Top 10 Day Trips From Phoenix

Phoenix is a hub for a number of memorable day trips that allow you to explore Arizona for the day and be back to your snowbird roost by night

Phoenix is the perfect central hub for a long list of Arizona day trips—the Phoenix area makes sense as a snowbird roost as it offers plenty of RV parks, hiking, 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 enjoy the scenic beauty of Arizona, consider these day trips, one day at a time.

Sedona

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It takes roughly two hours to travel from Phoenix to Sedona, so there’s many hours in between to soak into the natural and new age aspects of lovely Sedona. Known as Red Rock Country for the colorful red rock formations that dominate the landscape, Sedona is a popular destination for photographers, nature lovers, hikers, and mountain bikers. Sedona is home to hundreds of miles of trails, some easy, some difficult, yet all loaded with magnificent views of the surrounding million year old ancient rocks.

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ah the day trip of all day trips—the magnificent Grand Canyon is on most bucket lists, and the South Rim resides 230 miles north from Phoenix. Sure, you might want to spend more time at this landmark, but it 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”.

Lost Dutchman State Park

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Named after the fabled lost gold mine, Lost Dutchman State Park is located in the Sonoran Desert, 40 miles east of downtown Phoenix. Several trails lead from the park into the Superstition Wilderness and surrounding Tonto National Forest. Take a stroll along the Native Plant Trail or hike the challenging Siphon Draw Trail to the top of the Flatiron.

Montezuma Castle National Monument

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An ancient civilization carved clever dwellings into the sturdy rock of what is now a famous monument. 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.

Prescott

Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prescott is surrounded by ponderosa pine forests and enjoys a cooler climate that’s perfect for experiencing all four seasons in the outdoors. This is a nature lover’s paradise with lots of opportunities for camping, horseback riding, fishing, kayaking, and mountain biking. Check out the downtown historic area as well as Watson Lake, the Lynx Lake Recreation Area, and Whiskey Row.

Tucson Mountain Park

Tucson Mountain Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A hefty 20,000 acres comprise this large park featuring 62 miles of hiking and biking trails. Historic sites such as old locomotives and school houses create an intriguing environment that melds with the outdoors. It takes just under two hours to get there.

Red Rock Scenic Byway

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Jerome

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located near the top of Cleopatra Hill between Prescott and Sedona is the historic copper mining town of Jerome. Once known as the wickedest town in the west, Jerome was born a copper mining camp, growing from a settlement of tents into a roaring mining community. Today Jerome is a thriving tourist and artist hub with a population of around 450 people. Jerome resides above what was once the largest copper mine in Arizona which was producing an astonishing 3 million pounds of copper per month.

Picacho Peak State Park

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors traveling along I-10 in southern Arizona can’t miss the prominent 1,500-foot peak of Picacho Peak State Park. Enjoy the view as you hike the trails that wind up the peak and, often in the spring, overlook a sea of wildflowers. Enjoy the beauty of the desert and the amazing views.

Yuma

Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About three hours away, you can drive southwest to Yuma, a popular snowbird destination with some excellent historic attractions and sand dunes for outdoor recreation. Tour Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park and then sample delicious dates at Martha’s Gardens Medjool Date Farm. You can often find fun local festivals taking place in the historic downtown area and also head over to the Imperial Sand Dunes National Recreation Area to drive ATVs up and down the dunes.

Worth Pondering…

Newcomers to Arizona are often struck by Desert Fever. Desert Fever is caused by the spectacular natural beauty and serenity of the area. Early symptoms include a burning desire to make plans for the next trip “south”. There is no apparent cure for snowbirds.

Stunning Papago Park: A World-Class Attraction

Papago Park features a wide variety of outdoor fun opportunities

Papago Park is located on the east-side of Phoenix, near the border of Tempe and South Scottsdale. The 1,200 acre park is home to “Hole in the Rock” a red rock that is distinctive to its landscape. Its massive, otherworldly sandstone buttes set Papago Park apart, even in a city and state filled with numerous world-class natural attractions.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

It is not the largest park in the city of Phoenix, a distinction that belongs to South Mountain Park. But Papago features the widest variety of outdoor fun and is home to some of the most visited attractions in the Phoenix area making it a popular destination for both residents and vacationers. 

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Papago’s desert trails are generally smooth, easy treks with little elevation gain, making it a great place for a family hike or to hone your mountain biking skills. While visitors to Papago can enjoy its extensive trail network through Sonoran Desert habitat, they can also enjoy the park’s two major residents, the Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Garden, world-class attractions that draw millions of visits each year.

Hole-in-the Rock Butte at Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

It is also home to the Arizona Historical Society Museum and Hunt’s Tomb, the tomb of George W.P. Hunt (1859-1934), Arizona’s first governor. The Papago Golf Course is also located within the park. Oh, and did we mention it’s only 10 minutes from downtown Phoenix.

