Adventurer's Complete Weekend in Scottsdale

By local contributor
Annemarie Kruse

Scottsdale may be famous for its spas, resorts, iconic cacti and major attractions like Spring Training, but there is another side to this city that’s only beginning to get the attention it deserves. When asked what there is to do in town, I quickly turn to lists of trails, peaks, parks, boulder piles, and cycling routes. If you know where to look, there is no end to the options for outdoor adventure in Scottsdale. Join me for my take on the “adventurer’s complete weekend” without ever leaving Scottsdale.


Friday at 5 p.m. – Trail Running


I keep trail runners, and extra clothes in my car at all times so I can head straight from the office into the weekend. I lace up my shoes, fill my hydration pack (a must in AZ!), and head to Gateway Trailhead in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve for a trail run around the Gateway loop trail (4.5 miles). Time it right to catch an iconic Arizona sunset. In the summer, head counterclockwise for better shade and northwest sunset views. In winter, the opposite applies. Carry a headlamp for safety should you get caught in diminishing light.


Friday at 6:30 p.m. – Post-run recovery drinks


Sweaty and starving is my attire of choice this Friday night, but the low-key vibe of nearby Scottsdale Beer Company keeps me from feeling out of place. The crowd is too preoccupied with the impressive tap list to notice the dirt on my running shoes. Pair a house-brewed pilsner, lager, or pale ale (depending on the rotating taps) with the white bean hummus starter and roasted beet and citrus salad. Fuel up, the weekend is just beginning.


Saturday at 5 a.m. – Rock Climbing


There is a surprising number of rock climbing options in and around Scottsdale. Some of the most beloved spots can be found in the granitic terrain around Tom’s Thumb. Access this area from Tom’s Thumb Trailhead at the north end of Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve and be ready for a hike/scramble toaccess most of these routes. The approach is a great warm-up and the perfect opportunity to take in the views. If you time it right, you may be able to catch sunrise over the Four Peaks Wilderness area to the east. Be sure to do your research or bring a friend who knows the area well to help you find the most suitable climbs. *Note: Climbing outdoors is not recommended during the hot desert summer, instead consider getting a bike ride in early then hitting Arizona on the Rocks for an afternoon of indoor climbing.


Saturday at 9 a.m. - Farmers Market, Breakfast and Mimosas


Swing by the Farmer’s Market in Old Town Scottsdale and browse the local vendors for pastries and coffee. While here, I pick up fresh meats and produce for my week. Next, stop by Cafe Zuzu at the Hotel Valley Ho in downtown Scottsdale for a mid-morning mimosa and browse the breakfast menu, most of which features local ingredients curated by Chef Wiley. Keep it light (though that stuffed French toast is awfully tempting!) as this afternoon will be your biggest challenge yet.


Saturday at 2 p.m. - Road biking


Scottsdale has the best roads in Arizona for cycling. Wide bike lanes and low rainfall make for a smooth surface and good riding conditions. There are endless options for road cycling routes in Scottsdale, and one of my favorites begins in downtown then meanders through the ranch-style neighborhoods of Paradise Valley before reaching North Scottsdale’s xeriscaped communities that blend seamlessly into the surrounding mountains. This ride climbs steadily for the first half to a turnaround point at the Sunrise Trailhead on the southern edge of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Here you have incredible south-facing views all the way to the Superstition Mountains. Follow a similar route back, and enjoy the casual downhill as you cruise along Indian Bend Wash to an afternoon pick me up at Cartel Coffee lab. Total distance: 40 miles.


Saturday at 6 p.m. – Western-style dinner with a twist


It’s been a long day so indulge a little at Cowboy Ciao. The menu at this eclectic spot takes my mind off my ailing muscles and I can’t leave without the Truffled Mac ‘n’ Cheese. After a dinner fit for a queen (of the mountain) and a couple Ciao-Girl Martinis, I start to believe that a 7 a.m. date with my mountain bike is still a good idea.


Sunday at 7 a.m. – Mountain biking


This ride is on dirt, but it’s no stomach-dropping Red Bull Rampage. At Brown’s Ranch Trailhead in the northern part of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve there are so many trails that it’s easy to create a ride to suit any skill level. I begin with Whiskey Bottle trail and head north around towering Granite Mountain, passing Balancing Rock and then finishing up via fast and windy Maverick trail. The lush landscape here is filled with a wide variety of plants and animals. Hikers, equestrians, and cyclists share the trail system and the enjoyment of spotting a desert tortoise, Gila monster, or Harris’s hawk.


Sunday at 10 a.m. – Recovery


There are many choices for relaxation in Scottsdale, and I found one true to this weekend’s adventure theme. Agave, the Arizona Spa at the Westin Kierland offers a Fireball Facial (yes, with Fireball Cinnamon whisky!). Seeing as Fireball is the perfect accompaniment to any outdoor adventure, this was a must try.


Sunday at 5 p.m. – Sunset hike


Stretch those legs with an easy hike . Beginning at the Quartz Trailhead, just a couple of miles south of the Gateway Trailhead,  Quartz trail is a steady climb through a verdant wash to a scenic viewpoint at the Taliesin Overlook (5.2 miles roundtrip). This is one of my favorite spots in all of Scottsdale. The landscape below hums a muted melody of desert sounds and city murmurs and the sandy hues of buildings blend into the surrounding landscape as if they were always there.


Sunday at 8 p.m. – Dinner at FnB


After a long weekend of what I consider the best side of the city, there’s no better way to top it off than a dinner at downtown’s FnB. Specialists in locally sourced ingredients and seasonal fare, I gain extra satisfaction in knowing that my meal comes from the very terrain that I’ve spent so much time with over the last couple of days.