With its stunning red rock landscapes and its historic towns, Arizona is one of the best states for sightseeing by car. Whether you're interested in history, nature, art, architecture, or anything in between, there are plenty of amazing options to choose from. Spend the day strolling the streets of an historic ghost town, make a foray into an underground cave to marvel at the stalactites, or visit Saguaro National Park to hike amidst the cacti. If you're more in the mood for a day trip to a city, head to Phoenix, Tucson, or Sedona — the options are endless.
1.Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
Established to protect the remains of an ancient farming community built by the Hohokam people, the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument was the first archaeological preserve in the country. The highlight of the site is the large and mysterious adobe Big House, and although visitors aren't permitted inside, most of its best features can be seen from the outside. The Visitor Center also offers plenty of informative exhibits about the Hohokam people and the structure itself. Visitors can easily explore the site by foot on their own, but hour-long guided tours are often available between the end of November and the beginning of April.
1100 W Ruins Dr, Coolidge, AZ 85128, Phone: 520-723-3172
2.Coconino National Forest
Encompassing almost 1.9 million acres of land, the Coconino National Forest is a true paradise for nature lovers. The forest has much more to offer than just trees; an incredibly diverse selection of terrain can be found here, including alpine tundra, towering red sandstone formations, and the peaceful pine and juniper woodlands you'd expect. Thanks to this wonderful diversity activity, popular activities include hiking, picnicking, camping, and simply driving around to admire the scenery. The forest also contains the city of Flagstaff, where visitors can stop by the headquarters to pick up a trail map or chat with one of the rangers.
Flagstaff, AZ 86001, Phone: 928-527-3600
Tucked away in the mountainous high country in the northern part of the state, Flagstaff offers the perfect combination of outdoor adventure and big city amenities. Depending on the season, it's worth taking a few hours in the morning to explore one of the world-class trails on Mt. Humphreys or to hit the slopes at the Arizona Snowbowl. The afternoon can be spent browsing the downtown art galleries and shops, enjoying a beer at one of the local breweries, or strolling through the Arboretum. When it comes to dinner, there are plenty of excellent restaurants to choose from, many of which boost fantastic patios.
The Grand Canyon is easily one of the most famous landmarks in the country, and once you've paid it a visit, it's not hard to understand why. To get the most out of the site on a day trip, you can take a free shuttle bus around the rim to explore the best viewpoints and museums. If you're feeling energetic, you can even take a short walk along the South Kaibab Trail to get a view of the canyon from below the rim. Don't forget to stay for sunset if you can; the lookout points along Hermit Rest Road are the best.
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Perched on top of Cleopatra Hill, the town of Jerome is a historic copper mining community that has been transformed from a spooky ghost town into a bustling hub of art and culture. The steep streets make for a good workout, and they're lined with local art galleries, pottery studios, and unique shops, including one of the largest kaleidoscope stores in the world. If you're more interested in the town's macabre history than in a day of shopping, you can stop by the Sliding Jail or book a spot on one of the town's ghost tours.
6.Kartchner Caverns State Park
Home to one of the longest stalactite formations in the world, Kartchner Caverns State Park is an impressive limestone cave system that was first discovered in 1974. Visitors can only explore the caves if accompanied by a trained guide, and tours are offered all throughout the year. The most popular tour takes approximately 90 minutes and leads visitors along the original trail used by the explorers who discovered the cave, but several other tours are offered as well, including one designed especially for people with an interest in photography. Reservations are strongly recommended, particularly during the summer.
2980 AZ-90, Benson, AZ 85602, Phone: 520-586-4100
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Although not as well-known as Phoenix and Sedona, Mesa is the third largest city in the state, and it offers a vibrant downtown core packed with family friendly museums, craft breweries, and locally run boutique shops. The Mesa Arts Center is an excellent place to catch a Broadway play or a jazz concert, while the nearby Mesa Grande Cultural Park provides the chance to explore ancient ruins left by the Hohokum people. If you're more in the mood for a bit of outdoor recreation, the city also provides easy access to the spectacular Tonto National Forest, where visitors can hike, kayak, and swim.
