The sprawling metropolis of Phoenix is known for its year-round sunshine and unique desert scenery. It’s climate has earned it the nickname “Valley of the Sun”, but the area has a whole lot more going for it than just good weather.
Phoenix is a wonderful city to explore in itself, but I highly recommend checking out the whole Southwest region while you’re there. With world famous canyons and the Sonoran desert in its backyard, Phoenix is the perfect city to use as a jumping point to visit other incredible areas.
Choose to plan a self-guided adventure, or sit back and let someone else do the driving on a guided tour. Everyone has their own style of travel, and Phoenix caters to all.
Strap in, y’all, and get ready for some of the most epic day trips from Phoenix.
Getting Around Phoenix, and Beyond
When you are staying in Phoenix, getting around is super easy!
There is a decent rail system that runs through Central Phoenix and out to the east. It hits a lot of the must-see attractions, and is ideal for exploring the inner city. It costs just $2 for a one-way ticket, and $4 for a full day of unlimited transport.
When you want to get out of Phoenix, there are shuttle buses and Amtrak trains that connect the city with nearby attractions. If public transport isn’t your vibe, you’ll find plenty of taxis, Ubers, and Lyfts around the city center. eScooters and eBikes are a popular inner-city mode of transport, and are just as much fun as they are convenient!
Of course, renting a car is a good option for those who are keen to explore the city and surrounds on their own. Make sure you book in advance – during the busy months finding a rental car on the spot is near impossible! Driving around Phoenix is pretty straightforward forward too, plus there are a bunch of free parking spots, unlike most US cities.
There are some great hostels, hotels, and Airbnbs in Phoenix that are within walking distance of public transportation. Make sure you do your research and book accommodation in a safe and central area near the light-rail service.
Half-day Trips in Phoenix
Don’t have a full day free? No stress! With the Sedona Desert and other vibrant cities less than half an hour away, there are plenty of half-day trips from Phoenix to enjoy. You can hike, shop, cycle, and swim, and still have time to pack other fun things into your day before the sun sets!
Desert Botanical Garden
When I think of botanical gardens, I tend to think of a lush, leafy space with green grass and picnic areas. Beautiful right? Now let’s reimagine that – desert style.
A visit to the Desert Botanical Garden is a great way to enjoy the beauty of the desert in a curated and educational space. It’s a quick half-hour drive from Phoenix – there are even public buses that run the route.
The Desert Botanical Gardens have an impressive collection of desert plants, including desert wildflowers and blooming cacti. You can walk through educational trails to learn how the Sonoran Desert plants have been used for food, medicine, and building materials by Native populations for many thousands of years.
For those who want a bit more of an active adventure, there is a hiking trail that leads to the top of a hilly peak. You can enjoy epic views of the desert mountains, the Desert Botanical Gardens, and the cities of Phoenix and Scottsdale.
When exploring on your own steam, there are restaurants and cafes where you can grab a bite to eat. You could join one of the many garden tours scheduled throughout the day.
Scottsdale is a perfect half-day trip from Phoenix for a bit of fun, and getting out of the city.
Just a 20-minute drive from downtown Phoenix, it’s easy to drive to the historic downtown of Scottsdale. For those who would prefer a more structured trip, there are a bunch of day trips into the city that depart from Phoenix. Local tours are great if you’re keen to dive a ‘lil deeper into the facts, history, and hidden gems. Of course, public transportation is also an option.
First things first, I recommend heading straight to the historic downtown to check out the unique Western architecture, local art galleries, and souvenir shops. Some of the main Scottsdale attractions are Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter house called Taliesin West, Old Town Scottsdale, and the Western Spirit: Scottsdale Museum of the West.
The area is also well known for its lush golf courses, which are a striking reprieve from the harsh (yet stunning) desert surroundings.
If you want a night out on the town, Scottsdale is also known for its epic nightlife!
Suggested trip: Sightseeing Scottsdale Tour
The Sonoran Desert
Phoenix is surrounded by the Sonoran Desert, one of the hottest deserts in the USA. Getting out and exploring the vast landscape is one of the best ways to spend a day away from the city.
Hiking through the otherworldly environment is going to earn you some epic street-cred – its a magnificent place to be immersed in nature and challenge yourself.
Unless you’ve got some real experience hiking, it’s probably best to tackle a Sonoran Desert hike with a guide. Sunset and sunrise are the best times to do it – being sure to skip the hottest time of the day. The hikes cater to all skill levels, so this is an adventure that you can enjoy with the whole family.
The Sonoran Desert is a stunning place to watch a sunrise from a hot air balloon! Although a little pricey, it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Suggested trip: Sonoran Desert Hiking Trip
Full Day Trips in Phoenix
Sure, Phoenix is great. But don’t get stuck in the city. Get outta the big smoke and explore the amazing desert surroundings on a day trip from Phoenix.
The heat can get unbearable in the Valley of the Sun, why not escape and get out on the water? Salt River is a picturesque canyon just two hours outside of Phoenix. It’s a top location for white water rafting, kayaking, and tubing, as well as just lounging in nature beside cool waters.
Rafting on the river is a fun activity to enjoy with your loved ones, especially the kids. You can swim in the river year-round too, a refreshing reprieve from the desert heat.
While you’re exploring around the river, you’ll see plenty of desert wildlife and might even get to do some birdwatching. Wild horses and bald eagles are often spotted in these parts, keep your eyes peeled and cameras ready!
