From hidden waterfalls to hoodoos, snow-capped peaks, lush caves, grasslands, botanical gardens, and red-rocks, Arizona has it all!
While it can seem daunting to try to see all of the natural wonders Arizona has to offer, I am here to say that you can do it without using precious vacation time or driving more than 8 hours in a day. If you’re interested in 10 adventurous day trips from Phoenix, keep reading!
Since I work a demanding full-time job (with limited PTO) and am in graduate school, I do my best to maximize the adventures I go on. Since taking time off work or driving more than 5 hours one way to a destination doesn’t always fit my schedule, I try to take as many adventurous day trips from my home in Phoenix as possible.
Listed by driving time (one way), here are 11 adventurous day trips from Phoenix that will have you home by dinner time.
>> Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.
Hang out on the Salt River - 30 min
While I love to kayak the Salt River, sometimes it’s nice to head there to hang out on the shore (especially during the brutal Arizona summers)! My two favorite spots to park for a day by the river are Coon Bluff and Phon D. Sutton. Get there early to secure a spot, pack a picnic lunch, wear your swimsuit, and enjoy a lazy day by the water. Please be sure to pack out your trash with you!
Explore Boyce Thompson Arboretum - 1 hr
Nestled in Superior, Boyce Thompson is the largest and oldest botanical garden in Arizona! If you are a plant lover, you have to visit Boyce Thompson. There are over 343 acres of diverse landscapes with over 3,900 different species of plants with an emphasis on desert plants from all around the world.
There are 4.75 miles of hiking trails that wind through the property and even though I’ve visited twice, there is so much to see, I would go again! I highly recommend taking the free guided walking tour to get a full history of this magical place hidden in the Sonoran Desert.
General admission is $15 and children’s admission is $5. Learn more here!
See Saguaro National Park - 1 hr 34 min
Isn’t it crazy that there’s a National Park just an hour and a half from Phoenix?! There are two sections of the park located on either side of Tucson and from what I’ve seen, both are equally gorgeous. When visiting, you can check out one of their dozens of hiking trails or stay in your car for a scenic drive.
It gets HOT in the summer so the best time to visit is November – April. I went in April and the park was filled with gorgeous cacti blooms!
There is a fee to get into the National Park (or you can use your America the Beautiful Pass)!
Kayak in Prescott - 1 hr 43 min
Did you know there’s a stunning lake hidden in Prescott? Surrounded by stunning granite dells, Watson Lake is must-visit for kayakers and day trippers! The best part is you don’t need to have a kayak – they offer rentals.
The lake is relatively small and doesn’t allow motorized boats to go more than 5 mph so it’s a great place for kayak beginners.
I would recommend bringing a picnic lunch on your paddle and parking your kayak at one of the hundreds of rock formations for a quick hike to picnic at the top. Trust me, the aerial view of the lake is incredible!
Check out 6 more kayaking day trips from Phoenix here.
Hike Tonto Natural Bridge - 1 hr 50 min
Just north of Payson is an Arizona State Park named for Tonto Natural Bridge, which is believed to be the largest natural formation of limestone in the world! There are several short hikes to take you near the bridge that feature a waterfall, steep canyon walls, and a beautiful sparkling pool… some parts of the hike even feel like you are in a tropical jungle!
Tonto Natural Bridge is truly special and should absolutely be on your list of adventurous day trips from Phoenix.
There is a fee to enter the State Park.
Hang out in Sedona - 1 hr 56 min
Every time I make the trip two hours north, I am struck by how lucky I am to live within a driving distance of one of the most beautiful places on earth. One of the best parts about Sedona is its mild climate, which means it’s great to visit all year round!
Brimming with red-rock buttes, pine forests, vortexes, and cool pools, Sedona is my favorite place to spend a day. There is SO MUCH to do in Sedona! You could take a Pink Jeep Tour, explore some underrated hiking trails, hang out by Oak Creek, eat some excellent Mexican Food, go in a hot air balloon, etc… there are endless things to do in Sedona!
I love Sedona so much, I even got married there!
HIKE FOSSIL CREEK - 2 HR 32 MIN
Fossil Creek is just about the best Arizona has to offer! Featuring stunning waterfalls, secluded swimming pools, and a hidden cave the hike in is well worth it. Since this place is so beautiful, it is popular! Be sure to get up early for the hike and pack out your trash.
The trailhead to this gorgeous waterfall hike is located 22 miles southeast of Camp Verde and a permit is required April 1 – October 1.
Experience Bearizona - 2 hr 34 min
Bearizona Wildlife Park is a drive-thru experience in Williams that features bears, wolves, goats, jaguars, and more on 160 acres! Visitors have the option to drive through more than three miles of forest to view the animals in their natural habitats or walk through a 20-acre exhibit, which is more like a zoo.
This is a great adventurous day trip for those with kids and animal lovers alike! Tickets are available on their website.
Explore Mount Lemmon - 2 hr 51 min
This adventurous day trip from Phoenix takes you south to the gorgeous Santa Catalina Mountains. With an elevation of 9,159, Mount Lemmon is an excellent place to beat the summer heat of the Valley. You can ski in the winter and in the summer enjoy the mountain’s hiking trails, try your hand at fishing or even rock climb.
The drive to Mount Lemmon’s peak is worth a trip by itself. Since the route gains over 6,000 feet of elevation, the landscape changes dramatically – it’s like driving from Mexico to Canada in just the span of an hour. When you get to the town of Summerhaven, be sure to stop for some homemade fudge!
Hike Inner Basin Trailhead in Flagstaff - 2 hr 53 min
While there are a ton of awesome things to do in Flagstaff, my number one recommendation is to hike Inner Basin Trail! Famous for its glorious aspen groves, this 5-mile hike is accessible May – October, but October is by far the best time to go to see the aspen trees turn golden.
Inner Basin trail is busiest on the weekends so be sure to leave early to snag a spot at the trailhead! If you have some extra time, I recommend continuing the drive up Mt. Humphrey – it’s gorgeous!
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I hope I gave you some ideas for your next adventurous day trip from Phoenix! If there are some places that I forgot to add to my list, let me know in the comments below!