Most people think of low-elevation desert when they think of Arizona, and if you’re in the Phoenix area, that’s very true. These are some of the best day trips from Phoenix, Arizona, that show you how beautiful the area is.
You’ll see lots of shades of brown and muted greens: mostly-brownish mountains, cacti, and palm trees.
Phoenix is the area where most folks who live in the northern parts of the United States and Canada come in the winter to get away from the cold and snow. This valley has beautiful and moderate temperatures in the wintertime and it’s a great place to be.
Not only is the weather amazing during the winter, but there’s a lot of things to see and do in the Phoenix area.
If you go even an hour or two from Phoenix, things start to look very different. You can visit beautiful lakes, stunning red-rock mountains and buttes, and high-elevation pine forests with snow-capped mountains, even through much of the summer.
Arizona is a surprisingly diverse state.
So, I encourage you, get out of the Phoenix area and head out on a trip! Here are the best day trips from Phoenix, Arizona.
The Best Day Trips From Phoenix
Visiting Sedona is one of the most popular day trips from Phoenix and for good reason—the stunning natural red tapestry! The ground is ablaze with shades of gold, auburn, copper, rust, and coral and it’s a sight to see!
The area is surrounded by lots of mountains and buttes and many have names for what they look like: Snoopy Rock looks like snoopy laying on his dog house, Coffeepot Rock looks like an old-fashioned coffee percolator, Bell Rock looks like a large bell, and more.
Hiking is a big deal in Sedona and you can’t go wrong with any options. Some of my favorites are the Bell Rock and Courthouse Rock area, Boynton Canyon, and the natural arch, Devil’s Bridge.
You can actually walk out on it if you’re daring! It makes for great views and pictures.
Wander Oak Creek
The beautiful Oak Creek is a highlight of Sedona and a soothing place to escape the hustle and bustle of Sedona, especially during the tourist season.
This small city has grown quite a bit in recent years and can get rather crowded in areas. The creek feels so far away from the traffic of this growing city and it’s such a soothing place.
You can access it in a number of areas around town including right off the main drag of Route 89A behind the Arroyo Grand Resort. Stop by the Oak Creek Visitor’s Center as it’s a great place to get a map and make a plan.
Oak Creek, Sedona
Connect with Your Inner Woo
Sedona is a very spiritual place. It’s a place where artists congregated many years ago and remain the lifeblood of the town.
Sedona is known for being a vortex center – a place with healing energy. Go to one of the vortex locations to see if you can feel it. Or check out one of the many spiritual and crystal shops for some learning and self-exploration.
If you want to connect with meditation, healing energy, and your spiritual side, Sedona is the place to do it.
This college town has a cute historic downtown that’s fun to wander around and there’s lots of natural beauty with the mountains around the town.
The highest mountain in Arizona, Humphreys Peak, is located in the San Francisco Peaks close to the downtown area. They are picturesque and remain snow-covered for much of the year.
Explore Times Past
Western history isn’t the only past that influenced Arizona, and there is a strong Native American influence as well.
There are two Native American ruins located close to downtown Flagstaff: Walnut Canyon and Wupatki. Walnut Canyon National Monument contains cliff dwellings located in a heavily-wooded plateau carved by Walnut Creek.
There are a couple of short and easy hikes to visit the ruins and some longer ones to see even more ruins.
Wupatki National Monument is actually a number of Native American complexes located on a flat plain. There is one large and really impressive complex made of striking red rock and several other smaller ones.
These are located close to Sunset Crater, a now extinct volcano.
Wupatki National Monument, Flagstaff
Climb Through the Lava Tubes
For something a little different, check out Lava River Cave, a huge lava tube located near Flagstaff and the largest in the state of Arizona.
It’s close to a mile long and the height varies from 2 or 3 feet to around 30 feet in areas. It was created when molten lava flowed from a nearby volcano vent, then the top, bottom, and sides cooled and hardened as the lava in the center flowed out, leaving a hollow space.
Connect with Your Inner Science Nerd
Head over to Lowell Observatory to get your learning on! It’s one of the oldest astrological observatories in the country, established back in 1894.
This observatory was involved with the mapping of the moon for the Apollo Program in 1963 and is still involved in many scientific research pursuits.
You can visit to see the exhibits, watch programs in their huge planetarium, or take a peek through the telescopes you’ll find at the observatory and around town.
If you’re looking for a fun small city with a touch of the old American West, Prescott is a great place to go. There is a historic downtown center in Prescott as well as lots of natural beauty around.
Bottoms Up at Whiskey Row
The historic center of Prescott is built around a square and it’s fun to just wander around and think of times past.
