With the greatest species diversity of any desert in North America and incredible, varied landscapes, the lush Sonoran desert has much to offer any outdoor enthusiast. Whether you prefer quiet hikes, animal watching, or intense thrills, or even if buffing up on natural history is more your pace, this region has you covered and then some.

The Top 7 Ways to Explore

  1. Hiking

Between the McDowell Sonoran Preserve — which boasts an impressive 30,000 acres of untouched desert and more than 115 miles of trails of varying difficulties — and Pinnacle Peak Park, McDowell Mountain Regional Park, and the highly challenging Camelback Mountain, it’s safe to say that the Sonoran desert is a hiker’s paradise. Take in incredible views, get up close and personal with desert flora and fauna, and push your body as much (or as little) as you’d like.

  1. Hot Air Balloon Ride

If you’d rather take in the sights without breaking a sweat, consider a hot air balloon ride with a knowledgeable tour guide. You’ll enjoy a breathtaking bird’s eye view of the desert landscape at different elevations, the better to appreciate soaring mountains, undulating valleys, and the varied cacti and animals in between, all while floating comfortably in a cozy basket. Each tour ends with champagne and nibbles.

  1. Rock Climbing

For those seeking an even greater workout, on other hand, getting up close and personal with the desert’s limestone walls can really take your vacation to the next level. With routes for beginners and experts alike, and plenty of opportunity for hiking in between, climbing may just be the best way to earn an expansive view of this desert’s impressive topography.

  1. Horseback Riding

With seasoned tour guides and docile horses to aid your journey, even the most inexperienced rider can have a taste of the desert in Old West style. Choose from short, family-family rides to full-day excursions through the gorgeous foothills of the Sonoran desert and get up close and personal with the wildlife in this pristine environment.

  1. Off-Road Desert Tours

Perfect for those who prefer to take the reigns of their own adventure, a guided ATV tour in a self-driven, military grade TOMCAR ATV offers a unique way to explore the rugged Sonoran landscape. Check out gorgeous mountain vistas and drive through diverse terrain, all while learning interesting facts, trivia, and survival tips.

  1. Water Sports

Lakes and rivers are a major attraction in the Sonoran desert. With full and half-day guided tours for rafting, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, tubing, parasailing, and fishing, the options for water enthusiasts of all types and intensities truly are endless. These bodies of water also serve as indispensable resources for wildlife, making any water tour a delight for animal lovers, too.

  1. Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

If natural history is more your thing, consider visiting the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Ranked as one of the top ten museums in the country and the best Tucson attraction, the exhibits of this unique attraction are enjoyed almost exclusively outdoors, and truly appeal to a multitude of interests. Boasting over 230 animal species, 1,200 types of plants, and one of the world’s most exhaustive regional mineral collections, not to mention two miles of desert walking trails, this is an educational experience not to be missed. The museum also features an art gallery, live animal presentations, an aquarium, and an Earth Sciences Center with a recreated underground cave, plus two restaurants for refueling to ensure you have the energy to explore it all.

There’s Something for Everyone

With endless opportunities for outdoor adventure and exploration, along with a rich history, museums, art galleries, and plenty of great food, the Sonoran desert is a unique vacation destination with something for everyone.