Scottsdale possesses a natural advantage over other destinations because this sophisticated oasis, located in the heart of the rugged Sonoran Desert, is surrounded by a rich legacy of mountains, parks, and wildlife, providing opportunity for adventure that is second to none.
Soar through the cloudless sky in a hot air balloon amidst mountain peaks and towering Saguaro cacti as you race the rising sun, feel the rush of excitement when you maneuver a Chevrolet Corvette around a tricky corner at top speed, and fulfill your childhood dream of ropin’ and ridin’ like the best of cowboys. And, even though the Sonoran Desert is the ideal landscape for thrill-seekers, Scottsdale also is home to indoor adventures like rock-climbing and cart-racing that will make your heart pound.
MOUNTAIN BIKING, HIKING & BACKPACKING
Scottsdale is bordered by the McDowell Mountains and Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve (www.mcdowellsonoran.org), 16,460 acres of protected land that can be experienced by mountain biking, hiking and backpacking. The Preserve offers guided hikes that range from three to more than eight miles in length. In May 2009, the Gateway opened as the main entrance, incorporating eco-friendly architecture and using rock and soil excavated from the area for the walls of its administration building. In 2010, the Gateway received the United States Green Building Council’s LEED certification. Other favored trails can be found at McDowell Mountain Regional Park, Camelback Mountain, Papago Park, Squaw Peak and Superstition Mountains. www.aoa-adventures.com, www.360-adventures.com
Professional climbing guides from 360 Adventures (www.360-adventures.com) help you experience the thrill of recreational rock climbing and rappelling amidst some of the desert’s most beautiful scenery while building your self-confidence and enjoying a great sense of accomplishment. The McDowell, Granite and Cholla mountains are hot spots for the booming sport of recreational rock climbing. Canyoneering might be a new word for your vocabulary but one experience will have you hooked. Take a journey with 360 Adventures to the Roosevelt Lake area where you’ll be exposed to hiking, wading, swimming, scrambling and rappelling excursions through one of geology’s most impressive feats – the canyon.
AZ on the Rocks (www.azontherocks.com) is a 14,000-square-foot air-conditioned textured climbing terrain where climbers of all skill levels experience a physical high while learning basic knot-tying and equipment usage as well as more advanced climbing skills to find out what it takes to make it to the top. The gym features more than 50 top ropes, lead climbing, a large bouldering (free climbing) area and an observation deck.
OFF ROAD TOURS & ON-COURSE RACING
Off‑road Jeep and Hummer tours are a thrilling way to enjoy the desert’s Old West
history and experience its beautiful flora and fauna. Interpretive guides provide entertaining stories of the Old West (including a tall tale or two!) as well as interesting facts about the cacti, plants and animals that make up the desert’s delicate ecosystem. Tour activities include gold panning, pistol shooting, Jeep/horseback and jeep/river rafting combinations, chuck-wagon cookouts, and more. www.roadrunnerdesertadventures.com, www.stellaradventures.com,
Prefer to drive yourself? Desert Wolf Tours (www.desertwolftours.com) offers self-pilot tours using their fleet of Tomcars, originally developed as Israeli Defense vehicles. Drivers and passengers romp through the desert at their own pace and can even practice target shooting with a NRA certified rifle and pistol instructor.
If loud engines and fancy cars are your thing, head over to the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving (www.bondurant.com), the largest purpose-built facility in North America that features a 1.6-mile road course and an eight-acre paddock. There’s no better way to satisfy the need for speed than driving door-handle to door-handle at 100 miles per hour in a Chevrolet Corvette, Mustang GT or Cobra. Experience the art of high-performance driving and the thrill of driving from zero to 60 in less than four seconds.
