Phoenix, which is also called the Valley of the Sun, is characterized by warm temperatures, year-round sun, and a beautiful desertscape and rocks that meet the Western splendor. This place has lots of exciting activities in store for avid travelers and adventurers, including exploring the beautiful landscapes, teeing off at several golf courses, dining at rooftop restaurants, watching live sporting events, and much more. It also features excellent hotels and vacation rentals for travelers who intend to stay for a few days. And if your point of interest is the dramatic outdoors, then taking a ride in and around the city will beat your expectations. From high mountain summits with incredible views of the town, volcanic formations, rugged deserts, lush vegetations with native grasses, and even exciting water activities, there is so much to see and discover. Check out these best scenic drives in Phoenix, Arizona.
1. Bartlett Dam Road
Nestled in the stunning desert landscapes of Phoenix, Arizona, Bartlett Dam Road offers an enchanting destination for a scenic drive. Accessible via Interstate 17, this picturesque route is a relatively short drive, about 50 minutes, from central Phoenix. As you venture along this road going to Bartlett Lake, don’t miss a chance to indulge your taste buds at Big Earl’s Greasy Eats, a charming roadside diner serving up classic comfort food.
The road also grants access to several campgrounds, inviting outdoor enthusiasts to revel in the tranquil desert environment, perfect for stargazing and recreational activities. Nature lovers can explore the Jojoba Trail, offering a delightful hiking experience through the local flora and fauna.
2. Lake Pleasant Regional Park
Editor's Note: Photo taken from the establishment's official social account
Mc Parks celebrated the opening of the Lake Pleasant Regional Park Discovery Center. This event was attended by Penny...Posted by National Recreation and Park Association on Thursday, November 10, 2016
Lake Pleasant Regional Park beckons travelers in search of a scenic drive and surprises them with adventurous off-road exploration. The park’s rugged landscape scattered with serene waters and desert vistas offers a stunning backdrop to your journey. For those craving excitement, Lake Pleasant offers two exhilarating off-road driving trails - the Backway to Crown King and the Trilby Wash to Ruby Wash and Lake Pleasant Regional Park OHV Trail. These trails wind through rugged terrain, offering a heart-pounding experience and a chance to test your off-road driving skills.
The park operates from 6am to 5pm daily, ensuring ample daylight hours for your explorations.
3. Dobbins Lookout
Enjoy a short beautiful ride up to Dobbins Lookout, standing as tall as 2,330 ft (710.2 m) and awarding heartwarming views of the mountains and the city. The 15-minute drive starts from the mountain floor and cuts through hidden turns and curves; you only have to mind the hikers and cyclists as you enjoy different vistas from every point.
At the top of this attraction in Phoenix is a viewpoint accessible by car. You can simply park and savor gazing at the Superstition Mountains, Estrella Mountains, and some parts of Phoenix sitting on the valley below. Don’t forget to wait for the picturesque sunset from the shaded stone resthouse on the summit.
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4. Arizona State Route 51
Also known as Piestewa Freeway, Arizona State Route 51 cuts through Phoenix Mountains Preserve, unraveling the beauty of the desert topography around. That’s not all this path is about, however. It also leads to romantic places like Wrigley Mansion, set on a knoll, via 24th Street, off Route 51 from Lincoln Avenue. The splendor of the building, featuring a mix of Mediterranean and Spanish Colonial architecture, is a wonder to behold. Still, it takes a small fee to explore it, enjoy Sunday brunch, live music, and even happy hour. However, if you are only interested in the views, you can drive through the gate to the front of the structure for the spectacular vistas of the city and sunset.
Nearby scenic drives
5. The Apache Trail
Offering a challenging yet scenic drive, Apache Trail is considered one of the most treacherous routes in the United States due to its tight turns and narrowness. However, it is common among sightseers who can’t get enough of the dense desert flora, crystal-clear lakes, rock formations, cliff dwellings, canyons, and portals spread along the path. It has a speed limit of 15 mph (24 kph) and features 45 mi (72.4 km) of scenic driving.
Aside from vistas of the natural wonders, also look out for the beautiful human-made wonders, including Tonto National Monument, The Theodore Roosevelt Dam, and the Superstition Mountains. You can also stop for some exciting things to do, such as paddle-boarding and kayaking at Saguaro Lake.
