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Outdoor Activities in Scottsdale
Desert Botanical Garden
When flying in to experience Scottsdale, you will land at Phoenix Sky Harbor, so make your first stop the nearby Desert Botanical Garden. Located just 15 minutes from the airport, this outdoor wonderland of more than 50,000 arid-land plants is the perfect place to stretch your legs.
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Follow five themed granite trails to discover the plant diversity of the Sonoran Desert. If you’re like me, you will be blown away by the vast number of wildflowers and cactus blossoms. There are bursts of color at every turn, plus hummingbirds, butterflies, bees and the occasional roadrunner.
Hot Air Balloon Ride
Don’t miss your chance to see the sunrise over the mountains from 5,000 feet above the Sonoran Desert in a hot air balloon. Sure, you’ll have to wake up early to make it happen, but you’ll be rewarded with a French breakfast and mimosas (or orange juice for the kids) upon landing.
McDowell Sonoran Preserve
Another great way to spend an early morning is hiking the Gateway Trail Loop in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. This free preserve in the City of Scottsdale has eight trailheads that lead to a host of hiking trails. The Gateway Trailhead will lead you to a moderately difficult hike on a 4.5-mile loop through the Sonoran Desert.
I recommend hiring an REI guide to accompany your group, to share their wealth of knowledge about the surrounding flora and fauna. These guides know the trails well and carry a first aid kit for emergencies. REI also offers guided biking tours, if you’re feeling extra adventurous.
It cannot be overstated that all outdoor fun in Scottsdale is best enjoyed before the heat of the afternoon sun. With that in mind, another great morning outing is a visit to MacDonald’s Ranch. Here, kids can explore a free petting zoo, complimentary pony rides for children age 10 months to 10 years and a pint-sized old west town with plenty of wide-open space to play.
Pool Time at Scottsdale Arizona Hotels
Once that afternoon sun I warned you about hits in full force, it’s time to find a pool. Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa has got you covered. Framed against the majestic McDowell Mountains in North Scottsdale, the resort’s 2.5-acre water playground includes a sand beach and a three-story waterslide.
If you can sneak away, I also highly recommend booking a treatment at Spa Avania. Designed by a former student of Frank Lloyd Wright, this sprawling indoor/outdoor spa covers 2.7 acres of treatment rooms, gardens, pools and relaxing spaces. Relax in the Himalayan Salt Room, order lunch by the pool and don’t miss the chance to get a massage. It’s your vacation, too.
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The AAA Five Diamond Phoenician is the perfect blend of contemporary luxury and family fun. Rise with the sun and hit the resort’s on-property cactus garden. This mini botanical experience will introduce you to 250 variants of cacti and succulents without needing to head into the desert.
Then, explore the rest of the expansive resort and you will encounter koi ponds, lakes, ducks, geese, golfing and pools galore. Kids will enjoy the sprawling new splash pad and adults will feel spoiled by the view of Camelback Mountain as they lounge poolside.
Fun Indoor Things to do in Scottsdale
For more kid-friendly entertainment when the sun is too hot to handle, head to Arizona Boardwalk to visit Butterfly Wonderland. Here, you can visit the largest butterfly conservatory in the world which is home to more than 60 butterfly species. Pick up a scavenger hunt and butterfly guide to make your visit more interesting.