is great for biking, but outside the city center, the Valley’s grid street system means that even on calm side streets, you’ll hit a large artery or intersection every mile or so, so casual bike riding isn’t all that relaxing. That said, bike lanes are cropping up, and both Phoenix and Scottsdale have ambitious grab-and-go city bike programs, which you will find all over the downtown areas and beyond. Prices vary from $1 per half-hour to $1 per hour, with discounts if you buy more in advance. Right now the main bike-share companies in the Valley are Grid Bike Share, Spin Bikeshare, Lime Bike, and Ofo. Download their respective apps and off you go. The only complaint I have is that the yellow Ofo bikes in Scottsdale take your money in $10 doses—and keep it if you haven’t used up your rides when you leave town.

Visit azmag.gov/bike for a map of the city’s bike-friendly streets; the maps will also direct you to the closest of the city’s sprawling mountain parks, which have miles of trails, paved and not, to ride on. These are desert areas; don’t forget to take water and a phone and let someone know where you’re going. Among the best mountain-biking spots in the city are amid the gorgeous buttes at Papago Park (Van Buren St. and Galvin Pkwy.), or the more challenging routes at South Mountain Park (use the entrance off Baseline Rd. on 48th St.), and the North Mountain Preserve (access off 7th St. between Dunlap Ave. and Thunderbird Rd., or off Northern Ave. just east of the I-51).

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Looking for something more leisurely? Just south of downtown, at the north side of Central Avenue and the Salt River, a new park called the Rio Solado Habitat Restoration Area is a wonderful place with paved paths for a walk, a run, or a bike ride, with all sort of revivified animal and plant areas. (Rio Solado mean “Salt River.”) Over in Scottsdale, the Indian Bend Wash greenbelt is a paved path that extends for more than 10 miles along Hayden Road—from north of Shea Blvd. all the way down to Tempe Town Lake, the Mill Avenue shopping district, and bike-friendly ASU. You can access it virtually anywhere along the way. Finally, the canals that cross Phoenix have leveled and sometimes paved paths beside them that many walkers and cyclists use. I recommend the newly restored paths along the grand arc made by the Arizona Canal from North Central Avenue. You can get on it on any street divided by four on the east side of town. It goes east to the Biltmore Hotel and then across to the Scottsdale Waterfront, a 10-mile ride across town. From there it hooks up with Indian Bend Wash. There are lots of places to grab a bite or a cup of coffee along the way.

Bike Rentals—In Scottsdale, Arizona Outback Adventures, 16447 N. 91st St., Ste. 101 (www.azoutbackadventures.com; tel. 866/455-1601 or 480/945-2881), tucked away at the far northeast curve of Hwy. 101 in north Scottsdale, is the place to start for mountain-bike riding in the nearby McDowell Mountains. Prices for basic bikes start at $35 for 4 hours; high-performance bikes start at $95, with full-day rates just $15 or $20 more. They will help you with maps to local trails, too. On the southern end of the city, Cactus Adventures (www.cactusadventures.com; tel. 480/688-4743) is based near the east end of South Mountain; call and they will meet you at the nearby Arizona Grand Resort with bikes, helmets, water, and maps. Sonoran Outdoor Adventures (sonoranoutdooradventures.com; tel. 602/668-7995) offers “fat tire” bike tours and rentals ($65 a day), and even delivers. If you have a group and are feeling adventurous, 360 Adventures (www.360-adventures.com; tel. 602/795-1877) can set you up with guided hiking or biking tours of any difficulty throughout the state.

 

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GOLF

Phoenix is golf nirvana. Sunshine, nice views, and desert flora and fauna can make playing a round of golf here memorable. All in all, there are close to 300 courses, public, private, and executive, in the Valley of the Sun; Visit Phoenix (formerly the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau) maintains a pretty good guide to them online at www.visitphoenix.com/things-to-do/golf.

Golf is a huge draw for the crowds that flock here in winter, and it can be difficult to get an ideal tee time at the more popular courses, especially from February to April. If you’re staying at a resort with a course during the high season, make your tee-time reservations at the same time you make your room reservations. If you’re staying elsewhere but yearn to play at one of the resort courses, you might still be able to snag a last-minute tee time. To avoid the hassle of booking tee times yourself, contact Golf Now (www.golfnow.com), Golf Arizona (www.golfarizona.com), or Golf Xpress (www.azgolfxpress.com), which can often make reservations further in advance than you could on your own, and can sometimes get you lower greens fees as well.

