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Go off the beaten path to discover Arizona’s hidden gems

Go off the beaten path to discover Arizona’s hidden gems

Seven Amazing Arizona Adventures you Never Knew Existed

An image of Saguaro cacti in Usery Mountain Regional Park near Mesa, Arizona
An image of Saguaro cacti in Usery Mountain Regional Park near Mesa, Arizona

Arizona is filled with interesting hidden gems just waiting to be personally discovered and as I stood in the Sonoran Desert it was impossible not to be moved by the beauty before me. I was surrounded by fields of saguaro cacti so thick it looked like a forest. Other cacti were just starting to blossom adding dots of red and white to the landscape. It’s a scene that too many visitors miss, opting instead for popular attractions in major cities. Here are seven off-the-beaten-path hot spots you’ll want to see in sunny Arizona.

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An image of hiking and cycling in Usery Mountain Regional Park near Mesa, Arizona
Hiking and cycling are popular activities in Usery Mountain Regional Park near Mesa, Arizona.

Usery Mountain Regional Park

Usery Mountain Regional Park is one of the hidden gems of the Mesa area and few out-of-state visitors take the time to explore the 3,648 acre park. Those who do, soon discover that great things often lie just off the beaten path.

Image of a small rattle snake at Usery Mountain Regional Park near Mesa, Arizona
Watch where you step! We were lucky to see this small rattle snake at Usery Mountain Regional Park.

This desert park lies at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains, adjacent to the Tonto National Forest near Mesa. Within the park are nearly 47 km of multi-use trails that are used for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. Volunteers and staff offer free scheduled interpretive tours that are one of the best ways to learn about the many plants and animals that call the lower Sonoran Desert home.We joined a scheduled tour and learned interesting facts about the flora and fauna in the park. Though desert wildlife tends to be more active in the evening, we managed to see a hawk and a rattle snake as we hiked along. “You’re very lucky to see a rattle snake,” said our guide, Mark. “They live here, but this is the first time I’ve seen one on a guided hike. They are very shy.” Fees:  $7 USD per car.

Related: Want to travel more? Fine out some tips and tricks in our post 10 Ways to Travel More and Pay Less

An image of the Top Golf facility in Gilbert, Arizona
You don’t have to be a great golfer to enjoy Top Golf. We enjoyed this is the facility in Gilbert, AZ.

Top Golf

You don’t have to be a golfer to have fun playing at a Topgolf facility. Topgolf is a like a cross between a driving range and a dart board. Players hit microchipped golf balls at targets on an outfield and a computer measures the distance and accuracy of the shots and keeps track of their scores. There are several different games that can be played and there are golf pros on hand that give you tips on how to improve your swing. There’s also a great food and beverage menu, so you can eat while you wait for your turn and there’s an indoor facility with pool, shuffleboard, video games and other kinds of entertainment.  Fees:  There’s a one-time membership fee of $5 per player and then rates start at $25 per hour for a playing bay that can hold up to six players.

Image of a peacock at Sahuaro Ranch Historic Area near Glendale, Arizona
Peacocks roam at Sahuaro Ranch Historic Area near Glendale, Arizona

Sahuaro Ranch Historic Area

The 17-acre Sahuaro Ranch Historic Area is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was once known as the “Showplace of the Valley.” It features 13 original buildings, a rose garden, a barnyard, historic orchards and a healthy flock of peacocks. You can tour the house and buildings and learn about the history of early settlement in the valley. Website: Fees: Free – except during special events.

An image of a pan of chocolates at the Cerreta Candy Company in Glendale, Arizona
Tours are free at Cerreta Candy Company, but you’ll want to pay extra to make your own chocolate pizza.

Cerreta Candy Company Chocolate Tours

Located in Glendale, this hometown chocolate factory has been in business for more than 40 years. It was started by Jim Cerreta Sr. who learned the art of candy production in his father-in-law’s factory in Canton, Ohio. He passed his skills on to his family and three of his sons are still actively involved in the business. They offer free factory tours twice daily with the option to upgrade to a VIP chocolate tour and make your own chocolate pizza after the regular tour is over.  Website: Fees: Free, VIP Tour $12.50 USD.

An image of two people kayaking at Lake Pleasant Regional Park
Kayaking is a popular activity at Lake Pleasant Regional Park. Guided hikes and kayak tours are free.

Related: Read our post about the Havasupai Hike, which is also in Arizona.  

Lake Pleasant Regional Park

This park is one of the most scenic water recreation areas in Arizona and offers many activities such as camping, boating, fishing, swimming, hiking, picnicking, and wildlife viewing. We joined a guided kayak tour with Terry Gerber, an interpretive ranger at Lake Pleasant Regional Park. Kayaking around the lake is great fun and you can see wild burros, feel the breeze off the lake and get a good workout by joining one of Terry’s scheduled tours or by renting a kayak at the marina and paddling around on your own. It’s a beautiful lake and paddling it makes for a lovely afternoon. Wear your swimsuit and go for a swim afterwards. Kayak rentals are available at the Pleasant Harbor Marina for $20 USD per hour or $50 USD for a half day. Fees: Guided kayak tours and hikes are free with the park entrance fee of $7 USD per car.

An image of a man on a stand-up paddleboard on Saguaro Lake
Saguaro Lake is lovely on a hot day. Rent a stand-up paddle board and you’re all set to explore.

Arizona Stand-up Paddleboard Rentals

Paddleboarding has really exploded in Arizona and on a hot day you will find plenty of people out on the water with their stand up paddleboards. We rented our paddleboards from the “No Snow Stand Up Paddleboard Shop” in Mesa and took them to nearby Saguaro Lake. “On hot days our rental business really picks up,” said Heather Fetter, co-owner of the shop. “We are the first and largest paddleboard store in the Phoenix metro area and during the summer we have more than 100 boards in the shop – and our rentals are always fully booked.” Fetter grew up in Medicine Hat, Alberta and her husband was originally from Watson, Saskatchewan. Fees: $40 USD per day per board.

An image of someone cutting oranges and grapefruits at the Orange Patch in Mesa, Arizona
Pick an orange right off the tree at The Orange Patch, one of Mesa’s original citrus farms

The Orange Patch

If you want to pick an orange right off the tree, this is the place to go. It’s also a good spot to get some fresh squeezed OJ, fresh oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit and watch the farm staff at work. The Orange Patch is one of Mesa’s original citrus farms. Peak season for orange production is January and February. There’s also an onsite store with gift items, fresh honey and homegrown snacks. Fees: Free to visit.

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