Family adventure holidays

Scottsdale Arizona: where kids can be cowboys and the sun always shines

Last updated 27th January 2024

Head west is the message from Siobhan Grogan as she and her kids embrace their inner pioneer, pick up some cowgirl skills and enjoy the sun, on the family adventure in Scottsdale Arizona.

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Riding the lonesome trail, Scottsdale, Arizona

Forget big cities or theme parks for your next US family holiday. Instead, go west to the desert city of Scottsdale in Arizona where wide-open expanses, craggy mountain ranges and vast tranquil ranches are a cactus-studded playground for active families searching for authentic adventure. All this and 330 days of glorious sunshine each year.

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Pool, ADERO, Scottsdale, Arizona

Take your pick of family hotels in Scottsdale, Arizona

With more than ten million annual visitors, Scottsdale in Arizona isn’t short on places to bed down. But at over 30 miles long, it’s worth consulting Experience Scottsdale to help choose your base and even help with hiring a car, if you want to explore further.

To make the most of the great outdoors, we stayed in the sleek, contemporary ADERO Scottsdale overlooking the wildly beautiful Sonoran Desert.

There are hiking trails straight from the front door at the hotel, as well as a family swimming pool, connecting rooms and firepits for after-dinner s’mores. Best of all, it’s in a certified Dark Sky Community so kids can gawp at star-speckled skies or join one of the regular stargazing sessions.

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The Hermosa Inn, Scottsdale, Arizona

For an added treat, squeeze in an extra night at The Hermosa Inn, where flower-lined paths weave through landscaped gardens to individual casitas with open fires, rolltop baths and private porches. Camelback Mountain is on the doorstep but there are also complimentary bikes to ride the nearby canal path and an impossibly pretty patio restaurant. Just don’t miss the free homemade cookies in the lobby.

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Arizona Cowboy College, Scottsdale

Kids will love pretending to be cowboys and cowgirls

Bring kids’ dressing-up games to life with a day at Arizona Cowboy College that your children will talk about for years to come. This really is one of those magical places to take kids before they grow up.

This is no slick, sanitized attraction, it’s a real-life working ranch where even the youngest guest is expected to muck in and take it seriously; learning to groom and saddle a horse, ride, work with cattle and lasso. Beware: this is a lot harder than it looks, even on a stationary plastic cow.

Discover Pensacola and find your own, personal Way to Beach

Afterwards, head to The Buffalo Chip Saloon & Steakhouse where you’ll feel like you’ve walked straight onto the set of an old fashioned Western. Feast on hearty barbeque favourites like beef brisket, cowboy beans and “quickdraw coleslaw”. Then copy locals and head out back for a full-blown bull-riding rodeo show that will leave kids open-mouthed.

There’s live country music and dancing inside afterwards where Stetsons aren’t obligatory, but definitely encouraged.

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Hiking into the wilds, Scottsdale, Arizona

The vast desert landscape is the ideal backdrop for adventure

There’s no chance children will be bored with more than 30,000 acres of desert to run wild in. Scattered with rust-red boulders, mirror-still lakes, ominous granite formations and towering saguaro cacti, this other-worldly landscape is paradise for adrenalin-loving families.

Rise at dawn for a hot air balloon ride over the plains, hire a mountain bike, try kayaking or see the desert by horseback – my two-hour sunset ride with Windwalker Expeditions was easily a highlight of my trip.

Over 200 miles of marked trails, mean there are also hikes to suit even the littlest legs. Although we tackled the intense Echo Trail on Camelback Mountain and were astounded to see several children scrambling effortlessly up rocks on that, to a summit with panoramic views of the desert and neighbouring Phoenix.

The Sunrise Peak Trail in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve is a far gentler option and opting for a guided hike with REI Co-Op Experiences will give kids added incentive. Our guide pointed out – shudder – tarantula holes, rattlesnake warning signs, bushes that produce chewing gum and cacti over 150 years old.

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Bloody Mary combos, Hash Kitchen

Child-friendly menus are a theme in this part of Arizona

You won’t be stuck with fast-food chains in Scottsdale. There are over 800 restaurants to choose from and most are a child’s dream, with giant portions, kids’ menus and desserts to die for.

For brunch, head to buzzy Hash Kitchen where you can feast on huge stacks of pancakes with maple syrup to a live DJ and parents can choose from 50 toppings at the build-your-own Bloody Mary bar.

The Thumb is a petrol station turned BBQ diner – yes, really – serving up onion rings the size of fists, gooey mac n cheese, the best sweet potato fries I’ve ever eaten, along with banana splits smothered in cream. Plus, kids love spotting the extravagant supercars that stop to fill up on The Thumb’s rare premium gasoline.

Of course, Mexico lies just across the border from Arizona, so its influence looms large in Scottsdale’s cuisine.

The Mission serves the best tacos in town with zingy guacamole made fresh at your table, followed by sugary churros dipped in frothy chocolate milkshake.

Diego Pops is a more casual option with child-approved options including cheese quesadilla and burritos. Just be sure to order the odd-sounding Brussels sprout nachos which are so surprisingly delicious even kids don’t mind the vegetable inclusion.

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Scottsdale Old Town, Arizona

Make time to take a tour of Scottsdale Old Town

Historic Arizona vibes are what you’ll find in Scottsdale Old Town, known as ‘the West’s Most Western Town’ and the city’s birthplace in the early 1900s. Learn more at the excellent Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, where kids can try brass rubbings and knot tying, climb into a Wild West-era carriage and step inside a clever 3D interactive painting.

Then explore the town itself on an open-air golf buggy tour with JoyRidesAZ: a fun way to tick off sights including the Scottsdale Rodeo Museum; the Old Adobe Mission and Rusty Spur Saloon. Don’t miss the Native Art Market where they sell beautiful handmade work from different Native American tribes and the money goes direct to the artists and artisans.

Afterwards, potter around the Old Town’s art galleries and stores where you can pick up cactus lemonade, local gemstones and lollies with real scorpions: best souvenir ever as far as kids are concerned.

Plan a holiday in Scottsdale, Arizona

How to get there

Direct UK flights to Phoenix Arizona from 11 hours, 5 minutes, year-round

Scottsdale is a 25 minute drive east of Phoenix

Where to stay

Family rooms at ADERO Scottsdale Resort from £228.60 per night

Book ADERO Scottsdale Resort

Family rooms at Hermosa Inn from £176.47 per night

Book The Hermosa Inn

Find more trip planning advice at Experience Scottsdale