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Ballooning

A sunrise or sunset hot-air-balloon ascent is a remarkable desert sightseeing experience. The average fee—there are more than three dozen Valley companies to choose from—is $200 per person, and hotel pickup is usually included. Since flight paths and landing sites vary with wind speed and direction, a roving land crew follows each balloon in flight. Time in the air is generally between 1 and 1½ hours, but allow 3 hours for the total excursion.

Hot Air Expeditions. This is the best ballooning in Phoenix. Flights are long, the staff are charming, and the gourmet snacks, catered by the acclaimed Vincent restaurant, are out of this world. Phoenix, Arizona. 480/502–6999; 800/831–7610; www.hotairexpeditions.com.

Bicycling

There are plenty of gorgeous areas for biking in the Phoenix area, but riding in the streets isn't recommended, as there are few adequate bike lanes in the city. Popular parks such as South Mountain Park and the Tempe Town Lake have miles of trails. Note that the desert climate can be tough on cyclists, so make sure you're prepared with lots of water.

Phoenix Parks and Recreation. The Parks and Recreation department has detailed maps of Valley bike paths. 602/262–6862; www.phoenix.gov/parks. No credit cards.

Pinnacle Peak. This is a popular place to take bikes for the ride north to Carefree and Cave Creek, or east and south over the mountain pass and down to the Verde River, toward Fountain Hills. 26802 N. 102nd Way, 25 miles northeast of Downtown Phoenix, North Scottsdale, Scottsdale, Arizona, 85262. 480/312–0990; www.scottsdaleaz.gov/parks/pinnacle. No credit cards.

Scottsdale's Indian Bend Wash. This multiuse park system has paths suitable for bikes winding among its golf courses and ponds. Along Hayden Rd., from Shea Blvd. south to Indian School Rd., Scottsdale, Arizona, 85251. 480/312–7275; www.scottsdaleaz.gov/parks/greenbelt. No credit cards.

Trail 100. This trail runs throughout the Phoenix Mountain preserve; it's just the thing for mountain bikers. Enter at Dreamy Draw park, just east of the intersection of Northern Ave. and 16th St., North Central Phoenix, Phoenix, Arizona, 85016. 602/262–6862; www.phoenix.gov/parks. No credit cards.

Four-Wheeling

Taking a jeep through the backcountry has become a popular way to experience the desert's saguaro-covered mountains and curious rock formations. Prices start at around $100 per person.

Desert Dog Hummer Adventures. This operator heads out on half- and full-day Humvee tours to the Four Peaks Wilderness Area in Tonto National Forest and the Sonoran Desert. U-Drive desert cars and ATV tours are also available. 480/837–3966; www.azadventures.com.

Wayward Wind Desert Tours. This operator ventures down to the Verde River on its own trail and offers wilderness cookouts for large groups. 602/867–7825; 800/804–0480; www.waywardwindtours.com.

Wild West Jeep Tours. Special permits allow Wild West Jeep Tours to conduct four-wheel excursions in Tonto National Forest, which, in addition to a wild ride, lets you also visit thousand-year-old Indian sites. 480/922–0144; www.wildwestjeeptours.com.

Golf

Arizona has more golf courses per capita than any other state west of the Mississippi River, making it one of the most popular golf destinations in the United States. The sport is also one of Arizona's major industries, and greens fees can run from $35 at a public course to more than $500 at some of the premier golfing spots. New courses seem to pop up routinely: there are more than 200 in the Valley (some lighted at night), and the PGA's Southwest section has its headquarters here.

Municipal Courses

ASU Karsten Golf Course. NCAA champions train at this Arizona State University 18-hole golf course. 1125 E. Rio Salado Pkwy., Tempe, Arizona, 85281. 480/921–8070; www.asukarsten.com. $149.

Encanto Park (). There are attractive, affordable public 9- and 18-hole courses at Encanto Park. 2775 N. 15th Ave., North Central Phoenix, Phoenix, Arizona, 85007. 602/262--6862; www.phoenix.gov/parks. $12 weekdays, $13 weekends for 9 holes; $37 weekdays, $40 weekends for 18 holes.

Papago Golf Course. Phoenix's best municipal course is low-priced and has 18 holes. 5595 E. Moreland St., Phoenix, Arizona, 85008. 602/275–8428; www.papagogolfcourse.net. $84 weekdays, $89 weekends.

