From the desert plains of the Sonoran desert to the snowy mountains up north, Arizona hosts a wider range of climates and temperatures than most people realize. This is what makes Arizona such a popular vacation destination. Whether you’re driving Arizona’s scenic north rim on a clear winter’s morning or visiting the Phoenix Zoo during the season of lights, here are the 10 best winter activities in Arizona.
1. Visit the Phoenix Zoo
The Phoenix Zoo is one of the best things to do in Arizona in winter. Warmer winter temperatures make it the perfect time to visit its many exhibits and over 400 different species! Take the trolley ride tour, walk through the famous monkey village, or enjoy a close-up animal encounter at StingRay Bay.
After a day basking in the Arizona sun, all the animals go to sleep, and the zoo comes alive for one of the Valley’s most cherished traditions – Zoo Lights! Open every night from early November to January 31st, this immersive experience features nearly 4 million holiday lights, making it one of the most extensive and dazzling holiday light displays in the southwest.
Enjoy some hot cocoa as you walk the towering parade of lighted trees and twinkling animal sculptures around every turn. There’s even a Music-in-Motion light show on the zoo’s very own lake! Not up for walking? Cruise Zoo Lights in your car and experience the massive Glow Garden – an interactive 200-foot tunnel of lights you have to see to believe.
2. Spend the Day at the Desert Botanical Garden
Just a hop, skip, skip, and jump from the zoo lies the beautiful Desert Botanical Garden. This local favorite features more than 50,000 desert plants over 140 acres, as well as a butterfly pavilion that’s sure to delight the whole family. Check their calendar for winter events such as dog days at the garden, cultural celebrations, artist exhibitions, live musical performances, and more.
3. Go on a Hike
Outdoor enthusiasts agree that winter weather in Arizona just can’t be beat. That’s why hiking is one of the most popular winter activities for locals and visitors alike. Thousands of people come each year to hike the beautiful Sonoran desert and beyond.
Are you looking for a quick day hike with the family? You’ll find plenty of trailheads in the West Valley and in Scottsdale along Camelback Mountain. For those in the mood for a little adventure, head north to Sedona for an unforgettable hike through Red Rock State Park. Southeast of Phoenix, you’ll even find hiking trails that take you straight to the top of the Superstition Mountains!
4. Check The Grand Canyon Off Your Bucket List
Smaller crowds and cooler temperatures make winter the perfect time to visit The Grand Canyon. Not only will you enjoy mild weather and clear skies, but when it comes to the Grand Canyon, there are endless opportunities for adventure. Find a recreation or Grand Canyon tour company that specializes in providing visitors with everything they need for hiking, horseback or burro riding, rafting, and more. Hike along the south rim trail or experience the thrill of the Skywalk – a massive transparent walkway extending 70 feet over the rim. And be sure to check out Grand Canyon Railway – a scenic train ride that runs from Williams, AZ, to Grand Canyon Village!
5. Enjoy Indoor Winter Weather at a Desert Ice Skating Rink
Just because it doesn’t snow in Phoenix and the surrounding cities doesn’t mean you can’t get that chilly, sweater-weather feeling. Simply stop by one of the Valley’s many ice skating rinks! Glide around the glittering tree, hot cocoa in hand, at CitySkate Ice Rink in downtown Phoenix or the Winter Wonderland Ice Rink in Mesa. Or head to the Ice Den in Scottsdale — a top-of-the-line skate rink where you can learn to skate or watch Arizona’s pro hockey team, the Phoenix Coyotes, win a game.
6. Make Memories at the North Pole Experience
Children, young and old, agree that the North Pole experience in Flagstaff is a holiday season must! Families begin by taking a magic trolley ride through the snow-laden forest decorated with a million holiday lights. Then, they travel through a magic portal to Santa’s workshop, where they go to Elf University and work alongside elves in the toy factory, eat cookies at the Claus bakery, and spend quality time with Santa Claus himself!
7. Shop in Old Town Scottsdale
Old Town Scottsdale is the perfect mix of modern fun and old-west charm. Wander through the upscale art galleries and charming boutiques, or go on a foodie walking tour where you taste cuisine from award-winning local restaurants. History buffs will love exploring the Old Town historic sites and museums that showcase the area’s rich history dating back to the late 1880’s.
Ready for a night on the town? Scottsdale is known for its fantastic nightlife. Pop into an old west tavern for a live music show, or take a trolly ride to the modern tiki bar for unique cocktails and a lively atmosphere. Whatever you decide, Old Town Scottsdale offers daytime magic and nighttime excitement you won’t want to miss.
8. Go Skiing!
Sure, Arizona is known for its year-round heat, but just a couple hours north of Phoenix, it’s not uncommon to see snow on the ground — especially during the winter months. The dry climate and colder temperatures in northern Arizona create ideal conditions for all kinds of winter recreation.
Arizona Snowbowl in Flagstaff and Sunrise Ski Park in Greer are top destinations for skiers and snowboarders of every skill level. Local skiers and riders know that as long as you keep an eye on the weather, there’s enough powder on those mountains to make a season pass worth your while. And even if it’s just a day trip – places like Arizona Snowbowl make the perfect backdrop to your best winter memories.
9. Make Music at The Musical Instrument Museum
We’re not talking about just any museum, The MIM in Scottsdale is the largest Musical Instrument Museum in the world. The 200,000-square-foot building houses over 16,000 instruments from all over the world, with exhibits featuring hundreds of cultures and artists throughout history. People of all ages will love wandering the galleries and taking part in the immersive, hands-on musical experiences. It’s a sight/ sound experience you’ll never forget.
10. Go On a Cave Tour
Massive underground labyrinths, giant crystal formations, and hands-on science exhibits are what make the cave tours near Tucson a must-see for any winter explorer. Visit Colossal Cave Mountain Park, where you can take a guided walking tour through mesmerizing, crystal-filled caves while learning about geology and haunted legends! Southeast of Tucson, you’ll find Kartchner Caverns, another guided adventure for the whole family – featuring colorful stalactites, stalagmites, and something the kids like to call “cave popcorn.”
With so many winter activities in Arizona, it can be hard to pick a favorite! Good thing companies like PrimeNest Arizona make finding a place to stay the easiest part of planning your Arizona trip. Whether vacationing with family or traveling solo, we offer a wide range of short-term rentals, vacation homes, and corporate housing throughout the West Valley and beyond. Contact us today for more information.