There are rafting day trips from Phoenix that cater to rafting beginners, as well as those on the more experienced side. If you are more of a relaxer, just spend a day on the shore dipping into the water as you please.
Suggested trip: Salt River Rafting Tour
We’ve all heard of the Grand Canyon – it is iconic!
The Colorado River carved the canyon over six million years ago, creating one of the most popular natural attractions in America.
The drive to the Grand Canyon from Phoenix is about 3.5 hours. You can try driving yourself, stopping by fun pitstops to break up the journey, or hop on a tour for the most effective and efficient route.
Spend a full day exploring the vast landscapes and stops of the canyon. There are multiple view points to visit, including the amazing skywalk that lets you wander away from the ridge, into the canyon. Along with a guide, or with the informational plaques, you can learn about the Native history of the canyon and the geological science.
Plan ahead to know which side of the canyon you want to see! If you want to see it all, spend a night nearby and see the natural beauty from every angle. This unique and intimate geodome is perfect for a memorable stay!
If you do one day trip from Phoenix, make it this one.
Suggested trip: Grand Canyon Day Trip
Sedona and the Sedona Red Rocks
The desert town of Sedona is located just two hours outside of Phoenix. It straddles the county line between Coconino and Yavapai in Northern Arizona, and is known for its unique red rock formations, steep canyons, and pine forests. It’s pretty much a haven for hikers and birdwatchers.
Shopaholics and foodies can have a whale of a time in Sedona hopping from one spot to the next. Those who want a relaxing day trip will find luxurious spas more magnificent pampering in a beautiful setting. That’s not all, Sedona also has a cool art scene, dotted with eclectic art galleries and intriguing street art.
Not everyone can sit still. The adventurers will love Sedona for the the jeep and dirt bike experiences. Explore the surrounding desert on a powerful vehicle, or chuck on your hiking boots to wander the numerous trails – including Red Rock State Park from the outskirts of town.
If you only do one thing on this day trip from Phoenix, don’t miss getting a look at the spectacular Sedona Red Rocks. A butte of vibrant red rocks which creates one of the most spectacular landscapes in all of the US.
Suggest trip: Fun Jeep Tour from Phoenix
Jerome is a former copper mining town perched on a mountainside of the Black Hills in Arizona. It was abandoned in the 1950s becoming a ghost town, before locals converted it into a tourism hub. These days, visitors can experience some rustic Old Western Charm, giving the town a whole new lease on life!
The winding roads that make up Jerome are lined with a bizarre mix of rustic and abandoned Old Western-style buildings, as well as restored and converted tourist shops and restaurants.
You can learn about the town’s mining history at the Jerome State Historic Park and the Mine Museum, before grabbing a bite to eat at a converted saloon-style restaurant.
Jerome is located up and over the hill from Sedona, close to Prescott – another historic town worth checking out.
You can take the DIY approach if you’ve got a car, or join a tour leaving from Phoenix. Treat yourself and extend your day trip to an overnight stay with a night at a classic Western house overlooking the city.
Flagstaff has a cooler climate for a reprieve from Phoenix’s blistering desert heat. The city has Route 66 running right through, with easy access to destinations along the route. Plus, there’s a wonderful mix of desert and pine forests!
Fans of starry skies and astronomy need to have Flagstaff at the top of your Phoenix day trip list. Pluto was first discovered from the city’s world-renowned observatory!
Arizona Snowbowl Ski Hill is nearby for the cooler months, and those searching for some skiing or snowboarding. Walnut Canyon, Grand Falls, and the Wuptaki National Monument are must-sees year-round.
Flagstaff has a bunch of cute A-frame cabins where you can extend your stay for a romantic retreat or family getaway.
You can get to Flagstaff in just a two-hour drive or three-hour bus ride from Phoenix.
My missus travels with all her clothes in ziplock bags: don’t be like my missus. UP YOUR PACKING GAME!
Packing cubes for the globetrotters and compression sacks for the real adventurers – these babies are a traveller’s best kept secret. They organise yo’ packing and minimise its volume too so you can pack MORE.
Or, y’know… you can stick to ziplock bags.View Our Fave Cubes Or Check Out the Sacks!
Don’t Forget Your Phoenix Travel Insurance
It’s good to get lost sometimes, but it’s also good not to get too lost. There are people that want you home in one piece.
There’s one travel insurance provider The Broke Backpacker trusts for all his wildest shenanigans… World Nomads!
Click the button below to get a quote on your insurance or read our in-depth review of World Nomads’ coverage. And then… let the shenanigans begin. 😉
Any good Phoenix stay needs to include the odd day trip or 2 – both the classic and the hidden gems. Natural beauty, quaint towns and adventurous activities surround the city, and offer a respite from the bustling town.
Enjoy bird watching and admire wild horses while you float down a desert river, accomplish a hike through arid land with flowering cacti or simply relax on a spa day – anything is possible on a day trip from Phoenix.
Bye for now, but not forever!
If you want MORE top-tier Broke Backpacker content like this, then sign up for our weekly newsletter below to get the latest and greatest!
And for transparency’s sake, please know that some of the links in our content are affiliate links. That means that if you book your accommodation, buy your gear, or sort your insurance through our link, we earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you). That said, we only link to the gear we trust and never recommend services we don’t believe are up to scratch. Again, thank you!