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Retirement Blog
Travel Advisor

Scottsdale: Do it all in the Desert

Then find respite in the Beverly Hills of the South.

Late golden evening sunset glowing over Arizona desert landscape.

The desert isn’t for the faint at heart, it’s for the lover of nature, the outdoors, and pure unaltered beauty. It’s as though the city of Scottsdale was built to rejuvenate and refresh that spirit with amenities that refuel every adventurer.

When most people hear the word desert, they imagine expanses of brown dust, parched cactuses and a great excuse to stick to the city. But, here in the Scottsdale, the desert is the point.

Twelve miles from the metropolis of Phoenix, Scottsdale has long been known as the Beverly Hills of the southwest. It was voted Best Foodie city in the Southwest in 2014, and is possibly one of the most spa-laden desert towns west of the Mississippi. But, it was the landscape that started it all. The surrounding Sonoran desert and the rivers and lakes that decorate Scottsdale are at the top of the list for many outdoor aficionados and first timers to any sport or adventure. Easy access to outdoor life was the fuel that fed this flourishing resort town.

Take to the Trails

Trail leaping through the Sonoran Desert.

There’s nothing like a Sonoran sunset, but when on foot, just be sure you time it right! Traipsing through the desert in the dark is not recommended.

Hiking around Scottsdale on some of the Sonoran Desert’s 100 miles of winding trails is definitely a place to start. With over two thousand native plant species, 1,000 native bee species, 30 native fish species, and 100 reptile species, one can expect visitors and plant-life in many shapes and colors. And, the sky, there’s nothing like the Arizona desert sky, an inspiration to the artist in everyone.

Camelback Mountain, a prominent and showy red sandstone and granite mountain on the city’s horizon, is a great climb for an afternoon hike, or a great way to start your day. Jump on the Canyon Summit Trail to get your start at the Camel’s head, or sneak around the crowds on the Cholla Trail — just watch for the slick patches and rocky terrain that are sure to keep things interesting.

Mountain Biking

In and around Scottsdale, it’s as though the landscape was paved for mountain bikers. A single-track paradise of challenging terrain keeps enthusiasts on their toes, but there are plenty of tours set up for the beginner looking to get hooked. For the more experienced, Sedona, in central Arizona, known to have the best mountain biking trails in the country, might be the place. To check out any and all of the above, give 360 Adventures a call to find out more.

River Rafting and Water Sports

Scottsdale is surrounded by water that suits every style – uber-adventurous, moderately active, and the super-chill. The Upper Salt is definitely not for the faint at heart. For a lot of rough and tumble, take a tour of Class III and IV rapids on a two to five day journey down the Upper Salt with Mild to Wild Rafting company. Or jump in your own private tube down (very different) sections of both the Salt and Verde rivers for a more relaxing tour of the area’s most beautiful scenery.

Check out Bartlett Lake or Lake Pleasant for majestic surroundings and a relaxing ride either by paddleboard, kayak, or power boat. Because, if you’re in Arizona in the summer, you’re definitely going to want to get wet.

A View from Above

Oh, the air out here! Hot air ballooning over the Sonoran Desert is popular for good reason.

The only thing more picturesque than a sky full of colorful hot air balloons on a desert horizon is being in one. Plan to hop out of bed well-before the crack of dawn for this journey, though. Balloons ascend at sunrise. As you lift, you’ll fly above the scurrying, unassuming wildlife below and finally get high enough to discover a breathtaking 360-degree view.

If you’d just as soon have some power in your craft, there are plenty of helicopter and fixed-wing tours available for those looking for a quick aerial view of the world they’ve landed in.

Off-Roading

Whether by Jeep, ATV, Segway, or horseback, hop off the beaten path to explore expansive back roads and lightly cleared trails that snake through the Sonoran Desert, Scottsdale’s “backyard.” There’s definitely something to be said for seeing it all, and for those hungry for adventure, this is a great way to do it.

Scale the Walls

Every climber knows that Scottsdale is a hotspot with Sedona, Paradise Forks, Pinnacle Peak, and McDowell’s being area favorites. If you know what trad means and you’ve got your own gear, then you’re ready to go. First timers may want to head to the Arizona Climbing and Adventure School to learn the tricks of the trade before jumping on the rocks.

Look Around

As you may have heard, the Grand Canyon is in Arizona! Just four hours away is one of the most majestic landmarks in the world. Tour the entire state with Across Arizona Tours through the Grand Canyon, Sedona, and the Navajo Reservation. Or, grab a rental car (preferably a Jeep for off road excursions) and jump on the highway.

Take a Load Off

In the midst of all of this outdoor adventure, be sure to treat yourself. Starting with hotel suggestions, this section could be summed up in four words – Fairmont Scottsdale Princess Resort. You’ll find the Well & Being Spa inside, which is quite simply a dream come true. It’s exactly what the doctor orders after a five-day Upper Salt White Water tour.

Honestly though, there are more top-notch spas and hotels than I have room to list, so you really can’t go wrong. Morracan-themed Joya Spa and the Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain (a truly Zen retreat) are among the top picks.

As for refueling, the foodie in you has definitely come to the right town.

Three-time James Beard Award nominee, FnB is the place to be for some of the finest food in Scottsdale. But if you’re staying at the Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain, there’s no better place for farm-fresh cuisine with an Asian-American twist and a gorgeous view of the mountain from the patio.

The Old Town Tortilla Factory is another popular spot for patio dining, complete with 100-year-old shade trees, margaritas made with one of 140-plus
tequilas on hand, and chipotle everything.

For the Italian-lover, Pomo Cucina & Pizzeria Napoletana is a pretty major hit. And, as every good Italian knows, be sure to go hungry.

In Scottsdale, spoiling yourself and pushing yourself go really well together. So get outdoors and then get to the spa and a lavish meal as quickly as possible. For whatever floats your boat in any of those departments, Scottsdale has exactly what you’re looking for.

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