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There’s often sticker shock, however. Greens fees during high season at most public and resort courses range from $100 to $200, with the top courses often charging $300 or more. Many courses here are on the cutting edge of dynamic pricing when it comes to online reservations, and prices for desirable tee times skyrocket to the highest the market will bear. In theory, this means that prices get lower for less desirable times, which in practice is early and mid-afternoon. In summer, of course, even the top courses practically start giving tee times away.

The Pick of the Resort Courses

The many resort courses are the favored fairways of Valley visitors. For spectacular scenery, you just can’t beat the two Jay Morrish–designed 18-hole courses at the Boulders, 34631 N. Tom Darlington Dr., Carefree (www.bouldersclub.com; tel. 480/488-9028). Given the option, play the South Course, set amid the striking rock formations that give the resort its name. Tee times for non-guests are very limited in winter and spring. Non-guests will pay at least $220 to $250 for a round in winter.

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The big news in resortland is the entirely new 18-hole course at the Phoenician Golf Club, 6000 E. Camelback Rd. (www.thephoenician.com; tel. 800/888-8234 or 480/423-2449), part of the ritzy Phoenician resort, set right in town at the base of Camelback Mountain. An expensive 2-year rebuild-from-scratch turned the former 27 holes into 18, designed to create “a natural rhythm and flow in the routing.” Rates range from $179–$249, $89–$179 at twilight. You can reserve 45 days in advance.

At Litchfield Park, on the far west side of the Valley, the Wigwam Golf Resort & Spa, 300 Wigwam Blvd. (www.wigwamgolf.com; tel. 623/935-3811) has three championship 18-hole courses. The Gold Course is legendary, but even the Blue and Red courses are worth playing. These are traditional courses, with vast expanses of green rather than cacti and boulders. In high season, greens fees are $119 to $139 on any of the three courses.

On the east side of the Valley at the foot of the Superstition Mountains, the Gold Canyon Golf Resort, 6100 S. Kings Ranch Rd., Gold Canyon (www.gcgr.com; tel. 480/982-9449) is well worth the 35-mile drive from downtown Phoenix or Scottsdale. The top-rated Dinosaur Mountain Course, frequently referred to as a roller-coaster ride complete with breathtaking scenery, has three of the state’s best holes: the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th. Greens fees on this course range from $135 to $210 in winter. For the more traditional and less dramatic Sidewinder Course, greens fees are lower, $79 to $89 in winter. You can make online reservations some weeks in advance. (The club says 90 days, but that’s not always the case.)

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For a traditional course that’s been played by presidents and celebrities, try for a round at the Arizona Biltmore Golf Club, 2400 E. Missouri Ave. (www.azbiltmoregc.com; tel. 602/955-9655). The Adobe Course is a spectrum of wide fairways covered in a green lushness that belies the desert around it; the more desert-y Links Course stretches up and around toward the nearby Phoenix Mountain preserve. Both are more relaxing than challenging. Greens fees are $185 in winter and spring, $99 after 2pm. Non-guests can make reservations up to 30 days in advance.

The Camelback Golf Club, 7847 N. Mockingbird Lane (www.camelbackinn.com; tel. 480/596-7050) is part of the fabled Camelback Inn in Paradise Valley, although it’s 4 or 5 miles northeast of the resort. The tree-shaded Padre Course ($179 in winter, $99 for twilight play) is more challenging, while the Ambiente Course ($219, $129 for twilight play) is a links-style course with great mountain views and lots of water hazards.

Public Golf Clubs

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The Valley’s most celebrated public courses are probably the ones at Troon North Golf Club, 10320 E. Dynamite Blvd., Scottsdale (www.troonnorthgolf.com; tel. 480/585-7700). Particularly when the light is right, there are crazy beautiful vistas here. With five tee boxes on each hole, golfers of all levels can enjoy the game. Greens fees in winter and spring are $245 to $295 ($120–$145 for twilight play). Beware, Troon also has a tacky 5% “water fee” that gets added to your bill. (What’s next—a “grass fee”?)

If you want to swing where the pros do, beg, borrow, or steal a tee time on the Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish–designed Stadium Course at the Tournament Players Club (TPC) of Scottsdale, 17020 N. Hayden Rd. (www.tpc.com/scottsdale; tel. 888/400-4001 or 480/585-4334), site of the PGA’s Phoenix Open. The 18th hole has standing room for 40,000 spectators, but hopefully there won’t be that many around the day you double-bogey this hole. The TPC’s second 18, the Champions Course, is actually a municipal course. While Stadium Course fees top out at $299 in winter ($194 for twilight play), Champions Course fees are somewhat more reasonable: $137 in winter, $97 for twilight play.