Looking through the Hole-in-the-Rock at Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

But did you also know that its 1,200 acres were once known as Papago-Saguaro National Monument? Part of the homeland for the Hohokam, local tribes—the Maricopa and Akimel O’odham—and rich in petroglyphs, archaeological sites, desert plant life, and scenic qualities, this area stood out among many other spots in Phoenix for a national monument status.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

In 1914, about 1,700 acres surrounding Hole-in-the-Rock butte was designated Papago-Saguaro National Monument by President Woodrow Wilson. The intention of this was to federally protect the archaeological sites, per the Antiquities Act of 1906, as well as create a scenic area for locals and tourism.

Desert Botanical at Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Despite the lofty designation, however, Papago-Saguaro suffered from severe funding issues, something that many national park sites are still struggling with today.  Eventually, in 1930, Congress abolished Papago-Saguaro National Monument and transferred ownership to the state and local city governments.

Desert Botanical Garden at Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

During World War II, the area housed German prisoners of war from 1943 to 1946. After the war, the prisoner camp was converted to a Veterans Administration Hospital from 1947 to 1951. It became the District Headquarters for Arizona’s largest Army Reserve Unit from 1953 to 1966. In fact, today an “off-limits” portion of Papago Park is used for Arizona National Guard training.

The hole-in-the-rock is the most prominent icon in Papago Park and carries evidence that the prehistoric Hohokam Indians settled this area thousands of years ago. The red butte was created 6 to 15 million years ago and naturally formed with a series of openings caused by erosion.

Desert Botanical Garden at Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The openings and chamber (hole) near the butte’s summit are easily accessed from the rear via a smooth, but somewhat steep path. Those that trek to the chamber hole-in-the-rock are rewarded with great views across the city.

Desert Botanical Garden at Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The ancient Hohokam People noticed that a hole in the ceiling in the chamber creates a ray of light that changes positions on the chamber’s floor during the year depending upon seasonal movements of the sun. They marked the occurrence of the summer solstice by grinding a bedrock “metate slick” at the location where the ray of light falls during the day at noontime.

Desert Botanical Garden at Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The winter solstice is marked by the ray of light interaction with a natural seam in the bedrock. They also marked the equinoxes, the seasonal halfway point between the summer and winter solstices with a bedrock metate slick. The boulders near the hole-in-the-rock appear to provide other solstice and equinox markers.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

While Papagp Park may not be part of the original vision when the area become a national monument, it is an area where a portion of Phoenix’s original natural beauty still manages to flourish.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

Alone in the open desert,

I have made up songs of wild, poignant rejoicing and transcendent melancholy.

The world has seemed more beautiful to me than ever before.

I have loved the red rocks, the twisted trees, the sand blowing in the wind, the slow, sunny clouds crossing the sky, the shafts of moonlight on my bed at night.

I have seemed to be at one with the world.

—Everett Ruess

Catch Cactus League Spring Training

10 stadiums. 15 MLB teams. 75-degree temperatures.

Follow your favorite baseball teams to Arizona for Cactus League Spring Training and catch all the big league action you can handle. While you’re here, spend some time playing the Arizona outfield with all the incredible dining, shopping, outdoor activities, and incredible sights within easy driving distance of the Phoenix Metro area.

Tempe

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Tempe’s casual cool attracts those who enjoy the exciting feel of a college town. Stroll historic Mill Avenue in downtown to find great nightlife, shops, and restaurants. Explore aquariums and museums, paddleboard or kayak on Tempe Town Lake. “A” Mountain is just a few minutes away from the lake.

Desert Botanical Garden © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Or enjoy the sunshine with a hike around Papago Park, just north of “A” Mountain and Tempe Town Lake. A desert preserve Papago is home to hiking and biking trails and attractions such as Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix Zoo, Pueblo Grande Museum, and Arizona Heritage Center.

Scottsdale / Fountain Hills

Fountain Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

For the see and be seen scene, Scottsdale is the place to be. You’ll find luxurious resorts, chic nightlife, eclectic shopping, and award-winning dining, all with a splash of Southwestern charm. Scottsdale also has wonderful hikes and a booming art scene, so there’s no lack of entertainment even if you’re not a baseball buff.

Mesa

Usery Mountain Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Mesa is quickly becoming a foodie destination with its innovative, local cuisine. And when you’re not watching a game or munching goodies, swing away at one of the area’s many golf courses or explore miles of desert mountain trails in nearby Usery Mountain Regional Park, one of 13 Maricopa County Regional Parks. The spectacular desert mountain scenery here is breathtaking.

Glendale / Goodyear

Sports fans may recognize Glendale as home to Arizona’s NFL and NHL teams. This sports mecca entertainment district is like a mini urban amusement park, with restaurants, wine bars, and outlet shops.

Apache Junction

Apache Junction and the Superstition Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Apache Junction is a suburban desert community nestled in the shadows of the Superstition Mountains, It is the easternmost community in the Phoenix Metro area.  Each winter the city welcomes an estimated 35,000 snowbirds.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Named after the fabled lost gold mine, Lost Dutchman State Park is located in the Sonoran Desert, a few miles east of Apache Junction. Several trails lead from the park into the Superstition Wilderness and surrounding Tonto National Forest. Starting in Apache Junction, the Apache Trail offers magnificent views of the Superstition Mountains with forests of saguaro and several blue lakes.Visit the old-west style settlement of Tortilla Flat.

