Located just 30 minutes outside the sprawling sunshine city of Phoenix and set among a wild desert landscape, the city of Scottsdale, AZ offers the best of both worlds for city lovers and outdoor adventure seekers. The luxurious enclave of Scottsdale serves as the perfect home base for exploring the surrounding area, where there are a wide variety of adventures to be had. If you’re looking for a day in the city or an escape to the wilderness, try one of these unforgettable trips, where you can explore by day and still make it back to unwind amid the luxury available in Scottsdale each evening.
Enjoy the Great Outdoors
Located two hours north of Scottsdale, Sedona is a mecca for outdoor activities. Several wilderness areas and two state parks stretch across the region, creating a seemingly unending network of trains meandering over the red rock formations that stand stark against the clear blue sky. Mountain biking, hiking, rafting, rock climbing, fishing, and horseback riding are all options for getting outdoors and exploring the area’s trains and rivers. There are numerous outfitters in the area that offer gear and guided expeditions into the surrounding wilderness. Or, you can lace up your hiking boots and take your pick of fantastic trails to explore.
A good place to start is the Devil’s Bridge Trail, which provides sweeping views along the way to the “devil’s bridge,” the largest natural stone arch in the area. This is a moderate two- to six-mile hike, depending on where you start (you’ll need a 4WD and high clearance to access the shorter route). Without 4WD, you’ll enjoy an easy downhill start to the hike along a rugged Jeep track. You’ll know you’re getting closer to the arch when the trail starts to take a steep incline. Natural stone steps lead to the top of this arch, where if you have a fear of heights, you may not want to look down. Be sure to bring your camera to have a friend snag a shot of you standing on the bridge, where the vast mountains in the background give a dramatic perspective.
Wander Among Desert Plants in the City
Located just 12 miles from downtown Phoenix, you should definitely plan for at least one day in this vibrant downtown area. The city center is home to a handful of breweries, top notch restaurants, shopping, and art galleries. Admire urban murals and works by local artists, shop trendy boutiques, and dine in local restaurants in the revitalised, walkable arts district known as Roosevelt Row.
In addition to all of the options that come with city dwelling, a visit to the Desert Botanical Garden offers an experience unique to this region. Whether or not you have a particular interest in plants, the flora here are arranged along five thematic trails, creating a vibrant display lining your stroll. Special exhibits and frequent concerts held in the gardens keep events fresh and evolving.
Explore Ancient Ruins
Approximately an hour and a half north of Scottsdale, you will find remnants of ancient civilisation built by the Sinagua people. At Montezuma Castle National Monument, a stone castle built into a cliffside cave stands as a stark contrast to modern life. While the inside of the dwellings can no longer be explored by visitors, views from the paved path give you a window into the past. About a half hour drive further lies Tuzigoot National Monument, where you will find hilltop pueblos built by the Southern Sinagua people in what is estimates to be about 1000 CE. These waist-high rock walls set in the Verde River Valley are accompanied with detailed information to give visitors an idea of the lifestyle of those who thrived here long ago.
Road Trip Down the Apache Trail
Known as the Apache Trail, Arizona Route 88 was built in the 1930s to support the development of dams along the Salt River. This scenic route stretches just under 50 miles, with 22 of those miles unpaved. Pack some snacks and drinks and head out on the open road, where you will be inundated with dramatic mountain and lake scenery, desert landscapes, one-lane bridges, wildflowers in springtime, and small, forgotten towns. The tight switchbacks and roads clinging to cliffsides simultaneously make this both a knuckle-clenching and unforgettably scenic road trip. Photo opportunities are abundant, as are places to pull off to stretch your legs and admire the views.
The southern access point for the Apache Trail can be accessed with about a 40 minute drive east from Scottsdale. Although the drive along the Apache Trail can certainly be made nonstop, it is much more enjoyable if you allow plenty of time for stop-off points. Saddle up at the Superstition Saloon and restaurant in Tortilla Flat, where real saddles serve as bar stools as you down a cold beverage. Tortilla Flat is a unique place, dating back to 1904 and standing as the last remaining stagecoach stop along this route. Soon after hopping back in your car, the road turns from pavement to a graded dirt road, and the Wild West starts to feel a bit wilder. Fish Creek Hill is another ideal spot to get out and stretch your legs, where expansive views look out across the Superstition Mountains and steep canyons. For those not wanting to continue on through the more harrowing section of switchbacks, this is a good turn-around point. Continuing on will take you on a steep descent into Fish Creek Canyon alongside the beautiful Apache Lake and Roosevelt Dam.
Stand at the Edge of a 277-Mile Long Canyon
Ideally if you’re heading to the Grand Canyon, you’ll be able to commit more than a day for exploring all that this amazing site has to offer. However, if time is limited, it can still be done in a day from Scottsdale. The drive itself will take just under four hours each way, so an early start would be best. Mather Point and the Grandview Point are lookouts that will give you the most bang for your buck within a limited time frame. If you’re really feeling ambitious (and you managed to get a very early start on the drive), hiking partway down the South Kaibab Trail to Ooh Ahh Point (aptly named for its breathtaking view into the canyon) gives you the unparalleled experience of descending partway into the canyon rather than just peering in from above. Be sure to bring plenty of water and to forego the hike if it’s too late in the day, because the heat is more than intense. A return drive of four additional hours will make the day long, but worth it. Alternatively, if you don’t want to drive, a variety of shuttle services are offered, leaving from downtown Phoenix and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, freeing you up to make some headway in your latest book or nap along the way.
Scottsdale, AZ lies just ten miles west of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, making it an easily accessible destination from cities worldwide. The airport has an onsite Rental Car Center, as well as access to taxi and van service, so the commute to nearby Scottsdale is seamless.
About the Author
Natasha is an avid traveler and blogger working with Parsons Villas and has explored 26 countries and nearly all 50 states. She spent four years living and traveling overseas, and now calls the small island of Kauai, Hawaii her home. You can follow Natasha’s travels on her Instagram. Adventure is right outside every doorstep – go find yours!