15 Best Day Trips from Scottsdale, AZ

Written by Sofia Jones
Updated on
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As an avid traveler exploring the wonders of Arizona, I find myself drawn to the hospitable oasis of Scottsdale, a vibrant city nestled in the heart of the state. While Arizona’s periphery may be synonymous with scorching deserts and vast open spaces, Scottsdale offers a refreshing escape, complete with golf courses, luxurious spas, and all the modern conveniences one could desire.

Located just east of Arizona’s capital, Scottsdale proves to be an ideal base for adventurers like myself. The city boasts a plethora of excellent hotels, providing a cool and comfortable respite from the desert heat. Furthermore, the culinary scene in Scottsdale is a delight, with a multitude of great restaurants catering to every palate.

As I planned my day trips from Scottsdale, I was delighted to discover a range of exciting options within a few hours’ reach. Here are some of the recommended day trips that promise to enrich your Arizona experience.

1. Prescott


Prescott, ArizonaSource: Tim Roberts Photography / shutterstock

As an Arizona traveler, I find myself captivated by the charming city of Prescott. Once the territorial capital of Arizona, Prescott has transformed into a delightful mid-sized city that offers a perfect day getaway.

What truly sets Prescott apart is its rich historical heritage. Established during the gold rush of 1863, the city still exudes a nostalgic ambiance, with remnants of the past beautifully preserved. Strolling through the streets, I was greeted by saloon bars and Victorian architecture, transporting me back to a bygone era.

One must-visit attraction that encapsulates the essence of Prescott is the Sharlot Hall Museum. This museum is a treasure trove of exhibits that provide a deeper understanding of the city’s history. From interactive live history programs to captivating al fresco theatre shows, the museum brings the past to life in an engaging and immersive manner.

With so much to see and explore, it’s important to allocate enough time for a thorough exploration of Prescott. This city boasts a sizable area to cover, ensuring that there are endless discoveries awaiting curious travelers like myself.

2. Sedona

Devil's Bridge Trail, Sedona, ArizonaSource: Nikolas_jkd / shutterstock
Devil’s Bridge Trail, Sedona

Sedona overwhelms me with its awe-inspiring geological features. Monolithic spires rise majestically towards the heavens, adorned in vibrant sandstone ochre hues. As I gazed upon these magnificent creations, I was reminded of the enduring power of nature, as it sculpts and molds the landscape over countless years of wind and rain.

Especially on a sunny day, the spires command attention as they proudly stand against the vast expanse of the sky. Nature’s artistry is beautifully framed by the surrounding pine trees, creating a mesmerizing scene that captivates my senses.

A visit to Sedona is incomplete without witnessing these gravity-defying structures firsthand. Merely casting my eyes upon them filled me with a sense of wonder and appreciation for the world’s wonders. However, should I desire to extend my stay, a myriad of attractions awaits me. From luxurious resorts that indulge my senses to sprawling golf courses that offer leisure and recreation, Sedona provides an array of diversions to enhance my experience.

3. Payson

View of the Mogollon Rim from Payson, ArizonaSource: Tim Roberts Photography / shutterstock
View Of The Mogollon Rim From Payson, Arizona

If you find yourself in Scottsdale, I highly recommend making a stop in Payson, a town renowned for hosting the world’s oldest continuous rodeo. And if your visit happens to align with the summer months, you’re in for a treat as the rodeo comes alive with exhilarating action.

The journey to Payson along the Beeline Highway is an experience in itself, boasting breathtaking vistas that never fail to captivate me. However, it is in Rim Country, as this region is affectionately called, where the true magic awaits. Arriving at this destination feels incredibly rewarding and leaves a lasting impression.

Situated at an elevation of 5000 feet, Payson offers a refreshing change from the typical climate found in much of the state. The air feels crisper, invigorating my senses. And if you happen to be there during the right season, you might even be treated to the sight of glistening snow, adding a touch of winter wonder to the landscape.

4. Phoenix

Phoenix, ArizonaSource: Tim Roberts Photography / shutterstock

While in the vicinity, a visit to the sprawling state capital of Arizona is an absolute must. Phoenix, located just a short distance from Scottsdale, offers an abundance of attractions that cater to every interest.

As a major city, Phoenix boasts an array of options for entertainment and leisure. From vibrant bars and restaurants that tantalize the taste buds, to captivating museums and art galleries that showcase the city’s cultural wealth, there is always something to discover.

