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10 Best Outdoor Activities in Scottsdale: Fun in the Desert Sun



Scottsdale is home to some of the best outdoor spaces in the Valley of the Sun, which means there's never a shortage of outdoor activities.

One of the best places to enjoy the outdoors is McDowell Mountain Ranch Park, which features 35 acres of well-maintained public space. Visitors can lounge by the 600-foot lazy river, enjoy the 16,000 square-foot skate park, or make use of one of the swimming pool and three ball fields.

If hiking is your passion, head to Pinnacle Peak Park, a notable local landmark and popular hiking destination. The 150-acre park offers moderate hiking trails and excellent views of the Valley - if you can scale the trail summit. There's also an easy 1.7-mile hiking trail with smooth tread for hikers of all skill levels. In any case, be sure to bring a camera to capture the desert scenery.

One of the most popular outdoor activities in Scottsdale is golf, and there's no more legendary course than TPC Scottsdale. The course is home to one of the biggest golf tournaments in the world, the Waste Management Phoenix Open. With the natural scenic beauty of the McDowell Mountains in the background, players of all levels can enjoy the opportunity to play on the same course that is normally reserved for the pros.

 

 


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El Dorado Park is one of the biggest municipal parks in Scottsdale, featuring 60 acres of green space and two lakes. This is a popular weekend destination, with four reservable ramadas, seven drop-in ramadas, three reservable picnic areas, and two drop-in picnic areas. There are two playgrounds for the kids, three lighted softball fields, a soccer field, full basketball court, and lighted sand volleyball court. The swimming pool is a popular destination point during the summer, and the 5K course is the perfect place to train or simply enjoy a run. El Dorado Park is also home to the popular Wedge Skate Park, and there is a community center on site with a reservable meeting room.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: El Dorado Park is a popular urban oasis for fishing, walking and sports.

Patricia's expert tip: Fishing is offered at El Dorado Park as part of the city's urban fishing program.

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Plan to spend a day with the animals, over 1200 of them (including many endangered species), in this expansive park. The animals live in spacious enclosures, similar to the habitats they would have if they were in the wild. in addition, visitors can enjoy attractions like the tropical rainforest exhibit, train rides, and a fabulous childrens' petting zoo. Get up close to a giraffe, ride a camel, and pay a visit to the Stingray Bay. During the summer season, arrive early to see the animals when they're most active. Special seasonal events, including the mega-popular holiday celebration known as ZooLights, are held throughout the year.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: The Phoenix Zoo, a short drive from downtown Scottsdale, gives visitors a close-up look at many exotic animals.

Patricia's expert tip: Pedal boat rides are available on a seasonal basis, great fun for family members of all ages.

Read more about Phoenix Zoo →


Desert Botanical Garden


Located in Papago Park, this garden features the world's largest outdoor desert plant collection. A vast array of colorful wildflowers has been strategically placed to create a spectacular display and delight visitors in the springtime, and throughout the year. Not only is this park a treat for the eyes, but it also provides exercise for the body and mind. One of the main highlights, an informative ethnobotanical walking trail, meanders through the grounds. The trail explains the many vital ways in which plants were integrated into Native American tribal life, thus illustrating the importance of plants beyond their natural beauty.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Desert Botanical Garden, located a short drive from south Scottsdale, gives visitors a close-up look at the beauty of the Sonoran Desert.

Patricia's expert tip: Music in the garden and seasonal festivals are held throughout the year. Make sure to check out the calendar of events before your visit.

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Walking, running, biking and rollerblading are the activities of choice at Chaparral Park and Community Center, one of Scottsdale's largest and most popular community parks. The 100 acre park features a range of recreational opportunities and amenities. The heart of the park is the 10 acre lake for boating and fishing, complete with wheelchair accessible fishing pier. There is an off-leash area where you let your favorite four-legged friend explore, as well as a playground and swimming pool with diving area. This is a popular destination for local organized sports teams, with six lighted ballfields, three lighted soccer fields, a full basketball court, two grass volleyball courts, and a multi-use court. If you're trying to get in shape, Chaparral offers a ten-station exercise course. A community center with one classroom hosts classes and meetings. As a part of the greenbelt, Chaparral shares a recreation path system that is ideal for running, walking, biking, and rollerblading.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Chaparral Park is a large urban oasis near downtown Scottsdale, perfect for walking, biking or fishing.

Patricia's expert tip: Chaparral Park is connected to the Scottsdale greenbelt, the city's popular recreation path system.

