the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

30 Great Day Trip Destinations from Phoenix

Day trip destinations from Phoenix include gorgeous desert and mountain scenery, ancient ruins, picturesque small towns, and some of the most famous landmarks in the world.

Being in the center of Arizona, Phoenix is a perfect starting point for destinations all over the state, through some spectacular and unique scenery.

In just one day, you can leave the saguaro-filled desert and see the Grand Canyon, one of the best-known and most spectacular wonder of the natural world.

Or you can hike through pine-covered mountains and walk through lava fields in Flagstaff. In a different direction, you can visit some of the most colorful desert landscape, and walk through an ancient forest turned to stone.

It’s hard to choose just a few day trip destinations from Phoenix, since there are so many, one more spectacular than the next. This list is far from complete, and I am sure I will add to it as I revisit other favorites. For now though, here are some of my favorite day trip destinations from Phoenix, my home for the past thirty+ years.

1. Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon, possible to visit even as a day trip destination from Phoenix.
The Grand Canyon, the best-known natural wonder of the world.

One of the most spectacular natural wonders of the world and the most visited National Park in Arizona, the Grand Canyon, is a must-see for anyone who visits the state.

And, you can visit it even as one of the day trip destinations from Phoenix. Though this trip would be ideal if done over a weekend, you can do it in one day, if you start early.

Winding through the largest ponderosa pine forest on the continent, the drive from Phoenix to the Main Entrance of the South Rim is one of the prettiest scenic roads in Arizona.

Because of the extreme popularity of the South Rim, you’ll always have to wait in line to enter, but it usually moves fast.

Past the entrance, drive to the main Visitor Center, where you can leave your car. From there, take the free shuttle between the viewpoints. Or rent a bike and ride it through the trails instead.

But don’t miss taking at least one walk on the rim. For an easy stroll, follow the paved Trail of Time and learn about the geology of the Grand Canyon while enjoying the views.

Or, drive to Williams early and take the scenic train ride to the Grand Canyon. The train stays at the Canyon for three hours, giving you enough time to visit the main areas surrounding the station.


Follow I-17 North to Flagstaff. From Flagstaff city center, take AZ-64 through Williams, to the Grand Canyon.

Distance from Phoenix: 219 miles

Driving time: about 3 hours 30 minutes

2. Flagstaff and the Kachina Peaks

On the the Kachina Trail in Flagstaff, the perfect day trip from Phoenix on a summer day.
View from the Kachina Trail, Flagstaff

You only need to drive about two hours from Phoenix to reach an environment as different from it as night and day.

At the foot of the Kachina Peaks (San Francisco Peaks), at an elevation of about 7000 feet, Flagstaff is home to the world’s largest ponderosa forest.

One of the most popular destinations of Phoenicians in the summer and fall, it is also our favorite. Which means we have to battle traffic to drive up during the weekends, but it’s still always worth it.

If it’s your first time in Flagstaff, stop at the Visitor Center in the historic train station. Spend some time there, if you want to see a train go by.

Then leave your car there, and explore downtown Flagstaff. Later, drive up to the mountain.

The best and easiest way to enjoy the Kachina peaks is driving up to Snow Bowl. For some of the most spectacular views, you can take the chairlift to the top. The lift operates year-round for the viewpoints.

However, it is especially popular in the winter, when it takes skiers up the slopes.

The area is also home to plenty of hiking trails among ponderosa pines and aspen patches. Hike part (or all) of the Kachina Trail in the summer, and one of the many trails through aspen colonies in the fall.


Follow I-17 North all the way to Flagstaff

Distance from Phoenix: 144 miles

Driving time: about 2 hours 30 minutes

3. Sunset Crater

On the trail through the Bonito Lava Flow at Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
Closer view of the Bonito Lava Flow from the parking lot.

Instead of stopping in Flagstaff, drive through and visit Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, another spectacular National Park site in the state.

Stop at the Visitor Center to learn about the youngest volcano in the San Francisco volcanic field in the area. When ready, take the interpretive trail at the bottom of the crater.

