Even as a growing desert city with a sense of sophistication, Scottsdale, Arizona, keeps a rugged playground. Based in the Sonoran Desert and bordering the McDowell Mountains, this destination puts thrill seekers and nature lovers in close proximity to trails, peaks and even overhead views. Whether for easy pacers or experienced trekkers, here are active suggestions for discovering more of Scottsdale’s natural beauty.


Trail along McDowell Sonoran Preserve

This massive nature preserve provides a great introduction to the desert’s distinctive geology and wildlife. Explore it on foot, bike or horseback along the major trailheads, which can accommodate visitors with various ability levels. The Marcus Landslide Trail is a gentle route following along unique cacti (such as the tree-like saguaro and the fuzzy-looking but best-avoided cholla). Brown’s Ranch Trailhead is well-suited for biking. Better yet, book an excursion with AOA Adventures, which provides expert guided tours through the preserve.


Hike through Pinnacle Peak Park

This park offers a moderate hike leading up, down and through part of the Sonoran Desert. The out-and-back trail, which runs 1.75 miles each way, also has designated areas for rock climbing. The overall scenery is rewarding, with a stunning variety of flora and fauna extending to saguaro and cholla cactuses, and ocotillos, a red-flowering plant. At times it’s possible to spot wildlife ranging from rattlesnakes and Gila monsters to coyotes and javelina.


Get challenged at Camelback Mountain

For high-level hikers, this mountain — named for its silhouette of the animal’s hump — will provide quite the physical challenge. Its two summit trails — Echo Canyon and Cholla — are strenuous, with steep grades in your reach the top. Or opt for one of the less demanding routes that encompass Camelback’s base instead. Rock climbers can also access The Praying Monk, a red sandstone rock formation, on the mountain.


Sprawl out in McDowell Mountain Regional Park

This park in the lower Verde River basin is noted for its 50-plus miles of multi-use trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding, plus various camping sites and a three-loop biking track. Picnickers can bring their baskets to one of two picnic areas.


Take a hot air balloon ride

For a more relaxing way to take in the scenery, opt for an aerial adventure. Excursion companies such as Phoenix’s Hot Air Expeditions cast off on daily sunrise and seasonal sunset flights (weather-permitting) that float along an 8- to 10-mile trek, at heights between 1,000 to 5,000 feet, along the Sonoran Desert. Watch your balloon get ready to go and then climb into its wicker basket to start your upward journey. After landing, riders get treated to a light breakfast or evening meal.