Within just two or three hours of Phoenix, you can be at one of many magnificent natural wonders, historical sites and attractions, including these spots that make for the ideal Arizona day trip.
Saguaro National Park (Nearby Hotels)
Saguaro National Park protects and preserves a giant saguaro cactus forest that stretches across the valley floor near Tucson and is less than a two-hour drive from Phoenix. Although the endless cacti that cover the beautiful Sonoran desert landscape are a breathtaking sight to see, the park offers much more, including prehistoric petroglyphs, historic sites and wildlife viewing. Within the vast mountain ranges of the park, there a number of activities available, like scenic drives, hiking and biking that will allow you to explore the area and the giant saguaros that sometimes reach as high as 50 feet. Late winter through early spring is an amazing time to be here, as temperatures are mild and the wildflowers are in bloom. Watch for animals like coyotes, desert tortoises and javelinas in the lower elevations, and the Mexican spotted owl, deer and black bear in the upper elevations of the park. The park also offers special nighttime events and “Art in the Park” workshops through its artist in residence.
Sedona (Nearby Hotels)
Also under a two-hour drive from Phoenix, you’ll discover a landscape that’s dramatically colorful in Sedona, with soaring, fiery red rocks and jagged sandstone buttes that are incredibly striking against the nearly always bright blue skies. The region has been attracting artists and other creative types for decades, while filmmakers have chosen the unique rock formations as the setting for movies like “Midnight Run” and “310 to Yuma.” It’s a favorite destination for anyone wanting outdoor adventure, including hiking and jeep tours, as well as sightseeing and even healing – people travel from around the world to experience the swirling centers of energy in this area that are known for being conducive to spiritual healing, meditation, and self-exploration.
Grand Canyon National Park (Nearby Hotels)
While Grand Canyon National Park is a little over a three-hour drive away, a day trip to one of America’s most popular parks, brings the chance to experience a wide variety of views and experiences that people come from all corners of the globe to enjoy. Start out at the South Rim, taking in the breathtaking vistas of one of the most stunning natural formations in the world, and if you want a closer look, embark on a mule ride down to the bottom or take a helicopter tour.
Jerome (Nearby Hotels)
Founded in the late 19th century on Cleopatra Hill overlooking Verde Valley, Jerome once boomed, with 15,000 inhabitants, mostly made up of those who were looking to strike it rich. Its heyday was supported by rich cooper mines that made it once the fifth largest town in Arizona. The depression marked the end of the good times, with the mines finally closing in the early 1950s. Re-opening it as America’s largest ghost city arguably saved it from complete extinction. Today, Jerome is a state park with a population just over 400, and it can be reached with less than a two-hour drive from Phoenix. Small shops line its streets along with ruins from its past, like the famous traveling jail. You’ll also find actors and historians wandering around, recreating the town’s glory days.
Tucson Mountain Park (Nearby Hotels)
Tucson Mountain Park is ideal for outdoor adventures, just an hour and 45-minute drive from Phoenix. This 20,000-acre park offers a variety of recreational activities, including miles and miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding, along with plenty of scenic picnic areas. The onsite Desert Discovery Center offers classes and workshops to teach visitors about the landscape and wildlife of the desert, and you can also visit two of Tucson’s largest attractions: Old Tucson Studios, which is famous for producing countless western movies, and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.
Kartchner Caverns (Nearby Hotels)
Located in southern Arizona, about two-and-a-half hours from Phoenix, Kartchner Caverns State Park is home to the world’s longest stalactite formation. Visitors take an underground guided tour of this cavern with about 2.5 miles of passages, to experience an amazing, hidden world, discovering the delicate ecosystem of limestone caves and the longest known “Soda Straw” stalactite on Earth. The site boasts a huge Discovery Center, which features interactive exhibits that explain how the cave was discovered, and how formations developed, as well as discussing geology, the bat popultion, and paleontology. There are also hiking trails, shaded picnic areas, a deli, an amphitheater, and a hummingbird garden.
Petrified National Forest (Nearby Hotels)
Located east of Winslow, a little over three hours from Phoenix, Petrified Forest National Park offers the chance to experience one of the largest and most vibrantly colored collections of petrified wood, historic structures and archeological sites among the picturesque beauty of the Painted Desert. The “trees” of this forest are fragmented, fossilized logs spread across a vast area of grassland. Many are gigantic – up to six feet in diameter, and at least one spans a ravine, forming a natural bridge. And, at 225 million years old, they’re as ancient as the first dinosaurs that roamed the planet in the Late Triassic period. One of the best ways to experience it is on foot. Designated hiking trails range from less than a half-mile to three miles, with each promising a spectacular view.
Montezuma Castle National Monument (Nearby Hotels)
Montezuma’s Castle is a true relic from the past, and while it may not be a grand royal palace, this apartment-style dwelling that was carved into the side of a limestone cliff by the Sinagua, a Native American tribe that occupied the area more than 600 years ago, is no less fascinating. Located near Camp Verde, about an hour-and-a-half from Phoenix, it’s one of the best preserved cliff dwellings in the nation. Used by the Sinagua civilization, the five-story structure features 20 rooms and is built into a recess in a white limestone cliff, sitting about 70 feet above the ground, resembling an ancient high-rise apartment complex. When first re-discovered, the ruins were believed to be Aztec in origin, with European-Americans naming it after the Aztec emperor, but it actually predates the birth of Montezuma II by a century. The site also includes a visitor center and museum displaying a wide array of artifacts and relics like stone tools, bone needles, millstones and shell ornaments.
Flagstaff (Nearby Hotels)
The city of Flagstaff sits within the San Francisco Peaks at 7,000 feet above sea level and is considered the art and culture hub of northern Arizona. It’s filled with art galleries, museums, unique shops and eateries. Some of the most popular attractions include riding on the Grand Canyon Railway and enjoy a closeup view of the stars at Lowell Observatory. Visitors can also see a 900-year-old cinder cone at Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, go hiking in Coconino National Forest, or ski at the Arizona Snowbowl in the winter – and it’s all just a little over a two-hour drive away.
Tombstone (Nearby Hotels)
Tombstone is a three-hour drive from Phoenix and offers the chance to step back in time, to a Wild West frontier town known as the town “too tough to die.” It’s a great place to relive the days of the Old West as the spot where the legendary gunfight at the O.K. Corral took place in 1881 – a 30-second gunfight pitting the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday against Billy Clanton and the McLaury brothers. If you don’t remember who won, we won’t spoil it for you – head there and find out for yourself, it’s a lot more fun. You can almost hear the gunfire, the sounds of the saloons and the buck boards clip-clopping down the dirt streets. If you want to find out more about the real history of Tombstone instead of just the tourist version, make a reservation for Dr. Jay’s Walking Tour. And, for an even more exciting visit, try to be here during Wyatt Earp Days, Vigilante Days or Hellodorado Days take place to see the vigilantes and vigilettes recreate the Old West in the middle of Allen Street.