15 Best Day Trips from Phoenix
A day trip from Phoenix is the perfect way to escape the heat without spending too much money. During the four years I’ve lived in Phoenix I have taken many incredible day trips from Phoenix to lakes, national parks, and mountains. Choose from these top day trips from Phoenix and spend a day away from the endless to-do lists and errands. All of these destinations are within a 3.5 hour drive from Phoenix, so you can leave the house early, spend the day exploring, and come back in time to sleep in your comfortable bed. This list of 15 best day trips from Phoenix is organized by driving time from Phoenix from shortest to longest.
1. Lake Pleasant
Time, Distance: About 50 minutes, 43 miles
Lake pleasant is located 50 minutes northwest of Phoenix and offers a great spot to cool down during the hot Phoenix summer. Lake Pleasant has two marinas: Pleasant Harbor Marina on the southeast side and Scorpion Bay Marina on the west side. At Pleasant Harbor Marina you can find Dillon’s Bayou Restaurant as well as boat, paddle board, and kayak rentals. Scorpion Bay Marina has Scorpion Bay Grill where you can enjoy food and drinks with great views. At Scorpion Bay Marina you can also rent boats, kayaks, paddle boards and water toys such as water skis and tubes. To make sure you get the equipment you want, reserve the paddle boards, boats, and other equipment ahead of time online through the Pleasant Harbor Marina website or Scorpion Bay Marina website. If you don’t want to spend extra money on renting equpment, you can bring your own float or tube and spend the day cooling off in the water.
The best hike at Lake Pleasant is Yavupai Point Trail, a 3 mile out and back trail that offers incredible views of the lake. In the spring you will also get to see a lot of wildflowers along the path. The trail starts at the Cottonwood Day Use Area from Pipeline Canyon Trailhead North. You will start hiking on the Pipeline Canyon Trailhead and then connect to the Yavupai Point Trail when you see signs directing you left. The trail starts mainly flat and then has moderate elevation gain for views above Lake Pleasant. The incline part of the trail is very narrow and is a bit steep, so I recommend wearing hiking boots.
2. Saguaro Lake
Time, Distance: About 50 minutes, 43 miles
Saguaro Lake is a beautiful lake in Tonto National Forest, only about 45 minutes from Phoenix. Here you can find a small beach where you can relax and swim. One of the top things to do at Saguaro Lake is hike Butcher Jones Trail, a hiking trail that takes you along the lake with incredible views the whole way. This 5 mile trail is moderate, with only slight elevation gain. Make sure to continue to Burro Cove where you can find beautiful views of the lake with Four Peaks Mountains in the background.
Fees: You can purchase a Tonto Daily Pass for $12 at a kiosk in the parking lot of the recreation area. Tonto Discovery Passes, annual passes to Tonto National Forest, are also accepted. America the Beautiful annual passes are only accepted at the picnic sites.
3. Superstition Mountains
Time, Distance: About 1 hour, 50 miles to Peralta Trail from Phoenix
The Superstition Mountains are a mountain range east of Phoenix that go up to as high as 6,000 ft. The Superstitions have countless hiking trails, with trails ranging from two miles to several days of hiking. Some of the best hikes in the Superstition Mountains include Peralta Trail (5.8 miles), Hieroglyphic Trail (2.8 miles), Wave Cave Trail (3 miles), and Dutchman and Bluff Springs Loop (9.5 miles). Since some of the trails are very long you can always do a part of the trail and turn around when you are tired. I recommend wearing hiking boots while hiking in the Superstitions for better traction and ankle support. The trails are often sandy and you don’t want to slip.
4. Canyon Lake
Time, Distance: About 1 hour, 50 miles
Canyon Lake is a picturesque lake in Tonto National Forest. One of the highlights of visiting Canyon Lake is the curvy road to the lake through the hills in Tonto National Forest. On your way down to the lake make sure to stop at the several viewpoints. One of the best hikes near Phoenix, Boulder Canyon Trail starts across from the Canyon Lake Marina. This is a beautiful hike that takes you up to a great view of the lake and then towards the Superstition Mountains and a view of Weavers Needle. This hike is long, but you don’t have to complete the entire hike and the beginning is the best part.
If you want to spend the day on the water you can bring a float or tube with you and go down into the many swimming areas. Another fun activity at Canyon Lake is paddle boarding. You can rent a paddle board in the valley from No Snow SUP or Redline Rentals and strap it to your car to bring it to Canyon Lake. A nice place to paddle board in Canyon Lake is into La Barge Creek. If you get hungry you can stop at Well Done Grill which is located at the Canyon Lake Marina.
