Fuzzy Teddy bear Cholla on the Trail Sonoran Preserve Trails Phoenix

7 Fun Things To Do In Phoenix In The Winter Outdoors

Phoenix in the winter becomes a paradise – at least weather-wise. Being in the Sonoran Desert, where winter is the best season, it is the best time to enjoy the outdoors. When winter comes around, the air gets cooler; the desert is a little greener, and the people of Phoenix remember why they live here.

We know it’s winter in the Sonoran Desert when we see license plates from all over the country and from Canada. This is the time of the snowbirds, the year when people travel here from all the cold, grey places. Here, the weather is perfect; the sky is still blue, and being outside is a pleasure.

The city gets even more crowded, but we have plenty of desert preserves in Phoenix and its surroundings to go out and feel far away from the concrete jungle of malls and built-up neighborhoods.

Phoenix Mountain Preserve 40th Street
Trail in the desert, at Phoenix Mountain Preserve

We have lots of trails to choose from in nature preserves in and around the city. We can even find ourselves alone in the desert on some of them.

For those who seek different attractions, the city offers options to enjoy the outdoors.

1. Visit The Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve

You’ll find the Deer Valley Preserve in Northwest Phoenix, with easy access from Highway 101. It is an indoor/outdoors museum, showcasing ancient petroglyphs left by the Hohokam and the Patayan in this area. Even Phoenix residents rarely visit it, even, so you’ll be alone among petroglyphs, some of them 7,000 years old.

Learn about the petroglyphs and the ancient people who left them behind in the indoor museum, then take the outdoor trail to see them. In the winter, it is one of the most enjoyable walks in the desert among the huge boulders filled with petroglyphs.

2. Take A Hike In South Mountain Park

To see more petroglyphs, head over to the other side of the city, to South Mountain Park. The largest nature preserve/park within city limits in the US, South Mountain Park, is worth a full day to explore.

Look for petroglyphs on the trails. But even if you don’t find many, enjoy the outdoors in the greenest desert of the country, with great views of the city below.

3. Enjoy A Hike Or A Bike Ride At The Sonoran Desert Preserve

Another large desert preserve is north of town, accessible from three different trailheads. The Sonoran Desert Preserve showcases a great variety of desert vegetation. Trails range from three to ten miles, easy strolls through flat areas to strenuous climbs on some peaks. Undeveloped still, you can feel you are hundreds of miles away from the city.

In the spring, when wildflowers bloom, the area displays a variety of color.

4. Learn About The Ancient Inhabitants Of The City At Pueblo Grande Museum And Archaeological Site

After looking at petroglyphs, head into the city to learn more about the Hohokam, who created them. The best place to do this is S’edav Va’aki Museum.

Pit-house in Pueblo Grande Museum
Pit-house in S’edav Va’aki Museum

The museum preserves and showcases ancient buildings, a garden, and ball court. Stop in the indoor exhibit to learn more about the ancient people who made their home in the desert before air conditioning.

Head outdoors to check out the remains of their civilization. They knew how to build a home to use the natural conditions for heating and cooling it. Also known as the canal makers, you’ll see the canal they dug in ancient times, still in use today. They built most of the canals in Phoenix, still in use today, thousands of years ago.

5. Walk Through the Desert Botanical Garden

To understand the surrounding desert, learn about its native plants. The best place to do this is the Desert Botanical Garden. You’ve seen it in the garden of the Hohokam, but you’ll understand better the concept of gardening in the desert. You’ll also learn about all the native species of plants in the Sonoran Desert.

Teddy Bear Cholla
Teddy Bear Cholla
At the Phoenix Zoo

To understand the surrounding desert, learn about its native plants. The best place to do this is the Desert Botanical Garden. You’ve seen it in the garden of the Hohokam, but you’ll understand better the concept of gardening in the desert. You’ll also learn about all the native species of plants in the Sonoran Desert.

6. Enjoy The Outdoors At The Phoenix Zoo

Another conservation site, the Phoenix Zoo, showcases animals from all around the world.

While you visit, notice how zookeepers care for the animals. The wildlife inhabitants of the Phoenix zoo all have large habitats, but the staff goes beyond. They assure the animals live as close as possible to how they would in the wild.

The conservation program at the Phoenix Zoo helps to preserve diversity in nature. They have a breed and release program for some of the most endangered species. One of their special projects is the black-footed ferret. You will see none of them in exhibits, though. They are susceptible to human illnesses, and the stress of being on exhibit would also harm them. Still, when you visit the other exhibits, you know you are helping with the work of rehabilitation of endangered species.

7. Learn About Local Wildlife at the Southwest Rescue and Rehabilitation Center

If you care about local wildlife and conservation, you need to visit the Southwest Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Phoenix. At least if you have a high-clearance vehicle, or at least one that is not too low and handles dirt roads, since to reach the Center you’ll have to drive through a few miles of them. You also need to register for a tour in advance, since they don’t have regular opening hours.

You won’t find animals from all over the world here. What this Center offers instead is a peak into the work of rescue and rehabilitation of local wildlife. The Center rescues injured or displaced desert animals. Most of their animals get rehabilitated and return to the wild. Those are their temporary residents.

But a few of the animals they rescue cannot be returned to the wild. They become permanent residents and you can visit them, or even “adopt” them. My daughter adopted Leonardo, the Jaguar/leopard when she first visited the center at ten years old, because she was moved to tears by his story.

The Center also helps with the rehabilitation of the Mexican wolves and with returning them into the wild.

Try to go on a tour later in the day. If you are there at dusk, you’ll hear the wolves howling. They really howl in harmony. You wouldn’t believe it unless you heard it. It is some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard.

Phoenix winter outdoors attractions
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