Though you can’t hike Sunset Crater, you can still get to the top of a cinder cone and look down into it. For this experience, take the trail to the top of Lenox Crater.

Or, hike on a large lava field through the Bonito Lava Flow, and marvel at the otherworldly shapes and sharp rocks the volcano left behind.


Follow I-17 North to Flagstaff. Take the exit to I-40 E, then take exit 201 to the US-89 N to the Loop Rd.

Distance from Phoenix: 163 miles

Driving time: 2 hours 23 minutes

4. Wupatki Ruins

The Tall House in Wupatki. photo (c) Jeff Fromm
The Tall House in Wupatki

Continue on the scenic loop road, enjoying views of the Painted Desert, and stop at Wupatki National Monument.

Showcasing several ancient villages, the ruins at Wupatki offer a great place to learn about the people who lived here thousands of years ago. The largest of the pueblos is Wupatki, with its spectacular four-story structure, a large kiva, and a ball court.


Follow I-17 North to Flagstaff. Take the exit to I-40 E, then take exit 201 to the US-89 N to the Loop Rd. Drive the Loop Rd through Sunset Crater and Wupatki, returning to US-89.

Distance from Phoenix: 163 miles to Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument + 22 miles on the Scenic Loop Rd through Wupatki.

Driving time: about 2 hours 15 minutes.

5. Walnut Canyon

Walnut Canyon - view from the rim.
View of Walnut Canyon

Or, instead of Sunset Crater, visit Walnut Canyon National Monument for a hike through one of the most rewarding trails in the high country of Arizona.

Named for the walnut trees growing at its bottom, this steep, 400-feet deep canyon is home to some of the most spectacular cliff dwellings in the state. On the Island Trail, you’ll walk through some of them and near others, on the side of the canyon.

The cliff dwellings of Walnut Canyon left behind by the Sinagua are not the only draw of the trail, though. Gorgeous views of the canyon surround you along the walk.

After the steep hike, stroll through a pinion forest on the paved rim trail, and enjoy different views of the canyon below.


Take I-17 N to Flagstaff. As soon as you enter Flagstaff, take the exit 204 for I-40 E. Follow it until you reach Walnut Canyon Rd, then turn right onto it.

Distance from Phoenix: 154 miles

Driving time: about 2 hours 30 minutes

6. Sedona and the Red Rock Country

Bell Rock in Sedona, everyone's favorite day trip destination from Phoenix
Bell Rock – View from the trail

Considered one of the prettiest small towns in the country, Sedona is one of the most popular day trip destinations from Phoenix.

It was one of our favorites in the first decade we lived in Phoenix, when it was still relatively quiet. While we rarely visit it any more on our own, we still bring all our out-of-town guests here for a short visit.

Surrounded by the famous red rocks, Sedona offers great hiking opportunities for the outdoor enthusiasts. The picturesque town is also home to plenty of art galleries, boutique shops, restaurants, and resorts to choose from.

The best way to experience the gorgeous red rocks of Sedona is to hike through them; and you’ll find plenty of opportunities, regardless of your fitness level.


Follow I-17 N to exit 298, then take AZ-179 N. The drive itself is scenic, enjoy the ride into town.

Distance from Phoenix: 116 miles

Driving time: about 1 hour 40 minutes

7. Montezuma Castle and Montezuma Well

Montezuma Castle (photo by Győző Egyed)
Montezuma Castle

Even closer to Phoenix, you can visit one of the most spectacular cliff dwellings in Arizona, Montezuma Castle.

Built by the Sinagua (who had absolutely nothing to do with Montezuma and his people), the five-story cliff dwelling housed an entire village.

Now, it sits at the end of a trail shaded by Arizona sycamore trees in the National Park sharing its name.

For a great day trip from Phoenix, combine it with Montezuma Well, a natural sinkhole fed by an underground stream in the desert. The resulting oasis is home to an array of wildlife, but you’ll also find a few Sinagua cliff dwellings on its steep walls.

