Scottsdale is one of Arizona's most charming cities, known for its lovely spa resorts, golf courses, and attractions such as the Frank Lloyd Wright architectural masterpiece Taliesin West. The city serves as an excellent launching-off point for exploring some of the state's most iconic natural wonders, including the stunning Grand Canyon National Park, the expansive Tonto National Forest, and the unique Mogollon Rim. Major cities like Phoenix, Sedona, and Flagstaff are home to unique cultural attractions and annual festivals, including New Age-related events. Visitors can also explore some of the Old West's most unique preserved historic attractions, including Tombstone's famed O.K. Corral, the site of a legendary 1881 gunfight that has been recreated in many films and television series.
1.The Apache Trail
The Apache Trail preserves the historic 19th-century stagecoach trail of the same name, which meandered for 40 miles throughout Arizona's stunning Superstition Mountain landscape. The trail, which is named in honor of its connection to the area indigenous tribe of the same name, spans the same route as modern-day AZ 88, winding past rugged desert mountain terrain areas past gorgeous natural areas like Canyon and Apache Lakes. Visitors can drive the historic route today and explore its magnificent scenery at sites such as the Tonto National Forest and Theodore Roosevelt Lake. Unpaved sections can be traversed by four-wheel vehicles, known for their stunning cliff drops between Roosevelt Dam and Tortilla Flat. Along the way, historic sites such as Lost Dutchman State Park and the copper mining towns of Goldfield and Globe make great spots for day trips.
Canyon Lake is a lovely manmade reservoir located along the beautiful Salt River, originally dammed in 1925 after the construction of the Mormon Flat Dam. The 950-acre lake is the smallest of four reservoirs on the river and serves as one of the most popular destinations on the Apache Trail route, located near Apache Junction. Visitors can enjoy excellent year-round recreational opportunities at the lake, including chances for scuba diving, boating, hiking, and water sports like jet skiing. Anglers can catch rainbow trout, channel catfish, bluegill, yellow bass, and walleye throughout the year from the lake's shores or launch boats at its two boat launch areas. A designated swimming beach is also open throughout the summer months. Day-use picnic sites are available, along with marina services and overnight campground areas at the Tortilla Flat and Canyon Lake Marina Campgrounds.
Cave Creek is a charming town in Maricopa County, located within convenient day trip distance of both Phoenix and Scottsdale. The town is home to a plethora of historic attractions, including the National Register of Historic Places-listed Tubercular Cabin, the First Church of Cave Creek, and the Golden Reef Stamp Mill. The historic Spur Cross Ranch, originally established in the 1920s, has been converted into a 2,154-acre wilderness and recreation area that serves as the gateway to the beautiful Tonto National Forest. 3,000 acres of lush Sonoran Desert wilderness are protected within Cave Creek Regional Park, a popular spot for birdwatching and hiking throughout the year. Other popular attractions include Gateway Desert Awareness Park, which offers family-friendly attractions, and the beautiful Seven Springs Recreation Area. Downtown, visitors can peruse charming art galleries, secondhand stores, and boutiques selling authentic Mexican pottery.
4.Desert Botanical Garden
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Desert Botanical Garden is a stunning 140-acre botanical garden located within Phoenix's Papago Park, designated as an official Phoenix Point of Pride for its gorgeous landscaped displays. The garden, which was founded in 1937 by the Arizona Cactus and Native Flora Society, has grown to showcase more than 50,000 plantings of over 4,000 taxa, including 379 rare and endangered plant species. Major collections include extensive agave and cacti plantings, along with plants native to mesquite bosque, upland chaparral, and semidesert grassland environments. Trails throughout the gardens include the Sonoran Desert Nature Loop Trail, the Desert Discovery Loop Trail, and the Plants and People of the Sonoran Desert Loop Trail. A lovely patio cafe serves up delicious American fare, while seasonal concerts bring live music performances to the gardens throughout the year.
1201 N Galvin Pkwy, Phoenix, AZ 85008, Phone: 480-941-1225
Flagstaff is one of Arizona's most beautiful cities, set against the stunning backdrop of the impressive San Francisco Peaks. The city is perhaps best known as the home of the famed Arizona Snowbowl ski resort, which is located at an elevation of 9,200 feet above sea level and offers excellent opportunities for skiing and winter sports. During the summer months, the city serves as a popular gateway for regional natural areas such as Grand Canyon National Park and Humphreys Peak. Nearby, lovely Wupatki National Monument and Walnut Canyon National Monument preserve significant Pueblo indigenous sites. Cultural organizations abound, including the Clifford E. White Theater, the Studio Theater, and the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra, which all present live performances throughout the year.
