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16 Amazing Day Trips from Scottsdale, AZ That Prove West is Best

Mar 10, 2022

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Scottsdale, Arizona, never ceases to amaze me. There’s cactus (duh), world-class resorts, MOUNTAINSβ€” I mean, no wonder it’s coined, “The West’s Most Western Town.” And guess what? Red rocks, SNOW, urban sprawl, and national parks are all quick day trips from Scottsdale.

Like what doesn’t this place have to offer? Okay, maybe, generally speaking, not enough cool weather, but hey, who cares when there is so much to do!

If you find yourself spending a weekend in Scottsdale, below are what I consider to be the best day trips you can embark on to see more of AZ! I wrote this entire post based on my experience as a local, so I hope it helps you plan an epic desert adventure!

Ready to get started? Before taking a Scottsdale day trip, let’s begin with the “must-know” details! When you’re done, check out my guide on the most Instagrammable places in Scottsdale for more fun in the area.

Disclaimer: This blog contains affiliate links, which means I earn a small percentage of every purchase made at no additional cost to you!

Planning Your Day Trips from Scottsdale

I can’t recommend The Scott Resort and Spa enough when picking where to stay! It is one of the most Instagrammable places in Scottsdale, but it’s one of the most well-thought-out hotels in the city.

The Scott Resort and Spa is in Old Town Scottsdale, which is such a great spot to be as you explore Scottsdale and enjoy a day trip or two. Cuba inspired the entire hotel, from its decor to its blue convertible in the front of the hotel.

Staying here feels like a day trip to the Caribbean, ha!

Check out more Scottsdale hotels that’ll make your heart sing!

Driving Distances from Scottsdale

Some of the best day trips from Scottsdale will only require you to drive a little under 30 minutes. The most extended day trip takes about 4.5 hours to reach. All of which are worth the journey!

In this blog, I made sure I listed out information about the driving distances from Scottsdale to each destination, as well as what you can expect when you get there.

The Best Day Trips from Scottsdale, AZ

Here’s a quick list of the best day trips from Scottsdale:

  1. McDowell Mountains
  2. Downtown Phoenix
  3. Saguaro Lake
  4. Superstition Mountains
  5. Lake Pleasant
  6. Payson, AZ
  7. Saguaro National Park
  8. Prescott, AZ
  9. Tucson, AZ
  10. Sedona, AZ
  11. Jerome, AZ
  12. Flagstaff, AZ
  13. Kartchner Caverns State Park
  14. Grand Canyon National Park
  15. Petrified Forest National Park
  16. Page, AZ

We’ll discuss each of these in detail, so let’s get into the good stuff! These are listed in order by drive time from shortest to longest.

#1 McDowell Mountains

Drive Time from Scottsdale: ~20 minutes

The McDowell Mountains surround most of Scottsdale, AZ, with their massive peaks. They’re one of the best day trips from Scottsdale city center because of their accessibility and drop-dead gorgeousness!

So if you didn’t think Arizona had mountains to show off, the McDowells would prove you wrong! The Sonoran Desert plastered its beauty all over the McDowell Mountains for visitors to enjoy.

There’s lush desert fauna, hiking trails, mountain biking, horseback riding, and hot air balloon rides you can enjoy within the same area! You’ll find that the Gateway Trail area has beginner friendly paths that are perfect for folks new to hiking or the desert in general.

Things to do in the McDowell Mountains

  • McDowell Gateway Trail – Located in McDowell Sonoran Preserve and a central hiking location to most trails in the area.
  • McDowell Regional Park – Go mountain biking or enjoy some more popular routes.
  • Sunset or Sunrise Hot Air Balloon Ride – See the mountains from above!
  • Horseback Riding – Explore the Sonoran Desert on horseback.

If you’re traveling with your dog, you can take Fido to the McDowells too! There’s some wonderful hiking trails you can enjoy together.

#2 Downtown Phoenix

Drive Time from Scottsdale: ~25 minutes

A day trip from Scottsdale to Downtown Phoenix is the perfect place for art lovers and city dwellers. It is home to cute coffee shops, plant shops, Instagrammable photo locations, and other hidden gems.

