The Best Day Trips from Phoenix

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When most people think of Arizona, they think of low desert, warm and hot temperatures, and cactus. And if you visit the Phoenix area, that’s exactly what you’ll get.

The state of Arizona is surprisingly geographically diversified with areas of mountains reaching 14,000 feet, pine trees, and even snow in the winter in certain areas.

I encourage you to branch out a bit from the Phoenix area to check out the rest of the state. Here are the best day trips from Phoenix.

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Photo credit: Leslie Caplan

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Phoenix Area

The Phoenix metro area is the fifth-largest in the United States, so it’s natural that when people think of Arizona, they think of Phoenix. There are a lot of fun things to do in Phoenix, and you could easily fill up a week or two of vacation exploring them all.

I created a guide that includes many of the things I recommend to do while you’re in Phoenix. And lest you go hungry, here is a comprehensive restaurant guide of my favorite places in Phoenix.

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Phoenix is a great area to visit, and especially during the winter when much of the country is cold and snowy. It’s a warm-weather oasis. I used to joke that when I lived elsewhere, I used to go on vacation to see cacti and palm trees and now I see them every single day. So, it’s like I’m permanently on vacation! (Well, sort of!)

In truth, though, it’s so different from much of the country that I do think it’s worth seeing. And it gets hot in Phoenix, hella hot. So when you’re looking for cooler, higher elevations, there are gone great opportunities within an hour or two of the city. I’ve collected some of my favorite day trips from Phoenix.

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The Best Day Trips from Phoenix: Sedona

Sedona is one of the most popular day trips from Phoenix. There is so much to do in Sedona and it’s just stunning with the bright red rock everywhere. It’s a little under two hours from Phoenix up I-17 and an easy drive through some pretty country.

It’s one of the prettiest places in the state, in my opinion, and worth at least spending a day when you visit Phoenix. There are endless things to do in Sedona, and here are a few of my favorites. Here is a map with directions.

Hiking

There’s a lot to do in Sedona and one of the most popular is to go hiking. Even if you decide on a level stroll, get outside and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. Two of my favorite hikes in Sedona are the Bell Rock and Courthouse Rock area, and Boynton Canyon. Devil’s Bridge is another impressive one and you can hike onto a large natural bridge.

There are hundreds of great hiking trails at different levels of difficulty, and this guide includes the most popular.

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Cathedral Rock, Sedona

Go Rock Hunting

There are some impressive rock formations in and around the Sedona area. You can see some really impressive shapes and some may even look a little familiar. There is one called Snoopy Rock that is near an area with lots of fun shops and restaurants.

You can grab a bite at Canyon Breeze Restaurant and some of the others nearby with a view of Snoopy Rock. There is also Coffee Pot Rock which kind of looks like an old-style coffee percolator to me. Drive around and check out the different formations to see what you see.

Wander Oak Creek

Oak Creek is a highlight of Sedona and a soothing place to get away from the hustle and bustle. Sedona is much more built up and busier than it was when I moved here so if you’re around the shops and restaurants in town, be prepared for a lot of people. This is especially true during peak seasons in the spring, summer, and fall.

Oak Creek is a beautiful little stream that feels so far away from the rest of Sedona. There are a number of places you can access it, including right off route 89A behind the Arroyo Roble Resort and the strip of shops and restaurants.

The Oak Creek Visitor’s Center is a good place to go for recommendations for where to go to see the creek and for hiking trails in the area.

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Oak Creek, Sedona

Get in Touch with Your Inner Woo

Sedona is a very artistic place and also a very spiritual one. If you are so inclined, there are a lot of spiritually oriented things to do. Sedona is known for being a vortex center, a place alive with energy that is believed to be conducive to healing, self-exploration, and meditation.

This map has a few vortexes you can visit to see if you can feel it. There also are a number of spiritual and crystals shops to choose from.

