If you’re looking to get a break from the city and for some inspiration for day trips from Phoenix, you’ll love today’s post!
Phoenix is the jumping-off point for so many awesome things to do and places to visit, in a surrounding area that is nicknamed (quite rightly) the Valley of the Sun.
The desert and all the natural wonder that comes with it are at your fingertips. From cacti to caves, there are lush landscapes, lakesides, and hiking trails to enjoy here, just a day trip away.
To get you inspired for your travels, here are some of my favorite day trips from Phoenix.
Not even a 30-minute drive from Phoenix, Scottsdale is the perfect day trip if you’re looking to have a relaxing day. Book a spa day at one of the resorts, which will also get you a day pass to their pools. You could also do some shopping, and then grab a delicious dinner in Old Town (The Mission is one of my fav spots—SO good for delicious Latin cuisine).
Don’t miss my Scottsdale posts!
2. Saguaro National Park
Located two and a half hours away from Phoenix by car, Saguaro National Park is an incredible place to visit for nature-lovers or casual day-trippers looking for a change of scenery.
In the beginning, the park was set up to protect the iconic Saguaro cactus (think desert cactus—you know the ones). You’ll get to see a ton of them on the many miles of trails that trace through the rugged wilderness.
It’s actually split into two parts, one on either side of Tucson—one half is located right above the Tucson Mountain Park, in the west, and the other is in Marana Mountain Range to the east.
Both are different. The west side has some of the largest and oldest saguaro cacti in the world—pack a picnic so you can soak up the scenery. The east side is great for hiking and epic drives; it’s even got a pine forest and some high elevation trails.
The best place to start is to hit up one of the two visitor centers, where you can talk to park rangers, check out maps, and get a better insight into the landscape.
Also check out this list of activities in Tucson if you’d like to explore the city while you’re there.
3. Montezuma Castle National Monument
If you want history, look no further than the truly awesome Montezuma Castle. Not your regular castle, this feat of engineering was completed by the Sinagua people between approximately 1100 and 1425 AD.
It’s not surprising that this a National Monument; this is a super important historic structure that shows the ingenuity of the indigenous people here. You’ll be able to peer into the past and discover how people lived in the vast Arizonan desert.
Located in Camp Verde, around an hour and a half from Phoenix, this castle sits high above the desert and is thought to have been built to protect the Sinagua people during flood season.
Today, the castle draws many tourists who will visit the museum to learn about the architecture and environment that shaped the lives of the people who lived here. But the best way to see it is to take yourself on a loop trail around the five-story structure itself, through a sycamore grove, and along a picturesque creek.
There’s also the option to book yourself on a ranger-guided tour, which will give you a little more insight into this incredible site. For me, it’s up there as one of the best day trips from Phoenix ever.
Sedona is just under a two-hour drive from Phoenix, and totally doable (and worthwhile) as a day trip! I have tons of Sedona Travel Guides, so whether you’re popping over for a day to soak up all the red rock beauty or looking to plan a three-day weekend, be sure to check them out:
Here are a few top places to explore in Sedona during a day trip from Phoenix:
Red Rock Scenic Byway
Red Rock Scenic Byway isn’t a destination itself—it’s an awesome place for a road trip.
If heading out on the highway (or the byway?) is your thing, then you are going to go all sorts of crazy over this spectacular slice of Sedona. Also called State Route 109, it’s a real asphalt adventure.
With some stunning geological features and red rocks as a scenic backdrop, just picture yourself zooming along with your favorite music cranked up. It is truly amazing.
And if you’re the restless type who wants to really get INTO nature, don’t sweat it. There are plenty of places to stop off along the way, with multiple trails leading from those stops—often pretty easy trails for novice hikers. One of them is actually called the Slim Shady Trail!
The 7.5-mile long Red Rock Scenic Byway has also been dubbed “a museum without walls,” owing to the historic rock formations along the way, such as Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock. And if you’re hungry, the historic village of Oak Creek is a good place to grab some food, with its restaurants, galleries, and shops.
