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Thrill-Seekers Get Their Kicks in Scottsdale

Scottsdale has a natural advantage over other destinations. A sophisticated oasis in the heart of the rugged Sonoran Desert, it’s a playground comprised of mountains, parks and a diverse array of flora, fauna and wildlife. Scottsdale provides adventure opportunities that are second to none. Soar through the cloudless sky in a hot air balloon among mountain peaks. Feel the rush of excitement while maneuvering a Chevrolet Corvette around a tricky corner at top speed. Fulfill your childhood dream of ropin’ and ridin’ like the best Old West cowboys. And, even though the Sonoran Desert is the ideal landscape for thrill-seekers, Scottsdale is also home to indoor adventures, like rock climbing and kart racing. Visit to plan your thrilling escape.


Scottsdale is bordered by the McDowell Mountains and Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve, which is 30,200 acres of protected land that can be experienced by mountain biking, hiking, backpacking and horseback riding. Guided hikes range from 1 to more than 10 miles in length roundtrip; the preserve offers 31 trails that total nearly 55 miles in length. At the main entrance, the Gateway Trailhead incorporates eco-friendly architecture; rock and soil excavated from the area make up the walls of its administration building. Check out the Bajada Nature Trail, where anyone, from the visually impaired to those in motorized vehicles, can enjoy a unique desert experience. See the stunning vistas from Tom’s Thumb Trailhead along the preserve’s northern slope and visit Brown's Ranch Trailhead, which offers hikers, bikers and horseback riders a look into the history of the area through exhibits featuring local ranchers.

Explore the preserve with Arizona Outback Adventures to learn about the desert and its unique inhabitants from local experts. From guided hikes to mountain biking, or even a combination of both, these enthusiastic guides share their passion for the Sonoran Desert and help visitors experience the diverse terrain in a whole new way. Or check out one of the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy’s desert programs, which feature guided hikes that incorporate geology lessons, tai chi and wildlife experiences that broaden your knowledge of this scenic land and its history. Other favored trails can be found at McDowell Mountain Regional Park, Camelback Mountain, Papago Park, Piestewa Peak and Superstition Mountains.

Join for the annual Tour de Scottsdale Oct. 9 for 30-mile and 70-mile citizen’s bike rides through North Scottsdale that benefit the nonprofit McDowell Sonoran Conservancy, the organization that protects the preserve.

Book a road biking getaway at Bespoke Inn, Café & Bicycles. Scottsdale’s only B&B also houses Scottsdale’s only artisan, steel boutique bicycle shop, Bespoke Cycles. With packages like the All Inclusive Cycling Vacation, Bespoke’s proprietors map out local rides, lend and service high-end road bikes for daily use, and guide you on multi-mile treks to areas like Saguaro or Bartlett lakes.


Professional climbing guides from 360 Adventures help you experience the thrill of recreational rock climbing and rappelling amidst some of the desert’s most beautiful scenery.  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.

Fine tune your skills at AZ on the Rocks, a 14,000-square-foot air-conditioned textured climbing terrain. Climbers of all skill levels experience a physical high while learning basic knot-tying, equipment usage, and other advanced climbing skills that take them to the top. The gym features 50 top ropes, lead climbing, a large bouldering (free climbing) area and an observation deck.


If you prefer to experience the rugged desert terrain from the back seat of a four-wheel drive vehicle or atop a rumbling ATV, there’s a number of motorized tours from which to choose. Jump aboard one of Stellar Adventures specially modified Hummers for an axle-grinding tour up 60-degree grades and across a raging river. Tell everyone to eat your dust as you pilot one of Desert Dog Hummer Adventures dune buggy-like, U-Drive Desert Cars custom-designed for powering over desert terrain. Pink Adventure Tours pairs the thrill of off-roading with the beauty of the Sonoran Desert. Learn about American Indian culture while traversing the pristine landscapes of the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation aboard the company’s hot pink Jeeps.

Prefer to drive yourself? Desert Wolf Tours and Green Zebra Adventures offer self-pilot tours using their fleet of Tomcars, originally developed as Israeli Defense Forces vehicles. Drivers and passengers romp through the desert at their own pace and learn all about Arizona’s varied desert terrain.

If loud engines and fancy cars are your thing, head over to the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving the largest purpose-built facility in North America that features a 1.6-mile racetrack and 8 acres of asphalt. 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 or Camaro. Experience the art of high-performance driving and the thrill of driving from 0 to 60 in less than four seconds.

Take your speed indoors at one of Scottsdale’s indoor kart racing facilities like Octane Raceway. 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 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!  


Enjoy a sunrise horseback ride through the Sonoran Desert with Windwalker Expeditions or Fort McDowell Adventures. From high in the saddle, you’ll see exotic cacti, rolling desert foothills and crystalline streams. As you explore the pristine natural habitats, your guide will entertain with stories and legends of Arizona's first cowboys. “Greenhorns” and bowlegged caballeros alike will enjoy the quiet grandeur of the Sonoran Desert. The entire family will enjoy a trail ride at MacDonald’s Ranch, home to a petting zoo, gem mine and more.  

For those who are looking for more than trail rides and cookouts, Arizona Cowboy College offers students a unique firsthand experience of true cowboy life during one-, three- or five-day camp sessions. Participants sleep in a bunkhouse after days dedicated to learning the ropes of horsemanship and participating in rigorous classes about cattle. Then, they partake in on-the-range lessons about cutting, branding, inoculating, dehorning and driving cattle on working ranches.


Take to the air with a hot air balloon adventure with Hot Air Expeditions, Rainbow Ryders, or Arizona Balloon Safaris.  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’ll be welcomed back to earth in the traditional manner with flutes of champagne and breakfast, a ballooning custom dating back more than 100 years. Or scope out the desert by small plane during a scenic trip with Westwind Air Service to Arizona landmarks like Sedona or the Grand Canyon. 


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 outfitted raft and kayak trips on both the Salt and Verde rivers. Valley-based rafting guides, Arizona Outback Adventures and AAM’s Mild to Wild Rafting, ply their trade on two such rivers, the Salt and Verde. While paddling through these lush Cottonwood-Willow riparian areas, rafters might spy predatory birds such as hawks and nesting bald eagles, as well as coyotes, javelina and wild mustangs. Just Roughin’ It Adventure Company promises kayakers unforgettable vistas of cacti, red rocks and coves in nearby Canyon Lake.
Take a backseat to the action during a Desert Belle cruise on Saguaro Lake. This 143-passenger, two-level boat allows visitors to get a closer look at the native flora and fauna while navigating one of the Valley’s pristine Sonoran Desert canyons.
At OdySea Aquarium, which opened in September, guests can dive in and swim with the fishes – and other marine life – in an experience called SeaTrek. For an additional fee, visitors can strap on a helmet and wet suit and enter a 250,000-gallon tank filled with fish, sharks and more than 70 Hawaiian rays.


Scottsdale offers many beautiful places for leisurely walks and romantic strolls. Browse through the Desert Botanical Garden’s many exhibits including the Cactus and Succulent galleries, Sonoran Desert Nature Loop 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, a picnic area, a 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.

Flutter over to Scottsdale’s newest world-class attraction, Butterfly Wonderland, part of the OdySea in the Desert complex in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, for a closer look at the largest butterfly pavilion in the United States. In addition to featuring an array of butterflies from around the world, the museum has several interactive exhibits showcasing other natural wonders, from honey bees and ants to sea life.