Both part of Montezuma Castle National Monument, they are just ten miles apart, and make a great day trip from Phoenix, or just a stop on your way to Flagstaff and northern Arizona.


Take I-17 N towards Flagstaff, to exit 289, then follow Montezuma Castle Rd; from there, get back onto I-17 No and exit 293 and take County Rad 77 to Montezuma Well.

Distance from Phoenix: 95 miles to Montezuma Castle and 10 more to Montezuma Well.

Driving time: about one hour

8. Tuzigoot National Monument

Tuzigoot Ruins

Another ancient Sinagua village also offers a great day trip destination from Phoenix. Tuzigoot National Monument in a remote part of Arizona, sits on top of a hill overlooking a valley in the desert.

Still off the main tourist track, it’s also close enough to both Montezuma Castle and Well to visit during the same day trip.

Here, in Tuzigoot, the Sinagua didn’t build cliff dwellings, since the terrain is different.

Instead, they built their village on top of a hill overlooking a marsh. Here, they could grow crops because of a water source, the Verde River. This same water source helped give the site its present name.

An Apache crew member of the archaeological team suggested the name Tuzigoot, the Apache word for “crooked water”. If you look down into the valley from the top of the citadel, you’ll understand why it’s “crooked”: it’s the shape of the Verde River as seen from the top.


From I-17 No take exit 287 for AZ-260 and go towards Cottonwood/Payson. In Cottonwood take S Main Street, then S. Broadway, and finally right onto Tuzigoot Rd.

Distance from Phoenix: 107 miles

Driving time: about two hours

9. Jerome

A picturesque, vertical town, Jerome has come a long way since its beginning as a copper mining settlement.

Founded in 1876, it was once one of the largest cities in Arizona, with a population of 15,000. But when mining operations stopped, it almost became a ghost town. In fact, in the 1950s, the remaining 50-100 people still living there promoted it as a historic ghost town.

Designated a National Historic District in 1967, the town survives on tourism, and lately on a vibrant artist population. One of the largest mining towns, known as the “wickedest town in the West”, once home to miners, bootleggers, gamblers, and sex-workers, is now a booming tourist town and artist hub.

Its location on the hillside contributes to its popularity. You’ll find boutique shops, art galleries and studios, and plenty of dining choices for a perfect day away from Phoenix.


Follow I-17 N to Camp Verde. Take exit 287 onto AZ-260 towards Cottonwood/Payson. In Cottonwood take AZ-89A S to Jerome.

Distance from Phoenix: 111 miles

Driving time: about two hours

10. Prescott and its Vicinity

Once the capital of Arizona, Prescott is still one of the most popular historical towns in Arizona, and a perfect day trip destination from Phoenix. The town has something for everyone.

Old West enthusiasts will find plenty of historical sites for. Those searching for outdoor adventures will find opportunities for hiking, biking, even kayaking.

Barely over an hour away from Phoenix and the desert, Prescott and its vicinity have four seasons, and recreation activities available for anyone.

Lakes, pine forests, and parks offer over 450 miles of trails in the surroundings.

You’ll find here one of the few natural lakes in Arizona, Lynx Lake, besides a few smaller reservoirs.

The Granite Dells offer a great – and easy – hiking opportunity in an unusual terrain, but you’ll find more trails in the Bradshaw Mountains.


Follow I-17 N to exit 262 onto AZ-69 N and follow it to Prescott.

Distance from Phoenix: 99 miles

Driving time: about one hour and 30 minutes

11. Arcosanti

You don’t need to drive far from Phoenix to see the world’s first arcology project.

What’s arcology, you wonder? The world designates a blend of architecture and ecology, what the world needs more of, the opposite of urban sprawl.

Based on the principles of architect Paolo Soleri, Arcosanti started in 1970, as one of the first attempt for an eco-conscious town design.

