Got an extra day or two in Arizona’s biggest city? Bulk out your trip with some of the best day trips from Phoenix, AZ. From historic towns and cities to wild and open spaces ready to explore, the area around Phoenix is bursting with great side trips.
Strap on your hiking boots for Saguaro National Park, explore the culture and history of Tucson or travel back in time to the Wild West at Tortilla Flat. Regardless of your interests, age range, or group size, you’re sure to be spoiled for choice here.
Looking to maximize your itinerary? Find your next day out with this guide to the top-rated Phoenix side trips!
Top-rated Phoenix side trips
Looking to spend some time in Arizona’s great outdoors? Drive around two hours north until you hit the national paradise of Sedona. With its vibrant arts scene, natural attractions, and spiritual bent, the northern Arizona town is one of the Grand Canyon State’s must-see places.
Start your day trip to Sedona with a hike to the gorgeous Oak Creek Canyon. The cooling water will soothe your aching feet after trekking to this iconic Sedona spot. Bring your swimsuit and take advantage of the natural waterslide. Got your furry friend with you? Dogs are welcome, but only on leashes and strictly on the trails.
Trek back out from the canyon along the red rock trails and buttes, taking in the awe-inspiring beauty all around you. Stop off at the famous Red Rocks Amphitheater. This open-air stadium is built into the red rocks around the area and has hosted some of the biggest bands and performers in the world.
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Hungry after all that hiking? Follow the tantalizing aromas back to Uptown Sedona, home to many independent, new-age boutiques and restaurants. Wander the art galleries, pick up a souvenir or two, and maybe indulge in a short massage before driving back to Phoenix.
Saguaro National Park
Intrigued by the desert landscape and its unique but harsh beauty? Journey an hour and 40 minutes southeast towards Tucson until you reach the Saguaro National Park.
Home to the world’s largest cacti, Saguaro National Park invites you to learn more about this extraordinary landscape and marvel at the sweeping landscapes around you. Start in the west and follow the Signal Hill Trail. Wander along the super short trail that brings you to the petroglyphs of the ancient Hohokam people. Learn more about the ancient people of the land and this amazing archeological marvel.
Return the way you came and link up with the Cactus Wren Trail for a longer hike. Bring your camera and take some iconic snaps, read the information boards, and soak up knowledge just as the cacti soak up every drop of rare water.
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Explore the area, but remember to bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and a hat!
Want to head to a city with amazing culture, cuisine, and landscapes? Jump in your car and travel an hour and 45 minutes southeast to the city of Tucson, the second-biggest city in Arizona.
Begin your day trip to Tucson with a visit to Tohono Chul. Named from the language of the indigenous people of southern Arizona, Tohono Chul celebrates and educates visitors about the landscape and culture attached to the Sonoran Desert. Wander the gardens before eating lunch at the Garden Bistro, which specializes in seasonal and hyperlocal produce. (Much of it is actually grown on the premises!)
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Next, get your retail therapy fill at the quirky, independent stores all along Tucson’s Fourth Street. Famous for being a little bit “out there,” with plenty of one-of-a-kind wares, Fourth Street is the perfect place to get souvenirs and presents. No one is going to give the same gift as you if you shop for it along Fourth Street!
Traveling as an adults-only group and looking to quench your thirst? Book a designated driver and journey an hour and 40 minutes north to the town of Cottonwood. Located in the lush and verdant Verde Valley, Cottonwood, AZ, is a welcome reprieve from the desert landscape encapsulating much of Arizona.
Start your day in the heart of Cottonwood’s Old Town, Main Street. Home to an eclectic mix of independent eateries, bars, and shops, Main Street is the center of everything in Cottonwood. Grab yourself a coffee, browse the stores, and soak up the bustling small-town vibe.
Once you’ve had a wander and have your bearings, it’s time to partake in Cottonwood’s main attraction: winemaking. The cooler temperatures and greenery makes Cottonwood the perfect climate for growing grapes and making a wide variety of different wine.
There are quite a few wineries around the town with tasting rooms; you can easily create your own little bar crawl. Start at Burning Tree Cellars with their cozy tasting room before sipping more wine at Cove Mesa Vineyard Winery and Tasting Room. Here, you can learn about the wine, try some, and then kick back and enjoy a glass or two on their patio. Sounds like perfection, right?
Montezuma Castle National Monument
Interested in prehistory culture and anthropology? Strap on your hiking boots and learn more about the Sinagua people at the Montezuma Castle National Monument. Located an hour and a half north of Phoenix, Montezuma Castle National Monument is one of the most well-preserved examples of prehistoric cliff dwellings in the whole of North America.
To reach these outstanding cliff dwellings, hike 1/3 of a mile along the designated loop trail past the stunning Beaver Creek. Soon, you’ll emerge in front of the five-story dwelling. Marvel at the ingenuity and imagine the life of those who might have lived here in eons gone by.
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Continue onwards to another 1/3 mile looped trail until you reach Montezuma Well, used over 600 years ago by the native people of the land. Be amazed by the processes and inventions on display, and think about how far we’ve come—or how beautiful the simple life was!
