20 Best Road Trips from Phoenix, Arizona
If you live in Phoenix or just visiting the Valley of the Sun and have seen and done all there is to see and do in the city, a road trip out of Phoenix can open up a world of new adventures.
From short drives through the Sonoran desert to exploring some of America's best National Parks and Monuments and some fantastic city breaks, we've got you covered.
The following is our list of the 20 best road trips from Phoenix starting with the shortest and working our way up in terms of time it takes to get there. Make sure you look all the way down - some of the best destinations are that little bit further away!
1. See the saguaros on the way to Tucson
1 hour 40 minutes from Phoenix (113 miles)
The Old Pueblo as the locals affectionately call it is "the other big city" in Arizona although Tucson is also commonly known as America's biggest small town.
As you drive down the I-10 to Tucson, the Saguaro National Park will be to your right as you approach. The famous huge cacti of the Sonoran desert are everywhere here and can reach heights of over 40 feet (12 m) over their lifespan that can last 150 years or longer.
Make a stop at the (very good) Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum that has a botanical garden and various animals including birds of prey.
Then, just before you enter the city, you'll get to Old Tucson. This is a classic Western movie set that is open to visitors as a family theme park when it's not being used as a movie backdrop.
Tucson itself is a rich mix of architecture and culture. There is a lot of old colonial buildings that make Tucson feel almost European but the Pueblo-style architecture and the unique local mix of Mexican and traditional Apache-influenced food styles are unmistakably Arizona.
2. Take a scenic drive to Arizona's Rim Country
2 hours from Phoenix (108 miles)
The Mongollon Rim is a 2,000 foot tall ridge that runs for some 200 miles through Arizona.
To get to see the rim and the nature around it, head up the Beeline Highway (Route 87) to the town of Payson.
It's only going to take a couple of hours to get there, but you'll notice a lot of change as the dusty Sonoran desert makes way for lush pine forests and rivers the closer you get to Rim Country.
The area is part of the Tonto National Forest. Remember that it's going to be much cooler on top of the ridge than it may be in Phoenix and even below the ridge, the plateau is at a height of 5,000 feet (1,500 m) above sea level which is a lot higher than the Phoenix metro area.
Once you've stopped in Payson, keep on driving up towards the towns of Pine and Strawberry. The Tonto Natural Bridge State Park is on the way and has some great hiking options - bring your boots and water.
Look out for javelinas that live here - these small animals look a little like wild boar and are impossibly cute. If you see one, the rest of the family is usually somewhere about too!
3. Hike amidst the Red Rocks of Sedona
2 hours from Phoenix (116 miles)
If you're in Arizona, it is almost compulsory to go to Sedona and see the amazing red rocks that dominate the landscape.
The drive up to Sedona from Phoenix is simple - the I-17 will take you most of the way before you turn off onto Highway 179 for the last stint.
There's a few things you can see on the way - two junctions before your turn is the Montezuma Castle National Monument (see #4 below) and as you approach Sedona, you might want to visit the very unusual Chapel of the Holy Cross that is built into a red rock cliff - it looks spectacular from the bottom and has even better views from the top.
Once you get to Sedona, you can go in virtually every direction and find the amazing red rocks. Slide Rock State Park is to the north of the city, Red Rock State Park to the southwest and a large wilderness area with the Devil's Bridge to the northwest.
Red Rock Scenic Byway is the highway you've driven to get from Phoenix to Las Vegas. Some of the best known rock formations, such as Cathedral Rock and Bell Rock, are right along the Highway and you can see them from the road or follow a short hiking trail to get closer.
4. Mix culture and history on a drive to Prescott and Jerome
2 hours 50 minutes from Phoenix (146 miles)
A relatively short drive out of Phoenix, the towns of Prescott and Jerome are a great road trip if you want to mix seeing spectacular nature, a few historic sites and local culture.
Start off by taking the I-17 out of Phoenix and come off 90 minutes later in Camp Verde to make a stop at the Montezuma Castle National Monument.
Montezuma Castle is a ruin of an old fort that was built into the sheer rock cliff by the Sinagua people in the 12th century. It's a relatively easy hike up to see the ruins and a great start to the trip.