On the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, in the far northeast corner of the Valley, We-Ko-Pa Golf Club, 18200 E. Toh Vee Circle, Fort McDowell (www.wekopa.com; tel. 866/660-7700 or 480/836-9000) is as pure a set of desert courses as can be found—the links stretch over an area nearly a mile and a half square, with nary a luxury home to be seen. Greens fees are $175 to $195 in winter, and reservations are taken up to 90 days in advance. It’s located off the Beeline Highway (Ariz. 87).

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The Kierland Golf Club, 15636 N. Clubgate Dr., Scottsdale (www.kierlandgolf.com; tel. 480/922-9283) was designed by Scott Miller as three 9-hole courses that can be played in various combinations. This is one of the prettiest courses in the Valley, and the amenities are a cut above, right down to the carts, which boast videos screens and AC units that blow while you’re driving. Greens fees are $190 to $210 in winter ($140 to $160 for twilight play).

On the north side of the Valley, Dove Valley Ranch Golf Club, 33750 N. Dove Lakes Dr., Cave Creek (www.dovevalleyranch.com; tel. 480/488-0009), designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., blends desert and traditional styles. Greens fees are $90 to $120 in winter ($45 to $60 for twilight play). Nearby Rancho Mañana Golf Club, 5734 E. Rancho Mañana Blvd., Cave Creek (www.ranchomanana.com; tel. 480/488-0398) isn’t as challenging, but greens fees are $139 in winter ($59 for twilight play). And I have friends who say the 500 Club Golf Course, 4707 W. Pinnacle Peak Rd., Glendale (www.the500club.com; tel. 623/492-9500), tucked away behind desert foothills on the northwest side of town, is the most underrated course in the Valley.

Municipal Courses

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Phoenix has a half-dozen municipal courses; note that non-residents need to buy a $100 card to reserve tee times, and that golf carts cost extra. Papago Golf Course, 5595 E. Moreland St. (www.papagogolfcourse.net; tel. 602/275-8428), at the foot of the red sandstone Papago Buttes, offers fine views and a killer 17th hole. Greens fees are $49 to $129 in the winter/spring high season. The third-oldest course in Arizona, Encanto Golf Course, 2775 N. 15th Ave. (tel. 602/253-3963), just a mile or two northwest of downtown, is very forgiving, with wide fairways, a lack of hazards, and nice downtown views. Cave Creek Golf Course, 15202 N. 19th Ave. (tel. 602/866-8076), in north Phoenix, is another good, economical choice; it was built atop a former landfill. Aguila Golf Course, 8440 S. 35th Ave., Laveen (tel. 602/237-9601), although a bit inconveniently located in the southwest corner of the Valley, was designed by Gary Panks. In winter, greens fees at Encanto, Cave Creek, and Aguila are $25 to $57. For details, contact Phoenix Golf (tel. 602-534-4653) for reservations or visit www.phoenix.gov/parks/golf.

On the south side of Papago Park, with up-close-and-personal views of the Papago Buttes’ rocky red moonscape, Tempe’s Rolling Hills Golf Course, 1415 N. Mill Ave., Tempe (www.tempe.gov/golf; tel. 480/350-5275) is a good little municipal outfit with two executive 9-hole courses. Its cool-season greens fee is a very reasonable $24 for 18 holes; a golf cart will cost you another $22. Reservations can be made a week in advance.

 

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HIKING

All of the regional governments do a great job with park information online, and at just about every trail I mention here, you’ll find maps posted at the trail heads and often paper copies to carry with you. As you look up the trails online, remember that there are different jurisdictions involved—Phoenix, Scottsdale, Maricopa County, the state, etc. If you can’t find a particular trail, you may be on the wrong governmental site.

Want a guide? There are lots to choose from. Arizona Outback Adventures (www.aoa-adventures.com; tel. 866/455-1601) does half-day hikes from the Gateway Trailhead, starting at $150 for two people. Guided hikes with all sorts of variations are available from 360 Adventures (www.360-adventures.com; tel. 602/418-3866) and Cactus Adventures (www.cactusadventures.com; tel. 480/688-4743).

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Finally, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Phoenix is a hot city; temperatures can reach the 90s in winter and the 100s in spring. Take water along for desert hikes.

