Butterfly Wonderland is located at OdySea in the Desert at 9500 East Vía de Ventura, Scottsdale. (Photo courtesy of Butterfly Wonderland)
7 ways to thrill your kids in Scottsdale
So you’re planning an outing and want to keep your kids engaged with the family, rather than obsessively tapping away at their phones or other “smart” devices, long enough to log a lasting memory? No sweat! OK, well maybe a little sweat… it is Scottsdale after all. But, no matter the season and even the sweltering heat of summer aside, Scottsdale offers an impressive range of activities well-suited for tweens and teens. Here are seven personally-vetted venues that are sure to excite all year through.
TopGolf Riverwalk. This premier golf entertainment complex makes the game of golf much more fun and easily accessible for everyone—even complete novices. A perfect go-to destination for lunch and games, TopGolf Riverwalk features an extensive menu of surprisingly elevated food and drink options—all paired with golf as you’ve likely never seen the game before. Clubs and microchip-laden balls (for personalized tracking and scoring) are provided. There are various game options to choose from, but the simplest is to just hit one of the many targets in the 240-yard outfield to score points based on the distance of the targets and how close your ball lands to the hole. A user-friendly computerized system keeps score. Newbies and pros alike will enjoy this addictive, competition-fueled version of golf that’s played while you sip and savor sumptuous foodstuffs. Notably, TopGolf bays not only have super-comfy furniture like upholstered couches and chairs, they are also climate-controlled so the family can comfortably play year-round.
Octane Raceway. Adrenaline junkies rejoice! Octane Raceway is America’s only full time indoor/outdoor racing venue on a 1/3 mile track. The location offers high performance 45-plus mile-per-hour kart racing for adults, and slower 20 mile-per-hour karts for the juniors. The unique track layout begins indoors and winds through an outdoor section before a sharp turn returns drivers indoors. All throughout the course there are fun twists and turns that will challenge your driving skills, and your nerve. Here, all race participants must be at least 54″ tall, junior drivers must be accompanied by an adult, and “adult” drivers must be at least 16 years old and have a valid state issued ID card. In addition to the high-octane kart racing, the facility also offers “Off Track” entertainment like mini-bowling, a full arcade and a Trackside Bar & Grill to amp up the fun even further.
AZ on the Rocks. This fully air conditioned facility features nearly 14,000 square feet of climbing terrain suitable for everyone from beginning climbers to experts. No experience is necessary, all ages and abilities are welcome, and all equipment is provided. In addition to sections of walls requiring a “base assist” person, there are select spots where climbers can go it alone. There is also a rope-free climbing section called the “bouldering” area where large mats cushion the drop. If it’s your first time at AZ on the Rocks, make sure to allow at least two hours for your visit as all first time visitors-experienced climbers or not-must attend an orientation and training that can take anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes. Interestingly, AZ on the Rocks also offers a full schedule of yoga classes, as well as a full on gym on the upper level. Climb up a wall and then bend downward dog!
Arizona Outdoor Fun Adventures’ Jet Ski Tour of Lake Pleasant. If your kids love water sports, they’ll love jet skiing on Lake Pleasant. Two and four hour guided tours are available and include drive-bys of both the old and new Wadell dam. While opening up the jet ski to the top-end speed of over sixty miles per hour, be sure to slow down to enjoy the plentiful wildlife you are likely to see along the way, such as burros, coyotes, cows, bald eagles and vultures. Pull up to a bank and check out the crawfish close to shore. A cruise up the Agua Fria then down by Balance Rock Island rounds out the tour. Our guide let us know that, during certain times of the year, the bald eagle enclosure is opened and skiers can access breeding grounds of America’s honorable bird. The four hour tour also includes a longer stretch up the Agua Fria as well as lunch and lengthier stops in some areas. Both tours include plenty of free ride time to enjoy the jet skis on your own.
Hike up Camelback Mountain. Located in the Echo Canyon Recreation Area, Camelback Mountain rises to an elevation of 2,704 feet and is a popular destination for fun and fitness-minded tourists and serious hikers, alike. There are two trails to the summit, the Echo Canyon Summit Trail and the Cholla Trail. Both are pretty strenuous and difficult, but are fairly short at three miles or less round trip. Guided hikes led by professionally trained guides are available but must be purchased and scheduled in advance. For those desiring a shorter trek, Echo Canyon Bobbie’s Rock Trail is an easy hike less than a mile long round trip. Any visit to this area is sure to include sightings of local fauna such as snakes, lizards, rabbits, birds and squirrels. Be sure to bring enough water for everyone to stay hydrated throughout.
Odysea Mirror Maze. Part of the ever-expanding Odysea in the Desert entertainment complex, the Odysea Mirror Maze evokes the Central American rainforest with a mind-bending themed maze of mirrors as a storyline ensues. Intrepid adventurers embark on a quest to find an elusive butterfly and must navigate through a tricky maze filled with the sights and sounds of the jungle. Beware false passages and seemingly impossible corridors as you make your way to a Mayan temple. Infinite reflections and masterful light effects make this experience confounding, but in a good way. Plus, with the switch of a button, the on-staff maze director can change the lights, sounds, and other aspects within the maze, so it can be a different experience even though the path remains the same. The Mirror Maze is located in the same facility as the Laser Maze Challenge, which is a high-tech take on the classic maze. Just hop, leap and belly crawl to dodge the Mission Impossible-like lasers in an effort to complete the course in record time. Both of these attractions are extremely affordable, with an all-day pass to both attractions costing just $12.95.
Butterfly Wonderland. Located right next door to the Odysea Mirror Maze at the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, Butterfly Wonderland is a state-of-the-art facility boasting America’s largest butterfly atrium. The experience begins with a truly captivating 3D presentation of “Flight of the Butterflies” and then continues in the Butterfly Emergence Gallery where visitors can witness butterfly and moth metamorphosis. Then guests are ushered into the Conservatory, a 10,000 square foot atrium that’s home to a tropical rainforest environment utterly filled with butterflies and moths of every shape, size and color from all over the world. Stand still long enough and one or more just may land on you! Don’t wear heavy clothing though, because the atrium is humid to keep the butterflies in as natural and authentic an environment as possible. Additional exhibits include a live ant colony, working bee hive and an Amazonian aquarium featuring a 1,800 gallon Touch Tank with various breeds of sting rays.
The best thing about this list? These activities will get everyone up off the couch and engaged with the stellar city of Scottsdale, Arizona. Even better, it’s doubtful you’ll hear those dreaded words, “I’m bored.”
Merilee Kern is the executive editor and producer of “The Luxe List.”