Best Day Trips from Phoenix for Exploring Arizona’s Deserts, History and Wine

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Sunset in a stand of saguaro cactus in Arizona
The saguaro cactus is the symbol of Arizona and only grows in the southwestern state and portions of the state of Sonora, Mexico. Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll

When staying in Phoenix, Arizona, what do people say is the best day trip for a change of scenery?

“Sedona,” said Michelle.

“Sedona,” seconded Elaina.

“Sedona,” said Shelly.

“Jerome,” countered Paula. “Where else can you get a hamburger in a brothel with a ghost?”

Within a couple of hours of Arizona’s largest city, there are dramatic changes in scenery, places to see, and things to do that make for the best day trips and great escapes into the mountains, the Arizona-Sonora Desert, and the heart of the USA Southwest. Pack your sunscreen.

There is much to see and do on a one-day road trip from Phoenix. To keep driving time to less than visiting time, this article looks at what’s possible within a two-hour to three-hour drive from the Valley of the Sun, emphasizing northern Arizona and the day trips north of Phoenix.

Arizona Tourism is your best travel guide source for day trip information throughout the state to find your ideal day trip getaway. Travel times are from downtown Phoenix, so add about 30 minutes if coming from Scottsdale or Tempe. Arizona’s climate means you can day trip to these areas year-round.

Sedona red rock formations, one of the reasons to make a day trip from Phoenix.
Sedona is the introduction to Arizona’s red rock country. Located where the Mogollon Rim hits transitions to the Colorado Plateau, its iron-laced sandstone buttes stir the imagination. Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll

Five Reasons to Day Trip to Sedona

The magic of Sedona’s red rock country is two hours north of Phoenix to Exit 298 on Interstate 17, Arizona Route 179. The city of Sedona sits at the foot of the Coconino National Forest where the landscape climbs the Mogollon Rim onto the Colorado Plateau.

Red Rock Scenery:  The iconic red rock formations weather-carved from the edge of the Colorado Plateau create stunning views and pictures with shimmering contrasts of the iron-rich orange-red sandstone and the dark evergreen vegetation of the Mogollon Rim.

Hiking and Outdoor Adventure: The back roads from Sedona are crisscrossed with hiking trails for all skill levels. Trails like the Cathedral Rock Trail, Devil’s Bridge, and the West Fork Oak Creek Trail offer varying difficulty levels with rewarding scenery. There are many cliffs, challenging climbers and scramblers. Mountain biking is a very popular attraction. Sedona is one of Arizona’s top cycling and outdoor enthusiasts’ mecca for its trails and natural wonders.

Spiritual wellness: Sedona is reputed for its mystical vortexes, hidden but findable labyrinths, and shops selling well-charged crystals, organic and natural life enhancements, and spiritual advice. Local guides can direct visitors to energy-charged fields to promote healing and rejuvenation.

Art and Culture: Sedona is one of the anchor artist colonies in Arizona. Galleries line the city’s streets and the neighboring Village of Oak Creek. The Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village is a beautiful shopping area of boutiques designed in a traditional Mexican village style. It is home to art galleries, craft shops, and restaurants.

Jeep Tours and Adventure: For those looking for an adrenaline rush, Sedona’s rugged terrain is perfect for a guided tour off-roading adventure. Several companies offer guided Jeep tours, allowing you to explore the stunning landscape from a unique perspective.

Facades of buildings in Jerome, an Arizona ghost town located north of Phoenix.
Filled with ghostly buildings and many ghosts. The Wickedest Town In The West, Jerome is also America’s largest ghost town. Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll

Five Reasons to Day Trip to Jerome

Known as America’s largest ghost town, the Jerome mining town clings to the edge of Cleopatra Mountain overlooking the now abandoned copper mine that gave it life. According to locals, the ghosts of miners, gamblers, ladies of the night, and criminals haunt its historic buildings and town streets. Several of the local hotels have ghost tours. Less than two hours from Downtown Phoenix, take I-17 to Exit 287, State Route 260 West through Cottonwood, and then S.R. 89A south into Jerome from Clarkdale.

Rich Mining History: Once known as the “Wickedest Town in the West,” Jerome was a booming copper mining town. Today, visitors can explore this history by visiting the Jerome State Historic Park, home to the Douglas Mansion, which has been turned into a museum. You can also tour the Gold King Mine and Ghost Town, showcasing mining equipment and historical buildings.

Stunning Views: Jerome offers breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape, including the Verde Valley and the distant red rocks of Sedona. The town’s elevation provides panoramic vistas that will captivate photographers and nature enthusiasts alike.

Unique Art Scene: Sometimes called “Sedona Light,” Jerome is a haven for artists and musicians. Numerous art galleries, studios, and shops featuring local artists’ works are scattered along the town’s winding and hilly streets.

Haunted Locations: Jerome is renowned for its ghostly legends, and several establishments capitalize on this eerie reputation. The Jerome Grand Hotel, formerly a hospital, is famous for its reported hauntings, and ghost tours are offered in town for those interested in the supernatural side of Jerome’s history. The Asylum is now a fine dining restaurant. The old brothel in the city serves excellent burgers.

