Hiking in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona

Average summer temps in the desert can soar over 110 degrees for months on end! After surviving several summers in the Tucson area, I have come with a list of my best tips for surviving the extreme summer heat. From hikings tips, to fantastic indoor attractions to explore, these tips and tricks will help you keep your cool. If you follow proper safety precautions, you can enjoy all the beauty the desert has to offer without overheating. Keep this list in mind when living in/moving to/traveling to desert destinations like Phoenix, Tucson, and Las Vegas.

The morning is your friend

Getting up early will always be to your benefit in a desert climate. Morning temps are always cooler as the heat tends to linger around well after dark. Any errands, exercise, outdoor activity, etc. should be done as early as possible. It’s best to rise early and go to sleep early to take advantage of the coolest part of the day.

Avoid summer hiking, if possible

While there are some incredible hiking trails in the desert, summer is not the best time for exploration. This time of the year is better suited for cooling off in a pool and/or exploring indoor attractions like aquariums, museums, theaters, restaurants, coffee bars, and malls.

Low intensity activities are preferable in winter i.e. golfing and biking

The beautiful Scottsdale Greenbelt

Any type of low impact cardio will be better than engaging in intense cardio sports like running, hiking, or basketball. Golfing, tennis, biking, and swimming are all great alternatives. You will still want to exercise as early as possible, drink plenty of water, and avoid direct sunlight to prevent overheating. Pictured above: the gorgeous Scottsdale Greenbelt.

Check out these fantastic bike paths:

Keep hikes under 2 miles during the hottest months

Beautiful Saguaro cactus and mountain views from the Linda Vista trail in Oro Valley AZ

If you do decide to hike during the hottest season (June-August), get up before dawn and keep your hike really short – under 2 miles or so. Avoid hikes with any measurable elevation gain. Drink plenty of water before and after your hike and replenish with electrolytes and plenty of food. I always put a cold water bottle in a backpack to throw over my head. You can also purchase a cooling towel which you throw in a freezer the night before. Pictured above: the gorgeous Linda Vista Trail (a scenic trek just under a mile) in the Catalina mountains of Oro Valley.

Plan most errands before Noon

Avoid going out in the hottest part of the day. Use this time for rest and relaxation. If you must go outside, at least cool off in the pool or keep cool at a mall/indoor attraction. During the hottest part of the afternoon hours, even your car steering wheel will be much too hot to touch!

Wait to visit movie theaters, bowling alleys, malls etc until mid afternoon

Bowling at Golden Pin Lanes in Tucson AZ

This way you can escape the 100+ temps in a cool air conditioned setting. Mid afternoon is the best time of the day to hide in air conditioned spaces!

Take advantage of museums in the summer months

Christmas display at Mini Time Museum in Tucson

Summer is a great time to explore a big museum. When the weather tops 100, there is nothing better than spending the day inside enjoying a large museum. Pictured above: an intricate miniature at the highly regarded Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures. Museums to check out:

Take advantage of early zoo hours

Giraffe at the Phoenix Zoo

It’s much too hot to visit a desert zoo during the summer months. Fortunately, the Phoenix Zoo opens at 7am from June-August (6am for members). This will allow you to enjoy this fabulous zoo in a slightly cooler setting. The Tucson zoo (Reid Park) opens at 8am from June-September.

Do house cleaning early in the morning

Any laundry, dishwashing machines, etc. should be run in the early morning hours. Relax as much as possible and avoid unnecessary chores during the hottest part of the day. Any appliance use can amp up the heat.

Avoid using the oven especially during the afternoon and evening hours

Elderberry smoothie at Nekter Juice Bar

Summer in the desert is a good time to start eating healthy (if you are not already doing so). Fresh fruits, veggies, smoothies, and cereals require no extra heating and will not increase the temp in your house. Plus, they will help cool your body down a bit. If you must eat heavy, visit a restaurant instead of using your oven. Also, salad bars like Jason’s Deli and smoothie shops like Nekter Juice and Jamba Juice are great options on a hot day!

Keep as many lights off as possible.

Close the blinds during the day. Blocking out the harsh sunlight does wonders to keep a residence cooler.

Avoid extra heavy fatty meals which will only make you hotter

Stick to cooling fruits, veggies, and grains. If you must eat heavier foods, visit a restaurant where you do not have to heat up the house using the oven.

Visit a waterpark

Lazy river at Sunsplash waterpark in Mesa, Arizona

If you do not have access to a home, hotel, or public pool, seek out a public waterpark. There are numerous great options in Phoenix including Sunsplash in Mesa. Cowabunga is a great option in the Vegas metro. Additionally, there are many smaller public pools in each city.

Go ice skating!

Ice skating is not just for the holiday season. Skating at an indoor rink is a great way to get in some exercise while still keeping cool! Fortunately, rinks are popping up everywhere. AZ Ice Arcadia is a great option in the Phoenix metro, while City National (home to the Golden Knights) is a great Vegas metro option. Unfortunately, at this time, no rinks exist in Tucson.