Take your speed indoors at one of Scottsdale’s indoor kart racing facilities. Experience the thrill of racing against your family and friends or just try and beat your personal best as you zoom around the track in karts during this adrenaline rush of a ride. Designed similar to real race cars, these karts will make you feel like an experienced race car driver. Just put on your helmet, strap on your seatbelt, press the gas and you’re off! www.f1racefactory.com, www.k1speed.com
HORSEBACK RIDING & WILD WEST EXPERIENCES
Enjoy a sunrise horseback ride through the McDowell Mountains followed by a hearty cowboy cookout for breakfast. From high in the saddle, you’ll see exotic cactus, rolling desert foothills and crystalline streams. As you explore the pristine, natural habitats, your guide will entertain you with the stories and legends of Arizona’s first cowboys. “Greenhorns” and bowlegged caballeros alike will enjoy the quiet grandeur of the Sonoran Desert.www.fortmcdowelladventures.com, www.macdonaldsranch.com, www.windwalkerexpeditions.com
For those who are looking for more than trail rides and cookouts, Arizona Cowboy College (www.cowboycollege.com) offers students a unique first-hand experience of true cowboy life. Participants sleep in a bunkhouse for two nights while learning the ropes of horsemanship and participate in rigorous classes about cattle. Then, they trade in their cot for a few nights on the desert floor under starry skies and partake in on-the-range lessons about cutting, branding, inoculating, dehorning and driving cattle on working ranches.
HOT AIR BALLOONING & AERIAL ADVENTURES
Hot air ballooning is a tranquil yet exciting experience for visitors of all ages. Sunrise and sunset flights provide magnificent vistas of desert terrain and towering mountain ranges. The view from the balloon’s handcrafted wicker basket is virtually unobstructed – a photographer’s dream! Upon landing, you are welcomed back to earth in the traditional manner with flutes of champagne and breakfast, a custom dating back more than 100 years. For the more adventurous, powerchuting provides another unforgettable airborne adventure. Fly low above the Sonoran Desert in a powered parachute to explore exotic plant and wildlife or high above the mountains for a panoramic vista, all at a constant 26 mph. Or pick up the speed in a private plane for a scenic day trip to Sedona or the Grand Canyon.www.hotairexpeditions.com, www.unicornballoon.com, www.rainbowryders.com, www.arizonapowerchutes.com, www.westwindairservice.com
RIVER RAFTING, KAYAKING, FISHING & WATER SPORTS
In Arizona, rivers, streams, and lakes are lush, pristine oases surrounded on all
sides by the beauty of the Sonoran Desert – perfect settings for water adventures of every kind! Rafting, kayaking, canoeing and jet skiing are popular ways to explore the lakes and rivers in the Scottsdale area. If you aren’t equipped with gear, several
Scottsdale-based adventure travel companies provide raft and kayak trips on both the Salt and Verde rivers. These excursions offer the opportunity to view the desert wildlife including eagles, herons, egrets, hawks and occasionally larger species such as coyotes, javelina and deer. Anglers will find largemouth bass, trout, crappie, catfish, yellow bass and sunfish populating local rivers and lakes. Find a quiet spot along the shore for bird and wildlife watching (raptors, songbirds and desert mammals are abundant). Experience the adventure of flying over the water on water skis or a parasail or lay back and relax while tubing down a river.
LEISURE WALKS & LAID-BACK ADVENTURE
Scottsdale offers many beautiful places for leisurely walks and romantic strolls. Browse through the Desert Botanical Garden‘s (www.dbg.org) many exhibits including the Cactus House, Succulent House, Sonoran Desert Ecology Trail and more. Moonlight walks and outdoor evening concerts are offered during the warmer months. Walking and biking trails abound in Scottsdale’s signature greenbelt area along the Indian Bend Wash. The park includes a small lake for fishing, a playground, picnicking, swimming pool and more. Located in the eastern foothills of the majestic McDowell Mountains, McDowell Mountain Regional Park offers picnic tables, easy walking trails and up-close access to the Sonoran Desert. www.maricopa.gov/parks/mcdowell
DESERT ADVENTURE AT YOUR FINGERTIPS
Whether adventurers choose to explore the desert by foot, bike, off-road vehicle or hot air balloon ride, the planning is easy and convenient with the newScottsdale Adventure Center. Launched by the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau in January 2011, the center is located inside Scottsdale Fashion Square and has a 3-D rock climber display, desert adventure video and on-site mountain bike to give a sneak peek at the Sonoran Desert’s adventure offerings. Staff is on-site to answer questions, give suggestions and even assist with booking trips and tours like Tomcar adventures, hot air balloon rides or hiking and biking treks at the mighty McDowell Mountains.