Family’s Favorites for a Springtime Visit to Phoenix’ Desert Botanical Garden

Based on our incident with poor Bergen, you’d think we would have ill feelings (or that we’d want to forget the place all together) toward Phoenix’ Desert Botanical Garden.  Despite the mishap however, our only wish is that we’d had more time to explore both the gardens and the surrounding sites within Papago Park as a whole, which includes the Phoenix Zoo, The Hall of Flame, and Hole-in-the-Rock, just to name a few.

We started off the morning being greeted by blown glass art sculptures among beautiful desert plants thanks to Dale Chihuly.  We felt right at home (aside from the sunny, dry weather) as there are very similar pieces back home at his new garden and glass museum at the Seattle Center.

Chihuly: Desert Botanical

Once inside, we learned that essentially the garden is made up of 5 loop trails with other little pathways and diversions in between.  Upon entering, to the South is the Desert Discovery Loop, which allows for access to the Center for Desert Living Trail, Sonoran Desert Nature Loop Trail, and Plants & People of the Sonoran Desert Loop Trail.  West of the entrance is the Desert Wildflower Loop Trail.

We explored 4 of the 5 loops with our left-out loop being the Center for Desert Living Trail (no particular reason why, we just ran out of time), and want to pass along our favorites.

Desert Botanical:  10 Family Favorites

1. Cactus

It’s quite obvious that you’ll see cactus at a botanical garden in Phoenix, but what I didn’t expect was to acquire such an affinity toward the desert plants. Coupled with the hike we took in the White Tank Mountains, I really got to know and appreciate all the varieties and little unique characteristics of each.

Cactus of the Desert Botanical Garden:

2. Blooms

We were a little early for full on cactus blooms in their glory, but we were lucky enough to see the beginnings of a few.  Peak blooming season is from mid-March to late-April.

Blooms of the Desert Botanical Garden:

3. Cute Furry Friends

Stay put for a little while, or in our case just look for people who look very intent in their photo snapping, and you’re sure to run into one of these ground squirrels.  This one in a particular must be used to the lime light because he/she waited so patiently and stayed so still.

Ground Squirrel Desert Botanical Garden:

4. Art

Check the garden’s website for the latest in events and exhibitions. I loved the way Escobar’s sculptures blended into the landscape, but at the same time added pops of unexpected color.  Haas’ exhibit has 3 other sculptures (along with the one pictured below) to depict the 4 Seasons.  Each portrait is at least 15 feet tall, and is composed of painted fruits, vegetables, and other plant related accoutrements.

Carolina Escobar: Desert Botanical

Whispers of a New World by Carolina Escobar

Philip Haas: Desert Botanical

The Four Seasons by Philip Haas

5. Butterflies

The butterfly pavilion is just East of the main Desert Discovery loop, and holds a spring (March-May) and fall (September-November) exhibit.  Note that there is an additional charge for non-members of the garden.  The pavilion is small, and even though a certain number of guests are allowed in at a time the area get crowded.  It was on the “cooler” side for Phoenix standards on the morning we visited, so I’m told there were fewer visible butterflies than usual.  We still managed to see some beauties.

Butterflies: Desert Botanical

6. Plants and People of the Sonoran Desert

This was my husband Slaed’s favorite loop, and I think older kids would particularly enjoy the hands-on aspects of the many displays.  We learned on this trip that when people talk about “Ramadas”, they probably are not talking about a “Ramada Inn”, but instead an open porch, trellis or shelter.

Plants and People of the Sonoran Desert-WildTalesof.com7. Birds

I should have guessed (but didn’t) that this would be a birdwatcher’s dream! There are so many perfect perches for our feathered friends, and it was a lot of fun to watch their antics, particularly in the holes that some create in the Saguaros.

Birds: Desert Botanical Garden--www.wildtalesof.com8. Agave Yucca Forest

For much of our visit, Bergen sat tight in the stroller.  I hate to say it but, we were dreading him getting out because we knew there would be a lot of chasing involved and worry for the plants and his fingers.  We finally set him free here and the great boardwalk was a perfect place for him to toddle around and explore.

