Tucson is ideally located for exploring southern Arizona and there are at least a dozen or more interesting towns, national parks and historic sites within a 90 minute drive of the city. Arizona’s history of mineral mining means that you can spend a day or two exploring some of the regions historic mining towns like Tombstone, Bisbee and Globe. The outstanding year-round weather in the Sonora Desert offers unlimited opportunities for getting back to nature in wilderness areas like Patagonia Lake, Chiricahua National Monument and Saguaro National Park. For a taste of the arts you need to visit Tubac while wine lovers will want to explore the Arizona winelands near Sonoita. Cities like Phoenix and Scottsdale offer great shopping, dining and cultural attractions.
Located in the Mule Mountains, Bisbee was once the site of a gold and copper “rush” when rich mineral deposits were discovered around 1877. Soon the town of Bisbee became known as the “Queen of the Copper Camps” and for many years large quantities of gold, copper and silver were extracted. When you visit Bisbee today you can go on the popular Copper Queen Mine Tour, deep into the heart of the old mine. Other historic attractions include the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum, the Bisbee Restoration Museum and Mulheim Museum Heritage House. There are several guided tours on offer including the spirited Old Bisbee Ghost Tour. The tour also offers interesting shops, galleries and dining.
Bisbee, AZ 85603
2.ASARCO Mineral Discovery Center
You can find out all you ever wanted to know about copper and the vital part it plays in our lives on a day trip to the ASARCO Mineral Discovery Center in Sahuarita. The tour of this working copper mine is both fun and informative for all ages and you will get to see the enormous mining trucks working away in a gigantic 1,300-foot-deep mine. On arrival you can watch a short presentation in the admission building before boarding an air-conditioned coach to tour the mine. You can also view several mining exhibits and browse the well-stocked gift shop. Do check their schedule before you visit – from May to September the tours are only offered on a Saturday.
ASARCO Mineral Discovery Center, 1421 W Pima Mine Rd, Sahuarita, AZ 85629, Phone: 520-625-7513
Named by Time Life Books as one of the "50 Must-See Wonders of the World", Biosphere 2 is a must on your list of day trips from Tucson. You will find Biosphere 2 located at the base of the Catalina Mountains, where it is situated on an elevated ridge surrounded by natural desert landscape. Owned and operated by the University of Arizona, B2 is a unique research facility which offers a remarkable insight into the future of planet Earth. The amazing Under the Glass Tour is offered several times daily between 10am and 4pm. Other specialty tours include the Family Tour, History Tour and the Ocean and Beach Tour, all of which are on offer every weekend.
University of Arizona Biosphere 2, 32540 S. Biosphere Rd, Oracles, AZ 85623, Phone: 520-621-4800
For an Arizona day trip with a distinct Western vibe, Cave Creek perfectly fits the bill. Located in the north-eastern part of the Greater Phoenix Area, Cave Creek is both quirky and cool. Here you can find motorcyclists and cowboys sharing the main road, which is lined with animal-feed stores alongside up-market interior shops, boutiques and saloons. You can learn about the early days of Cave Creek at the Cave Creek Museum or enjoy the lively bull-riding and two-stepping at one of the town’s saloons. If you fancy some outdoor recreations you can go hiking at Spur Cross or go horseback riding at one of several riding stables.
Cave Creek, AZ 85331
5.Chiricahua National Monument
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Day trippers who are willing to drive the extra mile (37 miles off State Highway 186, to be exact) will be rewarded by an unexpectedly good day out in Chiricahua National Monument. Here, surrounded by an other-worldly landscape of towering stone pinnacles and balancing rocks, you can enjoy a variety of outdoor activities including wildlife watching, walking, hiking, horse-back riding and camping. If you prefer to take it all in from the comfort of your car or RV you can take a scenic drive through the monument. There are hiking trails to suit all levels of fitness, and a complimentary shuttle runs from the Visitor’s Center (September to May) to the two major trailheads. Ranger-guided tours are available.
Chiricahua National Monument, E Bonita Canyon Rd, Willcox, AZ 85643, Phone: 520-824-3560
6.Colossal Cave Mountain Park
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The Colossal Cave Mountain Park is conveniently located around 40 minutes from Tucson, where it provides an ideal day-trip or overnight adventure for all ages. Although the Colossal Cave is the main draw-card, the park also offers well-maintained trails for hiking, mountain biking and horse-back riding as well as guided trail rides and a petting zoo at the La Posta Quemada Ranch. There is a choice of guided cave tours available; the Classic Cave Tour takes around 50 – 60 minutes and is suitable for most visitors who can manage some steps. The Ladder Cave Tour is for more adventurous cave explorers and the Wild Cave Tour is strictly for dare-devils. There is also a Toddler Time Tour for families with young children.
