Best Family Outdoor Adventures Around Scottsdale Arizona

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I think that every family has certain places that just speak to their souls.  Places where everyone is in their element and it’s easier to relax and make amazing memories.  

After living in the deserts of the Middle East for several years, the desert is one of those places for us.  We love the dry air, the feeling of sand getting stuck between your toes, and we even love the extreme heat.  

With all that 2020 has thrown at us so far, we were feeling like we need to take some time and get away for an escape where our family could really connect and come home refreshed.  We knew that heading south to the desert was exactly what we needed.  

sedona hiking with kids

So we loaded up the kids into the car, and packed every inch of space full of bikes, hydration packs, and paddling gear (because we always have to do all the things), and headed to Scottsdale Arizona.  It was September, and as we pulled into our resort at 10pm, the outside temperature was 98 degrees.  I rolled down the car window, and looked over at Andrew and just smiled.  

“Can you feel that?” I asked.  “This weather makes me feel right at home” (several of our kids still refer to the Middle East as their home)

He grabbed my hand “Yep, this is going to be good.  Really, really good.”

And just like that, with the hot air blowing through the car, our cares started to melt away.

Best Outdoor Adventures With kids Around Scottsdale

When we travel, our main goal is to pack in as much outdoor adventure as we possibly can with our family.  Knowing that Scottsdale has some of the best desert in Arizona, we came prepared to spend lots of time exploring and enjoying the warm weather.  

hiking with kids in arizona

We had our itinerary packed to the brim.  Exploring every morning and evening until the temperatures just got too hot, and then filling the middle of our days with lots of time at the pool and the lake.  Although we were visiting Scottsdale for just 5 days, we were able to see an incredible amount and can’t wait to share with you the best places for outdoor recreation with kids around Scottsdale.

When you’re planning a trip to Scottsdale, your packing list will be almost identical to what we recommend to pack for Southern Utah!

Best places to hike and bike around Scottsdale with Kids

The desert around Scottsdale has lots of great trails to hike and mountain bike.  We hiked every day during our trip, and narrowed down our favorite areas to the top 3 trails around Scottsdale:

McDowell Sonoran Preserve hiking and biking with kids

Located just a few minutes away from our Scottsdale Resort, the McDowell Sonoran Preserve is a wonderful place to explore the desert.  This protected area has over 225 miles of trails that are open to hiking and mountain biking. 

There are so many different types of cacti and desert plants that the kids were absolutely blown away.  We let them identify a bunch of them with the Leaf Snap app and they quickly became obsessed with finding new plants.  Eventually we had to take the phone away from them because we weren’t making any progress on our trail and it was starting to get hot.  

We hiked the Gateway loop in the McDowell Preserve, but are already planning to hike Tom’s Thumb on our next visit.  

Hiking and Biking in Tempe’s Papago Park with Kids

Located a short 15 minute drive from Scottsdale, Papago Park is a giant chunk of open space right on the edge of the city, and is the perfect place for quick adventures.  We did some hiking up to Hole in the Rock and then also let the kids explore on their mountain bikes for a while, and everyone loved it. 

hiking papago park with kids

For families with several different biking abilities, Papago Park is going to be perfect for you.  There are lots of interconnected trails with varying difficulty, and the higher you go up the hillside, the more difficult and technical the trails become.  This was perfect for our family because the younger kids could ride down low, the older kids could ride the higher trails, but we were all still super close together so it made for a great family ride where everyone rode trails they loved. 

mountain biking papago park with kids

One thing that we really loved about hiking and biking at Papago Park is that there weren’t many cacti, so we didn’t have to be as scared about crashing and coming up covered in spines.  If you want to spend the entire day around Papago Park, plan on visiting the Tempe Zoo or the Desert Botanical Gardens, which are right next to the park.

Apache Wash Hiking and Biking With kids Near Scottsdale

Located about 20 minutes from our resort in Scottsdale, Apache Wash is a great set of trails out in the open deserts.  With several giant saguaro cacti to bike near as well as a variety of trails from beginner to advanced, this is a great place to mountain bike and hike near Scottsdale. 

mountain biking apache wash arizona with kids

We arrived at 6:30am and the parking lot was nearly full, so make sure to get there early to beat the heat and score a parking spot.  We took our kids on the beginner loop which was a good introduction to riding in the area.  The intermediate loop had lots of cacti along the side of it, and since we were riding with small kids, we decided that it would be best to hike that area instead of biking it, which was a great choice.  The kids loved running up and down the hills and racing each other around the twists and banked turns.  

