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Desert Botanical Garden: Tips to Visit this Fun Phoenix Attraction

Discover everything you need to visit the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. This outdoor, living museum is home to thousands of plants from around Arizona and beyond.

It features several walking paths with a unique set of plants. If you only have an hour or two, you can walk just a couple of paths. If you have a little more time, you can walk them all to explore a wide variety of vegetation. 

They are open throughout the day during the cooler fall, winter, and spring months. During the warmer summer months, they are open in the morning and in the evenings only.

Read on to learn even more about this popular Phoenix attraction in Papago Park. 

Desert Botanical Garden Highlights

  • It is open 7 days a week. The only exceptions are the first week of July, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
  • Tickets are $24.95 for adults and $9.95 for kids 3 to 17. There are discounts for seniors and college students with ID. Military members are free. *Discounted tickets must be purchased in advance over the phone.
  • The Desert Botanical Garden is located on the east side of Phoenix and near the Phoenix Zoo in Papago Park.
  • Plan to spend about 2 to 3 hours here. If you want to walk all the paths, and see all the exhibits, we suggest 3 to 4 hours.
  • Because of COVID restrictions, you are required to buy your tickets in advance to limit the people in the garden. You are required to stay 6 feet apart from other visitors and wear your masks when around other people. There are also hand sanitizer stations throughout the Garden.

Everything You Need to Know to Visit the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix

A famous fan Saguaro at the Desert Botanical Garden

How much does it cost to go to the Desert Botanical Gardens? Do they offer free days? Are there any discounts

What are the hours? What holidays is it closed?

Where is it located? Is there free parking? How long does it take to visit

When is the best time to visit? Is there shade and what should I bring?

What are the different trails and what will I see along each one?

When is the Butterfly Exhibit open?

What restaurants are at the gardens? 

Is there a gift shop? Can you bring your own water bottle in? Are you allowed to bring dogs? Do they have luggage storage?

What events are at the Desert Botanical Gardens? Can I have my wedding here?

Is it ADA accessible? Are service dogs allowed?

What is the history of the Desert Botanical Garden? How big is it? What are some other fun facts?

Ticketing Information

Funky cactus at the Botanical Gardens in Phoenix

There are a number of different ticket prices at the Desert Botanical Garden. These prices change depending on a number of different factors. The full prices mentioned below are on the website.

The discounted prices are not on the website. These are the ones with the (*) next to them. If you want to get these prices, you must call ahead.

You also have to reserve the time you want to arrive at the Garden and that can be done by calling them when you ask for your discount, or online if you are paying full price.

Estimated Ticket Prices: 

  • $24.95 - Adult
  • $22.95 - Seniors (65 + with ID)*
  • $14.95 - College students 18 and older with ID*
  • $9.95 - Kids 3 - 17 years of age
  • Free - Children under 3
  • Free - Active Military Personnel (with valid government ID for General Admission only)
  • Culture Pass: If you are a Maricopa County resident, you can go to your local library. These passes allow for free admission for 2 people for up to 7 days. They cannot be reserved and are on a first come/first served basis.
  • Member: Unlimited free admissions for with special tickets prices and special events.

Free Days

The Desert Botanical Garden has free days every second Tuesday of the month. The hours are limited and only from 8 am to 4 pm. 

Discounts

These are the only discounts currently available for the Desert Botanical Gardens:

  • $22.95 - Seniors (65 + with ID)
  • $14.95 - College students 18 and older with ID
  • Culture Pass: If you are a Maricopa County resident, you will find these passes at your  local library. These passes allow for free admission for 2 people for up to 7 days. They cannot be reserved and are on a first come/first served basis.
  • Member: Unlimited free admissions with special tickets prices and special events.

For the first two, you must call in advance to get your discounted admission. These are not available online or at the door. 

Regular & Holiday Hours: Desert Botanical Garden

Desert Botanical Trail at Sunset

The hours at the Desert Botanical Garden vary depending on which time of the year you visit. 

Early September through the end of September: 7 am to 8 pm; 6 am for members Wednesday and Sunday

Early October through late December: 8 am to 8 am; 7 am for members Wednesday and Sunday

Late November through late December: Depending on the date, it closes at 4 p.m. for Las Noches de Las Luminarias; This event starts at 5:30 p.m. and ends at 10:30 p.m. and requires a separate entrance fee from the usual tickets. Please check ahead for the schedule.

The Garden is closed the first week of July. It is also closed on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.

Getting Here, Parking, & Length to Visit

The Garden is located about 10 miles east of downtown Phoenix. Depending on traffic, it usually takes about 20 - 25 minutes and is a fairly direct drive straight across the city. 

We would not suggest taking mass transit, since even though it is only 10 miles from downtown Phoenix, there are a limited amount of buses. Taking an Uber or Lyft would be an option if you do not want to drive there and deal with parking.

Parking

The parking is free, and it is a fairly decent sized area, so you should be able to find a spot unless it is a very busy day.

How Long Will My Visit Take?

Depending on how many trails you plan to explore, and if you want to go to the restaurant and gift shop, I suggest at least 2 hours and up to 3 or more.