6.Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon National Park is known throughout the world as the home of the natural wonder of the same name, which is preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The iconic canyon, which is often considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World, was established as a national park in 1919 and attracts the second-highest visitorship of any national park today, only behind Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Stunning red, brown, and pink rock layers were carved during Precambrian times by the flow of the majestic Colorado River, providing unparalleled nature photography opportunities. Visitors can stay at a number of area resorts throughout the park's South Rim region, which is known for its family-friendly attractions. On the North Rim, more secluded lodges and campgrounds provide access to stunning overlook points and attractions such as the Yavapai Observation Station.
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Jerome is one of central Arizona's top artist communities, located at the site of the state's largest former copper mine, which produced more than three million pounds of copper per month at the peak of its operations throughout the 19th century. Today, the city is home to the lovely Jerome State Historic Park, which preserves historic attractions such as the 1916 Douglas Mansion, open to the public as a living history home offering guided tours throughout the year. Audrey Headframe Park preserves a 1918 mining shaft, which is covered with a glass viewing platform for visitors to peer deep down into its tunnel network. The city's charming downtown district has come alive in recent years, home today to a plethora of antique shops, eclectic boutiques, art galleries, and fine and casual dining destinations housed within renovated historic buildings.
Kartchner Caverns are one of Arizona's most beautiful show caves, spanning more than 2.4 miles of stunning underground natural passageways. The limestone caverns were originally discovered in 1974 by Randy Tufts and Gary Tenen and have been operated as a Benson-area tourist attraction since 1998. Today, visitors can embark on guided tours of the caverns and view natural wonders like the Throne Room, home to one of the longest soda straw stalactite formations in the world. Other major features include the immense Kubla Khan column, the Cul-de-Sac Passage, the Rotunda and Strawberry Rooms, and the unique Mud Flats. The caverns are also known as one of Arizona's most important nesting sites for endangered bat species. Above ground, visitors can explore the nature trails of Kartchner Caverns State Park.
2980 Arizona 90, Benson, AZ 85602, Phone: 520-586-4100
9.Lost Dutchman State Park
Lost Dutchman State Park spans 320 acres throughout Arizona's picturesque Superstition Mountains, named in honor of the legendary Old West Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine. The mine was named in honor of German immigrant Jacob Waltz, who purportedly kept its location a secret after its discovery in the 19th century. Though the mine has never been found, it is generally believed to be located somewhere near Apache Junction just east of the city of Phoenix. Today, the park offers a plethora of year-round outdoor recreational opportunities, including chances for mountain biking, hiking, and picnicking. 134 campsites are offered throughout the park, including RV hookups.
6109 N Apache Trail, Apache Junction, AZ 85119, Phone: 480-982-4485
10.McDowell Mountain Regional Park
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McDowell Mountain Regional Park stretches for 21,000 acres throughout Arizona's picturesque Fountain Hills region, offering some of the best seasonal outdoor recreational opportunities in the greater Sedona area. The park is located at heights of up to 3,000 feet above sea level within the western edge of the McDowell Mountains. It is home to one of the state's best multi-use trail networks, offering opportunities for hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking throughout the year. Three mountain biking loop trails are considered to be excellent sites for use by competitive mountain bikers, offering trails of varying difficulty levels. The park is also known as an excellent wildlife watching area, home to native animal species like javelina, deer, and coyotes. Visitors can stay overnight at their choice of tent and RV hookup campsites, which are home to day-use picnic areas, restrooms, and campfire rings.
16300 McDowell Mountain Park Dr, MMRP, AZ 85268, Phone: 480-471-0173
11.Montezuma Castle National Monument
Montezuma Castle National Monument preserves some of Arizona's most significant indigenous sites, including historic dwelling sites connected to the Camp Verde region's indigenous Sinagua people. The Sinagua were a pre-Columbian culture that populated the region before the arrival of Europeans in North America, between approximately 1100 and 1425 A.D. Though the Sinagua had no connection to Central America's Aztec, the monument takes its name from the legend of Aztec Emperor Montezuma because of mistaken identification of the settlements by European colonizers. Today, the monument protects an area of 860 acres along the Colorado Plateau, which preserves a unique five-story indigenous dwelling constructed over three centuries. Visitors can explore the site along a half-mile paved trail, which embarks from the park's visitor center.
