Phoenix, Arizona sits in such a prime location for some incredible getaways! These are the best day trips from Phoenix! Let us know your top recommendations for Phoenix day trips in the comments!
You could say that Phoenix is hot right now. For a city known as the Valley of the Sun, that may seem obvious. But it’s not just the warmer climate that gives it that reputation.
As one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States, Phoenix is seeing a population boom. It has become a landing ground for families and retirees alike.
There are many reasons for its consistent growth. Some want to escape the harsh winters of northern climates. Others have found the cost of living makes it a perfect place to settle down.
But Phoenix has more to offer than just a practical place to call home. Surrounded by the Sonoran Desert and just down the valley from the San Francisco Mountains puts this city in a great spot to explore.
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Best Day Trips from Phoenix – Map
Below we have listed the best day trips from Phoenix. Our criteria was simple: What are some of the coolest places less than 3 hours away?
That puts a few popular US National Parks just out of range. Joshua Tree and Grand Canyon are each around 3.5 hours away. Zion National Park is about a 6-hour drive. So you could certainly reach any of them in a day, but they make better weekend trips.
Even without these incredible National Parks, there are still a ton of great things to do just a short drive away. Outdoor activities like hiking, biking, and off-roading are expected. And of course, Phoenix and the surrounding area are well known for golfing.
But you may be surprised by the wineries, lakes, and snow sports so close to this desert city. Read on to find the best place for your next day trip from Phoenix!
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Best Phoenix Day Trips (East of the City)
Our first stop is to an authentic old west town called Tortilla Flat. Only an hour away, this is an easy day trip from Phoenix and one of the coolest places to visit in Arizona.
Take a step back into history to a town that was built in 1904. Originally a campsite for prospectors in the nearby Superstition Mountains, it became a stagecoach stop for the construction of the Theodore Roosevelt Dam.
At one time this was a bustling depot. But after a flood in 1942, most of the inhabitants moved. Today it boasts a population of just 6.
The name alone makes you hungry. That’s great, bring your appetite because the Superstition Saloon and Restaurant is best known for, you guessed it – burgers and chili? Ok, maybe not what you expected in a town with “tortilla” in the name. But you certainly won’t walk away hungry.
Visit nearby Lost Dutchman State Park to see if you can find what all those prospectors never could.
Payson, a little oasis for the outdoor enthusiast, is only 1.5 hours away. With 9 lakes to enjoy, rent a canoe or kayak for a day of paddling. Bring your rod if fishing is your thing.
And golfers come from the city to enjoy one of three golf courses…of course.
Or hike a portion of the Payson Trail System. Trails range from easy quarter-mile hikes to more challenging 5-mile treks.
Which is more than enough to work up an appetite. That’s ok because there are dozens of local grills, steakhouses, and restaurants to compensate for any caloric output.
Lake Roosevelt is the largest lake in Arizona. Built on the Salt River in 1903, the Roosevelt Dam provides hydroelectric power and irrigation to the surrounding area.
Additionally, it offers a day at the lake less than 2 hours east of Phoenix.
Spend the entire day boating, fishing, or hiking around the lake. Or take part of the day to hike in the Tonto National Forest. This park features landscapes from the desert cactus to pine-covered mountains at nearly 8,000 feet in elevation.
Another option is to discover some of the native histories. The Tonto National Monument features cliff dwellings and artifacts that date back nearly 700 years.
Best Day Trips North of Phoenix
Montezuma Castle National Monument
Speaking of the old west, the oldest inhabitants of this area didn’t just build a town. Ingeniously they carved their homes right into the cliffs. Only 1.5 hours away, you can see for yourself.
This National Monument preserves these ancient dwellings to give you a glimpse of the unique lifestyle of the Sinagua natives. The 90-foot tall cliff served as both a natural defense against enemy tribes and the annual flooding of Beaver Creek below.
While you are there, don’t miss Montezuma’s Well. A rare sight in the desert, this well pumps out 1.5 million gallons per day. Although fish can’t live here, it provides an oasis for a variety of plants and animals that only exist here.
