When I have to scrape ice off my car before driving my kids to school, I start obsessing about heading south in search of warmth and sun. Like many people, I suspect, I love the outdoors, but hate the cold. Let’s face it, hiking just isn’t as fun when your nose is pink and your ears hurt from the wind. And here in Northern California, the sun isn’t even bright enough to build healthy vitamin D levels until mid-March.

My fantasy destination right now? Arizona, land of sun-warmed red rocks and saguaro cacti reaching for a bright blue sky. In September I spent some time in Scottsdale and was reminded of just how health-conscious this lively, colorful town has become. Not only are there an almost overwhelming number of wellness-oriented resorts to choose from, but head a few miles in any direction and you’ll find a gorgeous park or nature preserve perfect for hiking, running, cycling or horseback riding. Two of the easiest to get to are Camelback Mountain and Pinnacle Peak; both offer camera-ready scenery at every turn and breath-catching views from the top. (Note: Pinnacle is only open to hiking, and dogs aren’t allowed.)

Then, of course, there are the spas. I can’t stop thinking about the stress relief I felt while breathing deeply in the eucalyptus aromatherapy steam room at the Fairmont Scottsdale’s Willow Stream Spa. And the waterfall massage is the only one I’ve ever seen that offers a graduated series of water pressures, one of which hit my sore back and shoulders at just the perfect angle. In fact, with it’s prime location close to the McDowell Mountains, the Fairmont Scottsdale is the perfect jumping-off point from which to enjoy an active winter break. The pool is big enough to get some real swimming in, the outdoor jacuzzi is open late to soak away muscle aches, and of course, for those of you who play, there’s endless golf.

For tips to plan an affordable trip, check out the Phoenix On the Cheap blog; lots of free events, restaurant deals, and other discounts listed frequently. I particularly keep an eye out for “kids eat free” deals, as these can pare down the family travel budget more rapidly than almost anything else!

Of course, when it’s warm, you’re up for anything, even sports involving water. Most people picture Arizona as a big desert with a gigantic canyon in it, but there’s a lot more here. Starting in late February, or whenever water levels get high enough, there’s great tubing and river rafting on the Salt River through the Tonto National Forest, where you might spot eagles, hawks, and great blue herons — if you can tear your eyes away from the rapids.

I’m not sure I’ll ever be the type to travel around in an RV camper; the gas mileage would make me feel too guilty. But when it comes to Arizona, the snowbirds have the right idea.