Explore the Best Destinations in Scottsdale’s Sonoran Desert

The Sonoran Desert in Scottsdale boasts some of the most amazing destinations in the country.

Dr. Jeffrey D. Clark and his entire team at Scottsdale Cosmetic Dentistry Excellence are proud to provide patients the most innovative dental care available. We are also honored to be part of the Scottsdale community, and our articles are not just limited to dentistry but intended to provide real value to the people who live here and those visiting us, whether it be for the first time or on a regular basis. Scottsdale attracts many golfers due to our great golf courses, but the splendor of this region extends far beyond the greens.

Many people who have never visited a desert and the Sonoran Desert in particular often have certain preconceptions: parched earth, sand dunes, and homogenous landscapes. But this is often not the case, and with the Sonoran Desert especially so. In fact, Scottsdale’s Sonoran Desert is the most ecologically diverse desert region not just in the United States but in the world! Majestic beauty abounds. While you will find sand dunes and scorched soil, you will also discover breathtaking vistas, flowers in bloom, forests on the mountains, teeming wildlife, more than 300 species of cacti, quiet solitude, hikes that exhilarate, and destinations that challenge even the most stalwart thrill-seekers and adventurers. With that in mind, let us have a look at locations in Scottsdale’s Sonoran Desert you just have to see.

Take a Moment to See Scottsdale’s Sonoran Desert

Here we present two videos that really showcase the splendor of the Sonoran Desert. Enjoy actual images of not just the landscape but the wildlife that makes this region so special. If you need the motivation, these images may spark you to try hiking, backpacking, and other activities in the area.

The McDowell Sonoran Preserve
18333 N Thompson Peak Pkwy, Scottsdale, AZ 85255
(480) 312-7013

Encompassing more than 30,500 acres, North Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve is the largest urban preserve in the country. It offers more than 225 miles of trails through the McDowell Mountain foothills, which you can use to walk, hike, run, ride your bicycle or ride horses. If you want a snapshot of what makes this region so special, this location is a great place to get it. The Gateway is a central trailhead and among the most popular destinations here because it is a 4.5-mile loop that is not overly difficult and provides access to the preserve’s most well-traveled trails. Travelers will experience towering Saguaro cacti, bright green palo verde trees, roadrunners, javelinas, and desert birds.

Another location worth highlighting is the Bajada Nature Trail, which is an interpretive trail—meaning it tells a story about the region. It is conveniently located near the Sabina Recreation Visitor Center. It has no elevation, is ADA-accessible, and is decorated with numerous signs detailing the flora and fauna. There are also various games and other activities along the way in order to entertain younger travelers.

The McDowell Sonoran Preserve not only offers trails for casual hikers but for intermediate and advanced trekkers as well. All are well-marked, and many trails feature lavatories, detailed maps, and volunteers who can provide assistance. The McDowell Sonoran Preserve opens when the sun rises and closes when it sets, and there are never any charges for access or even parking. January, February, March, October, and November are particularly special because the Family Fridays Sunset Series is hosted at the Lost Dog Wash Trailhead and provides a fantastic way for families to wind down the week.

Other treasures to discover at the McDowell Sonoran Preserve include:

  • Numerous tree species, such as acacia, ironwood, mesquite, and palo verde.
  • Hundreds of cacti species, including cholla, golden barrel, hedgehog, prickly pear, and saguaro.
  • At least 25 mammal species, featuring bobcats, coyotes, javelina, mountain lions, and mule deer.
  • At least 35 reptilian and amphibian species, such as desert tortoises, Gila monsters, king snakes, and rattlesnakes.
  • 128 identified bird species, including cactus wrens, cardinals, Gambel’s quails, great horned owls, mourning doves, prairie falcons, Harris’s hawks, roadrunners, and vultures.
  • Historic sites, such as Brown’s Ranch, DC Ranch, Dixie Mine, and Frazier Spring.
  • Archaeological sites with petroglyphs, projectile points, pottery sherds, and other evidence of ancient life.
  • Awesome geological features, including deep canyons, windswept passes, quartz hills, weathered granite, unique boulder outcroppings, and mountain peaks that soar to 4,000 feet.
  • Locations with imaginative names like Balanced Rock, Lost Dog Wash, Marcus Landslide, Tom’s Thumb, and Windgate Pass.

Pinnacle Peak Park
26802 N 102nd Way, Scottsdale, AZ 85262
(480) 312-0990

Pinnacle Peak Park is another great way to explore the Sonoran Desert. This park is located within the northeast area of Scottsdale and is among the most iconic natural landmarks in the valley. It not only draws visitors from all around but is a hotspot for locals as well. The park measures 150 acres, has an elevation gain of about 1,300 feet, and challenges you with what the Sierra Club rates as a moderate hike. The smooth-treaded main trail is 1.75 miles long and is welcoming to all outdoor enthusiasts.

