I’m a Tucson local who has spent a lifetime traveling all around my hometown. This guide is a collection of my favorite day trips from Tucson, carefully chosen after years of personal research.
These Southern Arizona destinations include outdoor experiences, big-city entertainment, historical sites, and hidden gems. Plus, if you’re a fan of obscure attractions, I’ve got you covered with haunted sites, prison gift shops, and “The Thing” — which you won’t want to miss.
Before you dive in, be sure to bookmark my guide to what to do in Tucson too!
Table of Contents
- 22 Best Tucson Day Trips
- Mount Lemmon
- Saguaro National Park
- Casa Grande Domes
- Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
- Madera Canyon
- Patagonia Lake State Park
- Chiricahua National Monument
- Picacho Peak State Park
- Parker Canyon Lake
- Kitt Peak National Observatory
- Tubac and Tumacacori National Historical Park
- Colossal Cave Mountain Park
- Kartchner Caverns State Park
- FAQs About Tucson Day Trips
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22 Best Tucson Day Trips
Ditch the desert for a day in the wooded mountains towering over Tucson
Mount Lemmon is a catch-all for all your day trip desires. At the end of the Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway, you’ll find the small, aptly named town of Summerhaven. Here, you can escape the desert heat and enjoy local restaurants, a cookie cabin, and quirky gift shops. Outside in the shimmering shade of the aspens, summer visitors explore tons of picturesque hiking trails and rock climbing routes.
In the wintertime, hit the slopes at the United States’ southernmost ski resort. Though there is a limited variety of runs on Mount Lemmon, a few solid hours of skiing or snowboarding make for a wonderful day trip. Since this sky island is under 1.5 hours from Tucson, it’s easy to plan this quick getaway in the Santa Catalina mountain range.
Saguaro National Park
Explore the beautiful scenery and hiking trails among thousands of saguaros
Saguaro National Park is one of the defining features of Tucson’s Sonoran Desert scenery. Two sections – East and West – border two sides of town. The west side occupies the jagged Tucson Mountains, and the east side occupies the marbled Rincon Mountains. Both are equally beautiful and offer something unique.
Saguaro National Park West is conveniently located just 15 minutes from downtown. You can drive west on Speedway until it turns into the winding road that reaches Gate’s Pass. This scenic recreation area overlooks the city lights and vibrant desert scenes.
Saguaro National Park East is about an hour’s drive from the happening spots in town. But this less-populated section of the park offers a more remote, natural feeling.
Calling all wine-os! Your Southern Arizona tasting journey awaits
Say hello to the best of Southern Arizona wine country! Sonoita is one of my all-time favorite day trips from Tucson. The rolling hills, cool weather, and mountain views make it one of the most scenic places to visit as well. I always bring my camera on this Tucson day trip because the beauty of Sonoita demands to be photographed!
When you plan your trip to Sonoita, make sure you have a designated driver. I recommend taking a guided tour so you and your friends don’t have to worry about who has to be responsible at the vineyards.
For the best quality wine, head to Deep Sky, Callaghan, and Dos Cabezas. If you’re looking for beautiful views, visit Autumn Sage or Rune. You can’t go wrong with whatever vineyard you choose because everywhere you go in Arizona wine country is lovely.
Casa Grande Domes
Explore the intriguing structures of these abandoned domes, rumored to be haunted
🗺️ Distance from Tucson: 1 hour | 📍 Google Maps
The Casa Grande Domes make for one of the most unique day trips from Tucson. These mysterious structures were half-built by an electronics company in the 1980s. When the assets ran dry, the domes were abandoned, left to the mercy of local high schoolers and passers-by. The buildings are fun to explore, covered from floor to ceiling in graffiti and strange artwork.
Some claim the domes are the site of satanic worship, and others say the site is extremely haunted. Shrouded in mystery, nobody seems to know the history of these peculiar structures in this mini ghost town. If you like to explore with a hint of spooky thrill, the Casa Grande Domes are the perfect Tucson day trip for you!
Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
Take a quick detour to view these ancient, well-preserved Hohokam ruins
Just 30 minutes north of the Casa Grande Domes, you’ll find a hidden gem: Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. This site features a collection of well-preserved Hohokam ruins. Some of these structures are nearly 2,000 years old! The integrity of their forms is astounding, and you’ll be amazed at the details that remain intact.