Slide Rock State Park
Slide Rock State Park is all about swimming and sliding down natural rock slides. This former apple farm is literally like a natural water park, making for the perfect summer day trip from Phoenix.
There are plenty of places to cool off along the water’s edge surrounded by those ever-present red rocks of Sedona, but you have to get into the freezing cold water and slip down the rock slide at least once. At 80 feet long and four feet wide, this large rock is covered in slippery algae, meaning you can easily zoom along the chute that’s been naturally worn into the sandstone (and also that it’s easy to slip when you’re walking around, so bring water shoes and be careful!).
Make sure to come prepared with your swimsuit, towel, water shoes (for grip) and extra clothes in case you feel like jumping in fully clothed—and a picnic to join the other picnickers along the riverbank. Don’t forget sun protection (sun hats, people—and sunscreen!) and plenty of water to keep hydrated!
Oak Creek Canyon
Oak Creek Canyon is actually the second most popular tourist site in the state (second only to its more famous cousin).
Running for 12 miles, with a depth of up to 2,000 feet, Oak Creek Canyon is a striking landscape that has been shaped over the past ten million years; it’s a gorgeous place to soak up some awesome views. Don’t forget your camera.
You have the chance here to get out into nature and step away from your busy life as you explore this landscape.
If driving is your thing, for example, there are some scenic drives to take it all in. Alternatively, you could take a guided tour with a ranger to learn more about it all. Along the pathways that interlink around the canyon, you can shop for Native American crafts sold here.
There are plenty of hiking trails and swimming holes, as well as picnic spots, dotted around the canyon, so whatever you like to do, you’ll find something to suit your style here.
Red Rock State Park
Red Rock State Park is an outdoor wonderland of hiking, biking, and horseback riding through the beauty of the Sedona red rock desert.
This 286-acre haven of nature has an abundance of wildlife, plants, and epic geological formations that all add up to an amazingly diverse landscape for you to escape to. It’s going to be hard not to totally fill your Insta with shots from this place!
Start at the Visitor Center, complete with exhibits that tell the story and the science behind the park, and enjoy a picnic lunch at the shaded tables. Then take one of the amazing hiking trails here for spectacular scenery.
Be sure to check out my Best Hikes in Sedona guide to help you pick your hike!
For something a bit more in-depth or educational, you can take a guided nature walk. These are led by naturalists, who will have all the insider knowledge on what the park has to offer—and will let you in on the hidden gems of Red Rock State Park, too.
5. Coconino National Forest
Coconino National Forest is another amazing trip from Phoneix—it’s two and a half hours’ drive from the city center. If you want to get out into nature, I’d highly recommend this one for you.
Spread out over a mind-boggling 1.8 million acres, this huge wilderness is not only vast but super-diverse as well. In fact, it’s the most diverse national forest in the entire country! So many landscapes are represented here, from deserts and pine forests to alpine tundra and snow-capped volcanic peaks.
But with literally so much to explore, the key here is to narrow down your options—especially if you’re truly only staying for a day!
To take in some of the most striking geological features the park has to offer, you should hit up the Mogollon Rim, climbing thousands of feet above the park for a beautifully scenic drive. It takes you through pristine forest overflowing with wildlife, the stunning East Clear Creek, and the verdant Barbershop Canyons.
On the other hand, if you want to hike, Jack’s Canyon No. 55 is a trail leading from the bottom of a desert gorge up along a dry streambed, ending with a short, steep climb to the top of Munds Mountain.
Whether you want to drive or get into the great outdoors, this place is pretty awesome!
6. Grand Canyon National Park
Ok, so it may take a little while to get here (like three and a half hours’ driving time), but if you’re in the area, and you’ve never been to the Grand Canyon before, this is THE ultimate day trip from Phoenix. It’s a bucket list destination, so you have to visit at least once in your life.
