Living in Scottsdale definitely has plenty of perks – the weather is amazing, the scenery is second-to-none and the city is packed with amazing shopping and dining.
But there’s another benefit, too. We’re close to some of the state’s most unusual attractions, and you can explore any of them when you have a little extra time.
If you’re up for a day trip, you can explore:
- The Salt River and its wild horses
- The Tonto Cliff Dwellings
- Montezuma Castle
Here’s a closer look at each of these spectacular attractions (and a map to each).
#1. The Salt River Wild Horses
Hundreds of wild horses run free near the Salt River. Well, technically, they’re feral – they’re descendants of the horses that the Spanish rode during their conquests of the New World – but they’ve been roaming the land since long before 1902, when Tonto National Forest was officially designated.
When you visit, you can rent a kayak (or bring your own) to make your way through prime wild horse territory – it’s a lot like the Wild West that existed here before we did. You might also see blue heron, river otters and bald eagles, but for most people, the horses are the main attraction.
- Go early in the morning if you want to see the horses.
- You can hike along the riverbanks and up into the cliffs, where you may see some horses.
- Bring sunscreen.
The Saguaro Lake Ranch
manages the kayak rental, and there are shuttles to and from the ranch at the top of the river that will take you to the best spots to start your kayaking journey.
Image courtesy of the National Park Service
#2. Tonto Cliff Dwellings
The Tonto Cliff Dwellings, just across from the fabulously sparkling Roosevelt Lake, offer you spectacular views of the entire Tonto Basin (and the lake). The dwellings themselves are between 600 and 700 years old, built by the early residents of the area.
There are upper and lower cliff dwellings, and you have to hike to both. However, there’s an asphalt trail leading to the lower cliff dwellings.
The upper cliff dwelling
is accessible by guided tour only, and only from November through April (thanks largely to the heat). Tours to the upper dwelling are offered by the National Park Service every Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, beginning at 10 a.m. (You can learn more about these tours here
- Bring plenty of water, whether you visit the lower or upper dwellings. The path slopes gently, and there are some stairs at the end, but you’re at a higher elevation and it can be a bit challenging.
- The upper cliff dwelling is a more challenging hike, and it’s not recommended for kids 8 and under. You must make reservations for this 3-mile round trip, which takes 3 to 4 hours to complete. Water is required on this tour.
#3. Montezuma Castle
Montezuma Castle sits 90 feet off the valley floor – and while nobody named Montezuma probably lived there, it’s a fabulous structure that’s been nestled in the mountainside for almost 1,000 years. The cliff dwelling was built by the Sinagua – a pre-Columbian people living in the Verde Valley centuries ago.
The “castle,” when in use, could only be reached by ladders. That kept its inhabitants safe from other, roving tribes (and animals, too). It’s about 50 miles south of Flagstaff, so it’s a bit of a drive from Scottsdale – but you could also turn it into a weekend trip if you’ve got the time.
- The walk to Montezuma Castle from the National Park visitor center is short – it’s only about a third of a mile round-trip, but wear comfortable shoes.
- Bring a selfie stick! There are several great photo ops around the park.
- Don’t forget your water, even if you’re traveling in the fall. The path can get dusty.