With thousands of plants, five walking trails, one-of-a-kind art displays, and a gourmet farm-to-table restaurant, Desert Botanical Garden is one of the best places to go during your vacation to Phoenix. A sort of outdoor museum, the garden focuses on the living things of the Sonoran Desert, which covers the Southwestern U.S.
While plant life and conservation are the primary focus, you don’t have to be a botanist to appreciate the giant cacti soaring overhead and the kaleidoscope of wildflowers that bloom here in late winter and early spring. Plus, the garden plays host to concerts, holiday events, and festivals throughout the year.
This guide to the Desert Botanical Garden will help you plan out the perfect day trip during your stay at our rental homes in Phoenix.
All About the Desert Botanical Garden
More than 50,000 displays of desert plants fill the 140-acre grounds of the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. The garden began in the 1930s as a passion project of local citizens and botanists who wanted to preserve the desert environment that existed in their backyard. That mission lives on today as the garden continues to promote research, education, and conservation of plants from the Sonoran Desert and beyond. The Desert Botanical Garden is even a founding member of the Center for Plant Conservation.
Visitors to the outdoor museum can explore desert life on a series of themed walking trails that show off over 4,400 species, including 485 rare and endangered ones. Giant cacti, colorful desert wildflowers, and uniquely shaped succulents are among the plant life, while other displays in the garden include rotating art pieces and an open-air butterfly exhibit with thousands of colorful Southwestern insects.
The garden also plays host to special seasonal events and activities in the great outdoors, from live concerts to illuminated holiday nights to plant sales and food festivals. Keep reading for more information about the trails, activities, and restaurants available at this Phoenix attraction.
The Desert Botanical Garden is located in Papago Park on the east side of Phoenix between Tempe and Scottsdale. It’s about 10 miles from downtown Phoenix.
Visiting the Desert Botanical Garden
Dates and Hours of Admission
The Desert Botanical Garden is open year-round, with the exception of holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. The hours vary by season and can change for special events, so it’s best to check the Desert Botanical Garden’s website for the most up-to-date information.
Tickets and Membership
The current one-day ticket prices range from:
- $24.95 to $29.95 for adults
- $14.95 to $16.95 for kids ages 3 to 17.
- Tickets are cheaper on weekdays
- Admission is free for children aged 2 and under
- Admission is also free for active military personnel with a valid ID and garden members
You must purchase a ticket in advance and reserve a time to visit the garden. Some special events and exhibits require a separate admission fee.
While most vacationing visitors might not consider purchasing a membership at the garden, it’s worth looking into the benefits of an annual pass. Desert Botanical Garden participates in the American Horticultural Society’s Reciprocal Admission Program, which means that members receive special privileges and discounts at more than 300 gardens in North America. Members at the Desert Botanical Garden get unlimited annual visits, discounted tickets and gift shop purchases, special member-only events, and early entrance a couple of days a week.
The Desert Botanical Garden is completely wheelchair accessible. Electric scooters and wheelchairs are available to rent if needed. Most of the hiking paths in the garden are also stroller accessible.
What to Wear and Bring to the Garden
Attire and footwear
On top of your typical Arizona packing list, be sure to remember these few items to fully enjoy your time at the Botanical Garden. Since you’ll spend a lot of time outdoors in the garden, wear comfortable and seasonally appropriate clothing. Shorts and t-shirts are best for hot Phoenix summers, but bring layers for cool desert winters.
Walking shoes or hiking sandals are ideal for the trails around the garden.
Sunscreen is a must in Arizona, so lather up before visiting the garden and bring the bottle to reapply throughout the day. You should also wear a hat and sunglasses to protect your face from the sunny weather.
Refillable Water Bottle
It’s important to stay hydrated during your visit to the garden, so bring along reusable bottles to reduce plastic waste. There are two water stations on site where you can fill up throughout the day. In the summer, insulated bottles filled with ice before you arrive can help keep your water cold in the heat.
Best Things To Do at the Desert Botanical Garden
Walk the loop trails in the Desert Botanical Garden
Desert Botanical Garden has five different loop trails you can walk. These are among some of the best hiking trails in Phoenix. Each of them is less than half a mile long, so it’s easy to hike all of the loops in a short amount of time. Keep reading for a brief trail description of each.
Desert Discovery Loop Trail
The Desert Discovery Loop is centrally located and connects to the entry garden and three other walking loops. It’s one-third of a mile long and passes by an agave yucca forest and a cactus and succulent garden. Exhibits along this path display a global collection of desert plants.