From there it's a half hour drive up to Tuzigoot National Monument along Verde River. This is another historic ruin of a large pueblo construction that had over 100 rooms sitting on top of a mountain ridge.
The small town of Jerome is the next step along Route 89A with an optional stop at the Verde Canyon Railroad for a trip on a classic train.
The Ghost King Mine and Ghost Town just above Jerome is a little kitsch but still an awesome stop with a number of old rusted out pickup trucks and derelict buildings. The road that leads up to it is a great drive too - you can keep on going up the twists and turns if you like a scenic drive.
Last but not least is Prescott - this is a much bigger city than Jerome but there is a lot going on with frequent events in the historic district around Courthouse Square.
5. Explore Flagstaff and visit the Meteor Crater
2 hours 55 minutes from Phoenix (188 miles)
Flagstaff is all about the outdoors and to get there from Phoenix, all you have to do is jump on the I-17 north in Phoenix and follow it until the interstate ends and merges with the Historic Route 66 in Flagstaff a little over 2 hours later.
The city is vibrant and young - 1 in 3 of the residents are students or staff at the Northern Arizona University and you can feel the vibe as you walk around the historic Downtown or stop at one of the dozens of coffee shops for a drink.
Flagstaff sits on the edge of the Colorado plateau and is 6,910 feet (2,106 m) above sea level which is a lot higher than Phoenix so expect the weather to be very different too.
If you want to climb even higher, the Arizona Snowbowl is just outside Flagstaff to the north. You can drive right up to it and take a chairlift up Agassiz Peak to get a great view. In the winter, the whole area unsurprisingly becomes a ski resort so it's a great destination all year round.
The huge Meteor Crater is about 30 minutes' drive out of Flagstaff. It was formed 50,000 years ago when a meteorite crashed into the Earth creating a 3,900 ft (1,200 m) wide and 560 ft (170 m) deep crater. You have to scale a 148 ft (45 m) tall rim just to peak inside - well worth the detour before heading back to Phoenix.
6. Drive the Sky Island Scenic Byway up Mount Lemmon
3 hours from Phoenix (152 miles)
The Sky Island Scenic Byway can be found in the hills just outside Tucson but the drive up and the views down are so spectacular, it really had to have its own entry on this list - if you don't want to visit Tucson on the way, it is well worth driving down the I-10 just to scale Mount Lemmon.
The road goes by many names - officially called the Catalina Highway, you might find it referenced as the General Hitchcock Highway or the Mt Lemmon Highway as well.
The Sky Island name comes from the unique mountains that stand in the middle of the desert, seemingly not part of a mountain range with no other major peaks nearby.
The route up Mount Lemmon is long and challenging so strap in. You'll be climbing 6,000 feet (1.8 km) on the way up and the road is 27 miles long which will take some time given the constant twists and turns.
You might be surprised by the fact that the road is also free - there's no tolls to pay unless you're planning to camp.
Make sure you're prepared for the changing conditions - the huge difference in elevation will mean that you pass through different weather on the way up and the saguaro catci at the bottom get replaced by pine forests. While daytime temperatures in the summer may be in the 100s at the bottom (over 38 °C), it can fall below 70 (21 °C) in Summerhaven at the top of Mount Lemmon.
7. Drive over London Bridge in Lake Havasu
3 hours 10 minutes from Phoenix (193 miles)
Lake Havasu is an artificial lake that was created in the Mojave desert when the Colorado River was dammed in the 1930s.
To get to Lake Havasu from Phoenix, you'll need to follow the I-10 west, cut across to the Colorado River from Hope along Route 72 and then follow Route 95 north along the river to Lake Havasu City.
The lake has all the typical water-based activities and is particularly well known as a fishing destination. The large amount of bass in the lake attracts fishermen from far and wide and it holds regular big fishing contests.
One highly unusual sight in Lake Havasu City is the London Bridge. This is the old London Bridge that was dismantled in London in 1968 when it began sinking into the riverbed clay to be replaced with a newer structure. Out of all the bidders in the world, Lake Havasu City won an auction to buy the bridge.
