Scenic and Adventurous Side of Scottsdale
The Sonoran Desert is a rugged and untamed wilderness. A 120,000-square-mile reminder that the American West's frontier spirit is alive and kicking in Scottsdale. It overflows with towering mesas, tall saguaros and wildlife. This timeless natural beauty has remained virtually unchanged for thousands upon thousands of years. A remote sanctuary so tranquil and unspoiled that tourists sometimes forget to head back indoors.
Welcome to Scottsdale AZ, a cosmopolitan mini-metropolis with Wild West roots and the world's most scenic backyard. Here you can walk in the ancient footsteps of the mysterious Hohokam Indians or take a rip-snorting horseback ride into the honest-to-goodness cowboy country and still make it back in time for a tee time, spa treatment, great dinner, fabulous nightlife or a good night's sleep.
A Desert in Name Only
At first glance, Scottsdale's Sonoran Desert outskirts can seem a bit barren and, well, desert-like, especially when seen from the window of an airplane or while driving down the freeway. Dig a little deeper though, whether hiking, riding a horse or inside a guided Hummer Tour. This sweeping expanse reveals itself as a vibrant oasis bursting with natural beauty. In fact, from America's only native venomous lizard (the lethargic Gila monster) to wild herds of pig-like Javelina, the Sonoran Desert is home to some 60 mammal, 350 bird, 100-plus reptile and 30 native fish species.
Preservation is a Priority
Scottsdale's McDowell Sonoran Preserve tempts visitors and locals alike with 18,000 acres of do-it-yourself or guided outdoor adventure, including hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing and horseback riding. This preserve, unfurling across the northeastern edges of Scottsdale, will eventually encompass over 36,000 acres of permanently protected desert, ensuring a full one-third of this rapidly growing city remains pristine, public open space.
The McDowell Sonoran Preserve Gateway features shade ramadas, a dog comfort station, water fountains and an equestrian staging area that includes horse-trailer parking, water troughs and hitching rails. Down the trail, the Gateway is joined by the Desert Discovery Center, an interactive learning hub featuring state-of-the-art exhibits, an indoor theater and open-air amphitheater. With nearly 100 miles of hiking, biking and horseback-riding trails crisscrossing Scottsdale, you could spend endless hours exploring Scottsdale's great outdoors.
Trailblazing and Urban Hiking
A masterpiece of granite boulders, Camelback Mountain features sweeping 360-degree city views making it the most popular hiking destination in the area. Perched on the mountain's north face, Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain takes guests on guided hikes to the top of the 2,700-foot landmark as does Montelucia Resort & Spa.
Across town, The Boulders Resort encourages visitors to revel in its foothill setting and namesake 1.4 billion-year-old rock formations with expert-led walks, hikes, mountain biking and nighttime bike rides where guests explore the nocturnal side of the Sonoran Desert while navigating the resort's rollercoaster-like cart paths. Standing in the shadows of Scottsdale's iconic Pinnacle Peak, Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North offers complimentary hiking excursions up this singular summit.
If you prefer to take in your outdoor action from the back seat of a four-wheel drive vehicle or atop a rumbling ATV, there are a number of motorized tours from which to choose. Jump aboard one of Stellar Adventures' specially modified Hummers for an axle-grinding tour up 60-degree grades and across a raging river - all in open-air or climate-controlled comfort. Tell everyone to eat your dust as you pilot one of Desert Dog Hummer Adventures' dune buggy-like, U-Drive Desert Cars that are custom-designed for powering over desert terrain.
Put some Wild West in your escapade with Roadrunner Desert Hummer Adventures where guests explore an Indian fort, prospect for gemstones at a turquoise mine and learn about the many desert plants and critters spotted along the way. Get behind the wheel of a Tomcar, originally developed for use by the Israeli Defense Forces special operations units, with Desert Wolf Tours or Green Zebra Adventures during an adventurous expedition. Or watch the desert come alive after dark with Desert Storm Hummer Tours' Night Storm Adventure, a night-vision goggle and stargazing tour that illuminates wildlife up to 500 yards away, even in total darkness.
See It From High Above
In a landscape as panoramic as the Sonoran Desert, there's no better way to soak it all in than aboard a hot air balloon with Hot Air Expeditions or Rainbow Ryders. Every flight begins with a briefing and safety demonstration, and then it's up, and away as propane-burning motors slowly inflate the 100-foot-tall balloon.
If you are more of a "need for speed" type, Arizona PowerchutesM provides an airborne adventure in a powered parachute - a two-passenger cart with a motor, prop and wheels suspended twenty feet below a nearly forty foot parachute. Fly low above the Sonoran Desert to explore exotic plant and wildlife or high above the mountains for a panoramic vista, all at a constant 26 mph.
Set your sights on a chartered airborne adventure with Westwind Air Service where in a single afternoon you can soak in a lifetime of soaring topography, including flying over Sedona's red rocks, the snow-capped San Francisco Peaks or over the Grand Canyon.
Just Add Water
First-time visitors are inevitably surprised by the number of wet 'n wild adventures available in and around Scottsdale, and we're not just talking about a sparkling hotel pool. The wettest of America's four deserts, water has always been cherished starting with the area's original ancient inhabitants, the Hohokam Indians. They hand-built 500 miles of irrigation canals that have since been modernized. The Scottsdale Canal is now the focal point of the Scottsdale Waterfront District in Downtown Scottsdale.
There are several boating lakes in the Scottsdale and Phoenix area including Canyon Lake, Saguaro Lake, Bartlett Lake, and Lake Pleasant. Fish, water-ski, jet-ski or just enjoy the majestic beauty that surrounds these oasis. Boat rentals and amenities abound at the lakes.
Want to get in touch with your inner cowboy (or cowgirl) with a horseback ride across the same area that legendary figures Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid and renowned Apache warrior, Geronimo once roamed. Arizona Cowboy College has you covered. At this working cattle ranch greenhorns are taught the "three Rs" - ropin', ridin' and roughin' it - during a two-day crash course at a local equestrian center before packing up and hitting the trail for a four-day cattle drive.
Located on the 25,000-acre Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation northeast of Scottsdale, Fort McDowell Adventures offers a plethora of Western and Native American-themed activities, including guided two-hour cattle drives, as well as more casual trail and wagon rides.
Riders of all ages and skill levels giddy up at MacDonald's Ranch with guided horseback rides, hay rides and cowboy cookouts.