Our 4-day itinerary in Scottsdale, Arizona

Phoenix Arizona Skyline seen from Camelback Mountain

We spent four days in Scottsdale, Arizona. Here is everything we did and the things we wish we had time for.

In this guide (jump to section):

Scottsdale, Arizona Quick Stats

LocationScottsdale, AZ
Population~5 million (Greater Phoenix Area)
Popular Things to DoHot air balloon rides, climb Camelback Mountain, visit the Hole in the Rock, check out South Mountain Park Preserve, see the Odysea Aqauarium and Arizona Boardwalk, visit the Phoenix Zoo and Phoenix Art Museum, climb Piestewa Peak, explore Papago Park, go mountain biking, rent ATVs, kayak Saguaro Lake and more.
Official WebsiteCity of Scottsdale, AZ
Popular Day TripsVisit Sedona (~2 hours), explore Flagstaff (~2.5 hours), enjoy the 40-mile Apache Trail scenic drive (~30 minutes to the start), see the Montezuma Castle National Monument (~1.5 hours), tour the Grand Canyon (~3.5 hours).
Rating3.5 Mooses
Palm Trees bathed in the light of sunset and reflecting in the water
Papago Park at sunset

4-Day Itinerary for Scottsdale, AZ

Day 0: Arrival into Scottsdale, the Hole in the Rock Hike (Papago Park) and Talking Stick Resort.

We left Vegas on a Tuesday morning to make the approximate 5-hour drive into Scottsdale.

If you’re looking for a few fun things to do along the way, there isn’t much, but the Hoover Dam is always a fun stop.

With the hour time zone change, we arrived around 4 p.m. and got checked in our lodging (a VRBO rental at a condo complex called the Maya.)

Hole in the Rock Trail (Papago Park)

Our first activity was to hike to the famous Hole in the Rock located in Papago Park. We would use the term “hike” loosely here, as it’s a short 0.3 miles round trip trek. It is on uneven ground, so it technically qualifies as a hike.

Multiple visitors sitting in a hollowed out rock area of Papago Park

Hole in the Rock Trail (Papago Park)

Admission/Cost: Free

Difficulty: Easy

Length: 0.3 miles round trip

Average Time: <1 Hour

Highlights: A rock hill composed of red sandstone with a large hole eroded through it. Enjoy a short trail to views of the Phoenix Skyline and desert landscapes. The lookout is popular with photographers at sunrise and sunset. Expect a lot of visitors.

Talking Stick Resort

After enjoying the views at Papago Park, we made our way to the Talking Stick Resort to play a few table games and have dinner. We ate at the Blue Coyote Cafe and were pleased with the food selection and pricing.

Day 2: Camelback Mountain Hike, lunch at Clancy’s, and Oldtown Scottsdale

When visiting Phoenix, one of the most popular activities is to hike up Camelback Mountain. We didn’t want to miss out and took on the challenge of summiting the 2,706′ high peak.

Hiking up Camelback Mountain

Camelback Mountain

Camelback Mountain is a prominent fixture in the middle of Phoenix. It’s hard to see the mountain and not want to summit it. This extremely popular hike sees thousands of hikers each year and features spectacular views of the surrounding valley. Note, scrambling is required to reach the summit.

Difficulty: Difficult / Strenuous

Admission/Cost: Free

Average Time: 2 to 3 hours

Highlights: Scenic views, scrambling, varied terrain, limited parking.

Lunch at Clancy’s Pub

After working up an appetite climbing up Camelback, we headed off to Clancy’s for an early lunch.

Hawaiian Pizza

Lunch at Clancy’s Pub – 4432 N Miller Road, Scottsdale, AZ

Official Website: Clancy’s Pub

Cost: $$

Our thoughts: We chose the location as it was close to where we were staying. Yelp gives it 3.5 stars and TripAdvisor has 4.0 stars. We enjoyed our pizza, though it could have used a little more sauce. Lots of TVs to watch sports and there is a full bar. We went back for a second visit to have a few drinks.

After a nice lunch at Clancy’s, we walked to Old Town to explore the Fashion Mall and surrounding area.