One particularly captivating highlight is the Desert Botanical Garden. This remarkable attraction showcases the diverse and resilient native plant life of Arizona in all its glory. Walking through the garden, I found myself immersed in a world of cacti and other remarkable desert organisms. Witnessing their tenacity in surviving and thriving amidst harsh conditions leaves me in awe.

One of the greatest advantages of this day trip is its proximity to home. Being so close to Scottsdale, I had the freedom to return at my convenience. Whether I need a break or simply wish to extend my exploration, knowing that I can easily retreat and return makes the experience all the more enjoyable.

5. Jerome

Jerome, ArizonaSource: Fotoluminate LLC / shutterstock

As I explored this uniquely named town, I quickly discovered why it is a beloved local gem. Jerome’s rich history and its close proximity to outstanding wineries make it a destination like no other in Arizona.

From a visitor’s perspective, Jerome offers a refreshing and distinctive experience compared to other sites in the state. It embraces its quirky charm and showcases a character all its own.

The surrounding area of Jerome, along with its museum, has been designated as a State Park, allowing visitors to delve into its fascinating past as a flourishing mining community. Exploring the park offers a glimpse into the area’s mining heritage and provides insights into the lives of those who once inhabited this remarkable place.

Before leaving Jerome, I highly recommend making a stop at the vibrant and diverse collection of artist studios scattered throughout the town. This artistic community has become the main driving force behind Jerome’s commerce. Immersing myself in the creative atmosphere and exploring the unique creations of talented artists adds an extra layer of depth to my visit.

6. Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot

Montezuma Castle, ArizonaSource: Pamela Au / shutterstock
Montezuma Castle

A short drive north of Phoenix brings me to the vicinity of two magnificent national monuments. These sites hold immense significance in Native American history and are nestled near abandoned villages, nestled within the cliffs.

One of the highlights that will undoubtedly leave an impression is the remarkable houses built into the hillsides. Witnessing these dwellings firsthand is a testament to their exceptional preservation, making them one of the finest examples of this architectural style in the entire country.

The Sinagua people, believed to have inhabited these dwellings, left their mark on this land for approximately 150 years, from 1250 to the 1400s. Exploring their heritage and envisioning their lives within these walls adds a sense of reverence and historical appreciation to the visit.

Beyond the cultural and historical significance, these national monuments also boast breathtaking natural beauty. I find myself captivated by the surrounding landscape and make it a point to venture further afield. Hiking along the ridges offers an opportunity to immerse myself in the stunning vistas and fully appreciate the wonders of nature that abound in this area.

Together, these two national monuments provide a captivating blend of historical and natural allure. It is an experience that left me in awe and prompts me to delve deeper into the fascinating layers of the past while reveling in the awe-inspiring beauty that surrounds me.

7. Tucson

Tucson, ArizonaSource: Chris Rubino / shutterstock

Tucson, the state’s second largest city, beckons from just a two-hour drive away from Scottsdale. This bustling metropolis offers a plethora of attractions to satisfy every desire, from captivating museums to vibrant bars and enticing restaurants.

Beyond the urban buzz, Tucson boasts an abundance of scenic drives that surround the city, allowing me to immerse myself in the natural beauty of the area. Additionally, hidden gems await exploration on foot, unveiling secret spots that offer a more intimate and personal connection with the city.

One thing that residents often boast about is Tucson’s abundance of sunshine. With approximately 350 days of sun each year, I can almost guarantee that you will be accompanied by great weather throughout your explorations. The radiant sunrays add an extra touch of warmth and beauty to the city, enhancing every experience and making each moment even more memorable.

From its cultural treasures to its hidden natural wonders, Tucson offers a vibrant blend of urban delights and outdoor adventures.

8. Verde Valley

Verde Canyon RailroadSource: Jeff Schultes / shutterstock
Verde Canyon Railroad

A journey of approximately 100 miles from the Arizona capital leads me to the breathtaking Verde Valley, known not only for its scenic allure but also for the beloved attraction of the Verde Canyon Railroad.

Located in Clarkdale, this renowned railroad offers an unforgettable experience as it traverses 20 miles of captivating land. Along the route, I had the privilege of witnessing the ancient roots of the Sinagua people and the remnants of the region’s mining history. The train weaves through landscapes that hold both cultural significance and echoes of the past.

Embarking on this railroad adventure is a return trip that spans approximately four hours, providing ample time to soak in the sights and sounds of the journey. One of the highlights is the opportunity to stick my head out of the window and feel the invigorating breeze caress my face. This simple pleasure also makes the experience an excellent choice for families, especially for the delight of children.