Pronounced “Preskit” to locals, Prescott has a lot to offer under two hours north of Phoenix. From hiking to rock climbing there is plenty to do in the outdoors for a day trip.
Speaking of outdoor activities, you may be surprised to find how much you can do on the water. But there are more lakes here than any other town in Arizona. Bring your boat and fishing rod. Or rent a kayak, canoe, or paddleboard.
Grown-ups may like to sample some of Arizona’s unique wineries. Or find something for everyone strolling down historical Whiskey Row. From candy shops to old-west-style saloons, get a sense of the gold rush from over a century ago.
If you decide to stay overnight, there are some extremely affordable Airbnbs in Prescott, too!
Sedona is well known for its wellness centers and day spas. Just a couple of hours north of Phoenix, many come to spend a day or weekend unwinding in the beautiful surroundings.
Others come for a day of shopping and some artisanal dining. Recent years have seen local wineries making a splash due to the ideal climate for certain grape varieties (which you can visit on a day trip, as well)!
This area is also popular for arts and culture. From indoor galleries to an outdoor art walk, there is an abundance of works to discover. Or take part yourself with a glass blowing class while you’re there.
Speaking of works of art, Sedona is set in some of the most stunning natural surroundings. With miles of hiking, biking, and off-road trails, you won’t be long searching for ways to explore the surrounding forests and red rocks.
You could even take to the streams for some fishing and even kayaking or rafting in nearby Cottonwood. Or cool off in nearby Slide Rock State Park where you can spend the afternoon on a natural waterslide.
Jerome is one of many old mining towns that erupted during the heyday at the turn of the 20th century. As mining ran out, so did most of the population in these dying towns.
Yet the locals wanted to keep this boom town alive. So not only can you see the remnants of the past in museums and the restored ghost town, you can spend a day here discovering some of the histories of mining in the old west.
Better yet, combine Jerome with some of the other attractions nearby. Only 40 minutes to Sedona and an hour away from Prescott you could easily add Jerome to one of those day trips.
When traveling north out of the valley, you will notice gradual changes in the scenery. As the highway rises in elevation, the desert slowly gives way to the buttes and foothills of the San Francisco Mountains.
By the time you arrive in Flagstaff, you find yourself surrounded by the Coconino National Forest. A stark contrast to the cacti and scrub brush of Phoenix, only 2.5 hours away.
Along with the difference in scenery is a stark contrast of climate. You can escape the summer heat of Phoenix by taking this day trip into the mountains. Average temperatures in July are more than 20 degrees cooler here.
Get even cooler in the nearby lava tubes. Once an active volcano, these caves go more than a mile back and average around 40° F even in the summer.
And while winters are mild in Phoenix, Flagstaff averages around 80” of snow per year. Perfect for skiing or snowboarding at the Arizona SnowBowl.
Besides seasonal things to do, choices are abundant for year-round entertainment and education. Several nearby National Monuments highlight the natural and native history of northern Arizona.
Lowell Observatory is right in town and offers programs throughout the day for stargazers. For something a little more exciting, spend the day in the air at Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course.
Additionally, there are so many outdoor activities available in nearby Coconino and Prescott National Forests. From hiking and biking to off-road driving, spend a day among the pines of junipers that make up these woods.
Meteor Crater and Barringer Space Museum
About 45 minutes east of Flagstaff, this crater will take just under 3 hours to reach. But for the astronomy lover, the experience is out of this world.
Everyone wants to leave their mark in history. And that’s exactly what a meteor did about 50,000 years ago near Winslow, AZ. The impact left a crater 700’ deep and 4,000’ feet wide.
Learn all about meteorites and their impact on Earth at the accompanying space museum. Complete with an RV park you could even spend the night staring into the expanse that contributed to this landmark so long ago.
Best Day Trips South of Phoenix
Saguaro National Park
One of the most recognizable natural features of Arizona is the Saguaro Cactus. It is a rare cactus, found in a very small part of the Southwest. And that rarity makes them as synonymous with the desert as a roadrunner and a coyote speeding along the landscape.
