The Best Roadtrips from Phoenix
One of the prime benefits of living in Phoenix is the quick access to top notch vacation destinations. From national parks, to world-class beaches, to the best skiing in the Southwest, you basically have access to a little bit of everything from the Valley of the Sun. Each weekend brings forth a new opportunity to explore some of the top natural wonders in the country. Fortunately, most of these roadtrips are within a 4-8 hour drive (at most), so just within a comfortable road trip driving range.
Keep in mind these 10 amazing Phoenix road trip destinations, especially when you need a break from the summer heat!
Roadtrip 1: Flagstaff
- Distance from Phoenix: 2 hours
- Top things to do: Summer chairlift rides at Snowbowl, The Aspen Loop Nature trail, the Arizona Nordic Center, Buffalo Park, Walnut Canyon, and the Inner Basin trail in fall.
- Where to stay: Hotel Weatherford
Flagstaff is probably the most popular of Phoenix road trip destinations. The high altitude mountain town, home to the stately San Francisco Peaks, offers a nice respite from the summer heat. When the summer temps soar past 110 on a daily basis in Phoenix, the temps hover near a more comfortable 80 degree range in Flagstaff. Arizona Snowbowl is home to a wide variety of trails. At 8000+ altitude, the temps are marvelous (especially so for desert dwellers tired of the brutal heat), and just perfect for hiking. Take a look at a few of the most scenic hikes in the Flagstaff area.
Most Flagstaff hiking trails feature gorgeous views of the pines & mountains
There’s much more than hiking to enjoy in Arizona’s favorite tourist destination. From a quaint downtown that is lined with unique restaurants & coffeehouses, to an interesting Native American museum, to a bustling lineup of seasonal events, there’s always something interesting to do in Flagstaff. The quick drive to the red rock wonderland of Sedona is just another benefit. Add in the close proximity to historical attractions like Walnut Canyon, Sunset Crater, & Wupatki, and you have no shortage of great outdoor activities, restaurants, historical attractions, and entertainment offerings.
Flagstaff is known as the “City of 7 Wonders.” Surrounding the city are numerous historical attractions. Wupatki is one of the best preserved pueblos in the Southwest.
And, the attractive 4 season climate brings forth even more opportunities for adventure, as you can enjoy prime leaf peeping in fall and even skiing in winter (the city is home to the best ski resort in the state).
It’s hard to believe this bright fall foliage is found in Arizona!
The San Francisco Peaks look even more gorgeous capped with snow!
Overall, Flagstaff is Arizona’s most beautiful and diverse vacation destination. And, 2 hours is really no big deal considering you get to temporarily escape the Phoenix congestion and heat in exchange for fresh cool mountain air. The drive over is actually an activity in and of itself. Seeing the landscape change from tall Saguaro cacti to green pine trees truly is a mesmerizing experience you cannot enjoy anywhere else!
Where else can you go from hiking with shorts on, to cross country skiing through snowy mountains, all in the same day?
Check out this list of 50+ wonderful things to do in Flagstaff
Roadtrip 2: San Diego
- Distance from Phoenix: 5.5 hours
- Top things to do: Torrey Pines Nature reserve, La Jolla Beach, Mission Beach, San Diego Zoo, Casa Guadalajara, Cabrillo National Monument
- Where to stay: Bahia Resort Hotel
San Diego is, not surprisingly, a favorite tourist destination amongst nature lovers and fitness buffs across the country. With the country’s largest zoo, 70 miles of gorgeous beachfront, endless recreational opportunities, and no shortage of authentic Mexican restaurants, San Diego offers an endless supply of activities for your weekend adventures.
See one of the only US pandas at the famous San Diego Zoo! Update: In 2019, the last 2 pandas returned to China, however, this still is still one of the country’s best zoos.
While the city is most famous for being one of just 4 US zoos to house a panda, there’s plenty more to do and see. In addition to a world-class zoo, gigantic Balboa Park houses a number of unique attractions including museums, theaters, and pretty nature trails. San Diego beaches are gorgeous. If you are not one to just sit around and sunbathe, you can take a ride along the beautiful Mission Bay boardwalk and enjoy the scenery in a more active way.
Perfect weather, beautiful coastal views, & a nice workout – can it get any better?
If you prefer to take up your activity a notch, Torrey Pines Preserve is the place to get in a workout while also enjoying amazing coastal scenery. It’s one of the top things to do in San Diego for sure.