, Sedona AZ
Created by a meteorite that hit the earth approximately 50,000 years ago, Meteor Crater is a massive meteorite impact site almost one mile across and more than 550 feet deep. The Discovery Center on the rim of the crater is full of fun, informative exhibits about asteroids and meteors, and it also allows visitors to view the crater from the comfort of an air-conditioned room. There are also three outdoor lookout points perfect for taking photos, and anyone who would like to get even closer to the crater can take an hour-long guided tour of the rim.
Interstate 40, Exit 233 Winslow, AZ 86047
9.Mission of San Xavier del Bac
Affectionately known as the “The White Dove of the Desert," the Mission of San Xavier del Bac is a gorgeous baroque-style mission that was originally founded in 1692. The small on-site museum is full of interesting historical artifacts that give visitors a glimpse at how people have lived here over the centuries, and it also offers the chance to watch a 20-minute film about the history of the mission. Visitors are welcome to explore the site on their own, but anyone who would like a more in-depth experience can join one of the free guided tours that take place Monday through Saturday.
1950 W San Xavier Rd, Tucson, AZ 85746, Phone: 520-294-2624
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10.Montezuma Castle National Monument
© Ralf Broskvar/stock.adobe.com
Tucked into the recess of a limestone cliff 90 feet above Beaver Creek, the Montezuma Castle National Monument is an incredibly well-preserved cliff dwelling that was inhabited by the Sinagua people until approximately 600 years ago. Visitors haven't been allowed to climb up to the five-story building since the 1950s, but you can get excellent views from the base of the cliff, where a short trail loops along the river and through a sycamore grove. A small museum can be found in the Visitor Center, and there is also a beautiful picnic area on the shore of the creek.
Montezuma Castle Rd, Camp Verde, AZ, Phone: 928-567-3322
11.Petrified Forest National Park
If you'd like to spend the day exploring a truly otherworldly landscape, few destinations in Arizona are better than the Petrified Forest National Park. Contrary to what you might expect, this forest isn't full of towering green trees; instead, it's a barren landscape dotted with impressive petrified logs. The park has several Visitor Centers with informative exhibits about the area's history, but the true highlights of the park are its many walking trails, which lead past petrified logs dotted with quartz crystals, ancient petroglyphs carved into the rocks, and a unique 16th-century hut built from petrified wood.
12.Pima Air and Space Museum
With more than 350 aircraft displayed across its 80-acre campus, the Pima Air and Space Museum is one of the world's largest aviation museums operated without government funding. Approximately half of the aircraft are displayed in indoor hangars, several of which are World War II themed. Guided walking tours are included in the admission fee, and visitors can take a tram tour for a small surcharge. The museum is also the exclusive provider of bus tours of the famous "Aircraft Boneyard," a military facility used to store more than 4,000 retired aircraft. Advance reservations are required for both bus tours and tram tours.
6000 E Valencia Rd, Tucson, AZ 85756, Phone: 520-574-0462
Surrounded by the ponderosa pine trees of the Prescott National Forest, the city of Prescott is known for its natural beauty and its temperate climate, which makes it the perfect place to go if you're trying to escape the heat of the Arizona summer. The 400 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails around the city can be enjoyed year-round, but if you'd rather spend the day in the city itself, there are plenty of museums and historical landmarks to explore downtown. Visitors should take special care not to miss the famous Whiskey Row, a historic street lined with turn-of-the-century saloons.
14.Red Rock Scenic Byway
Stretching for seven and a half miles from Sedona to Interstate 17, the Red Rock Scenic Byway passes through some of the most stunning scenery in America. The drive itself takes only twenty minutes, but you can easily make it last for hours by stopping to marvel at the giant red rock formations along the way. Lookout points and photo opportunities abound, and the road provides access to hiking trails for people of all ability levels. Some of the stops require a day pass, which can be purchased from the Visitor Center at the southernmost end of the byway.