You can go to museums, try different restaurants, attend a show, or chill in a luscious park (the Japanese Friendship Garden and Desert Botanical Gardens are great for that!). There’s something for everyone!

Downtown Phoenix also holds a lot of history. You might spend the whole day admiring historic buildings or architecture and still not see it all! There’s also some amazing Instagrammable places in Phoenix that you can spend a day exploring.

Things to do in Downtown Phoenix

  • Phoenix Art Museum – Spend the day taking in the art scene at the Phoenix Art Museum!
  • Take a Street Art Tour – Learn about all the eye-catching street art on Roosevelt Row.
  • Bike Tour the City – See just about every nook and cranny of Downtown PHX by bike! 

Love art AND food? During “First Fridays,” Downtown Phoenix becomes an art mecca sprinkled with food trucks and lots of music. 

#3 Saguaro Lake

Drive Time from Scottsdale: ~43 minutes

A cruise in the middle of the desert? Yep! If you’ve been feening to jump into a kayak or ride a scenic cruise, then it sounds like a trip to Saguaro Lake might be what you need!

Saguaro Lake is a reservoir in the Salt River, located in Tonto National Forest and east of Scottsdale. You’ll be traveling along Bush Highway to get there- a super scenic desert drive!

You can spend a relaxing day tubing on Saguaro Lake or go on an adventurous kayaking excursion when you visit. But, if you’re too scared of sea monsters (kidding, KIIDDING), you can jump on a hike instead!

The Butcher Jones Recreation area surrounding the lake is extraordinarily lush and full of great desert trails.

Things to do in Saguaro Lake

  • Scenic Cruise – Take a 90-minute boat ride on the Desert Belle where you can see desert fauna and maybe some wildlife!
  • Salt River Kayaking – Kayak in the heart of the Salt River admiring the desert scenery.
  • Horseback Riding – Take a VERY scenic horseback ride along Saguaro Lake and the surrounding desert.

As a bonus, if you want to spend the night on the lakeshore, you can book a stay at the Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch!

#4 Superstition Mountains β€” Hiker’s Day Trip from Scottsdale

Drive Time from Scottsdale: ~45 minutes

Located in Tonto National Forest, the Superstition Mountains are about a 40-minute drive from PHX, making them a great day trip from Scottsdale. Otherwise known as “The Supers,” this mountain range has some of the best hikes and views unique to Arizona.

This mountain range is also known for some of its desert backpacking trails, where you can sleep under a shimmering blanket of stars.

Looking for a place to catch an Arizona sunset? The Superstition Mountains have spots for that, too, like the Lost Dutchman State Park area!

Things to do in the Superstition Mountains

  • Peralta Trail β€“ 5.8-mile hike that leads to the famous “Weaver’s Needle” rock formation.
  • Apache Trail Tour β€“ Is a scenic drive and boat tour that leads deep into the Supers, where you can see mountain layers and epic overlooks.
  • Lost Dutchman State Park β€“ One of the more popular destinations in the Superstition Mountains. The park is known for its famous Flatiron Hike.

The Supers also have trails that create waterfalls after heavy rain, so if you find yourself in Scottsdale after some bad weather, consider coming here to hike a trail like Massacre Falls.

#5 Lake Pleasant

Drive Time from Scottsdale: ~1 hour

Who wouldn’t have a pleasant time here? HA. Sorry, I had to, lol. Lake Pleasant is a beautiful Arizona lake surrounded by a desert landscape.

It makes for the perfect day trip from Scottsdale for when you want to get out of the city and over to some water. Boat ride, anyone? They have a marina for that!

Sure! Arizona has plenty of other lakes you can visit. But, Lake Pleasant is VERY open, which means the sunsets cast the most intense hue of pink over the water with no obstruction!

Things to do in Lake Pleasant

  • Go Camping – Lake Pleasant is the perfect sunset destination and great for campers too.
  • Hop on a Cruise – Hop on a boat and go have some fun in the sun! Don’t forget your sunscreen, though. 
  • Rent ATVs – Rent some ATVs and go off-roading around the lake!

