How to Get a Grip on Your AZ Spring Training Trip

Feb 3, 2020

Plotting your Cactus League pilgrimage can be a sport unto itself: With 15 teams (that is, half of Major League Baseball) stationed within an hour’s drive of Phoenix for Spring Training, you’re facing down as many as 10 games per day. And while we can’t help you whip those choices into your own optimal lineup, we’re thoroughly prepared to coach you on another aspect of your trip: what to do between rounds at the ballpark.

Yes, even the most diehard of fans need the occasional break, so—taking our cue from the guys on the mound—we’re throwing a lot your way, and varying our pitches as we go to keep things interesting. Hiking, feasting, spa-ing, communing with ghosts…it’s all here. Read on to get a grip on your getaway.

The Curveball

After millennia of going largely unnoticed by outsiders, Horseshoe Bend shot to Instagram stardom a few years ago. Surely, you know it—it’s that place where the Colorado River does a 270-degree turn inside a 1000-foot-deep sandstone canyon. And surely, you’ve wanted to see it in person since the first time you spotted that crazy curve on Instagram (or in an article about Instagram’s most posted places). Either way, Spring Training’s your chance: You can get to Horseshoe Bend—just outside Page in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area—in about four hours from Phoenix. And when you do—beyond the surreal spectacle itself—you’ll find new improvements that range from a viewing platform to increased parking. Once you’ve established that you are, in fact, not dreaming, hike, float around or fly over the bend.

While you’re in the neighborhood, try to visit the equally curvaceous—and Insta-famous—Antelope Canyon. You know the one: all wavy walls of burnt sienna and impossibly ethereal shafts of light. The only caveat with this slot canyon about eight miles from Horseshoe Bend is that you’ll need to reserve—generally well in advance—to get in. So as soon as you know your Arizona travel dates, make this a priority.

Then again, there’s another curve you may want to check out—this one suspended over a third canyon in Northern Arizona. And yes, we do mean the Grand Canyon Skywalk: the horseshoe-shaped, glass-bottomed bridge extending 70 feet over the rim and cantilevered 4,000 feet above the Canyon floor. Once you’ve completed the walk—in awe of not just the canyon, but also your bad self—you can hike and raft to your (relieved) heart’s content.

If it’s more of a gentle curve you’re after—and one that’s half as far from Phoenix—consider the Prescott Circle Trail. This 54-mile loop (easily divisible into day-trip-length segments) takes hikers, bikers and horseback riders through the Prescott National Forest—past Watson, Willow and Goldwater Lakes, among other natural beauties.

The Palmball

You’ll see countless palm trees in Southern Arizona, but the only ones native to the state live near Yuma, where their little oasis has become the most visited spot in the Kofa Wildlife Refuge.

While you’ll be amazed by the entire sprawling wilderness area (the second largest in the state), Palm Canyon arguably comes as the biggest surprise (much like the namesake pitch above). Hidden well within a ravine—and accessed via a seven-mile gravel path—are about 100 majestic fan palms.

Not that they’re the only attraction: If you’re lucky, you may also catch a glimpse of one of the state’s largest herds of bighorn sheep—or the odd desert kangaroo rat.

You’re also not far from the famed Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park, where some of the territory’s first prisoners had to build their own cells in 1876. If the very thought of that makes you hungry, hit the local Taco Monster and Monster Hot Dogs—and pick up some of Yuma’s legendary Medjool dates for the ride back to Phoenix.

The Slider 

Waterslides are a fixture of family-friendly resorts in the Phoenix area, so if you’re taking the kids to Spring Training, you’ll earn extra parenting points for seeking out the best pool-plummeting ops, too.

Among the newest and coolest is the Great Wolf Lodge’s Diamond Back Drop, named for one of the state’s most infamous snakes (as is a certain Major League team). A first-of-its-kind slide, this four-person raft ride drops you into overlapping 360-degree coils on your (warp speed) descent into the belly of the beast.

Another area favorite? Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch, where you'll find 10 swimming pools, 20 fountains, 45 waterfalls—and a three-story, high-speed waterslide. Equally legendary for its Adventure Water Park: the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa, home to a FlowRider surf simulator, a lazy river and a 110-foot waterslide.

The Forkball

A fan’s gotta eat, and—with apologies to ye olde peanuts and Cracker Jacks—not just ballpark food. When you’re craving a whole succession of amazing meals, drive about 90 minutes south of Phoenix to Tucson, where the food scene has been en fuego.