After every single brick was carefully dismantled and labelled, the entire bridge was shipped to Arizona and carefully reconstructed - it certainly looks out of place but that's exactly why you should go and see it!
8. See the incredible desert nature of Joshua Tree National Park
3 hours 15 minutes from Phoenix (222 miles)
There's no shortage of National Forests near Phoenix - Coconino, Apache-Sitgreaves, Tonto, and Prescott National Forests are all within a 2 hour drive of the city.
Joshua Tree is one of two National Parks (along with Grand Canyon) that are a little further away from Phoenix and both take a little over 3 hours to get to. Other than the small Saguaro National Park just outside Tucson (see #1 above), these are the closest two to Phoenix.
Getting to Joshua Tree National Park from Phoenix is mighty easy - follow the I-10 for 220 miles right out of Phoenix heading west and then turn off towards the Cottonwood Visitor Center a few miles off the interstate.
Joshua Tree National Park is named after the unique trees that grow across the Mojave desert. These trees that can survive the extreme heat of one of the hottest deserts in the world have thick "arms" that stretch upwards and make them look like people - hence the name.
If you're coming in the summer, you should aim to do your hikes before 9 or 10 a.m. as the daily temperatures will get hot - June to August average highs are over 100 °F (38 °C)!
There's some good and not very strenuous hiking trails to explore and in spring the desert has a desert flower bloom which is worth seeing - especially as the temperatures are a lot more mild.
9. Look down into the Grand Canyon
3 hours 20 minutes from Phoenix (224 miles)
Grand Canyon is not just Arizona's but probably America's best known natural feature and with only a few hours in the car separating you from seeing it for yourself, how can you not go and see the huge crack in the desert?
The routes up past Sedona and Prescott both take about the same amount of time - you might want to head up one way and come back another with halfway stops in Prescott and Jerome (see #4 above) on the way up and Flagstaff (#5) or Sedona (#3) on the way back down.
Although there's a fair few places you can go to see the Grand Canyon, the Grand Canyon National Park is probably your best option and not only because it is the closest.
The views from Grand Canyon Village are some of the best and there are good facilities and places to eat there as well.
South Kaibab and Grand Angel Trails allow you to descend into and cross the Canyon and others follow the rim in either direction to get to a different viewpoint.
If you do want to drive a little further to the North Rim, you can do so via Route 89 and you'll get to visit the spectacular Vermillion Cliffs National Monument on the way, but it'll take twice as long to get there so you'll need to plan for a much longer road trip!
10. Relax and unwind in Palm Springs
4 hours 10 minutes from Phoenix (276 miles)
Palm Springs is known as a place where the sun always shines - sitting on the edge of the Mojave desert in the Coachella Valley, the weather is bright and sunny virtually every single day.
The combination of it being the hottest desert in the world and being sunny mean that summers tend to be seriously hot - we're talking daily highs of 108 °F (42 °C) on average through the months of July and August.
If you fancy spending some time by the pool and quickly moving through the intense heat from one air-conditioned place to another, you can get to Palm Springs in a little over 4 hours.
The directions are simple - get on the I-10 headed west in downtown Phoenix and come off 260 miles later as you're passing right through Palm Springs. Simple enough!
If you want to get out and about and escape the heat, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway will take you up to the Mount San Jacinto State Park. It's a rotating tramcar which means every seat gets all the views in turn and at the top you'll find a bar and a restaurant with views down into the valley.
There are two trails that lead from here - the Long Valley Discovery Trail (which is actually a short loop) and the Round Valley Trail which (together with other trails further along) can take you all the way up to the peak of Mount San Jacinto.
Remember that it's a big difference in height and the temperature at the top can be 30 degrees cooler than down in the valley - if you're visiting in spring or fall, you might want to bring a light jacket with you.
11. A seriously weird road trip to Salton Sea
4 hours 10 minutes from Phoenix (265 miles)
If you want your road trip from Phoenix to come with a big serving of weird, you need to drive to Salton Sea in southern California.
This large lake was created by accident when engineers working on an irrigation project on the Colorado River made a few miscalculations and water began flowing out of the river and into the Salton Basin. By the time they fixed the problem 2 years later, a huge lake was formed.
