Is your Arizona itinerary missing that extra “something” that makes you sick with wanderlust? This list of the best day trips from Tucson, AZ, is exactly what you need to heat things up a notch! Full of dusty expanses, towering cacti, unique red rockfaces, and amazing cities, the destinations within quick reach of Tucson are world-class.
Tucson is the second-largest city in Arizona and is absolutely brimming with shopping, nightlife, and culinary excellence as a result. With all these attractions near your home base, you might find your itinerary is already quite stuffed. But if you can find some time to jam in even one of the incredible side trips, you certainly won’t regret it.
From a couple of hours to just minutes away, you’ll find plenty of top destinations to explore the desert, like Colossal Cave Mountain Park and Saguaro National Park. Love wine? You can even head to Arizona’s unlikely wine region in Sonoita.
Ready to take your Arizona vacation to the next level? Tackle this list of top-rated Tucson side trips to let Arizona earn a spot in your heart as one of your favorite travel destinations!
Top-rated Tucson side trips
Saguaro National Park
Drawn to the desert landscapes of Arizona? Saguaro National Park is home to the largest cactus in the U.S., the Saguaro cactus, from which the reserve gets its name.
Saguaro National Park is also the only place in the world where you can observe this species which flowers from early May to early June. You’ll arrive at your destination in just 18 minutes, making this a road trip you can fit into your Tucson itinerary—even if you’re super pressed for time.
With flat, easy footpaths, Saguaro National Park promises an epic and beginner-friendly desert hiking experience. The Valley View Overlook Trail is the most popular route at this top Tucson tourist attraction, thanks to its dense cactus population, but there are dozens of other trails to choose from here.
If the day winds up too hot or you’d rather not work up a sweat, you can also experience the Saguaro National Park by car. The Bajada Loop Drive is a 6-mile loop throughout the park on a sandy dirt road that’ll get you up close and personal to the Saguaro cactus and local wildlife.
Looking for some additional attractions in the area? Be sure to stop and observe the Signal Hill Petroglyphs and the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, which is an aquarium, zoo, botanical gardens, and natural history museum all in one.
A prime destination for Arizona-bound art lovers, Tubac is just 46 minutes away from Tucson. This eclectic city is home to many Mexican-American artisans and museums galore, making it a perfect side trip for a colorful dash of culture.
Tubac has over 12 different art galleries, plus oodles and oodles of specialty artisanal gift shops where you can buy clay pottery, copper sculpture, hand-stitched cowboy boots, and more. Not sure where to start? The Feminine Mystique Art Gallery is a fan-favorite. It’s owned and operated by women and exclusively showcases the works of female artists.
To break up your day, explore one of Tubac’s best destinations for an afternoon walk. Choose between the trails at K Newby Gallery and Sculpture Garden or the Anza Walking Trail, which begins at the clay buildings of the Tumacacori National Historic Site. Discover surprisingly lush patches of forest, streams, and local flora.
Want to treat yourself to a little something special? Stop by Grumpy Gringo Fine Cigars and celebrate with a quiet moment to yourself in the desert on the way back.
Welcome to the wild west! Located just one hour and 14 minutes from Tucson, Tombstone, Arizona, gives all the cowboy vibes with old-school saloons, museums, and old-school storefront facades. Still need convincing? The official town slogans—“the most authentic western town left in the United States” and “the town too tough to die”—should be enough to tip the scales!
When you arrive in Tombstone, you’ll be charmed by historic Allen Street, the heartbeat of town and where many of the top attractions are located. From here, you can take a sightseeing ride on a stagecoach and learn the history of the region, or embark on an underground mining tour, one of the most prominent industries locally.
If you fancy yourself a museum-lover, then roaming the halls of the Gunfighter Hall of Fame and checking out the Historic Gleeson Jail also need to be on your Tombstone bucket list.
Snow bunnies unite at Mount Lemmon, just one hour and 19 minutes from Tuscon. Snow in the Arizona desert? Yep, you read that right!
Do you have an insatiable sweet tooth? Mount Lemmon is a haven for dessert- lovers. The two most popular sweet spots in town are The Cookie Cabin, known for its cookies and ice cream, and the Mt. Lemmon General Store, where you can find the locally infamous homemade fudge.
When it comes to exploring Mount Lemmon, you’ll have a few different options. If you’re an adventurous type, take on one of the alpine hiking trails.
Prefer a slower pace? Sit back and relax on the Sky Ride chair lift. This 30-minute excursion will take you high above the trees for incredible bird’s-eye views of the mountaintop, the forests, and the cozy town below.
Alternatively, you can visit after dark and head to the Mt. Lemmon Skycenter for an epic overnight stargazing experience.
Colossal Cave Mountain Park
If you want to indulge your adventurous side, head to Colossal Cave Mountain Park. A quick 37 minutes outside of Tucson, this adventure park attraction combines the exploration of all of Arizona’s best landscapes. It’s also home to several colonies of bats, including a few species that are rare or threatened, making this road trip a unique wildlife-watching opportunity.
There are three epic ways to experience Colossal Caven Mountain Park. As the name suggests, one of the most popular ways is to explore the park through a series of cave tours.