A literal wonder of the world, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Grand Canyon needs no introduction. The national park in which it sits covers over a million acres of land and receives millions of visitors each year. Shaped over two billion years, it’s 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and sometimes over a mile deep—it’s a truly a sight to behold. The area surrounding has been continually inhabited by Native Americans for thousands of years and is considered a holy site by the Pueblo people.
The Grand Canyon is made up of different sides, or “rims.” Arriving from Phoenix, along Route 17 then Route 180 from Flagstaff, you’ll arrive at the South Entrance—the gateway to the park’s South Rim.
From here, you’ll be able to get some truly incredible views of the canyon walls shaped through eons by the Colorado River and watch the canyon seemingly change colors as the sun moves across the sky.
Since it’s relatively far from Phoenix, you’ll want to leave pretty early to make the most of this epic day trip.
7. Tonto Natural Bridge State Park
For more breathtaking nature, just under a 2-hour drive from Phoenix, you should make a beeline to Tonto Natural Bridge State Park.
Tonto Natural Bridge State Park is home to the largest travertine bridge the world has to offer—a natural arch bridge formed by the power of water.
And it really makes for some stunning photos! It’s a unique Insta spot and somewhere you shouldn’t pass up on seeing for yourself.
But there’s more to do in this state park than marvel at this huge rock sculpture—so don’t forget your swimsuit! After a hike (or just to cool off from the desert heat), you can head down to Pine Creek and go for a refreshing dip in a beautiful natural setting.
A cool rock formation, hiking opportunities, and the chance to swim around in a desert creek—how could you say no to this awesome day trip from Phoenix?
8. Mission San Xavier del Bac
To see a super cool slice of Spanish Colonial history, take yourself to Mission San Xavier del Bac. First founded in 1692, the building itself dates back to 1783 and is one of the most impressive examples of Spanish Colonial architecture in the entire United States.
Nicknamed “The White Dove of the Desert,” one of the mysteries of the mission is that one of the towers remains unfinished. There are a few theories as to why this may be the case—a lack of funds, damage during a cyclone, having to pay more tax for two towers—but nobody really knows the answer.
More than just a historic spot to visit, Mission San Xavier del Bac remains an important pilgrimage spot for Catholics, with thousands visiting annually on foot or on horseback.
The outside may be imposing, but the interiors of this historic building are stunning. Extravagant use of gold, carved doors, statues, frescoes, intricate patterns, and a dazzling array of colors make this a beautiful place to behold.
You can stick around for a while, enjoy the slightly cooler air inside the mission itself, and take a moment to reflect—if you feel like it.
It’s around a one-hour 45-minute drive from Phoenix and it’s open to the public every day.
9. Petrified Forest National Park
Taking three and a half hours to reach by car, it may be a long way, but the Petrified Forest National Park is definitely worth a visit if you’ve got the time. It’s one of the most renowned spots in all of Arizona!
Located in the northeast of the state, and encompassing 230 square miles, the park sits at around 5,400 feet above sea level and is known for its incredible ecosystems. Taking in colorful rock formations and semi-desert scenery, it’s home to a wide range of animals and plants.
The Petrified Forest National Park is most famous for its namesake, which is the fossilized wood that can be found throughout the park. These incredible pieces of natural history are basically pieces of trees that have turned to stone over millions of years, which is pretty wild to think about.
Some petrified trees throughout the park show various stages of the petrification process. If this is all sounding pretty alien to you, make sure you head to the Visitor Center to learn more. A guided tour will also provide you with all the insight you need to understand just how amazing this national park is.
Aside from learning, the hikes here are crazy. The scenery will make it feel like you’re on another planet completely.
10. Kartchner Caverns State Park
If weird and wonderful rock formations are your jam, you should definitely make time to visit Kartchner Caverns State Park. It’s home to the largest stalactite formation in the world!
Just a two and a half-hour drive from Phoenix, Kartchner Caverns was discovered in 1974 by local cavers. Since then, it’s opened up to visitors who want to marvel at the depths of the cave and all its rocky goodness.
Your best bet is to take a guided tour so you can actually learn about the ecosystem of this subterranean world. It takes about an hour and a half and it’s totally worth it—keeps you from guessing if you choose to walk around by yourself.