9. The Apache Trail

Apache Trail, ArizonaSource: Malgorzata Litkowska / shutterstock
Apache Trail

Arizona is renowned for its captivating attractions, and one that stands out is the legendary Apache Trail. Following the path of an old stagecoach trail through the majestic Superstition Mountains, this route offers a blend of breathtaking scenery and captivating history that will surely leave a lasting impression.

As I embarked on this journey, I was transported back in time to the days when the Apache Indians called this land their home. The trail not only showcases stunning landscapes but also weaves a narrative of the past, inviting me to immerse myself in the rich tapestry of history.

My adventure begins in Apache Junction, a convenient starting point just a short hop away from Scottsdale. From there, I wind my way along the 46-mile trail, eagerly embracing the natural wonders that unfold before me.

Along the route, I encountered ghost towns frozen in time, their remnants telling stories of a bygone era. I was also treated to the sight of canyon lakes, their rugged and raw beauty mesmerizing in its grandeur. Each bend in the road reveals another facet of Arizona’s natural wonders, leaving me in awe of the unspoiled landscapes surrounding me.

As I ventured through the Apache Trail, I found myself captivated by the striking contrast between the tranquility of nature and the vibrant echoes of the past. It is a journey that intertwines captivating scenery with a captivating narrative, offering an unforgettable exploration of Arizona’s raw and untamed beauty.

10. McDowell Mountain Regional Park

McDowell Mountain Regional ParkSource: Lynda Lehmann / shutterstock
McDowell Mountain Regional Park

Looking for a quick and effortless getaway from Scottsdale? Look no further than the McDowell Mountain Regional Park, just a short thirty-minute drive away. As soon as I arrived, I was greeted by a breathtaking display of natural beauty, with craggy peaks and landscapes adorned with cacti stretching out before me.

Exploring this park is a delight, thanks to its well-maintained hiking trails that cater to various skill levels. For a more leisurely experience, you can follow the easier trails that wind their way through the park, allowing me to immerse myself in the stunning surroundings at a comfortable pace. Alternatively, if you’re feeling adventurous and up for a challenge, you can opt to traverse the mountain biking trails that lead you among the rugged rocks, adding an extra thrill to your exploration.

With the McDowell Mountain Regional Park so conveniently close to Scottsdale, it presents an ideal opportunity to reconnect with nature, recharge, and indulge in the awe-inspiring landscapes that Arizona has to offer.

11. Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area

Spur Cross Ranch Conservation AreaSource: Joel Hensler / shutterstock
Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area

Escape to the rugged terrain of Spur Cross Ranch, a hidden gem located just north of the city, offering a perfect day retreat from Scottsdale.

This expansive ranch boasts acres of open land, inviting exploration through hiking and biking trails. As I traversed the paths, I was greeted by vibrant greenery along the creek, creating a striking contrast against the arid landscape that dominates the majority of the ranch.

While embarking on adventures, you’ll have the opportunity to encounter the remnants of early mines, offering a glimpse into the area’s fascinating history. The echoes of the past add a layer of intrigue and discovery to my explorations, connecting me to the heritage of this remarkable place.

If you’re fortunate enough to visit during early spring, wildflower season unveils Spur Cross Ranch in its full natural splendor. Witnessing the burst of colors and fragrant blossoms adds a touch of magic to the already captivating landscape, creating a truly immersive experience in nature’s embrace.

12. Canyon Lake

Canyon Lake, ArizonaSource: You Touch Pix of EuToch / shutterstock
Canyon Lake, Arizona

Located just an hour away from Scottsdale, Canyon Lake offers a stress-free and family-friendly day trip option that is bound to delight.

Stretching over ten miles in length, the lake itself is a captivating attraction. However, the true highlight of this destination lies in taking a cruise aboard the Dolly Steamboat. Stepping aboard the 103-foot vessel, I was transported to a world of tranquility as it gracefully glides across the lake’s shimmering waters, passing through the scenic Mormon Flat Dam along the way.

The Dolly Steamboat provides an ideal platform for nature enthusiasts. From the spacious decks, I had the opportunity to engage in some rewarding wildlife spotting. The possibility of spotting majestic bald eagles soaring above and elusive big horn sheep grazing along the rocky cliffs adds an element of excitement to the journey.