See the Church in the Rock

The Chapel of the Holy Cross, often locally known as “the Church in the Rock,” is a small Roman Catholic chapel built high in the buttes in Sedona. It’s a quick visit offering some impressive views of the area around. It overlooks one of the most monstrous homes I have ever seen as well!

The Chapel of the Holy Cross is located at 780 Chapel Rd, Sedona, AZ 86336. It is open daily from 9 to 5.

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Chapel of the Holy Rock, Sedona

Enjoy Slide Rock State Park

Slide Rock State Park is a 43-acre apple farm located in Oak Creek Canyon. It was originally the Pendley Homestead, acquired in 1910 under the Homestead Act. He established a unique irrigation system to plan his orchard which allowed it to thrive in the sometimes harsh conditions in the area. Visitors can see historic cabins.

What the park is perhaps best known for, though, is the park’s namesake slide. It’s a great place to enjoy the water and to cool off during the hotter summer months.

Slide Rock State Park is located at 6871 AZ-89A, Sedona, AZ 86336. It is open daily from 8 to 6. From October to February it costs $10 and from March to September it costs $20 to enter.

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Slide Rock State Park

The Best Day Trips from Phoenix: Prescott

Prescott is just under two hours from Phoenix, making it one of the best day trips from Phoenix. Particularly when temperatures really heat up in the summer to enjoy the higher elevation. Or you can go during the winter, to visit the snow.

Kayak on Watson Lake

When I can’t go to Rocky Point to be near the ocean, Watson Lake is my next favorite happy place. It’s a reservoir at the Granite Dells, a geological rock formation made of large boulders of granite.

The rocks have eroded through many years to form a stunningly beautiful softly-rounded cluster of huge rocks with some really pretty color striations in them. The area is so picturesque and beautiful.

My favorite thing to do here is kayak, and they have small boat docks where you can bring your own or they do have rentals. People also go boating, fishing, canoeing, rock climbing, hiking, and camping.

You can’t swim in this lake but there are plenty of other things to enjoy here. There is a fun hiking trail that runs the circumference of the lake worth checking out.

Watson Lake Park is located at 3101 Watson Lake Road, Prescott, AZ, 86301, around ten minutes from the historic downtown. Rentals are available through Prescott Outdoors. They offer hourly and daily rates for tandem kayaks, single kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddle boards from April through October (exact dates vary yearly).

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Watson Lake

Stroll Around Historic Downtown Prescott

After you’ve hiked, kayaked, fished, or whatever else you decided to enjoy at Watson Lake, head over to downtown Prescott for lunch (or dinner)! it’s a spot just begging to be strolled and they have done a great job of preserving the historic look of the area.

There are lots of interesting stores, antique shops, and some amazing restaurants. Courthouse Plaza and the old Courthouse in the center of town are great picture opportunities.

The famous Whiskey Row is a block of historic bars and saloons frequented by cowboys and outlaws alike including Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. It’s a cute town center with a striking historic feel.

Whiskey Row is located at N Montezuma St, Prescott, AZ 86301. The Yavapai “old county” Courthouse is at 120 S Cortez St, Prescott, AZ 86303. The Barley Hound is my favorite dog-friendly place there, located at 234 S Cortez St, Prescott, AZ 86303. Be sure to check out their dog menu.

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Old Prescott Courthouse

The Best Day Trips from Phoenix: Payson

If you’re seeking a bit more nature on a trip from Phoenix, Payson is a great place to go. It’s a much smaller town than Prescott and has some great natural spots to visit. It’s only around an hour and a half from Phoenix.

Visit Tonto Natural Bridge

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park includes a natural travertine arch believed to be the largest in the world. It’s a really pretty and picturesque park that is often less crowded than other parks in the area. There are a number of hiking trails though unfortunately, dogs are not allowed on the trails.

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park is located on AZ-87, Pine, AZ 85544. It is open daily from 9 to 5 and the entrance fee is $7 per person.

