In the heart of the desert, the city of Phoenix is alive and well, bringing history and entertainment to all who enter. While visiting the massive city, be sure to save some time for a day trip into the surrounding areas. From ghost towns to state parks to national monuments, Arizona is full of amazing adventures, just waiting to happen. Read on to learn about the best day trips from Phoenix, Arizona!
See multiple parts of Arizona’s natural diversity all on one trail by driving along AZ 88 or the Apache Trail. Once used by the trail’s namesake, the Apache Indians, the trail links the edge of the greater Phoenix area, or the Apache Junction, with Theodore Roosevelt Lake, after winding through the Superstition Mountains and the Tonto National Forest. Running over 64 kilometers (40 miles) of steep, twisting, and mostly unpaved road, the trail is not for the faint of heart—but is worth the effort. During your drive, you will see magnificent igneous mountains, dense saguaro and Ferocactus forests, and multiple beautiful blue lakes. While the western half of the trail is the most scenic and well known, the original route continues past the lakes to the former mining town of Globe, a great stop for a historic small-town experience during your Arizona adventure.
Address: Apache Trail, Apache Junction, AZ
Website: Apache Trail
Ride at breakneck speeds across the water at Lake Pleasant. Perfect for power boating and fishing trips alike, Lake Pleasant draws in many outdoorsmen each year and every summer. Join in the fun and load up all your water recreation toys for the time of your life on the 4,000 hectares (10,000 acres) of pristine waters. With 185 kilometers (116 miles) of shoreline perfect for hiking, picnics, beach play, and camping, you’ll never be bored. At Lake Pleasant, family fun is a must, and conveniently located less than an hour from Phoenix, you will want to return again and again.
Address: Lake Pleasant, Peoria, AZ
Website: Lake Pleasant
Casa Grande, or “Great House,” is surrounded by mystery and wonder as not much is known about the ruins or why they were built. Standing above its surrounding structures, proud and tall, Casa Grande is aptly named. While early tourists severely damaged the structure when searching for souvenirs to take home, today, the ruins are protected not only from visitors but the direct weather. Shade coverings were installed in the early 1900s to help keep Casa Grande intact for years to come. Despite researchers not knowing if the Casa Grande Ruins and surrounding compound were part of a nomadic society’s stop or the houses of permanent residents, the monument is a wondrous site to see while visiting Phoenix.
Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
Address: 1100 W Ruins Dr, 85128 Coolidge, AZ
Website: Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
For the Old West experience, visit Tombstone, Arizona. In 1881, Tombstone hosted a gunfight between lawmen and a group of outlaws called the “cowboys,“ keeping Tombstone on the map almost 150 years later. With many famous structures like the Bird Cage Theatre still standing—and still in use—you will feel like you’ve stepped back in time. While in town, experience the Old West by taking a ride on a horse-drawn stagecoach, watching reenactments of the famous gunfight, and hanging out with residents in 19th-century clothing. Where history never dies, Tombstone is a fun and interactive destination.
Read more about the best things to do in Tombstone.
Address: 85638 Tombstone, Arizona
Website: Tombstone, AZ
Enjoy mild weather and beautiful scenery when visiting Prescott, Arizona. Granite mountains, lakes, streams, and rolling meadows surround the city, perfect for outdoor enthusiasts and photographers alike. You’ll never be bored with activities including exploring the wilderness on horse, foot, or mountain bike, fishing, kayaking, camping, tasting local brews at Prescott breweries, enjoying the local cuisine, and shopping. Prescott has a hometown feel that ties it all together. With all that Prescott has to offer, you’ll be coming back year after year.
Read our article on the best things to do in Prescott.
Address: Prescott, AZ
Website: Prescott, AZ
Whether you’re in love with Spanish tradition, like to learn about history, or are looking to get in touch with your Catholic heritage, the San Xavier Mission is a beautiful piece of 18th-century architecture. Founded by Father Eusebio Kino in 1692 as a Catholic mission, the current building’s construction around the originals didn’t begin until 1783 and is now a national historic landmark. Outside, the church is made out of two different colors of stone, which makes the detailed stonework etched on the church’s face come to life.
Filled with the original statues and mural paintings from the original church, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time to when the church was made. As the oldest intact European architecture in Arizona, San Xavier is still amazingly used for regular church services and open to the public. Even if you don’t want to visit during mass, you can always view the church when no members are present, as the church is open daily. Whenever you visit, you’ll be in awe of the oldest European structure in Arizona.
Mission of San Xavier del Bac
Address: 1950 W San Xavier Rd, 85746 Tucson, AZ
Website: Mission of San Xavier del Bac
Despite being on a road trip, a stop to learn about the invention that reinvented travel forever is absolutely essential. At The Pima Air & Space Museum, you will learn about the history of flight among over 300 aircraft. With everything from a Wright Flyer to a 787 Dreamliner, the museum’s diversity explores how far humanity has come in the 100 years we’ve had wings.
The museum is both indoors and out, featuring exhibits about the commercialized flight, the World Wars, women in flight, and more. Outside, over 150 planes are on display, including Boeing jets, two generations of Blue Angels, and aircraft from both sides of the Great Wars. Both self-guided and employee-led tours are available, letting you learn at your leisure and fully appreciate the awesome power of flight.
Pima Air and Space Museum
Address: 6000 E Valencia Rd, 85706 Tucson, AZ
Website: Pima Air and Space Museum
Formed from thousands of years of lava deposits, erosion, and structural change in the mountain, Tonto Natural Bridge stands today as a wondrous attraction and tribute to the amazing world we live in. At the park, you can explore trails surrounding the bridge, with four parking lot lookout points so that you don’t have to climb down into the ravine to see the bridge’s beauty. Stay the night at the luxurious Goodfellow Lodge, perfect for relaxing and unwinding for a night or two before heading back to the busy city of Phoenix.