Looking to explore Arizona’s Wild West history while enjoying a small-town vibe? Jump in your car and journey two hours north to the former copper-mine town of Jerome, AZ.
Known for being the “Wickedest Town in the West,” Jerome was home to many brothels and saloons in its heyday. After the reserves of copper, zinc, and silver dried up, Jerome became a ghost town, dropping from 15,000 residents to just 40. Nowadays, the population has rebounded to just shy of 500 residents and maintains a slightly eerie feel.
Learn more about the history and importance of the town at the famous Mine Museum. Realize how reliant the area was on this trade and the huge impact of the mines closing across the entire region. Powerful stuff!
After you’ve enriched yourself with the history and culture of the town, wander over to Downtown Jerome. Here, you’ll find a plethora of local art galleries and delicious wineries. Browse, sip and repeat!
Kartchner Caverns State Park
Want to escape the Arizona heat while still experiencing the state’s beautiful natural scenery? Drive two and half hours southeast—just outside Tucson—to Kartchner Caverns State Park. Home to a network of expansive caves and caverns, Kartchner Caverns State Park is the perfect place to cool down and explore nature.
To learn more about this incredible place, you have to take a guided tour. It takes around an hour and 45 minutes and is around half a mile long. Before tunneling underground, spend 45 minutes above ground, hearing all about the Cavern’s story.
Once underground, marvel at the scale of the caves and enter the show cave. This spectacular feat of natural engineering features 2.4 miles of passages leading in all directions. Its warren of tunnels, passages, and networks will amaze you.
Journey back outside and enjoy the warming sunshine, gazing across the gorgeous Whetstone Mountains. Bring your hiking boots and spend some time exploring Sky Country before heading back to Phoenix.
Wanting to get your fill of outdoor adventuring and wonder? Drive two and a quarter hours north to the thriving city of Flagstaff. Known by outdoor enthusiasts the world over, Flagstaff is the gateway to the Grand Canyon, San Francisco Mountain Peaks, Navajo Nation, and even Route 66.
Start your day off in the Flagstaff area with a bucket-list checkbox: the Grand Canyon. Join throngs of tourists and visitors hiking to the top of the canyon, creeping precariously along the Skywalk, and taking plenty of photographic mementos. Trek down to the bottom of the canyon along the Bright Angel Trail. It’s around 10 miles long and has a huge elevation change, so be prepared!
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If you don’t want to hike down to the bottom, return to Flagstaff and look at the stars at the Lowell Observatory. Learn more about the astronomy of the area, especially considering its dark sky preserve status. Stay the night to appreciate it in its full glory!
Looking for a day trip from Phoenix that combines natural phenomena with a lively nightlife scene? Located an hour and 50 minutes north of Phoenix is the city of Prescott, AZ, a place that is full of nature and exciting bars to explore.
Formerly a saloon town, Prescott has garnered a reputation for its nightlife scene, especially along the fantastically named Whiskey Row. Before you partake at the local saloon, stretch your legs at Watson Lake. Located in the northeast of Prescott, Watson Lake is famous for birdwatching and has plenty of trails for you to explore.
Got your fill of the great outdoors? It’s time to explore Whiskey Row. Despite the name, it’s no longer all bars and opium dens. You’ll also find plenty of local art galleries in between the eponymous bars. Take time to browse the art and maybe purchase a piece or two before taking libation at one of the many bars.
A fan of all things to do with the Wild West? Take a trip back in time —or just an hour east of Phoenix—to the historic town of Tortilla Flat.
Famous for being the last surviving stagecoach stop on the Apache Trail, Tortilla Flat remains unspoiled and undeveloped, giving you a real sense of what the area might have been like in the past. Wander along the winding switchbacks, taking in the expansive scenery around you.
Located in the Tonto National Forest and the Superstition Mountain Range, Tortilla Flat is also an ideal place to hike, mountain bike, or explore at a more leisurely pace. Imagine how exploring this area on horseback must have felt back in the day, and enjoy the quieter trails compared to many of the outdoor areas on this list.
If you’re completing a loop trail, make sure to refuel at Tortilla Flat’s restaurant & saloon bar. As one of the only businesses in Tortilla Flat, it’s a respite from the heat and serves up delicious, hearty fare.
Lake Pleasant Regional Park
Want to enjoy one of the best day trips from Phoenix into nature that doesn’t require a lengthy car journey? Lake Pleasant Regional Park is located just 50 minutes north of Phoenix and is a family favorite among tourists and locals alike.
Whether you’re looking to cast a line, take a boat put for a spin, strap on your hiking boots, or simply cool off in the pleasant waters (pun intended!), Lake Pleasant Regional Park has a plethora of outdoor activities to suit all interests.
Traveling in summer? Look out for floating tubes and rafts around the lake, giving you respite from the scorching Arizona heat without having to spend all your time in the water. You can also put your balancing skills to the test on a stand-up paddleboard; it’s a calm and peaceful way to explore this beautiful lake.
Is a day trip not enough time for you to explore? Lucky for you, Lake Pleasant Regional Park has a wide arrange of campgrounds, giving you the option to extend your trip.
Please note that all visits to the park, day long or otherwise, require advanced reservations. Find out more on the official website here.