By Land Or By Sea

Rec activities aplenty at Lake Pleasant and Phoenix Sonoran Preserve

By Dena Roché

With an average of 3,872 sunshine hours per year, Phoenix is one of the top 10 sunniest places in the world. For outdoor enthusiasts this means the Valley of the Sun is one of the best places on the planet to get out and enjoy nature by land or water.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park

Most people don’t expect a 23,000-acre water playground smack dab in the middle of the desert, but that’s exactly what awaits visitors to Lake Pleasant Regional Park. The man-made lake was created by construction of the Waddell Dam, which obstructs the Agua Fria River. The park is one of the most beautiful outdoor recreation areas in the Valley.

Lake Pleasant is a boating lover’s dream, with two marinas offering a plethora of water activities. Pleasant Harbor is the closest marina to Downtown Phoenix and it’s the perfect starting point for a day boating, kayaking, water skiing, wakeboarding or even flyboarding.

A variety of boats, kayaks, paddleboards and jet skis are available to rent. The American Sailing Association offers sailing lessons and clinics, while Tiller & Kites is the only international yachting school in Arizona. Kids and the young at heart will love the adrenaline rush while experiencing the world’s largest floating waterslide.

For a slightly more sedated experience, Lake Pleasant Cruises offers a variety of daily cruises on the lake, and Dillon’s Bayou restaurant is an ideal place to kick back and enjoy live music or daily social activities lakeside.

Travelers who want to spend multiple days at the lake can check into the marina’s full-service RV resort, featuring a club house, pool, Jacuzzi and plenty of recreational activities including pickleball, basketball and bocce ball.

For anglers, Lake Pleasant offers fishing from the shoreline or by boat. The fish are biting best in spring and summer. In spring, large-mouth and white and striped bass are in season. With extreme temperatures in summer, night fishing is a popular activity and increases the chances of reeling in a large-mouth bass. White bass and stripers are active in deeper waters, while catfish are active at night in the coves.

Some of the best inland scuba diving in the Western United States is found at Lake Pleasant. Reaching a depth of 260 feet and filled with rock walls, canyons and underwater structures, diving here provides lots of opportunities for exploration at all ability levels. Swimming is allowed, but there are no beaches and no lifeguards.

The calm lake waters are an ideal place to channel Zen with a paddleboard yoga class.

Phoenix Sonoran Preserve

If you’re more of a landlubber don’t despair; the Valley’s weather and terrain makes the area a hiking paradise. With more than 9,600 acres and 36 miles of trails departing from three central trail heads, the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve in North Phoenix gets you up close to explore the wild desert landscape.

The Desert Vista Trailhead located in the southern section of the Preserve offers everything from the flat, 1-mile Bobcat Trail for novice hikers, to one of the hardest trails in the Valley, the Dixie Mountain Summit Trail. Most of the hikes from this trailhead are rated moderately difficult.

From the northern Apache Wash Trailhead, hikers have the opportunity to scale two peaks that are part of Phoenix’s Seven Summit Challenge. The relatively easy Apache Vista trail takes hikers to the summit, affording 360-degree views of the Valley, while the Ridgeback Overlook Trail is a quick loop trail that offers great southern views.

The Desert Hills Trailhead is home to the Sidewinder Trail, the most technically challenging hike in the North Sonoran Preserve. This 7-mile trek meanders up and down and connects with several other trails taking the hiker into tight washes, flats and climbs.

The Phoenix Sonoran Preserve also is a great spot for mountain bikers to test their skills. For intermediate riders, the 13-mile, nontechnical Sonoran Desert loop trail offers challenging climbs, tight turns and long, flowing downhills. It’s best to run the trail clockwise, and there are great views throughout the journey. Most of the above trails can be enjoyed on two wheels instead of two feet.

Whether you want to strap on a pair of water skis or a pair of hiking boats, paddle a kayak or careen down a trail on two wheels, the sunny days in Phoenix offer a host of outdoor adventures waiting to be explored.   

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