Public Courses

Gold Canyon Golf Club. Near Apache Junction in the East Valley, Gold Canyon Golf Club offers fantastic views of the Superstition Mountains and challenging golf. 6100 S. King's Ranch Rd., Gold Canyon, Arizona, 85218. 480/982–9090; 800/827–5281; www.gcgr.com. Dinosaur Mountain: $190 weekdays, $198 weekends; Sidewinder: $95 weekdays, $99 weekends.

Grayhawk. This 36-hole course has beautiful mountain views. In summer the greens fee is much lower. 8620 E. Thompson Peak Pkwy., North Scottsdale, Scottsdale, Arizona, 85255. 480/502–1800; www.grayhawkgolf.com. $225 weekdays, $255 weekends.

HillCrest Golf Club. With 18 holes on 179 acres of well-designed turf, HillCrest Golf Club is the best course in the Sun Cities development. 20002 Star Ridge Dr., Sun City West, Arizona, 85375. 623/584–1500; www.hillcrestgolfclub.com. $50 weekdays, $55 weekends.

Raven Golf Club—Phoenix. Thousands of Aleppo pines and Lombardy poplars at this course make it a cool, shady 18-hole haven for summertime golfers. 3636 E. Baseline Rd., South Phoenix, Phoenix, Arizona, 85042. 602/243–3636; www.ravenphx.com. $200.

SunRidge Canyon. East of Scottsdale, SunRidge Canyon is a great 18-hole course for both the low handicapper and those who score above 100. The incredible mountain views are almost distracting. 13100 N. SunRidge Dr., Fountain Hills, Arizona, 85268. 480/837–5100; www.sunridgegolf.com. $195.

Troon North. This course is a challenge for the length alone (7,070 yards). The million-dollar views add to the experience at this perfectly maintained 36-hole course. 10320 E. Dynamite Blvd., North Scottsdale, Scottsdale, Arizona, 85254. 480/585–7700; www.troonnorthgolf.com. $267 weekdays, $288 weekends.

Resort Courses

Arizona Biltmore Country Club. The granddaddy of Valley golf courses, Arizona Biltmore Country Club has two 18-hole PGA championship courses, lessons, and clinics. Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, 24th St. and Missouri Ave., Camelback Corridor, Phoenix, Arizona, 85016. 602/955–9655; www.arizonabiltmore.com. $148.

Camelback Golf Club. Challenging water holes and layouts make the two 18-hole courses at the JW Marriott's Camelback Golf Club among the best in the area. JW Marriott Camelback Inn, 7847 N. Mockingbird Lane, Paradise Valley, Arizona, 85253. 480/948–1700; www.camelbackinn.com. Padre $209, Ambiente $279.

Lookout Mountain Golf Club. This property at the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs has pristine greens, beautiful mountain views, and one 18-hole, par-71 course. Pointe Hilton at Tapatio Cliffs, 11111 N. 7th St., North Central Phoenix, Phoenix, Arizona, 85020. 602/866–6356; www.tapatiocliffshilton.com. $109.

Ocotillo Golf Resort. There's water in play on nearly all 27 holes at Ocotillo Golf Resort, which was designed around 95 acres of man-made lakes. 3751 S. Clubhouse Dr., Chandler, Arizona, 85248. 480/917–6660; www.ocotillogolf.com. $69 weekdays, $79 weekends.

The Phoenician Golf Club. Set at the base of Camelback Mountain, the Phoenician offers three nine-hole courses in one of the most picturesque settings in the Valley. The Phoenician, 6000 E. Camelback Rd., Camelback Corridor, Scottsdale, Arizona, 85251. 480/941–8200; www.thephoenician.com. $199.

Tournament Players Club of Scottsdale. This 36-hole course by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish is the site of the PGA Waste Management Phoenix Open, which takes place in January/February. Fairmont Scottsdale Princess Resort, 17020 N. Hayden Rd., North Scottsdale, Scottsdale, Arizona, 85255. 480/585–4334; 888/400–4001; www.tpc.com. Stadium $299, Champions $151.

Wigwam Golf and Country Club. This country club is the home of the famous Gold Course, as well as two other 18-hole courses. Wigwam Resort, 300 E. Wigwam Blvd., Litchfield Park, Arizona, 85340. 623/935–3811; www.wigwamresort.com. $99 weekdays, $129 weekends.