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Tonto Natural Bridge

Escape to Woods Canyon Lake

There are a number of lakes fairly close to Payson and around what’s called “the lakes region” of Arizona, and Woods Lake is my favorite. It’s a small canyon-bound lake located around 30 minutes from Payson in the Mogollon Rim area.

It’s such a beautiful area and there’s a nice, level hike that runs all the way around the lake. It can get pretty crowded during the summer, though it’s fairly quiet on the shoulder season. During this time you can see a lot of wildlife, and especially deer.

While you’re in the area, consider doing some hiking around the Mogollon Rim. It runs 200 miles from AZ to New Mexico and offers some of the most breathtaking views in Arizona. You can do any outdoor activity imaginable here including biking, hiking, and horseback riding.

The Woods Canyon Lake Recreational Area is around 2.5 hours from Phoenix. The Mogollon Rim Visitor’s Center is located at Rim Rd, Payson, AZ 85541.

The Best Day Trips from Phoenix: Flagstaff

Flagstaff is a college town, with a large Northern Arizona University (NAU) presence. It also has a quaint historic downtown that’s a lot of fun to wander and lots of fun outdoor activities. It’s around an hour-and-a-half north of Phoenix and one of my favorite day trips from Phoenix.

Visit Native American Ruins

There are two Native American ruins very close to downtown Flagstaff, Wupatki and Walnut Canyon. Wupatki National Monument is a stunning complex near Sunset Crater Volcano. It’s on a relatively flat plain and consists of a number of ruins with one large one made of striking red rock. Wupatki is my favorite ruin to visit in the state and worth seeing if you go to Flagstaff.

Walnut Canyon is very different from Wupatki. It’s located in a heavily-wooded plateau where Walnut Creek carved a canyon and these are cliff dwellings. Together, they are such a great representation of the tenacity of the Native People.

There are hiking trails throughout the area and it is a short easy hike to get to the ruins. I highly recommend seeing both if you’re in the area and have the time. Read more about Wupatki, Walnut Canyon, and several other ruins in the state and consider visiting.

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Wupatki is located North of Flagstaff off of route 89 and it costs $25 per vehicle to visit both Wupatki National Monument and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. Walnut Canyon National Monument is located at 3 Walnut Canyon Rd, Flagstaff, AZ 86004. Entrance to the Walnut Canyon National Monument costs $15 for 7 days. 

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The Wupatki native american ruins located near Flagstaff, Arizona.

Learn at the Lowell Observatory

Lowell Observatory is an astrological observatory and one of the oldest in the country, established in 1894. It is still run by a member of the Lowell family today. There are three telescopes placed in areas around Flagstaff.

The observatory is involved with many scientific research pursuits and was even involved with the mapping of the moon for the Apollo Program in 1963. There are lots of things to do including visiting the exhibits, viewing through their telescopes, and watching programs in their large planetarium.

Lowell Observatory is located at 1400 W Mars Hill Rd, Flagstaff, AZ 86001. Admission costs $22 and it’s open from 10 to 10 daily except for Sunday when it’s open from 10 to 5.

Meander Around Downtown Flagstaff

Flagstaff also has a quaint historic downtown that’s a lot of fun to wander around. You’ll see musicians playing on street corners, and coffee roasters and beer crafters abound in this quaint hippie town.

There are lots of small shops, art galleries, and restaurants with a distinctive outdoorsy feel to them. Like Prescott, Flagstaff has also done a nice job of maintaining the historic look and feel of the downtown area.

Ski at the Snowbowl

Arizona Snowbowl is an alpine ski resort located in the San Francisco Peaks in Flagstaff. It’s the top skiing and snowboarding place in the state. There are 8 lifts currently operating (with another on the way) and many trails ranging in difficulty.

Arizona Snowbowl is located at 9300 N Snow Bowl Rd, Flagstaff, AZ 86001.

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Explore the Lava Tubes

Lava River Cave is a large lava tube near Flagstaff and the largest of its kind in the state of Arizona. It’s .75 miles long and the height varies in areas from 30 feet to 2 or 3 feet (9 meters to less than 1 meter).