You can go hiking around Lake Pleasant too! You might even see a donkey.

#6 Payson, AZ

Drive Time from Scottsdale: ~1 hour 13 minutes

If you like a good mix of swimming holes and mountain views, then Payson is your place! As one of the best day trips from Scottsdale, if you find yourself in Payson, you’ll be convinced that there is so much more to the desert than the cactus.

Payson is full of lush forest that will put you in the middle of a mossy, pine-tree-covered jungle.

It is also known for its waterfall and creekside attractions, like Horton Creek, making it a popular summer destination for visitors looking to beat the heat.

Things to do in Payson, AZ

  • Knoll Lake β€“ Less popular than other lakes in Arizona and smack in the middle of ridiculously tall pine trees, Knoll Lake, is the perfect place for a swim.
  • Tonto Natural Bridge State Park β€“ A large natural travertine bridge that towers over the forest.
  • Mogollon Rim β€“ Possibly one of the most popular places in Payson, the Mogollon Rim is the perfect place for sunset!

How does a white Christmas in Arizona sound? Book a Payson cabin rental and have a romantic holiday getaway!

#7 Saguaro National Park β€” Sunset Chaser’s Day Trip from Scottsdale

Drive Time From Scottsdale: ~ 1 hour 45 minutes

Saguaro National Park is located near Tucson, Arizona, and is the perfect day trip from Scottsdale if you want to get some desert hiking in and witness one of the best sunsets of your life.

There are two parts to Saguaro National park, but the Tucson Mountain District section is where you want to be when the sun starts to go down!

And it’s worth noting that what makes Saguaro National Park so unique is the abundance of saguaro cactus you can admire there. Believe it or not, it takes anywhere from 60 to 70 years for branches to start appearing on a saguaro cactus! So they’re slow growers and a super treasured part of Arizona’s ecosystem.

Things to do in Saguaro National Park

  • Gates Pass Sunset – Witness the most insanely pink and orange desert sunset you’ve ever seen!
  • Explore the Cactus Gardens – Walk around the lush saguaro cactus gardens where you can admire other desert fauna too.
  • View Petroglyphs – Visit the Signal Hill area where you can see ancient petroglyphs.

Even though Saguaro National Park is in southern AZ, you might witness the park covered in a beautiful, rare blanket of snow if you visit in winter!

#8 Prescott, AZ

Drive Time From Scottsdale: ~ 1 hour 50 minutes

Prescott is a small city located in central Arizona. Over the years, it has become adored by adventure lovers and novices.

If you’ve ever wanted to try something new like kayaking or mountain biking, this is the place to do it! Prescott is abundant in biking trails, and its Northern part boasts the famous Watson Lake!

Hikers can enjoy Prescott too. They say don’t go chasing waterfalls, but hey, when in Prescott, right?

Things to do in Prescott, AZ

  • Fossil Creek β€“ Fossil Creek is a natural swimming hole and waterfall in Northern AZ. Make sure you get permits!
  • Kayak Watson Lake β€“ Watson lake is excellent for someone who wants to hop on a paddleboard or kayak and have a picnic by the water.
  • Scenic Off-Roading Tour – See Prescott’s hard-to-reach gems with a scenic off-roading tour!

Prescott’s “hometown” feel everywhere really makes it shine. Visitors like yourself come back again and again because Prescott is like a home away from home.

#9 Tucson, AZ β€” Foodie’s Day Trip from Scottsdale

Drive Time from Scottsdale: ~1 hour 55 minutes

Tucson, Arizona, is a beautiful desert city known for its hotels, food, spas, and mountains.

You can do just about anything there! You can hike to a waterfall, take a scenic drive up Mt. Lemmon, try some authentic Mexican food, have a margarita, stay at a resort, and do it all over again if you want to! 

Tucson is rich in culture and doesn’t fall short in beauty. So it’s a must for Arizona first-timers!

