8 Fun Things to Do in Arizona This Summer

Escape the heat with these cool, unique outdoor activities.

a hiker watches the sunset at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
North Rim at the Grand Canyon.
Aeon Jones / Tandem Stock

In many places in Arizona, it’s all too tempting to spend the summers holed up in an air-conditioned home, binge-watching TV with a quart of ice cream in your lap. But there’s no reason to put off fun adventures until fall when you can carpe diem in cool pine forests, brisk swimming holes, shady creeks, and pleasantly sun-free desert destinations.  

1. Escape to the Grand Canyon’s North Rim.

When tour buses full of families on summer break crowd the South Rim, travelers seeking tranquility cruise to the North Rim to chill amidst alpine views. Trek into the gorge through a mixed conifer forest on the North Kaibab Trail, where you can turn around whenever your thighs tell you it’s time. During the North Rim Star Party, from June 10-17, rangers set up solar and regular telescopes at the Grand Canyon Lodge so travelers can see sunspots by day and planets and nebulae at night. In August, Native American Heritage Days celebrate the cultures of the Grand Canyon’s 11 associated tribes with programs on art, music, dance, and more.

2. Hike with llamas near Prescott. 

It’s easy to imagine you’ve escaped to the chilly Andes Mountains when you’re walking with Peru’s favorite pack animal. On a two- to eight-hour ramble with Arizona Backcountry Llamas, these lovable animals will carry your daypack and picnic lunch as you saunter around Willow Lake, through pine forests, and past golden granite formations. Owners Janice and Chris Dunn—who have been packing with llamas for more than 25 years—will regale you with stories about the local wilderness and caring for these fuzzy, friendly creatures.

Professional mountain biker Alex Pavon puts on her shoes and gets ready to ride on her local trails around Flagstaff, Arizona.
Professional mountain biker Alex Pavon gets ready to ride around Flagstaff.
D Scott Clark / Tandem Stock

3. Cycle between pine trees in Flagstaff.

This alpine town has long ranked high on the lists of hikers and winter sports fans. But its extensive urban paths and nordic skiing trails make it an ideal high-altitude bicycling destination in summer. Rides N Motion guides e-bike tours along downtown’s trail system to Buffalo Park, a wildflower-speckled grassland offering breathtaking panoramas of the San Francisco Peaks. Alternatively, rent a mountain bike from Cosmic Cycles and head to Arizona Nordic Village. In summer, this cross-country skiing site becomes a mountain biking paradise where bunny trails weave between ponderosa pines and aspens. At night, you can bed down in one of the Village’s cozy (and dog-friendly) yurts.

4. Explore naturally temperature-controlled Kartchner Caverns. 

The weather in this Southern Arizona state park is like the daily forecast in the movie Pleasantville: “high 72, low 72, and not a cloud in the sky.” That’s because there is no sky in this underground wonderland. Troglophiles can explore the cave’s Rotunda/Throne room to see spectacular limestone stalactites and formations that look like alien organ pipes, melting chandeliers, and petrified jellyfish. On select Saturdays, visitors can take a photography tour or see the cave as its discoverers did in 1974—shrouded in darkness and lit only by the beams of headlamps.

The moon rises over the mountains in Lost Dutchman State Park.
Go a guided evening hike in Lost Dutchman State Park.
Mike Cavaroc / Tandem Stock

5. Discover the desert at night throughout Arizona.

When the mercury soars, take a cue from Arizona’s raccoons, ringtails, and scorpions: go nocturnal. At night, the moon washes the desert in a pearly glow, the air crackles with insect song, and shy critters scuttle and slither out of the underbrush. Maricopa County Parks & Recreation hosts full moon hikes in several parks, from Cave Creek Regional Park to Usery Mountain Regional Park. At Red Rock State Park in Sedona and Lost Dutchman State Park east of Phoenix, guided evening hikes track the colorful transition from sunset to moonrise. And at Hassayampa River Preserve near Wickenburg, Creatures of the Night walks introduce animal lovers to bats, foxes, skunks, and scorpions that glow like the aurora borealis in blacklight. 

6. Stand-up paddleboard to a winery in Verde Valley.

Verde Adventures’ SUP tours are as soothing as a guided meditation: Picture the peaceful sight of green cottonwoods curving over the Verde River, cool water lapping against your feet, and the rhythmic sound of your paddle as you float to Alcantara Vineyards. Now imagine tasting a chilled pinot rosé with hints of cherry blossom outside the Tuscan-inspired villa as you gaze over the grapevines. If SUP isn’t your thing, envision yourself on one of the company’s other tours, kayaking to the winery or e-biking around the vineyards with the breeze in your hair.

chairs overlooking the red rocks at L'Auberge de Sedona.
Take in the views at L'Auberge de Sedona.
Courtesy L'Auberge de Sedona

7. Indulge yourself on Oak Creek in Sedona.

Oak Creek is a refreshing balm in the blaze of summer. Its lush ecosystem cools the skin, its fragrant foliage awakens the senses, and its burbling soundtrack quiets the mind. At L’Auberge de Sedona, treat yourself to a creekside desert flower massage, and you’ll be enveloped in the shade of sycamores and the scent of sage, lavender, and calendula oils. Then dine alfresco at the hotel’s Cress restaurant, tucking into buttery rainbow trout on the banks of Oak Creek.  

8. Splash in Water Wheel Falls near Payson.

Nothing hits the spot in summer like a waterfall shower and a chilly canyon “bathtub.” Below the Mogollon Rim, the East Verde River and Ellison Creek converge, forming a series of cascades and swimming holes amidst blush-colored boulders and stands of pines, willows, and Gambel oaks. It’s a popular place, so visit on a weekday to avoid crowds. To get there from Payson, drive 2 miles north on SR 87 to Houston Mesa Road. Turn right and continue 7 miles to the first of four parking areas where you can reach the various falls after a hike of about 1.5 miles.