For those of us living in the Northeast, Mother Nature has been (rudely) reminding us lately that summer is over and that the cold, dark, dreary days of winter will soon be upon us. However, I recently sassed Mother Nature back by skipping town and visiting the warm and sunny city of Scottsdale, AZ! Each morning, we were greeted with a beautiful blue sky and temps in the 70s and 80s. Literally, every day was picture perfect. And one place where you can especially enjoy the beauty and warmth of the Southwest is at the Desert Botanical Garden in nearby Phoenix!
Located in the Sonoran Desert, the Desert Botanical Garden opened to the public in 1939 and today, the garden includes more than 50,000 different plant displays across its 140 beautifully-manicured acres. The garden was created to be a space devoted to desert conservation and to provide the public with opportunities to learn about and gain a better appreciation for desert environments in general.
After visiting, I know that I certainly appreciate the desert even more! I had no idea that there was such a huge variety of sizes, shapes, and colors of cacti and desert plants, and I certainly never thought I’d see such a marvelous collection all in one place. Most of what you’ll see in the garden can be found along their various loop trails, with each trail being a bit different than the next. The garden is just breathtaking, and each trail offers something unique and fascinating to enjoy.
When we arrived at the garden, we decided to start with the first trail on the right and then worked our way to the left throughout the remainder of the garden. That first trail was the Desert Wildflower Loop Trail. Since we visited on Halloween, we definitely missed out on the peak blooming season, but there were still plenty of beautiful flowers to see! We were also treated to a delightful series of pumpkins that were made to look like people–there was a pumpkin family, one pumpkin doing yoga, another skipping rope, and others playing on a swing. They were all adorable and very clever, and we enjoyed seeing what the pumpkins might be doing next!
Along the wildflower trail, we also had the opportunity to visit the butterfly center, which was incredible. For the fall, their butterfly guests are monarch butterflies and they were everywhere–on the walls and ceiling, on the benches, on plants, you name it! You need to be careful while you walk around inside so that you don’t step on any of the beauties. They also have a double-door system when you enter and exit to ensure that none of the little guys escape! (There was even a water rescue while we were there! One of the volunteers used a net to help a butterfly escape from one of the little ponds!)
After, we headed over to the Desert Discovery Loop Trail, which has several other trails branching off of it. First, we found a display of edible plants and bright, beautiful flowers at the Center for Desert Living Trail (we also found some restrooms and had a little sit in some of the only shade in the garden!) We were amazed at how vibrant all the flowers were here and enjoyed taking in the sights and scents on this bit of trail. (There were several herbs growing here and between those and the flowers, it smelled delightful!)
Then we wandered further along the Desert Discovery trail and through some old and very tall cacti, called cardons. Many are 80 years old, planted at the time the garden opened, and some of them were more than 30 feet tall! They line the trail and absolutely dwarf you as you walk between them.
There was also an indoor exhibit here with local artists’ Day of the Dead altars, some of which were very cool. Definitely check this space out to see what they have on display when you visit yourself (because I’m guessing it won’t be Day of the Dead-themed year round!)
You’ll also find the cafe along this stretch of trail, and I highly recommend sampling a bit of their refreshing prickly pear iced tea. As a warning, though, if you sit at one of the cafe tables, you may also be greeted by some of the local wildlife that will be QUITE eager to help you finish your snack.
After our tea break, we checked out the remaining two sections of the garden. The one section that I enjoyed the most was the Sonoran Desert Nature Trail, which has a bit of an incline and brings you closer to another cacti-covered hill that you can see pretty much from everywhere within the garden. As you walk higher and higher, you’ll also be treated to some spectacular views of the Phoenix area, including mountain after mountain, pretty much in every direction you look. Definitely be sure not to skip this trail because I think it was probably my favorite part of the garden.
Once we visited all the trails we started to make our way to the exit and discovered an amphitheater and another patio and bar area, all of which were closed at the time we were there, but I can imagine that a nice cold drink on that patio would be a mighty fine way to spend a warm evening!
If you do decide to visit, be sure to check out their events calendar to see what fun might be in store for you. They host optional daily tours for all visitors, but they also offer a variety of activities such as concerts, food festivals, and wine tastings, as well as special events like Dogs’ Day in the Garden, Las Noches de las Luminarias, and the Electric Desert. Depending on what’s coming up, you might want to plan your visit around one of these events (they’re also hosting a ballet in the Summer of 2019–what a setting!)
So if you find yourself getting a bit depressed by the upcoming winter and need to get away, consider a trip out to warm and sunny Scottsdale and Phoenix. And then be sure to visit the Desert Botanical Garden while you’re there! I’ve been to many botanical gardens in my day, but I can’t say I’ve ever seen one quite like this, and I’d wager that if you’re not from the Southwest, you probably haven’t either!
If you make it to the garden or have visited before, let me know what you think! Have you ever seen so many different cacti before?!?!
Plan Your Own Visit
Where to Go
- Desert Botanical Garden, 1201 N. Galvin Parkway, Phoenix, AZ 85008
- The Garden is located within Papago Park, which is also home to hiking trails, the nearby Phoenix Zoo, a golf course, and the Hall of Flame Fire Museum in case you want to combine attractions in one visit!
When to Go
- The garden is open daily from 8 am to 8 pm year round, though the opening and closing times may vary depending on special events and exhibits. Check their website for details on the day you wish to visit.
- We visited on Halloween, and the weather was just perfect. It was warm and sunny but not too hot!
- There is very little shade at the garden, though, so I would definitely recommend NOT visiting in the height of summer if you’re unaccustomed to the extreme high temps of the desert.
- If you want to visit when the cacti are blooming, you’ll want to head to the garden in the springtime, ideally around mid-March through April, for their peak blooming season.
Tips for Visiting
- Bring your sunscreen and some bottled water. There’s plenty of sunshine and very little shade, so protect your skin and keep hydrated.
- There is a small cafe/snack bar within the garden and a sit-down restaurant, Gertrude’s, just outside the front gate if you need a bite to eat during your visit.
- The garden is kind of in the middle of nowhere and there’s not much else nearby. You’ll want to plan to take an Uber or Lyft if you’re not driving your own car because it’s not really within walking distance from Scottsdale or Phoenix proper.
- According to their website, you’ll need to leave your firearm at home! (Arizona is a permit-less, open-carry state, but you can’t carry in the garden. You know, just in case you were wondering.)