Hikers who make it to the summit are rewarded with a breathtaking view of North Scottsdale, including the picturesque fairways of the Troon North Golf Club. As you get there, monolithic granite boulders will tower above you, and you will venture through a habitat that is home to bobcats, desert tortoises, Gila monsters, javelinas, rattlesnakes, and many other desert dwellers. You will experience a spectacular variety of flora as well, including cholla and saguaro cacti and ocotillos, a beautiful red-flowering plant.

Visitors who prefer something a bit more adventurous can bring their climbing gear and challenge themselves at three designated areas. When you need a break from whichever activity you choose, you will find picnic tables, ramadas, water fountains, washrooms, displays, and helpful staff at the base of the trail. Along the trail, you will find signage that provides information about the flora, fauna, and other aspects of the region. The parking lot has 90 spaces and tends to fill up fast in the morning, but there is street parking as well. Park guides are available for interpretive hikes, and you should check the schedule for events, including astronomy evenings and full moon hikes.

Desert Botanical Garden
1201 N Galvin Pkwy, Phoenix, AZ 85008
(480) 941-1225

The Desert Botanical Garden is located in Phoenix but just a short drive from anywhere in Scottsdale. The garden is situated within Papago Park and is notable because it boasts the largest and most diverse collection of desert plants in the world—more than 50,000 unique species! You can expect hundreds of unique cacti but also a variety of trees, bushes, and wildflowers that are sure to surprise and delight you. There are also many varieties of butterflies and birds, including woodpeckers and hummingbirds.

While the Desert Botanical Garden is an excellent option when you just want to take in the sights, it is a great place to enjoy some physical and mental exercise as well. Consider the informative ethnobotanical walking trail, which is a highlight here and roams the entire garden but also invites you to take breaks to read about the various fauna and flora surrounding you. These details are not limited to the basics and consider how these plants played a pivotal role for Native Americans in the region. Other activities include specialized tours, special events, seasonal activities, dining areas, and gift shops, and you can even learn about desert landscaping, cooking, wellness, nature art, and much more.

Camelback Mountain
Cholla Trailhead: 6131 E Cholla Ln, Paradise Valley, AZ 85253
Echo Canyon Trailhead: 4925 E McDonald Dr, Phoenix, AZ 85018
(602) 534-5867

Camelback Mountain is a natural wonder that is particularly appealing to advanced hikers. The mountain gets its name from its shape, which resembles the shape of a kneeling camel. It offers two summit trails—Cholla and Echo Canyon—and both are recognized for the challenge they provide. Both offer a strenuous climb but reaching the top rewards you with amazing views of the city below. The mountain offers less difficult routes too that let you take in the native plants, antelope squirrels, cottontail rabbits, and much more, and climbers have access to a red sandstone formation known as The Praying Monk.

Butterfly Wonderland
9500 E Via De Ventura, Scottsdale, AZ 85256
(480) 800-3000

The largest butterfly pavilion in the U.S. is located right here in Scottsdale at Butterfly Wonderland. This contemporary facility presents a real tropical rainforest habitat indoors thanks to a magnificent glass atrium. Thousands of butterflies from not just this region but from around the world fly free. You can also enjoy galleries with exhibits aimed at children, educational laboratories that host nature programs and community workshops, and a 3D theater that shows films like “Flight of the Butterflies.” There is also a gift shop where you can buy practically any butterfly-themed souvenir you might imagine.

OdySea Aquarium
9500 E Via De Ventura, Scottsdale, AZ 85256
(480) 291-8000

OdySea Aquarium is among the newest and most innovative aquariums in the United States, and it was built in a desert! This aquarium in Scottsdale spans more than 200,000 square feet, which makes it the largest aquarium in the Southwest, and it contains more than 2 million gallons of water. Notable features include the Aqua Lobby, which houses massive globe-shaped aquariums; Penguin Point, where you can get up close and personal with the penguins; and the Deep Ocean Escalator, which plunges you into the depths in order to be in close proximity to eight shark species and three large schooling fish.

The Scottsdale Xeriscape Garden at Chaparral Park
8111 E McDonald Dr, Scottsdale, AZ 85250
(480) 312-3111

The Scottsdale Xeriscape Garden at Chaparral Park is certified as a wildlife habitat by the National Wildlife Federation, and it boasts more than 200 unique animals and 7,000 unique plants. The garden measures 5.5 acres and has its own underwater reservoir. This was necessary to achieve a design goal of preserving all of the flora native to the region. It also serves as an educational resource, raises awareness about local plant species, and shines a light on sustainable landscaping. Clear signage and interactive guides help visitors navigate the garden and learn about the flora preserved there.

McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park
7301 E Indian Bend Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85250
(480) 312-2312

If you love trains, you will have a blast at the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park in Scottsdale. The park is geared toward children as well as adult aficionados. You can ride the trains. There are carousel rides as well as wide-open areas that are perfect for picnics and other family activities. An indoor train museum is on-site as well. The museum has railroad artifacts on hand indoors and out, and the park features a 10,000-square-foot building that is dedicated to model railroad displays that reflect the region.

Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center
27026 N 156th St, Scottsdale, AZ 85262
(480) 471-9109

The Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center is a fascinating place to visit as an adult, but the center really embraces its role in getting young people interested in wild animal rescue. SWCC is not a zoo or an animal park but rather a sanctuary dedicated to rescuing wild animals that have been orphaned, injured, or abandoned. Some animals live their entire lives at the sanctuary, but whenever possible, the staff is dedicated to getting the animals reintegrated into their natural habitats.

The sanctuary is home to porcupines, mountain lions, jaguars, gray wolves, coyotes, bobcats, black bears, and much more, and the experience is not limited to just seeing these animals. There are educational opportunities that deal with the species in general but also with the specific rescues. The center also offers tours, such as the Full Moon Tour, Sunrise Nature Tour, and Walk with Wildlife.

Scottsdale’s Museum of the West
3830 N Marshall Way, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
(480) 686-9539

The Museum of the West in Scottsdale is dedicated to preserving the history of the West. It celebrates cultures, heritage, and environments, and it features permanent exhibitions as well as rotating exhibitions. The rotating exhibitions allow it to show more than would otherwise be possible, and these short-term experiences are often chosen based on the season, important anniversaries, or even current events. There are two floors stacked with art, cultural artifacts, and memorabilia. The museum hosts special events throughout each month, and it has a theater that shows both entertainment and educational programs and boasts an impressive selection of relevant movie posters.

Old Town Scottsdale

Old Town Scottsdale is the heart of modern Scottsdale. It boasts cafes, boutiques, museums, art galleries, sparkling fountains, sprawling greens, and outdoor sculptures that celebrate the Old West heritage of the city. The area is known for its window shopping and various restaurants. Even if you are not here to shop, there are numerous small stores where you can see things you never have before.

Scottsdale Historical Museum
7333 E Scottsdale Mall, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
(480) 945-4499

The Scottsdale Historical Museum is located within Old Town Scottsdale, and there is enough to do in this one area that you can make a day of it. This particular museum is dedicated to preserving the history of Scottsdale, and it offers exhibits and serves as home to the Scottsdale Historical Society. The museum is located within the historic 1909 Little Red Schoolhouse, and in addition to the exhibits, features include preserved school rooms, photographs, artifacts, and numerous displays.

Old Town Scottsdale Farmers Market
3806 N Brown Ave, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
(623) 848-1234

The Old Town Scottsdale Farmers Market is seasonal. It opens at the beginning of October and closes at the end of May. As you may expect, the market features local produce as well as various regional food items. Highlights include organic fruits, vegetables and herbs, natural meats, free-range eggs, local milk and cheeses, and fresh-baked bread. Bakers sell artisan bread, muffins, cakes, and pies. You can eat right there at the market. The market also hosts various food-related events throughout the season, and the Edible Education Series lets you learn recipes, techniques, and more from professional chefs.

Expand Your Horizons in Scottsdale’s Sonoran Desert

Scottsdale is a special place, and the Sonoran Desert is unlike anywhere else in the U.S. and even the world. Jeffrey D. Clark, DDS, fell in love with the area, opened his practice here, and spends a great deal of his free time exploring it. If you are visiting Scottsdale, Dr. Clark and his team at Scottsdale Cosmetic Dentistry Excellence hope that you enjoy a truly memorable experience and want to return! If you live in the area or are moving here soon, we encourage you to consider our practice as your dental office.

Dr. Clark is a leading cosmetic dentist in Scottsdale who has been serving this great community for more than 20 years. His office, which is conveniently located at the southwest corner of Bell Road and the 101 Freeway, is modern, impeccably clean, and outfitted with the latest in dental technologies. Not only is Dr. Clark committed to innovation in dental care but ensuring that our patients feel welcomed and relaxed. You can come to us for regular checkups and cleanings, but we also plan comprehensive smile makeovers that can include teeth whitening, porcelain veneers, same-day crowns, teeth-straightening clear aligners, and dental implants. Dr. Clark treats patients for sleep apnea, bruxism, and snoring, and all of his exams include oral cancer and other prescreening. If you have any questions about the dental services we offer or want to book an appointment, we encourage you to call today at 480 585 1853.

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