Amazing ocean views from a trail at Torrey Pines – simply jaw dropping!
Whale Watching, the Birch Aquarium, Old Town (home to lots of great restaurants and shops), Belmont Shoreside amusement park, Cabrillo National Monument…and the list goes on. There’s plenty to do and see here, and thus, it’s one of the best weekend roadtrip destinations via Phoenix.
Stop by La Jolla beach to see the sea lions!
Roadtrip 3: Las Vegas
- Distance from Phoenix: 4.5 hours
- Top things to do: Free shows on The Strip, Mac King comedy show, Beatles Cirque du Soleil, Mon Ami Gabi, Eiffel Tower Experience, The Neon Museum, gondola rides at the Venetian, The Pinball Hall of Fame, Red Rock Canyon
- Where to stay: The Mirage
If you are up for a weekend filled to the brim with non stop excitement, of course, the obvious choice is a trip to Sin City. Vegas today is so much more than simply gambling. In fact, you can spend the entire weekend enjoying world-class dining, shows, entertainment, and shopping without pulling a single slot.
And best of all, you do not necessarily need to spend a ton of money. Plenty of hotels offer reasonable rates – look into The Mirage and the Paris for starters. Of course, if you want a bit of luxury, The Venetian, The Wynn, & Caesar’s Palace are all over-the-top amazing. Plus, there is so much free entertainment comprising the entirety of the Strip. Be sure to put the Bellagio fountain show and The Mirage volcano show high on your list.
The iconic choreographed Bellagio fountain show is the best in Vegas!
In terms of grand views, look no further than the Eiffel Tower Experience or the Linq High Roller, currently the world’s tallest observation wheel. For dining with a view, you can’t beat the Eiffel Tower restaurant for its’ prime view of the Bellagio fountain show. For world class entertainment, book your tickets for any of the multitude of Cirque du Soleil productions. Looking to keep it budget friendly? Mac King’s comedy/magic show is an amazing value considering it is one of the best shows on the Strip.
Check out the incredible view of the Strip via the Eiffel Tower
And for those seeking a less touristy, more oddball attraction, head straight over to The Neon Museum to see all the classic retired neon casino signs. Check out more oddball off-the-Strip attractions.
Who remembers all these classic neon signs?
And, for all the outdoor lovers out there, Red Rock Canyon is an amazing place to hike. It’s really amazing that such incredible natural scenery exists just 20 minutes from the craziness of The Strip!
Escape the commotion for a peaceful morning of hiking!
Roadtrip 4: Tucson
- Distance from Phoenix: 1 hr, 45 min
- Top things to do: Saguaro National Park, Catalina State Park, Mt Lemmon Scenic Byway, Seis tacos at Mercado, Tumamoc Hill, Mini Time Museum of Miniatures, Fox Theater, Brunch at the Hotel Congress, Frost Gelato
- Where to stay: JW Marriott at Starr Pass
Phoenix and Tucson are 2 completely different cities that both share a beautiful setting in the Sonoran desert. While Phoenix is a hotspot for dining, shopping, hiking, and entertainment, Tucson is known for its’ laid back vibe, quiet resorts, southwestern heritage, and gorgeous secluded views of the desert. They are both worthy vacation destinations in their own right.
There’s lot to see and do in “The Old Pueblo.” First off, the views here are tremendous just about anywhere you go as the city is surrounded by 4 spectacular mountain ranges. Hiking should be a priority. Check out gorgeous Catalina State Park, Saguaro National Park, or Honeybee Canyon – all offer unending views of cacti and unparalleled mountain scenery. Check out my full guide to hiking in Tucson.
Saguaro National Park is one of the country’s true treasures
Besides hiking, you will want to check out Tucson’s magnificent culinary scene. The city is known for being home to “the best 23 miles of Mexican food in the country.” Definitely treat yourself to some breakfast tacos at Seis located in the beautiful Mercado San Agustin courtyard.
The best breakfast tacos anywhere!
The Mini Time Museum of Miniatures is one of the most interesting museums in the world. At this unique gem, you will get to see hundreds of intricate mini dollhouses, organized in 3 different themed rooms.
The level of detail in each dollhouse is truly amazing
You will also want to see if any shows/movies are playing at the gorgeous Fox Theater, one of the hidden treasures of the city.
