By Josephine Matyas
Photos Scottsdale CVB
Just a stone’s throw from Phoenix, Scottsdale fits the bill for active-minded travellers who are energized by outdoor adventures in a pristine desert setting. The city’s backyard opens onto the lush Sonoran Desert, a rough-and-tumble oasis of mountains and parks, home to more than 2,000 native plant species as well as some of the nation’s most exotic wildlife.
The delicate balance of the desert ecosystem assures one-of-a-kind experiences not found anywhere else on the continent. Looking for the giant Saguaro cactus? It’s only found in the Sonoran Desert. The region’s one-off vegetation is home turf to the quirky Gila monster and wild herds of pig-like javelinas.
Get Your Bearings
• Across the northern and eastern edges of Scottsdale, the Scottsdale McDowell Sonoran Preserve clocks in at an impressive 111.3 square kilometres of protected desert landscape.
• Scottsdale is crisscrossed with almost 300 kilometres of hiking and mountain biking trails, rock climbing and horseback riding opportunities.
• Camelback Mountain – with its sweeping 360-degree vistas – is the most popular hiking destination in the Valley of the Sun.
• The towering McDowell, Granite and Cholla mountains attract hundreds of recreational rock climbers each year.
• The Sonoran Desert surrounding Scottsdale is home to about 60 mammal, 350 bird, more than 100 reptile and 30 native fish species.
• The stunning Salt River Canyon snakes just 30 kilometres east of downtown Scottsdale. It’s a popular spot for rafting, kayaking and tubing.
• Leave your umbrella at home. Scottsdale is famous for its clear blue skies (more than 300 days of sunshine a year).
Adventures In The Sky
When you feel like you really have to get away from it all, how about gazing upwards? What better way to take in eye-popping views of the desert landscape than from above?
• Kick back and see the magnificent desert vistas while gently drifting with the breeze in the basket of a hot air balloon. Sunrise and sunset flights are a popular way to leisurely float above the quiet landscape. Flights with Hot Air Expeditions and Rainbow Ryders finish with gourmet foods and flutes of champagne – a tradition dating back more than a century to early French balloonists.
• Fly low above the desert landscape in an Arizona Powerchutes powered parachute – a two-passenger cart with motor, prop and wheels suspended below a large, colourful parachute.
• Want to cover a lot of ground in a short time? Book a chartered aircraft (Westwind Air Service), seaplane (Desert Splash Seaplane Adventures) or helicopter (Maverick Helicopters, Sky Blue Helicopters) for an aerial tour, soaring above the rugged mountains and lush desert surrounding Scottsdale.
• The vast, open skies above the desert are perfect for stargazers looking for a little celestial action. Sky Jewels is a stargazing program that holds guided astronomy tours in collaboration with several Scottsdale area resorts (complimentary to guests at the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North, The Boulders Resort, Montelucia Resort and JW Marriott Camelback Inn Resort & Spa).
• Guests staying in the resort suites at the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale can request a turn-down amenity of telescopes and a constellation chart or a sunset Celestial Picnic basket, complete with dinner, blanket, constellation chart and telescope.
• Astronomers with both Stellar Adventures and Desert Storm Hummer Tours shepherd guests on a Hummer excursion through the nighttime desert to observation areas, pointing out star systems and celestial wonders along the way.
Outdoor Adventure Getaways
Scottsdale – and the arid land surrounding the city – is a desert playland for kids of all ages. This is the place to enjoy hitting the trails, galloping along on horseback, navigating the desert’s rugged terrain in an off road vehicle and – well, you name it, they’ve got it.
• The Desert Botanical Garden is home to one of the world’s finest collections of desert cacti and succulents (50,000 plants including 169 rare and endangered species). The garden includes five trails (some are wheelchair accessible) and nighttime flashlight tours.
• Experts with outfitters like Arizona Outback Adventures lead guided trail hikes and mountain biking excursions through the rugged McDowell Sonoran Preserve Gateway. Or check out the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy for free, guided hikes and desert interpretive programs.
• Several resorts offer guided hikes up local peaks. Try Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain or Montelucia Resort & Spa (Camelback Mountain) or Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale (Pinnacle Peak).
• Experts at The Boulders Resort lead private and group recreational rock climbing and rappelling clinics at the property’s namesake rock formations.
• There’s still a lot of desert action in exploring the arid environment with a little help from a modified Hummer or dune buggies custom-designed for tackling the rough desert terrain.
• Pedalling along desert trails becomes just a little easier with a whisper quiet, all-terrain electric bike (Journey Arizona).
• The soaring peaks and deep arroyos of Scottsdale’s surrounding mountains have been attracting climbers and canyoneers for decades. Pinnacle Peak’s 60-metre granite face is considered one of the state’s most challenging climbs.
• Outfitting pros like 360 Adventures (at the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort) lead half-, full- and multi-day excursions.
• Mix in an educational component to hikes. The eco-tour specialist, My Arizona Guide, covers biology, geology, archaeology, history and culture in guided hiking tours.
• When the weather is not cooperative, climbers can take to the indoor climbing terrain at AZ on the Rocks. The air-conditioned, textured climbing gym features dozens of ropes and a large free climbing area.
Water Adventures In The Desert
The Sonoran is considered the wettest of America’s four deserts and not far from downtown Scottsdale there are lakes and rivers fed by the snowmelt from Arizona’s mountainous north. There is lots of water play – even in the desert!
• Close to Scottsdale, shoot the rapids on the Salt and Verde rivers. The Upper Salt River Canyon has been nicknamed the mini-grand canyon. Call rafting guide experts at Arizona Outback Adventures and AAM’s Mild to Wild Rafting.
• The Salt and Verde rivers are also popular for the quieter side of river exploration – kayaking and canoeing. A serene paddle or tubing along the waterways are excellent ways to spot desert wildlife like coyotes, javelina, hawks and eagles.
• A lot less wild but still great for water babies are the many pools, slides and water park features at Scottsdale’s resort properties. Newly opened in fall 2012 is the Adventure Water Park at The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa. The highlight is the new Kierland FlowRider, a boardsport simulator suitable for all ages that combines the skills of surfing, skateboarding and snowboarding into a new sport called flowboarding.
Need To Know More?
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport’s mobile-friendly website provides information on flight status, parking and airport services.
• WestJet provides seasonal service to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport from Vancouver, Kelowna and Victoria, B.C.; Edmonton, AB; and Winnipeg, MB and daily non-stop service from Calgary.
• Air Canada connects Toronto and Phoenix with non-stop service.
• US Airways provides non-stop service from Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto.
• Allegiant Air offers service from Bellingham, WA; Great Falls and Missoula, MT; Fargo and Grand Forks, ND.
Visit the new website www.AdventureinScottsdale.com, to plan an adventure-filled vacation. There are tips for the top desert hikes, kid-friendly activities and best places to catch an Arizona sunset.
Pick up the Scottsdale Adventure Guide at Scottsdale’s two visitor centres. The guide highlights the region’s outdoor activities with information on providers and planning tips.
For more information or to receive a complimentary Experience Scottsdale destination guide, visit www.ExperienceScottsdale.com or call 800-782-1117.