Montezuma Castle Rd, Camp Verde, AZ, Phone: 928-567-3322
12.Needle Rock Recreation Area
Needle Rock Recreation Area is one of the Scottsdale area's most popular seasonal swimming destinations, located along the banks of the gorgeous Lower Verde River. The day-use recreation site is completely contained within the Tonto National Forest, which spans more than two million acres and is one of the United States' largest national forests. Visitors can explore beautiful natural attractions like the Weaver's Needle rock formation, which gives the park its name and is overseen by the United States Geological Service. A seasonal swimming beach offers a variety of day-use picnic sites, some of which are home to charcoal grills and fire rings. Anglers can also enjoy excellent opportunities for catching catfish, sunfish, rainbow trout, and smallmouth bass throughout the year.
Scottsdale, AZ 85262, Phone: 602-225-5200
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Payson is a beautiful central Arizona city located an hour and a half north of Scottsdale within the gorgeous Tonto National Forest, known for its unique Mediterranean-like climate, which stands in sharp contrast to the hot, dry conditions throughout Arizona's desert regions. The charming city, which is commonly known as the "Heart of Arizona," is home to many picturesque coldwater lakes that offer opportunities for year-round recreational activities like hiking, fishing, and horseback riding. The Mogollon Rim, one of the most renowned natural wonders of the American Southwest, showcases dramatic rock formations and stunning cliff drops. Three championship golf courses in the city are ranked among the state's best. Other attractions include the native-owned Mazatzal Casino, which offers 24-hour gaming experiences and excellent fine dining destinations.
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Phoenix is the lively capital city of Arizona, home to over a million residents, which makes it the United States' largest capital city. The stunning Valley of the Sun region city is known for its unparalleled cultural attractions, including the unique historic attractions of Heritage Square, which preserves gorgeous 19th-century architecture. Many buildings within the square have been converted into quaint bed and breakfast facilities or upscale gourmet dining destinations, retaining their historic character. Family-friendly attractions in the city include the Arizona Science Center, while art-related destinations include the Phoenix Art Museum and the galleries of Roosevelt Row. The city is also known for its world-renowned golf courses, designed by golf legend Jack Nicklaus, and its many upscale spas and resorts.
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Prescott is one of central Arizona's most historic cities, home to more than 800 buildings and structures that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can explore many historic sites throughout the city, including the gorgeous Falcon Nest, North America's tallest private residence, which sits atop impressive Thumb Butte and overlooks the city's skyline. Stunning Victorian-style architecture lines the city's famous Whiskey Row district, which was once known as one of America's most infamous red light districts. Today, the district has been transformed into a hip nightlife area, home to lively bars, gastropubs, and live music venues. Visitors can learn about the area's pioneer history at the Sharlot Hall Museum or view indigenous artifacts at the Smoki Museum. The area is also home to four championship 18-hole golf courses, including the public courses of Antelope Hills Golf Course.
Route 66 was one of the United States crowning travel achievements of the mid-2oth century, stretching along a famed paved highway route between Chicago and Santa Monica. The 401-mile route is commonly referred to as the "Mother Road" by driving enthusiasts and Americana lovers, known for its kitschy roadside attractions as much as its beautiful driving expanses throughout the county's landscapes. Though much of the route has been converted into modern highways today, many of its roadside attractions and highway signs remain, still drawing driving enthusiasts in droves today. Throughout Arizona, the road's route is home to attractions like the unique Wigwam Village Motel, which famously lets visitors "Sleep in a Teepee." Along the way, visitors can explore delightful natural attractions like Painted Desert National Park, Black Mountain, and Meteor Crater.
Saguaro Lake is a gorgeous reservoir located along the Salt River, originally created in 1930 with the construction of the Stewart Mountain Dam. The lake, which is one of four reservoirs on the river, is located within the stunning Tonto National Forest just 40 miles east of Phoenix. Today, it stretches for 10 miles and offers 22 miles of recreational shoreline, home to lovely rocky crag, marshland, desert shrubland, and canyon wall landscapes. Visitors can take lovely riverboat excursions along the Desert Belle, which last for approximately 90 minutes and embark two to three times per day. Outdoor recreational opportunities throughout the year include chances for boating, kayaking, sailing, and jet skiing, with boat rentals available at the lake's marina. The lake is also a popular spot for anglers to catch largemouth bass, crappie, catfish, walleye, and bluegill. Overnight camping experiences are accessible via boat at Bagley Flat Campground.
