11 Amazing Outdoor Winter Activities in Phoenix

Written by Judy Karnia

November 21, 2022
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Escape to Phoenix, AZ this winter. A multitude of outside activities awaits the traveler looking to savor the area's warmth and sun. Here are 11 outdoor winter activities in Phoenix.

Anyone enduring endless gray days indoors can visit Phoenix in the winter months for a healthy dose of sun and fun. Depending on your tastes and energy level, many fabulous outdoor options await. Spend your day moving your muscles and breathing the warm air, and then relax by the pool before an evening exploring art and dining when there is a light breeze. Here are a few of my favorite outdoor winter activities in Phoenix.

Hiking: One of the Best Outdoor Winter Activities in Phoenix

Possibly a surprise to many, hiking in the desert immerses you in quiet and complex beauty. The vast views across saguaro cacti and flowering bushes can feel like you are adrift in another world. From wide, flat nature trails to steep, rocky adventures, many trails beckon around the Valley of the Sun.

Outdoor winter activities in Phoenix include a hike with a view of saguaro cacti.

View over Phoenix Valley from the top of Bell Pass Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Photo by Judy Karnia

McDowell Sonora Preserve Gateway Trailhead in North Scottsdale offers ample parking, clean restrooms, and many options for hiking. If you want a ten-mile trail with challenging areas and incredible vistas, try the loop through Bell Pass and around to Windgate Pass. Explore the nature trail for an easy amble or complete the Gateway Loop for a moderate hike with lovely views. The Piestewa Peak and Dreamy Draw trails provide a nature fix right in the middle of Phoenix. South Mountain Park, at over 16,000 acres, is one of the largest city-managed parks in the country. You can drive up Summit Road to look over all of Phoenix or choose one of the various trails for a close-up view of the cacti.

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Biking on the Greenbelt is a Fabulous Winter Activity in Phoenix

The Indian Wash Greenbelt extends 11 miles through Scottsdale alongside golf courses, ponds, and parks. Multiple access points allow you to join the path close to where you are staying and enjoy a bit of nature in the city's heart. By renting a bike, booking a bike tour, or grabbing some ride-share bikes, you can traverse the entire path, stop for a picnic, or spend time at a playground. If you continue south, the route turns west along Tempe Town Lake and then goes through the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area.

Chaparral lake with a reflection of palm trees and the sun in the water.

A lovely view of Chaparral Lake from the Greenbelt path in Scottsdale. Photo by Judy Karnia

Golfing in Phoenix, Another Great Winter Outdoor Activity

The entire Phoenix area has turned into a golfing mecca thanks to warm days with a low chance of rain. With a wide range of prices and difficulty levels, finding the perfect spot for your group is easy. Many of the resorts boast golf courses and other amenities. As an infrequent golfer, I appreciate any help in getting to the hole, and my favorite course is Mountain Shadows. The landscape of this par three course provides a scenic frame for the gorgeous Camelback Mountain looming nearby.

Outdoor winter activities in Phoenix include golf at Mountain Shadows.

The 3-par golf course at Mountain Shadows with Camelback Mountain in the background. Photo by Judy Karnia

If you prefer swinging clubs between bites of flatbread and donut holes, head to Top Golf. The smart holes detect your micro-chipped golf ball so that you can compete for the best score. Three decks of golfing bays with music and video screens provide a lively atmosphere.

Desert Botanical Garden, the Perfect Outdoor Winter Activity in Phoenix

For a more quiet and relaxing experience in nature, wander among the thousands of species of plants at the Desert Botanical Garden. You will be amazed at the diversity of cacti, succulents, and flowers that thrive in the desert. On the Plants and People of the Sonoran Desert Loop Trail, you can learn how native people lived in the desert using the plants for food, housing, and medicine. Dine on the patio café while listening to the birds sing in the middle of the park.

Shade structure made of tree limbs with saguaro cacti.