South of Phoenix

Let’s start with the turgidly titled South Mountain Park/Preserve (www.phoenix.gov/parks; tel. 602/495-0222), a 16,000-acre preserve that encompasses a low mountain range; it’s said to be the largest city park in the world, and it has 50-something miles of hiking, mountain biking, and horseback-riding trails. Views of town from the crest give you an unusual look at the Valley from the south; sunset is worth staying for if you’re not too far from your car. The park’s main entrance is at the foot of Central Avenue, 5 miles south of downtown. Follow Central Avenue up to the ridge’s Summit Road; turn left, and go 3 or 4 miles to the Dobson Lookout, which features a few large concrete cabanas to hang out in. Just to the south of this you can hook up with the park’s National Trail, an incredible walk along the ridge; it crosses most of the park’s other trails. If you hike east on this trail for 2 miles, you’ll come to an unusual little natural tunnel that makes a good turnaround point. The Holbert Trail, a 5-mile round-trip hike that passes numerous petroglyphs, is another of my favorite trails here. To access this trail, turn left at the activity complex just inside the Central Avenue gate and drive to the last covered picnic area near the restrooms.

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Central Phoenix

Papago Park, at Galvin Pkwy. and McDowell Road (www.phoenix.gov/parks; tel. 602/261-8318) features a magnificent pair of red-rock buttes that are great to hike around, with caves and natural insets, and Hole in the Rock, a big natural bridge topping one of the buttes. There are both paved and dirt trails within the park; the most popular hikes are around the buttes (park on W. Park Drive) and up onto the rocks at Hole in the Rock (park past the zoo at the information center). The Desert Botanical Garden and the Phoenix Zoo are right next door.

North of Downtown

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The city’s most iconic feature is Camelback Mountain, technically part of the Echo Canyon Recreation Area (www.phoenix.gov/parks; tel. 602/261-8318), which has popular trails on the west and east ends. The western one, Summit Trail, will take you about 3 hours there and back; it’s tough toward the top but just about anyone can hike its earlier stretches. The trail head is on the mountain’s northwest flank, off McDonald Drive; turn south on East Echo Canyon Pkwy. and drive up the hill to the parking lot. If it’s full you’re out of luck, so go as early as you can. At the far east end of the mountain, the Cholla Trail is an easier hike, although also steep near the top and a bit longer; access it on Cholla Road west of Invergordon Road. Parking here is even more annoying; there’s no lot, and the ritzy neighborhood has pulled strings to keep hiker parking limited to Invergordon Road. Be prepared to walk a half-mile or more through the neighborhood just to get the trail head. (If I sound churlish it’s because these parks encompass many square miles of land; there’s ample room to provide parking to allow the public to enjoy them.) The resort and golf course you’re looking down on is the Phoenician, one of the Valley’s fanciest. If you’re determined to reach the summit, remember that while the city is spread out before you, these are desert mountains, trail signs are scarce, and all those fellow hikers can quickly disappear. Use caution and bring lots of water.

In the Dreamy Draw Recreation Area (www.phoenix.gov/parks; tel. 602/262-7901), the Piestewa Peak trail offers another aerobic workout with spectacular views at the end. It is 1.2 miles to the summit, and the trail gains almost 1,200 feet. Even a walk partway up is fun—there are periodic saddles in the mountain where you can stop, take a breath, and enjoy the views. Trail access is on Squaw Peak Drive, off Lincoln Drive between 22nd and 23rd streets. Another section of this park, with much easier trails, can be reached by taking the Northern Avenue exit off Ariz. 51 and then driving east into Dreamy Draw Park.

For a nice view of the city from a lower altitude, try North Mountain Park (www.phoenix.gov/parks; tel. 602/262-6862), in North Mountain Preserve, located on either side of Seventh Street between Dunlap Avenue and Thunderbird Road. There’s an easy paved walk to a small butte on the west side of Seventh Street, which you can do in an hour to get the blood going.

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North Scottsdale

Of all the mountain trails in the Phoenix area, the trail through Pinnacle Peak Park, 26802 N. 102nd Way (www.scottsdaleaz.gov/parks/pinnacle; tel. 480/312-0990), in north Scottsdale, is my favorite. Pinnacle Peak is a distinctive and picturesque destination, with a pencil eraser of a rock formation at the top. It can be as long as 3.5 miles round-trip—that’s up, down, out to the west edge of the park, then back the way you came—but you can also navigate the switchbacks to the top and hang out there for a while if you just want an hour-long trek. There’s a cozy information kiosk and informative flora and fauna signs along the way. The parking lot fills up by 9am on weekends. November through April, there are guided hikes on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays at 10am; there are also full-moon hikes and astronomy evenings (check website for details).