Exploring Old Town Scottsdale

Bronze horse statutes painted white leaping from a fountain

Old Town is a vibrant and urban downtown in the heart of Scottsdale. It features museums, restaurants, shopping and a robust nightlife. For an hour or a whole day, you can spend plenty of time exploring all the area has to offer.

Average Time: 1 – 4 hours

Official website: Old Town Scottsdale

Highlights: Shopping, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, historic statutes, waterfront area, special events, museums, cycling paths and more.

Day 3: Top Golf, Hiking the Gateway Loop Trail and exploring the OdySea Aquarium

For day 3, we decided to play an early round of Top Golf and get in some more hiking before our evening activity at the OdySea Aquarium. Hot-tip: If you visit during the week, OdySea has a special Twilight discount of 30% off after 4:30 p.m.

Taking a few swings at Top Golf

Top Golf Course in Scottsdale Arizona on a sunny day

Top Golf is fun for both beginner and expert golfers. They feature a variety of holes and unique ways to score your gameplay. We highly recommend reservations if you want to guarantee a spot.

Website: Top Golf Scottsdale

Cost: $$ – varies depending on when you visit.

Average Time: 1 – 3 hours

Highlights: Climate controlled bays, food, drink, and high-tech scoring.

After our early morning golf session, we drove to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve for a quick hike.

Hiking the Gateway Loop

Desert trail winding past a saquaro with mountains in the distance

The Gateway Loop trail is located in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve on the northside of the Scottsdale/Phoenix area. Hikers will enjoy the expansive desert landscape, sweeping views and spotting the occasional road runner. This easily accessible and busy trail won’t win any awards, but will get your legs moving and offer the chance to get outdoors.

Distance: ~4.6 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Cost: Free

Average Time: 2 – 3 hours

Exploring the OdySea Aquarium

Reddish color octopus

OdySea Aquarium is home to over 6,000 animals, 300 species and contains more than 70 exhibits to explore. Explore unique add-on experiences such as the SeaTREK Helmet Diving adventure, a shark tour or penguin encounter. Fun for adults and kids alike, we really enjoyed our trip to the aquarium.

Website: OdySea Aquarium

Cost: $$ – varies depending on when you visit.

Average Time: 1 – 3 hours

Highlights: OdySea Voyager (the world’s only “rotating aquarium experience”), otter banks, penguin point, touch pool, sharks, octopus and more.

We capped off our night with a dinner at the local Wok ‘N’ Roll. They specialize in a tasty fusion of “Sushi, Chinese and Asian” cuisine. Be sure to check their website in advance for entertainment events as sometimes they are adult themed.

Day 4: ATV ride on the Centipede Trail

On our last day, we decided to book a self-guided ATV tour with a company called AZ Outdoor Fun. Located around 50 minutes north of Phoenix near Black Canyon City, you’ll find an advanced singletrack ATV course.

Self-guided tour of the Centipede Trail

Centipede Trail

Experience the famous Sonoran Desert via a guided or unguided ATV or UTV tour. The tour takes adventurers on the famous Centipede Trail. We felt this tour was not for beginners and do not recommend it.

Cost: Starting at $75+

Average Time: 3+ hours

Is visiting Scottsdale worth it?

Rating: 3.5 Mooses

What we liked:

  • We enjoyed hiking up Camelback Mountain and wandering around Old Town Scottsdale.
  • Scottsdale is an affluent suburb of the Phoenix area. The grass is green (despite it being in the desert) and the streets are clean. It was a pleasant place to visit, regardless of the high prices. You can find deals if you’re willing to be flexible on lodging location.

What we didn’t like:

  • You’ll need a rental car in the Phoenix area. Public transit does exist, but it’s faster and easier to get around without it. Be prepared for large freeways and traffic throughout the day. If you aren’t used to driving in highly populated areas at high speeds and wide freeways, you may be uncomfortable driving here. We found the drivers were quite aggressive and we’re used to the madness in Las Vegas.
  • We missed out on a lot of things we wanted to try, either because the activity wasn’t available, or we were there in the wrong time of year. Be sure to map out the activities you want to visit before you go and make reservations in advance.
  • There are almost 5 million people living in the greater Phoenix area and around 22 million people visit each year. Your favorite tourist attraction is likely to be flooded with other visitors. Don’t come to Phoenix to get away from it all.