Best lake to swim and paddle around Scottsdale with Kids

One of the highlights of our trip was the afternoon and evening we spent at Canyon Lake.  The water was a perfect warm temperature, we were surrounded by amazing cliffs (which the kids couldn’t resist jumping from), and we didn’t have to worry about the crowds.  Check out more about what we loved about Canyon Lake in our Scottsdale Getaway article.  If you’ve got your own kayaks, this is one of the best places to paddle near Scottsdale.

Best Day Trips From Scottsdale Arizona

When we first started thinking about visiting Arizona, we instantly started looking into what places we could see along the way to make the road trip more exciting.  Between our home in Utah and our final destination in Scottsdale are some pretty spectacular stretches of desert.  Since we only had 5 days, we knew that we realistically couldn’t see everything, so we narrowed it down to Sedona and the Grand Canyon.  Both of these are close enough that we could visit them on a long day trip from Scottsdale, or visit on our way to or from Arizona.  

Day Trip from Scottsdale to Sedona with Kids

Sedona is a 2 hour drive from Scottsdale, but it’s definitely worth the visit and the extra travel time.  Our main goal when visiting Sedona with kids was to hike and explore, and we found no shortage of great trails in and around Sedona.  The whole area is filled with giant sandstone cliffs and rock formations, so everywhere we looked, our jaws seemed to drop.  This was our first visit to Sedona, and it reminded us so much of Zion National Park, one of our Utah favorites.

Our favorite hike was the Cathedral rock trail, since the views were absolutely amazing.  The trail was just over a mile each way and  the last .25 miles is steep with a good amount of vertical, but still something kids in good shape can manage.  We also hiked around Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte which had easy access, but weren’t very crowded which can be hard to find on a Sedona hiking trail.  

sedona hiking with kids

The overall vibe of Sedona is very laid back and slow, so if you’re looking for a place to relax and enjoy nature, this is our top suggestion while you’re visiting Scottsdale.  

Day Trip from Scottsdale to the Grand Canyon with Kids

If visiting the Grand Canyon is on your bucket list, you’ll love that you’re just over 3 hours away while you’re visiting Scottsdale.  While the drive is long for a day, it’s absolutely doable.  If you plan to take a day trip to the Grand Canyon, you’ll want to depart by 6am, so that you can have plenty of time to explore during the day. 

If you’re wanting to do some great hiking on your Grand Canyon day trip, plan on hiking the South Kaibab Trail.  The trail will take you on a 6 mile trek through the Grand Canyon and give you lots of amazing vantage points to soak in the grandeur of the area.  The Kaibab trail does have some steep sections, so if you are looking for an easy Grand Canyon hike, consider the Rim Trail, which has several shorter sections along with multiple shuttle stops along the way. 

SAD STORY: We were so excited to take a day trip from Scottsdale to the Grand Canyon, but when thick smoke from nearby wildfires blew over the canyon, severely limiting visibility, we chose to postpone visiting the Grand Canyon for another time when we can see the canyon better.  Yes, there were some tears involved, but we’re already planning a return trip!

How to safely explore outside in the Arizona heat with Kids

When we visited Arizona, we got lucky to visit during a September heatwave where the temperatures got up to 115 Fahrenheit.  However, even with the heat wave, we still managed to go on outdoor adventures every day that we were in Arizona.  Here are our top tips for hiking and biking safely in Arizona:

-Always carry plenty of water.  You’ll need to drink at least 16 ounces of water per hour that you plan to be out in the heat.  For our kids, we find it’s easiest to get them to drink a lot if they wear a hydration pack.

-Cover Up. Always wear a hat, sunscreen, and cover up your skin to protect it from the sun.

-Avoid hiking during the heat of the day.  Most days we were leaving for the trailhead before sunrise, and done by 10 when the temperatures jumped over 100.  We also always eat an early dinner and then explore more around dusk as the temperatures start to drop.

