15 Best Day Trips from Scottsdale, AZ

Arizona brings to mind scorching deserts and wide open spaces, and that is certainly what you’ll find in its periphery, but Scottsdale is a hospitable oasis in the centre of all that; replete with golf courses, spas, and all the modern conveniences you could want from a trip away.

Located east of Arizona’s capital, Scottsdale turns out to be a great spot for adventurers to base themselves in, providing a slew of excellent hotels to escape the desert heat, as well as plenty of great restaurants to sate the appetite.

You’ll certainly need that space to relax and refuel after you take on any of these great day trip options, all within a few hours of the Scottsdale area.

1. Prescott

 

Prescott, Arizona

Once the territorial capital of Arizona, Prescott is now a pleasant, mid-sized city in the middle of Arizona, a lovely place to spend the day.

Its historic roots are the main appeal.

Founded upon the gold rush of 1863, it still retains some of that old-world feel, with saloon bars and Victorian architecture ever-present around town.

The Sharlot Hall Museum is an excellent place to cement all your musings about the place, with a whole range of different exhibits – including interactive live history programs and al fresco theatre shows.

It’s a pretty large place, so leave enough time to fully explore.

2. Sedona

Devil's Bridge Trail, Sedona, Arizona

Sedona is a truly impressive geological site with monolithic spires reaching into the sky, painted colourfully in sandstone ochre hues.

Sculpted by the weather and shaped through years of wind and rain, you can see the very work of nature in their towering presence.

On a sunny day, they stand out starkly against the sky.

Framed with a background of pine trees, these gravity-defying structures are well worth a visit just to cast your eyes on them, but if you feel like staying longer there are plenty of diversions around, from luxury resorts to golf courses.

3. Payson

View of the Mogollon Rim from Payson, Arizona

Home to the world’s oldest continuous rodeo, Payson is well worth a stop if you’re in Scottsdale, especially if you’re around in summer when the rodeo is in full swing.

The drive along the Beeline Highway is stunning in its own right, but Rim Country – as it’s known – is certainly a worthy end destination.

With an elevation of 5000 feet, the air is fresher than much of the state, and you’ll even get to see snow if it’s the season for it.

If you’ve got a bit more time on your hands, drive on to the prettily named Pine and Strawberry for more scenic roadside viewing.

4. Phoenix

Phoenix, Arizona

The sprawling state capital of Arizona certainly deserves a visit while you’re in the neighbourhood and it’s a mere stone’s throw away from Scottsdale.

Apart from all the usual attractions of a major city – bars, restaurants, museums and art galleries – there’s also the fascinating Desert Botanical Garden, which displays the best of Arizona’s native plant life to its full potential.

Wander among cacti and marvel at the sheer persistence of the scrubby organisms that eke out a living in harsh conditions out in the desert.

The best thing about this day trip though, is that it’s really close to home, so you can pop back whenever you need.

5. Jerome

Jerome, Arizona

This oddly named town is a local favourite, with its historic significance and excellent nearby wineries.

From a visitor’s point of view, it has something a bit different to offer than many of Arizona’s other sites.

The area surrounding Jerome, as well as its museum, has been afforded State Park status, and offers an insight into its past as a mining area.

Make sure to stop off at the eclectic mix of artist studios around town on your way out, this is now Jerome’s main source of commerce.

6. Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot

Montezuma Castle, Arizona

These two glorious national monuments are located nearby one another a little drive north of Phoenix.

Both sites are of significance to Native American history and are in close proximity to villages long since abandoned, studded among the clifftops.

You’ll certainly be impressed at the houses which are literally dug into the hillside; it’s one of the best-preserved examples of this type of dwelling in the country.

The Sinagua people are thought to have lived there for around 150 years, from 1250 to some time in the 1400’s.

It’s also a stunning site of natural beauty – make sure to spend some time exploring further afield, hiking along the ridges.

7. Tucson

Tucson, Arizona

Tucson is the state’s second largest city and sits just two hours away from Scottsdale.

It has all the attractions you may want from a bustling metropolis: museums to browse, bars to sample, and restaurants to entice you.