Verdict: It’s worth a visit as long as you know what activities you want to do and if you don’t mind crowds.

Things we missed out on

  • Kayaking the Salt River – We can’t resist a fun paddle down a mellow river. Unfortunately, we visited when the river wasn’t flowing and weren’t able to experience the trip. You’ll need a permit to boat down the river as it’s on tribal land, or you can rent kayaks from here, which is what we were planning on.
  • Apache Trail Scenic Drive – The Apache Trail scenic drive is around 40 miles and starts about 50 minutes east of downtown Phoenix. There are multiple tourist stops along the road including the Goldfield Ghost Town, Lost Dutchman State Park, Canyon Lake and more. Sadly, in 2019, extensive damage from a flood wiped out a 5-mile unpaved section of the route. This portion of the road remains closed as of Jan 2024. You can read more here. Tortilla Flat and Canyon Lake is accessible, but if you’re hoping to visit Apache Lake, you’ll have to go the long way.
Jagged mountain rocks against a stormy background
Lost Dutchman Peaks | Photo by: ksblack99, Public Domain
  • Disc Golf – There are quite a few disc golf courses in the Scottsdale / Phoenix Area. We researched two different courses, Papago Park and Vista del Camino. We settled on Vista del Camino as it looked well maintained in pictures and we felt it would be less busy than the seemingly always packed Papago Park.
  • Southwest Wildlife Conservation – The Southwest Wildlife center is home to Scottsdale’s primary wildlife sanctuary. Tours are by advance reservation only and fairly limited. There were no tours available when we were in town.
  • Mountain Biking at South Mountain Preserve – We were ready to book some electric mountain bikes and ride the Desert Classic Trail that runs through the South Mountain Preserve. Unfortunately, there are few rental outfits that offer bikes and they were both fully booked. The two we found were: Cactus Adventures and Pivot Cycles. Both seemed close enough to the preserve to check out the trails.
  • More Hiking: Piestewa Peak is a popular alternative to Camelback Mountain. Their distance, elevation gain and views of the city make them similar hikes, though some consider Piestewa more difficult. We ended up doing Camelback and skipping Piestewa, but would check that one out next time. We also wish we had time to hike to Tom’s Thumb.
Toms Thumb Rock
Tom’s Thumb | Photo by: HTBFTBO CC By SA 4.0
  • Imagine 3D Mini Golf – We love a good game of mini golf! We ran out of time and energy to check out the course, but would visit if we come back into town.
  • Bam Kazam Scottsdale – Described as an “arcade where games are real and you are player # 1,” Bam Kazam is a mix of physical and mental challenges in a series of puzzle rooms. Players get 2 hours to explore the many rooms the facility has to offer. The downside? They require a minimum of 3 participants and they won’t match parties of 2 with other groups. Since we were a couple on vacation, we weren’t able to go.

Things we opted out of that are popular

Practical Information for your trip

Where to stay in Scottsdale, AZ?

Scottsdale and the greater Phoenix area is a large place. We wanted to stay in Scottsdale for our Phoenix trip as most of the activities we planned on doing were in that part of town.

We wanted to stay in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale to be close to the Fashion Mall, famous 5th Ave shopping street, and all the bars/restaurants featured in the area.

Scottsdale waterfront
Arizona Canal Trail near Old Town Scottsdale

It turns out, there are limited options for rentals in the area. There are a few hotels, but if you want to stay in an Airbnb or VRBO, you’ll be staying on the outskirts of Old Town.

We settled on a two-bedroom rental in an older condo complex called the “Maya Condominiums.” We enjoyed the location and walking distance to shops and restaurants. It was around 15-20 minutes walking to get to the heart of the action, though there were plenty of dining options directly across the street from the complex.

When is the best time to visit?

The best time to visit is when the temperatures are cooler, either early spring or late fall. If you want a chance at kayaking the salt river, you’ll need to visit sometime between May and October. Be sure to check conditions to make sure the river is running (it’s controlled by a dam).

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