Hit the bookstore!

Bookmans Entertainment Exchange in Arizona

Bookmans is a wonderful entertainment exchange where you can sell and buy used books, movies, music, and more. Not only could you spend hours browsing around, but each store hosts a number of events throughout the year. There are many locations throughout Arizona. Of course, Barnes and Noble, as well as local book retailers, will give you plenty of additional options. Public libraries also come in handy during the hot summer season – relax all day with a good novel!

Wear a camelbak during any outdoor workouts

To make sure you do not run out of water, a handy camelbak is a perfect option. Not only will you have plenty of water, but you will not be weighed down carrying extra water bottles. Plus camelbaks have pockets to store other essentials such as keys, sunblock, snacks, etc.

Stay hydrated

Brita on the go water bottle

You need to drink more water in a desert climate due to the dryness. Check this handy hydration chart to ensure that you are drinking enough. A large water bottle to take on the go during the day will ensure that you are drinking enough. Consider an insulated bottle that will keep your drink cold for hours or risk it overheating in the car. Pictured above: Brita on the go water bottle with filter.

Eat enough food containing electrolytes

Electrolyte replenishment is important after any type of exercise, especially during the summer season when you will be sweating even more.

25 foods high in electrolytes

Do not trust the trail rating system

Saguaro cactus along the Honeybee Canyon trail in Tucson, Arizona

Many trails are much harder than they appear on the map, especially for anyone new to desert hiking. With the harsh sunlight, extreme temps, and oftentimes rocky terrain, a simple hike can seem much harder. During the hot summer months especially, you will want to keep your workout short, much shorter than you would in a regular climate. Pictured above: The short, but stunning Honeybee Canyon trail, a 2 mile loop in Oro Valley (a beautiful suburb near Tucson).

Take advantage of movie theaters

Desert Ridge Marketplace in Phoenix, Arizona

Seeing a movie is a great way to get out of the heat for a few hours. There are number of discount movie theaters in Phoenix and Tucson. Also many theaters offer discount days during the week, plus matinees are always cheaper. Popular dine-in movie theaters like Alamo Drafthouse will give you the unique opportunity to enjoy a full menu while watching a movie. Special events and movie marathons are offered throughout the year! Pictured above: AMC dine-in at Desert Ridge Marketplace in Phoenix.

Get into the air conditioning as much as possible

Sharks at the OdySea Aquarium in Scottsdale, Arizona

Limit time outdoors in the heat and sunshine. Anytime you can be in the air conditioning, whether it be a mall, grocery store, hotel, or tourist attraction will help you cool down. PIctured above: The Odysea Aquarium in Scottsdale.

Take cold showers and baths

Now is not the best time to relax in a hot tub! Stick to cold showers and ice baths following any intense exercise to reduce inflammation. Also you can put a wet towel in the fridge or freezer for a quick cool down. Another tip is to put a water bottle in the freezer then use it to cool down.

Wear loose fitting light colored clothing

Avoid restrictive and dark colored clothing. Darker clothes absorb more heat which can make you feel. hotter. Light grey, white, and pastel colors will better reflect the sunlight. Sports bras are also great for keeping cool. Also, lots of workout apparel contains SPF today.

Wear sunblock and sunglasses

Protect your eyes and skin from the harsh sunny climate. Apply sunblock every morning and reapply as needed throughout the day. Also sunglasses can be found for a buck at any Dollar Tree – buy a few in case you lose them easily.

Skip the hat – heat can’t escape

Wearing a hat while exercising or doing any other outdoor activity will cause you to heat up faster as the heat cannot escape. A visor is the better option here.

Enjoy weekend trips to high altitude areas

The beautiful Aspen Nature Loop in Flagstaff, Arizona

The great thing about living in a desert climate is that there is always a cool escape not that far away. In Phoenix, you have beautiful Flagstaff located just 2 hours north. This gorgeous, 4 season mountain town sits at an altitude of 7000 feet, is home to a ski resort, and sees over 200 inches of snow per year. Located in the country’s largest ponderosa pine forest, there are hundreds of miles of trails to enjoy. Pictured above: The 2 mile Aspen Nature Loop at Arizona Snowbowl in Flagstaff.

Mt. Lemmon, at an elevation of 8000 feet, lies just an hour outside of Tucson. This Sky Island is accessible via a 30 mile scenic drive. Beautiful trails, a summer chairlift ride, and cool temps (20 degrees cooler than Tucson) await you at the summit. Pictured below: The Meadows trail.

Lush greenery along the Meadow trail at Mt. Lemmon near Tucson

Enjoy cool treats like smoothies and acai bowls

Frost Gelato in Tucson, Arizona

Instead of visiting a burger or fast food joint, consider a fresh smoothie or acai bowl. Most warm weather destinations are loaded with all sorts of smoothie, acai, frozen yogurt, and ice cream shops. Cool down with a sweet treat. A great local option is Frost (Tucson and Phoenix metro locations), a wonderful gelato shop offering over 15 creative flavors.