Fun for the whole family—it’s a lovely sentiment, but not always an easy-to-achieve outcome. Too often, kid-friendly attractions lack any real fun or relaxing moments for parents. Fortunately, Scottsdale’s outdoor attractions—mountain hiking trails, plentiful swimming pools—offer a little R&R for everyone. To experience a bit more of the Southwest, though, consider the recommendations listed below. I’ll fully admit that a couple of them veer into touristy territory, but they’re also a lot of fun and celebrate Arizona’s Old West roots and natural beauty. They also let kids be kids, with plenty of space to run around and activities to spark their natural curiosity and sense of adventure. Other highlights to consider when exploring Scottsdale with children: the interactive Musical Instrument Museum, the Phoenix Zoo and the McDowell Sonoran Preserve’s easy Bajada Nature Trail, which offers a great snapshot of the desert’s plants and animals.
McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park
There’s something about a train that no kid (or adult) can resist. Ride the scale reproduction of a Colorado narrow gauge railroad throughout this popular park, which has become an outdoor museum for antique engines and train cars. The beautifully restored carousel and “Western Town” playground will keep your family entertained for hours.
Arizona Museum of Natural History
Explore the Southwest’s rich natural and cultural history, from sparkly minerals and prehistoric fossils to a reconstructed Native American village and territorial jail. The collection of massive dinosaur skeletons delights kids, as do the live soft-shelled turtle and Gila monster. And for a sense of Arizona’s monsoon season, visit the indoor three-story mountain that demonstrates the desert’s seasonal flash flooding.
Rawhide Western Town
Rawhide doesn’t just flirt with touristy kitsch, it surrenders completely to the fun. This 1880s-themed town stages stunt shows on its dusty streets throughout the day and offers an assortment of Wild West activities: stagecoach rides, panning for gold, mechanical-bull riding and a costume photo studio. It’s worth the 30-minute drive south of Scottsdale.
The largest butterfly pavilion in the country, this indoor zoo features a global collection of colorful monarchs, gold banded foresters and mountain blue swallows, all flitting about an enclosed rainforest atrium. Be sure to visit the Butterfly Emergence Gallery to see these insects stretch their wings for the first time. A glass-walled honeybee hive, ant colony, and Amazon aquarium center round out the experience.