Note: You need a Tonto National Forest pass in most of the parking lots at Canyon Lake, but you don’t need this pass if you park at the main Canyon Lake Marina. You can get a Tonto Pass at most pharmacies and gas stations in the valley, so if you intend on parking in a lot that is not at the Canyon Lake Marina make sure to get one before you pass Apache Junction.
5. Bartlett Lake
Time, Distance: About 1 hour 20 minutes, 57 miles
Barlett Lake is a great day trip from Phoenix if you want to paddle board or relax on the lake but don’t want to deal with the crowds at Lake Pleasant. This lake is smaller than Lake Pleasant but is still really nice. You can rent paddle boards or kayaks from Go Stand Up Paddle at Bartlett Lake Marina. To make sure they have paddle boards available, I recommend reserving ahead of time. If you prefer to rent a boat or a jet ski you can do so at the Bartlett Lake Marina and reserve online ahead of time. You can find The Last Stop Bar and Grill near the Marina if you are hungry after a fun day at the lake.
6. Cottonwood and Cornville Wine Tasting
Time, Distance: About 1 hour 40 minutes, 104 miles
There are vineyards in Arizona? I know, I was surprised too. One of the wine regions in Arizona, Verde Valley Wine Trial, is actually located less than 2 hours from Phoenix and is one of the best day trips from Phoenix. You can visit these wineries all year, but if you would like to see the vineyards when there are still grapes on the vines I recommend going in late summer or early fall. Cottonwood and Cornville are at a higher elevation than Phoenix so it is a bit cooler which makes it a great day trip to escape the heat. In Cornville you can find Oak Creek Vineyards, Page Springs Cellars, Javelina Leap, and DA Ranch. The vineyards in Cornville grow some of their grape varieties here. Oak Creek Vineyards has a great Groupon for wine tasting which also gives you a free wine glass to take home.
If you are looking for more wine tasting opportunities, located along Main St in Cottonwood you can find several wineries including Arizona Stronghold Vineyards, Merkin Vineyards Osteria, Winery 101, Tantrum Wines, Carlson Creek Winery, Pillsbury Wine Company, and Burning Tree Cellars. Most of these wineries have vineyards in southeast Arizona near Wilcox, but offer great wineries to taste their delicious wine in Cottonwood. Arizona Stronghold Vineyards offers an amazing Groupon for wine tasting, a cheese plate, and wine glasses. While you are in Cottonwood don’t miss Pizzeria Bocce which has tasty pizza and a great atmosphere and service.
Time, Distance: About 1 hour 45 minutes, 103 miles
Prescott is a city located at 5,367 foot elevation which means cooler weather and a perfect day trip from Phoenix to get away from the heat. Prescott National Forest provides numerous hiking trails with waterfalls and great views. Popular trails in Prescott include Thumb Butte Trail, Spruce Mountain Trail and Granite Mountain Trail.
In Prescott you can also find the popular Watson Lake, a reservoir with granite rocks in and around the lake. Swimming is prohibited in Watson Lake but you can kayak, boat and hike. I recommend hiking around the lake on Watson Lake and Flume Trail which is a 4.5 mile loop around the lake. This hike will take you along the lake for part of the hike and then over and beyond the granite rocks. Note that there is a $3 fee to park.
After hiking you can spend time exploring the streets of downtown Prescott and choose a spot to eat from the several local restaurants.
8. Catalina State Park
Time, Distance: About 1 hour 45 minutes, 109 miles
Catalina State Park is located in Tucson beneath the Santa Catalina Mountains. The state park offers countless trails where you can hike or bike. The trails have a large range of difficulty and length from a 0.75 mile loop to a 18 miles round trip hike. I recommend hiking Romero Canyon Trail to Romero Pools. This trail is 5.5 miles out and back to the pools and offers incredible views. The trail starts flat the first mile and then has steeper incline. Note that Catalina State Park has a $7 fee per vehicle.
9. Roosevelt Lake
Time, Distance: About 1 hour 50 minutes, 108 miles
Roosevelt Lake is a reservoir formed by the Theodore Roosevelt Dam on the Salt River. Roosevelt Lake offers one of the best day trips from Phoenix where you can boat, kayak, fish and hike. Roosevelt Lake Marina has boat rentals and kayak rentals. When you get to Roosevelt Lake make sure to check out the Theodore Roosevelt Dam by driving right onto Apache Trail road to the viewpoint of the dam. If you get hungry there is one restaurant at Roosevelt Lake right near the Marina called F FINCH’S Waterfront Kitchen and Bar.
The best hike at Roosevelt Lake is Arizona Trail starting from Vineyard Trailhead. This part of the Arizona Trail has great views of Roosevelt Lake. The first part of the trail is a very steep climb up, but any amount of the trail that you are able to climb up will be worth it. I recommend wearing hiking boots for this hike as it is steep and you don’t want to slip.