There are five different trails, and there is usually artwork around the garden, so you will want to take your time and enjoy everything it has to offer.

The Best Times and Seasons to Visit

Cactus with orange flowers

There are several great times to visit. These are a few of our recommendations.

Best Time of the Day: Our favorite time of day to visit is at sunset. We typically head over about an hour before sunset, check out some of the trails and then watch the sun head down over the gardens. 

The downside of going at this time is that the evenings are a bit more crowded. If you want to stroll the trails at an easy pace with few people around, then head over in the afternoons (during the cooler months) or around 10 a.m. (during the warmer summer months). 

Best Days of the Week: The two slowest days are usually Monday and Thursday. Most people are still at work and it will be less busy. Since the second Tuesday of the month are free, they are usually busier than Monday or Thursday, but still not as busy as the weekends.

Best Time of the Year: As for the seasons, personally, Jill and I think anytime is a great time to visit this scenic garden since the plants, and animals, change during each season.

There are two times of year we really enjoy which are the spring and fall. Both offer quite a few plants in bloom. The butterflies also migrate through twice a year which is during these two seasons.

Spring

We have found that spring is our favorite time since many of the flowers are blooming, butterflies are flying all around, and the weather is very comfortable. You are likely to see desert animals such as coyotes, hawks, and more during this part of the year.

We love seeing them and watch as they wander through their home. Depending on how early in the spring that you visit, you may even want to bring a light windbreaker or hoodie as it can get chilly in the mornings or later at night.

Fall

As for our other favorite, the fall, we love this time since the incredible Monarch butterflies are usually starting to migrate south to get to warmer climates. Some flowers are still in bloom, and others are just starting to bloom for the winter.

The animals are still wandering around and it is fun to watch them. It is still warm enough to walk around comfortably, but just like the spring, we'd suggest bringing a light jacket or a sweatshirt to warm you up if you start to get cold in the evenings.

Summer

The Valley of The Sun is named that for a reason as it gets HOT during the Summer. Sometimes it can get up above 100 degrees and the sun is going to be directly above you.

This is the time of year that the gardens are open in the mornings and evenings only. If you arrive right when it opens or as the sun is setting, you can still visit this time of year. Bring along a water bottle and make sure to hydrate as you explore. 

Winter

Our least favorite time to visit is during the winter since it is really does get chilly, no matter what you've been told about Arizona, and you'll want to wear something warm no matter when you go.

There are still some beautiful winter flowers in bloom, but the animals are mostly hidden away as they are trying to stay warm, so you will have a hard time seeing them during your visit here.

Weather by Month

Here are additional details about our weather. Click the links below for an overview of the weather for each month.

Shade and What to Bring into the Gardens

You won't find much shade on the trails. There are places with shade near the entrance and at certain other spots throughout the gardens, but most of the landscape is desert, which includes cacti, smaller trees, and plants. 

While summers are quite hot and you will want to prepare a little more for your visit, here are a few things we recommend you always bring along with you.

  • Water bottle (there are filling station inside)
  • Hat (the sun is intense all year long, so this will protect your face)
  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • Camera or cell phone for pictures
  • Sunglasses

You will also want to make sure to add on some sunscreen before you arrive. This will help protect you from the intense sun all year long.

The Desert Botanical Gardens Trails

You will find five different trails. Each one has a theme with plants related to that type of desert setting. They are all different and allow you to easily explore this garden that covers more than 55 acres.

Along the way, you will get the chance to see more than 50,000 plants and almost 500 rare and endangered species.

Entrance to the Desert Wildflower Loop at Sunset

The five trails include:

1. The Sonoran Desert Nature Loop Trail
2. Center for Living Desert Trail
3. Desert Discover Loop Trail
4. Harriet K. Maxwell Desert Wildflower Loop Trail
5. Plants & People of the Sonoran Desert Trail Loop

Each of these trails highlight a different part of the desert world that we live in every day. These trails range from about .25 miles to .75 miles depending on which one you walk on. These trails are not paved but they are even with a few small bumps along the way. 

If you are visiting with kids, they will love the "Desert Detective Bingo" game. Ask about it when you enter the garden. You kids will get a surprise gift if they find everything.

Butterfly Exhibit

The Butterfly Exhibit is one of our favorites. It's only open for a limited period in the spring and late fall when the butterflies are migrating through this part of the world.

Plants and flower in this section attract them and help them stay strong as they make their journey from Canada back to Mexico. 

While this exhibit is free, you do need to add a reservation time to your tickets when you book online. Since it's so popular, they try to limit the number of people in here at one time so everyone can enjoy the beauty of the butterflies as they make their way through this area.

On-Site Restaurants

There are two restaurants near the Desert Botanical Gardens.

Patio Café: The first is the Patio Café. This café has a nice, relaxed feel to it and is a grab and go type of restaurant with sandwiches, salads, and deserts. There is still a good assortment of choices, but it isn't extensive. There is a kid's menu with a few options for your little ones. You can only access this restaurant from inside the gardens. 

