When you think of Arizona, two words come to mind: hot and dry. If it’s summertime and you’re in Phoenix or the surrounding valley, that's an accurate description. But due to its dramatic elevation changes, Arizona doesn’t have to be a place to avoid during the hotter months. Just a tank or two of gas gets you to The White Mountains of Eastern Arizona. This is not the land of cowboys, cactus, and scorpions. The White Mountains boast four seasons of fun activities for visitors. The Arizona White Mountains are strikingly beautiful, with plush forests and a range of elevations from 6,500 feet to over 11,000 feet.
Let's look at the things you can do to leave the cactus and dirt behind:
1. HikingThere are over 180 miles of developed trails within the White Mountain system. There are trails for all levels of hikers, but the best part is that all trails are connected by forest roads or connector roads that will allow you to hike or bike the entire 180 miles as a single endeavor; not that you would!
Bordering central Arizona’s dramatic Mogollon Rim, hikes in the Payson area provide surprising greenery. The trails climb pine filled slopes, rippling streams and clear springs. From the sensational Mogollon Rim, intimate lakes and astounding views surround you.
2. SkiingIf skiing is your passion, you have many options for winter fun in the White Mountains of Arizona. You might try Sunrise Park Resort; it’s Arizona’s largest ski resort and has been in operation for almost half a century. Not only can you enjoy wintertime activities like downhill skiing, snow tubing, snowboarding, and cross-country skiing; don’t avoid Sunrise Park Resort in the summer. Disc golf, horseback riding, and other activities are available. It’s not just skiers who get a free ride on the lift either. Even bike riders get to take the lift to the top of the hill. No worries if you forgot your bike, you can rent one there.
For the slightly less skilled snow lover, another site for winter fun is Williams Valley Winter Sports Area. It offers cross-country skiing, sledding, toboggans, and tubes. Williams Valley provides restrooms and has no fees. It’s considered one of the finest year-round recreation areas in the White Mountains.
3. FishingWith more than 50 lakes in the area, the White Mountains are a fisherman’s paradise. The cool summer temperatures provide a comfortable place to cast your line. Most likely you’ll catch some form of trout; rainbow, brown or brook trout will likely take your bait. But other species can be found here. An experienced angler also has a pretty good shot at large and smallmouth bass, or the occasional catfish. For the more hardcore year-round fisherman, Willow Springs Lake also offers ice fishing during the coldest months.
Whether the fish aren’t biting because they’re not hungry, or you’re just not offering the chef’s special of the day, the scenery and pristine atmosphere of the White Mountains are reason enough to be there. Just know that as long as you have a stick in your hand and a hook in the water, you need to have your paperwork in order. An Arizona fishing license is required at all state lakes and streams.
4. BoatingIt’s generally inconvenient to get your boat into an ocean from Arizona, but the White Mountains offer more than enough lakes to suit your boating needs. Among the popular lakes, you can visit for boating are Knoll Lake, Woods Canyon Lake, Lyman Lake, and Rainbow Lake to name just a few. There’s no shortage of information online to steer you toward the one that will become your favorite. You can peruse their websites for details. Here are a few of the most popular:
Knoll Lake: Thick with ponderosa pines as far as you can see makes for a breathtaking backdrop while canoeing or enjoying a small boat ride.
Woods Canyon Lake: At the top of the Mogollon Rim, you’ll find Woods Canyon Lake. Woods Canyon Lake Store and Marina rents boats and sells fishing licenses and supplies.
Lyman Lake: If a sheer size is what you’re looking for, Lyman Lake is the place. Powerboating has no motor restrictions; aside from the west end, which is a "no-wake" zone that provides safety for swimmers.
5. Water SportsEverything not considered boating or fishing we’ll call water sports, and the White Mountains won’t disappoint. Water skiing, windsurfing, jet skiing, swimming, paddle-boarding, water rafting or anything else that puts you in or on the water. Many of the fishing lakes allow water sport activities. So when you get tired of filling up the cooler with your catch of the day, take a break and get in the water instead of floating on top of it.
6. CampingAmong the many lakes and streams, the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest and White Mountain Apache Reservation offer endless opportunities for camping. The mountains are beautifully forested peaks that rise to elevations of over 11,000 feet. Warm temperatures don’t last long though, and campgrounds are overflowing with visitors escaping the desert heat, so this is an activity you need to plan ahead for.
7. Escapes from NatureWhen you’ve had enough hiking, camping and everything else related to trees and water, nature is going to get old pretty fast, especially if you’re traveling with kids; however, the White Mountains area has a solution for this problem. At the Pinetop Lakeside, you’ll find the White Mountain Family Fun Park. Forget the scenery and nature for a bit and enjoy more kid-friendly activities such as mini-golf, arcades, and go-carts.
8. SightseeingIf you’re more of a looker than a doer; Payson is a modern town you may want to visit. If you have time on your way back to Phoenix, stop and see the art galleries and shop for antiques at the stores on Historic Main Street.
While in Payson, visit the Rim Country Museum. You’ll get a picture of Arizona’s beginnings, like the Payson Rodeo, the history of early loggers, blacksmiths, miners, and pioneers in the area, as well as the Zane Grey Cabin.
There it is; eight things you can do on short notice to leave the heat behind. Even if just for a day. So if you used to think Arizona looked like cowboys riding off into the sunset, you’re only half right. Whether you’ve invested thousands of dollars in a luxury boat or as little as fifty bucks on a pair of rugged shoes for hiking, there’s plenty of green space and water waiting for you in the White Mountains of Eastern Arizona.