18.Mission San Xavier del Bac
Mission San Xavier del Bac is a beautiful historic Spanish Catholic mission site that is preserved just 10 miles outside the city of Tucson, located on the lovely Tohono O'odham Nation San Xavier Indian Reservation. The mission, which was originally founded in 1692 by Padre Eusebio Kino, was named in honor of Christian missionary Francis Xavier, a founder of the Jesuit Order. It was constructed between 1783 and 1797, making it the state's oldest preserved European-built structure. Today, it is preserved as a National Historic Landmark, known as a popular religious pilgrimage site throughout the year for travelers on foot and horseback. It is open to the public daily for self-guided tours, showcasing a 20-minute documentary film about the mission's history and restoration. Annual festivities held at the mission include the San Xavier Festival, held the Friday following Easter.
1950 W San Xavier Rd, Tucson, AZ 85746, Phone: 520-294-2624
Sedona is one of Arizona's most picturesque major cities, located against the backdrop of stunning red sandstone rock formations, steep canyon cliffs, and brilliant red buttes. The city enjoys a mild year-round climate unlike many of its desert counterparts, known as a major hub for New Age tourism throughout the American Southwest. Throughout the 20th century, it hosted major spiritual events such as the 1987 Harmonic Convergence and served as the backdrop for seminal Western films like Desert Fury and 3:10 To Yuma. Visitors can peruse the city's charming New Age shops, boutiques, and art galleries or attend major annual special events like the Sedona Bluegrass Festival and the Sedona International Film Festival. The town also serves as a popular jumping-off point for exploring some of Arizona's best natural wonders, including the stunning Grand Canyon National Park and the Mogollon Rim.
20.Seven Springs Recreation Area
Seven Springs Recreation Area is a charming outdoor recreational area located just north of the city of Cave Creek, located within the Tonto National Forest at elevations reaching as high as 3,500 feet above sea level. The recreation area is a popular sport for birdwatching throughout the year, known as one of Maricopa County's top spots for winter birding. Lovely sycamore, willow, and cottonwood forest areas populate the park, traversed by flowing springs and juniper-filled meadows. Visitors can explore the park's lovely hiking trails or view the Sears-Kay Ruins, which preserve an ancient Hohokam indigenous settlement dating back to 1500 A.D. Camping is offered along the Great Western Trail.
Cave Creek, AZ 85331
21.The Sonoran Desert
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The Sonoran Desert is one of the American Southwest's most beautiful deserts, stretching for over 100,000 square miles throughout areas of Arizona, California, and Baja California. The desert is the hottest desert in North America, frequently reaching temperatures of over 115 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer months. It is home to gorgeous flora and fauna, including unique species of cacti and lovely annual West Coast flowers such as poppies and lupines. The Sonoran Desert National Monument, designated in 2001, protects over 775 square miles of the desert as a national park facility. Visitors can explore the desert's landscape as part of guided half-day tours embarking from nearby Scottsdale and Phoenix, including cowboy-led hiking tours. The Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum also showcases exhibits on the region's native flora and fauna.
22.Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area
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Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area is a lovely natural area located half an hour north of the city of Phoenix, overseen by the Maricopa County Parks and Recreation department. The beautiful park encompasses a number of diverse Lower Sonoran desert habitats, including riparian creek habitats along the banks of picturesque Cave Creek. Visitors can explore the park's charming 10-mile hiking trail network, which offer excellent opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding throughout the year. Trails include the Fairy Duster Loop, which explores the mesquite-lined foothills near Cottonwood Wash and showcases jojoba, buckwheat, cholla cactus, and brittlebush plants. Mariposa Hill Trail is named for its lovely lilies, traversing the route of former Old Cottonwood Canyon Road to a lookout point offering unparalleled views of Cave Creek and Tonto National Forest.