Gertrude Restaurant: If you are looking for a more upscale meal, then you'll want to eat at Gertrude's Restaurant. Here you can grab a glass of wine, a nice lunch, or even a four-course dinner. It's a highly rated restaurant in Phoenix, even though the only way to access it is through the gardens. 

To give you an idea, just some of the options they have on their menu include Braised Beef, Korean Chicken Thighs, and Hand-Cut Steak. It also has a wide range of appetizers, drinks, and deserts. Gertrude's won the Diner's Choice Award, and since it is popular, you might want to try and make a reservation beforehand.

Other Visiting Tips

Gift Shop

For those looking for a gift, or something to remember your time here, there is a great gift shop on site. It is called "The Garden Shop" with all kinds of fun things available for purchase.

Some of these include shirts and hoodies, flowers that light up at night, watercolor paintings of cacti and wildflowers, artfully designed water bottles (a great idea if you forgot yours!) and all kinds of other things that would be perfect!

Water Bottles

Something that we both love is that the Desert Botanical Garden encourages you to being in a water bottle, or some type of refillable water receptacle, for your visit. Not only do they want you to do it, but they also offer two water hydration stations so you can refill them if you run out!

They also suggest sunscreen, since you'll be out in the heat for a few hours, hats and sunglasses, comfortable shoes, and a camera or cell phone so you can take photos and enjoy this gorgeous area.

Dog Policy

People often ask if they can bring their dogs into the Garden. Sadly, you cannot. That being stated, there are special "Dog's Days in the Garden" which do allow for dogs to be allowed inside it. These change depending on the season, and events, so please check the schedule before bringing Fido along.

All ADA approved dogs are allowed in the gardens at all times. They do have specific requirements. You can learn more about those here

Luggage Storage

Before COVID, they used to offer luggage storage. Right now, they are no longer offering it.

However, we do not know if or when they will have it when COVID ends. Please call and ask in advance.

Desert Botanical Garden Events

There are a number of events throughout the year at the Desert Botanical Garden. Some of them are free with your regular admission ticket, while others require you to buy another ticket. Some of these events include:

  • Dogs' Days in the Desert
  • Music in the Garden
  • Las Noches de Las Luminarias
  • Conservation Celebration

Weddings

If you want to find the perfect location for your wedding, we recommend considering the Desert Botanical Garden for your special day. There are numerous venues, both indoors and outdoors, for weddings of all sizes including those from about 25 up to 250 seated guests.

Call them directly for more details, pricing, and availability.

ADA Accessibility & Requirements

ADA accessible trails at the Desert Botanical Gardens

Is the garden ADA accessible? The simple answer is yes. The Garden is specifically set for all people to enjoy while they visit The Valley of the Sun.

The paths are not paved, but they are mostly flat and not bumpy. In the few places that are a bit more rigorous, if you take your time, you should be just fine.

Most of the paths are more than wide enough for a wheelchair to fit through as well as allowing others to pass by easily.

There are also displays for people with hearing disabilities so they can get information on the plants and the gardens. 

Service animals are also welcome in the Garden. The garden allows both dogs and miniature horses as service animals. No other animals are allowed to be brought in here. You are NOT allowed to have a pet, comfort, or therapy animal as a service animal.

Therefore, since the garden is restricted to service animals, dogs in strollers, or ones that can be carried in a purse, are not allowed into the garden. However, you may carry a medical alert dog close to your body in a front body baby pouch type article of clothing or other type of holder. 

If you are unsure about what constitutes a service animal, and the rules regarding what your service animals can, and can't do, please refer to the Desert Botanical Garden website.

NOTE: These rules do not apply to the "Dogs' Day in the Garden" mentioned earlier on this page. This event allows you to bring all dogs into the garden (as long as they play nice with other dogs and people). 

History & Fun Facts About the Desert Botanical Garden

Bee on a flower at the Desert Botanical Gardens in Papago Park

Way back in 1939, a group of locals decided they wanted to make sure that the natural beauty of this area was saved for all to see. One of them was the Swedish botanist Gustaf Starck, who realized there is nowhere else in the world like The Valley of the Sun.

Throughout the years, the garden slowly grew, as plants were transported, trails were laid, and buildings were built. Some of these included the Anchor House built in 1952, which was the first building on the land.

The visitors' center and gift shop opened in 1961. In 2002 the garden completed a $17 million expansion which included a new entry way as well as an updated gift shop.

Some of the more recent additions to the garden including the Butterfly Exhibit and Hazel Hare Center for Plant Science.

The Desert Botanical Garden has grown into a true jewel in Phoenix. 

The garden is over 50 acres and is constantly expanding. Some of the fun things kids can do is earn badges as they learn about the desert. There are special patches for girl scouts, family programs, and even early childhood programs.

If you want to learn more about the desert, gardening, plant evolution, medicinal plants, and others, there is a Desert Botanical Garden Schilling Library. It has over 9,000 books and 500 journals. It is fun just to wander around it and see everything. 

If you want to see something truly magical, ask the librarian about the Special Collection of rare books and botanical art from the 16th through the 19th century. It is beautiful, so peaceful and a perfect way to take a break during your visit to the Desert Botanical Garden.


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