Another great place for a desert hike is north Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve (www.mcdowellsonoran.org; tel. 480/312-5000), where you’ll find miles of relatively easy and uncrowded trails over an extravagant landscape. The preserve’s main access is at the Gateway Trailhead, 18333 N. Thompson Peak Pkwy. The 2.5-mile Ringtail Loop Trail is a good choice for an hour’s hike. At the Brown’s Ranch Trailhead, 30301 N. Alma School Rd., about 2 miles north of Pinnacle Peak, there’s a large welcome center and helpful volunteer guides. The hikes here are largely level, and there are a couple of low, distinctively shaped hills to scale.

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Cave Creek Area

North of Scottsdale, in the town of Cave Creek, you’ll find a couple of my favorite hikes. The uncrowded 1-mile Black Mountain Trail leads to the summit of Black Mountain; from the top you can gaze out over all of Cave Creek and Carefree—and some of the crazy mountainside mansions. Keep an eye out for lizards lounging on the rocks at the summit. To find the trail head, take N. Schoolhouse Road south from Cave Creek Road for 1/4 mile and park beside the road at the end of the pavement. The hike starts on the road that seems to lead straight up the mountain and then veers off onto a narrow trail.

East Valley

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Way out on the east side of the Valley in the impossibly steep and jagged Superstition Mountains, the Peralta Trail just might be my favorite hike in the entire state. Unfortunately, a lot of other people feel the same way, and on weekends, it’s almost always packed. However, if you come early on a weekday, you can have this trail almost all to yourself. The route climbs steadily, though not too steeply, past huge old saguaros to a saddle with a view that will take your breath away—an in-your-face look at Weaver’s Needle, the Superstition Mountains’ most famous pinnacle. The hike to the view at Fremont Saddle is 4.6 miles round-trip. To reach the trail head, drive 8 miles north on Peralta Road from U.S. 60. For info, contact the Tonto National Forest’s Mesa Ranger District (www.fs.usda.gov/tonto; tel. 480/610-3300).

Hiking with History

Want to stretch your legs, take in some fresh desert mountain air, and see something you won’t see back home? The Sears-Kay Ruins, 15 miles northeast of Cave Creek, are worth searching out (head northeast from Carefree on Cave Creek Road, which becomes first Seven Springs Road and then Forest Service Road 24). It’s an easy 1-mile round-trip hike to this hilltop Hohokam pueblo ruin, with interpretive plaques along the way explaining aspects of Hohokam culture. The pueblo, which dates to between 1050 and 1500, once consisted of 40 rooms in four compounds. What’s left are low stone walls tracing the rooms, on the crest of a hillside with magnificent views. For more information, contact the Tonto National Forest’s Cave Creek Ranger District (www.fs.usda.gov/tonto; tel. 480/595-3300).

On the south side of the Superstition Mountains, near the Gold Canyon Resort, a relatively short hike takes you to Hieroglyphic Canyon, a rock-art site reached via a 1.1-mile trail up a gentle slope through dense stands of cactus. To reach the trail head, drive east from Phoenix on U.S. 60 to Gold Canyon. Turn north on King’s Ranch Road and be prepared to meander a bit. Follow this road to a right turn onto Baseline Road. Then turn left on Mohican Road, left again on Valley View Drive, and right on Cloudview Avenue, which leads into the trail head parking lot. The trail head parking lot fills up quickly, so go early if you’re interested. For more info, contact the Tonto National Forest’s Mesa Ranger District (www.fs.usda.gov/tonto; tel. 480/610-3300).

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HORSEBACK RIDING

There are plenty of places around the Valley to saddle up your palomino. The stables will make sure you’re hydrated on the trail, but don’t forget the sunscreen and a hat. The prices given are generally for group rides at scheduled times, so definitely make reservations. Most outfits will arrange private rides for a higher price, and most offer all sorts of variants to meet your tastes.

In north Scottsdale, Cave Creek Outfitters, 31313 N. 144th St., Scottsdale (www.cavecreekoutfitters.com; tel. 480/471-4635) offers 1- and 2-hour rides throughout the day from September through May, at $49 and $75 per person respectively, in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve and Tonto National Forest. For $20 more you can include lunch and “cowboy games” like horseshoe tossing and archery. In summer months they do just one ride in the morning and evening.