You will be hard-pressed to find any Looney Toons. But to see a large concentration of these desert giants look no farther than Saguaro National Park.
Just outside of Tucson, this reserve sits only about 1.5 hours away from Phoenix. It is a must if you have 2 days in Tucson, but you can definitely squeeze in a morning visit if you only have a day in the city.
Spend a day hiking the many trails. The park is an excellent choice for all skill levels and you’ll find many of the trails in Saguaro National Park good even during the winters.
Only 1.5 hours from Phoenix, Tucson is a great day trip. You can stop by for a bite to eat on your way to the nearby attractions. Or spend an entire day in this historical town.
Outdoor activities include hiking, biking, and horseback riding. Or step up in your adventure and try some bouldering or rock climbing. Take to the skies with a zipline, airplane, or helicopter tour.
Or spend the day relaxing at hot springs, golfing, or shopping. See the visitor’s guide to plan out your day in Tucson. Alternatively, there are some really amazing Tucson day trips you can take if you want to escape the city for half the day!
Conversely, you could spend the day learning the history of flight at the Pima Air and Space Museum. Or spend the night watching the stars whiz by at the Sky Center at Mt. Lemmon.
Mt Lemmon Ski Valley
One of the 3 ski resorts in Arizona, Mt Lemmon is a pleasant surprise for desert dwellers. With 21 runs on over 200 acres, you can be on the lift in under 3 hours from your front door.
Not only can you ski and snowboard in the winter, but Ski Valley is also open all year. So even in the summer you can take the Sky Ride or stop by for a bite to eat.
Especially while you are exploring the surrounding Coronado National Forest. Spend the day hiking, biking, or driving off-road in this diverse woodland and desert recreation area.
At just under 3 hours south of Phoenix, this may be as far as you would want to drive for a day trip. But anyone interested in the history of the old west needs to visit Tombstone.
Originally a mining boomtown, it quickly attracted prospectors and outlaws. Much of that is preserved for you to experience for yourself. But don’t worry, the Law has the upper hand now.
Probably best known for the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, you can experience reenactments as Doc Holliday and the Earp brothers take on the infamous Cowboys.
No old west town would be complete without a saloon to wet your whistle. And Tombstone is not lacking for options here. Grab a bit of lunch and ice cream as you enjoy all of the attractions of western movies without all of the dangers.
Take a ride in an old stagecoach or trolly for a tour of the town. Or take a walk to step into the old shops and museums in this town that’s “Too Tough to Die”.
About 2.5 hours from Phoenix lies Kartchner Caverns. Discovered in 1974, it became a State Park in 1999.
Bring the family to cool off from the summer heat and take a tour of these cave formations. Complete with a museum and gift shop, learn about its native bats and natural history at the discovery center.
Just an hour from Tucson, combine it with one of the other nearby suggestions to fill out a full day of unique exploration in the desert.
Explore More Around Phoenix
This is not an exhaustive list of things to do around Phoenix. Entire books have been dedicated to all that is within a day’s drive.
However, it should keep your calendar full of things to do for at least a year. From adventurous outdoor activities to relaxing spas, Phoenix is just a short drive away from some amazing things to do.
You may just decide to extend your day trip into a weekend or road trip. That is simple enough with a few preparations. From beautiful car camping to epic vacation rentals, you can easily turn any of these Phoenix day trips into a needed vacation.
However you choose to explore the area, see why the Valley of the Sun is such a hot place to be right now!
Additional Arizona Travel Resources
- Things to do in Prescott
- Airbnbs in Prescott
- Hiking in Saguaro National Park
- Arizona bucket list
- Best Tucson day trips
- California to Arizona road trip
- Sedona day trips
About the Author
Steve is a travel blogger and outdoor enthusiast. His blog Mapsovercoffee.com is a collection of stories and tips for getting the most out of a road trip, anywhere in the world.
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