Sonoran Desert Nature Loop Trail
The Sonoran Desert Nature Loop Trail is just a quarter of a mile long and leads up to an overlook of the surrounding mountains. You can use the telescopes on the lookout to get a better view or sit on partially shaded benches to enjoy the scenery. The Nature Loop is designed to show the connection between the wildlife and plant life of the desert.
Center for Desert Living Trail
The shortest loop path in the park, the Center for Desert Living Trail features an edible garden and herb garden. The intention of this section is to show how to live and interact with the local desert conditions in a sustainable way.
Plants and People of the Sonoran Desert Loop Trail
Local history and culture are central themes on the Plants and People of the Sonoran Desert Loop Trail. The exhibits demonstrate how native people like the Tohono O’odham and Western Apache have historically used desert flora to craft tools and dwellings, make medicine, and cook. The walking loop is one-third of a mile long.
Desert Wildflower Loop Trail
Located near the entrance to the garden, the Desert Wildflower Loop Trail is a third of a mile long and is the best place to spot birds, bees, and butterflies. In the blooming season, the trail comes alive with wildflowers and colorful cacti blossoms. As you walk, you’ll pass a boulder garden, a shade garden, bee garden, hummingbird garden (three species live here), and butterfly garden. The Butterfly Pavilion is also on this loop.
Visit the Butterfly Pavilion
Thousands of colorful butterflies flitter through the 3,200-square-foot Butterfly Pavilion at the Desert Botanical Garden. The open-air nursery is filled with lush plants and flowers and has a water feature. The garden operates a Pollinator Conservation Research Program to study the ties between plant and insect life in the desert, with projects focused on climate change and endangered species like the monarch butterfly.
Play at the Cactus Clubhouse
The Cactus Clubhouse is a special kid zone in the garden, designed for ages 12 and under. A Certified Nature Explore Classroom, the clubhouse space encourages kids to discover and interact with the outdoors. The play space is open on varying days of the week from October through April, so it’s best to check the hours before you go.
Desert Botanical Garden also runs the Cactus Kids Club with interactive activities around the garden on the weekend. Kids can pick up a free Desert Bingo game, a Seek and Find quest, and a Plant Passport to mark off what they find. You can also purchase a special Cactus Kids Club starter pack that comes with a backpack, water bottle, hat, and stickers.
Grab lunch at Gertrude’s or the Patio Cafe
After working up an appetite on the walking trails, the botanical garden has a couple of dining options you can try. Patio Cafe is the go-to for a quick lunch, with a menu of salads, sandwiches, and sweets.
For more of a fine dining experience, make a reservation to eat at Gertrude’s, a farm-to-table and pasture-to-plate restaurant. The globally infused menu takes advantage of fresh, seasonal ingredients and includes dishes like a roasted corn and arugula salad with cotija cheese and creamy cilantro dressing, a green chile corn chowder with bacon, and the Gertie Burger with mushroom duxelles and house-made pickles. Gertrude’s has an indoor dining room and a patio with a view. You can also grab brunch here on the weekend.
Pick up souvenirs at the Garden Shop
The Garden Shop at Desert Botanical Garden is a great place to pick up some desert-infused goodies for the kitchen to take home. Among the prickly pear flavored lines are syrup, salad dressing, kettle corn, and jelly.
Beautiful desert landscaping watercolors, vases, ornaments, and notecards make great gifts, too. Aspiring gardeners can also pick up saguaro cactus and wildflower seeds to recreate a desert garden at home.
Attend the special events and exhibits at the Desert Botanical Garden
The Desert Botanical Garden events calendar is robust, so make sure you check dbg.org before your visit to see what activities will take place while you’re in town.
Some of the recurring events and exhibits include a Music in the Garden live concert series in spring and fall, a holiday season display of luminaries in the evening, special outdoor art exhibits, and the Dog Days at the Garden experience for furry friends on select Saturday mornings.
Other happenings throughout the year celebrate seasonal changes, Southwest food, and holidays like Halloween and Día de Muertos.
Join a tour at the Desert Botanical Garden
Special docent-led tours are a great way for first-time visitors to learn more about the Sonoran Desert flora. Taking place a few times daily between October and mid-May, small group tours are guided by garden experts who give insight into the local plant species and answer questions.