Hiking

One of the best ways to see the beauty of the Valley of the Sun is from above, so hikers of all calibers seek a vantage point in the mountains surrounding the flat Valley. A short drive from Downtown, South Mountain Park is the jewel of the city’s mountain park preserves, with more than 60 miles of marked trails for hikers, horseback riders, and mountain bikers. No matter the season, be sure to bring sunscreen, a hat, plenty of water, and a camera to capture a dazzling sunset. It's always a good idea to tell someone where you'll be and when you plan to return.

Phoenix Mountain Preserve System. Much of Phoenix's famous mountains and hiking trails are part of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, a series of mountains that encircles the Valley. The city's park rangers can help plan your hikes. 602/262–6862; www.phoenix.gov/parks.

Best Spots

Camelback Mountain and Echo Canyon Recreation Area. This recreation area has intermediate to difficult hikes up the Valley's most outstanding central landmark. Difficult. Tatum Blvd. and McDonald Dr., Paradise Valley, Arizona, 85253. 602/262–6862; www.phoenix.gov/parks.

Lost Dog Wash Trail. Part of the continually expanding McDowell-Sonoran Preserve (www.mcdowellsonoran.org), Lost Dog Wash Trail is a mostly gentle 4½-mile round trip that will get you away from the bustle of the city in a hurry. The trailhead has restrooms and a map that shows a series of trails for varying skill levels. Easy. 23015 N. 128th St., north of Shea Blvd., North Scottsdale, Scottsdale, Arizona, 85255. 480/312–7013; www.scottsdaleaz.gov/preserve.

The Papago Peaks. These peaks were sacred sites for the Tohono O'odham. The soft-sandstone peaks contain accessible caves, some petroglyphs, and splendid views of much of the Valley. This is a good spot for family hikes. Easy. 625 N. Galvin Pkwy., Phoenix, Arizona, 85008. 602/262–6862; www.phoenix.gov/parks.

Piestewa Peak. Just north of Lincoln Drive, Piestewa Peak has a series of trails for all levels of hikers. It's a great place to get views of downtown. Allow about 1½ hours for each direction. Moderate. 2701 E. Piestewa Peak Dr., North Central Phoenix, Phoenix, Arizona, 85016. 602/262–6862; www.phoenix.gov/parks.

Pinnacle Peak Trail. This is a well-maintained trail offering a moderately challenging 3½-mile round-trip hike—or a horseback experience for those who care to round one up at the local stables. Interpretive programs and trail signs along the way describe the geology, flora, fauna, and cultural history of the area. Moderate. 26802 N. 102nd Way, 1 mile south of Dynamite and Alma School rds., North Scottsdale, Scottsdale, Arizona, 85255. 480/312–0990; www.scottsdaleaz.gov/parks/pinnacle.

Waterfall Trail. Part of the 25 miles of trails available at the White Tank Mountain Regional Park, this short and easy trail is kid-friendly. Strollers and wheelchairs roll along easily to Petroglyph Plaza, which boasts 1,500-year-old boulder carvings—dozens are in clear view from the trail. From there the trail takes a rockier but manageable course to a waterfall, which, depending on area rainfall, can be cascading, creeping, or completely dry. Stop at the visitor center to view desert reptiles (safely held in aquariums) such as king and gopher snakes. Easy. 20304 W. White Tank Mountain Rd., Waddell, Arizona, 85355. 623/935–2505; www.maricopa.gov/parks/white_tank.

Horseback Riding

More than two dozen stables and equestrian-tour outfitters in the Valley attest to the saddle's enduring importance in Arizona—even in this auto-dominated metropolis. Stables offer rides for an hour, a whole day, and even overnight adventures. Some local resorts can arrange for lessons on-site or at nearby stables.

Arizona Cowboy College. The wranglers here will teach you everything you need to know about ridin', ropin', and ranchin'. 30208 N. 152nd St., North Scottsdale, Scottsdale, Arizona, 85262. 480/471–3151; www.cowboycollege.com.

MacDonald's Ranch. This ranch offers one- and two-hour trail rides and guided breakfast, lunch, and dinner rides through desert foothills above Scottsdale. 26540 N. Scottsdale Rd., North Scottsdale, Scottsdale, Arizona, 85255. 480/585–0239; www.macdonaldsranch.com.