As the land where the lake was created was a dried out salt flat (the area used to have a large salt mine industry), the water is saline and has almost twice the salt concentration of the Pacific Ocean.
Salton Sea was a popular resort destination until the 1950s but quickly fell out of favor and today you can find lots of abandoned resorts, abandoned beaches and rusted out infrastructure.
One of the main local sights is the Salvation Mountain, which was built by a local resident with various verses from the Bible inscribed on it to spread the word of Jesus.
Another is the Borrego Springs Sculptures a little further away towards San Diego - these are giant metal structures depicting a huge serpent, fighting dinosaurs and other scenes in the middle of the desert.
I did warn you about the weird factor!
12. Find out what really happens in Las Vegas
4 hours 30 minutes from Phoenix (301 miles)
Everybody has got to visit the Sin City at least once and given it's just a jaunt across the desert from Phoenix, it's a great option for a road trip.
Many doing this drive go for the Interstate option going north along the I-17 and I-40 - the roads are good and there's plenty of places to stop.
But U.S. Route 93 is definitely the way you should go and it might just be one of my favorite stretches of road of all time. Not that it is particularly exciting to drive - it mostly goes completely straight through the desert that gradually changes from the saguaro cactuses and red dust of the Sonoran desert to the more rocky and yellow hues of the Mojave.
But the towns along this stretch show exactly how bored the people building the highway were. Along with Bagdad and the town of Santa Claus, you'll pass through a town called Nothing. There is literally Nothing there - here's me trying to do a scenic photo.
What you end up doing in Las Vegas famously stays in Las Vegas, but on a serious note - there are a lot of options!
If you like a flutter, this is the undisputed gambling capital of the world and from endless rows of slot machines to huge poker rooms, there's something for everyone.
Other than gambling, you've got a big selection of evening shows and some of the country's best restaurants. Be careful to pick one that matches your budget - some of the prices can escalate quickly!
I personally prefer staying at the newer end of the Strip - hotels like Aria and Cosmopolitan have a much more modern feel at reasonable rates (you'll pay a big premium at the Bellagio) and there's slightly less focus on gambling (the Cosmo unusually doesn't have a casino).
If you do a slight detour, you can check out Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam as you approach Las Vegas and if you set off early on the way back, you could go via the Grand Canyon (#9 above) or visit the red rocks of Sedona (#3) on your way.
13. Explore the wilderness of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
4 hours 35 minutes from Phoenix (300 miles)
This part of south Utah wilderness was the last to be mapped in the United States and still remains almost completely untouched with amazing landscapes and unique rock structures perfect for exploration.
It was declared a National Monument only in 1996 and later scaled down in size by President Trump, but there is still a lot within the National Monument area to see and do.
To get there, head north via Flagstaff to the town of Page in northern Arizona. Here you can stop to take a look at the Grand Canyon's Horseshoe Bend which is an incredible 180 degree bend in the canyon with an overlook that has the perfect view.
You will enter the Monument as you cross the border into Utah and approach Big Water but to reach some of the best sights, you'll need to loop all the way around to the town of Escalante and drive south from there. Stop off at the Toadstool Hoodoos just off Highway 89 as you're going around.
Although Bryce Canyon sits right on the edge of the National Monument and Zion Park is just outside (see #19 below), those are best kept to a separate road trip unless you really have a lot of time o your hands to combine them all into one big wilderness adventure.
As you drive down from Escalante, you'll come across the Zebra Slot Canyon, Devil's Garden, Peek-a-Boo Slot Canyon and the Jacob Hamblin Arch all along the same road.
I did cheat a little bit on the time - although it'll take you about four and a half hours to enter the National Monument, it'll take you the same amount of time on top to loop all the way around and drive down to the Jacob Hamblin Arch so plan your visit based on how long you've got to spend on the road.
14. Visit the jaw dropping Monument Valley
5 hours from Phoenix (316 miles)
Monument Valley is a spectacular desert valley with huge distinctive sandstone buttes that is about 5 hours away from Phoenix.
Unlike many of the other options on this list, Monument Valley is not a National Park because it is located within the Navajo Nation Reservation and the land cannot be Federally owned and managed.