Four years after the Old Pueblo—as it’s known to locals—became the nation’s first UN-designated City of Gastronomy, a new certification program has gone into effect for restaurants that choose to uphold UNESCO standards (everything from sourcing ingredients locally to putting a personal spin on the region’s indigenous foods).

Though the first certified restaurants won’t be announced until later this week, sure bets include Barrio Bread, where desert heritage grains go into every amazing loaf; Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails, with such specialties as Sonoran Chile & Squash Soup with salsa fresca and queso Oaxaca; and Welcome Diner, home to the likes of mesquite-roasted Pima grits with homemade pimento.

Beyond that, Tucson boasts the “Best 23 Miles of Mexican Food in the U.S.,” and backs the claim with Tacos Apson, Boca Tacos y Tequila and El Guero Canelo (whose Sonoran hotdog is the recent recipient of a James Beard America’s Classics award).

If you’ve got some time before your next game and don’t need to hit the highway ASAP, check out the local liquid offerings, from Pueblo Vida Brewing Company to the Arizona Wine Collective to Whiskey del Bac (go to the source for a tour that introduces you to not only fabulous whiskey, but also the most adorable distillery cats).

The Ghostball

Old mining towns are notorious for being haunted, and Arizona has a more than its share of them. And a couple of the best are within easy reach of Phoenix. Head to Jerome—about a two-hour drive north—to see what a ghost town-turned-creative hub looks like. Decades after the onetime “wickedest town in the west” hit an all-time low population of 50 (after a high of 15,000), a revival in the 60s and 70s brought artists, writers, musicians—and eventually, musician-vintners (see: Caduceus Cellars by Maynard James Keenan, lead singer of the Grammy-winning band Tool).

Naturally, there are ghost tours of Jerome as well—but if you’re short on time, at least stop in for a Ghostly Burger, Haunted Burger or Double Haunted Burger at the Haunted Hamburger—a ghost hangout with great food and views.

Alternately, if you head southeast from Phoenix, you can be in Tombstone in about three hours. Beyond the nonnegotiable stops—the O.K. Corral and the Tombstone Epitaph Newspaper Museum, for starters—the Tombstone Brewing Company makes for an excellent stop. Especially if you’re fresh off a gunfight between Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday (there are four shootouts per day here).

The Fastball 

Flagstaff—which is two hours and change north of Phoenix—is a great place to get your speed on. The mountain biking is epic, as you’ll discover everywhere from the Inner Basin Trail to the ‘Round the Peaks Trail. To say nothing of the zip lines at Flagstaff Extreme. And if you’re in the mood for a quick spring ski session, know that the slopes at Snowbowl are usually open through mid-April.

For a different way to experience high velocity, head to the nearby Wupatki National Monument, where ancient pueblos adorn the local red rocks—and the continent’s fastest land mammals roam. Of course, you’re not guaranteed a sighting of the resident pronghorns, but the ruins and landscape are so gorgeous, you won’t regret the detour.

Back in Flag, as it’s known to locals, slow your roll at FLG Terroir Wine Bar & Bistro, where the wine list is rivaled by not only the Trappist Ale selection, but also by house-made sodas that include a must-try prickly pear.

The Changeup

When you’re ready for a total change of pace, head to Sedona—where you’ll feel like you’re in another dimension, even if you’ve driven only two hours north from Phoenix. You could attribute the otherworldliness to the surrounding red rock formations alone—they’re utterly out there and gorgeous—but plenty of locals would tell you that you’ve come to a land of vortices: swirls of energy entering or leaving the earth’s surface.

Little wonder that one of the #SedonaSecret7 (the unofficial pillars of the local travel scene) is spiritual, with offerings that range from the Amitabha Stupa Peace Park to the energetic wellspring of West Fork.

Another of the #SedonaSecret7 is stargazing, so if you can spend the night in this International Dark Sky Association Dark Sky Coummunity, you absolutely should: Several of the most iconic local hiking and biking paths—the Baldwin Trail, for one—turn into Milky Way viewing platforms by night.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the spa scene is excellent—stop in for at least one treatment at L’Apothecary Nature Spa at L’Auberge de Sedona.

Ready to play in your own extra innings? Start planning your getaway today.

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