OK Corral Stables. One-, two-, and four-hour horseback trail rides and steak cookouts are available from this company, which also runs one- to three-day horse-packing trips. They have the oldest pack station in the history of the Superstition Mountains, and all their guides are U.S. Forest Service–licensed. 2655 E. Whiteley St., Apache Junction, Arizona, 85219. 480/982–4040; www.okcorrals.com.

Ponderosa Stables. Enjoy your South Mountain experience from a higher perch by renting horses at this nearby stable. The private company rents its land from the city of Phoenix, and will take you on an excursion or send you on one of your own. 10215 S. Central Ave., South Phoenix, Phoenix, Arizona, 85042. 602/268–1261; www.arizona-horses.com.

Multisport Outfitters

Arizona Outback Adventures. The personable staff at AOA lead half-day, full-day, and multiday adventures for hikers, bikers, rafters, and kayakers. Guides are extremely knowledgeable about local flora and fauna. Or, you can rent a road bike or a mountain bike to explore the area's mountain regions, parks, and canal paths. Scottsdale, Arizona. 480/945–2881; 866/455–1601; www.aoa-adventures.com.

Sailplaning–Soaring

Northwest Sky Sports. Scenic sailplane rides from this company last from 15 to 30 minutes. Rates are $150 for one person and $200 for two people. 8700 W. Carefree Hwy., Peoria, Arizona, 85383. 602/284--9777; www.nwskysports.com.

Tennis

With all the blue sky and sunshine in the Valley, it's a perfect place to play tennis or watch the pros. Most major resorts, such as the Phoenician, Wigwam, Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, and JW Marriott Desert Ridge, and many smaller properties have tennis courts. Granted, tennis plays second fiddle to golf here, but many of the larger resorts offer tennis packages. If you're not staying at a resort, there are more than 60 public facilities in the area.

Kiwanis Park Recreation Center. This center has 15 lighted premier-surface courts (all for same-day or one-day-advance reserve). 6111 S. All America Way, Tempe, Arizona, 85283. 480/350–5201; www.tempe.gov/kiwanis.

Scottsdale Ranch Park. Lessons are available at this city facility, which has 18 lighted courts. 10400 E. Via Linda, North Scottsdale, Scottsdale, Arizona, 85258. 480/312–7774; www.scottsdaleaz.gov/parks/srp.

Surprise Tennis and Racquet Complex. This complex features 25 public courts where you can play for 90 minutes on their state-of-the-art lighted courts for only $3. 14469 W. Paradise Lane, Surprise, Arizona, 85374. 623/222–2400; www.surpriseaz.com/tennis.

Tubing

The Valley may not be known for its wealth of water, but locals manage to make the most of what there is. A popular summer stop is the northeast side of the Salt River, where sun worshippers can rent an inner tube and float down the river for an afternoon. Tubing season runs from May to September. Several Valley outfitters rent tubes. Make sure you bring lots of sunscreen, a hat, water—and a rope for attaching your cooler to a tube.

Salt River Recreation. This outfitter offers shuttle-bus service to and from your starting point and rents tubes for $17 (cash only) for the day. It's open during summer months only. Usery Pass and Power Rd., Mesa, Arizona, 85256. 480/984–3305; www.saltrivertubing.com.

Hiking

Peralta Trail. The 4-mile round-trip Peralta Trail winds 1,400 feet up a small valley for a spectacular view of Weaver's Needle, a monolithic rock formation that is one of Arizona's more famous sights. Allow a few hours for this rugged and challenging hike, bring plenty of water, sunscreen, a hat, and a snack or lunch. Don't hike it in the middle of the day in summer. Moderate. Goldfield, Arizona, 85219.

Golf

Boulders Resort Golf Club. There are two championship 18-hole courses at this club, which has one of the most unique settings in the Valley. The Jay Morrish–designed courses wind around the granite boulders for which the resort is named. The Boulders, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, 34631 N. Tom Darlington Dr., Carefree, Arizona, 85377. 480/488–9009; 888/579–2631; www.theboulders.com. $175.

Horseback Riding

Spur Cross Stables. Well-cared-for horses will take you on one- to six-hour rides to the high Sonoran Desert of the Spur Cross Preserve and the Tonto National Forest. Some rides include visits to petroglyph sites and a saddlebag lunch. 44029 Spur Cross Rd., Cave Creek, Arizona, 85331. 480/488–9117; 800/758–9530; www.horsebackarizona.com.