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MacDonald’s Ranch, 26540 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale (www.macdonaldsranch.com; tel. 480/585-0239) has a big operation that includes horseback rides, stagecoach rides, hayrides, a petting zoo, and more. Horseback rides are in a large tract of undeveloped land next to the ranch, not in the national forest. One-hour rides start at $48; moonlight rides start at $85.

On the south side of the city, Ponderosa Stables, 10215 S. Central Ave. (www.arizona-horses.com; tel. 602/268-1261) leads rides into South Mountain Park, charging $40 for a 1-hour ride, additional hours are $20 each. These stables also offer dinner rides ($55) to the T-Bone Steakhouse for a Western dinner in the middle of the ride. They will also arrange desert cookouts. Mid-October through mid-April, you can ride through Cave Creek Regional Park with Cave Creek Trail Rides (www.cavecreektrailrides.com; tel. 623/742-6700). A 1-hour ride costs $46 for adults and $41 for children 6 to 12. Longer rides are also offered, including sunset rides starting at $56. The park is off Carefree Highway (Ariz. 74) at 32nd St. There’s a $7 park admission fee.

On the east side of the Valley, on the southern slopes of the imposing Superstitions, OK Corral Horseback Riding Stables, 5470 E. Apache Trail, Apache Junction (www.okcorrals.com; tel. 480/982-4040), has a half-hour ride for $35 and an hour ride for $45. They also scale up into 4-hour and daylong rides for experienced riders, some of it through challenging terrain.

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TENNIS

Most major hotels in the area have tennis courts, and there are several tennis resorts around the Valley. If you’re staying someplace without a court, try the Phoenix Tennis Center, 6330. 21st Ave. (www.phoenixtenniscenter.net; tel. 602/249-3712). Fees start at $4 per person plus a $5 court fee. In Scottsdale, there’s the Scottsdale Ranch Park & Tennis Center, 10400 E. Via Linda (www.scottsdaleaz.gov/parks/scottsdale-ranch; tel. 480/312-7774). Court fees start at $5 per person, $8 at night, for 90 minutes. You can reserve 1 day ahead.

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WATER PARKS

These are open only during the summer months and skew their appeal to families and teens, but anyone would find them a refreshing respite from the summer heat. Essential tip: Get there when the park opens and claim some chairs and lounges under a cabana or umbrella. Latecomers get left out in the sun.

The classic venue Big Surf, 1500 N. McClintock Rd., Tempe (www.bigsurffun.com; tel. 480/994-2297) has been around for 50 years. At its opening it made headlines for its large man-made lake with a novel wave-making mechanism. Over the years it’s added massive slides, too. Still it has a homey, mom ‘n’ pop feel and it’s great for kids. Admission is $33, $23 for kids under 48” tall. Hunt around on the web for discount admission; it’s not hard to find 30% or 50% off vouchers. Out in the East Valley, the newer Mesa Golfland Sunsplash, 155 W. Hampton Ave., Mesa (www.golfland.com; tel. 480/834-8319) has a wave pool and a big ol’ lazy river, where you can relax in an inflated tube and let the current take you around and around. Lots of water slides, too. This park is generally open from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend (call for hours) and charges $26 for anyone taller than 48”, $20 for seniors and anyone under 48”, $3 for kids 2 and under. There’s a big Wet ‘n’ Wild park up in the northwest part of town, but its myriad money-gouging extras (like a $13 parking fee) and poor upkeep (like the reeking banks of toilets last time I was there) make it impossible to recommend.

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WHITEWATER RAFTING AND TUBING

Up in the mountains to the northeast of Phoenix, the Upper Salt River flows wild and free. Most years from about late February to late May, snowmelt from the White Mountains floods the river and fills it with Class III and IV rapids (sometimes, however, there just isn’t enough water). Companies operating full-day, overnight, and multi-day rafting trips on the Upper Salt River (conditions permitting) include Wilderness Aware Rafting (www.inaraft.com; tel. 800/462-7238), Canyon Rio Rafting (www.canyonrio.com; tel. 800/272-3353), and Mild to Wild Rafting (www.mild2wildrafting.com; tel. 800/567-6745). Prices start at $71 per person.

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For tamer river trips, check out Salt River Tubing and Recreation (www.saltrivertubing.com; tel. 480/984-3305), headquartered 20 miles northeast of Phoenix on Power Road (at Usery Pass Road) in the Tonto National Forest. The company rents large inner tubes for $18 and transports riders upriver for a float back down. Some will find the clientele a little party-oriented, and you may experience crowds, long waits, and rowdy behavior; probably not best for families. The inner-tubing season runs from May to September.

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.