Don’t let anyone tell you Arizona is a boring place! Quite the contrary, there is plenty to see both in terms of nature and in terms culture (native or otherwise), so you can expect to have loads of fun (and sun, no doubt about THAT) when in this beautiful state in the US. Of course, the crown jewel of Arizona is the city of Phoenix, a city that offers everything you would expect from a modern megalopolis. From here, you will be well connected to the rest of the state and be able to choose where you want to go for a short trip if you’re in the city for a few days and can spare at least one of them. And trust me when I say that there is quite a lot to choose from (lots of fun road trips from Phoenix). Therefore, to help you make up your mind and to introduce you to all the attractions, here’s a list of the best day trips from Phoenix AZ you can make.
Table of Contents (skip directly to the info you're looking for)
Best short trips from Phoenix – Places to visit near Phoenix
Obviously, we can’t start any list concerning day trips from Phoenix with anything else except the Grand Canyon. First a word of warning: this is not exactly a short trip – it will take you about four hours to get there from Phoenix, maybe four and a half, so be prepared to get up early if you have only one day at your disposal. At least two drivers would also be recommended. However, when you get there, it will be all worth it. This incredible feat of nature was carved by the mighty Colorado River and is arguably the most famous attraction of this kind in whole of North America. Two billion years of Earth’s life at the palm of your hand, all visible in the cliffs around you! Once you enter the national park, you can ride around in your car and park it at one of the parking lots and then do some hiking to find the best spot, or you can take the free shuttle bus to get around. Either way, you are in for some truly spectacular views. And don’t forget that you can always rest and refresh in the Grand Canyon Village, a small touristy place with restaurants, hotels and stuff like that.
You might also like: Why the best time to visit Colorado is now!
If you’ve watched the movie of the same name, or if you’re a cowboy fan, then you know why Tombstone is an absolute must when you’re in Phoenix. Yes, this is where the famous battle at the O.K. Corral took place and where Wyatt Earp, his brothers and Doc Holiday made their way into the Wild West pantheon. A large part of the town is still very much the same as it was back in those days, so you will easily be able to sense the atmosphere of the time when cowboys roamed its streets. There are plenty of places to visit, but most tourists only have one thing on their minds – the O.K. Corral. It’s there alright, ready to welcome you for a fee and you can even see the re-enactment of the famous gunfight there. But it would be a shame if you missed out on checking out on other stuff too – the local saloon, for example, is another brilliant example of the life people in the Wild West led. Just stroll around and soak it all in.
Tucson, Arizona is another very popular destination for everyone who’s planning a day trip from Phoenix. It is also quite a big city (about one million people in the metropolitan area), so it has a whole lot of interesting things to do. Many people go there to explore the Tucson Mountain Park, which can be done on foot or on a mountain bike. And don’t worry if you’re on foot, this is not a demanding hike at all. Either way, you will be rewarded with some beautiful scenery of the Sonoran Desert.
Another big attraction is the space museum on the outskirts of the city. It’s quite a huge place, with more than 150 aircraft to check out. Fortunately, you won’t have to walk all the time because the museum has its own tram to help the visitors get around, and if you happen to be here on a Saturday you could catch a special educational event.
Finally, you need to be aware that the food scene in Tucson is quite vibrant, with many different cuisines represented within the city. Therefore, hopping on a food tour is a great way to explore the city from that perspective.
Read this: Alaska Itinerary for 7 days
There are plenty of reasons why one should visit Flagstaff. First and foremost, because it’s on a high altitude, this is a significantly cooler place than the rest of the state, so if you want to spend a day somewhere where the heat is not as intense, this is it. And it’s not incredibly far, either – about a two-hours’ drive from Phoenix. But that’s just the beginning of the list of reasons why millions of people visit Flagstaff every year. This is a city of culture and art, especially music and theatre, and the Museum of Northern Arizona is also very much worthy of a visit.
Two more points, though. First, the famous Route 66 goes straight through this town, and in early September they have a festival here dedicated just to that illustrious highway. Another thing that you should really check out while here is the Meteor Crater, less than 40 miles out of town. Yes, a real crater of a meteoric impact, and a perfectly preserved one, too. Come here and marvel at the incredible power of nature and learn more about space at the local discovery centre.