Roadtrip 5: Grand Canyon South Rim
- Distance from Phoenix: 3.5 hours
- Top things to do: Mather Point Overlook, South Rim trail, dinner at the El Tovar, Hike the South Kaibab trail, Kolb studio
- Where to stay: El Tovar
Due to its’ immense beauty, it’s no surprise that The Grand Canyon is the most visited tourist site in all of Arizona. As it is just a few hours away from Phoenix, getting out here at least once is a must. While Sedona as a whole is much more beautiful and relaxing of a vacation destination, at least one trip to one of the natural wonders of the US is a must!
While most of the observing areas can get pretty crowded, there are several other means to take in the scenery in a more private way. Consider a mule ride or whitewater rafting adventure through the canyon. Another option is to embark on a hiking trail. The South Kaibab trail is one of the most stunning hikes you will ever come across and totally isolated, especially after the first turn around point. Continue on to Skeleton Point (the last overlook) for incredible views into the heart of the canyon.
What a view! And completely desolate as an added bonus!
Roadtrip 6: Zion National Park
- Distance from Phoenix: 6 hours
- Top things to do: Emerald Pools trail, Pa’rus bike trail, Deep Creek Coffee Company, Zion Canyon scenic drive, Watchman trail
- Where to stay: Majestic View Lodge
Although Zion is quite a drive from Phoenix, as one of America’s most unique national parks, it’s definitely worthy of a visit. To get a little more bang-for-your-buck, you can always add on side trips to Horseshoe Bend, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and Bryce Canyon, all 3 of which are amazing in their own right.
Definitely plan a sidetrip to Horseshoe Bend. As one of the top photographed sites in the Southwest, it’s worthy of the detour!
There are numerous ways to enjoy the scenery at Zion. Hiking, scenic drives, and horseback riding will all give you a up close and personal view of the colorful rock formations. A leisurely walk or bike ride along the paved Pa’Rus trail is a great place to begin your journey. Anyone up for a moderately intense hike will want to make the trek to Emerald Pools – what a beauty!
Possibly the most scenic bike ride in the country!
Staying in nearby Springdale will give you easy access to the park. Additionally, downtown Springdale is a great place to refuel, relax, and shop after a long day on your feet. Free shuttles operate from March-November.
Roadtrip 7: Pagosa Springs/Durango
- Distance from Phoenix: 8 hours
- Top things to do: Pagosa Springs spa and mineral soak, Durango Silverton railroad, horseback riding tour, Treasure Falls hike, Rocky Mountain Wildlife Park, Stroll around downtown Durango, Colorfest (annual hot air balloon fest)
- Where to stay: Elk Trace Inn
Pagosa Springs is really one of the hidden treasures of the Southwest. Home to the world’s deepest hot springs, this really is the place to go to unwind and relax for a weekend. While it may be the furthest roadtrip on this list, it’s also the most relaxing! At Pagosa Springs resort, you can soak in 10+ different natural mineral enriched pools. People have been coming here for years to soothe joint and muscle aches, and cure all sorts of ailments. In general, it’s simply a great place to let all your stresses go.
The mineral pools vary in temp from the mid 90’s to a scorching 110 degrees!
Pagosa is an outdoor lovers dream destination. Whether you prefer to hike, bike, horseback ride, kayak…you can do just about anything here. The massive San juan wilderness represents nature at its’ best.
Do not miss out on Treasure Falls, a tremendous 105 foot waterfall that requires no more than a 1/2 mile hike to see. Note – the waterfall is also partially visible from the road for those unable to hike.
Nearby Durango offers a plethora in the outdoor department as well. There are endless trails to explore. To take in the scenery in a more leisurely manner, hop aboard the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Get ready for some of the best scenery you will ever lie your eyes upon. What a gorgeous ride, especially during the peak of fall. Really, nothing compares to the stunning mountain vistas & dazzling fall foliage you will enjoy aboard the country’s top train ride.
Such a gorgeous relaxing ride! Totally worth the price!
After your ride, take a stroll around Downtown Durango. You will find lots of great restaurants here including the Irish Embassy, one of the top Irish Pubs I’ve come across in my travels. Head back for a relaxing night at the Elk Trace Inn, a gorgeous secluded B&B which is by far one of the top I’ve ever had the pleasure of staying in.