The beloved ghost town full of charming shops, cute restaurants, and haunted history
Bisbee is one of us T-locs’ favorite day trips from Tucson. This historic mining town is full of intriguing history, fabulous artwork, cozy restaurants, and quirky personalities. As soon as you exit the tunnel that opens up to the town and your eyes adjust, you’ll be in awe of the beautiful scenery of Bisbee.
‘B’ Mountain overlooks the steep town precariously built into the picturesque Mule Mountains. To the south, if you’re not claustrophobic, take a mine tour in the old Queen copper mine. To the north, you can wander the charming downtown streets, warmly lit with string lights. Make sure to visit the Bisbee Social Club, my favorite bar in town, if you’re a fan of speakeasies (who isn’t?).
And if ghost towns are your forte, click this link for a spooky jaunt around the haunted neighborhoods. Book a night at the Copper Queen Hotel, if you dare! It’s the longest continuously operating hotel in Arizona. If walls could talk (which some say they do!), you could bet they’d have some wild stories about the last 120 years of guests.
Cross the border for a vibrant taste of true Mexico
Nogales, Sonora will forever be one of my favorite day trips from Tucson. Just over an hour from downtown via I-19, it’s a lovely town offering an authentic taste of Mexico close to home. Stock up on handmade gifts, freshly made tortillas, and memories that will leave you longing for Mexico well after you return to Tucson.
Park your car on the U.S. side of the border, then walk into Mexico to avoid the hassle of driving back across the border. There is a parking lot (pay no more than $10) just outside of the main gates, so it’s easy to do. Walk across and enjoy vibrant shops, delicious Sonoran food, and the authentic culture that brings Tucson to life.
The spirit of the Wild West lives on in this iconic Arizona town
The storied past of the Wild West is on display in this special Southern Arizona town. Peruse the dusty roads of this iconic western settlement, located just over an hour from Tucson. Watch a shootout reenactment, take a ride with a horse and buggy, and explore a haunted theater, all in one day! People-watching is a must as actors stroll by in traditional western and Victorian wear.
My favorite thing to do in Tombstone is saloon hop! Grab a beer at Crystal Palace, Big Nose Kate’s, and Tombstone Brewing, among other awesome spots. It’s a treat to enjoy a brew beneath a ceiling decorated with bullet holes (from real shootouts in the 1800s) among the local cowboys. Don’t skip out on the OK Corral, the site of the famous shootout between the Earp brothers and ruthless outlaws during Tombstone’s early mining town days.
Immerse yourself in glorious nature in the lush Santa Rita Mountains
Madera Canyon is the perfect Tucson day trip for hiking and bird watching. It’s just a short drive from downtown Tucson via I-19, yet it feels like entering a completely different state. The windy road is canopied by vibrant mesquite trees. Tall grasses swish alongside the highway and the Santa Ritas tower over the region. Expect to see a gaggle of wild turkeys cross your path or a family of mule deer prancing by your car.
The hike to the top of Mount Wrightson, which looms over the valley, is challenging yet rewarding. Plan for an all-day hike if you decide to tackle the peak — and refer to our Hiking Essentials Checklist, too!
I recommend camping along the creek if you want to stay in Madera Canyon for longer than one day. The B&Bs are also worthy contestants. The A-frame cabins in the canyon are adorable, and you’ll swoon at the tranquility of the landscape. For an easy escape from the sounds of the city, Madera Canyon is your #1 contestant!
Patagonia Lake State Park
Enjoy a day on the water surrounded by the beautiful Patagonia hills
A day at the lake is closer to Tucson than you think! Patagonia Lake State Park is just over an hour from downtown. This beautiful man-made reservoir is the perfect place to spend a day fishing, boating, swimming, picnicking, and more. If you decide to stay at Patagonia Lake longer than a day, you can sleep under the stars at the campground beside the water.
The tiny town of Patagonia is only a few miles northeast of Patagonia Lake. Nogales is less than 30 minutes south. San Xavier del Bac Mission is right on the way to Patagonia Lake State Park. You can easily hit up multiple Tucson day trip attractions when this southern lake is on your itinerary!
If you love lakes and reservoirs, you can also see my guide to the best lakes in Arizona.
Chiricahua National Monument
Wander through whimsical hoodoo rock formations on a breathtaking hike
Chiricahua National Monument delivers some of the most stunning rock formations you will ever see. Nicknamed the “Wonderland of Rocks,” the park is full of incredible hoodoos – tall, thin rock columns formed by erosion. These hoodoos cover a large section of the mountain range, lined up side by side by the thousands. It’s truly a sight to behold.
