If you’ve never spent a summer in Arizona, you’ll quickly learn why it requires a survival guide. The struggle is real during those scorching few months when temperatures hit triple digits, you start sweating in places you didn’t even know it was possible and everyone seems to say the same thing: “Why would anyone build a city in the middle of the desert?” The answer to that is simple: There’s a slew of awesome spots to soak up the sun; you just have to know where to look. Gather ’round, desert dwellers: Here’s where to go to beat the heat and how to avoid looking like a total newb while doing it.
It sounds somewhat poetic: The Salt River is a stream formed by the confluence of the White River and the Black River in eastern Arizona, and it flows through russet mountains, Ponderosa forests, and lower desert tributaries of metro Phoenix. But in the summertime at the Mesa launch point of Salt River Tubing, the river is really a jam-packed party on water, with people of all ages angling to cruise their tubes away from the crowds and crack open a can or several of beer.
Do: Put something sturdy on your bum.
Thick denim shorts should do the trick. Just make sure they don’t already have holes in the arse. Men’s shorts might be OK give or take a butt cheek or two, but bikini bottoms are doomed if the wearer, say, gets drunk and sinks down in the hole of the tube and relaxes before drifting rear-first into a rock.
Do: Bring beer.
Ice chests are available to rent onsite, or you can bring your own cooler (Styrofoam coolers are “not recommended”). All ice chests and coolers will be checked for glass bottles.
Don’t: Pack glass bottles.
They are prohibited at Salt River Tubing and the Lower Salt River Recreational Area. And why would you bring glass anyway when aluminum stays so much colder?
Do: Wear shoes.
Not flip-flops or Birkenstocks, but actual sneakers or tennis shoes – something with soles to protect your feet from the rocks on the river bottom and the occasional broken bottles thanks to the assholes who somehow got glass past the cooler checks.
Don’t: Tie your tubes together.
Some people might think it’s fun to tie their innertubes together to form a chain and “snake” down the river, but what really happens is they usually become a tangle of ropes and rubber blocking others peoples’ paths down the stream.
Do: Slather your skin in sunblock.
Seriously. According to saltrivertubing.com, the minimum recommendation is 30 SPF, but you can stand a whole lot more. Apply before and during your excursion, unless you want to look like part of an intoxicated lobster parade.
Don’t: Forget to bring a lot of water.
Beer is great, but water is life – especially in triple-digit temps with the sun beating down on you. Drink a minimum of one to two 24-ounce bottles per hour.
Salt River Tubing, 9200 N. Bush Hwy., Mesa, saltrivertubing.com, open every day from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; float times range from two to five hours, $17 per person or tube (includes tube rental, shuttle service, and free parking at the Salt River Tubing Recreation tubing terminal).
TONTO NATURAL BRIDGE
A series of trails traverse through and around Tonto Natural Bridge (the largest natural travertine arch in the world) and features grottos with hanging greenery and caves with cascading waterfalls. That’s nature-speak for the perfect spot for panoramic pictures and Insta-worthy scenery.
Do: Grab a map.
The park’s two trails are easily confused and your five-mile hike could easily turn into 13 miles if you make a wrong turn.
Don’t: Wear flip-flops.
The rocks, water and brush are sure to guarantee a slip.
Do: Bring your camera.
The waterfall off the bridge makes for a super-solid Instagram photo op.
Don’t: Forget water.
Once you start on your hike, there aren’t any freshwater sources. Trust us: You don’t want to be the dude trying to use the fall as your own personal water fountain.
Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, located in Tonto National Forest near Payson, 928-476-4202, open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last entry at 4 p.m.), $7 per person.
FOSSIL CREEK FALLS
You probably won’t find any fossils on the mile-long hike to the Fossil Creek waterfall, but you will find clear, cerulean and turquoise water and lush greenery unlike anywhere else in the state. Fossil Creek offers opportunities for cliff jumping, swimming and sunbathing. You know what that means, kids – sunblock and hydration are a must.
Do: Buy a permit.
During the summer months, a permit is required to park your car or hike. Permits can be reserved or purchased online at recreation.gov, but they’re not available onsite.
Do: BYOF (Bring Your Own Food).
There are plenty of places for a picnic by the water, so whether you throw a few bags of chips or a three-course meal in your CamelBak, Fossil Creek is a great place to grub.
Do: Go for a dip.
With the sun relentlessly beating down and all that refreshing water, this is no time to just sit and tan, people.
Don’t: Risk it.
We get it – capturing a backflip off the waterfall would kill the Snapchat game, but always remember to take a moment to assess the situation. If a cliff looks too high or the water looks too shallow, don’t make the dive.
Fossil Creek, Fossil Creek Road, Strawberry, 928-203-2900, open every day from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., $10 for a daily parking permit.
“Survive Lake Pleasant” sounds like the title of a comedic horror film, right? But Lake Pleasant Regional Park is seriously cool, if you follow a few (yawn) rules and play nice.
Do: Wear sunblock.
This should just be Phoenix’s slogan everywhere all summer.
Don’t: Bring an inflatable pool raft.
Why would you bring a thin latex blowup swan to a cactus-dappled desert lake anyway?
Don’t: Swim after your inflatable pool raft if it blows away.
Oh, no you didn’t. Better hope some hottie in a speedboat saves you from drowning.
Do: Cook with gas.
Gas and propane grills are permitted year-round in the ramada areas and developed campsites.
Don’t: Start a fire.
Maricopa County Parks and Recreation instituted its annual fire ban on May 8. Smoking is not prohibited, but no longer considered cool.
Do: Also check out Tempe Town Lake.
It’s closer to the ASU campus. Granted, it can be a lot more crowded than Lake Pleasant on account of not being out in the middle of nowhere, but that also means less privacy.
Lake Pleasant Regional Park, 41835 N. Castle Hot Springs Road, Morristown, 928-501-1710, open 24/7, $6 per day.
Why overpay to spend the day at a waterpark when you can visit a less-crowded equivalent surrounded by nature? Water Wheel near Payson offers a scenic out-and-back hike that gives way to a waterfall and swimming hole with a natural wooden staircase and rock slide. Warning: This scenic spot is like buried treasure – annoying and tedious to find, but well worth the hunt.
Do: Camp nearby.
If sleeping under the stars is your style, there are a number of campgrounds close to Water Wheel that make it easy to get up and go.
Do: Wear a bathing suit.
It’s imperative that you wear comfortable hiking attire and sturdy footwear for the trek to the swimming hole, but there’s nowhere to change into your swimming gear once you get there. We recommend rocking your suit under your clothes for a seamless post-hike dive into the water. Don’t forget to bring a towel to dry off or lie out for optimal lounging on the surrounding rocks.
Do: Bring Fido.
Most of the spots on this list require you to leave your four-legged friends at home, but Water Wheel hike is mellow enough for those with a tail to tag along (as long as they’re on a leash, of course).
Do: Make a pre-hike pit stop.
There are no bathrooms once you head out on the hike, so make sure you hit the powder room (aka Porta-Potty) in the parking lot before you go.
Don’t: Get caught up with fancy footwork.
The entire area is pretty wet and rocky, so we don’t recommend practicing your moonwalk here. The “ladder” at the edge of the main waterfall is especially slippery, so use caution if you choose to climb it.
Water Wheel Falls, located in Tonto National Forest near Payson, 928-474-7900, $6 for a parking permit.