Demonstrative shade structure on Plants and People of the Sonoran Desert Loop Trail at Desert Botanical Garden. Photo by Judy Karnia

Visiting the Phoenix Zoo

Spend your day among orangutans, giraffes, tigers, and flamingoes amid the lush landscape of the Phoenix Zoo. On the Arizona Trail, you can find animals native to this area: mountain lions, coyotes, javelinas, and Sonoran pronghorns. Along the Tropics Trails, the Monkey Village allows visitors to walk into the squirrel monkey exhibit to see their antics up close. The zoo often hosts special exhibits such as Dinosaur in the Desert, several life-like animatronic creatures.

Tiger strolling through bushes at Phoenix Zoo, another great outdoor winter activity in Phoenix.

Sumatran Tiger strolling through the Isle of the Tiger exhibit at Phoenix Zoo. Photo by Judy Karnia

Exploring Rio Salado Audubon Center

Two miles south of downtown Phoenix the Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center encompasses 600 acres of habitat for over 200 species of birds and other wildlife. Start with the interpretative trail, then head down to the restoration area of the Rio Salado. This river runs through the heart of Phoenix and used to be a dumping site, but now it contains walking and biking paths through a lush environment. The river flow varies but is enough to attract wildlife and provide a bit of nature to the urban area.

Attending Art Festivals is a Fun Winter Activity in Phoenix

December offers the perfect weather for perusing dozens of artist booths. It is a lovely time to admire and purchase paintings, pottery, jewelry, clothing, and other art creations. Phoenix and Tempe host elaborate arts festivals with enjoyable local music and food to sample. Local and regional artists delight in chatting with attendees about their processes and inspiration.

First Fridays on Roosevelt Row

In recent years, Roosevelt Row and Grand Avenue in downtown Phoenix have developed into hip gathering spots with local artists and interesting restaurants. Hunt for vibrant murals while exploring unique art galleries. During each First Friday Art Walk, the streets fill with crowds of people checking out pop-up booths, food trucks, and over 70 galleries and shops.

Farmers Markets Abound During Winters in Phoenix

Due to the winter growing season in Arizona, October through March brings bountiful farmers' markets throughout the valley. Most larger markets happen on Saturdays, but smaller offerings can be found on weekdays. Colorful, organic produce highlights the stalls but vendors offer all types of products, from handmade baked goods, salsas, and pasta, to lotions, plants, and crafts. It doesn't matter where you stay, a nearby market can provide provisions and gifts to bring home.

Lounge Poolside in Phoenix

After a hike, golf game, or day conversing with the animals, nothing is better than a dip in the pool and lounging with a book or drink. Even on the hottest days, the low humidity means that you are cool as long as you are wet. The Phoenix area boasts a variety of resorts with all types of amenities depending on what you enjoy.

Pool at the Phoenician resort.

One of the many pools to enjoy in December is at The Phoenician Resort. Photo by Judy Karnia

Outdoor Dining is Perfect for Arizona Winters

Dining on an outdoor patio enables you to continue your time in the pleasant desert air. In the evenings in December, the temperature can dip into the fifties, but many restaurants offer heat lamps or fire pits. Although this is not the busiest tourist season, the patios tend to fill, so make a reservation ahead of time. All of the downtown areas have abundant options for various types of cuisines. You can also find many gems hidden in residential areas.

The patio at Farish House restaurant in Phoenix.

Outdoor patio at Farish House in downtown Phoenix. Photo by Judy Karnia

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The Phoenix Valley presents a wonderful bounty of ways to escape colder climates in December. A multitude of outside activities awaits the traveler looking to savor the area's warmth and sun. When planning your winter trip to Phoenix, greater Arizona, or another warm winter destination, use Wander with Wonder as your guide.

11 Amazing Outdoor Winter Activities in Phoenix

Written by Judy Karnia

Judy Karnia currently enjoys living in the desert of Scottsdale, AZ. She grew up in Chicago and practiced veterinary medicine for 28 years. She has traveled throughout the United States and a few foreign countries and enjoys exploring cities and natural areas. She is a freelance travel writer and certified nature therapy guide.

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