The sun is always shining in Phoenix, Arizona, and there is plenty to keep you busy. But venturing beyond the friendly confines of the Valley of the Sun offers some exciting opportunities to see beautiful landmarks and fantastic scenery. So stay tuned as this guide shares some of the best day trips from Phoenix.
Let’s start with the granddaddy of them all, the Grand Canyon. The canyon draws about 5 million visitors annually, making it one of the most popular national parks in the country. The south rim of the Grand Canyon is about a 4.5-hour drive from the greater Phoenix area, so it’s a very long day trip. But the payoff is worth it.
You’ll see one of the world’s seven natural wonders from the south rim’s overlooks. In addition, there are ample opportunities for hiking, camping, sightseeing, and more.
The Grand Canyon Village is the activity center. But, if you want to get away from some crowds, the walk along the South Rim Trail east to Mather Point offers excellent views you won’t see from the Village.
The best time to visit the Grand Canyon is spring or fall. However, mid-late October is an excellent time to visit since the weather is cooler and the crowds are smaller.
Saguaro National Park
Just northwest of Tucson is Saguaro National Park. Visitors can explore the Sonoran Desert and see the iconic Saguaro cacti.
The park is divided into the Tucson Mountain District and the Rincon Mountain District. An easy way to see the park is by car. The Bajada Loop Drive is a great way to experience the park. Although the road is not paved, it is graded and well-maintained.
Saguaro National Park offers a variety of activities for visitors. Of course, hiking is the most popular way to explore the park. However, depending on your skill level, or desire to exert yourself, you can choose what works for you. Biking and horseback riding are also excellent ways to see the park.
The drive from Phoenix to Saguaro National Park is about two hours, so it’s an easy day trip.
If you only have time for one day trip from Phoenix…go to Sedona. There is a certain energy in Sedona that you won’t find elsewhere. Sedona oozes character and the red rock views and overall vibe will make you never want to leave.
There are so many things to do in Sedona, including hiking, shopping, spa treatments, meditation, and the list goes on.
Hiking is a great way to see the beautiful landscape surrounding Sedona. Popular trails include:
- Fay Canyon
- Devils Bridge
- Cathedral Rock
- Boynton Canyon
If you’d like to take some time off from outdoor activities, visit Tlaquepaque for shopping and dining. It’s an open-air arts and crafts village with plenty of unique shops and restaurants.
Uptown Sedona is a great place to shop, eat and enjoy the many eclectic shops in the area. If you are looking for one-of-a-kind gifts, this is the place. Parking is easy if you don’t mind walking uphill to get to the good stuff.
Sedona is also a nice place to escape the summer heat in Phoenix since it’s usually about 10-15 degrees cooler.
Other fun things to do in Sedona include:
- Jeep tours
- Hot air balloon rides
- Sedona Arts Center
- Golf at Sedona Golf Resort
- Montezuma Castle
- Tuzigoot National Monument
If you are new to the Phoenix area, you might be surprised how many lakes are in the middle of the desert. Canyon Lake is about 45 minutes northeast of the valley and offers fun activities year-round.
In addition to water sports, there are hiking trails in the area, and vista points overlooking the lake offer beautiful views. Canyon Lake is aptly named as the view from the water are spectacular with sheer rock walls. Don’t be surprised to see mountain goats overhead.
Acacia and Boulder recreation areas are great places for a family barbeque, with restrooms onsite. Canyon Lake is a popular spot as the weather warms up, so get there early to secure your parking place. You need a Tonto Pass to park, which is available locally in Phoenix.
Pima Air and Space Museum
If you are interested in aerospace and aviation, the Pima Air & Space Museum is a great day trip from Phoenix. The museum is just south of Tucson and houses over 400 aircraft from different eras. Here you can get an up-close look at some of the most iconic planes in history.
Visitors can walk the grounds or take the tram. The tram is about 45 minutes and is a lifesaver when the weather is hot. One thing to note is that the museum doesn’t sell tickets in advance, so you must buy them when you arrive. There is a restaurant and restrooms onsite.
The Pima Air and Space Museum is an excellent place to take kids or grandkids and is about 2.5 hours from Phoenix. The museum is open daily from 9-5.