Although the Grand Canyon, Death Valley and Zion National Parks are all within reach of Phoenix and all on this list, Monument Valley might just top them all for the sheer otherworldly feel that you get when you see these rocks for the first time.
If time is on your hands, you can take a slightly slower but much more scenic route up to Monument Valley and make more stops along the way.
Take the Beeline Highway up to Payson in the Tonto National Forest (#2 above) and then drive through the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest towards the Petrified Forest National Park. This is not so much of a forest as a barren rocky landscape, but it has some really fascinating fossils and remains of a forest that once stood here which you can explore.
Then keep on driving north to Canyon de Chelly which is also on the Navajo Nation territory. It may not be well known like the Grand Canyon or other lanmarks in Arizona, but it is a really beautiful canyon with many sheer cliffs and rocks that you can go hiking through.
15. Share the beach with sea lions in San Diego
5 hours 20 minutes from Phoenix (355 miles)
If you want to go to the Pacific Coast and spend some time enjoying the beach and the mild weather that comes with it, San Diego is the closest and easiest option to get to.
Once you get out of Phoenix along the I-10, follow the I-8 that runs south through Yuma and close to the border with Mexico all the way into San Diego. The scenery along this drive is pretty spectacular even though you're following an interstate route - you'll pass through saguaro groves, rocky desert landscapes and even sand dunes that make you feel like you've driven into the Sahara.
When I did this drive, I was amazed at the variance in the different types of desert and the gradual change as you approach San Diego.
San Diego boasts a moderate climate all year round which is exactly why so many people who live in Phoenix flock to America's Finest City during the impossibly hot summer months.
You can take a stroll through the historic Gaslamp District, spend some time in Coronado or see the sights of Balboa Park that include the world famous San Diego Zoo, botanical gardens and a few top museums.
Make sure you go see the La Jolla neighborhood and the La Jolla Cove that is home to a group of sea lions - you'll be able to see them most days relaxing on the rocks.
The beaches on Point Loma are great for an afternoon walk all the way to the Cabrillo National Monument with its historic lighthouse and views back over San Diego and down to Tijuana in Mexico.
16. Discover the neighborhoods of Los Angeles
5 hours 30 minutes from Phoenix (372 miles)
If you have more time or want to explore the neighborhoods, beaches and amazing sights of a big city, Los Angeles is only marginally further away than San Diego.
The road trip from Phoenix to Los Angeles is incredibly simple even if it's the best part of 400 miles' worth of driving - hop on the I-10 and sit there until you cross the Los Angeles River and find yourself in downtown L.A.
You can spend a weekend in the City of Angels or 2 weeks and still have only seen a fraction of what this city has to offer. Although many cities claim to cover a big area, the combined urban area around Los Angeles might just be the largest I've ever come across as neighborhoods, towns and cities from Pasadena all the way to Laguna Beach all seamlessly merge into each other.
Tick off the compulsory visit to the Hollywood sign (great views across Los Angeles from up there) and see the stars on the Walk of Fame along Hollywood Boulevard.
Then go see Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, the Sunset Strip and get lunch in Santa Monica if you want to see where the rich and famous of the city spend their time.
Culver City is a vibrant neighborhood that is not as popular as it should be and Venice Beach is amazing for people watching from the Boardwalk and relaxing to the sound of the waves rolling in.
If you have kids, Disneyland in Anaheim and Universal Studios in Hollywood are perfect for a day out and to get away from the hustle and bustle, you can drive further up the coast to Malibu to enjoy a morning on a quiet beach followed by a hike in the Santa Monica Mountains right behind you.
17. Discover sailing stones in Death Valley National Park
6 hours 40 minutes from Phoenix (413 miles)
If you thought Phoenix was hot in the summer, a road trip to the Death Valley National Park in California may change your perspective on what what really hot means.
I actually would recommend not visiting Death Valley in the summer - the daily highs from June to August average out at 120 °F (49 °C) - you won't be able to do much hiking in the afternoon...
The route from Phoenix to Death Valley will take you right past Las Vegas - it's about 2 more hours on the road after you've left Vegas in the rear view mirror.