Geologists date the cave formation as between 650,000 and 700,000 years ago. It was created when molten lava flowed from a nearby volcanic vent. The top, sides, and bottom cooled and hardened while lava in the center flowed out, forming a hollow space.

Lava River Cave is located 15 miles west of the center of Flagstaff at 171B Forest Rd, Flagstaff, AZ 86001. There is no cost to enter, and please do not bring dogs inside the cave.

The Best Day Trips from Phoenix: Tucson

Tucson is around a two-hour drive south of Phoenix straight down I10, making it one of the top day trips from Phoenix. There are some things to see along the way including the impressive Picacho Peak, some Native American shops, and an ostrich farm (the Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch).

Otherwise, much of the trip is pretty flat and dusty. In my opinion, it’s one of the most boring drives in the state. But that goes to show you just how worth it Tucson is to visit since I have gone a number of times.

If you want another option to avoid the drive, there are some great bus options from Phoenix to Tucson. The average cost of a ticket is less than $20, making this a really economical option.

There are several options for bus companies (including Greyhound, FlixBux, and others) and their prices vary. They run daily at all hours, so you can literally catch one any time.

You’ll find locations around Phoenix including the bus terminal, Sky Train Station, and some areas north and west of downtown as well. So, there’s a good variety to choose from.

You can hop on FlixBus which is conveniently located near U of A (University of Arizona) or Greyhound near Iron Horse Park (convenient to downtown Tucson and 4th Ave). There are other options as well.

And of course, it’s as easy as hopping on the bus from Tucson to Phoenix at the end of the day. Or however long you decide to stay in this fun city!

Visit 4th Ave.

The 4th Ave. Historic Arts District is where the cool kids hang out in Tucson. Looking for a funky store, gallery, bookshop, restaurant, or anything that strikes your fancy? You’ll find it at 4th Ave.

This is the place for the nightlife and if you want a great historic hotel that is walking distance, look no further than Hotel Congress. This place has one of the best restaurants in Tucson and the best bloody Mary bar anywhere. And perhaps the best of it is, they are super dog friendly.

My dog was their honorary greeter when we stayed there and he loved every minute. Just be warned that they have a huge outside club in the back of the hotel, so get a room in the front or be prepared to enjoy the party from your room as well.

Historic Fourth Ave is located in downtown Tucson and here is a map of the 4th Ave area.

Step Back in Time at the Titan Missile Museum

If you want to step back in time to a period during the Cold War when there were strategic missile sites located throughout the United States, the Titan Missile Museum is a really interesting place to go.

It is now a museum and the 8-level silo contains an inert Titan II intercontinental ballistic missile and the original launch facilities. You can tour the facilities to see what it was like back in the day.

The Titan Missile Museum is located at 1580 W Duval Mine Rd, Green Valley, AZ 85614. In the summer from May to October, the Museum is open from Sunday to Friday from 9:45 to 4, and from 8:45 to 5 on Saturday. In the winter from November to April, the museum is open from Sunday to Friday from 9:45 to 5, and 8:45 to 5 on Saturday.

Fly Away at the Pima Air and Space Museum

Visit the Pima Air and Space Museum to get a view of what it was like from above in the cockpit of a retired plane. You can see a few hundred aircraft on the huge property, more than 300. In fact, it is the third-largest aviation museum in the world.

There are a few hangers and a huge outside area to tour including some planes from WWII and even earlier. it’s a really cool place to visit and though I wasn’t overly interested to go, I ended up having to be dragged out of there. My favorite place was the “boneyard” where many of the really old, retired planes are housed. It’s well worth a visit.

The Pima Air and Space Museum is located at 6000 E Valencia Rd, Tucson, AZ 85756. It is open daily from 9 to 5 and costs $16.50 to visit.