Jerome is a small town in central Arizona, about 2.5 hours from Phoenix. This former copper mining town is now a popular tourist destination, and for good reason. Jerome has fantastic views of the Verde Valley and is full of art galleries, wineries, vintage shops, and museums.
Wine tasting is popular, and some of the top wineries in Jerome include:
- Passion Cellars
- The Original Jerome Winery
- Caduceus Cellars
If art is your jam, check out these great galleries:
- Jerome Artists Cooperative Gallery
- Nellie Bly Kaleidoscopes
- Raku Gallery
Grab a bite to eat at one of these excellent local restaurants:
- Grapes Restaurant and Bar
- Haunted Hamburger
- The Asylum Restaurant
Finally, Jerome is a great place to explore the old wild west. Visitors can check out the Jerome Historical Society Mine Museum or explore Gold King Mine Museum and Ghost Town.
In the summer, a trip to “Flag” is an excellent escape from the severe heat in Phoenix. The cool pines of Flagstaff draw visitors for various reasons. Home to Northern Arizona University, plenty of outdoor activities keep folks busy all year.
In the summer, hiking, biking, and camping are popular. In addition, a ride up the chair lifts at Arizona Snowbowl offers excellent views at 11,500 feet elevation. You can even see the North Rim of the Grand Canyon from there.
Of course, Snowbowl draws skiers and snowboarders from all over AZ in the winter.
Downtown Flagstaff is home to unique restaurants, bars, and local breweries. So, if you want a great meal or brew, downtown Flagstaff has you covered.
Finally, one last cool place to visit in Flagstaff is Lowell Observatory. It’s an excellent opportunity to appreciate the night sky like never before.
Note: Road conditions can be treacherous in Flagstaff in the winter. The city sits at 6,900 feet, so winter snow and icy conditions are not unusual.
Tombstone, known as “the town too tough to die,” is an excellent day trip from Phoenix. About 3 hours south of Phoenix in Cochise County, Tombstone is home to the famous gunfight the OK Corral.
Here you can relive the action with daily reenactments. Legendary names like Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp are central to Tombstone’s history. If you are interested in old west history, Tombstone is a must-see.
Visitors can also enjoy lunch, ice cream, shops, and museums downtown and check out the many historical buildings that make Tombstone unique.
To the northwest of Tombstone, you will find Kartchner Caverns State Park. The caverns allow visitors to see limestone caves with living rock formations. Various tours of different caverns or “rooms” are available, so you can choose what you like. The rooms are at a constant 72 degrees with 99% humidity. The admission fee is 100% worth it.
The caverns are a great day trip from Phoenix, and there is a campground onsite if you want to make it an overnight or weekend trip. The park is about an hour from Tucson. You won’t be disappointed with this natural wonder.
Plan Your Day Trip From Phoenix
As you plan your itinerary from Phoenix, several places are close together, so you can combine some of these activities into one jam-packed day or make a weekend trip of it.
For example, Sedona, Flagstaff, and Jerome are fairly close together. You can follow highway 89A and hit all three spots in one outing. Plan a weekend, hit some wineries, hike, and relax.
Because the drive from Phoenix to the south rim of the Grand Canyon is about 4.5 hours, you may want to stop in Flagstaff on the way up or back. Then, grab breakfast or dinner, or both, on your way. You can even make a weekend of it or an overnighter in Flag.
In southern Arizona, try Tombstone and Kartchner Caverns. Sure, that’s a long day trip but a fun way to go. Another option is to hit the Pima Air and Space Museum and Saguaro National Park. Or visit all of the attractions in southern Arizona with a weekend stay in Tucson.
Now, all that driving will cost you a pretty penny, so you might want to check out these game apps that pay real money to help offset the cost.
There are many different ways to slice a day trip from Phoenix. Many people want to escape the brutal summer heat, while Phoenicians head “up north” to enjoy a day in the snow in the winter.
Steve Morrow owns Paddle About, an outdoor recreation and travel blog. Steve loves to travel, kayak, paddle board, camp, hike, and spend time outdoors with his wife and two kids. When he's not exploring the great outdoors, Steve enjoys writing about his adventures and sharing tips for getting the most out of your outdoor experiences. He has a lot of interesting stories to share, and he's always happy to help others get more out of life.