Few cities in the world offer such an abundant selection of outdoor activities. Hikers, mountain bikers and rock climbers love Scottsdale’s desert landscape and mountainous terrain. Nature buffs and bird watchers appreciate the city’s vast, undeveloped desert preserves and parks, where it’s not uncommon to cross paths with a lizard or desert cottontail. Even less-active outdoor lovers will appreciate the opportunity to simply take in the views at these the natural oases listed below. All of them are family-friendly, though a hike up Camelback Mountain is not recommended inexperience hikers or young children. And don’t let the summer heat stop you from taking advantage of the city’s incredible recreational activities. Many residents set their alarms for an early morning wake-up in the summer, when cool morning temperatures make a round of golf or morning bike ride not just bearable, but downright pleasant.
Even if you’re not a hiker, this Valley of the Sun icon is a must-see landmark. Those who are in shape, though, should scale the popular Echo Canyon Summit Trail, which starts at the “camel’s head.” Be forewarned: It’s not an easy climb, but the citywide views and sculptural rock formations, like the 80-foot-tall Praying Monk, make the effort more than worthwhile.
Desert Botanical Garden
With some 50,000 cacti, succulents, agaves, shrubs, and trees, the Desert Botanical Garden may be the world’s finest collection of desert plants. Try to come early in the day or late in the evening, when the sunlight is incredible, or for one of the seasonal events like springtime wildflowers or evening luminarias during the holidays.
McDowell Sonoran Preserve
A natural refuge in the middle of the city, Papago Park is one of the city’s great playgrounds, with paved trails, small lakes, a baseball stadium and golf course, and cultural attractions like the Phoenix Zoo. Be sure to explore the rounded, red-hued buttes, especially its unique “holes,” which were formed by water erosion over millions of years.
There’s more to the Sonoran Desert than mountains and cacti. The Salt River runs through the Valley of the Sun, and this critical waterway provides a verdant habitat for wildlife—and numerous recreation opportunities for visitors, including tubing, kayaking and rafting. Tour groups organize daylong trips just outside of the city.