Go off the beaten path to discover Arizona’s hidden gems
Seven Amazing Arizona Adventures you Never Knew Existed
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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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.
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.
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.
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: glendaleaz.com/srpha/ Fees: Free – except during special events.
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: cerreta.com Fees: Free, VIP Tour $12.50 USD.
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.
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.
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.