Bookend your day with these epic outdoor adventures | By Jessica Dunham
So you want to experience one of our legendary sunrises or sunsets? We get it. That’s why we rounded up the best ways to experience the Phoenix sky, whether it’s at dawn or dusk.
Start with the sunrise
Time to Get Up! Literally.
You’d be surprised at how quiet it is in a hot air balloon. Because the colorful balloons drift gently with the air currents rather than against them, you don’t even hear the sound of a breeze. Some local ballooning companies offer a sunrise excursion, which is worth the early morning wake-up call. As the sun’s glow spreads across the horizon, you can peruse the ground below to watch the Sonoran Desert come alive—roadrunners scurrying across the rocks, coyotes trotting back to their dens, perhaps even a family of javelina scouring for food.
Still Waters Run Deep
As any angler knows, fishing is often less about a great catch and more about an excuse to unplug for a few hours. And what better time than dawn—with the chirp of birds and the slowly brightening sky—to indulge in a peaceful fishing outing. Greater Phoenix offers its share of fish-stocked bodies of water, from Scottsdale’s 10-acre Chaparral Lake to Tempe’s Kiwanis Lake surrounded by 125 acres of rolling hills. Turn off your phone, throw in your line, and unwind for a few hours.
With hundreds of miles of trails that traverse the city’s craggy natural landscape, mountain bikers have a veritable playground to explore all day long. But there’s nothing quite like witnessing the morning rays illuminating Phoenix’s downtown skyline in pink, orange, and gold hues from the back of your two-wheeled steed. The most spectacular sight might just be from the summit of Piestewa Peak, which overlooks not only downtown but also Camelback Mountain to the south and the Phoenix Mountains Preserve to the east and west.
Find Your Center
A morning yoga session is an invigorating way to start the day. An outdoor sunrise yoga session is downright magical. What about an outdoor sunrise yoga session on a paddleboard afloat the calm waters of Tempe Town Lake? Pure heaven. As the sun peeks out, you’ll paddle to the center of the lake, where a guided instructor will lead you through an hour-long meditative yoga class. If you’re not an expert yogi (or an expert swimmer), no worries. All yoga postures can be modified on hands and knees, plus your paddleboard is anchored in place.
Whether you’re a hardcore runner or a leisurely walker-jogger, nobody can resist a dawn outing on the Arizona Canal. This nearly 40-mile waterway stretches from Scottsdale to Peoria, and offers a flat, gravel path (easy on the joints) and picturesque city scenery. Especially at sunrise. From Phoenix’s Granada Park, run east along the canal. As the sun ascends, the canal waters shimmer red and orange, and landmarks such as Wrigley Mansion, the Arizona Biltmore resort, and the Phoenix skyline enjoy a postcard-worthy treatment. If you have to halt your workout to snap a pic, we won’t hold it against you.
Pack Your Paddles
Ever seen a wild horse up close? Or followed the meandering flow of a river no matter where it takes you? If you haven’t, then you haven’t kayaked the Salt River. The waters of the Salt River run along metro Phoenix’s eastern border and take explorers along riverbanks lined with tall grasses, palo verde trees, and, yes, a herd of wild horses that call the region home. Kayaking season runs from May to October, so “put in” (boating terminology for dropping your kayak into the water) just before dusk when the temperatures cool off and the herons, osprey, and other wildlife emerge.
How Does Your Garden Glow?
Once you see a towering saguaro cactus silhouetted against a rosy sky, all other sunsets will pale in comparison. At the Desert Botanical Garden, you can experience this and more, including seeing tens of thousands of desert plants aglow in the setting sun—from succulents and cacti to flowering trees and creeping vines. Stroll any of the five paved trails that wind through the garden, or sign up for a special event—an outdoor ballet performance or a movie under the stars—starting at sundown.
On the Road
Not only is South Mountain Park and Preserve one of the largest city parks in the country (yep, the whole country), but it comprises three mountain ranges and is considered sacred ground by local American Indian tribes. From any of its peaks, you’re rewarded with a view of the glittering city below. Our favorite? Dobbins Point. In your car, drive the curving Summit Road (accessible from the park entrance at 10919 S. Central Ave.) just before sunset. Once at Dobbins Point, find a comfy perch on which to sit and witness the sky’s colorful metamorphosis from day to night.
This Ain’t Your Grandmother’s Picnic
Cloth & Flame takes alfresco dining to the next level. A self-proclaimed “outdoor dining company,” they host gourmet meals in stunning wilderness areas. Picture this. A long wood table tastefully set with linen napkins and stylish tableware sits amid rugged desert beauty. String lights twinkle above, and a peach sun sinks in the west. And you? You’re tucking in to a chef-prepared, multicourse dinner with 60 strangers—soon to be friends by the end of the night, we guarantee. For tickets, visit Cloth & Flame’s website for the dinner calendar. Ticket cost includes transportation to and from the dining site.
A Toast from the Top
Sitting 1,800 feet above Greater Phoenix, Different Pointe of View restaurant is beloved for its breathtaking setting at sunset. Everything becomes awash in color, from the surrounding mountains to the sparkling city below. The restaurant’s cocktail program is equally impressive. Here’s what you do: Grab an outdoor table just before dusk, order the Seasonal Buck (a yummy bevvie of vodka, homemade ginger syrup, fresh lime juice, and muddled berries), then sit back and raise a toast to another memorable Phoenix sunset.