Escape the City: 10 Best Day Trips from Phoenix

Phoenix may be known for its scorching hot summers, but there’s so much more to this city than meets the eye. In fact, with so many incredible day trips just a short drive away, you could spend weeks discovering the wonders of Arizona. There’s plenty to see and do, from stunning natural landscapes to historical sites. Here are 10 of the best day trips from Phoenix.

day trips from phoenix

Grand Canyon National Park

Just a few hours’ drive north of Phoenix, you’ll find the Grand Canyon National Park – an iconic symbol of Arizona that skyrockets the state’s natural beauty to unparalleled heights. 

The Grand Canyon, with its layered bands of red rock revealing millions of years of geological history, offers breathtaking views that are second to none. As a nature enthusiast, you’ll be captivated by the ever-changing colors, vast expanses, and overwhelming depths.

The park has numerous hiking trails ranging from easy walks along the rim to challenging treks down into the canyon. For a leisurely experience, the South Rim is the most accessible option and hosts various visitor centers, including the Grand Canyon Visitor Center, Verkamp’s Visitor Center, and Yavapai Geology Museum. 

Sedona: Red Rock Country

A two-hour scenic drive from Phoenix will bring you to the magnificent town of Sedona, a paradise of red rock formations that radiate a fascinating blend of orange, pink, and red hues, especially during sunrise and sunset. 

These iconic structures rise majestically from the desert floor, creating a surreal landscape that feels like a different planet. Sedona is famous for its geological wonders and the array of outdoor activities it offers. 

For adventure enthusiasts, the area is crisscrossed with numerous hiking trails catering to all fitness levels. These trails weave through the red rocks, offering exceptional views and opportunities to witness local wildlife.

Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend

Take a three-hour journey northeast from Phoenix, and you’ll stumble upon the surreal landscapes of Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. Antelope Canyon, located within the LeChee Chapter of the Navajo Nation, is a slot canyon resembling a swirling sandstone labyrinth.

 Its narrow, winding passageways and wave-like rock formations, carved by the forces of wind and water over millennia, bathed in ethereal light beams that seep through the cracks above, creating a spectacle of changing colors from golden to amber to pink. 

The canyon is divided into two distinct sections: ‘ Upper Antelope Canyon’ or ‘The Crack’ and ‘Lower Antelope Canyon’ or ‘The Corkscrew’. Both offer unique perspectives and photography opportunities, with the light beams in the upper canyon being a particular highlight for photography enthusiasts.

best day trips from phoenix

Tucson and Saguaro National Park: A Desert Adventure

A two-hour drive south of Phoenix lies Tucson, a city in the Sonoran Desert surrounded by five minor ranges of mountains. This sun-kissed city beautifully blends the charm of a college town with the traditions of the Old West and is a gateway to the vast landscapes of Saguaro National Park. 

Named after the majestic Saguaro cacti that tower over the desert floor, the park is a must-visit for anyone interested in desert flora. The park is divided into the Tucson Mountain District (West) and the Rincon Mountain District (East). 

Both districts boast miles of hiking trails winding through the fascinating desert ecosystem, where the iconic Saguaro cacti stand like silent sentinels under the azure desert skies. Besides hiking, you can enjoy bird watching, viewing wildlife, and camping under the stars.

Prescott and Watson Lake: A Blend of History and Adventure

Just a two-hour drive north of Phoenix, you’ll discover the charming city of Prescott. This historic town, once the capital of the Arizona Territory, boasts an enchanting downtown area that takes you back to the era of the Old West. 

As you stroll along Whiskey Row, you’ll encounter well-preserved, 19th-century brick buildings that house quaint boutiques, antique shops, and lively saloons. The Courthouse Plaza is the heart of the downtown area, often hosting art fairs, concerts, and community events that showcase local culture and traditions.

Just a few miles from downtown Prescott, the scene shifts from historic charm to natural allure at Watson Lake. This stunning lake is nestled in the unique Granite Dells, a geological feature of bedrock eroded into an array of peculiar, rounded shapes. The rugged, weather-worn granite creates an otherworldly backdrop for the sparkling blue waters of the lake. 

arizona day trips from phoenix

Montezuma Castle National Monument: An Ancient Cliff Dwelling Frozen in Time

Located just an hour and a half drive from Phoenix, you’ll find the fascinating Montezuma Castle National Monument. A testament to the architectural prowess of the ancient Sinagua people, Montezuma Castle, is nestled high in a limestone cliff and stands as an extraordinary example of early American civilization. 

