Capture the spirit of the desert without breaking a sweat and escape the Colorado cold this winter with a trip to Scottsdale, AZ. With temperatures hanging around in the 60s and 70s and with plenty of sunshine, it’s no wonder so many snowbirds migrate here during the colder months. Plus, with its abundance of outdoor activities, there are plenty of ways to get outside and enjoy the beautiful weather and unique desert landscape.
Spanning 31 miles north to south and 8 miles east to west, which equals less than a square mile, Scottsdale is small in comparison to its neighbor, Phoenix. But it packs in everything you need for a memorable getaway.
What was once named Orangedale (for its abundance of orange trees), Scottsdale is known as “The West’s Most Western Town” and a top destination for its golf courses and nightlife. But it is also so much more than that. Find out how you can explore the outdoors this winter and still stay warm with a trip to Scottsdale.
Things to Do
Hot Air Balloon Ride
Gain a new perspective of Scottsdale and the surrounding landscape with a hot air balloon ride. Soar above the Sonoran Desert and the towering saguaro cacti to experience its unique and beautiful landscape in an entirely new way. At 5,000 feet in the air, you can better appreciate the desert’s expansiveness and grandeur. Take flight in the morning to see the sunrise over the horizon or take an afternoon flight to spot local flora and fauna.
Hot Air Expeditions offers morning rides that depart daily, year-round, in addition to afternoon rides that run seasonally from November to March. Included in your expedition is a breakfast/evening hors d’oeuvres immediately provided following the balloon ride. Plus, as customary with a hot air balloon ride, a post-flight bubbly toast is included.
Hiking in Scottsdale and surrounding areas is easily accessible from either end of town. Protected parcels of land such as The McDowell Sonoran Preserve and the Phoenix Mountain Preserve offer hundreds of trails open to the public.
The McDowell Sonoran Preserve is a permanently protected, desert habitat that spans 30,500 acres with more than 200 miles of trails, claiming the designation as the largest urban park in the U.S. The area of land features Scottsdale’s McDowell Mountains and the Sonoran Desert, providing a place for tourists and residents to experience desert life up close.
Discover the Gateway Trailhead: the main entrance into the preserve is a 4.4-mile loop that incorporates eco-friendly architecture, a well-defined gentle path and scenic views. Another great, less crowded option is the 5-mile Granite Mountain Loop or the 5-mile Inspiration Point trail.
When hiking in Scottsdale, it’s easy to spot the towering saguaro cacti that can reach up to 60 feet tall. These slow-growing cacti can take 10 years to reach one inch in height. Some aging to be 100 years old or older, these behemoths are the iconic cactus of the Sonoran Desert and are not to be touched or harmed (like all cacti in the area).
Because saguaro cacti take so long to grow, they are protected from destruction. So, be careful that they don’t stick you with its needles and that the city doesn’t stick you with a fine of $10,000 for harming or tearing one down.
Kayak the Salt River
Wait, a water activity in the middle of the desert? Yes, the Salt River, which runs for about 200 miles in Arizona, is a popular recreational destination. Located in the Tonto National Forest, the largest of the six national forests in the state and the ninth-largest national forest in the country, the river offers many outdoor activities for those in the Scottsdale/Phoenix area.
Float down the relaxing, class-one Lower Salt River, surrounded by unobstructed views of the nearby mountains, including the Superstition Mountains and the distinctive Four Peaks that sit at around 7,600 feet in elevation. Flowing from the mountains in Northern Arizona, the Salt River is abundant in wildlife, including a herd of about 200 wild horses that sometimes make their appearance on the river banks. Common activities include kayaking, paddle boarding and floating.
Whether you are looking for an in-town route or ready to hit the rugged trails, Scottsdale and surrounding areas are hosts to plenty of biking trails. Take a leisurely ride along the Indian Bend Wash Greenbelt, traversing 15 miles through Scottsdale, down south to Tempe Town Lakes. Dating back to an ancient canal system from 7,000 years ago, today it is used as a paved path for bikers, joggers and rollerbladers.
For those looking for a little challenge, Scottsdale is home to a plethora of mountain biking trails. A great place to start is at Brown’s Ranch, featuring four trailheads that lead to 165 miles of trails. Some locals advise avoiding any trail with the word “wash” in them as they tend to be a sandy mess for bikers — but to each their own!
For all your outdoor adventure trips and rentals, visit the REI Co-op Adventure Center Arizona.
Desert Botanical Gardens
Continue your exploration of the Sonoran Desert with a visit to the Desert Botanical Gardens. Immerse yourself in desert life with over 50,000 desert plants standing amid the red rocks of the Papago Buttes.
Stroll through five different trails to explore the distinguished beauty of the Sonoran Desert. From the 35-foot tall cardon cactus in the Heritage Garden and towering saguaros to the alluring succulents and colorful wildflowers, there is plenty to see and plenty of opportunities to get stuck, so watch out!
With the fragility of the Sonoran Desert, more than a third of cactus are at risk of extinction — making the cactus family the fifth most threatened group of living things. The Desert Botanical Garden leads the implementation of a global conservation strategy.
They also host a variety of exhibits, including its current exhibit, Chihuly in the Desert, running now through June 2022.
Where to Eat
With over 700 restaurants in Scottsdale, there is plenty to choose from — even some local Denver favorites such as Snooze. Northern Scottsdale showcases more restaurants and shops nestled within strip malls and shopping centers. Heading south into Old Town Scottsdale, you will find an array of eateries, bars, gelato shops and more, with more of a downtown vibe to satisfy any taste buds.
With two locations, including Old Town and its newest location on Shea Boulevard., The Herb Box is a healthy choice for a casual lunch. Enjoy savory twists on classic cuisines along with fresh, seasonal ingredients.