There’s also the Discovery Center. This gives you an insight into the bat population living in the cave—and to who used to live in the cave, thanks to fossils and interactive exhibits—as well as how the cave has been growing over the last 50,000 years (or more).
As a bonus, it’s cool down here, almost like stepping into air-con, which honestly makes a change from the super hot summer temperatures around here. That alone easily makes this one of the best things to do in Phoenix in summer!
11. Titan Missile Museum
History lovers, listen up! If you’re looking for a day trip from Phoenix that isn’t all about hiking and canyons, this option might just be the best one for you.
Just two hours from Phoenix is this marvel of modern history, the Titan Missile Museum.
Set in the grounds of a former missile launchpad—officially titled Site 571-7—it is the only remaining such site out of the 54 that were built across the United States between 1963 and 1987. It was basically part of the front line during the Cold War, meant to deter nuclear war, and is now a unique (and pretty cool) museum.
Once a top-secret spot, this now historic landmark is THE place to go for an up-close and personal history lesson.
If you’re thinking it’s just dusty old rooms, think again. You literally get to walk around the facility, see communications rooms, explore secret corridors, and gawp at the launchpad itself.
The tour takes you 35 feet below ground to the launch control center, where you can see a simulated missile launch. After that, you take a trip along the cableway to yet another subterranean level and get some facetime with the actual Titan II missile itself, looking down at it from above.
12. Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
Ever thought about visiting an actual volcano? Sounds pretty cool, no?
Well, two and a half hours’ drive from Phoenix, the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument lets you do just that.
Last erupting around 1085 AD, this cinder cone volcano completely changed the landscape and the lives of the local people who lived there.
Fast forward around a thousand years or so to now, and the area around the volcano still looks like something from another planet—all volcanic rock with sporadic trees poking through it. A bit like when they beam down to an alien planet on Star Trek!
Visiting today means photos (obviously), but it also means getting to explore this cool environment for yourself—scrambling over the Bonito lava flow and discovering fresh pines and wildflowers that have repopulated the region over the years.
Like hiking? There are a few stunning trails to get to grips with, not least the trail that winds around the ancient lava flow in a huge loop. Hikes in general here are pretty short, but the views are awesome; you can even see lava tubes!
For vital information on trail safety and conditions, head to the Visitor Center, where you can also read up more on nature. You should also definitely come prepared for the heat if you’re visiting in summer. That means plenty of water!
13. Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
Deep in the Sonoran Desert is this amazing slice of history: the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. It might not look like much, but this is a super important part of the country’s history.
Dating to the late Hohokam Period (around the 14th century AD), this four-story building, Casa Grande (or “Big House”) was once part of a larger settlement along the river.
It was constructed out of the sedimentary rock by people of the Hohokam culture that existed from around 300 AD to 1500 AD, which is pretty wild to think about. The Casa Grande itself may have either been a meeting place for the cultural hot-shots at the time or—due to the precision placement of the walls—it’s also thought to have been an observatory.
This impressive structure isn’t just important archaeologically; it was the very first government-administered historic Native American monument, back in 1918. That means, basically, the first time that the native history of the US before Europeans arrived was recognized as important. And that in itself is something to think about!
There are other ruins in surrounding acres of land from the former settlement that can be discovered here.
At just a one-hour drive from the city itself, this has to be one of the coolest day trips from Phoenix you could take. Especially if history is what you’re after.
14. Apache Trail
The Apache Trail is an ancient trail that was used by the native people of this area to move through the Superstition Mountains. Just two hours and ten minutes’ drive from Phoenix, you can actually head out on the trail yourself.
For those who are not fond of hiking, don’t worry—you drive the trail by car!
Today, it’s a beautiful 40-mile circular route that curves its way around hairpin bends, through incredible mountain scenery, and through ghost towns such as Goldfield Ghost Town (an old mining town) and other abandoned settlements along the way.