Chiricahua National Monument makes for a great day trip from Tucson. The scenic drive goes by quickly, and there are tons of exciting hikes you can do within a few hours. My favorite is the Big Balanced Rock trail, which features a massive boulder balancing precariously atop a small formation. This hike is gorgeous all along the way, and I highly recommend it.
Picacho Peak State Park
Hike the cabled trail of this challenging climb to a summit offering 360-degree views
Ready to take on one of the most challenging hikes in the greater Tucson area? Head north! Picacho Peak State Park is a mysterious-looking place, the focus of which is the rugged spire that juts into the sky beside the I-10 freeway. Though a short 3-mile trail, it takes about 3 hours to complete given the near-2,000 foot ascent.
Make sure to bring gloves, quality hiking boots, and lots of water on this hike. The trail demands cable-assisted climbing up the steep sections near the top, so you want to have the correct gear to summit successfully (and painlessly). The view from the top is very rewarding. Scan 360-degree views of the desert and mountains surrounding Tucson.
Strangely, there is an ostrich farm located at the base of Picacho Peak. After your grueling climb, stop at the Rooster Cogburn Ranch. Encounter dinosaur-like birds, feed deer, and meet lots of other wild animals. You’re bound to have some hilarious stories to tell after leaving this place!
Shop ‘til you drop, see a concert, and explore the myriad offerings of the big city
If you want to have a day full of activities and events, Phoenix is the Tucson day trip for you! The capital city never fails to entertain. Enjoy massive concert venues, shopping, art galleries, and award-winning restaurants galore. There’s certainly no way to fit all the things to do in Phoenix into one day, but you’ll discover something up your alley or for the whole family here.
I highly recommend checking the local concert venues if you plan to make the 2-hour drive to Phoenix. While Tucson has some fantastic, intimate venues, there are rarely any big-name artists performing here. So if you’ve been dying to see an artist on the big stage, see what Talking Stick Arena, Ak-Chin Pavilion, and the Van Buren have to offer!
Parker Canyon Lake
Go fishing or enjoy a beach day beside the calm waters of this peaceful lake
Parker Canyon Lake is a hidden gem located about 2 and a half hours south of Tucson. You’ll pass through mountains, rolling hills, and wine country on your way to this lovely spot. It’s about as Southern Arizona as you can get, just 5 miles north of the Mexican border. The drive alone makes this Tucson day trip worth it.
When you arrive at Parker Canyon Lake, you can rent a small fishing boat, pedal boat, or paddle board at the dock. I once had a very successful fishing trip with my dad and brother here, so you’ll have a ton of fun if you opt to pick up a pole.
Parker Canyon Lake is one of my favorite day trips to feel like you’re truly getting away from the city. It’s rarely packed with people, and the scenery is beyond tranquil. I highly recommend this quaint lake.
Kitt Peak National Observatory
Play among the stars in this impressive research facility
Looking for a Tucson day trip that’s out of this world? Kitt Peak National Observatory has been conducting cutting-edge research since 1958. This place gives you a ticket to the stars, moon, and other celestial beings.
This center strives to inform and educate the public about basic astronomy. The whole family will find Kitt Peak fascinating. The observatory offers a multitude of interactive exhibits and educational programs. I recommend staying after sunset for a night sky stargazing tour. The universe looks all the more breathtaking from the end of a telescope!
🔭 Love Star Gazing? Also check out the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, AZ, one of the best things to do in the USA!
Pick apples, peaches, and pears with the whole family, then sip a glass of local wine
Willcox is the perfect Tucson day trip for those who want to take the whole family on a wholesome adventure. Known for its orchards and wineries, the best time to visit is during the fall when the apples and peaches are ripe.
Take the kiddos to Apple Annie’s Orchard for a pleasant day of apple picking. Unwind after with a glass of local vino at one of the town’s chic tasting rooms. You’ll get the best of both worlds at Willcox!
Tubac and Tumacacori National Historical Park
Discover the history of missionaries and their influence on local indigenous culture over the last 500 years
Tubac and Tumacacori National Historical Park are a southwest history buff’s paradise. The park preserves the remains of three Spanish missions and presents the history of the Tohono O’odham people in Southern Arizona. You’ll also learn all about Father Kino and his role as an influential Jesuit in the late 1600s. After perusing the missions, explore the lush grounds that surround the Santa Cruz River Valley landscape.