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When you want an up-close experience with the majestic beauty of the desert, head to Pinnacle Peak Park in Scottsdale. Pinnacle Peak is one of the Valley's most iconic natural landmarks and a popular destination for local hikers and visitors. The 150 acre park is rated as a moderate hike by The Sierra Club, with an approximate elevation gain of 1,300 feet. Hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts of all activity levels can enjoy the 1.75 mile trail, which features smooth tread. If you can make it to the trail summit, you will be rewarded by stunning views of the Valley. Experienced rock climbers with the appropriate gear can enjoy climbing in three designated ares of the park. Other park amenities include four picnic tables, restrooms, and drinking fountains.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Pinnacle Peak Park is one of Scottsdale's premier hiking destinations.

Patricia's expert tip: Stay safe! Rattlesnakes, bobcats, and gila monsters have all been spotted here.

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McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park


McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park is a train-lover's haven located in the heart of Scottsdale, Arizona. The park offers train and carousel rides for all ages, open green space for family picnics, historic Arizona railroad artifacts, model railroad displays in a new 10,000 square foot building, a train museum, and popular events throughout the year. Hartley's General Store offers hand dipped ice cream, food and drinks, and Thomas the Tank toys, while Snackstop offers a variety of snack food and drinks. Whether you're looking for a perfect picnic destination or simply take the kids on a one-mile train ride around the park, McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park is a great family-friendly attraction located just north of the city center.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park offers families a fun, affordable way to spend the day outdoors.

Patricia's expert tip: Don't miss the two playgrounds at the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park, voted some of the best in the Valley of the Sun.

Read more about McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park →


MacDonald's Ranch


MacDonald's Ranch is the Valley of the Sun's premier horseback riding stable. Located in beautiful North Scottsdale, MacDonald's Ranch offers guided horseback rides, hayrides, stagecoach rides, cowboy cookouts, and live entertainment. No matter your skill level, MacDonald's Ranch offers activities for single riders, small-, medium-, and large-sized parties, corporate gatherings, and even conventions. If you come in the fall, make sure to stop by the great pumpkin patch and amazing maze. If you're looking for a spot to celebrate a family reunion, MacDonald's Ranch offers desert sites for private cowboy cookouts. All sites offer views of the McDowell Mountain range to the east and Valley lights to the south.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: MacDonald's Ranch is a fun, family-friendly Scottsdale destination that brings the spirit of the West to life.

Patricia's expert tip: MacDonald's Ranch offers free admission to their large, walk-in petting zoo.

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TPC Scottsdale is home to the largest-attended golf tournament in the world, the perennial fan favorite Waste Management Phoenix Open, played here every winter. TPC Scottsdale is a favorite course of some of the sport's top players and recreational golfers alike, favored for its superb blend of playability and challenge. The course is surrounded by the scenic McDowell Mountains and features two championship course: the famous Stadium Course and the iconic Champions Course. TPC Scottsdale is Arizona's only PGA Tour facility, offering recreational golfers from around the world the opportunity to experience the standards and service that are normally reserved for professional players.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: TPC Scottsdale is one of the city's premier golf destinations.

Patricia's expert tip: Golf instruction is available through the TOUR academy.

Read more about TPC at Scottsdale – Stadium →




This specialty park is a mega oasis for Scottsdale residents and visitors, featuring 35 acres of recreational amenities. The park is home to an aquatic center, skate park, soccer fields, ball fields, and even a 600-foot lazy river. McDowell Mountain Ranch Park and Aquatic Center is also home to one of the Valley's best public lap pools, featuring eight lanes and four diving boards. The aquatic center features a large tube water slide, lazy river, water play features (including an interactive spray pad), and a zero-depth entry into a large play pool. Beyond the aquatic center, McDowell Mountain Ranch Park features large grassy sections with shaded picnic areas, veranda seating with a view of the pool, and even a party island at the lazy river, perfect for birthday parties.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: McDowell Mountain Ranch Park offers top-notch recreational amenities to the general public.

Patricia's expert tip: Don't miss the public art created for the park by acclaimed artist Norie Sato.

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The McDowell Sonoran Preserve protects more than 30,000 acres of pristine desert in north Scottsdale. This is a hiker's paradise, with more than 115 miles of trails, including more than 60 miles of shared-use trails. Trailhead gates are open from sunrise to sunset. There's no charge for parking or access. Start your desert adventure at The Gateway, the central trailhead that offers access to most of the preserve's popular trails. To get started, try the Bajada Nature Trail, which includes intepretive exhibits and is also ADA accessible. During the months of October, November, January, February, and March, the preserve offers Family Fridays Sunset Series programs.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: McDowell Sonoran Preserve is a good starting point for exploring the natural beauty of Scottsdale's desert preserves.

Patricia's expert tip: Trails are dog-friendly, so bring along your favorite four-legged friend. Dogs must be on a leash.

Read more about McDowell Sonoran Preserve →


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Meet Patricia Escarcega

Patricia Escarcega works as a writer and editor in Phoenix.

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