Phoenix may lie in a desert, but it's hardly a barren landscape. Visit one of the city's parks and gardens, and you'll discover that the Sonoran Desert is teeming with a variety of lush, colorful, and unique plant life. Lush lagoons, exotic flowers, stunning architecture, art installations, serene walking paths, and more make exploring these gardens and parks a worthwhile escape. Just remember to bring along sunscreen and plenty of water.
Cacti and desert plants can be seen all across Phoenix, but you've never seen as many beautiful plant species all in one space as you will at the Desert Botanical Garden, which features more than 50,000 plants. Trails weave through the 140-acre property, guiding you through informational displays and exhibits that are suitable for all ages. Visitors will encounter not only plants but art and a reflective water feature as well. In the summer, come in the morning to enjoy all the gardens have to offer.
During the spring and fall, tours and activities are offered daily, a butterfly garden gives space for peaceful fluttering creatures, and the Schilling Library is available to those wanting to further their research and knowledge of plants worldwide.
Encanto Park boasts more than 200 acres consisting of trails, two golf courses, a 7.5-acre lagoon, fishing, a boat house, a swimming pool, and a playground, all located in the heart of Phoenix. Palm trees reign over the water, welcoming everyone wanting to enjoy a sunshine-filled day at the park. There are plenty of basketball and tennis courts, and for something a little different, the clubhouse serves as a space for poetry readings and other performances.
Enchanted Island Amusement Park, also located within the park, is ideal for young children and families. You'll find a carousel, rides, and pedal boats, all available for a day of fun.
Japanese Friendship Garden
For an immersive experience that invites you to glimpse some of the customs and architecture of the east, right here in the west, the Japanese Friendship Garden is the perfect hidden gem. In 1976, Phoenix and Himeji, Japan, became sister cities, and the garden represents this relationship. Located in the heart of downtown, the 3.5-acre garden includes a teahouse, strolling paths, gently flowing streams, a 12-foot waterfall, more than 300 koi fish, and serene landscapes.
Events and workshops—from tea ceremonies and meditation to Aikido (martial art), and Nihongo (language)—take place throughout the year, so be sure to take advantage of this amazing space you might otherwise miss.
The Arboretum at Arizona State University
Open daily to the public, the Desert Arboretum Park at Arizona State University is home to desert horticulture that takes you through the state's vast history of plants. Olive trees, date palms, cacti, and much more make up this "living laboratory" that's important to both classroom and public education.
Housing more than 900 species, the space is Arizona's largest public arboretum and contains trees that were planted as far back as 1908. Tree tours based on themes such as "Medicinal Plants,” "Edible Landscapes,” and "Tropical Trip" are offered throughout the year, so be sure to check this season's tour schedule. The university truly prides itself on the knowledge and resources it has to offer when it comes to horticulture and even provides virtual tours for those wanting to learn from their own home.
Xeriscape Botanical Gardens
Located in Sahuaro Ranch Park, in front of the Glendale Library, Xeriscape Botanical Gardens is an award-winning desertscape that invites you to explore hundreds of species of plants. Follow a short trail that winds past cacti, trees, blossoms, and other flora that call the Sonoran Desert home.
Xeriscaping is simply a form of landscape design that requires little to no irrigation or maintenance and is popular in conservation-conscious regions. A sculpture garden can be found behind the library, and the park is also home to historic ranch homes, an orchard, a rose garden, as well as additional trails to complete your adventure. The garden is free and open to the public from dawn to dusk.
Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area
You won't see a tumbleweeds or cowboys, but you'll feel as if it’s possible at Spur Cross Ranch, a county park filled with flora, fauna and hiking trails. This conservation area also features ancient petroglyphs, a river that flows throughout much of the year (rainfall permitting), barely touched paths ready to explore, and views that will take your breath away.
At 2 miles, Elephant Mountain Trail is the longest trail in the park, but it can be strenuous. The Limestone Trail connects to it, creating a much longer loop that allows you to see a wide variety of plants and animals, all while getting a great hike, bike ride, or horseback ride in. The park is conveniently located less than 40 miles from downtown Phoenix but secluded enough to allow visitors to wander desert trails through a saguaro forest. Allow yourself some time to enjoy the hike and embrace all the wildlife the Sonoran Desert has to offer.
Located in the middle of Phoenix, visitors can enjoy the sounds and feel the splash of three waterfalls formed by a natural 20-foot drop along the Arizona Canal. There's a shaded viewing room and pedestrian bridge for visitors to enjoy the falls year-round.
Founded by mining magnate Col. William Boyce Thompson in the 1920s, Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park is one of the oldest and largest arboretums west of the Mississippi River. The park spans more than 300 acres and is operated with the help of Arizona State University. Located about 60 miles east of downtown Phoenix, the arboretum is home to a wide variety of desert plants and animals.
Choose from a wide range of guided tours and walks (October through April), and learn more about the area’s plants, wildlife, history, and geology. Or take to the trails for a self-guided hike throughout the park, and explore the most picturesque views year-round. A variety of events and activities are also hosted here. Stop in the art gallery, gift shop, or plant shop for a souvenir of this unforgettable stop on your next trip.
Spending time in any of Greater Phoenix's parks will give you a new appreciation for the Sonoran Desert. Not only do those endless skies, water features, and towering saguaros offer a unique trip that encourages you to take a deep breath of fresh air, cool off, and feel relaxed, but the photogenic landscapes will leave you with the urge to return again and again.
It's time to go beyond. Follow trails that reveal mighty mountaintops. Wander among iconic landscapes beneath picture-perfect skies. Let the Sonoran Desert be your guide to limitless adventure.
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