Today, Arcosanti is implementing an urban plan based on the principles of conservation of land, energy, and natural resources.

Though it never became a town, Arcosanti is instead an “urban laboratory”; home to a small community of artists, architects, and eco-conscious residents.

You can visit Arcosanti and learn about their principles, attend a show they host on their outdoor stage, or walk a trail in the surrounding high desert.


Follow I-17 N to Arcosanti Rd, exit 263.

Distance from Phoenix: 67 miles

Driving time: about one hour.

12. Bartlett Lake

A favorite spot of Phoenicians for water activities, Bartlett Lake offers boating, waterskiing, fishing, hiking, and shoreline camping opportunities, all in the middle of a gorgeous stretch of desert.

Even just driving the scenic road leading to it is worth an outing. You’ll be among mountains and rolling hills, filled with saguaros and other cacti varieties, or large boulders showcasing the geology of the desert.

You wouldn’t expect a lake in the middle of this desert environment. And, to be fair, it is a reservoir, fed by the Verde River, but still worth the short trip.


Take either 101 or 51 to Cave Creek Rd; follow Cave Creek Rd to the scenic Bartlett Dam Rd.

Distance from Phoenix: 48 miles

Driving time: about one hour

13. The Superstition Mountains and Goldfield

The Superstition Mountains, AZ
View of the Superstition Mountains from Goldfield

With its jagged ridges shooting straight up from the desert floor, the spectacular shape of the Superstition Mountains is visible and recognizable from miles away.

A great destination on its own, the legends and superstitions surrounding it add an element of mystery to this volcanic mountain range.

But regardless of legends and gold, the mountain’s Lost Dutchman State Park is a great day trip destination from Phoenix.

This is true especially during the seasons when you can be outdoors in the desert, able to take advantage of the hiking and biking opportunities the park offers.

You can find a trail for any fitness level, from a short walk in the desert in the shadow of the basaltic rocks, to strenuous, long hikes leading close to the top.

You might not find gold in the mountains, but you can visit a gold mine that once operated in Goldfield, and explore the ghost town surrounding it. Then enjoy the sunset over the Superstitions.


You can take either I-10 to US-60 E to exit 196, or the 202 Loop to exit 26. Both exits lead to AZ-88 (Idaho St) to the Apache Trail that leads to both destinations.

Distance from Phoenix: 40 miles

Driving time: about 45 minutes

14. Saguaro Lake

Phoenix might be in the middle of a desert, but it is surrounded by a few lakes.

While they are the result of damming the few rivers crossing the desert, they are all beautiful, and offer a great respite from the dry environment of their surroundings.

Surrounded by rugged mountain peaks and desert lands covered by thousands of gorgeous saguaros, Saguaro lake is one of the most popular day trip destinations from Phoenix.

So we normally avoid it. However, its surroundings and beauty are worth a look, no matter if you plan on spending time there or not.

From boating, kayaking, waterskiing, and taking a riverboat cruise, you can do a lot of water activities at Saguaro Lake. It gets most crowded on summer weekends, when you might have trouble finding a parking spot. Go early if you want to spend time at the lake.

Water activities are the most popular at Saguaro Lake, but it doesn’t mean you can’t hike there.

The four mile long Butcher Jones Trail skirts the lake, while taking you through a diverse environment with gorgeous views of the lake and its shore.


Take AZ-202 Loop E to exit 23A and turn left on Power Rd, which turns into Bush Hwy. Continue for 11 miles; turn right onto E Forest Rd 206A also called Saguaro del Norte and follow it to the lake.

Distance from Phoenix: 41 miles

Driving time: about 45 minutes

15. The Mogollon Rim

Mogollon Rim
View from the Mogollon Rim

The approximately 200 miles-long limestone and granite cliff in central Arizona, the Mogollon Rim showcases large areas of ponderosa pines, intertwined with a few deciduous forests.

One of the most popular day trip destinations from Phoenix, especially in the summer months, it usually gets crowded on weekends. However, no matter how many people you share it with, you can still find spots of solitude.

