After living in Scottsdale, Arizona, for 19 years, I’ve seen countless newcomers make mistakes.
Some expect a hike through the desert to be the same as a hike through the woods, but it’s not.
Others don’t look out for desert wildlife, which can lead to painful or even fatal consequences.
I’ve lived in Arizona for 19 years and seen Scottsdale tourists make the same mistakes over and over.
After nearly two decades living in Scottsdale, I’ve learned a thing or two about the West’s Most Western Town.
Though I’m thrilled that so many people flock here for the sunshine and world-class hiking trails, I see many of them make avoidable errors that get in the way of their perfect trips.
Here are the 10 biggest mistakes I’ve witnessed tourists make in Scottsdale.
Visiting in the summer isn’t for the faint of heart, as temperatures can hover around 115 degrees Fahrenheit.
People brush off Scottsdale’s extreme heat by saying that it’s dry, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s not scorching there in the summer months. After all, ovens use dry heat and have no problem cooking things.
During Scottsdale summers, temperatures routinely hover around 115 degrees Fahrenheit for weeks on end, which makes outdoor activities difficult at best and downright dangerous at worst.
Sure, you’ll find some of the best hotel deals during the low season — rates at five-star resorts can drop up to 60% from peak-season prices — but the savings come with some seriously sweaty tradeoffs.
Also, if you’re traveling with your dog, be sure to protect their delicate paws from the steaming hot pavement and have water on hand to keep them well-hydrated.
Eating at chain restaurants instead of local spots is a big mistake.
If you want a true taste of Scottsdale, focus on local options.
Mexican and Southwestern flavors are staples in this region, so you’ll find no shortage of restaurants offering tantalizing tacos, prickly pear margaritas, and tableside guacamole presentations.
For example, Old Town Tortilla Factory is known for its homemade tortillas and tequila bar with 120 premium options. It’s located in a historic adobe house with a charming patio.
Scottsdale also offers world-class eateries serving global cuisines, along with James Beard Award-winning chefs and restaurants.
This town runs on reservations, so those who don’t plan ahead get left behind.
As one of the warmest spots in the country, Scottsdale’s high season runs from October through April, the opposite of most US cities.
During this timeframe, snowbirds flee their primary residences in colder states in favor of their second homes in our warmer climate, and plenty of first-time tourists come here to enjoy the weather too.
Plus, winter is when Scottsdale hosts some of its most popular annual events, including the Barrett-Jackson auction in January, the Waste Management Phoenix Open in February, and the Cactus League spring training games in February and March.
Hotels, Airbnbs, spas, golf courses, and restaurants book up weeks or months in advance during these events, so you’ll need to make reservations ahead of time in order to enjoy your dream itinerary.
Showing up in Scottsdale and playing it by ear just won’t work.
Not having access to a car limits visitors’ access to all of the experiences and activities Scottsdale has to offer.
There aren’t a ton of public-transportation options in Scottsdale, so I advise renting a vehicle to explore the entire city, which is about 31 miles long and 11 miles wide.
You’ll find epic hiking trails and award-winning golf courses up north and many art galleries and museums further south.
If you plan on visiting without a car and don’t want to rent one, your best bet is to spend time in Old Town Scottsdale, where you’ll find hotels, restaurants, wine-tasting rooms, breweries, museums, public art installations, art galleries, and shops within walking distance.
Here, you can rent electric scooters and bicycles, make use of golf-cart services and the free trolley, or book traditional rideshare options.
If people aren’t on the lookout for desert wildlife, they might be in for a painful surprise.
The desert is full of venomous and predatory creatures.
Scottsdale is home to Arizona bark scorpions, the most venomous scorpions in North America. They’re notorious for hiding in shoes, so always check before slipping your feet inside. Their stings are rarely fatal for humans, but they do hurt for days.
The Sonoran Desert is also home to Gila monsters, black widow spiders, rattlesnakes, coral snakes, coyotes, bobcats, and javelinas.
You could certainly see any of these on a hike, but they’re also not strangers to residential and touristy areas.
Failing to properly prepare for a hike can lead to dire consequences.
Scottsdale is known for its miles of incredible hiking trails, many of which lead travelers through stunning desert preserves or up steep mountains.
But one of the biggest mistakes tourists make is thinking a hike through the desert is the same as a hike through the woods. It’s not.
There’s often very little, if any, shade, so you’ll want to wear a hat and plenty of sunscreen. You’ll also need to wear proper footwear, which means no flip-flops, since the landscape is rocky and dusty.
Arizona’s dry air and brutal temperatures mean you’ll need to bring a lot more water than you think you’ll need. A good rule of thumb is to always turn back when you’ve run through half your water supply, advice you’ll probably see displayed at some trailheads.
On the trails, be on the lookout for rattlesnakes, as they blend into the landscape, and avoid brushing up against sharp cactus needles.
Hiking Camelback Mountain, one of the most iconic landmarks in Scottsdale, is like a badge of honor. However, few visitors realize that both trails, Echo Canyon and Cholla, are seriously challenging. You have to climb on your hands to scramble to the top.
Once you summit, the view is well worth the climb. If you choose to hike Camelback in the summer, start at sunrise and finish by midmorning to avoid heat exhaustion.
Contrary to many visitors’ beliefs, hiking isn’t the only outdoor activity in Scottsdale.
Scottsdale has 400 impressive miles of hiking trails, but there’s plenty more to see and do here.
Bike on the paved Indian Bend Wash Greenbelt, go off-roading in the Sonoran Desert, or trail run in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.
Other options include riding a train at McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park and tubing or stand-up paddleboarding on the Lower Salt River.
If none of those activities excite you, book a Segway tour of Old Town, explore the beauty of Butterfly Wonderland, or take a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West.
Scottsdale has a robust art scene, and skipping it is a missed opportunity to experience a Southwestern creative hub.
Take some time to explore Scottsdale’s pedestrian-friendly Arts District, which is right in the heart of Old Town and offers a little something for everyone.
The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art showcases contemporary art and is free every Thursday and the second Saturday of each month.
To enjoy art outside, take the self-guided Scottsdale Public Art Walking Tour, which winds you through more than 70 public artworks — including bronze statues, fountains, and interactive installations — in the span of about an hour. There are also dozens of galleries to pop into along the way.
Finally, don’t miss Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, a Smithsonian affiliate.
Buying inauthentic Native American crafts as souvenirs is a lose-lose situation.
As you stroll around Scottsdale’s shops, you’re likely to encounter plenty of wares that look like they’re made by the local tribes in Arizona. Don’t be fooled.
Native Art Market is the first and only Indigenous-owned shop in Old Town Scottsdale, bringing cultural awareness to tourists and allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the state’s indigenous culture and art.
All the vendors are of Native American descent and provide quality handmade items — including turquoise jewelry, carved wood-handled knives, kachina dolls, dream catchers, paintings, baskets, and pottery.
Because Scottsdale is sunny and warm most of the year, people underestimate the power of storms there.
Scottsdale has more than 330 sunny days each year, but it’s not all sunshine and rainbows here.
Speaking of rainbows, they typically only come out during Arizona monsoon, a season running from June to September that accounts for a large chunk of the area’s annual precipitation. These storms can be intense, with high winds, flash floods, and even damaging hail.
Unless you’re really familiar with the roads, I don’t recommend getting on a motor-powered vehicle during one. What seems like a little dip in the road can actually be a lake, and any dry washes can quickly transform into raging rivers.
We also have haboobs, or massive dust storms, that can stretch as far as 100 miles wide and thousands of feet high. They sweep across the desert landscape, flinging debris and reducing visibility to nearly zero.
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