For the 50+ Traveler

The Greater Phoenix area in Arizona has a wealth of things to see and do, but nearby attractions offer good reasons to add days outside the city to your itinerary. Here are the 10 best day trips you can take from Phoenix.

1. Drive the Apache Trail

The Apache Trail is a scenic drive offering views of canyons, jagged cliffs, saguaro-covered hills and desert landscapes. The road, originally built in the early 1900s to transport materials to the Roosevelt Dam Building site, begins in Apache Junction east of Phoenix and twists and climbs for 40 miles through the Superstition Mountains.

Stops along the way include Canyon Lake and Tortilla Flat, which was an old stagecoach stop and now contains a restaurant, small shop, and museum. You can double back after lunch at Tortilla Flat, continue a few miles further to Fish Creek Hill Lookout before doubling back, or continue on to Roosevelt Dam. Note that the road beyond Tortilla Flat is less traveled and mostly unpaved with steep drop-offs.

For more information, read Drive The Apache Trail.

The Apache Trail, Arizona

2. Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park

Located three miles west of Superior and just over sixty miles from Phoenix, Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park is Arizona's oldest and largest botanical garden. The arboretum features plants from the Arizona desert and deserts around the world. Set alongside unspoiled native Sonoran Desert vegetation with a backdrop of rock formations, Boyce Thompson Arboretum offers both beautiful walks and the chance to learn more about desert vegetation. Exhibits recreate various deserts of the world and special focus areas feature cacti, herbs, native medicinal and edible plants, legumes, and a riparian area.

For more information, read Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park.

Cacti in Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Arizona
Photo: Donna Janke.

3. The Mogollon Rim

Less than one hundred miles northeast of Phoenix, the Mogollon Rim offers spectacular scenery amid giant rocks and towering pines. The Rim is a roughly 200-mile-long limestone and granite cliff running diagonally across Arizona. Ponderosa pine forests dominate its slope.

The entire drive from Phoenix is scenic. The Beeline Highway, State Route 87, winds and climbs through mountain terrain. As elevation increases, the saguaros dotting the landscape disappear and are eventually replaced by evergreen forests. When you reach Payson at the edge of the Rim, you are at an altitude of almost 5,000 feet. Continuing east on Arizona State Route 250 at Payson takes you into the heart of the Mogollon Rim recreation area.

For more information, check out our article How To Spend A Day At Arizona's Mogollon Rim.

Mogollon Rim, Arizona

4. Wickenburg, America's most western town

Wickenburg, a comfortable 54-mile freeway drive from Phoenix, bills itself as "America's most western community." Its historic downtown, with buildings dating to the early 1900s and wood plank sidewalks, certainly feels like a step back into the Old West. Recorded messages from a series of talking statues, figures representing characters from Wickenburg's past, bring its history to life.

Inside the buildings, modern shops offer a variety of art, crafts, western wear, and unique gifts. Your walk and browse through town may feel like continual steps between past and present. Don't leave town without visiting the Desert Caballeros Western Museum. It has an impressive collection of western art and recreates Wickenburg's early days.

For more information, check out Phoenix Day Trip: Wickenburg.

Schoolteacher "talking statue" in Wickenburg, Arizona.
Schoolteacher "talking statue" in Wickenburg. Photo: Donna Janke.

5. Saguaro Lake

It may come as a surprise to some to learn that there are lakes within easy reach of Phoenix. One of these man-made lakes is Saguaro Lake, created by the damming of the Salt River. Its 22 miles of shoreline includes rocky crags, canyon walls, marshland, and desert shrubland.

You can explore its varied scenery and ecosystems on a narrated 90-minute cruise aboard the Desert Belle riverboat. You'll see rugged desert, mountains, marshlands, many birds and maybe even a bighorn sheep, deer, or bobcats. Saguaro Lake also offers hiking, camping and a variety of water activities.

For more information, read 5 Things To Do At Saguaro Lake.

The Desert Belle, Saguaro Lake.
The Desert Belle, Saguaro Lake. Flickr / vaxomatic

6. Tonto Natural Bridge State Park

A 183-foot-high natural arch in Tonto Natural Bridge State Park is believed to the largest travertine bridge in the world. The bridge has been carved over thousands of years by precipitation seeping through limestone.

The park is located in Pine Creek Valley, 100 miles northeast of Phoenix. Four viewing platforms allow you to view the bridge from above. Alternatively you can hike trails taking you past walls of rock formations, cacti and pinyon pines down to the creek bottom and underneath the bridge.

For more information, read our article Tonto Natural Bridge State Park.

Tonto Natural Bridge, water spraying down, Arizona

7. Kartchner Caverns State Park

Thousands of years of water seeping through limestone is also responsible for the formations known as speleotherms in Kartchner Caverns State Park, 165 miles southeast of Phoenix. The massive limestone cave has 13,000 feet of passages and is considered one of the top ten caves of the world in terms of mineral diversity. Daily tours of this living cave are available.

For more information, read our article about Kartchner Caverns State Park.

Kartchner Caverns stalactites and stalagmites, Arizona

8. Jerome, Vertical City of Ghosts and Artists

The town of Jerome makes for a fun and quirky day trip. Many buildings in this "vertical city", built at a 30-degree incline atop Cleopatra Hill two hours north of Phoenix, date to the late 1800s and early 1900s when Jerome got its start as a copper mining town. The mining boom brought miners, businessmen and less savory characters to town. Ghosts from that time supposedly haunt the town to this day. When mining ceased and the town nearly died, artists, musicians and writers moved in. Jerome is now home to a thriving arts community.

Today, both ghosts and art bring people to town. Ghost tours explore haunting stories. Historic buildings house galleries, studios and specialty shops.

For more information, check out Phoenix Day Trip: Jerome, The Vertical City.

Jerome, Arizona, seen at sunrise
Jerome, Arizona. Wikimedia Commons

9. Montezuma Castle National Monument

Montezuma Castle National Monument, located 95 miles north of Phoenix, is one of the best-preserved cliff-dwellings in North America. The buildings of this five-story structure sit on ledges of natural caves and appear nestled in the mountain. The Sinagua people began building the structure in the twelfth century and lived there until the early fifteen century.

For more information, read How To Spend A Day At Montezuma Castle National Monument.

Montezuma's castle seen from below, Arizona

10. Tubac, Town of History and Art

Art and history meet in the village of Tubac, 160 miles southeast of Phoenix. Tubac was established in 1752 as a Spanish presidio and began to develop as an artist colony in the 1930s and 1940s. Today, restored historic buildings in this thriving arts community house over 100 galleries, studios and shops, all within easy walking distance of each other. The annual February Tubac Festival of the Arts brings artists from all over the country and is the longest running festival in Arizona. The grounds of the former fortress now house a state historic park showcasing the timeline of human settlement in the area.

For more information, check out Art And History In Tubac, Arizona.

Arts and crafts for sale outdoors, Tubac, Arizona
Photo: Donna Janke.