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Phoenix is the perfect central hub for a long list of Arizona day trips—Phoenix makes sense as it offers plenty of dining, lodging, golfing and other activities. These excursions are iconic bucket list material and can be reached within a few hours or less. As a bonus, the roads leading to these destinations are interesting and gorgeous as well. So if you want to truly delve into the state of Arizona, you can knock these day trips from Phoenix out one day at a time.
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It takes roughly two hours to travel from Phoenix to Sedona by car, so there’s many hours in between to soak into the natural and new age aspects of lovely Sedona. Try to be there either for a sunrise or sunset, perhaps both if you can, because this is when the iconic orange sandstone formations are seemingly lit up by the positioning of the sun. It’s completely magical to see this spectacular show. During the day, you’ll find countless trails to bike or hike, and this will take you into the heart of what Sedona is loved for.
Meteor Crater National Landmark
Just a short detour from Route 66 is one of the best preserved ancient meteor craters, which was created by a massive blast way before our time. A visitor’s center sits right on the edge of the 550-foot deep hole and offers a short film in a small theater as part of the experience. You can take a walking tour along a trail, then visit the gift and rock shop for souvenirs. It’s a pretty awesome historical site that is completely otherworldly. The drive is just short of three hours from Phoenix, but since it isn’t too extensive it could easily be enjoyed via a day trip.
Ah the day trip of all day trips—the magnificent Grand Canyon is on most of our bucket lists, and the South Rim resides 230 miles north from Phoenix. Sure, you might want to spend more time at this US landmark, but it definitely could be done in a day. What can we say? This mile deep canyon is over 18 miles wide at some points, and displays mesmerizing geological colors and formations. Camp, hike, or just stop for a peek—regardless, it’s a “must”.
The Sonoran Desert spreads over several states, but a significant site in the Arizona portion would be the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, where an abundance of trails are available to hikers, bikers and those just looking to take in the diverse foliage and wildlife. The preserve aims to protect the land while allowing visitors to enjoy it. Scottsdale, where this portion of the Sonoran can be accessed, is a skip away from Phoenix—about a 30-minute drive.
Montezuma Castle National Park
An ancient civilization carved clever dwellings into the sturdy rock of what is now a famous monument. Back in the 50s, tours of the magnificent “castle” were discontinued to preserve the integrity of the structure, but visitors can still gaze up at the astonishing piece of history. A lot more than Montezuma attracts people to the site—Wet Beaver Creek, a flourishing spring and interesting wildlife are just a few things to put on the list when stopping through. The drive will set you back an hour and a half.
Tucson Mountain Park
A hefty 20,000 acres comprise this large park featuring 62 miles of hiking and biking trails, sans any motor vehicles. Historic sites such as old locomotives and school houses create an intriguing environment that melds both education with the outdoors. It takes just under two hours to get there.
Tonto Natural Bridge State Park
Built around a stunning, natural travertine bridge, Tonto Natural Bridge State Park offers fishing, hiking, and a very cool historic lodge. But keeping with the day trip theme, visitors can squeeze in a trip to the fish hatchery, or the Shoofly Native American Ruins. You’ll drive nearly two hours into the Tonto National Forest to get there.
Petrified Forest National Park
Petrified wood that ranges in lovely natural colors define this National Park—Rainbow Forest is one place you’ll see a lot of variation in hues. Of course, hiking the area is a fantastic way to soak it all in, but stopping by the 1930s adobe style Painted Desert Inn is highly interesting, as it’s been converted to a mural museum.
Slide Rock State Park
Grab some sunscreen, water and towels and spend the day splashing in Oak Creek Canyon, which is only a few miles from Sedona. Likely assumed, the name comes from the slippery rocks that are used as natural water slides into the pools below. It’s totally worth a ride out to this spot on a steamy Arizona day. Keep in mind, it can get crowded.
Red Rock Scenic Byway
What’s a day trip round-up without mentioning a sweet highway? This stunning drive is the literal “gateway” into the area’s that house iconic red stone formations of Arizona, making it highly significant. One hundred and ten miles from Phoenix, the breathtaking drive offers glimpses of amazing foliage and spanning views.