-Stay somewhere cool during the middle of the day.  If you want to be able to explore during the morning and evening, your body will need a break from the heat during the day.  Whether that’s air conditioning, a great spot in the shade, or swimming, you’ve got to find a way to cool down.  We absolutely loved the Holiday Inn Vacation Club in Scottsdale!

-Make sure to get extra rest.  Extreme temperatures like you’ll find in Arizona will drain your energy incredibly quickly.  Plan in some time during the day to rest and even take a nap if you can.  

Where to stay in Scottsdale Arizona

During our visit to Scottsdale, we stayed at the Holiday Inn Vacation Club Resort and it was so perfect for our adventurous trip.  The location was really close to major roads, which allowed us easy access to lots of outdoor recreation.  If you’ve been following our site for a while, you know that we typically prefer to camp or stay in our RV, however, there are a few reasons that we felt like staying at a resort was a better option for a trip to Arizona.

  • We needed a place where we could stay COOL, and a tent or RV just wouldn’t cut it.  Since we were traveling with all 5 of our children and knew that the temperatures were going to be HOT, we needed a nice, cool place for their bodies to rest and recharge during the day.
  • We felt like we needed a good amount of space for the 7 of us to be able to spread out and rest.  We were packing a lot into this trip and knew that we would be pushing the limits of our energy.  Finding a resort with 4 bedroom villas was a dream come true.  This gave our younger kids a room to go to bed early in and our older kids a bit of space so they could unwind on their own.  
  • Pools, pools, pools.  Our favorite way to beat the heat during the day is in the water.  We knew that we needed to stay somewhere with a pool, but when I learned that the Holiday Inn Club in Scottsdale had FOUR POOLS, 2 waterslides, and a splash area, I was totally hooked.   

Things we specifically loved about the Scottsdale Resort

-Extra large villas for big families and groups.  Our villa had 4 bedrooms and could sleep 10, so we had plenty of space to spread out.

-POOLS!! Four pools so we had lots of options on where to swim + the kids were absolutely crazy about the waterslides!

-Lots of trees and vegetation.  It’s hard to find shade in Arizona, so the lush landscaping and tall trees all over the property at the Holiday Inn Club made us feel instantly relaxed.  

What is it like staying at a resort during COVID with kids?

We did a lot of research before we left on this trip about safety protocols and procedures that the resort had put in place with their Safe Travels Program.  Once I called the resort and talked to the manager, I knew that we were making the right choice with where to stay.  Our villa was self contained so we could get out if we wanted to, but everything we needed was right there.  We had a full kitchen so we didn’t feel like we had to eat out, and we especially loved that we had our own private outdoor entrance so we wouldn’t have to come in contact with many people.  

Our kids spent several hours each day at the pool, and I’ve never been so grateful to have multiple pools at a resort.  If one pool was looking a little more crowded, it was easy to find another pool that wasn’t crowded at all. 

The resort did a great job of spacing out the pool seating so it was really easy to stay distanced from others, while still letting the kids have fun and play in the pools.  Throughout the day, we would regularly see cleaning staff wiping down surfaces and it was clear that they were serious about keeping the resort as germ free as possible. 

We kept joking that we probably had a bigger chance of catching COVID at home than while we were staying at the resort, because they were so serious about their cleaning.We felt safe during our whole stay there so we could worry less about COVID and focus more on our adventures.

At the end of the day, we came away convinced that resorts like the Holiday Inn Vacation Club in Scottsdale made perfect sense when traveling right now, because it let us have as little or as much interaction with others as we wanted.  

As the end of our 5 day trip to Arizona drew to a close, we left for home with that amazing feeling that only comes when you get out of your comfort zone and push your limits in beautiful places.  The memories we were able to create in such a short period of time were incredible, and we can’t wait to go back again and continue our exploration.  Next time, we’re really hoping to be able to see the Grand Canyon as well as get some more hiking and desert exploring in.  

This post was created in collaboration with Holiday Inn Club Vacations.

About Jessica Averett

Hi, I’m Jessica, a mom of 5 kids and married to my favorite adventure partner. I love to bike, ski, camp and hike. We've visited over 40 countries with our kids, but are equally happy on the road as we are exploring our home state of Utah.

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