On the trail, you’ll also find the Superstition Mountain Museum. This is where you should come to get a better idea of the area and the mysteries that surround it.
Fifteen miles along the trail from Apache Junction, you’ll find Canyon Lake. If you’re feeling active, there’s the option to take a boat out on the lake to paddle around and enjoy a scenic stop. Otherwise, the Lakeside Restaurant & Cantina is a great place for a bite to eat with good views to match.
Then there’s Tortilla Flat. Nope, this isn’t another restaurant; it’s the smallest settlement in Arizona! Home to a handful of residents, the outpost is well worth stopping off for. Make sure to stop by the Superstition Saloon, complete with barstools made of horse saddles!
15. Saguaro Lake
If you’re looking for a short and easy day trip from Phoenix, here it is—Saguaro Lake. It’s just a 50-minute drive to the lake (actually a reservoir) from town and makes for a great place to spend the entire day.
Edged by canyon walls and those iconic Saguaro cacti, the glittering lake is an awesome spot to chill. With more than 22 miles of shoreline, you won’t be stuck finding a place to call yours for the day—even in the heat of summer when Saguaro Lake is most popular.
It’s easily one of the best summer day trips from Phoenix.
You can head out on the water on a boat or in a kayak, paddle around and explore to your heart’s content. Then there’s jetskiing to get involved with if that’s your thing. Even if you’re into fishing, you can do that here too.
Swimming or otherwise paddling in the shallows is also an option and makes for a delicious way to cool off in summer. If you need to move and you’re feeling restless, you can hike around part of the lake.
Hot tip: the best spot on the lake is Butcher Jones Beach. It’s sandy, it’s good for swimming, it has restrooms and even a small walking trail.
If you don’t want to bring a picnic, head to the Saguaro del Norte Recreation Site, where you can grab lunch or snacks waterside.
Every time I think of this town, I sing Lizzo’s song Jerome in my head. Jerome is a former copper mining town that basically went bust during the Great Depression and recovered. Virtually everyone left and it became a shadow of its former self.
Located between Prescott and Flagstaff, around a two-hour drive from Phoenix, Jerome was first founded in 1876 and was actually, at one time, the fourth-largest city in the whole state of Arizona!
Things have changed since then.
Today, the town of Jerome has been brought back to life as a haven for creatives, who moved into the abandoned buildings and set up art studios and boutiques to sell their wares.
It’s an intriguing community, surrounded by beautiful mountains and desert scenery. If you’re looking for something offbeat to do, then you should check this place out. You’ll feel like you’ve been transported to another time.
Be sure to check out my Jerome Ghost Town guide for things to do there!
You’ve got tons of great options when it comes to day trips from Phoenix!
There’s a ton of diverse and super cool day trips from Phoenix to head out on. And if it’s something on the above list—let me know about it! Tag me in your Insta stories and pics and show me what you get up to.
Heading to Arizona? Be sure to explore my other Arizona content.
What to do in Tempe, AZ: Travel Guide
Jerome Ghost Town: 9 Things to do in Jerome
Sedona Itinerary: An In-Depth Sedona Travel Guide
Best Hikes in Sedona
Top Things to See in Sedona
Top 10 Guide of Fun Things to do in Scottsdale
The Best Hiking in Phoenix
Phoenix to Grand Canyon Road Trip
It is recommended to spend at least 5 days in Arizona to really explore what the state has to offer.
The Grand Canyon is about a 3 hour and 40 minute drive from Phoenix.
The number one attraction in Arizona is the Grand Canyon.
Elise Armitage is an entrepreneur and founder of What The Fab, a travel + lifestyle blog based in California. At the beginning of 2019, Elise left her corporate job at Google to chase her dreams: being an entrepreneur and helping women find fabulous in the everyday. Since then, she’s launched her SEO course Six-Figure SEO, where she teaches bloggers how to create a passive revenue stream from their website using SEO. Featured in publications like Forbes, Elle, HerMoney, and Real Simple, Elise is a firm believer that you can be of both substance and style.