Roadtrip 8: Sedona
- Distance from Phoenix: 2 hours
- Top things to do: Teacup trail, Devil’s Bridge trail, Brunch at the Enchantment Resort, Oak Creek Canyon drive, Red Rock Scenic Byway, Red Rock State Park, Doe Mountain trail, Uptown Sedona, Dinner at Cucina Rustica
- Where to stay: The Inn Above Oak Creek
Sedona is one of the best vacation destinations in the country. Hikers, photographers, and nature lovers definitely need to put Sedona on the top of their bucket list. The scenery here is simply unparalleled. Ancient red rock formations dominate the landscape. Whether you enjoy a scenic drive, a hike, or simply dine al fresco, gorgeous red rocks make a bold background statement.
A drive along Oak Creek Canyon is a must while in the vicinity. This drive begins near the dramatic red rocks of Uptown Sedona and ends 14 miles later near the beautiful pine studded landscapes of Flagstaff. You will have your choice amongst 100’s of miles of incredible hiking trails. Devil’s Bridge, featuring the largest sandstone arch is the absolute must do here. Additionally, here are more jaw dropping Sedona hikes to add to your itinerary.
Not afraid of heights? Make the trek across Devil’s Bridge.
Uptown Sedona & The Village of Tlaquepaque are both scenic places to shop, dine, and browse galleries. In terms of dining, The Hudson and Che-Ah-Chi both offer incredible patios for soaking in the red rock vistas.
Overall, Sedona is the number 1 road trip destination from Phoenix. The over-the-top red rock scenery alone makes it worthy of the 2 hour drive. Add in amazing hiking, fabulous restaurants, top notch galleries, and a bustling vibe, and you have yourself one great little weekend roadtrip. The many tourists who skip Sedona in favor of the Grand Canyon sure are missing out. Both are high on the list of the Southwest’s most scenic destinations.
Roadtrip 9: Los Angeles
- Distance for Phoenix: 5.5 hours
- Top things to do: Griffith Observatory, The Getty Museum, Mulholland Drive, Los Liones trail, Shoreline Village (Long Beach), The Strand bike path, Any of the L.A. area beaches, Santa Monica Pier, Runyon Canyon
- Where to stay: Hyatt Regency Long Beach (great central location)
Despite the negative press L.A. receives regarding its’ hideous traffic, pollution, and numerous other factors, there are enough incredible sights to justify temporarily dealing with the negatives. Beaches, bike paths, coastal hiking trails, museums, amazing restaurants, and so much more. While the traffic is by far the worst in the country, it’s still a worthy road trip due to the abundance of amenities. Staying in Long Beach gives you access to the amenities of both L.A. & Orange County. Plus, it’s more affordable and less congested.
Many L.A. metro hiking trails feature fabulous views of the coast
A few must-see sights
- Griffith Observatory (best view of Hollywood sign/great trails)
- Topanga Canyon (excellent hiking)
- Manhattan Beach
- The Strand beach bike path
- The Grove (beautiful outdoor mall home to the Original Farmer’s Market).
- The Getty Museum
- Runyon Canyon (iconic L.A. hike overlooking the city)
- Disneyland (not as nice as DisneyWorld but still worthy of a visit as the original Disney park).
Roadtrip 10: Albuquerque
- Distance from Phoenix: 6.5 hours
- Top things to do: Sandia Peak tramway, Petroglyph National Monument, ABQ Biopark, Breakfast/brunch at El Pinto
- Where to stay: Hotel Andaluz
Albuquerque is a wonderful vacation destination for anyone interested in history and outdoor adventures. The city is rich in history with fantastic ethnic restaurants and an abundance of interesting historical attractions.
Outdoor buffs will definitely want to take time out to explore the beautiful Sandia foothills. Really, there are endless hiking options here for fitness buffs of all levels. If you are not up for a long hike, consider a ride up the Sandia Peak tramway as a leisurely alternative. Save your ride for sunset as the mountains transform into a beautiful pinkish red hue.
Sandia in Spanish translates into watermelon, an apt name for the brilliant glow that covers the mountains at sunset.
Petroglyph National Monument is another interesting site to add to your bucket list. This is a really unique park where you will see hundreds of ancient pictographs. Really interesting place, and really isolated so you can explore at your own pace sans heavy crowds.
In terms of dining, you have to try some authentic New Mexican fare. Check out El Pinto for its’ amazing food and ambiance. Enjoying Blue Corn pancakes on the lovely courtyard is the best way to start any morning! And, you really cannot go wrong with a delicious breakfast burrito!
Oh, and Breaking Bad fans will definitely want to sign up for a trolley movie tour!