The Rim features plenty of hiking trails, camping opportunities, and a few gorgeous lakes surrounded by pines. Phoenicians love this area, so close to town, yet such a different environment.

The scenic Rim Road Drive is one of the best way to enjoy the area. If you don’t mind driving on dirt road, you can go all the way, but even the first few paved miles offer spectacular views. You’ll drive through ponderosa pines, grassy meadows, and along steep cliff drop-offs.

You’ll have opportunities to stop at a few lakes, campgrounds, and hiking trails, and enjoy the cooler, shaded areas of Arizona.

I like to stop at the Shoofly Ruins for some gorgeous views of the forested cliffs while exploring remains of ancient structures.

Payson is the gateway town to the Mogollon Rim. You can stop there, or just drive through on your way to the greener areas of Arizona.


Start on the 202 E Loop in town, and turn onto AZ-87 N (exit 13). Follow AZ-87 to Payson. In Payson (center of town) turn right onto AZ-260 E that leads to the Mogollon Rim.

Distance from Phoenix: 124 miles

Driving time: about two hours

16. Willow Springs Lake

Our favorite spot on the Mogollon Rim is Willow Springs Lake. Another one of the more popular day trip destinations from Phoenix in the summer, the lake offers a great place to cool down close to town.

The lake stays cold even in the summer. That’s because it gets all its water from runoffs of melted snow from the mountains in its immediate vicinity, and from the melted ice that fills it in the winter.

This might not be a huge deal anywhere else, but it is unusual in the hot desert so close to Phoenix. The water also keeps its surroundings cooler, and the ponderosa pines offer shade on its shores.

We like to hike the perimeter trail and wonder off into a few side trails in the surrounding forests. People bring their paddle boats, or smaller boats, to the lake, but many come for fishing. After all, the lake was originally a fishing lake.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department created it in 1966 for trout fishing, and they still stock it with trout every year, from spring through fall.


Follow the road towards the Mogollon Rim; the lake is off AZ-260 E, 23 miles east of Payson.

Distance from Phoenix: 122 miles

Driving time: about two hours

17. Tonto Natural Bridge State Park

In the same general area, just ten miles from Payson, you’ll find a natural bridge known as the largest travertine bridge in the world, carved by mother nature.

Most natural bridges are sandstone or limestone, which makes the travertine Tonto Natural Bridge unique among them.

Tonto Bridge towers 183 high feet above a tunnel 393 feet long, and 150 feet wide.

You can see it from several viewpoints on a paved trail along the parking lots, or you can hike down under it. You’ll find a few trails leading to the bottom of the bridge or to the creek.

The Tonto Natural Bridge State Park is a perfect day trip destination from Phoenix. B

esides the trails, spend time at the Visitor Center, housed in the historic lodge built in 1927. You’ll find exhibits here about the natural bridge and its geology, also about human history in the area.

The state park gets busy year-round. Your best bet is to go on a weekday.


Follow the directions to Payson, then at the intersection with AZ-260, go left (west) towards Pine.

Distance from Phoenix: 104 miles

Driving time: about two hours

18. Tonto Cliff Dwellings

Preserved as part of Tonto National Monument, the Salado-style cliff dwellings tell a story of ancient people of the desert who lived here between 1250 and 1450.

You can visit the Lower Cliff Dwellings on your own, following a 0.5-mile paved path (uphill) from the parking lot.

Stop at the Visitor Center first to learn about the people who called this area home about 700 years ago. You’ll find a museum and a replica room here, besides the opportunity to view an introductory video to the way of life of these ancient people.

What’s really impressive about the Salado people is that they were a mix of different cultures. Bringing together their best, they collaborated and mixed their individual traditions, eventually forming a new one.

To visit the Upper Cliff Dwellings, you need to join a guided tour. The tour takes about 3 – 4 hours, and you need to make reservations ahead of time.


Drive towards Payson on AZ-87, then after about 72 miles on AZ-87, turn right on AZ-188 towards Roosevelt.