Phoenix

Phoenix is a hotspot of urban action and family fun. Head downtown to discover hip restaurants and eateries, concerts with the biggest artists and up-and-coming bands, family-friendly museums, and so much more. Or tackle an urban hike-with sweeping city views-on Camelback Mountain or South Mountain.

Peoria

Lake Pleasant Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Peoria is only about a half-hour northwest of Phoenix yet it’s flown under the radar until recently. Relaxed and family friendly, the Northwest Valley offers plenty of shopping, growing arts scene, and natural beauty. The cool blue Lake Pleasant is located in a Maricopa County regional park. The recreation area has campsites, hiking trails, boat ramps, and a Discovery Center where you can learn more about the area’s plants and wildlife.

Surprise / Litchfield Park

White Tank Mountains Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

If you’re up for a little adventure, trek through trails in the nearby White Tank Mountains. Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium & Safari Park has Arizona’s largest collection of exotic and endangered animals, with more than 600 separate species, rides, a petting zoo, and daily shows.

Wildlife World Zoo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes, or games, are created equal.
—George Will

Find Comfort and Warmth in these Snowbird Roosts

Expect a warm winter season at these popular snowbird destinations

Stop wishing winter away; ditch your wool socks, grab your sunglasses, and get ready to see a whole different side of winter in these destinations.

Suffering through a long winter season is optional. The endless summer is far more appealing—and doable in these popular winter RV destinations.

Laughlin, Nevada

Average high in February: 69 F

If your idea of a winter wonderland includes shorts weather and desert backdrops, then flap your snowbird wings and head to Laughlin. Sitting along the Colorado River, this Nevada hot spot has game rooms galore for those who get a thrill on the craps table, and endless nature for those who like to cast for striped bass and rainbow trout. No matter if you’re eyeing the buffet spreads or boating on nearby Lake Mohave, one thing is certain: Laughlin’s weather sure beats the frigid temperatures back home.

Snowbirds love to: Hike around the petroglyphs at Grapevine Canyon, and then chow down at one of the eateries in a riverside casino.

Harlingen, Texas

Average high in February: 73 F

Snowbirds are so prominent in this region that there’s a name for them: Winter Texans. Discover why they flock to the very southern tip of Texas with a visit to Harlingen, a southern city in the Rio Grande Valley. Just like people, birds migrate to this warm spot. Even in the height of winter, the mild weather affords you the opportunity to explore the Arroyo Colorado, where you can search for green jays and great kiskadees and 500 other species of birds that have been spotted in the area.

Snowbirds love to: Marvel at the masterpieces painted on the walls of downtown businesses, which are a part of the city’s beautifying Mural Project.

Phoenix, Arizona

Average high in February: 71 F

Snowbirds favor Phoenix. It’s not hard to figure out why. During the winter when the snow and rain flies up north, the Valley of the Sun offers up some of the greatest winter weather anywhere. Phoenix offers a variety of attractions that should satisfy some of the most discriminating tastes and leave some great life long memories.

One of the finest botanical gardens anywhere is in Papago Park. Home to one of the world’s largest cactus gardens, the variety of plants come from all over the world.

Snowbirds love to: Use their home base in the Phoenix area for day trips to Sedona, Prescott, the Grand Canyon, and to drive the Apache Trail.

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Average high in February: 65 F

From dancing to shopping to exploring nature, Breaux Bridge offers a variety of activities for your enjoyment. It’s where food is almost a religion. Wander the quaint downtown streets of Breaux Bridge and you’ll find yourself transported back to a time before life became hectic. Breaux Bridge is the gateway to authentic Cajun culture in south Louisiana with traditional Cajun and funky Zydeco music, world-famous cuisine, and a rich history filled with interesting stories.

Snowbirds love to: Get up close and personal with ancient mossy cypress trees, majestic bodies of water, and of course, the alligators on an airboat tour of the Atchafalaya Basin.

Apache Junction, Arizona

Average high in February: 70 F

Apache Junction is a suburban desert community nestled in the shadows of the Superstition Mountains, 1,750 feet above sea level and 35 miles directly east of Phoenix.  It is the easternmost community in the Phoenix Metropolitan area.  Each winter the city welcomes an estimated 35,000 snowbirds. Starting in Apache Junction, the Apache Trail offers magnificent views of the Superstition Mountains with forests of saguaro and several blue lakes.

Snowbirds love to: Visit the old-west style settlement of Tortilla Flat.

Worth Pondering…

Recently I ran across a few lines by Pierre de Ronsard, a 16th-century poet: “Live now, believe me wait not till tomorrow. Gather the roses of life today.” Maybe it’s time to stop dreaming about that trip you’ve always wanted to make—and just do it!