Things to do in Tucson, AZ

  • San Xavier Del Bac Mission – A beautiful church with Spanish and Native American history – makes for some southwestern chic photos, too!
  • Taco Bike Tour – Try some authentic Mexican food while you bike around from one taco shop to another!
  • Saguaro National Park – An Arizona National Park known for its abundance of cactus. Don’t forget your America The Beautiful Pass!
  • Historic Bike Tour β€“ Learn about Tucson’s history and culture while cycling the city!

#10 Sedona, AZ

Drive Time From Scottsdale: ~2 hours

Sedona is a magical place in Northern Arizona that hosts millions of visitors every year. With all its variety in attractions, it’s no wonder why Sedona is one of the best day trips from Scottsdale!

You’ll love how diverse it is with red rocks, vortexes, Oak Creek Canyon, award-winning spas, and Sedona sunset hikes. When you visit, you’ll find that aside from its outdoor activities, Sedona has an extensive art scene, too.

If you come in winter, you will be in constant awe at the red rocks covered in a light blanket of snow. If you’re a photo lover, you might enjoy my guide on the most Instagrammable places in Sedona!

Things to do in Sedona, AZ

Looking for something more romantic? Couples can book a stay at one of Sedona’s luxury hotels and treat themselves to a high-end spa and resort experienceβ€”ooo la la.

#11 Jerome, AZ β€” Ghost Hunter’s Day Trip From Scottsdale

Drive Time from Scottsdale: ~2 hours

Have you ever seen a real-life ghost? Yeah, me neither. But maybe that means we need to spend some time in Jerome.

Jerome is an old copper mining town turned tourist hub for ghost lovers and those to enjoy Southwest history. It’s full of beautiful historic hotels and historic attractions, making it one of the best day trips from Scottsdale.

It’s the perfect place to explore some Arizona history or go ghost huntingβ€”if you dare oooooo.

Things to do in Jerome, AZ

  • Douglas Mansion – Check out the largest adobe structure in AZ and learn about Jerome’s history.
  • Book a Ghost Tour β€“ Explore Jerome’s haunted and spooky corners!
  • Explore a Wine Tasting Room – Jerome is home to various wine tasting rooms you can visit and spend the day touring!

Jerome is a short 40-minute drive from Sedona, so you can make a mini Arizona road trip out of visiting both locations!

#12 Flagstaff, Arizona

Drive Time from Scottsdale: ~2 hours 20 minutes

Flagstaff’s seasonality makes it one of the best day trips from Scottsdale. As a mountain town surrounded by the San Francisco Peaks, Flagstaff is a prime destination for skiers and snowboarding enthusiasts.

Visiting in the spring and summer will get you away from the AZ heat. You might even spot some of Flagstaff’s wild sunflowers, begging you to come frolic in them. In the fall, you can frolic in Flagstaff’s fall foliage.

It’s home to local breweries and a quaint downtown area too. There are so many things to do in Flagstaff!

Things to do in Flagstaff, AZ

  • Bear Jaw Trail β€“ A 6.9mi hike through a lush aspen forest that’s BEAUTIFUL during the fall!
  • Humphreys Peak β€“ Humphreys Peak is one of the most popular destinations in Arizona. You can hang around the base of the peak for snow sports, and during the summer, you can hike all the way to the top!
  • Zipline Adventure – Zipline through Flagstaff’s beautiful forests and mountains!

Visiting Flagstaff will make you feel like you left AZ for a neighboring mountain state. It’s the perfect mountain town to consider for your next day trip!

#13 Kartchner Caverns State Park

Drive Time from Scottsdale: ~2 hours and 44 minutes

Kartchner Caverns State Park is in Southern Arizona and was discovered in 1974. The park features a cave FULL of stalagmites and other geological wonders.

Visitors can marvel at the beautiful cave formations by traveling deep into 2.4 miles worth of passages. Lots of the formations in the cave have been created over hundreds of thousands of years, making it that much more unique!

You’ll want to make sure you visit ArizonaStateParks.com for park fees and tour bookings!

Things to do in Kartchner Caverns State Park

  • Book a Cave Tour – Explore the caverns and walk through the cave tunnels!
  • Go Camping – Book a stay at one of the State Park cabins and spend a night under the desert stars.