Distance from Phoenix: 110 miles

Driving time: about two hours

19. Casa Grande Ruins

Casa Grande Ruins
Casa Grande Ruins

Named by a Spaniard who first recorded the ruins, Casa Grande (meaning Big House in Spanish) preserves the ruins of the largest known house built by the Ancestral People of the Sonoran Desert.

An ancient farming village, the area around the large house, was one of many settlements along the Gila River.

These villages were interconnected through a network of canals. The ancients built these canals, helping each other bring water closer to the villages to grow crops. Casa Grande was the largest of these communities, a gathering place for them during ceremonies.

Before walking through the ancient village, stop at the museum in the Visitor Center to learn about the ancient people who built a civilization in the inhospitable desert. After exploring the site, walk over to the ball court across from the Visitor Center.


Take I-10 E from Phoenix to exit 185 to AZ-387 towards Coolidge/Florence, then in Coolidge turn right onto Ruin Dr.

Distance from Phoenix: 55 miles

Driving time: about one hour

20. The Arizona – Sonora Desert Museum

Goat in the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
Goat in the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

One of the best places to experience and learn about the Sonoran Desert’s unique ecosystems is the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

You’ll find one of the greatest varieties of both desert plants and wildlife here. You’ll even see an aquarium, highlighting the importance of the rivers of the region and the Sea of Cortez in creating the ecosystems of the Sonoran Desert.

Stroll through the Desert Museum’s gardens, a walk-in aviary and a riparian corridor.

The cat canyon is one of my favorite spots, home to a grey fox, bobcats, and ocelot. The desert grassland and the mountain woodland are both represented here.

In the winter, we like to take the desert loop trail through untouched natural settings. They even have a (replica) limestone cave you can walk through before leaving.


Follow I-10 E out of town towards Tucson. Take exit 236 and follow the signs to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum.

Distance from Phoenix: 111 miles

Driving time: about two hours

21. Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Monument, Arizona
Saguaro National Monument

Near Tucson, Saguaro National Park, the most representative National Park of the state, showcases and protects a large concentration of this giant cactus, symbol of the desert Southwest. The park has two separate sides, Saguaro East and Saguaro West.

Two Visitor Centers on each side give you opportunities to learn about the giant saguaro and other cactus varieties of the Sonoran Desert. The scenic roads through the park take you through some of the most beautiful desert vegetation. They also lead to a few trail heads. Hike one to experience the greenest desert.


Take I-10 E to exit 246, then follow signs for Saguaro National Monument West.

Distance from Phoenix: 107 miles

Driving time: about one hour and 35 minutes

22. Tucson

Surrounded by giant saguaros, in the shadow of Mount Lemmon, Tucson offers an environment like no other.

From urban trails in the city to miles of hiking trails through the surrounding mountains and desert areas, the city offers plenty of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors.

You can even enjoy art work outdoors. The streets of Tucson are filled with murals showcasing the work of local, national, and international muralists.

We use Tucson as a gateway to Southern Arizona, and usually stop here for lunch. You have plenty of restaurants to choose from; my family’s favorite is Parilla Suiza.


Follow I-10 E to Tucson.

Distance from Phoenix: 113 miles

Driving time: about two hours

23. Kartchner Caverns State Park

VisitingKartchner Caverns State Park takes you to a wonderland of stalactites and stalagmites inside a hill in the desert of southeast Arizona. These living caves are only open for visitors through ranger-led tours, to make sure they don’t get damaged.

The Big Room is home to a large community of bats in the summer. To protect them, they close the side of the caverns they roost in between April and October.

The more spectacular tour is the Rotunda Throne Room. It takes about one and a half hours through underground passages with delicate rock formations, culminating with the Throne Room. Here, you’ll see the tallest and most massive column in Arizona, nicknamed Khubla Khan, and one of the world’s longest soda-straw stalactites.


Follow I-10 E to Benson, then take exit 302 to AZ-90 S and follow it to Kartchner Caverns. .

Distance from Phoenix: 166 miles

Driving time: two hours and thirty minutes

24. Chiricahua National Monument

Chiricahua National Monument
Chiricahua National Monument – View from a trail

One of my favorite spots in Arizona, theChiricahuas, are known as a “wonderland of rocks”. They really seem like it, with their dramatic rock pillars rising hundreds of feet in the air. Some balance on such a narrow base, they seem on the verge of toppling at any moment.

The visitor center offers a good introduction to the geology and history of the mountains. Past it, and an eight-mile scenic drive showcases this unique ecosystem.

Along the road, viewpoints and trailheads showcase scenic views and beautiful vistas that change around each bend.

Though the natural environment is gorgeous and unique, it is not the only draw of the park. The place also has a sad historical significance as the stage of the 24-year Apache Wars, a bloody conflict between the US Army and several Apache nations.


Follow I-10 E to Wilcox, then take AZ-186 E to E. Bonita Canyon Rd.

Distance from Phoenix: 230 miles

Driving time: about 3 hours 30 minutes

25. Petrified Forest National Park

A piece of a petrified log in the Crystal Forest
A petrified log in the Crystal Forest

One of the most unusual landscapes in the world, Petrified Forest National Park offers a clearly visible record of Earth’s geologic history.

This barren, deserted, yet beautiful land is the only place on the planet where we can find fossil records of the Triassic Period. The fossils, and million-year-old petrified wood pieces offer clues of what earth looked like in the dinosaur’s time.

It’s hard to imagine the lush tropical forest walking along the path in the Crystal Forest. But that’s what it was millions of years ago.

Now, pieces of the fallen logs of this ancient forest glisten in all the colors of the rainbow. Walking through them, I am always in awe.

From a distance, the ancient tree trunks look like they just fell. On a closer look, you realize they are, in fact, bright rocks, showcasing reds, oranges, whites at the crosscuts.

Petrified Forest also offers a glimpse into the archaeological past of Arizona. Stop at the newspaper Rock to see a large area filled with petroglyphs, and at the Puerco Pueblo for a short walk among the ruins.

And don’t forget to stop at the overlooks in the Painted Desert, showcasing the gorgeous colors of this high desert in Arizona.

Though we usually stop here while road tripping through Arizona, you can also visit the park as one of the greatest day trip destinations from Phoenix.


Start on the AZ-202 Loop E, and take exit 13 for AZ-87 N. Follow AZ-87 N to Payson, then turn right onto AZ-260 E. Stay on it til you reach Holbrook, then turn left on AZ-277 for about six miles until you get to the fork with AZ-377 N. Follow it for about 34 miles to the I-40, then turn onto I-40 E and continue to the park entrance, at exit 311, Park Rd.

Distance from Phoenix: 203 miles

Driving time: about 3 hours 30 minutes

Alternately, if you are in North Phoenix, or NorthWest Phoenix, take I-17 to I-40 and continue to exit 311.

26. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

The columnar cactus that gave Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument its name
A large organ pipe cactus along the trail.

Named for this unusual columnar cactus, the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is an International Biosphere Preserve, home to a thriving community of plants and animals.

The park offers scenic drives, miles of hiking trails and camping sites. We camped there in the past, or stopped while on the way to Puerto Penasco, but we also visited as a day trip from Phoenix.

As one of the best day trip destinations from Phoenix in the winter or the shoulder seasons, it offers opportunities for a scenic drive and several trails to hike.


Follow I-10 W out of Phoenix then AZ 85 S (exit 112).

Distance from Phoenix: 127 miles

Driving time: two hours and 15 minutes

27. Tumacacori National Historical Park

The church at Tumacacori mission
Tumacacori mission

Also south of Phoenix, near the Mexican border, Tumacacori National Historical Park preserves an old Spanish mission.

However, at the crossroads of several cultures, the mission grounds preserve the history of the O’odham, Yaqui, and Apache people, as well as European missionaries, settlers, and soldiers.

A visit to Tumacacori offers an opportunity to learn about the history of the area and the present-day Native nations still living in its vicinity.

The museum in the Visitor Center offers a glimpse into the history of the mission and its surrounding, and a short trail takes you through its church, mission grounds, and a traditional O’Odham house.

Besides learning about the people of the area, you can also learn about the Sonoran Desert, its landscape, flora and fauna, especially in a riparian corridor.

A trail from the mission leads through a mesquite forest to the shores of the Santa Cruz River. The woodland plant community supports diverse wildlife, home of many threatened and endangered species. We usually see birds and small mammals during our walk here.


Follow I-10 E out of Phoenix, then I-19 S.

Distance from Phoenix: 159 miles

Driving time: two hours and 30 minutes

28. Coronado National Memorial

On a trail in Coronado National Memorial in Southern Arizona
Coronado National Memorial

One of the least visited National Park Service units of Arizona,Coronado National Memorial near the Mexican border, features pinion and juniper-filled mountains, oak woodlands and grasslands. But its most spectacular feature is a dry cave you can visit without a guide.

You can use it as a day trip destination from Phoenix on its own, though it is best combined with several others nearby. We often use it as a long stop on longer Southern Arizona road trips.


Follow I-10 E out of Phoenix, then AZ-90 S in Benson (exit 302), and AZ-92 E to Hereford, and finally Montezuma Canyon Road.

Distance from Phoenix: 206 miles

Driving time: 3 hours and 15 minutes

29. Bisbee

Downtown Bisbee

Once upon a time a large mining town, Bisbee today is home to a great arts and culture community, still showcasing its old Western roots.

Not what you would expect it driving through the scarred landscape the mine left behind. Since I’ve lived in Arizona, this area has always been my least favorite part of the state.

Over time, the old Copper Mine stripped the landscape from all its beauty, leaving it scarred forever.

The same sense of devastation follows you through Erie street in historic Lowell, incorporated into Bisbee. The street looks like something out of an Old West storybook, a true ghost town, a historic memento of a long-forgotten town from the 1950s.

The old gas station from the time it sold gas at $0.22, and a street lined with old-fashioned stores that look like they may still be open is all that remains from a once booming town.

However, just around the bend, new Bisbee tells another story. In the past several decades it has become a lively artist community, filled with art galleries, museums, and lots of outdoor public art, and a library that was named the “Best Small Library in America” by the Library Journal in 2019.

Bisbee is easily visited as a day trip from Phoenix, but it might warrant a weekend stay.


Follow I-10 E out of Phoenix to AZ-80 E (exit 303), then follow AZ-80 E to Bisbee.

Distance from Phoenix: 207 miles

Driving time: 3 hours 20 minutes

30. Tombstone

Tombstone can be visited as a day trip from Phoenix
On Main Street in Tombstone

The ultimate historic Old West town, Tombstone isset up as a window into the past.

You won’t find anything new here, no artist community moved in here to transform the town. Instead, Tombstone survived as a tourist destination, a town set up to function as it did in its heyday.

Visitors can take old-fashioned horse-drawn carriages through the old street, along historic buildings, then eat at one of the restaurants where everything is still set up like it was in the early 1900s when they were built.

For anyone interested in the historical sites of the Old West, Tombstone is one of the best day trip destinations from Phoenix.


Follow I-10 E out of Phoenix to AZ-80 E (exit 303), then follow AZ-80 E to Tombstone.

Distance from Phoenix: 184 miles

Driving time: 3 hours

More Day Trip Destinations from Phoenix

The destinations mentioned above are only a fraction of the unique, interesting places you can explore from Phoenix in a day.

Though most of them are worth at least a weekend, or combined as a longer road trip, you can use them and many others as day trip destinations from Phoenix, the largest metropolitan area in the Sonoran Desert.

I only included some of my favorite spots, but you’ll find many more, depending on you interests.

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