Tours are included with general admission, but spots are limited, so check for details when you arrive at the Cohn Gathering Area. Most of the tours are in the morning.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Desert Botanical Garden
How much does it cost to get into the Desert Botanical Garden?
General admission to the garden starts at $24.95 and goes up on the weekend. Kids tickets for ages 3 to 17 start at $14.95. Toddlers aged 2 and under are free. Advanced tickets with a reserved entry time are required to visit the garden.
What day is the Desert Botanical Garden free?
Desert Botanical Garden offers complimentary admission on Community Day, which is the second Tuesday of each month.
How long does it take to walk through the garden?
Since each of the trails in the garden is under half a mile, it doesn’t take very long to walk all five of the loops. Along the way, though, you’ll want to stop to take pictures of unique cacti, visit the Butterfly Pavilion, and stop and enjoy the scenery.
You can see most of the garden in just a couple of hours if you’re short on time, or extend your visit to a full day by joining a tour, taking the kids to the Cactus Clubhouse, attending a special event, and sitting down for a meal on the patio at Gertrude’s.
Is Desert Botanical Garden open all year?
The garden is open throughout the year, but hours vary by season and some special offerings like tours are only available in the cooler months. The desert around Phoenix gets pretty hot in the summer, so if you visit during this time, plan to drink lots of water and take breaks in the shade while walking the outdoor trails.
What are some of the plants in the Desert Botanical Garden?
The Desert Botanical Garden houses more than 4,000 living species of desert plants, including hundreds of endangered and rare species. You’ll see all sorts of interesting cacti, succulents, and desert wildflowers while wandering the trails here, including the giant cactus that towers overhead.
Other Outdoorsy Activities Near Desert Botanical Garden
Explore Papago Park
The Desert Botanical Garden is located in Papago Park, a municipal Phoenix park in a landscape of massive sandstone buttes with hiking trails, a golf course, a sports complex, a fishing lagoon, and a popular zoo. Combine some of these fun activities nearby with a visit to the Desert Botanical Garden for the perfect day out in Phoenix.
One of the largest non-profit zoos in the country, the Phoenix Zoo holds some 400 different species and 3,000 animals, including the endangered Asian elephant, Mexican gray wolf, and wrinkled hornbill. Thematic sections of the park include the Africa Trail with giraffes and rhinos, the Arizona Trail with coyotes and mountain lions, and the Tropics Trail with tigers and a monkey village.
The zoo also offers safari cruiser tours narrated by a guide and a water activity area for young kids.
Hiking and Biking Trails
Papago Park has 10 official hiking and biking routes, including the Hole-in-the-Rock Trail, a 0.2-mile path that leads to a view of a wind-eroded rock feature, the Big Butte Loop Trail, a 0.8-mile hike with an overlook of downtown Phoenix and a pair of large buttes, and the Galvin Bikeway Trail, a 1.4-mile cycling path that connects the entrance of Papago Park to the Phoenix Zoo and the Desert Botanical Garden.
Hike up Camelback Mountain
Recognizable from just about anywhere in Phoenix, Camelback Mountain sits on the northeast side of the city and looks a bit like a camel laying down for a nap. The sandstone ridge is one of the most popular hiking and climbing destinations in the area, but trails to the top are steep and difficult. The challenging 2.5-mile Echo Canyon Trail up the mountain leads to a sweeping view of downtown Phoenix.
Paddle Tempe Town Lake
Tempe Town Lake is the perfect spot to get out on the water in the middle of the desert. The damned section of the Salt River is 2 miles long and there are parks and boat launches along the shore. You can rent stand-up paddle boards, kayaks, pedal boats, and other water sports gear from local vendors.
Explore South Mountain Park and Preserve
Less than 10 miles from the central city, South Mountain Park and Preserve is an outdoor playland and one of the biggest urban parks in North America. The Ma Ha Tauk, Guadalupe, and Gila mountain ranges here mean lots of opportunities for biking, hiking, and horseback riding on over 50 miles of paths at nine trailheads.
If you don’t want to hike for a view, you can drive to the summit of Dobbins Lookout, the highest peak in the park at 2,330 feet.
Enjoy Your Visit to the Desert Botanical Garden
Easily one of the most beautiful places to get outside and enjoy some fresh air in Phoenix, the Desert Botanical Garden is well worth a visit. If you’re crunched for time, a quick visit to walk one of the small loop trails is a good option but if you have the time, you could easily spend your day among this unique garden.