Colossal Cave Mountain Park
Explore the magic below Tucson in this underground world
Colossal Cave Mountain Park is one of the most popular day trips from Tucson. This arid landscape is the site of incredible underground worlds. Book a wild cave tour online ahead of time, then bring the whole family on a magical adventure. In the humid abyss below the desert floor, you’ll feel like you entered another universe. Explore massive stalagmites and stalactites that have been forming over thousands of years.
Prefer an above-ground adventure? Colossal Cave Mountain Park offers plenty of other activities that won’t trigger your claustrophobia. Visit the butterfly garden or take a horseback ride through the gorgeous desert landscape around the caves. The park’s number of attractions makes it one of the best things to do in Tuscon.
Kartchner Caverns State Park
The cathedral of Tucson caves is a sight to behold
Kartchner Caverns State Park also offers an extraordinary underground escapade. It’s only a slightly farther drive from Tucson than Colossal Cave Mountain Park.
A guided tour will take you to a brilliantly lit-up “show cave,” a sort of grand hall of caverns. Explore over 2 miles of underground passageways that formed over thousands of years. You can expect to have your mind blown by the world that exists below the desert floor.
Spelunking, horseback riding, and “The Thing” are all within reach in Benson
Benson is a great meeting point for a myriad of Arizona activities. Kartchner Caverns State Park is only 15 minutes south of this small town. Double R Ranch is the perfect venue for a sunset ride on horseback. And if you’ve ever heard of “The Thing,” you’ll find this mysterious roadside attraction just 15 minutes east on I-10. (Spoiler alert: it’s mummified!)
While Benson itself isn’t a terribly exciting place, it’s one of the most pleasant day trips from Tucson. Enjoy a delightful lunch at Mi Casa Mexican Restaurant for the most authentic hole-in-the-wale dining experience of your life. Then get dessert at the Old Benson Ice Cream Shop. The drive back to Tucson is an easy 45 minutes.
Jump out of a perfectly good airplane over the Sonoran Desert
One of the best places to visit in Arizona, Eloy is a skydiver’s paradise. Skydive Arizona – the largest sky-diving facility in the world – hosts some of the best diving events on the globe just an hour north of Tuscon! If you’re a thrill-seeker, launch yourself out of a plane over the desert landscape. There is seldom anything more exhilarating than that!
I recommend visiting Eloy in the fall right after the monsoons. The weather won’t be so hot (you don’t want to feel like you’re diving into an oven), and the desert will be alive with brilliant plant life. No matter what, don’t skydive in the summer heat!
If you’d rather not launch your body out of a perfectly good airplane, you can get a similar feeling at SkyVenture. This indoor skydiving facility is not far from Skydive Arizona. This place offers a less intimidating experience with a thrill all the same.
Stock up on gifts from the prison gift shop and savor the flavors of award-winning Mexican food
As mentioned in my Day Trips from Phoenix article, Florence is one of the weirder Arizona destinations. Most well-known for the massive Florence State Prison, this unique town has a culture all its own. The prison gift shop is a wonderful place to stock up on quirky presents for friends and family. My mom buys all her stocking stuffers there!
Architecture fanatic? The downtown Florence area features lovely historic buildings. There are a few fun shops and quaint cafes you can check out when visiting. Most notable about this town is the Mexican food. Stop for lunch at Lidia’s Cocina before returning to Tucson. This famous place serves up some of the best Sonoran food in Arizona!
👉 Read Next: 31 Best Restaurants in Tucson
FAQs About Tucson Day Trips
What is there to see between Sedona and Tucson?
What small towns are near Tucson?
How many days do you need in Tucson?
You need at least 5 days in Tucson. The Old Pueblo provides so many outdoor activities, picturesque sights, and entertainment possibilities. You’ll want to have time to see it all in this special Southern Arizona city.
What is there to do between Tucson and the Grand Canyon?
There is a lifetime of things to do between Tucson and the Grand Canyon. As you make your way north, you can explore the state’s most beloved towns like Sedona and Flagstaff. And if the big city scene suits you, take some time to explore Phoenix. Vastly different landscapes exist between these places, each with its own unique appeal. From Southern to Northern Arizona, you’ll have plenty to see and do.
Tucson is wonderful for many reasons. Its proximity to the wonders of Southern Arizona makes it all the more special. I hope I’ve given you the inspiration to hit the road and take these worthwhile day trips from Tucson. Happy exploring!
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