Wine Tasting: The Verde Valley, above which Jerome is located, is recognized for its wineries. Jerome itself has tasting rooms where you can sample local Arizona wines. It’s possible to sample many valley wines and then head down the hill to new favorite wineries to see the vines.

Read More: Head North of Phoenix to Sip AZ’s Verde Valley Wine Trail

The famous corner in Winslow Arizona, a popular day trip destination from Phoenix.
More than a million people annually come to stand on the corner in Winslow, Arizona, a location made famous by the Eagles’ first hit song, “Take It Easy.” Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll

Five Reasons to Day Trip to the Corner in Winslow and Petrified Forest National Park

It’s a little further from Phoenix than Sedona, but “take it easy” on the three-hour drive from Phoenix to Winslow and take 30 to stand on the corner from the famous Eagles’ song, “Take It Easy.” More than a million people a year come to stand on the corner and sing, “I’m standin’ on the corner in Winslow, Arizona; what a fine sight to see. It’s a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford slowin’ down to take a look at me.”

From Downtown Phoenix, take S.R. 51 freeway north to Shea Boulevard, then east 11 miles to the Beeline Highway, S.R. 87, and stay on the Beeline into Winslow.

The Corner in Winslow: Standin’ on the Corner Park is an Arizona tourist photo dreamscape. Located on the corner of Historic Route 66 eastbound (Second Street) and North Kinsley Avenue, a giant Route 66 road shield is embedded in the pavement aimed at a statue of the late Glen Frey and his guitar. The bronze statue stands before a two-story mural depicting the lyrics and next to a bright red flatbed Ford.

Meteor Crater: West of Winslow is the world-famous meteor crater. Featured in movies and used by NASA for moon astronaut training, Meteor Crater has an overlook visitor center and trails into the crater’s depths. The massive crater was created 50 thousand years ago when a 150-foot meteorite crashed into the ground. The crater is more than a kilometer but less than a mile in diameter and 700 feet deep.

La Posada Hotel and Turquoise Room Restaurant: The long drive from Phoenix whets appetites, and the Turquoise Room offers fine dining with southwestern and indigenous flavors. It’s located in La Posada, one of the historic hotels of America. La Posada is part of the Amtrak train station today. The Fred Harvey Company built it to serve the Santa Fe passenger trains heading to the Grand Canyon.

Petrified Forest National Park and the Painted Desert: The two-parks-in-one is a drive-through national park spanning from I-40 on the north to U.S. 180 on the south. Looping through the park passes easy-access overlooks of the Painted Desert in the north and short walks to see hundreds of petrified wood stumps set in colorful terrain.

Homlovi State Park: While many Europeans still lived in mud hovels, the indigenous people of Arizona were building massive pueblos, villages of stone, adobe brick, and apartments. One such site is Homlovi State Park and its archeological sites. It’s located just north of I-40 Exit 257 on the east side of Winslow.

Read More: Why Arcosanti is a Great Destination to Visit in Central Arizona

grapevines in a vineyard outside of Phoenix
Arizona has several different wine regions within an easy day trip of Phoenix. Image provided by Visit Arizona.

Five Regions to Day Trip for Wine Tasting

Who needs five reasons to visit the wineries surrounding Phoenix? There are five regions in Arizona where wine grapes are beginning to make a name for the state. Visit Arizona has a Beginners Guide to Arizona Wines available for downloading.

Verde Valley: Located north of Phoenix off I-17 between Camp Verde and Cornville, this area is home to several vineyards and wineries. Wineries include Alcantara Vineyards, Page Springs Cellars, and Javelina Leap Vineyard & Winery. It’s about 90 minutes to Camp Verde to start the tasting excursion.

Prescott: Though less widely recognized than a wine destination, Prescott has some local wineries, including Granite Creek Vineyards. There is an online guide to places to try local wines and wineries to visit. Prescott is a little over 90 minutes from Phoenix. Exit I-17 at S.R. 69.

Cottonwood and Clarkdale: Cottonwood and Clarkdale are heading to Jerome off S.R. 260 from I-17 at Camp Verde. The area hosts a collection of wineries and tasting rooms, including Arizona Stronghold Vineyards and Pillsbury Wine Company. Pillsbury is the best-known Arizona winery.

Willcox Wine Country: Situated southeast of Phoenix and east of Tucson off I-10, Willcox is a growing wine region. It’s about a three-hour drive from Phoenix. Some wineries in this area include Carlson Creek Vineyard, Coronado Vineyards, and Zarpara Vineyard. There are also a couple of local microbreweries.

Sonoita and Elgin: The Sonoita and Elgin area is south of Tucson and about two-and-a-half hours south of Phoenix, off I-10 and I-19. The site is known for its high-elevation vineyards. Some of the wineries in this region include Sonoita Vineyards, Callaghan Vineyards, and Dos Cabezas WineWorks. There is even a Sonoita Wine Trail to follow.

Costumed guide ready to take visitors on a tour in Prescott AZ
Costumed (or not) docents in Prescott will take visitors on walking history tours. Image provided by Visit Arizona.

