How to Beat the Heat in Scottsdale

Five ways to stay cool—while active—under the Arizona sun.

By Bill Fink

Even as the temperatures soar in Arizona, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the beautiful outdoors around Scottsdale. The area has surprisingly accessible water-based adventures as well as scenic hiking options if you take advantage of cooler hours in the mornings and evenings. With a couple water bottles, a full tube of sunscreen, and a willingness to explore, you can get outside all year—summer included.

View of the mountains that surround Desert Botanical Garden in Scottsdale in summer.
Mountains surround Scottsdale’s Desert Botanical Garden.
Photo: Adam Rodriguez

Flashlight Touring at Desert Botanical Garden

Desert Botanical Garden (1201 N. Galvin Pkwy., Phoenix; 480-941-1225; admission, $25) is a 55-acre park containing thousands of species of plants, including an astonishing array of cacti. Its guided nature walks are pleasant on cooler days, but when the weather heats up in the summer, a great way to escape the sun is with a Saturday-night flashlight tour ($15 a person; children, $10). The garden also has rotating art exhibitions, a dining area, and a bar with prickly-pear cocktails to help cool you off.

Kayaking the Salt River

Floating down the gentle current of the Salt River—a breeze waving the reeds on the shoreline, herons and bald eagles flying above, and calm pools all around—you’d think you were in the remote wilderness, not a short hop from downtown Scottsdale. Arizona Outback Adventures (17465 N. 93rd St., Scottsdale; 866-455-1601; half-day tours, from $116 a person) offers great half-day floats on the river suitable for beginners, with guides sharing paddle techniques and nature stories.

Diving Into Lake Pleasant

As its name suggests, Lake Pleasant Regional Park (40202 N 87th Ave., Peoria; 928-501-5270) is a downright pleasant escape from the Arizona desert heat. About an hour’s drive from downtown Scottsdale, this 23,000-acre reservoir is overflowing with water-based activities. The park hosts everything from food and drinks at the lakefront Scorpion Bay Grill (10970 W. Peninsula Blvd., Peoria; 928-501-3440; dinner for two, $30*) to sunset dinner cruises, fishing expeditions, paddleboarding, and even plunging down H2-Whoa!, the world’s tallest floating waterslide.

Sunrise Hiking

Camelback Mountain (602-534-5867) looms above Scottsdale like it is just begging to be climbed. And plenty of people make the two-to-three-hour trek to the 2,700-foot summit for 360-degree views over central Arizona, including Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Paradise Valley. It’s still possible to hike the mountain in summer, but go at sunrise when its cooler. You can reach the top via Echo Canyon (4925 E. McDonald Dr., Phoenix) or the longer but slightly easier Cholla Trail (6131 E. Cholla Ln., Paradise Valley). Dress in layers, as the chilly predawn temperatures climb in a hurry once the sun rises.

Exploring Scottsdale’s Great Indoors

When it’s too hot to be outside, the Scottsdale area still has a ton to do indoors. You could easily spend a full day immersing yourself in the Musical Instrument Museum (4725 E. Mayo Blvd., Phoenix; 480-476-6000; admission, $20). Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West (3800 N. Marshall Way, Scottsdale; 480-686-9539; admission, $15) offers a good introduction to the history and legends of the Wild West era. And to really escape the desert, dive into the OdySea Aquarium (9500 Via de Ventura, Scottsdale; 480-291-8000; admission, $40), whose two million gallons of cool blue water display more than 30,000 sea creatures in 50 exhibits.

  • *Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax, or tip.
  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: July 2019