Many visitors come to the Phoenix area for the weather. Our 300 days of sunshine a year and warm temperatures attract people from all over. If you want to enjoy nature but are not looking to hike in the mountains, there are plenty of beautiful places waiting for you.
For days when the temperature exceeds 100 degrees Fahrenheit, avoid the afternoon heat and spend the morning taking a leisurely stroll for an hour or 2. On those glorious winter days, you can escape the cold elsewhere and absorb the sun’s rays without too much effort. Spending time in nature has many health benefits for everyone, so visit these places even if you have limited time or don’t want to go on a strenuous hike.
1. Desert Botanical Garden
Nestled in the heart of Phoenix, the Desert Botanical Garden creates a unique experience to view over 90,000 desert plants from 4,400 species. The main Desert Discovery Loop Trail is paved and easy to navigate as it brings you right past towering cacti and a variety of flowering shrubs. You can access the cafe from this trail as well as the other trails. The Desert Wildflower Loop Trail and the Cactus and Succulent Galleries are mostly flat dirt trails, featuring a wide variety of desert plants and flowers.
The Plants and People of the Sonoran Desert Trail is a longer, one-third mile dirt trail that shows how Native Americans used desert plants for food and shelter. For a good view of the Phoenix area, you can tackle the Sonoran Desert Loop Trail. It’s only a quarter mile loop but it’s pretty steep.
Pro Tip: If you have time to eat, the Gertrude’s restaurant is located at the entrance of DBG and offers a pleasant patio as well as an indoor dining room.
2. The Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix
In 1987, the mayor of Himeji, Japan, Matsuji Totani, proposed to create a garden to strengthen the bonds between the people of Phoenix and Himeji. The result is a serene 3.5-acre garden just north of downtown Phoenix.
Passing the stone lantern and going around the pond, the rocky waterfall appears. The zigzag bridge that takes you over the pond is designed to slow your step so you can enjoy the garden more leisurely. Colorful koi fish swim around the bridge greeting visitors. The pond is deep enough for the koi to cool off in the summer and stay warm in the winter. The path through the garden can be covered in 30 minutes with a steady walk or you can perch on a bench for a while and bathe in the tranquility.
Visit https://www.japanesefriendshipgarden.org/ for tickets and more information.
Pro Tip: The Japanese Friendship Garden offers many enjoyable events and tea ceremonies. Check their website before your trip.
3. Boyce Thompson Arboretum
To walk among desert plants from around the world, visit the Boyce Thompson Arboretum. Each of the dozens of gardens focuses on a geographical area giving you the impression of traveling around the world. The 135 acres of land include 19,000 plants covering 3,900 taxa.
Give yourself at least an hour here, although you can spend several hours on a nice day. The trails are all dirt and mostly flat. The main trail is large enough for wheelchairs. Most garden paths are narrow but very easy to navigate. The trail past Lake Ayer and around the Sonoran Highlands Desert Natural Area takes you through a beautiful canyon but is of moderate difficulty. The Arboretum offers the perfect combination of small, interesting gardens and longer trails with scenic views if you have a variety of abilities within your group.
From downtown Phoenix, it will take you about an hour to get to the Arboretum; less if you stay on the east side of town. You will have to pay an entrance tax.
4. McDowell Sonoran Preserve Gateway Trail
Located in North Scottsdale, the McDowell Sonoran Reservation comprises over 30,000 acres of continuous desert land. Hikers and mountain bikers enjoy 225 trails through mountain panoramas. You can enjoy the desert scenery and plants without a strenuous hike by visiting the nature trail at the Gateway Trailhead.
A short walk from the trailhead brings you to the Bajada Trail. A wide, flat dirt road takes you past several plaques that provide information about the Sonoran Desert. You can do the shorter quarter mile loop or do the entire figure eight for a half mile hike. The McDowell Mountains loom, contributing to a sense of wonder as you enjoy the peace of the desert.
Use of the reserve is free, and the Gateway Trailhead offers plenty of parking, clean restrooms, and a water refill station.
Pro Tip: Rattlesnakes frequent the reserve but rarely on the Bajada trail. The distinctive rattle can be heard from several feet away, so you can walk away if you encounter one.
5. Chaparral Park
Local parks abound in the Phoenix area with playgrounds and ballparks to enjoy. At Chaparral Park, you can walk around a lake on a flat sidewalk. Several benches are set up next to the shore so you can rest and watch the geese and other waterfowl. You may see a pair of bald eagles occasionally diving for fish. If you want to exercise, 10 exercise stations surround the lake. Three ramadas are available to book for a picnic.
You can park near the dog parks or walk past the football and baseball fields to the Scottsdale Xeriscape Garden. The 5-acre garden is a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat. You can walk through the Palo Verde trees and various flowering shrubs while listening to birdsong and the breeze blowing through the branches. Two spiral paths provide perfect spots for meditation. Signage educates on ways to create landscaping that saves water.
Visiting the park is free, and there are four locations for restrooms and drinking fountains throughout the park.
Pro Tip: The small car park on Chaparral Road is usually full. Park in the large car park that stretches along Hayden Road north of Chaparral.
6. Riparian Reserve at Water Ranch
Southeast of Phoenix is the town of Gilbert, which decided in 1986 to reuse 100% of its wastewater. He created a 110-acre park consisting of 70 acres of water spread over seven water ponds. Most of the way is dirt but overall very flat and shaded. Over 4 miles of trails weave through the park allowing you to choose how long you want to walk.
You can perch on one of the benches or shades along the ponds to view the nearly 300 species of birds that visit the reserve. There is also a floating boardwalk near the entrance from which you can watch the fish.
The trails are open from dawn to dusk and admission is free. Visit the Riparian Preserve website for more information.
Pro Tip: If the main parking lot is full, park at the Southeast Regional Library on the Guadalupe Road side.
7. Tempe City Lake
Just south of Phoenix is the city of Tempe, home of Arizona State University. The crown jewel of the city is Tempe Town Lake, an oasis in the desert. Although there is little vegetation surrounding it, the shimmering lake offers a wonderful place to stroll on a glorious sunny day.
An entire loop of the lake is 7 miles, but the strip – from the Mill Avenue Bridge to the pedestrian bridge near the Tempe Center for the Arts – is easily accessible from the grounds of Tempe Beach Park for a short meander. This area usually sees a crowd of walkers, runners, cyclists and picnickers on weekends. Public art can be enjoyed along the way. My favorite is the pond reflecting the sea of waves adjacent to the arts center. The architecture of the arts center and pedestrian bridge offers man-made wonders.
Pro Tip: To get out on the water, rent a boat, kayak or paddle boat on the south shore of the lake near the Mill Avenue Bridge.
8. Mountain Shadows Golf Course
If you love golf but aren’t ready for a long, tiring round, make a reservation at the Short Course at Mountain Shadows in Paradise Valley. From this beautifully landscaped course, you can enjoy a magnificent view of Camelback Mountain. The par three course has become my family’s favorite course when my in-laws come to visit. Even if you are just riding with your golf lover, you will enjoy your time here in nature.
Spending time outdoors in nature provides physical and mental health benefits. To take advantage of the sunny weather in Phoenix, many visitors take to the hiking trails. If you want to avoid an exhausting hike, you can visit these wonderful sites to experience nature and enjoy the day.
Pro Tip: Pay special attention to the weather. The low humidity jokes are true and it’s easy to get dehydrated quickly. The sun seems warmer in Arizona, so always expect it to be warmer than the listed temperature. Drink more water, wear sunscreen, and protect yourself from the sun if you’re sensitive to heat.
For more to explore in the Phoenix area, check out the rest of our coverage: