If you’re seeking adventure around Phoenix, Arizona, you’ll find plenty of fun day trips from Phoenix that fit the bill. As an area local, I’m here to share the best of them with you!
There are so many fun things to do in Phoenix – great bars, concert venues, parks, and attractions. But the best thing about this desert city is its proximity to so many other wonderful places to visit in Arizona. Located just south of the middle of the state, mountains, rivers, and unique towns are all within driving distance of the capital city.
Since I grew up less than 2 hours from Phoenix, I’m here to share my expertise on where to go for a quick day trip. Whether you’re a visitor or a local, these 21 day trips from Phoenix will give you a taste of Arizona you won’t find in the big city. Let’s hit the road!
Table of Contents
- 21 Best Phoenix Day Trips
- Grand Canyon National Park
- Salt River
- Montezuma Castle National Monument
- Lake Pleasant Regional Park
- Canyon Lake
- East Clear Creek
- Fossil Creek
- Saguaro National Park, Tucson
- Petrified Forest National Park
- Kartchner Caverns State Park
- Walnut Canyon National Monument
- FAQs About Phoenix Day Trips
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21 Best Phoenix Day Trips
This stunning getaway attracts thousands of visitors from around the globe each year.
Let’s start with an obvious Phoenix day trip. Nestled in a magical outcropping of red rock formations, Sedona is one of the most beautiful destinations on earth.
Hikers will love the many incredible trails in Sedona. You’ll snap Instagram-worthy photos at Devil’s Bridge trail, pictured above. Or for a unique experience, visit Slide Rock State Park for a thrilling day of gliding down natural water slides.
If you’re a spiritual person, there’s no shortage of tarot reading, crystals, fortune telling, and vortexes in Sedona. And even if you don’t believe in those things, you’ll feel the magical pull of the town as soon as you turn off on the Red Rock Scenic Byway.
Cool down with a mountain escape to this beloved Arizona town.
Just north of Sedona, Flagstaff is a wonderful little college town. The birthplace of the Northern Arizona University Lumberjacks, it’s home to a younger demographic. This is where Phoenicians escape to the mountains to get a break during the hottest summer months. If you visit Sedona beforehand, drive through Oak Creek Canyon to experience the scenic route to Flagstaff.
Take a stroll around the woodsy campus, then walk downtown where you’ll find great local coffee (Late for the Train is a delightful coffee shop), beer (Mother Road and Dark Sky are my favorite breweries), and incredible Thai food (Swaddee Thai has the best Panang curry EVER). There are tons of local shops that will keep you amused as well.
Grand Canyon National Park
Experience the breathtaking sights of the Grand Canyon, one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
Though it’s a bit of a longer day trip from Phoenix than most on this list, this is a must-see when you visit The Grand Canyon State. No postcard can ever measure up to the beauty of the Grand Canyon in person.
The South Rim is the desert side of the canyon, much closer to Phoenix than the forested North Rim. You could hike the canyon rim to rim in a day if you’re ambitious enough, but I’d recommend camping a night at Havasu Falls if you’re set on such an effort. It’s an epic spot that will take your breath away. This is definitely one of the most memorable day trips from Phoenix.
The Grand Canyon is a very special place. After all, it is a natural wonder of the world. You simply must see it at least once in your life. Since it is quite a ways from Phoenix, I’d recommend this full-day guided tour to take the hassle out of travel accommodations to the Grand Canyon.
🍺 Food & Drink: Check out the historic Bright Angel Lodge at the South Rim for dinner and a beer from Grand Canyon Brewing after exploring the myriad viewpoints the park has to offer.
Enjoy a blast from the past with some haunted history in this scenic ghost town.
The most popular northern Arizona ghost town once known as “the wickedest town in the
West,” Jerome provides endless entertainment in a gorgeous setting. A former copper mining town built into the mountainside just west of Sedona, there’s a ton of history in this old community.
If you’re into paranormal activity, try the Pandora’s Box tour to visit Jerome’s most haunted sites. You’ll learn all about the gruesome history of the place, and hopefully experience a ghostly encounter.
I spent my grandpa’s 90th birthday at the famous Jerome Grand Hotel. He chose to stay in the most haunted room where multiple spirits allegedly reside.
Unfortunately, he didn’t report any paranormal experiences, but many have claimed to feel a presence or spot ghostly figures there. Maybe you’ll see something he didn’t! This is certainly the spookiest of the day trips from Phoenix.
🌇 Wondering Where to Stay in Phoenix? Check out my guide to the Best Places to Stay in Phoenix
Get your fill of whiskey and beautiful nature in this elevated, historic town.
Prescott is a great place to visit if you’re looking for a lowkey day of bar-hopping in a historic setting.
Whiskey Row is an adorable strip of remodeled saloons and old-Arizona bars that are jam-packed with personality. The town has immeasurable charm, and it’s definitely worth a visit to get even a brief taste of its character (and whiskey, of course).
Watson Lake is only 4 miles away, a gorgeous destination with mountain biking trails, rock climbing, camping, kayaking, fishing, and hiking.
If you want to get outdoors but don’t want to feel such an intense burn, try this 2-hour e-bike tour from Prescott to Watson Lake along the Peavine National Recreation Trail!
Shop ‘til you drop, visit the aquarium, and go to bars and nightclubs, all in one day!
Ah Scottsdale, a fashionista’s paradise. If you want to shop at designer stores and feel like you’re in the Beverly Hills of Arizona, this should be on your list of Phoenix day trips.
Just northeast of Phoenix, it’s super easy to hop on the freeway to this glitzy city. When you tire of shopping, visit OdySea, the largest aquarium in the Southwest United States. This place has over 6,000 animals!
In addition to superior shopping, Scottsdale is one of the most popular golf destinations in Arizona. If you want to play 18 holes on pristine fairways, it doesn’t get any better than We-Ko-Pa Golf Club. Consistently named one of the best golf courses in the nation and tucked away in the lush Sonoran Desert, your day trip from Phoenix will be in full swing on these greens.
Since Scottsdale is a fancy area, prepare to spend a bit of money. It takes a high-quality restaurant to survive this area, so you’ll be sure to have a memorable culinary experience. This is a great place to visit if you’re celebrating a birthday or a big accomplishment.
This bustling college town provides a wide range of entertainment.
Tempe is a rapidly growing city just southeast of Phoenix. Home of the ASU Sun Devils, this college town is jam-packed with eclectic bars, shopping centers, and sporting events.
Catch an entertaining game at the Sun Devil Football Stadium, then enjoy a night out on Mill Avenue. The trendy bars in this hopping area deliver good vibes and good drinks every day of the week.
There are also some easy hiking trails surrounding the campus, making this a good place to go hiking near Phoenix. The mountains in this area aren’t very big, but you’ll be sure to feel the burn hiking up Camelback Mountain.
Or if hiking isn’t your forte, head to Tempe Town Lake for a relaxing day on the water. You can explore the lake when you rent a boat, kayak, or paddleboard from Northshore Watersport Rentals.
The real-life lazy river of Arizona. Salt River tubing is a must when you’re in Phoenix!
🗺️ Distance from Phoenix: 35 minutes | 📍 Google Maps
If your favorite thing about vacation is heading to the lazy river, you’re in for a treat. Welcome to Phoenix’s real-life lazy river! You’ll likely find ASU students floating by with drink coolers and families enjoying the respite from the city here.
Keep an eye out for the wild horses that live on the reserve–they’re not shy! You’re not a true Arizonan until you tube down the Salt River. A popular summertime activity, you can escape the heat and float down the river for several hours.
Rent tubes at Salt River Tubing for only $21. This price includes a tube, shuttle service, and free parking. Prepare for a leisurely time with the most relaxing Phoenix day trip.
Montezuma Castle National Monument
Montezuma Castle National Monument features cliffside dwellings created by the indigenous Sinagua people around 1100 AD.
Montezuma Castle National Monument is an eye-catching testament to Native American culture in Arizona. Nestled in the mountains of Camp Verde, these dwellings have been around since 1100 AD.
If you’re a culture fanatic, this day trip from Phoenix is a must. After all, Montezuma Castle National Monument is one of the first national monuments dedicated to Native American culture in the US! You’ll feel like you stepped into a time machine when you see a part of rich Southwestern history that makes Arizona so special.
If you want to avoid the crowds and escape the busy city for a day, these full-day tours of Montezuma Castle National Monument will be right up your alley. Your guide will drive you from Phoenix and back, and they’ll tell you information about the monument you probably wouldn’t learn on your own.
Lake Pleasant Regional Park
The ultimate Phoenix day trip for any water sport fanatic.
Life is better on a boat. Good thing Phoenix is surrounded by several manmade Arizona lakes, the largest of which is Lake Pleasant. You can rent paddle boards, kayaks, and even speedboats at this desert oasis. My favorite summertime activity is going boating here. It just doesn’t get any better than a dive in the cold water after cruising around in the Arizona sun.
The best time to visit Lake Pleasant is during the summer into early fall. Try to go on a weekday to avoid the locals with their own boats who bring quite a crowd on the weekends.
Appreciate this refreshing day trip, but remember to take care of yourself while you’re there. The Arizona heat is no joke, so make sure to put on heaps of sunscreen, drink lots of water and wear a hat!
💡 Idea! If you want to get fancy, take one of these all-inclusive cruises on a luxury boat!
A gorgeous place to boat, swim, and kayak surrounded by high canyon walls.
🗺️ Distance from Phoenix: 1 hour | 📍 Google Maps
Just 45 miles east of Phoenix, Canyon Lake is a stunning spot to relax near the refreshing water on a hot day. Located near the enchanting Superstition Mountains, this lake is the most scenic and best day trip for outdoor lovers on this list.
Look out for bighorn sheep and deer drinking from the banks, or families of javelinas making their way through the jagged rock fields.
Nowhere near the great size of Lake Pleasant, Canyon Lake has a very different, more intimate feeling to it. As the name alludes, this body of water is surrounded by towering rock walls that cast artistic shadows on the waves as you boat through the narrow canyons.
East Clear Creek
A stunning combination of calm waters, rock climbing walls, and petroglyphs.
🗺️ Distance from Phoenix: 3 hours | 📍 Google Maps
East Clear Creek is a kayaker’s dream. A winding sandstone canyon with ancient hieroglyphics etched into its walls, this waterway is absolutely breathtaking. Once you get past the initial section of graffitied banks (curse the local high schoolers for that), only untouched rock faces remain.
And if you’re a rock climber, there are even some routes along the creek where you can park your kayak and climb a cliff directly from the water! This place easily makes for an unforgettable day trip from Phoenix. No kayaking experience is required as the waters are typically pretty mild.
A popular oasis with blue-green pools and rushing falls.
Put on your hiking boots and make your way to this local favorite. Fossil Creek feels like a different world, with tropical-looking plants hanging low over bright blue water. It certainly doesn’t feel like any other place in Arizona.
Be aware that the hike to the creek is pretty easy because you start at the top of the canyon and work your way down. Save lots of time for the climb back out… it’s exhausting to say the least, especially after a day of swimming in the heat. But it’ll be worth it to enjoy a day at this pristine watering hole!
Permits are not required October-March, but the water will be colder due to the weather. You may want to make a reservation for $6 to visit when it’s warmer. Make sure to check the Coconino National Forest link listed above to ensure this area is open. Forest fires and harsh weather can affect the status overnight, so double-check before you go on this Phoenix day trip!
🍽️ Read Next: 29 Best Restaurants in Phoenix, AZ
Saguaro National Park, Tucson
Soak in the icon of the Southwest–the Saguaro cactus–in the Sonoran Desert.
🗺️ Distance from Phoenix: 1 hour & 30 minutes | 📍 Google Maps
Ah Tucson, my beloved hometown. This place is packed with personality. The surrounding Sonoran Desert makes it a mecca for outdoorsmen, hikers, and photographers.
Explore the myriad hiking trails at Saguaro National Park and Tucson Mountain Park, the best places to get outside, go horseback riding, and see desert wildlife amid hundreds of saguaros. Spend a day at the iconic Arizona Sonora Desert Museum while you’re there!
After exploring Saguaro National Park, take a walk down historic 4th Ave where you’ll find eclectic restaurants and funky shops. Head downtown for a drink at my favorite speakeasy, Tough Luck Club, and visit Hotel Congress where outlaws stayed back in the Wild West days.
There’s a ton of history in Tucson, so if you’re looking to meet quirky people, explore the Sonoran desert and learn about the beauty of the Southwest, this is the place. There is so much to do you may even decide to stay in Tucson for a night or two.
👉 Pro Tip: Get tickets for the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum here before you set off on this day trip so they don’t sell out.
Calling all wine-os! This is your sign to relax with a glass of local vino at a scenic vineyard in Arizona wine country.
Did somebody say wine tasting? Prepare for an amazing tasting experience in the heart of Arizona wine country.
Cottonwood is home to 24 vineyards and counting, all of which are located on the Verde Valley Wine Trail. Try award-winning Cabernets, Merlots, and Sauvignon Blancs at any one of these wineries, a list of which can be found here.
Head to Cottonwood on a weekday to avoid the crowds, but make sure to bring a responsible DD so you can get home safely. If you don’t feel like worrying about who’s driving, this wine tour from Phoenix is the perfect way to enjoy a care-free day. We Arizonans are big supporters of drinking local, so don’t forget to bring a couple of bottles home with you!
The perfect summertime retreat to escape the heat in the big city.
Payson is considered the “Heart of Arizona” for its geographical location. Nestled between the Coconino National Forest and Tonto National Forest, there is no shortage of desert scenery or woodsy hiking trails in this small town. Visit after the monsoon storms so you can witness raging waterfalls at Water Wheel Falls, a popular hiking destination.
This is one of those wooded day trips from Phoenix that makes for a welcomed reprieve from the Phoenix heat. Check out Pine and Strawberry, AZ if you can, two super small towns just north of Payson.
A historic town full of interesting shops and tasty Mexican food… and a prison.
This is a unique destination… certainly different from the rest of the day trips from Phoenix on this list.
The most prominent aspect of this town is the Florence State Prison, one of the largest in Arizona. You can visit the prison museum and gift shop for handcrafted items created by the inmates. My mom is a big fan of this place and, if you can believe it, she stocks up on holiday gifts here! You certainly won’t find a gift shop like this elsewhere.
The historic buildings downtown are dotted with fun shops and neat architecture. Any history buff will be enthralled for hours in this quirky little town, one of the oldest in Pinal County. It’s likely the least talked about day trip from Phoenix, so you‘ll avoid big crowds. Make sure to get some killer Mexican food at Lidia’s Cocina before you head home. Some claim they serve the best Mexican food in all of Arizona!
The sky’s the limit in this small Arizona town. Welcome, skydivers!
Eloy is on this list for one reason and one reason only–skydiving. If you’re an adrenaline junkie like me, you’ll want to make your way south to this small Arizona town. Boasting the world’s largest skydiving center (you read that right, the largest in the world) at Skydive Arizona, Eloy is probably one of the cheaper US cities to indulge in this hobby.
Whether you’re a first-time skydiver or a licensed professional, you’ll be able to experience the thrill of jumping out of an airplane here. You’ll get quite a unique view of the Sonoran Desert from the sky, but make sure not to go during the summer so you don’t experience a major heat blast.
And if hurling your body thousands of feet through the air doesn’t sound appealing to you, you can opt for a safer environment with a similar thrill at SkyVenture. This indoor wind tunnel simulates the feeling of real skydiving–it’s just nowhere near as scary!
Petrified Forest National Park
A surreal landscape filled with ancient trees and native history.
The Petrified Forest National Park, also known as The Painted Desert, is unlike any place you’ll visit in Arizona. Miles and miles (28 to be exact) of colorful, petrified wood litter the vast grounds. This place feels like another planet.
It takes about an hour to drive through the length of the park, so you have plenty of time to make stops and explore the different sections of wondrous sights. It’s a great spot for families who want to spend an educational day surrounded by natural history. Try to go during the week to avoid the crowds.
This land is filled with rich history, so you might want to get a guide to take you out for the day to make the most of your time at the park. This private tour will give you deeper insight into how the Petrified Forest came to be.
Kartchner Caverns State Park
A cool (literally) underground getaway that will take your breath away.
This was a grade school field trip I never forgot! Discovered in 1974, Kartchner Caverns was kept a secret for years for fear of other cave explorers decimating the pristine interior. Now, these incredibly fragile passages are well-preserved and protected.
This is one of those places that sticks with you forever. It’s an unassuming wonder–you’d never know what lies below the surface of the mountain if it weren’t for the incredible tour that takes place under the rocks.
See mind-blowing stalagmites and stalactites formed over thousands of years. You’ll feel honored to see such a rare sight. Keep in mind that it is extremely humid in the caves, so breathing isn’t the easiest task. Your skin will surely feel revitalized at one of the most unique day trips from Phoenix.
Walnut Canyon National Monument
A look back in time at the ancient Native American culture in Arizona.
Just east of Flagstaff, Walnut Canyon National Monument is one of the most remarkable day trips from Phoenix for history buffs and outdoorsmen alike. From above, the canyon is beautiful and vast, giving no hint of the ancient ruins within. Hike into the canyon to see why this national monument is so important to Native American history.
The Island Trail is easily walked, just one mile round-trip, and allows access to 25 ancient cliff dwellings. This Phoenix day trip is a wonderful time for families, but you will be sure to enjoy the beautiful historical ruins whether you’re with a group or on your own.
Yet another testament to the resilience of Native American culture in Arizona, you don’t want to miss out on Walnut Canyon National Monument.
FAQs About Phoenix Day Trips
What are some good day trips from Phoenix?
Sedona and Flagstaff are some of the most popular day trips from Phoenix, but they do require a bit more driving. Good day trips closer to Phoenix include the Salt River, Canyon Lake, or Lake Pleasant if you’re an outdoor lover. And if you’re looking to shop and try trendy restaurants and bars, Scottsdale is a great day trip.
What cities are within 2 hours of Phoenix?
Is Sedona near Phoenix?
Do you need a car to visit Phoenix?
You do not need a car in Phoenix. With that said, if you’re looking to get out of the city on one of these day trips, a car would make your life easier. That way you won’t have to pay for transportation through a tour. Uber and Lyft aren’t too expensive in Phoenix, but trips across the city will certainly add up. I recommend renting a car for an extended stay.
🌄 Read Next: 22 Best Tucson Day Trips
That’s it for this list of the best excursions from Phoenix. I hope I’ve helped you find the best day trips from Phoenix for your trip!
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