375 Az-179, Red Rock Visitor Center and Ranger Station, Sedona, AZ 86351, Phone: 928-203-2900
© Ray Redstone/stock.adobe.com
Only forty miles away from Phoenix, Saguaro Lake is a scenic reservoir tucked away in the Tonto National Forest. The lake is approximately 10 miles long and up to 110 feet deep in certain places, and it's surrounded by marshland, towering canyon walls, jagged rocks, and dry desert scrubland. Visitors can bring their own boats or rent one from the on-site marina, but if you're interested in learning about the history and wildlife of the lake, you can take a 90-minute narrated paddleboat tour instead. Other popular activities include fishing, dining at the marina, and hiking the four-mile trail on the shore of the lake.
14011 N Bush Highway Mesa AZ 85215, Phone: 480-986-5546
16.Saguaro National Park
Named for the giant saguaro cacti that dot the landscape, Saguaro National Park is made up of two separate areas, one on either side of Tucson. It takes between 30 minutes and an hour to drive between the two halves, but if you only have time to explore one section, you can't go wrong with either. Both sides feature loop drives that make it easy to access the park's best lookout points and hiking trails, and the western side also offers the chance to marvel at hundreds of ancient petroglyphs left by the Hohokam people.
Nestled in the heart of the desert surrounded by spectacular red sandstone formations, Sedona is a unique city known for attracting artists and spiritual seekers. Many people believe that the area is home to spiritual energy centers known as "vortexes," and alternative medicine practitioners and workshops can be found all throughout the city, offering everything from reiki healing to lessons in interpreting dreams. Seeking out the vortexes is a popular Sedona activity, but the idyllic landscape boasts much more than just the potential of vortexes; many visitors come here simply to hike, climb, and mountain bike amidst the incredible rock spires.
18.Slide Rock State Park
Found in Oak Creek Canyon, Slide Rock State Park is widely recognized as one of the best swimming holes in the country. The 43-acre property was formerly an apple farm, but it was converted into a state park so that visitors could enjoy the incredible scenery, the refreshing creek, and the exhilarating natural waterslide that zips through the sandstone and into one of the pools. The park offers plenty of places to swim, sunbathe, and picnic, and there are several short walking trails. Visitors can also check out some of the historic cabins that were built on the property in 1933.
6871 AZ-89A, Sedona, AZ 86336, Phone: 928-282-3034
Contrary to what you might expect, the Sonoran Desert isn't a dry, barren wasteland. Instead, it encompasses almost every kind of terrain imaginable, including coniferous forest, grassland, and lush thornscrub full of cacti and tropical plants. The desert covers almost the entire southern half of Arizona, so it offers almost endless things to see and do, but popular stops include Saguaro National Park, the Sonoran Desert National Monument, and Scottdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve, which boasts excellent hiking trails. Visitors interested in learning about the desert's flora and fauna can also visit the Sonoran Desert Museum in Tucson.
2021 N. Kinney Rd., Tucson AZ 85743, Phone: 520 883-2702
20.Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
Created approximately 1000 years ago by a massive lava eruption, the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument is a fascinating piece of Arizona's natural history. The crater was named for the sunset-like colors of its rim, and although it's the biggest highlight of the park, there are also plenty of other hiking and biking trails to explore. Visitors who would like to go even deeper into the history of the area can take a guided tour, learn from the interactive exhibits at the museum in the Visitor's Center, or attend one of the ranger talks held during the summer.
6400 U.S. 89 Flagstaff, AZ 86004, Phone: 928 526-0502
21.Titan Missile Museum
The only museum of its kind in the United States, the Titan Missile Museum offers the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a 103-foot-long missile left over from the Cold War. The site remains the same as it was when it was decommissioned at the end of the war, and in addition to seeing the missile itself, visitors can experience a simulated launch, marvel at the three-ton blast doors, and visit the launch center. Visitors are required to take a guided tour, and tours are offered every hour on the hour year-round. Special tours are held by a former Missile Combat Crew Commander once a month.
