Arizona is what the Old West is about. From gunfights in Tombstone, to old Army forts in Indian country and the Territorial Prison in Yuma, the 48th state has it all. It also contains some of America’s most stunning scenic sites, such as the Grand Canyon and the magnificent saguaro cactus that is a symbol of the Old West.
It also has hundreds of museums and art galleries, and amenities that will suit all travelers whether they revel in hiking or luxury hotels. Visitors can see a lot of this state in a series of day trips from Phoenix.
Map of day trips from Phoenix
Bisbee is an old copper mining town south of Tombstone. Victorian homes are nestled on a hillside above an old downtown area that is filled with antique shops and boutiques. A stop at the Copper Queen Hotel is a must for fans of author J.A. Jance who set her Sheriff Joanna Brady murder mysteries in the Bisbee area.
A mining museum, with equipment on the lawn, is just below the hotel; remains of the open pit copper mine are on the other side of the highway. Parking in old Bisbee is limited; visitors should be prepared to park on the highway and walk into town.
Getting to Bisbee
- Driving to Bisbee from Phoenix is very simple; Interstate 10 will take you almost all the way there in just over three hours. Head southeast out of the city center and stay on it all the way to exit 303. Here, turn off onto Route 80; this will take you directly to Bisbee. As there are not many parking spaces available in Bisbee, you may have to park on the side of the highway and walk a short distance into town. On the way back to Phoenix, make sure to visit the famous Tombstone, which lies right next to Bisbee.
Surrounded by the world’s largest ponderosa pine forest, Flagstaff’s 7,000-foot (2,000 meter) elevation offers visitors something to do through all four seasons, from snow sports such as skiing and snowboarding in the winter to hiking and rock climbing in the summer; visitors can also just sit back and enjoy Flagstaff’s scenic beauty.
It also offers motorists the opportunity to drive America’s highway, historic Route 66. Flagstaff also offers visitors a wide variety of museums where they can learn more about the Old West and Native American culture.
Getting to Flagstaff
- All in all, it takes just over two hours to drive to Flagstaff from Phoenix. Just head north out of the city and stay on Interstate 17, which will take you straight there. After seeing the picturesque town, make sure to head off and explore some of the nearby scenery; Sedona is also well worth checking out on the way back to Phoenix.
Situated about 90 miles (145 km) from Phoenix, Jerome is a former copper mining town that was once considered the wickedest town in the west because of its “prostitution row.” Sitting at an elevation of 5,200 feet (1,600 meters), Jerome was once the fourth largest town in the Arizona Territory; today, it is considered the largest ghost town in the United States, with tourists far outnumbering the town’s 450 residents.
Draws include an old copper mine, historic buildings and a thriving arts community as well as seeing a town that sits on a hill so steep that buildings sometimes slide down it.
Getting to Jerome
- Lying almost directly north of Phoenix, Jerome takes two hours to drive to, and Interstate 17 will take you all the way there. Just turn off at exit 287, then follow the signs to the former copper mining town. As Flagstaff and Sedona are located in the same area, it is well worth visiting both of them if you have enough time after exploring Jerome.
Montezuma Castle features one of America’s best-preserved cliff dwellings. Dating back to the 12th century and used by the Sinagua civilization, this five-story structure of 20 rooms resembles an ancient high-rise apartment complex. Although European-Americans named it after the Aztec emperor, the dwelling actually predates the birth of Montezuma II by 100 years. The site features a visitor center and museum that displays an assortment of relics and artifacts. Montezuma Castle is a great experience and a good place to stretch the legs when traveling between Phoenix and Sedona.
Getting to Montezuma Castle
- The amazing Montezuma Castle lies just an hour and a half’s drive to the north of Phoenix and is easily reached by car. Head north on Interstate 17 and turn off at exit 289 when you see signs for Montezuma Castle National Monument. After exploring the magnificent site, you could head on to visit Jerome, Sedona, and Flagstaff – three nearby towns which are well worth a visit.
- Another option for visiting Montezuma Castle is to take a guided tour that will teach you all about the ruin’s past, and that of the people who used to live there. With a visit to the impressive Bell Rock in Sedona also included, it is a fabulous day out; the spectacular scenery means you’re sure to come away with some incredible photos. See trip reviews & prices.
Filled with a variety of cactus, including the iconic saguaro, the Sonora Desert has a beauty all its own. The desert, which stretches across southern Arizona and California into Mexico, is best visited in the spring when temperatures are substantially cooler than the 120 degrees they reach in the summer.
Visitors who want a closer look than driving by on the freeway can take off-road vehicle tours out of Phoenix or do a self-guided tour at the Sonoran Desert National Monument. Tucson offers Saguaro National Park as well as the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum with groomed trails.
Getting to the Sonoran Desert
- While you can drive along roads that pass through the Sonoran Desert, for the most memorable experience, it is best to go via a 4X4 that can deal with off-the-road trails; this will allow you to delve deeper into the amazing scenery. To get to the desert from Phoenix, you have two options. You can either drive west out of the city on Interstate 10 and take the AZ-85 through the desert, or head south on Interstate 10 and from Maricopa take the AZ-238. Both options take around an hour and a half. It is well worth stopping off to hike along some of the trails you come across.
