The area around Phoenix is home to many natural wonders, historical sites and parks offering an abundance of outdoor adventures. Visit Grand Canyon National Park, the Sonoran Desert, Montezuma Castle National Monument and Saguaro National Park. Or head to a nearby city like Sedona or Flagstaff to explore unique museums and dine at great restaurants.
1. Sedona (2 hours)
Sedona, Arizona, is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful places on Earth. This small town of 10,000 people is big on charm, hospitality, and natural beauty. Sedona sits at the mouth of Oak Creek Canyon and is surrounded by beautiful, towering red rock formations, making it a perfect place for hiking, biking, and kayaking. The dry, temperate climate means that the weather is almost always perfect in Sedona! The city also hosts a variety of restaurants, from classic American diners to upscale Italian cuisine. Lodging is available in cabins, hotels, bed and breakfasts, and beautiful resort properties.
2. Grand Canyon National Park (3 hours 20 minutes)
No other place in the world offers the breathtaking natural beauty found in Grand Canyon National Park. One of the seven Natural Wonders of the World, this national landmark is a 3.5-hour drive from Phoenix and it’s well worth the trip! The park contains miles of trails for some of the best hiking and backpacking in the country. Camping, boating, kayaking, fishing, cycling, and horseback riding are all available here, and at night it’s a great place to stargaze. Grand Canyon National Park is open 365 days a year. Special permits are required for some activities.
3. Sonoran Desert (50 minutes)
Most of the southern half of Arizona is part of a larger tract of land known as the Sonoran Desert. This 100,000-square-mile region also covers parts of California, Baja, and northern Mexico. The Sonora Desert boasts an astonishing variety of landscapes and ecosystems and all of the world’s biomes can be found here, including tundra, desert, grassland, and coniferous and deciduous forest. Paved and dirt roads provide opportunities for hiking and scenic drives. There are also man-made attractions such as gardens, an aviary, and an aquarium at the nearby Sonora Desert Museum.
4. Montezuma Castle National Monument (1 hour 30 min)
Montezuma’s Castle is a relic from the past. This apartment-style dwelling was carved into the side of a limestone cliff by the Sinagua, a Native American tribe that occupied the area more than 600 years ago. The site was named one of the country’s first national monuments by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. Today, visitors to the monument can walk along trails that take them near the cliff-side dwelling and view artifacts in the on-site museum. The park is also a great place to see a variety of native plants and wildlife such as birds, insects, and Arizona sycamore trees.
5. Meteor Crater (2 hours 45 min)
Located 2 hours and 45 minutes from Phoenix lies a massive round depression in the ground. The depression is almost a mile across and over 500 feet deep and is known as Meteor Crater, the site where a large meteorite crashed into Earth approximately 50,000 years ago. Today, Meteor Crater attracts visitors from all over the world. The on-site discovery center contains 24 interactive exhibits that give information about stars, plants, and meteors. There are also a gift shop and rock shop on the premises. Guests can take a guided or self-guided tour of the crater rim and can stay until dark for the excellent star gazing.
6. Flagstaff (2 hours 15 min)
The sprawling city of Flagstaff sits high in the mountains at 7,000 feet above sea level. This city covers 64 square miles and is a tourist mecca that attracts roughly 5,000,000 visitors per year. Flagstaff prides itself on being a center of art and culture in Northern Arizona. There is much to see and do here, including shopping, museums, restaurants, and art galleries. Guests can take a ride on the historic Grand Canyon Railway, hear the classics performed by the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra, or get a close-up view of the stars at the Lowell Observatory.
7. Tucson Mountain Park (1 hour 50 min)
Tucson Mountain Park is a great place to get outdoors. Located 1 hour and 50 minutes from Phoenix, this 20,000-acre park offers a variety of outdoor activities, including 62 miles of trails that are available for hikers, cyclists, and horseback riders. The Gilbert Ray Campground provides 130 sites with electric hook-ups for RV campers. Archery and gun shooting ranges are a part of the park, and hunting is offered in designated areas with a permit. The on-site Desert Discovery Center offers classes and workshops to teach visitors about the landscape and wildlife of the desert.
8. Saguaro National Park (2 hours 30 min)
Saguaro National Park was developed as an area to protect the giant Saguaro cactus. These large desert plants have become symbols of the American West, and here they can be viewed in the wild. The park also offers miles of hiking trails through the desert landscape and up into the high mountain elevations. Camping at remote sites is accessible only by foot and is available on a first-come, first-served basis. The park also offers special nighttime events and “Art in the Park” workshops with the park’s artist in residence. The park is open 365 days per year although the visitors’ center is closed on Christmas Day.
9. Prescott (1 hour 50 min)
Prescott was the original capital of the Arizona Territory. Today, Prescott is a small city of 40,000 that is dedicated to preserving the past while progressing towards the future. Historical buildings and Victoria-era homes original to the city have been preserved and can be viewed by tourists throughout the year. The city also offers shopping, dining, lodging, and four museums, including a children’s museum and a small zoo. Four golf courses can be found here, and with Prescott’s dry, temperate climate, visitors will be able to play the links all year round!
10. Tonto Natural Bridge State Park (1 hour 50 min)
In central Arizona, at an elevation of 4,500 feet, stands the Tonto Natural Bridge. At 183 feet high, it is the largest natural travertine bridge in the world. The bridge was discovered in 1877 and opened as a state park in 1991. The park contains four short trails for hiking, a visitors’ center and lodge containing museum exhibits, a gift shop, and picnic areas. Swimming is available in Pine Creek, downstream from the bridge, and special junior ranger programs are available for kids. The park is open seven days a week from 9 am to 5 pm.