Canyon Lake, with its picturesque beauty and the enchanting experience aboard the Dolly Steamboat, offers a memorable adventure for visitors of all ages.

13. Kartchner Caverns

Kartchner CavernsSource: Mike Lewis / Wikimedia
Kartchner Caverns

In the southeast corner of Arizona, a captivating geological wonder awaits: the Kartchner Caverns. As I venture into these caverns, I was greeted by a mesmerizing sight. Towering stalagmites stretch upward, seemingly reaching out to meet the weighty stalactites hanging from above. The cavern floors are adorned with milky pools of stone, creating a truly enchanting landscape.

What makes the Kartchner Caverns even more remarkable is the fact that they are still actively growing. It is awe-inspiring to think that these magnificent formations continue to evolve and transform with each passing year. Their ongoing growth adds an element of dynamism to the caverns, creating an experience that is both captivating and ever-changing.

Discovered relatively recently in 1974, the Kartchner Caverns offer a fascinating escape from the desert’s scorching heat. As I ventured deep into the cool underground chambers, I was transported to a world of serenity and natural beauty. The caverns provide a refreshing respite, offering a unique and distinct experience that sets them apart from the plethora of other natural attractions found throughout the state.

Immersed in the remarkable formations and the cool embrace of the caverns, I was reminded of the incredible wonders that lie beneath the Earth’s surface. The Kartchner Caverns stand as a testament to the ongoing processes of our planet and offer a truly unforgettable exploration into the depths of Arizona’s geological marvels.

14. San Javier del Bac Mission

San Javier del Bac MissionSource: Ignatius Tan / shutterstock
San Javier Del Bac Mission

In the heart of Arizona, there exists a truly remarkable man-made tourist attraction: the magnificent mission cathedral of San Xavier del Bac. As I approached this architectural marvel, the sight of its white twin towers against the backdrop of the surrounding landscape leaves me in awe.

The grandeur of the cathedral’s design is truly captivating. Every intricate detail, from the delicate embellishments on the spires to the meticulous craftsmanship, showcases the mastery of the architects and artisans involved in its creation. I find myself marveling at the sheer beauty and elegance of the structure, standing as a testament to human creativity and devotion.

Venturing inside, I was greeted by an equally breathtaking sight. The interior of San Xavier del Bac is adorned with ornate decorations and religious artworks, each telling a story of faith and history. The atmosphere is filled with a sense of reverence and tranquility, inviting me to reflect and appreciate the spiritual significance of this sacred place.

Founded in 1692, San Xavier del Bac holds the distinction of being the oldest European structure in the state of Arizona. Its historical significance, coupled with its architectural magnificence, makes it a must-see destination for anyone visiting the area. It stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of human ingenuity and serves as a reminder of the rich cultural heritage that permeates the region.

15. Grand Canyon

Grand CanyonSource: sumikophoto / shutterstock
Grand Canyon

No visit to this remarkable region would be complete without immersing myself in its most iconic attraction. Despite the considerable journey ahead, with a drive lasting over three hours, the destination promises to fulfill every expectation.

The Grand Canyon National Park, renowned worldwide, beckons me with its awe-inspiring presence. The sheer vastness and breathtaking beauty of the Grand Canyon leave an indelible mark on all who behold it.

Stretching an astonishing 277 kilometers in length and expanding up to 29 kilometers in width, this magnificent creation of nature towers over its surroundings. Its depths reach depths of up to a mile, further accentuating its grandeur and power. Standing at the edge, gazing into its seemingly infinite expanse, I was humbled by the immense forces that shaped this majestic masterpiece over countless ages.

The Grand Canyon is more than a geographical wonder; it is a testament to the remarkable beauty and resilience of our planet. Each layer of rock tells a story, a chronicle of Earth’s evolution and the intricate interplay of time, wind, and water. It is a living testament to the power and artistry of nature itself.

As I take in the panoramic vistas, the vastness of the canyon stretches before me, capturing my imagination and filling me with a profound sense of wonder. The Grand Canyon is a testament to the immense power and beauty that nature possesses, reminding me of our place within the tapestry of the natural world.

15 Best Day Trips from Scottsdale, AZ:

  • Prescott
  • Sedona
  • Payson
  • Phoenix
  • Jerome
  • Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot
  • Tucson
  • Verde Valley
  • The Apache Trail
  • McDowell Mountain Regional Park
  • Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area
  • Canyon Lake
  • Kartchner Caverns
  • San Javier del Bac Mission
  • Grand Canyon