If you don’t want to spend your time driving, a guided tour is a good option. As the Valley grows, wackier options—from serene balloon rides to the decidedly less serene Hummer treks in the desert—abound.
Open Road Tours (www.openroadtoursusa.com; tel. 855/563-8830 or 602-997-6474) will pick you up at most Valley hotels for a long but lively day up through Sedona to the Grand Canyon for $180, $120 for kids. There’s also a half-day tour of the Valley’s highlights, including some mountain views and an hour for shopping in Old Town Scottsdale ($65 adults, $45 kids). Honesty compels me to say that some may find the ratio of “time spent driving around” to “actual things to see” a little out of whack. For an only-in-Arizona excursion, try the company’s run up into the Superstition Mountains for a boat cruise on one of the Salt River lakes ($125 adults, $65 kids). Among other more elaborate tours, Detours (www.detoursofthewest.com; tel. 866/438-6877) boasts of its buses’ comfy reclining “individual leather captain’s chairs”; the company offers half-day tours of the Valley ($89 adults/$69 kids), Superstitions excursions ($139/$109), and even a day run to Antelope Canyon, the spectacular crimson canyon in the north of the state ($370/$300).
The Valley’s calm winds were made for rides like this. Arizona Soaring, 22548 N. Sailport Way, Maricopa (www.azsoaring.com; tel. 520/568-2318), operating since 1986, offers four options, ranging from a 20-minute, 3,000-foot-high gentle sail over the Estrella Mountains southwest of the Valley to a 40-minute, mile-high acrobatics run for daredevils. Prices range from $160 to $350—one person per ride—and there’s not much red tape. To reach the airstrip, take I-10 E to exit 164 (Queen Creek Rd.), go 15 miles west on Queen Creek Rd. (which becomes Maricopa Rd./Ariz. 347), turn right on Ariz. 238, and continue 6 1/2 miles. On the north side of the Valley, there’s NWSkySports, 51623 W. Alvin Rd., Aguila (www.nwskysports.com; tel. 602/284-9977), an hour northwest of central Phoenix and west of Wickenburg. You can ride two to a glider here, with views of the Valley’s rugged northwest terrain. Prices range from $150 for a 15- to 30-minute one-passenger flight to $300 for an hour-long two-passenger flight.
Hot-Air Balloon Rides
The Phoenix climate is great for ballooning, and there are lots of operators to choose from, and a variety of experiences. Aerogelic Ballooning (www.aerogelicballooning.com; tel. 866/359-8329) offers everything from a sunrise flight for $169 per person to an $899-per-couple full-moon night cruise from four different sites around the Valley. And everyone gets champagne and hors d’oeuvres on landing. Float Balloon Tours (floatballoontours.com; tel. 480/256-8695) start at $235 per adult; they make the trip an event, with a professional photographer on hand and a gourmet champagne breakfast or dinner at the end of each sunrise or sunset flight. Rainbow Ryders (www.rainbowryders.com; tel. 877/771-0776) offer sunrise and sunset rides, $179 adults, $99 kids. The sunset rides sell out weeks in advance, so book early.
After spending a few days in Scottsdale, you’ll likely start wondering where the desert is. Well, it’s out there, and the easiest way to explore it is to book a jeep tour. Most will pick you up at your hotel, take you off through the desert, and maybe let you pan for gold or shoot a six-gun. Depending on how many people are in your party and where you’re staying, expect to pay $65 to $100 per person for a 3-hour tour. Companies include 360 Adventures (www.360-adventures.com; tel. 481/418-3866), Apache Trail Tours (www.apachetrailtours.com; tel. 480/982-7661), and Wild West Jeep Tours (www.wildwestjeeptours.com; tel. 480/922-0144).
Or how about a Hummer tour? Arizona Hummer Tours (www.azhummertours.com; tel. 602/692-7124) and Stellar Adventures (stellaradventures.com; tel. 602/402-0584) can take care of you; they run from $100 to $165 per person, less for kids.
If rumbling through the desert on a Hummer isn’t rugged enough for you, then you might be a candidate for a Tomcar—little open-sided buggies that you drive yourself and let you get covered with desert dust as you four-wheel past cactus and creosote bushes. If this sounds like your kind of outing, contact Desert Wolf Tours (www.desertwolftours.com; tel. 877/613-9653), which charges $165 for a half-day tour and, among other variations, will even include some machine-gun shooting starting at $314 per person. There’s also Green Zebra Adventures (www.gogreenzebra.com; tel. 480/214-4435), which charges $99 for a 1-hour ride ($59 ages 12 and under) and $149 for a 2-hour ride ($89 ages 12 and under).
360 Adventures’ helicopter tours (www.360-adventures.com; tel. 481/418-3866) start at $250 for one person, $150 per person for two or more, for a 15-minute ride. The folks at Westwind Scenic Air Tours, 732 W. Deer Valley Rd., Phoenix (www.westwindairservice.com; tel. 480/991-5557) do air tours that range from a 7-hour journey to the Grand Canyon ($559) to 45-minute jaunts over the Valley ($229 per person).
Phoenix Rising (www.phxtours.com; tel. 480/710-1006) does history tours, mural tours, even ghost tours, based in downtown.
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.