Top kid-friendly things to do in Scottsdale, Arizona

This mid-February, we visited Scottsdale, just outside of Phoenix in Arizona. If you’re searching for a great, family-friendly vacation spot in winter, you should consider Scottsdale. This southwestern city offers a wide range of activities and attractions perfect for kids of all ages. With its sunny weather and vast outdoor spaces, Scottsdale is an ideal destination for families. Here are some of our top recommendations for kid-friendly things to do in Scottsdale, Arizona.

1. Take a train ride at McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park

McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park is a little park located in the heart of Scottsdale. It features an extensive model railroad layout, over 2,500 feet of track, and a collection of vintage locomotives and train cars.

McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park, Scottsdale, Arizona
McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park, Scottsdale, Arizona

The entrance to the park is free, and the best part is that kids can take a 10-minute ride on the Paradise & Pacific Railroad, which loops around the park, and enjoy the ride on a 1950-vintage Allan Herschell carousel for a small fee.

McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park, Scottsdale, Arizona
McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park, Scottsdale, Arizona

There are also two fully-shaded railroad-themed playgrounds, as well as a museum displaying railroad artifacts and memorabilia. There is an ice cream shop, and picnic areas scattered throughout the park make it easy to take a break and refuel the kids. Visiting this park is definitely one of the fun things to do in Scottsdale with the little ones.

McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park, Scottsdale, Arizona
McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park, Scottsdale, Arizona

2. Hike at McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Scottsdale boasts over 30,000 acres of stunning desert open space. One of the perfect places to explore the desert habitat is at McDowell Sonoran Preserve, situated about 25 minutes from Old Town Scottsdale. It features a variety of trails that offer a glimpse of the distinctive landscape, consisting of giant saguaro cacti, rock formations, and breathtaking mountain views.

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When is the best time to visit Scottsdale, Arizona?

The most ideal times to visit Scottsdale are fall (September-November) and spring (March-May) when temperatures are warm but not scorching hot, averaging 70s-80s °F. Hotel rates are also lower than peak winter.

Winter (December-February) is the most popular and crowded season, with sunny mild days around 65-75°F but higher prices.

Summers are extremely hot, often over 100°F, though drier heat. Hotel rates are cheapest but outdoor activities can be limited.

Luckily, McDowell Sonoran Preserve is a free-admission park if you would want to visit a few times, and it offers several kid-friendly trails to choose from. Unfortunately, we only had time enough for 1 hike, and we opted for the Gateway Loop Trail.

Gateway Loop Trail

Trailhead: Gateway Trailhead by the main restrooms
Round-trip Distance: 4.5 miles loop
Time: 2.5-3 hours
Level: Moderate
Elevation: 720 feet

The kids did great! Even our 3-year-old walked four miles on her own and only asked for help for the last half-mile. We finished our walk 30 minutes after the sunset, enjoying the magical view of the city lights as darkness fell over the desert.

McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Arizona
McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Arizona

3. Visit Goldfield Ghost Town

Although Goldfield Ghost Town is not technically in Scottsdale, it is only within a 40-minute drive from the city. Founded in 1892 after gold was struck in the nearby Superstition Mountains, this boom town grew to 4,000 residents before becoming a ghost town decades later when the reserves dried up.

Now a tourist attraction, Goldfield has restored the original 1890s buildings you can tour; kids can pan for gold and take home a vial with real gold flakes. You can tour the historic 4th Avenue underground mine shaft or ride a narrow gauge train around the town.

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Also, check out where we stayed in Scottsdale, Arizona, and read the full review of Andaz Scottsdale here!

You can walk the wooden sidewalks and catch daily reenactments of old-fashioned gunfights on the main street – an entertaining gunfight show with actors playing outlaw cowboys and sheriffs.

There is also a museum with a small admission fee and several eateries and shops selling old-fashioned candy, ice cream, and souvenirs.

4. Hike at Lost Dutchman State Park

Located nearby in Apache Junction, this State Park at the base of the Superstition Mountains offers stunning mountain views and has several hiking trails for families. If you plan to visit Goldfield Ghost Town, you can combine it with a stop at Lost Dutchman State Park. The Park is open year-round and has a $10 per car (or $3 per individual/bike) entrance fee.

Kids enjoyed spotting saguaros, chollas, ocotillo, and other desert plants along the trails. The Siphon Draw trail leads to the popular Flatiron hiking area with its unique rock formations. The short Treasure Loop trail connects to the Jacob’s Crosscut trail for those looking for a longer hike.

Thank you to the kind gentleman we met on the trail, who offered the girls to sit on his horse; it definitely made their day!

We decided to take the Treasure Loop trail and add the Prospector View for the valley views.

Treasure Loop + the Prospector View

Trailhead: Treasure Loop Trailhead
Round-trip Distance: 3.5 miles loop
Time: 2.5 hours
Level: Moderate
Elevation: 580 feet

5. Stop by Old Town Scottsdale

No visit to Scottsdale is complete without spending time in Old Town – the city’s charming historic district. Wandering along the tree-lined streets, you’ll find boutiques, art galleries, restaurants, and lively outdoor patios perfect for a family stop.

Don’t miss the iconic Bronze Horse Fountain by artist Bob Parks, located at the intersection of E 5th Ave and N Marshall Way. The life-size sculptures of horses make for wonderful photos and allow kids to get up close to the impressive bronze artwork.

The whole family will enjoy the lively atmosphere of Old Town and making memories in this quintessential Scottsdale setting.

6. Try everything prickly pear

When in Scottsdale, keep an eye out for the prickly pear cactus. These cacti are abundant in the region’s deserts and are an iconic part of the Southwestern landscape. Known for their flat, padded stem segments covered in small barbed prickles, they produce delicious pear-shaped fruits called “tunas,” ranging from green to red to purple when ripe.

The prickly pear is edible and has been an important food source for Native Americans for centuries. While visiting Scottsdale, try prickly pear ice pops, jelly beans, hard candy, drinks, and more! If you are looking for a great souvenir – a prickly pear jam makes a good one.

You’ll spot these resilient plants growing wild throughout the area, adding to the striking natural beauty. Just be careful when getting up close, as those prickles can be mighty sharp!

7. Visit local museums

No visit to Scottsdale would be complete without exploring some of the area’s excellent museums. The Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West immerses you in the rich history and culture of the American West through engaging exhibits on cowboys, Native American art and traditions, and the region’s iconic landscapes.

The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art curates cutting-edge modern and contemporary works by renowned artists. For a truly unique experience, don’t miss Cosanti, the breathtaking home, studio, and outdoor galleries created by the brilliant architect Paolo Soleri. Outdoors, Taliesin West offers an inside look at Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic desert masterpiece.

8. Visit Zoo and Aquarium

Animal lovers will delight in Scottsdale’s wonderful Zoo and Aquarium attractions. The Phoenix Zoo in nearby Papago Park is home to over 3,000 animals across 300 species, including the endearing giant pandas and Red Trail depicting life in the Southwest desert.

OdySea Aquarium is the largest aquarium in the Southwest, featuring a 2-million-gallon whale shark exhibit, fascinating shark trails, and encounters with cute penguins and otters.

Bottom line

With its sunny desert landscapes, family-friendly attractions, and opportunities to immerse yourself in the rich culture and history of the American Southwest, Scottsdale offers an unforgettable vacation experience for families with kids of all ages.

From exploring the great outdoors at places like McDowell Sonoran Preserve and Lost Dutchman State Park to discovering the city’s vibrant arts scene and iconic landmarks like Old Town, this desert oasis promises endless adventures and memories that will last a lifetime.

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