There are also a bunch of great scenic drives you can take in its immediate surrounds, as well as some hidden spots that you can explore on foot.

Residents may tell you that Tucson gets 350 days of sunshine in the year, so you’re almost guaranteed some great weather to accompany you on your explorations.

8. Verde Valley

Verde Canyon Railroad

Around 100 miles from the capital of Arizona lies the Verde Valley, with its scenic appeal and, more importantly, the ever-popular Verde Canyon Railroad.

The Railroad is actually situated in Clarkdale and the train passes through 20 miles of land, including places with the ancient roots of the Sinagua people and the more recent history of the mines.

It’s a return trip of about four hours and there’s plenty of opportunity to stick your head out the window and feel the breeze blow on your face – which also makes it a great option for kids.

9. The Apache Trail

Apache Trail, Arizona

Another famed attraction of Arizona is the Apache Trail: the route of an old stagecoach trail that runs through the Superstition Mountains.

Once home to the Apache Indians, this route has some glorious scenery alongside its fascinating history, so hold onto your hats.

Begin the route in Apache Junction, just a short hop from Scottsdale, and wind your way along the 46 miles to Roosevelt Lake.

You’ll pass ghost towns and canyon lakes with rugged, raw, natural beauty.

10. McDowell Mountain Regional Park

McDowell Mountain Regional Park

For a super easy trip from Scottsdale, why not take a look at the superb scenery on offer in the McDowell Mountain Regional Park? It’s only a thirty-minute drive, and as soon as you arrive you’ll be greeted with stunning views of craggy peaks and cactus-dotted landscapes.

There are some fairly easy hiking trails threading their way through the park, or if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous you can take mountain bikes up among the rocks.

11. Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area

Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area

Located to the north of the city lies the rugged terrain of Spur Cross Ranch, a beautiful spot for a day away from Scottsdale.

It’s got acres of land open for hiking and biking, with areas of vivid green along the creek, and of course the arid land of the ranch making up the majority of the space.

There are also the remains of early mines to be seen on your adventures.

If you’re lucky, you’ll visit in wildflower season in early spring and get the chance to view the place in its full natural splendour.

12. Canyon Lake

Canyon Lake, Arizona

At around an hour from Scottsdale, Canyon Lake is a stress-free day trip option, and a kid-friendly one at that.

The lake is over ten miles long, and a worthwhile attraction in itself, but the real highlight of this place is taking a cruise on the Dolly Steamboat.

The 103-foot boat slides smoothly through the lake waters, passing through the Mormon Flat Dam on its way.

It provides a great platform for nature spotting – from the decks you might get the chance to see bald eagles and big horn sheep, as well as the desert’s other residents.

13. Kartchner Caverns

Kartchner Caverns

Sitting in the southeast of Arizona is yet another impressive geological attraction: the Kartchner Caverns.

Towering stalagmites reach out to meet hefty stalactites, and milky pools of stone dot the floors of the cavern.

These caves are still growing year on year and were only discovered in 1974. They also make a pleasantly cool escape from the parching heat of the desert, and offer something a bit different from the many other natural attractions populating the state.

14. San Javier del Bac Mission

San Javier del Bac Mission

A rare example of a man-made Arizona tourist attraction is the spectacular mission cathedral of San Xavier del Bac.

Its white twin towers stand out in stark contrast to the surroundings and its architecture is something to be marvelled at.

The detailing on the spires is gorgeous, and all that is before you’ve even ventured inside.

Founded in 1692, it’s the oldest European structure in the state, making it well worth seeing.

15. Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

It would hardly be right to spend time in this part of the world without visiting its most famous attraction.

Though it may be something of a trek to get there at more than three hours’ drive, it is one of the few world-renowned landmarks that really is everything you hoped it would be.

The Grand Canyon National Park is vast and beautiful, and of course the natural wonder after which it is named can hardly fail to impress.

It dwarfs its surroundings, at 277 km long and up to 29 km wide, with depths reaching up to a mile.

Truly a stunning example of the power and beauty of nature.