Out of all tribes of native peoples that inhabited this continent before the white man came, the Apache are certainly one of the most, if not the most famous. They have played a role in countless movies, books and comic books about the Wild West. This trail was supposed to help stagecoaches move through the tribe’s territory, but it is now one of the most beautiful drives imaginable. Just don’t forget to make the necessary preparations, protect yourself from the sun, make sure your car is in tip-top condition and stuff like that. There are plenty of places that will draw your attention, so maybe some planning ahead wouldn’t go amiss because some parts of the trail are not paved, and if you stop for every beautiful sight you’ll be here for days. However, a visit to Canyon Lake seems like a good idea, especially since there you can find a restaurant and a store, plus a steamboat you can board for a trip lasting an hour and a half. Tortilla Flat is close by, a town with only six people living there. Quite a surreal experience.
Another Favorite: A historical road trip from Tennessee to Virginia
A trip to Montezuma Castle is a trip through time. Located near Camp Verde (less than 100 miles from Phoenix), it is an architectural accomplishment of the Sinagua tribe who carved this edifice into Beaver Creek Canyon itself. For more than 600 years, this incredible feat of human ingenuity has been standing there, in the same condition as it was in all those years ago when it was completed. With five storeys and twenty rooms, it is quite deserving of the title “castle”.
Apart from seeing this monument (which is one of the first national monuments in the US, by the way, earning that status back in 1906), you can also do some hiking and explore the nature all around it. Furthermore, there is also a very interesting museum you can visit there at the site, which really teaches you a lot about the native cultures that lived on this land so long ago. Kind of puts things into perspective a bit. Just a great way to spend the day educating yourself and learning about the culture and history we certainly don’t know very well.
Saguaro National Park
Saguaro is that big cactus you always see when you come across a depiction of the Wild West, and this park was created with its protection in mind. It is located near Tucson, so you should be able to reach it in about two hours from Phoenix, maybe a bit more depending on the traffic. You will notice, however, that the park actually has two units – East and West – so you’ll have to make a decision on which one to visit. If you’re here on a day trip, going for the western part is the better choice, primarily because it’s close to the fascinating Sonora Desert Museum. The museum itself is worthy of a few hours of your time because it houses many different biomes containing life from this part of the United States. Coyotes and mountain lions can be seen there, for example, so if you have kids along with you they’ll love it, too.
You also have the option of hiking around through the wilderness a bit. And once you’re far away from civilization, just stop for a bit and listen. After a while, once the life around you becomes accustomed to your presence, you will hear the true sounds of the desert.
Last but certainly not the least on our list of best day trips from Phoenix is a visit to Prescott. Now, this charming little town was once the capital city of Arizona, way back in mid-19th century. It is less than an hour away and a great destination if you want to explore the history of the region in a charming little town, surrounded by everything modern life brings.
The main features here are the houses build in the Victorian era, still in very good condition and with many of them accessible to tourists for a closer inspection. Apart from that, there are plenty of good restaurants you can visit, several museums and even a zoo, so you can easily take your whole family for this day trip and enjoy yourselves without spending too much energy. It’s a very pretty little city ideal for a day of rest and relaxation and a stroll through picturesque old streets. Oh, and they have some pretty good golf courses here. Enjoy!
IN THE END…
Day trips from Phoenix AZ are a perfect way to explore the fascinating state of Arizona. From this great city, you can easily reach some truly fascinating feats of nature, experience the essence of the Wild West, learn about other cultures that lived here long ago, visit other interesting cities and beautiful little towns, and even enjoy some exquisite culture. It really is worth it to set aside at least a day for something like this, but if you have even more time think about visiting another destination. There is so much to see and you can be sure you won’t regret it.
This is a guest post by: Anca of One Day Itinerary
Author’s bio: Anca is the founder and chief editor of One Day Itinerary, a collection of articles showcasing one day in each great destination around the world. She travels all the time and has loads of great tips to share with her readers not just on the locations but also on how to prepare for a trip and behave once you get there.