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Sikorsky Aircraft at the Pima Air and Space Museum

Wander the Barrio

Barrio Viejo, or “old neighborhood” is known for its 19th-century brightly-colored adobe homes and Mexican cantinas. This historic neighborhood was once home to some of the city’s most prominent families and reminded many of old Mexico.

In the late 19th century, this area diversified a bit with working-class people from Africa, Asia, Europe, and Mexico who moved in to work on the Southern Pacific Railroad.

When the work was done, Tucson thrived, however, this neighborhood fell into disrepair. It has since seen a revitalization and now is one of the largest collection of 19th-century adobe buildings in the United States.

A map of Barrio Viejo is here.

See the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

I visited Tucson before I even moved to Arizona and this was one of the first places I was told to see. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a massive 98-acre property with a botanical garden, zoo, aquarium, natural history museum, and art gallery.

Feed stingrays, see raptors in flight, see local flora, fauna, and animals. Enjoy the miles of walking paths through over 20 acres of desert landscape. If you want to learn about the desert and everything that lives here, as well as about animals from other areas, this is a great place to start.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is located at 2021 N Kinney Rd, Tucson, AZ 85743. It is open from 7:30 to 5 from March to September and 8:30 to 5 from October to February. Admission to the museum is $21.95.

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Short Trips from Tucson

These trips are within around an hour from Tucson. So, if you have a long weekend and some extra time, you may want to consider some of these trips.

Play at Old Tucson

Old Tucson was a set built in 1939 for the movie, Arizona. It has since been used for more than 400 movie, television, and other commercial productions. It’s a “wild west” attraction and theme park that offers vintage rides, live-action stunt shows, and other entertainment. If you’d like to see a campy-fun view of the old west, here’s your chance.

Old Tucson is located at 201 Kinney Rd, Tucson, AZ 85735. The entrance charge is $21.50 and it’s open from 10 to 5 daily.

See the Striking Mission San Xavier del Bac

This Catholic Mission is located around 10 miles from downtown Tucson and it’s a must-see when you visit. It’s an active church with a mausoleum and a museum that offers tours as well.

It’s simply stunning and it’s the oldest intact European structure in Arizona. It was founded in 1692 and the current church construction was completed in 1797. Visit to step back in time to see an authentic 18th-century church.

Mission San Xavier del Bac is located at 1950 W San Xavier Rd, Tucson, AZ 85746. There is no cost for admission.

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Mission San Xavier del Bac

Shop in Tubac

If you’re looking for Southwestern handicrafts, Tubac is the best place to go in all of Arizona. It has over 100 galleries and eclectic shops nestled among meandering streets with a small-town Arizona feel. You’ll see lots of ceramics, paintings, sculptures, photography, crafts, jewelry, leather goods, antiques and more.

There are a number of restaurants as well as some hidden courtyards with fountains. You could spend a day wandering just taken in by the charm. And check out the wine-tasting rooms for some local Arizona favorites.

A map of Tubac is here.

Enjoy a Beverage (or Two!) at the Tucson Area Wineries

Arizona may not be known for wine, but there are several flourishing wine regions in the state. One of the best is not far from Tucson, in the towns of Sonoita and Elgin.

In less than an hour, you can visit the area with numerous vineyards to enjoy wine tasting. It’s a fun experience and many of the Arizona wines are worth trying. One of my favorites is Callahan Vineyards.

A map of the Sonoita and Elgin wineries is here. Callaghan Vineyards is located at 336 Elgin Rd, Elgin, AZ 85611. It’s open from 11 to 4 from Thursday to Sunday.

If you come to Arizona to visit the Phoenix area and have some time to explore areas around that area, this guide will give you some great suggestions for the best day trips from Phoenix. They make for great day trips or even overnights. Phoenix is a great area with lots to do, and the surrounding areas are just as much fun to explore.

Enjoy the Best Day Trips from Phoenix!

Arizona is a large state and there are a lot of great things to do. Since most people come to Phoenix, I wanted to share the best day trips from Phoenix. With so many options, you’re sure to find one you’ll really enjoy.

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