1580 Duval Mine Road, Green Valley, AZ 85614, Phone: 520-625-7736
© Antonio Fernandez/stock.adobe.com
Established in 1879 by a gold prospector, the town of Tombstone is an authentic piece of the Wild West. It's best known as the site of the legendary cowboy gunfight at the O.K. Corral, and exciting theatrical re-enactments of the shoot-out are held on a daily basis for tourists' enjoyment. The downtown historic district is an attraction in and of itself, and its dusty wooden boardwalks can be explored on your own or with a guided walking tour. Visitors can also see the graves of outlaws at Boothill Cemetery, tour the old courthouse, and sit down for a drink in one of the many saloons.
© Autumn Sky/stock.adobe.com
Despite its tiny size, the town of Tortilla Flat is one of the most interesting stops along the Historic Apache Trail. The saloon is the heart and soul of the town, and it boasts bar stools made from real saddles and colorful walls papered with dollar bills left by visitors from around the world. The restaurant specializes in spicy chili and hearty burgers, and if you're craving something sweet, you can't miss the prickly pear gelato sold at the country store. Before you hit the road, make sure to stop by the gift store to pick up a unique piece of jewelry or pottery.
24.Tucson Mountain Park
© Digital Masters/stock.adobe.com
Consisting of approximately 20,000 acres of land just outside the city, Tucson Mountain Park is an excellent place to spend the day hiking, mountain biking, or simply relaxing in nature. The park is crisscrossed by more than 60 miles of multi-use trails, but if you'd prefer to stay in the car, you can drive up to Gates Pass Overlook for spectacular views of the park and the sunset. Three picnic areas can be found within the park, all of which are equipped with sheltered picnic tables and grills. The park is also home to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.
8451 W McCain Loop, Tucson, AZ 85735, Phone: 520-883-4200
© Michel Hersen and Danita Delimont/stock.adobe.com
Best known for making an appearance in the lyrics of "Take it Easy" by the Eagles, Winslow has been one of the most important stops on Route 66 for decades. It's worth stopping by the Standin’ On a Corner Park to hum the world-famous tune, and while you're in the neighborhood, make sure to stop by the Old Trails Museum to see the excellent collection of memorabilia that tells the story of the town's history. If you have time to spend the night, try to book a room at the historic La Posada hotel, which has hosted people like Clark Gable and Amelia Earhart.
Phone: 928 289-2434
25 Best Day Trips in Arizona
- Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, Photo: traveller70/stock.adobe.com
- Coconino National Forest, Photo: tiva48/stock.adobe.com
- Flagstaff, Photo: HildaWeges/stock.adobe.com
- Grand Canyon, Photo: SeanPavonePhoto/stock.adobe.com
- Jerome, Photo: Fotoluminate LLC/stock.adobe.com
- Kartchner Caverns State Park, Photo: swisshippo/stock.adobe.com
- Mesa, Photo: Legacy Images/stock.adobe.com
- Meteor Crater, Photo: oloololo/stock.adobe.com
- Mission of San Xavier del Bac, Photo: SeanPavonePhoto/stock.adobe.com
- Montezuma Castle National Monument, Photo: Ralf Broskvar/stock.adobe.com
- Petrified Forest National Park, Photo: CheriAlguire/stock.adobe.com
- Pima Air and Space Museum, Photo: miami2you/stock.adobe.com
- Prescott, Photo: tiva48/stock.adobe.com
- Red Rock Scenic Byway, Photo: jayyuan/stock.adobe.com
- Saguaro Lake, Photo: Ray Redstone/stock.adobe.com
- Saguaro National Park, Photo: CheriAlguire/stock.adobe.com
- Sedona, Photo: littleny/stock.adobe.com
- Slide Rock State Park, Photo: Danielle/stock.adobe.com
- Sonoran Desert, Photo: Melastmohican/stock.adobe.com
- Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, Photo: sbgoodwin/stock.adobe.com
- Titan Missile Museum, Photo: Kolago/stock.adobe.com
- Tombstone, Photo: Antonio Fernandez/stock.adobe.com
- Tortilla Flat, Photo: Autumn Sky/stock.adobe.com
- Tucson Mountain Park, Photo: Digital Masters/stock.adobe.com
- Winslow, Photo: Michel Hersen and Danita Delimont/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: Matt/stock.adobe.com