With Kartchner Caverns State Park’s proximity to Tucson, AZ, you can spend your day trip exploring most of Southern Arizona!

#14 Grand Canyon National Park β€” A Bucket List Day Trip from Scottsdale

Drive Time from Scottsdale: ~3 hours and 30 minutes

I mean, does this day trip from Scottsdale need an explanation? This US National Park is full of beautiful campsites, hikes, photo locations, and experiences you can’t replicate elsewhere. Also, the Grand Canyon at sunrise is *chef’s kiss*. 

While the drive to get here is around 4 hours, you can undoubtedly get to GCNP early and do a short day hike or catch a sunrise!  If you think you’ll need more than a day trip to explore here, I have a Phoenix to Sedona to Grand Canyon trip blog you can read! 

Things to do in Grand Canyon National Park

  • Ride the Grand Canyon by Railroad – Explore the Grand Canyon by train on this historic railroad.
  • Take a Dip in the River – Have a trained guide take you to the Bottom of the Canyon for a swim!
  • Hike Below the Rim – Jump on Kaibab Trail and hike 1.8 miles to Ooh Aah Point!

If you have time to do one thing in Grand Canyon National Park, try to catch a bucket-list worthy sunrise or sunset at Yavapai Point! You’ll feel like you’re staring at a painting.

#15 Petrified Forest National Park

Drive Time from Scottsdale: ~ 3 hours 30 minutes

Trying to cross all the US National Parks off your list? Wanna feel like Indiana Jones for the day? Well, you can’t skip out of Petrified Forest National Park! This day trip from Scottsdale is perfect if you want to see a completely different landscape from anything else you’ll see in AZ.

The park is famous for its petrified logs and archeology. Petrified Forest National Park accounts for 200,000 acres in the Painted Desert, but most people don’t know that its environment is technically a prairie and not a desert!

When you visit, you’ll be able to enjoy some hiking in the area to get up close to the petrified formations and ancient petroglyphs.

Things to do in Petrified Forest National Park

  • Hike a Trail – You can hike to ancient petroglyphs or the famous petrified Giant Logs.
  • Go Backpacking – Spend a night admiring the stars shining in one of the darkest skies in the country!

As a bonus, Petrified Forest National Park is pet-friendly so Fido can enjoy it with you!

#16 Page, AZ

Drive Time from Scottsdale: ~ 4 hours 27 minutes

Ready to REALLY see some of Arizona’s beauty? Take a Scottsdale day trip to Page, AZ! Page is home to some of the most beautiful desert scenery you’ve ever seen in your life.

You’ll feel like you’re exploring something from a postcard when you go! And trust me, it’ll 100% be worth the trip.

Page is where you can explore the ever-so-famous Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon. There is a lot to see in Page, but for most activities you will need to book a tour. That means you’ll have to plan ahead for this day trip!

Things to do in Page, AZ

While Page is a far drive, it’s home to once-in-a-lifetime views and experiences you won’t want to miss! Additionally, Page’s proximity to Utah makes it an easy stop during an Arizona Utah road trip.

Picking Your Day Trip from Scottsdale

Scottsdale is the perfect hub for explorers, making it an easy choice to book for your next trip to Arizona! While the above list of trips might seem hefty, picking what day trip from Scottsdale to choose comes down to your interests. If you want to explore the great outdoors, you’ll want to head to the mountains. On the other hand, if you’re a foodie, an urban location might be a better fit for you.

And if you find yourself with a lot of time on your hands, you might want to take a long drive to a national park or beyond. Honestly, though, you can’t go wrong with any of these trips – that’s what’s so great about them!

Regardless, I hope this list of day trips gave you some ideas for what parts of AZ to explore.

Are you staying in Scottsdale? Then, check out my write-up on how to spend a weekend in Scottsdale or the most Instagrammable places in Scottsdale next.

Happy exploring!

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I'm a burrito loving explorer who got fired from corporate America and turned that into my dream career as a photographer and blogger. Now I'm here to help you explore life's magic. Thanks for stopping by!