On the cave tours, you’ll descend six stories underground and observe amazing geographical formations like stalactites and stalagmites by flashlight. If you’re feeling brave, take it one step further by opting for the ladder tour, where you’ll shimmy through tight crevices for a more authentic spelunking experience!
Your second option is to venture through the surrounding desert with a guided horseback trail riding tour. Led by the historic La Posta Quemada Ranch, located onsite, this above-ground journey is one you’ll never forget.
Finally, you can settle into a table at the Terrace Cafe, overlooking the Sonoran Desert. This striking limestone building is nestled into the cactus-laden mountainside, with some of the best restaurant views around. The Terrace Cafe is a great place for a glass of wine and a summery lunch, making it a can’t-miss rest stop before heading back to Tucson.
With multiple canyons to discover, as well as some surprisingly lush natural areas, Sierra Vista is the perfect Tucson-based road trip for outdoor enthusiasts. Just 1 hour, and 17 minutes from the city, this outdoor destination is an easy escape into the wilderness.
For a subtle injection of adventure, hike or bike up to one of Sierra Vista’s most popular canyons: Carr Canyon or Miller Canyon. When you reach the summit, you can take a break and enjoy a picnic while being treated to some pretty spectacular birds-eye-views.
Any amateur ornithologists out there? Sierra Vista is known as one of the best bird-watching locations in the state, with over 500 different species reported in the region.
The San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area is the perfect place to begin your search, but don’t forget to stop at Beatty’s Miller Canyon Apiary & Orchard, an oasis for observing hummingbirds. They even offer overnight accommodation if you’d like to extend your stay.
The ideal destination for history buffs, Bisbee is an old Arizona mining town oozing nostalgia and local history museums. Located a little over one and a half hours from Tucson, this day trip is an easy undertaking, where you’ll be taken on a journey back in time.
For a glimpse into Bisbee’s mining past, take a tour of the Copper Queen Mine and the Lavender Pit, both representing the industry and its impacts in their own unique way. Then, take a stroll down Erie Street. This abandoned area of the original Bisbee is lined with preserved storefronts (some crumbling more than others), classic cars, and even vintage gas pumps.
Need to wet your whistle before heading back to Tucson? Check what’s on tap at the Old Brisbee Brewing Company, or ask for a glass of good ol’ fashioned root beer, made the right way.
Did you know that Arizona has its very own wine country? Just shy of an hour from Tucson is Sonoita, a remote region that boasts tasty pours and stunning views, all in an unpretentious and laid-back atmosphere.
The wine-tasting experience in Sonoita is no ordinary one. The vineyards of the Elgin Wine Trail are taking everything you think you know about “wine country” and turning it on its head.
Just imagine vines growing amid desert grasslands, Spanish casitas, and mountainous horizon lines. Among the most popular wineries in the area is Rune Wines, known for its solar-powered tasting room and trendy canopied patio.
Another popular thing to do in Sonoita is to go horseback riding through the region’s wilderness. Want to combine the two? No problem. Many of the service providers and local ranches offer wine-tasting rides where they’ll guide you from one local vineyard to the next on horseback. (Taking the scenic route, of course!)
Chiricahua National Monument
Known as the “wonderland of rocks,” the Chiricahua National Monument is a must-see natural landmark for every traveler’s bucket list. Located just under 2 hours from Tucson, this national park promises a marvel of geography, wildlife-watching, and rugged hiking.
Depending on your fitness level and hiking experience, there are several day hike trails through the Rhyolite formations to choose from. From a 0.2-mile loop with wild poppies growing alongside to an eight-hour journey up and down multiple canyons, there’s something here for everyone.
Fun fact: If you hike a minimum of 5 miles and post a selfie during your trek, you can earn a state-issued Rhyolite hikers badge to document your success. What a great souvenir!
Alternatively, you can explore the Chiricahua National Monument on an 8-mile scenic drive and stop at the base of the rock pillars for a picnic lunch.
The largest city in Arizona, and the state capitol, Phoenix is a bustling destination chalked full of fast-paced entertainment. A little over an hour and a half from Tucson, you’ll find this metropolis of desert botanical gardens, city lights, and tons of top-notch attractions.
Are any baseball lovers traveling with your crew? Take them out to a ballgame at Chase Fields, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks MLB team. Alternatively, animal lovers could spend the afternoon at the Phoenix Zoo.
Want to splurge and do something a little bit different? Several tour companies in the area offer scenic hot air balloon rides at sunset over Phoenix and the surrounding desert landscapes.
Scottsdale is another great city if you’d like to keep your road trips in the urban atmosphere. At 1 hour and 45 minutes in length, the trip to Scottsdale could be easily undertaken in a single day or spread out over the weekend if you have time to spare.
Among the top Scottsdale attractions are a barrage of museums. Among the most unique? The Penske Racing Museum showcases a large collection of retired racecars, and the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park is home to a gorgeous antique carousel and the largest model train display in North America.
Prefer to do something outdoors? The Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center is a rescue for bears, large cats, wolves, birds of prey, and more. Here, you can get up close to some of the friendly residents and support a good cause in the process.