For those who love pizza and beer, try Craft 64 for an artisan wood-fired pizza and a selection of over 35 local Arizona craft beers on tap. Housed in the oldest remaining home in Old Town Scottsdale, the restaurant locally sources its own produce, dairy and meats and hand-makes its own mozzarella cheese and fresh dough in-house daily.
But who doesn’t crave tacos and tequila as well? Pop in at Diego Pops for unique modern Mexican fare served with a tropical and cosmopolitan twist. The menu features classics like chips, salsa and guacamole, but break from tradition and try one of their unique offerings like the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink Brussels Sprout Nachos. Tacos stuffed with chicken, pork and fresh veggies are the main attraction, along with the building’s Insta-worthy to-go window and neon-pink sign.
In North Scottsdale, The Italian Daughter is a must, serving up hot plates of delicious pasta, charcuterie boards, Neopolitan pizzas and desserts. The menu also features craft cocktails, wine, beer and gelato martinis. Give its pizza a try, or pasta dishes such as the Strozzapreti Norcina. And for entertainment, the restaurant doubles as a live music venue and piano bar.
If you are in Old Town for dinner, make reservations at the James Beard-nominated Citizen Public House. Named as one of the top 10 restaurants in Scottsdale, the Citizen Public House serves up upscale American fare in a relaxed, casual environment.
Crowd pleasers include the Pork Belly Pastrami, Bacon Fat Heirloom Popcorn, Chia Seed Yellowfin Tuna and the pan-seared scallops. But the real star of the show is the chopped salad, prepared tableside.
An extensive beverage menu caps off your meal with a focus on barrel-aged cocktails, a wine list and local craft beers.
Explore Old Town Scottsdale
No trip to Scottsdale is complete without a visit to Old Town. Nestled within nine walkable neighborhoods, you’ll find a wide variety of shops, restaurants, museums, historic sites, public art and art galleries, plus an exceptional nightclub scene. It’s the perfect blend of modern chic and Old West charm that appeals to all.
Discover the arts district for where you can shop numerous art galleries, with galleries staying open late every Thursday evening for the weekly art walk. View art beyond four walls and take the public art walking tour where you will see over 10 different installations. Or head on over to the Fashion Square Mall for some shopping. Explore the oldest part of Old Town in the historic district and take the historic Scottsdale walking tour.
For nightlife, there is one thing for sure, Old Town Scottsdale knows how to have a good time. From the nightclub scene called “The Vortex” to the intimate neighborhood wine bars like Scapegoat Beer and Wine, there is something for everyone, no matter what kind of nightlife you are looking for. Make sure to stop in at the Rusty Spur Saloon for a taste of the Old West. For 70 years, this classic country bar has been serving up beers and cocktails to its hooting and hollering patrons, so they know a thing or two about having fun.
Where to Stay
CIVANA Wellness Resort & Spa
Where: 37220 Mule Train Rd., Carefree, AZ
The Lowdown: Immerse yourself in the beauty of the desert and treat yourself to a wellness retreat at CIVANA Wellness Resort & Spa. Tucked among 20-plus acres of the Sonoran Desert, CIVANA is the perfect place to reconnect and reinvigorate your senses in a place of natural beauty, with a personalized wellness experience.
With a world-class spa, wellness classes, healthy cuisine at their on-site restaurants Terras and Seed and elevated casual accommodations, CIVANA offers the very best of a wellness experience just 10 minutes from Scottsdale.
Every detail has been thought of to create a welcoming space for your wellness journey from check-in to check-out. From spaces for mindful meditations and quiet corners where talking on your cell phone is discouraged to farm-to-table foods and Ayurvedic practices, CIVANA has perfected the art of wellness.
Get yourself moving in one of the 70-plus complimentary classes offered at the resort including aerial yoga, TRX, pilates, slow flow yoga on the lawn and guided meditations with the gong and singing bowls. Or, simply take a walk through the well-manicured desert gardens and the labyrinth for a little peace and quiet.
Then treat yourself to one of their many spa services and treatments at the CIVANA Spa, featuring a hydrotherapy thermal circuit of hot and cold pools, a cool waterfall shower and a beautiful sanarium offering humidity and heat from within. Spa access is available to all guests at the resort.
Mountain Shadows Resort
Where: 5445 E Lincoln Dr, Paradise Valley, AZ
The Lowdown: Feel like you’ve escaped to the mountains without having to travel too far with a stay at Mountain Shadows Resort. Technically located in the small community of Paradise Valley, the area’s newest resort is only a 10-minute drive to Old Town Scottsdale.
Originally opening in 1959, the resort earned its name from the surrounding views of Camel Back Mountain and Mummy Mountain that cradle the resort. The original hotel hot spot has caught the attention of iconic Hollywood stars such as John Wayne and Elizabeth Taylor. Traces of its iconic past can still be found around the property today.
At almost every area of the property, guests will enjoy commanding views of the mountains, whether you are lounging by the pool, playing a round of golf or dining at their on-site restaurant, Hearth ’61. Its desert modern design blends in upscale modern architecture with the surrounding desert landscape where guests can enjoy a little bit of the outdoors while living in luxury.
The property also features two pools, a high-tech fitness facility, a fully revamped 18-hole short course with a golf grill and lounge, rotating art exhibits and a lively lobby bar, all resting on 37,500 square feet of space. Plus, it continually offer unique events and experiences including holiday events, art opening receptions and more.
There are hundreds of non-stop flights from Denver to Phoenix and in only two hours, you can be there in no time to start your vacation. From the Phoenix airport, Scottsdale is a quick 15-minute drive, whether you rent a car or Uber. Most airlines like Southwest, American, United and Frontier fly to Phoenix for as little as $80!
To learn more about Scottsdale, visit experiencescottsdale.com.