10. Saguaro National Park
Time, Distance: About 1 hour 50 minutes, 110 miles
Saguaro National Park is one of the three national parks in Arizona. There are two parts of Saguaro National Park, the Rincon Mountain District is located east of Tucson, and Tucson Mountain District is located west of Tucson. Each part of the park has a visitor center where you can get more information regarding the hiking trails and find a water fountain and restrooms. Some of the hiking trails you can find on the east side include Loma Verde Loop (3.8 miles), Hope Camp and Ridgeview Trail (2 miles), and Garwood Dam and Wildhorse Tank (6.4 miles). For more ideas on which hikes to do, you can check the Saguaro National Park website or ask at the visitor center. Since it is a national park, there is a $20 fee per vehicle or you can use your America the Beautiful annual national park pass.
11. Jerome Ghost Town
Time, Distance: About 2 hours, 110 miles
About 2 hours north of Phoenix you can find Jerome, an old copper mining town. Jerome is located on top of Cleopatra Hill overlooking Verde Valley which is at 5,000 ft elevation. Since Jerome is cooler due to the elevation, it is a great day trip from Phoenix to get away from the heat. Jerome is known as a ghost town, as it had 15,000 residents at its peak in the 1920s, and in the 1950s the population dropped to less than 100. Today Jerome has a population of about 450. Jerome is an interesting day trip from Phoenix to learn more about the history of mining in this area, visit galleries, shop, and go wine tasting. To learn more about Jerome and start planning your day trip, continue to our guide for the best things to do in Jerome in one day.
Time, Distance: About 2 hours, 120 miles
Sedona’s red rock scenery makes for one of the best day trips from Phoenix and one of the top destinations in Arizona. Spend time hiking and enjoying the views of this magical place. Some of the best trails in Sedona include Soldier Pass Trial, Broken Arrow, Devil’s Bridge, and Bear Mountain. To help you choose a hiking trail, continue reading our best hikes in Sedona article. After hiking, visit uptown Sedona and Tlaquepaque Arts and Shopping village to explore the shops and restaurants.
Tip: Try to do your day trip to Sedona on a Saturday instead of a Sunday so that you don’t get stuck in traffic Sunday night with everyone returning from their weekend trips up north. If you do decide to stay longer, check out this Sedona weekend itinerary to help plan your trip.
13. Mogollon Rim, Payson
Time, Distance: About 2 hours, 120 miles
The Mogollon Rim extends approximately 200 miles and forms the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau. Here you can find many beautiful hikes and it is significantly cooler than Phoenix so it is a great day trip to escape the Phoenix heat. Some of the best hikes in the Mogollon Rim include Horton Creek Trail (8.5 miles), Derrick Trial (5.7 miles), and Tunnel Via Arizona Trail (4.5 miles). Tunnel Via Arizona Trail is a nice hike along East Verde River that is mostly covered by trees. The trail takes you up to a man-made tunnel that was formed by an abandoned railway construction project. Next to the tunnel you are also rewarded by a beautiful view and a great change of scenery from the Phoenix desert. This part of the Arizona Trail starts from GPS coordinates (34.43004,-111.26057).
14. Mount Lemmon
Time, Distance: About 2 hours 50 minutes to the top, 154 miles
Mount Lemmon is a peak with 9,159 ft elevation, the highest summit in the Santa Catalina Mountains. The 27 mile scenic byway that takes you to the top of the mountain is one of the highlights of visiting Mount Lemmon. Throughout the drive up you witness the temperatures drop and the plant life change drastically, from Saguaro cacti at the bottom to a forest of trees as you continue driving up the mountain. If you feel like extending your trip, there are a few campsites you can choose from to stay the night including Spencer Canyon and Rose Canyon. In the summer the temperature at the top of the mountain is about 30 degrees cooler than Phoenix, which is a perfect temperature for hiking. One of the best hikes at Mount Lemmon is Box Camp Trail, a 5 mile hike through a forest of pines that takes you to a nice viewpoint. I recommend turning around once you get to the viewpoint over the desert, since this is when the hike gets more difficult and there is no more shade.
15. Petrified Forest National Park
Time, Distance: About 3 hours 30 minutes, 200 miles
Petrified Forest National Park is one of the best day trips from Phoenix. This national park is one of the most unique places in Arizona. The landscape here was shaped by wind and water, leading to all the natural wonders that we see today. This national park has the largest deposits of petrified wood in the world. You can see some of the largest petrified logs in the park along the Giant Logs Trail. To learn more about Petrified Forest National Park and start planning your day trip there, continue to our guide: best things to do in Petrified Forest National Park in one day.
Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links for products and services I recommend. At no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
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