Agave Yucca Forest: Desert Botanical Garden--www.wildtalesof.com9. Wildflowers

As you may have read, our visit to this loop was cut short, but what a fantastic contrast to the usual greens of the cacti to see the bright bursting colors of the desert wildflowers.  A great place to scope out butterflies and hummingbirds too.  Flowers do bloom all year long, but the peak seasons is March-April.

Flowers of Desert Botanical Garden: www.wildtalesof.com10. Views

Some of the best views of the distant landscape can be seen from the Sonoran Desert Nature Loop Trail. I’m hoping to actually get to hike Camelback Mountain (pictured here) on our next visit to Phoenix.

View of Camelback Mountain: Desert Botanical

Info to Know: 

  • Desert Botanical Garden is located in Phoenix’ Papago Park. 
    • 1201 N. Galvin Parkway Phoenix, AZ 85008
    • Hours: Daily 8am-8pm
    • Fees: Adults $18, Seniors (60+) $15, Students $10 (13-18), Children $8 (3-12), Under 3 years FREE
  • We purchased our tickets through Groupon, so it wouldn’t hurt to be on the look out for the deal if you plan to go.
  • Picnicking is not allowed.  The garden has two dining options: Gertrude’s Restaurant, and the smaller Patio Cafe.

Have you visited the Desert Botanical Garden? What was at the top of your viewing list? Got a great botanical garden to add to our list? Please share in the comments! 

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This post is linked with Budget Travelers Sandbox Travel Photo Thursday.


15 thoughts on “Family’s Favorites for a Springtime Visit to Phoenix’ Desert Botanical Garden

  1. Great photos! My favorite is the ground squirrel. We so often miss the precious little things because we get caught up in the view. I often recommend that people look up, down and all around when they take travel photos. Obviously, you already know that!

    • Thank you, Karen! So easy to get caught up in the view & what’s just right at your eye level. I like your recommendations–good advice! Like I alluded to in the post, I often cheat & copy what other photographers are shooting! 🙂

    • Thanks, Lisa! Yes, I definitely appreciate cacti more and more each time we visit the Southwest. Bergen is turning into a little boy more and more….!

  2. Even though I’m an Arizonan, I have yet to visit the Phoenix Botanical Garden. I have gone to the one in Superior–which you should try for some time. The drive alone is worth the trip. And of course, I’ve visited my home town Tucson Botanical Garden.

    • Thanks for the suggestions! We will definitely add them to our Arizona “to-do” list. Since Bergen will be older the next time we visit, I think we can do some road trips. We couldn’t go too far this time as no one wanted to cut into his precious afternoon nap!

  3. Does the Botanical Gardens have an education center for children?

    Have you ever been to the Bronx Botanical Gardens? It’s adjacent to the Bronx Zoo. Highly recommend both if you visit NY. Such beauty in the Bronx!

    • Yes! I actually did a project there as a teenager…we didn’t take Bergen this time–too much too see.

      I would love to go to the Bronx Zoo & Botanical Gardens. Hope we can plan a trip to NY soon.

    • Nice! Thanks, Andrea. I recently found out about Atlanta’s botanical garden and I really want to check it out. When we visit family in S.C. an N.C., we often fly to Atlanta & drive from there…love finding new places to explore.

  4. Great review. I love the garden and so appreciate that you captured these lovely images from your visit. Gertrude’s is new and I do like their food. I also love the art.

    • We love visiting the Phoenix area in early Spring. A great break from the doom and gloom of Seattle. Also planning a November trip and I think that will be just as good! Yes, the botanical garden should be at the top if your list!

  5. This looks like a great outing. I really like the whimsical nature of the Escobar and Haas sculptures. That last flower photo reminds me of Texas bluebonnets. We have a Botanical Garden in Penang which is probably the best place in town for jogging with or without strollers.

  6. Pingback: Wild Fun at the Phoenix Zoo: 5 Highlights for Families | Wild Tales of...

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