Colossal Cave Mountain Park, 1672 E Old Spanish Trail, Vail, AZ 85641, Phone: 520-647-7275
The sleepy little town of Dragoon is located off Interstate 10, roughly 17 miles northeast of Benson. Although this is a very small town it has the distinction of occupying the dramatic landscape of the Texas Canyon, where rocky crags and buttes hide ancient petrogylphs and pictographs. The area offers hikers a network of interesting and very scenic trails including the Cochise Indian Trail, which also offers exceptional bird watching. No visit to Dragoon could be considered complete without spending some time in the unique Amerind Museum which showcases an impressive collection of American Indian art and artifacts. Before you leave Dragoon you can visit the Golden Rule Vineyards for a tour and tasting.
Dragoon, AZ 85609
8.Fort Bowie National Historic Site
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Fort Bowie is located 113 miles east of Tucson, where it marks the spot where 25 years of conflict occurred between the Chiricahua Apache and the US Army in the late 1800’s. To view the remains of the fort and the Visitor’s Center you will need to complete a three-mile out-and-back hike from the parking area at the trailhead on Apache Pass Road. En-route to the Visitor’s Center you will pass the original Apache Spring, the remains of a stage coach station and the Fort Bowie Cemetery. Once you reach the Visitor’s Center you can view the small museum and the ruins of the original old fort. There are picnic sites at the Visitor’s Center and the trailhead. The Visitor’s Center offers various seasonal ranger programs.
Fort Bowie National Historic Site, 3500 South Apache Pass Road, Bowie, AZ 85605, Phone: 521-847-2500
The city of Globe is located 103 miles north of Tucson in Gila County, where it offers day trippers an interesting and picturesque destination. The town was established as a mining community in the 1870’s and much of the historic downtown still offers the old mining-town atmosphere - you can join an historic tour or explore at your own pace. Be sure to visit the Gila Country Historical Museum and the Cobre Valley Center for the Arts. To get a broad overview of the landscape you can take a scenic drive through the Salt River Canyon and admire the views from the viewpoint. At the Old Dominion Historic Mine Park you can see some old mining equipment, while Round Mountain Park offers scenic hiking trails.
Globe, AZ 85501
10.Kartchner Caverns State Park
For an exhilarating day out you just need to head south east along Interstate 10 for about 50 minutes to reach the remarkable Kartchner Caverns State Park. This day trip is an exciting adventure for just about anyone and even visitors with wheelchairs can enjoy access to most of the stunning caverns. The Rotunda and Throne Room tour is the most popular – be sure to book ahead to avoid long queues. Other available tours include the Big Room Tour, the Headlamp Tour (these two are not suitable for children less than seven years old), the Saturday Sign-Language Tour and the exclusive Photo Tour. After you have toured the caverns you can enjoy hiking, walking and wildlife viewing in the park.
Kartchner Caverns State Park, 2980 AZ-90, Benson, AZ 85602, Phone: 502-586-4100
11.Kitt Peak National Observatory
For a day trip with a difference you can head just 56 miles southwest of Tucson, where you will find the Kitt Peak National Observatory on the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation. This working research facility is home to the largest array of radio and optical telescopes on the planet. The facility welcomes you to their Visitor Center Daytime Programs, which include guided and self-guided tours and exhibits and their Nightly Observing Program, when you can spend an exciting evening viewing the night sky and learning about astronomy. The facility also offers a museum and gift shop. After your tour you can consider visiting the near-by Mission San Xavier del Bac.
Kitt Peak National Observatory, Tucson, AZ 85634, Phone: 502-318-8000
12.Mission San Xavier del Bac
Located on the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation about ten miles southwest of Tucson, the Mission San Xavier del Bac is a popular attraction for day trippers. The mission, which was built in 1797, if often referred to as the “white dove in the desert” and is widely revered for its beautiful architecture and artwork which features Spanish, Mexican and Indian influences. Free tours of the mission are offered daily from Monday to Saturday and you can attend mass in the church every day of the week – check the schedule on line. You can learn all about the history of the mission by watching a short introductory video.
Mission San Xavier Del Bac, 1950 W. San Xavier Rd, Tucson, AZ 85746, Phone: 520-294-2624
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When you need to escape the summer heat in Tucson, a day trip to Mount Lemmon, in the Santa Catalina mountain range about an hour from the city, is an ideal solution. The higher altitude in Mount Lemmon can make up to 30 degrees difference to the temperature and is why the area has long been a summer retreat for many Tucson residents. To reach the peak of Mount Lemmon you will drive along the 27-mile sky islands scenic byway, one of the most beautiful scenic drives in the state. Things to do include hiking, bird watching, fishing and rock climbing in summer and various snow sports in winter. You could also visit the Mount Lemmon Sky Center Observatory which hosts year-round star-gazing programs.