Five Reasons to Day Trip to Prescott

Prescott was Arizona’s first territorial capital fueling a vibrant history for the wild West small town about 90 minutes north of Phoenix on S.R. 69.

Whiskey Row: One of the most famous areas in Prescott, Whiskey Row, is filled with saloons, restaurants, galleries, and shops. Located on Montezuma Street, it harkens back to the Wild West era and offers a lively atmosphere. It’s a great place to explore local culture, try local cuisine, and enjoy live music.

Outdoor Adventures: Surrounded by beautiful landscapes, Prescott offers various outdoor activities. The area’s natural beauty is abundant, from kayaking on Watson Lake to hiking in the Prescott National Forest. The Granite Dells provide unusual rock formations and stunning views, making for a great hiking or biking destination.

Prescott Courthouse Square: The historic courthouse square is a community gathering place filled with gardens and monuments and often hosts events and festivals. It’s a great place to walk, relax, and soak in the small-town charm of Prescott. If you visit during Christmas, you might catch the square beautifully lit with holiday lights.

Museums and History: Prescott has a rich history and heritage, and there are several museums to explore this aspect of the city. The Sharlot Hall Museum is an open-air museum that glimpses 19th-century pioneer life. The Phippen Museum showcases Western art, and the Smoki Museum offers insights into Native American culture.

Climate and Scenery: Prescott’s mild climate makes it an excellent destination year-round. The city is situated at an elevation that allows for cooler temperatures in the summer compared to other parts of Arizona, making it a nice escape. The scenic views of mountains, lakes, and forests create a calming and refreshing environment, perfect for a relaxing day trip. Watson Lake and its unique rock formations are a destination for standup paddleboarding and kayaking.

Tuzigoot National Monument is a great day trip destination from Phoenix
Tuzigoot National Monument features a hilltop ancestral pueblo which visitors can explore. Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll

Five National Monuments and State Parks to See on Day Trips

Although there are nine national monuments between Phoenix and the south rim of Grand Canyon National Park, five are easy day trips that can be tagged onto any other day trips out of the Valley of the Sun.

Montezuma’s Castle and Well National Monuments

This cliff dwelling was misnamed for the ruler, Montezuma. The Aztec emperor and his people never wandered into the Sinagua people’s territory of northern Arizona—the cliff dwelling, located just off I-17 Exit 289, Middle Verde Road. Montezuma’s Well, a unique geological formation containing thousands of years of water, is just up the road at Exit 293, east on East Beaver Creek Road.

Tuzigoot National Monument

While Montezuma’s castle can be viewed, the ancestral pueblo between Cottonwood and Clarkdale wineries lets you wander around in the ancient hilltop village. Watch your head inside the pueblo; the Sinagua people were not nearly as tall as we are today.

Walnut Canyon National Monument: East of Flagstaff off Interstate 40 Exit 204 at Winona (“Don’t forget about Winona,” sings Get Your Kicks on Route 66), Walnut Canyon National Monument features a winding trail down the side of the canyon to cliff dwellings nestled into nooks in the canyon wall. You can go into more than a dozen small dwellings and look across the canyon at dozens more from this bustling ancient village. Nearby are Sunrise Crater and Wupatki national monuments, a dead volcano, and remnants of another Sinagua village.

Salt River

East of Phoenix past the Superstition Mountains, it’s not an official park; the upper Salt River in the Tonto National Forest has tubing, kayaks, canoes, and floats in the cool waters of the river. In that same general area, Tortilla Flats, the remnants of an old mining community, has been a long-loved dive for dining, shopping, and ice cream off the Apache Trail.

Slide Rock State Park

Packed in the summer, Slide Rock offers cool swimming, slipper sandstone waterslides from the natural rock formations, and lots of red rock. There are picnic areas, but most people pack in the picnic to the edge of the gurgling waters flowing from Oak Creek Canyon.

Empty stretch of highway with Monument Valley in the background, a great day trip destination from Phoenix.
U.S. 163 north of Monument Valley, Arizona. Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll

Southern Arizona: Longer Day Trips if You’ve Got the Time

If three- to four-hour drives are on the agenda, heading to Tucson and Southern Arizona adds even more possibilities.

In Tucson, you’ll find an incredible forest of saguaro cactus; the tall, arm-filled cactus symbolizing the desert only grows in Arizona. Visiting Saguaro National Park or the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum are good ways to learn about the desert landscape.

There’s wine country near Willcox, about an hour east of Tucson on I-10, with its new appellation designation and a couple of very good breweries.

South of Tucson, a visit to Tombstone, the town too tough to die, lets you wander through the Boot Hill Cemetery, learn about Wyatt Earp, his brother, and Doc Holladay, and see the original O.K. Corral.

On the way, although you need reservations, you can spend nearly half a day in Kartchner Caverns State Park. One of the largest caverns in the nation, the tours can run for several hours.

A travel writer and photographer in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S., Eric Jay Toll has been writing for She Buys Travel from its earliest days. Specializing in the American West and outdoor adventures, Eric also treks in Mexico and Canada, and forays into Europe. He lives with his dog, Chaco, who occasionally joins road trips and camp outs, but tends to be a Downtown Diva.
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