6. Agua Caliente Scenic Drive
Enjoy a 40-mi (64.4-km) scenic drive on the Agua Caliente, which cuts through the Sonoran Desert, naturally formed by the Gila Bend Mountains and the Yellow Medicine Hills. The colorful landscape is dramatic, especially during the spring when palo verdes, brittlebush, and ocotillos blossom. This route is best explored with a four-wheel drive (4WD), especially while passing through the old Sundad ghost town. Also, admire the heartwarming volcanic landscape, including Yellow Medicine Butte, Fourth of July Butte, and Black Butte, as well as mine sites, and the Sentinel Plain Lava Flow, the most abundant flow in Arizona.
7. Desert Foothills Scenic Drive
Desert Foothills is a beautiful location where the desert slowly dominates the mountains, resulting in an exuberant landscape, adorned by chollas, mesquite, palo verde, and saguaros, and cooler weather. Stretching for only 6 mi (9.7 km), this short but scenic drive near Phoenix is dotted with informative signs about the surrounding vegetation, as well as dramatic vistas of the Lone Mountain and Pinnacle Peak.
This route is well-traveled because of the residential areas, shopping malls, restaurants, and golf resorts, and you will also meet adventurers and photographers, who park to take the best shot of the towering saguaros.
8. Harquahala Mountain Back Country Byway
If you are in search of beautiful mountains that you can drive up in Phoenix, Harquahala Mountain is a great destination. It is the highest peak in southwestern Arizona, standing at 5,681 ft (1,731.6 m), built over 70 years. Although the road is wide and well-maintained, you will require a 4WD to enjoy the drive through many steep hills and a few switchbacks. From the parking area, it is a steady climb to the summit, where you will find an observatory, from where you can enjoy heartwarming vistas, as well as modern solar collectors.
You will also find many picnic and camping spots along the route, providing information about the trail and mountain, as well as restrooms for your convenience. The peak is windy, and there are several picnic tables, but no toilets.
9. Gila-Pinal Scenic Road
Enjoy the incredible views of four different life zones as you drive on this 26-mi (41.8-km) road, which continues from Highway 60, through the Sonoran Desert, Pinal Mountains, Ponderosa pine forest, and down to Globe. The region was dominated by copper mines, some half a century ago, which you will notice while cutting through the mountains and the old mine towns. Admire the breathtaking rock spires, canyons, and other formations of the Pinal Mountains, native vegetation, and more. And don’t forget to make a stop at Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park and check out the ranch, characterized by lush vegetation.
10. Highway 60 Globe to Show Low
Highway 60 is also a famous scenic drive, known for its broad diversity of natural wonders, such as the Arizona desert, Ponderosa pine wooded areas of the White Mountains, the Salt River Canyon wilderness, and more. The steady elevation along Highway 60 from Globe to Show Low results in a vast temperature difference so you might need a sweater. Admire the desert plants such as cactus while driving through the Tonto National Forest, enjoy fishing, picnicking, camping, and more at San Carlos Apache Reservation, white-water rafting at the Salt River, and much more. The final climb is at Mogollon Rim, featuring heartwarming vistas of the Ponderosa pine forests.
Enjoy an adventurous vacation
Arizona has a lot to offer to fun-seekers and outdoor enthusiasts. From the thrilling activities within the city such as golfing, clubbing, and dining to the dramatic landscape, heartwarming views from mountain peaks, camping, and more in the countryside, an exciting time awaits you. And there is no better way to enjoy the outdoors than with these scenic drives in Phoenix, Arizona. For more adventures, check out the best road trips and weekend trips from Phoenix as well!
Frequently asked questions about the best scenic drives in Phoenix, Arizona
1. Which scenic drives in and near Phoenix are best explored using a a four-wheel drive (4WD)?
No matter the weather conditions, you can always embark on an exciting adventure at Agua Caliente Scenic Drive and Harquahala Mountain Back Country Byway if you’re hitting the roads with a trusty 4x4 vehicle.
2. Which scenic drives in Phoenix are great for sunset watching?
If the glorious hues of the golden hour ignite your thrill-seeking spirit, make sure to pin your map and drive the wheel to scenic drives such as Dobbins Lookout and Arizona State Route 51 for technicolor sunsets.
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