Mount Lemmon, AZ 85619
14.Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
The Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument covers over 500 square miles in the heart of the Sonora Desert, offering a home to scores of plants and animals which have adapted to the harsh desert environment. The monument is home to many archaeological sites which have yielded thousands of artifacts attesting to ancient civilizations which existed here over 1,600 years ago. Today visitors can spend time admiring the diverse flora and fauna as you explore the area along a network of hiking, biking and equestrian trails, or take one of several scenic drives through the monument. You can attend daily ranger talks and guided van tours and evening programs are offered several times a week – please check online for the schedule.
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, 10 Organ Pipe Drive, Ajo, AZ 85321, Phone: 520-387-6849
15.Patagonia Lake State Park
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For a day of nature observation and outdoor recreation you can add the Patagonia Lake State Park to your list of day trips from Tucson. This little-known gem of a park is located just 90 minutes from the city and is an ideal destination for all ages. You can do as much or a little as you like – simply admire nature and watch out for whitetail deer or great blue herons to cross your path, or get active on the lake. The park offers a beach, a marina, a boat launch (you can rent a boat at the Lakeside Market) and a picnic area with tables and grills. Other activities include fishing, water skiing and hiking.
Patagonia Lake State Park, 400 Patagonia Lake Rd, Patagonia, AZ 85624, Phone: 520-287-6965
Located less than two hours from Tucson, the lively city of Phoenix is a great day trip destination for the whole family. The city offers many attractions and you will need to do some serious prioritizing if you are only in town for a day. Cultural activities include visiting the Phoenix Art Museum, the Heard Museum (for American Indian culture and art) and the Musical Instrument Museum. Art lovers should be sure to visit the galleries on Roosevelt Row and families can spend time in the Phoenix Zoo. If you want to explore the beautiful Sonora Desert landscape you can head to Papago Park and Camelback Mountain for scenic hiking and the Desert Botanical Garden to admire the diversity of desert flora.
Phoenix, AZ 85001-8709
If you are looking for something completely different to do on your next day trip from Tucson (and you don’t mind driving along a really rough road), you should pack a picnic and make your way to Ruby, a mining ghost town located just north of the Mexican border. The town once held the distinction of being the largest mining camp in Arizona and is rumored to have been a place of “mining, murder and mayhem”. Today you will find a deserted town that still has about two dozen buildings which can be explored at your own pace with the help of a map you will receive from the caretaker.
18.Saguaro National Park
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Saguaro National Park is divided into two separate (and different) areas, one to the west of Tucson and the other to the east of the city. Each area has its own Visitor’s Center and both are easily accessible from downtown Tucson. Both districts offer wonderful opportunities for outdoor recreational activities and hiking is especially popular, with over 165 miles of trails available. Wilderness hiking, backcountry camping, scenic drives, mountain biking and horse-back riding are other popular park activities. Each of the Visitor’s Centers has a cactus garden to admire and both parts of the park offer Junior Ranger Programs to develop a love and appreciation of nature in younger visitors.
Saguaro National Park West, 2700 N Kinney Rd, Tucson, AZ 85743, Phone: 520-733-5153
Saguaro National Park East, 3693 S. Old Spanish Trail, Tucson, AZ 85730
For your next day trip from Tucson you could choose to take a two-hour drive north to Scottsdale, which offers a wide selection of activities. Historic Old Town Scottsdale is a good place to start your day, offering fabulous shopping, dozens of interesting art galleries and over a hundred public art installations to admire. If you enjoy cycling you can consider renting a bike and following one of several recommended bike routes through Old Town and beyond. A good way to sample some of Arizona’s best cuisine is to join a foodie lunch, dinner or Happy Hour tour. If you need some pampering you will find several spa and wellness centers dotted around Scottsdale.
Scottsdale, AZ 85054-5271
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Sierra Vista is nestled in a pretty valley at the base of the Huachuca Mountains, just 75 minutes from Tucson, where it is becoming a popular must-visit Arizona destination. Here, surrounded by majestic mountain peaks, you can find several activities that will get you back to nature. The area offers wonderful hiking opportunities as well as trails for cycling, horse-back riding and wildlife watching. There are near-by caves and caverns to explore, history to learn at Fort Huachuca and a brilliant aquatic center with slides, jets and warm pools at The Cove. No visit would be complete without viewing the brilliant night skies at the Patterson Observatory and feasting on delicious Mexican cuisine at one of the town’s popular restaurants.
Sierra Vista, AZ 85613-5670
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The pretty town of Sonoita lies at the heart of southern Arizona’s wine growing region, at the crossroads of US 82 and US 83, just 45 minutes from Tucson. The landscape is particularly attractive in this area, consisting of rolling hills and verdant grasslands with not a cactus in sight. The town makes an ideal base for visiting the vineyards and winery tours are available if you prefer not to drive. For something a little unusual you may like to do a winery tour by kayak down the Verde River with Sedona Adventure Tours in near-by Cottonwood. If you are not into wine you can take a self-guided tour of the historic old Empire Ranch or book a guided trail ride with Arizona Horseback Experience.