The monument features a set of well-preserved dwellings that date back over 800 years, providing an invaluable glimpse into the life and culture of this mysterious pre-Colombian tribe.

Montezuma Castle’s five-story structure, composed of twenty rooms, is an architectural marvel and a testament to Sinagua’s survival and adaptation in a harsh and changing environment. 

The monument’s cliff dwellings, with their intricate masonry and strategic placement, were explicitly designed to take advantage of the area’s microclimate and natural resources. Archaeologists believe that these structures played a pivotal role in the community’s ability to cultivate crops and sustain life in what was once an unforgiving desert landscape.

Jerome: From Mining Town to Artist’s Haven

Nestled in the Black Hills of Yavapai County is the historic town of Jerome. Just a two-hour drive from Phoenix, Jerome is the largest ghost town in America. Once a thriving mining town in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Jerome’s fortunes were downturned when the mines closed. 

However, the city reinvented itself, transforming from a desolate ghost town into a vibrant artist’s haven. Today, Jerome is a bustling community of artists, crafters, and historians. Its scenic hillside streets are lined with art galleries displaying an eclectic mix of local talents. 

These galleries showcase the creative spirit that defines modern-day Jerome, from painting and sculpture to jewelry and glasswork. History buffs will be thrilled to explore the town’s historic buildings, many of which have been repurposed into charming shops, eateries, and lodging while retaining their original old-world charm.

unique day trips from phoenix

Petrified Forest National Park and the Painted Desert: A Geological Odyssey

Situated in northeastern Arizona, the Petrified Forest National Park and the adjacent Painted Desert are geological wonderlands that promise a journey into Earth’s distant past. Spread over 146 square miles, the park is renowned for its treasure trove of petrified wood – fossilized remnants of a prehistoric forest that thrived here over 200 million years ago. 

These vibrant, stone-like trunks, scattered across the landscape, are a vivid display of deep reds, purples, and yellows created by minerals seeping into the wood and crystallizing over eons.

Adjacent to the Petrified Forest lies the breathtaking Painted Desert, renowned for its stunning palette of colors. Spanning over 93,500 acres, the desert is a canvas of stratified rock layers, each a different hue, painting a starkly beautiful, multicolored landscape that changes with the light of the day. 

Mesa: Desert Botanical Garden and Outdoor Adventures

In the heart of Mesa, you’ll find a sanctuary dedicated to celebrating the Sonoran Desert’s rich biodiversity – the Desert Botanical Garden. This 140-acre botanical oasis is home to over 50,000 plants, a diverse collection that showcases the incredible adaptability and variety of desert flora. 

Explore a world of cacti, agaves, and aloes, each species uniquely adapted to thrive in the arid desert environment. The garden’s trail system invites you to discover this remarkable desert ecosystem at your own pace while educational exhibits offer fascinating insights into desert ecology and conservation efforts.

Just a short drive from the botanical garden lies the Usery Mountain Regional Park, a favorite destination among Mesa’s outdoor enthusiasts. Covering over 3,600 acres, the park offers more than 29 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. 

Wupatki National Monument and Sunset Crater Volcano: Ancient Pueblo History Meets Volcanic Majesty

Located in northern Arizona, the Wupatki National Monument is a captivating window into the past, revealing the remnants of ancient Pueblo societies that once thrived here. The monument is home to multiple Pueblo ruins, with the Wupatki Pueblo as the most significant. 

A three-story structure with over 100 rooms, the Wupatki Pueblo bears testament to the ingenuity and adaptability of its ancient inhabitants. This historic site, amidst a stark, arid landscape, offers a unique opportunity to step back in time and walk in the footsteps of the Ancestral Puebloans.

Just a short distance away lies the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, a stark contrast to the sun-baked ruins of Wupatki. This area is dominated by a dramatic volcanic landscape carved by the eruption of the Sunset Crater Volcano nearly a thousand years ago. 

Conclusion: Day Trips from Phoenix

Phoenix, a bustling metropolitan hub, is a destination and the gateway to a world of diverse landscapes, historical treasures, and outdoor adventures. Whether it’s a trek through the ancient ruins of Wupatki National Monument, a voyage into Earth’s geological past at the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert, a botanical exploration at the Desert Garden in Mesa, or a thrilling hike in the volcanic landscape of Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, Phoenix’s day trips promise to captivate and inspire.

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