44000 N Spur Cross Rd, Cave Creek, AZ 85331, Phone: 602-506-2930
23.Tombstone and Bisbee
Tombstone and Bisbee preserve the historic mining towns of the same name, which were known for their major role throughout the legendary Wild Wild West of the 19th century. The towns, which are easy day trips just an hour and a half outside of Tucson, are home to some of the Old West's biggest attractions, including the renowned O.K. Corral, which hosted a famed 1881 gunfight between members of the Earp, Clanton, Claiborne, and McLaury families. The iconic Bird Cage Theatre preserves one of the most famous performance venues of the Old West, while the Rose Tree Museum showcases attractions related to the region's cowboy and pioneer history. In Bisbee, visitors can embark on guided tours of the lovely preserved Bisbee's Queen Mine, which is maintained as a living history facility today.
Tucson is one of Arizona's largest cities, located within Pima County. The charming city is best known as the home of the University of Arizona, set against the spectacular natural backdrop of the Sonoran Desert. Visitors can explore family-friendly attractions like the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which is home to wildlife parks showcasing more than 230 animal species, including prairie dogs, coyotes, and mountain lions. Saguaro National Park stretches for more than 91,000 acres throughout the region, honoring the famed cacti species and offering beautiful hiking trails, while Sabino Canyon Recreation Area is home to the breathtaking Sabino Canyon Tram, which travels for four miles throughout the region's mountain foothills. Cultural attractions include the Pima Air and Space Museum, the Gaslight Theatre, and the attractions of the Tuscon Museum of Art and Historic Block. The city was also the first city in the world to earn a designation as a UNESCO World City of Gastronomy, noted for its incredible eclectic Southwestern-style restaurants.
25.The Verde Valley
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The Verde Valley is a stunning natural area in central Arizona, traversed by the scenic Verde River, one of the last remaining free-flowing river systems in the state, which provides an important habitat for native wildlife and fish species. The valley, which is overlooked by the spectacular Mogollon Rim formation and impressive Mingus Mountain, is home to charming towns like Clarkdale, Cottonwood, Jerome, and Camp Verde, as well as the lovely metropolis of Sedona. Stunning state parks line the region, including Slide Rock State Park, located within picturesque Oak Creek Canyon, and Red Rock State Park, which stretches for 286 acres and showcases awe-inspiring rock formations. Visitors can drive along the beautiful Red Rock Scenic Byway, explore the lovely wineries of the Verde Valley wine region, or embark on adventures along the Verde Canyon Railroad excursion train, which travels from Clarkdale into the Verde Canyon.
25 Best Weekend and Day Trips from Scottsdale, Arizona
- The Apache Trail, Photo: aVoCado/stock.adobe.com
- Canyon Lake, Photo: Don/stock.adobe.com
- Cave Creek, Photo: Hadrien/stock.adobe.com
- Desert Botanical Garden, Photo: Daniel Meunier/stock.adobe.com
- Flagstaff, Photo: oscity/stock.adobe.com
- Grand Canyon National Park, Photo: Christopher/stock.adobe.com
- Jerome, Photo: Jamie & Judy Wild and Danita Delimont/stock.adobe.com
- Kartchner Caverns, Photo: swisshippo/stock.adobe.com
- Lost Dutchman State Park, Photo: Tom/stock.adobe.com
- McDowell Mountain Regional Park, Photo: lynda lehmann/stock.adobe.com
- Montezuma Castle National Monument, Photo: Douglas/stock.adobe.com
- Needle Rock Recreation Area, Photo: phpetrunina14/stock.adobe.com
- Payson, Photo: Julie Foskett/stock.adobe.com
- Phoenix, Photo: Jeremy Janus/stock.adobe.com
- Prescott, Photo: jon manjeot/stock.adobe.com
- Route 66, Photo: Matthieu/stock.adobe.com
- Saguaro Lake, Photo: hpbfotos/stock.adobe.com
- Mission San Xavier del Bac, Photo: samantoniophoto/stock.adobe.com
- Sedona, Photo: Jenifoto/stock.adobe.com
- Seven Springs Recreation Area, Photo: Leonid/stock.adobe.com
- The Sonoran Desert, Photo: Jason Yoder/stock.adobe.com
- Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area, Photo: Derrick Neill/stock.adobe.com
- Tombstone and Bisbee, Photo: evenfh/stock.adobe.com
- Tucson, Photo: Andy/stock.adobe.com
- The Verde Valley, Photo: Linda J Photography/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: Digital Masters/stock.adobe.com