Here are 9 family-friendly ways to beat the summer heat in Arizona

family-friendly summer activities in Arizona

A couple sitting in beach chairs at Lake Havasu (Shutterstock Photo/CCISUL)

By Copper Courier Staff

May 22, 2024

Here are nine activities that can keep the whole family having fun in Arizona this summer.

Summers in the Arizona desert are brutal and can make any moment spent outdoors feel miserable—and potentially dangerous. But there are plenty of fun things to do around the Valley and throughout the state while staying cool.


Swim at a public pool

The easiest way to cool off is to take a dive into the nearest body of water, and Phoenix has plenty families can visit for free all across the Valley. There are 18 public pools operated by the city of Phoenix open for the summer, running six days a week—closed Fridays—for most of the summer. Most pools will be open May 25-27 and then begin the regular schedule on June 1. And while most pools will close at the end of July, eight will be open on weekends through Labor Day.

Kids under 18 can swim at 15 pools for free—the other three charge $1. Adults pay $3 to get in, while seniors pay $1 at all pools. Find your nearest pool here.


Camp out in northern Arizona

Despite its reputation as mainly a desert, the landscape here is truly diverse and beautiful, as any Arizona resident knows. It’s only a relatively short drive from the dry, arid heat to northern Arizona’s pine forests. Among these ponderosa pine trees are numerous campgrounds where you can enjoy cooler weather, such as the Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood, only an hour south of Flagstaff. You can reserve space to camp out in an RV, tent, or a cabin.


Explore a cave

While hikes usually take place atop mountains and can be a strenuous activity, some options take you out of the sun and into the cooler places in Arizona’s wilderness. One such place is the Lava River Cave in Flagstaff. It’s a mile-long cave formed 700,000 years ago that can be as cool as 42 degrees Fahrenheit, even in the summer. It’s important to bring multiple light sources while exploring in case you lose one, as it can get very dark within the cave.


Go tubing

Rivers have sustained people living in what is now Arizona for hundreds of years, and they have also been a source of fun. Today, a popular activity is to go tubing along the Salt River in Mesa. All you need is a tube, available for rent for $25. You can bring any type of drink as long as it’s in a plastic container or a can.


Fish at a local lake

Arizona has numerous lakes around the state where you can go boating, ride a jet ski, go fishing or just take a dip. Some of the most well-known and largest include Lake Mead and Lake Powell, both created by dammed rivers and near Arizona borders with Nevada and Utah.

If you want to find something closer to a beach experience, Lake Havasu, near the northwest border with California, is a popular spot for spring break and is also the resting place of the London Bridge, moved brick by brick from the United Kingdom.

Finally, for those hoping for a shorter drive, there is Lake Pleasant, Bartlett Lake, and Saguaro Lake. All are about an hour drive from Phoenix, and each offer boating, kayaking, sailing, and more.


Get some culture at a local museum

Not all forms of fun require you to get wet or go outdoors—you can also visit Phoenix’s numerous museums to satisfy your cultural itch. There’s a wide range of art institutions for traditional art fans, the largest being the Phoenix Art Museum, or those looking for strictly contemporary art can find it at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. Some more kid-friendly locations include the Arizona Science Center and the Children’s Museum.

Finally, an experience unique to Arizona and the Southwest can be found at the Heard Museum. Home to a collection of Indigenous art and history with a mix of traditional and contemporary art, this Phoenix fixture also has an exhibition dedicated to the history of Indian Boarding Schools, where Indigenous children were forcibly assimilated into white American culture.


Interact with animals

Have fun in the summer either from the comfort of your car or within an enclosure, such as at Bearizona in Williams and Butterfly Wonderland in Scottsdale. At Bearizona, you can drive through a park and, as the name suggests, meet bears and other animals. It’s like going to the zoo, but you get to sit down the entire time. Guests are also able to take walking tours to get close to the animals.

Butterfly Wonderland is one of the largest butterfly conservatories in the country and offers visitors the chance to get up close with butterflies, bees, koi fish, and reptiles. They also have a 3D show all about butterflies, so if the idea of touching butterflies isn’t your cup of tea, you can still get close.


Get creative with the kids

One big part of the summer for families is that most children suddenly have nothing to do but bother their parents. That’s why any chance to get them out of the house is vital to enjoying the summer months. Thankfully, there are several options for parents and their kids in the Valley, including places like the LEGOLAND Discovery Center in Mesa and the Crayola Experience in Chandler. Both destinations allow children to express their creativity either through building or drawing.


Zen out at a public garden

A great way to stay cool physically and mentally during the summer is to rest in a calm, serene place. There are a number of locations throughout Phoenix where gorgeous nature can wash away the stresses of the sprawling metropolis outside. These include places such as the Japanese Friendship Garden located right in the heart of downtown Phoenix and the Desert Botanical Garden near Papago Park in Phoenix. The Japanese Friendship Garden is a 3.5-acre park with a tea house, tea garden, lanterns, and more. At the Desert Botanical Garden, guests can see and learn about the countless plant and animal species native to Arizona and enjoy a number of activities, such as stargazing and desert landscaping.


READ MORE: 8 rooftop bars in the Valley to keep your spirits high (literally)




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