Tonto Natural Bridge State Park
Address: Highway 87, 85544 Pine, AZ
Website: Tonto Natural Bridge State Park
On top of Cleopatra Hill, between Prescott and Flagstaff, is the largest ghost town in Arizona, Jerome. Once a copper mining community with a reputation for being the most wicked town in the West, four fires that destroyed large pieces of the town left behind what was later incorporated into the Jerome we know today. Facing extinction in the 1950s and 60’s after the mine shut down, the remaining 50 to 100 inhabitants promoted the town as a historic ghost town.
In 1967, they succeeded and Jerome was designated a National Historic District by the federal government. Today, Jerome is a small community with about 450 residents and a thriving tourist and artist community. In Jerome, you will find a hodgepodge of individuals, including artists, musicians, writers, museum caretakers, gift shop proprietors, and more. Visit Jerome today to not only meet the interesting residents, but view photograph-worthy sights, shop in home-owned boutiques, explore 19th-century buildings, and see just what makes this ghost town unique.
Read our article to learn more about the best things to do in Jerome.
Address: 86331 Jerome, Arizona
Website: Jerome, AZ
You won’t have look hard to understand why Slide Rock State Park is one of the most popular recreation sites in Arizona. Named for a natural 130-kilometer (80-foot) long slide formed by Oak Creek, Slide Rock is perfect for cooling off in the summer heat and is well known for being one of the best swimming holes in Arizona. As well as swimming and sliding in the water, enjoy the apple orchard next to the creek and many trails that run alongside the creek and into the surrounding area.
Slide Rock State Park
Address: 6871 AZ-89A, 86336 Sedona, AZ
Website: Slide Rock State Park
With a landscape full of diversity, from the Sedona red rocks to the Ponderosa pine forests to the southwest desert to alpine tundra, the Coconino National Forest is an amazing site perfect for outdoor exploration and recreation. Get in touch with nature by exploring the mountains and canyons, fish and swim in the small lakes and streams, and search for wildlife in the stunning forests. If you’re looking for a challenge, check out the Devil’s Bridge Trail. Spanning 7 kilometers (4.4 miles), this heavily-trafficked trail is one of the best trails in the forest and is rated as moderate—but so worth the effort. Literally going over a natural bridge that the trail is named for, you’ll be amazed at the Devil’s Bridge Trail and the Coconino Forest.
Coconino National Forest and Devil’s Bridge Trail
Address: 1824 S Thompson St, 86001 Flagstaff, AZ
Website: Coconino National Forest
Combining small town charm with outdoor adventure, Flagstaff is perfect for a day trip or weekend adventure when visiting Phoenix. Located in the midst of the world’s largest Ponderosa pine forest, the beautiful scenery is the perfect backdrop for exploring the shops, galleries, restaurants, and more that make the city charming and fun. No matter what you’re interested in, Flagstaff will keep you entertained.
Hike trails in the cool mountain air or read a book at a café. Camp under the stars or search for a new painting to use as a centerpiece in your living room. At a central location from multiple parks and recreation areas, Flagstaff is perfect for the lone traveler and the whole family.
Address: Flagstaff, AZ
Website: Flagstaff, AZ
Stand where the earth shook and exploded nearly 1,000 years ago, a massive event that formed the mound known as Sunset Crater Volcano. While the volcano is no longer active, trails that wind around the cinder cone and the neighboring Lenox Crater Volcano are perfect for recreation, exploration, and learning about the natural disaster that once decimated the landscape. During your hike, you will see piles of igneous rocks or lava rocks, plant life that is still recovering 1,000 years later, and magnificent views from the crest of the volcano.
Sunset Crater Volcano
Address: Sunset Crater Volcano, 86004 Flagstaff, AZ
Website: Sunset Crater Volcano
Located just outside of Winslow is the international travel destination, the Arizona Meteor Crater. Fifty-thousand years ago, the earth had an encounter with a piece of space that left a 1,200-meter (4,000-foot) wide crater which continues to draw visitors each year. When you visit the park, you will learn about the discovery of the site and the efforts of scientists who worked to find the meteor that crashed all those years ago. At the lookout point, you will gaze across the massive crater and guided rim tours are given daily. If one day isn’t enough, next to the crater is an RV site, perfect for camping and enjoying the Arizona night.
Arizona Meteor Crater
Address: Interstate 40, 86047 Winslow, AZ
Website: Arizona Meteor Crater
Visit the largest canyon in the world, the Grand Canyon. Truly a stunning sight, the Grand Canyon is located three hours north of Phoenix, but is definitely worth the drive. When you walk up to the rim of the canyon, you will see across the canyon and notice where the Colorado River has twisted and turned.
Step close to the edge to see the steep drop into the canyon and note the different colored layers of rock that make up the canyon’s walls. While at the park, you will learn about the formation of the canyon, how humans have interacted with the natural wonder throughout history, and what the canyon is like today. If seeing the canyon from the rim isn’t enough, multiple tours are available with many going down into the canyon itself. Before you go, be sure to visit the Grand Canyon Historic Village, with shops, food, and lodging, perfect for finding the perfect souvenir or relaxing before continuing your canyon exploration.
The Grand Canyon
Address: Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Website: The Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon Deluxe Small-Group Tour From Phoenix
Duration: 13 hours
Take an Arizona adventure!
While it may be hard to draw yourself away from lively Phoenix, the surrounding area is an amazing adventure in itself. With historic monuments, preserved ghost towns, and of course, the Grand Canyon, you’re sure to understand why so many live here.
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