By Niki D’Andrea and the Arizona Department of Tourism
Yeah, yeah, yeah – it’s hot in Phoenix in the summer. Unusually, uniquely, don’t-have-a-heat-stroke hot. But there are some cool places elsewhere in the Grand Canyon State, and they’re just as unusual and unique as the Valley heat. In Arizona, the aquatic is exotic: an 80-foot-long, nature-made Slip ‘N Slide; water skiing under the London Bridge; fishing on forest-framed lakes. Even on dry land, Phoenicians can chill out in caves carved by ancient lava flows, a renowned observatory on a mountaintop, and artistic ‘burgs that have cool temperatures to match cool cultures. Here’s a handful of places in which to make a splash with your hot butt this summer.
Slide Rock State Park
Cool off just two hours north of Phoenix in the Sonoran-red landscape of Sedona. Spend the afternoon swimming in Oak Creek or take a slippery ride down the famous 80-foot-long natural slide. If you’re looking to take a hike, summer mornings are an ideal time to explore this stunning wonderland by foot. Slide Rock’s summer hours are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily with entrance fees of $20 per vehicle on weekdays and $30 on weekends.
Lake Havasu State Park
Water activities are plentiful at Lake Havasu State Park. More than 400 miles of shoreline make this park the water-sports capitol of the state. But boating and water skiing are just part of the fun at Lake Havasu. The park is also convenient to golf courses, hiking trails, restaurants and the famous London Bridge.
Arizona’s small towns are some of the state’s best-kept secrets. Situated in the mountains at an elevation of 5,500 feet, Bisbee is home to cool temps and a quirky arts-and-culture scene. Head to the Copper Queen Mine to explore Bisbee’s mining past or stroll the town’s shop-filled streets. Enjoy wine tastings, pub crawls and even a ghost tour.
Watson Lake’s rocky landscape and location within the Prescott National Forest make it a picturesque place to cool down and unplug. Just four miles from downtown Prescott, Watson Lake is a quiet place with all the amenities to relax and kick back with friends and family. Activities abound at this Arizona oasis, including canoeing, hiking, rock climbing and camping.
Fossil Creek is an Arizona oasis known for its crystal-clear waters, waterfalls and trails. A two-hour scenic drive northeast from Phoenix will get travelers to this stunning getaway. Make time for the one-mile waterfall trail before heading to nearby Payson for a cool treat at Scoops Ice Cream & Espresso. Permits go on sale one month in advance and are required to park a vehicle within the Fossil Creek area April 1 through October 1.
Lava River Cave
About 700,000 years ago lava flowed through northern Arizona’s Coconino National Forest, forming a mile-long lava tube. Adventurers flock to this Flagstaff cave, open for exploring May through October each year with $5 day passes. The cave is dark, and the temperature remains a constant 42 degrees, so pack warmer clothes and a flashlight.
Lake Powell in northern Arizona, near Page, is home to sweeping views and unreal landscapes. Watercraft and houseboat rentals allow you to explore the lake’s cliff-walled coves, and it’s just a short drive to a pair of other iconic Arizona destinations: Antelope Canyon and Monument Valley.
Can’t get enough of Arizona’s small towns? The old mining town of Jerome is filled with history, art studios and restaurants. Perched in Arizona’s Black Hills, this mile-high town offers a cool respite from the summer heat. Enjoy panoramic views of the Verde Valley, spooky ghost tours and charming lodging options.
Tucson’s Kitt Peak National Observatory houses one of the largest collections of optical and radio telescopes in the world. Become awe-struck by Arizona’s breathtaking night skies with stargazing tours, educational programs and overnight outings. Make an evening of it with dinner beforehand in Tucson, the first UNESCO World City of Gastronomy in the United States.
This beautiful lake in the White Mountains, an hour south of Greer, is a playground for fishing, swimming and hiking. Spend the night under the stars at Reservation Lake Campground, gawk at some of the tallest mountains in Arizona, and don’t be surprised if you spot an elk or two.
For more fun adventures in Arizona, visit our attractions page.