- A spectacular and unique way to visit the Sonoran Desert is to join a night tour that takes you through the amazing landscape in a hummer. With the sun setting, you’ll get to explore deeper into the desert than other tours. There is an entirely different feel to it than during the day, as nocturnal creatures come out and everything cools down. In addition to this, you’ll learn a lot about the Sonoran Desert from your knowledgeable guide, who’ll tell you all there is to know about the history, animals, and plants of the region. See trip reviews & prices.
Tombstone, the town deemed too tough to die, is a must-see destination in southern Arizona. Located about 180 miles (290 km) from Phoenix, Tombstone is most famous for being the site of the gunfight at the OK Corral, in which the Earp brothers took on a gang of outlaws.
There’s a charge to see a re-enactment of this famous fight, but gunfights, that are free, take place several times a day on Old Tombstone’s main street. Tombstone also is home to Boot Hill cemetery, where gunslingers and townspeople alike are buried on a hill overlooking the desert.
Getting to Tombstone
- By car, it takes just under three hours to drive to Tombstone. The directions couldn’t be more straightforward, as Interstate 10 runs between the two. Simply stay on it heading southeast from Phoenix, then turn off at exit 303 to get there. After seeing Tombstone, it is worth driving just a little bit further to see the charming copper mining town of Bisbee.
- If you want to learn more about Tombstone’s captivating past, you may be interested in joining a guided tour to the famous town. With an expert guide at your disposal, you’ll visit OK Corral and Big Nose Kate’s Saloon, among other sights. The day out culminates in an interesting visit to San Xavier del Bac – one of the most famous Missions in Arizona. See trip reviews & prices.
Forget the modern interstates where vehicles whiz by on 75 mph freeways. The Apache Trail, also known as State Route 88, is Arizona’s oldest highway, starting out as a stagecoach trail through Apache Indian country.
The road starts at Apache Junction, part of the greater Phoenix area, running through the Superstition Mountains of the Lost Dutchman legend and Tonto National Forest. Some of the road is narrow and unpaved, winding through the mountains, with not a lot of guardrails or other safety barriers, making it unsuitable for RVs and large vehicles.
Getting to the Apache Trail
- As the beginning of the Apache Trail starts off at Apache Junction in east Mesa, it only takes half-an-hour to get there by car from the center of Phoenix. Just head southeast, then hop on Route 60, which will take you to the junction. From here, all you need to do is drive along Arizona Route 88 (which is the Apache Trail) to your heart’s content, stopping off wherever you feel like to take photos of the spectacular scenery – or visit places such as Goldfield Ghost Town and Canyon Lake. Going by car means you can spend as little or as long as you like exploring the Apache Trail. While the landscapes are certainly breathtaking, it is important to bear in mind that some of the roads are very narrow and overlook cliff drops. As such, not all drivers will feel comfortable driving along them.
- Another option is to take a guided tour along the Apache Trail; this means you don’t have to worry about driving along it yourself. With so many incredible views on offer, a scenic boat trip on Canyon Lake, and a stop at Goldfield’s Historic Museum all included, it is a great day out that serves as the perfect introduction to the Wild West. See trip reviews & prices.
Arizona is known as the Grand Canyon state after the magnificent natural wonder than runs through its north. The canyon is aptly named, too, since it is up to 18 miles wide and more than a mile deep in places. Almost two billion years in the making, the Colorado River, which carved out the canyon, is but a thin ribbon lying at the canyon bottom.
The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is the nearest rim to Phoenix though it is still about 4 hours driving. So it can be done in an (exhausting) day trip from Phoenix, it would probably be more enjoyable to spend the night at a South Rim hotel. Another option is to take an organized tour so you don’t have to drive yourself.
Getting to Grand Canyon
- Although it is quite a long drive to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim – at around four hours’ journey time – some of the scenery you pass is absolutely gorgeous, so you will at least get to enjoy some dramatic landscapes on the way. From Phoenix, head north on Interstate 17 and keep going until you get to Flagstaff. Here, turn off west onto Interstate 40 and take exit 165, which will take you all the way to the Grand Canyon. It’s best to start quite early if you want to make the most of your time there.
- If you want to avoid driving there yourself, you may be better off taking a guided tour; this really is one of the best ways to see as many of the Grand Canyon’s incredible sights as possible in one day. With stops at Sedona and the historic Cameron Trading Post included, it is a long, action-packed day that will leave you tired but happy – and with a camera full of amazing photos. See trip reviews & prices.
Surrounded by stunning red rock formations and national forests, Sedona is popular with outdoor enthusiasts who like to hike, bike and ride off-road vehicles through scenic terrain. Considered sacred by Native Americans, Sedona is also a place to visit to become spiritually renewed or to indulge in luxury spa treatments.
Named by USA Weekend as one of the most beautiful places in America, Sedona boasts more than 40 art galleries and a growing wine industry. Sedona is located just 115 miles (185 km) from Phoenix, making it an especially tempting day trip.
Getting to Sedona
- Driving to Sedona from Phoenix takes around two hours, and the directions couldn’t be more straightforward. Just head north out of the city center, hop on Interstate 17, and turn off once you see signs pointing to Sedona. After seeing all of its sights, you could opt to drive on to see nearby Flagstaff or head off to explore any of the fantastic forests and rock formations surrounding it.
- A lovely way to visit Sedona and see the incredible Native American ruins lying nearby is to take a guided tour that combines both into one memorable day trip. With a knowledgeable guide accompanying you, you’ll visit a number of breathtaking landscapes and learn about the area’s fascinating history, while free time allows you to explore Sedona at your leisure. See trip reviews & prices.