Sonoita, AZ 85637
You haven’t experienced a genuine Wild West town until you’ve spent a day in Tombstone, famously home to the OK Corral, the Bird Cage Theatre and much more. Tombstone is located about 75 minutes southeast of Tucson, which means that it is an ideal day trip destination. Here you will be able to walk in the footsteps of the early miners, visit some of their drinking haunts and watch exciting re-enacted gun battles break out on the streets of the town. You could start your visit by watching a 20 minute historic video at the Tombstone Historama before setting out to explore on foot or on the fabulous Tombstone Trolley. No trip would be complete without going on a mine tour.
Tombstone, AZ 85638
Vibrant Tubac is an arts community based at the foot of the Santa Rita Mountains, approximately 45 minutes south of Tucson. Many artists have relocated to Tubac to take advantage of the areas “good light” and there are now upwards of 100 galleries for visitors to explore. Every February the town hosts the five-day Festival of the Arts which attracts art lovers from around the world. However, any day is a good day to come and browse the galleries, studios and rotating exhibitions. Tubac is also ideally situated for golfers and outdoor enthusiasts can go hiking the Anza Trail and the Madera Canyon which also offers good mountain-biking, picnicking and birding.
Tubac, AZ 85646
Birding enthusiasts definitely need to add the small town of Willcox to their winter day trip agenda. This is the time of year that thousands of sandhill cranes, as well as a host of other water birds, migrate to the Cochise Lakes to over-winter. The mild winter climate of the Sonora Desert also means that winter is the prime time to come and spend a day enjoying hiking, cycling and picnicking at the Chiricahua National Monument. If you are into history you can take a scenic drive from Willcox along the Magic Circle of Cochise, visiting the famous Apache Pass and Fort Bowie National Historic Site. Western movie enthusiasts will love a visit to the Willcox Cowboy Hall of Fame and the Marty Robbins Museum.
Willcox, AZ 86943
Located about three and a half hours west of Tucson, Yuma is probably a little far for a day trip but would certainly make a good weekend or overnight fun destination. The town offers excellent year-round water sports on the Colorado River and families can have fun visiting the Castle Dome Mine Museum, the Children’s Museum of Yuma County, the Camel Farm and the interesting Cloud Museum which boasts an array of ancient autos. Yuma is also your gateway to several wilderness areas where you can go hiking, biking and wildlife watching – try Cibola National Wildlife Refuge and Imperial Sand Dunes. You can take a nostalgic stroll along Main Street in the heart of Old Yuma to enjoy varied shopping, entertainment and dining.
Yuma, AZ 85364-5369
25 Best Weekend and Day Trips from Tucson
- Bisbee, Photo: ShutterDivision/stock.adobe.com
- ASARCO Mineral Discovery Center, Photo: albertdw/stock.adobe.com
- Biosphere 2, Photo: spiritofamerica/stock.adobe.com
- Cave Creek, Photo: jessicakirsh/stock.adobe.com
- Chiricahua National Monument, Photo: Zack Frank/stock.adobe.com
- Colossal Cave Mountain Park, Photo: Linda J Photography/stock.adobe.com
- Dragoon, Photo: Colby/stock.adobe.com
- Fort Bowie National Historic Site, Photo: Zack Frank/stock.adobe.com
- Globe, Photo: paul/stock.adobe.com
- Kartchner Caverns State Park, Photo: swisshippo/stock.adobe.com
- Kitt Peak National Observatory, Photo: Takashi/stock.adobe.com
- Mission San Xavier del Bac, Photo: gnagel/stock.adobe.com
- Mount Lemmon, Photo: Linda J Photography/stock.adobe.com
- Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Photo: Frankix/stock.adobe.com
- Patagonia Lake State Park, Photo: Melinda Fawver/stock.adobe.com
- Phoenix, Photo: Juliana/stock.adobe.com
- Ruby, Photo: Michael/stock.adobe.com
- Saguaro National Park, Photo: Zack Frank/stock.adobe.com
- Scottsdale, Photo: DCA88/stock.adobe.com
- Sierra Vista, Photo: Derrick Neill/stock.adobe.com
- Sonoita, Photo: Guy Sagi/stock.adobe.com
- Tombstone, Photo: Noradoa/stock.adobe.com
- Tubac, Photo: joel/stock.adobe.com
- Willcox, Photo: Dennis/stock.adobe.com
- Yuma, Photo: CheriAlguire/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: desertsolitaire/stock.adobe.com