Although it's a hot and arid desert, there are a lot of different landscapes and parts to Death Valley. It's the largest National Park in the United States if you don't count Alaska and there's dried out lake beds, mountains and even sand dunes.
If you get to the Racetrack Playa (large dried out lake), you might see the phenomenon of sailing rocks. These are large and very heavy rocks that appear to move around the basin on their own leaving a track behind them.
The truth is that they actually do move themselves during the winter months when Death Valley gets to freezing point overnight but despite the physics it still looks odd.
18. A New Mexico adventure in Albuquerque and Santa Fe
7 hours 30 minutes from Phoenix (482 miles)
The cities of Albuquerque and Santa Fe in northern New Mexico are a long drive, but a really interesting destination for a week-long road trip from Phoenix.
The best route from Phoenix to Albuquerque is to head up Beeline Highway through Tonto National Forest towards Payson (See #2 above if you want to stop here) and then drive through the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest to Holbrook.
The pretty forest-covered hills will make way for dry desert for the rest of the journey along the I-40 - bring bottled water in the car with you!
Albuquerque has a big city feel to it - there's a busy downtown with business people in suits going about being busy. You'll find a small Old Town, but there's not a huge amount there and it feels a little too touristy for my liking.
Although Santa Fe is only an hour away from Albuquerque, you'll notice it feels very different. As an old colonial city, the layout is more traditional, there's more of an art and culture scene from the Wheelright Museum of the American Indian (a little drive out of downtown) to the endless art galleries along Canyon Road.
19. See the natural wonders of Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks
8 hours 20 minutes from Phoenix (476 miles)
Yes, it's a long way to drive to these two National Parks, but Zion might just be my personal favorite among the National Parks in Southwestern United States and that's quite a feat given the competition from the likes of Yosemite, Death Valley and Grand Canyon.
Zion National Park sits in the southwestern part of Utah and you'll have to drive right past the Grand Canyon (#9 above) and along the edge of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (#13) so if you can stretch your road trip, I'd definitely include those in the itinerary. Sedona (#2) and Flagstaff (#5) are also en route and great for a halfway stopover point.
Not only is Zion National Park spectacular with its green canyon scenery, but the trails here are outstanding - you'll have paths that have been carved through sheer rock cliffs and overlooks that will leave you speechless.
For the more adventurous hikers, there are routes that will really challenge - the Narrows is a 16-mile one-way trek that will take you up through a tough canyon and includes wading chest-deep in the cold river water and squeezing through narrow cracks between rock faces!
Bryce Canyon is just over an hour further north. It's a small National Park that is famous for having a unique type of rock formation which has created large amphitheaters with many tall rock hoodoos that are densely packed inside that look like an audience. You can hike around the perimeter and look down but remember to bring an extra layer - the rim gets up to 9,000 feet high (2,700 m) and it can be much cooler than Phoenix even at the peak of the summer.
20. Hike through the Canyonlands & Arches National Parks in Utah
9 hours 30 minutes from Phoenix (551 miles)
Canyonlands and Arches National Parks are the furthest road trip destination on our list and it will probably take you a couple of days' worth of driving to get there.
But the route up from Phoenix offers so many amazing places to stop on the way up and down, that this might just be the perfect option - Prescott & Jerome (#4 above), Sedona (#3), Flagstaff (#5), Grand Canyon (#9) and Monument Valley (#14) are all along the fastest route and a slightly different route down can lead through Tonto National Forest (#2 in our list).
Arches and Canyonlands are either side of the small city of Moab. It's not a big place and can get very busy during the summer months when tourists from across the United States come to stay when visiting the National Parks.
If you do come in the summer, check for camping options as an alternative - it also stops you having to do the long drive in the morning to get into Canyonlands if you're already staying there!
Arches is the smaller park and much closer to Moab. It also has a few fairly easy trails where you can park close to the rock formations and this means there's a lot more visitors here.
If you're coming all this way, definitely go visit both with the America the Beautiful National Parks pass and if you have a decent 4x4 vehicle, spend a day driving around the Rim Road that circles Canyonlands and can get to you parts that most other visitors never see.