Explore Courthouse Plaza and the old courthouse in the center and take the obligatory photo op. There are lots of interesting stores, amazing restaurants, and antique shops in this area.
Then, head to Whiskey Row, a block of historic old-time saloons and bars. In the past, they were frequented by outlaws and cowboys alike including Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp. Imagine the trouble this block has seen!
One of the most unique and beautiful areas in all of Arizona is Watson Lake. It’s only ten minutes from the historic center of Prescott and worth visiting.
This lake is actually a reservoir that was created at the Granite Dells, a rock formation made of huge granite boulders. Over many years, these huge bounders eroded from the elements to create softly-rounded clusters with beautifully-colored striations in them.
Rent a kayak and go into the center to really enjoy the views. You can go boating, canoeing, rock climbing, fishing, hiking, and camping on this lake and there are some beautiful park grounds to visit for scenic views and overlooks.
Unfortunately, you can’t swim in this lake but there are so many other fun things to do, you won’t miss it. And check out the hiking trail that runs the circumference of Watson Lake.
Watson Lake, Prescott
When summer temperatures really heat up in Phoenix, Payson is a great place to be. It’s a much smaller town than Prescott and you can really connect with nature here.
Visit the Lakes Region of Arizona
There are a lot of lakes in the area in and around Payson and my favorite is called Woods Lake. It’s a small canyon-bound lake and you can see lots of wildlife here, especially deer (so, be careful driving!)
Though it can get pretty crowded in the summer, the shoulder seasons in the spring and fall are a bit quieter. There’s a nice, fairly-level hike that runs all the way around the lake and offers some beautiful views of this area.
Woods Lake is around 30 minutes from Payson in the Mogollon Rim area. If you have extra time in this area, it’s worth doing some hiking around this rim which runs over 200 miles from Arizona to New Mexico.
You’ll see some breathtaking views and there are lots of outdoor activities including hiking, horseback riding, biking, and more.
Explore Tonto Natural Bridge
One of the highlights of a trip to Payson is visiting Tonto Natural Bridge State Park. It has the largest natural travertine arch in the world. This park is beautiful and wooded and there are lots of hiking trails through it.
You’ll also find lots of wildlife and be on the lookout for javelina (hint: you don’t want to run into them).
If you feel like heading south of Phoenix, Tucson is the place to be. There are so many things to do in and around Tucson and it’s really work taking at least a couple of days if you can.
If you need to make a day of it, here are some of the most fun things to do.
Fly Away from an Airplane Boneyard
One of the unique places Tucson offers visitors is the Pima Air and Space Museum. They have a huge property with more than 300 retired aircraft. In fact, it’s the third-largest aviation museum in the world! You’ll see planes from WWII and even earlier.
Though I wasn’t very interested in going initially, I literally had to be dragged out of this place. Yes, it was that amazing. They also have QR codes on the aircraft so you can read up about them and their history if you’re so inclined.
Sikorsky Aircraft at the Pima Air and Space Museum
Learn at the Titan Missile Museum
Step back in time to a period during the Cold War when the United States had strategic missile sites hidden around the country. This site is now a museum that you can tour.
The Titan Missile Museum has an 8-level silo with an inactive Titan II intercontinental ballistic missile and you can tour the original launch facilities.
Tour 4th Ave
The heart of Tucson is the historic arts district where you’ll find the cool kids hanging out. On one end is the historic hotel, Hotel Congress.
Here you’ll find one of the best restaurants in town called Cup Cafe, a killer bloody Mary bar (on Sundays), and a fun night time club. If you’re looking for a funky shop, art gallery, bookshop or more, 4th Ave is the place in Tucson to go.
Just wander down the street and you’ll find something that piques your fancy.
See the Mission San Xavier del Bac
Chances are you’ve seen a picture of this building and had no idea where it was located, until now.
This jaw-droppingly striking structure is located only a short drive from downtown Tucson and it’s a must-see when you visit. It’s the oldest intact European structure in Arizona.
It was founded in 1692, though the current construction ended in 1797 with some additions to the original. This is still an active church and it has a museum that offers tours as well as a mausoleum.
Mission San Xavier del Bac
Arizona is a treasure trove of beauty and fun and it’s a state made for road-tripping.
Whether you’re looking for modern or historic, Old West or Native American, mountains or bubbling creeks, you’ll find it all in Arizona and within a couple of hours of Phoenix.
This is a guest post by Sam from My Flying Leap
Sam is a travel-obsessed animal lover with big plans to travel the world with her dog. When she’s not blogging about her travel adventures at My Flying Leap, you can find her volunteering with her pet-therapy cat and dog, on the top of a mountain, or enjoying a glass of bold red wine planning for her next trip. You can follow Sam on Pinterest, Facebook, or Instagram.
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