Top Outdoor Attractions in Scottsdale
Scottsdale just might be the best place for an outdoor, adventure-filled, socially distant getaway all year round. Few cities in the world offer such an abundant selection of outdoor activities so close to the urban center — 43% of Scottsdale's land area is dedicated as open space. Hikers, mountain bikers, and rock climbers love its 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, desert cottontail, or even a bald eagle. Even less-active outdoor lovers will appreciate the opportunity to simply take in the views at the natural oases or simply spend some time soaking up rays at expansive resort pools. 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.
Kayaking the Salt River
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 — you’ll spot wild horses, otters, bald eagles, and more. REI Co-op Adventures organizes full- and half-day kayaking excursions with educated and easy-to-talk-to guides. There’s no better way to bask in the magic, tranquility, and diverse landscapes of the desert than an exciting float down the Salt River.
Horseback Riding in the Sonoran Desert
There’s nothing more western than saddling up a horse, donning cowboy boots, and leaving a dust trail behind your trot. Mac Donald’s Ranch offers just that. The ranch — which is styled to look like an old-west ghost town — has well-trained and well taken care of horses ready to take you into the surrounding 1,280 acres of dramatic desert landscape.
Hiking Camelback Mountain
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 Bathing at the 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.
Where to Stay
Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North
The adobe casitas and incredible mountain-to-valley views at the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale greet you the same way the staff does — impressively. The property offers impeccable landscaping full of saguaro cacti and a multi-tier pool with views of the iconic Pinnacle Peak towering nearby. There are several hikes available just steps from the resort, but you won't easily want to leave the natural Eden just outside your room's door. For ultimate luxury and privacy opt for the Jerome Suite. This two-bedroom casita offers 2,000 square feet of elevated comfort with a private terrace perfect for watching the sunset from the suite's private splash pool.
Civana Wellness Resort and Spa
T+L readers voted this resort the third-best U.S. destination spa in the 2020 World's Best Awards. Civana is the perfect option for balancing Scottsdale's outdoor excursions with a bit of self-care and improvement. The resort offers a multitude of daily classes that are included in the cost of each room. An average day starts with a hike through the Sonoran desert followed by an intention ceremony to help guide you through the rest of your day of aerial yoga, lounging at the saltwater pool after a 90-minute massage (that will change your life), a guided labyrinth walking meditation, and a sunset sound bath. The resort recently announced a new partnership with world-renowned Dr. Deepak Chopra to offer a twice-monthly physician-led Ayurvedic program that will help guests learn a well-rounded approach to living.
Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Bungalows
Andaz is a 23-acre oasis in the city. While on the grounds of the property, it feels like you’re a world away from civilization, when in fact, it’s a mere five-minute drive from the hustle and bustle of the old town. Each room offers a private entrance, a huge two-person shower, and a sunning terrace. The resort has created Andaz Adventures — a program that can set up any of the outdoor experiences above as well as a sunrise hot-air balloon ride or an ATV tour at dusk to stargaze in Sedona’s dark-sky designated areas. After exploring the outdoor bounties of Scottsdale, relax by the resort's two pools or enjoy dinner at Weft & Warp Art Bar and Kitchen.
Adero Scottsdale, an Autograph Collection Hotel
Scottsdale's newest hotel houses 177 rooms on more than 10,000 acres and they take stargazing seriously — it's the only Dark Sky Zone resort in the city, the rooftop bar has drinks named after the activity, and the hotel has on-site astronomers to answer all celestial queries. Once the sun peaks over the surrounding McDowell Mountain Range, there is much to do before discovering the crystal-clear Milky Way. The resort has two pools, tennis and pickleball courts, a Peloton studio, a relaxing spa, and access to miles of hiking trails. And if you want to just soak in the stunning vistas, each room offers a private outdoor space. You'll find it hard not to fall in love with the magic of the desert at this hidden gem perched high above the rugged Sonoran Desert.
Where to Eat
FnB aka food and beverage is known for locally sourced, elevated vegetable dishes. Chef Charleen Badman, the recipient of the James Beard Foundation’s 2019 Best Chef: Southwest, leads the seasonal menu with favorites like hot rice with banchan and baquetta grouper on a bed of Thai green curry. Complementing the food is co-owner Pavle Milic’s carefully curated Arizona wine tastings, showcasing the best in the state.
Get ready for a Spanish feast that explodes with flavor and spirit. The steakhouse focuses on traditional dishes — the paella has perfectly crunchy rice; the octopus is as tender as a scallop; and the pièce de résistance, the jamón ibérico, is drizzled with a chocolatey mole that melts in your mouth. Talavera’s selection of tapas is paired with an impressive list of more than 500 new- and old-world wines.
This plant-forward menu is a symphony of flavors, textures, and colors. Each dish questions what Arizona food is by creating veggie-based versions of classic south-west flavors that often triumph the original. The mushroom and lentil pate and hearts of palm crab cake are among the most inventive and delicious dishes I’ve ever had. The restaurant is all about choice — whether you’re gluten-free, grain-free, vegetarian, vegan, or just enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, the chefs will make your dining experience memorable.