25 Epic Day & Weekend Trips from Tucson, Arizona
While Tucson, Arizona seems to stretch from one mountain range to the next, with activities and restaurants that can keep you entertained, it's helpful to know what's nearby when your feet start itching to explore a little further out.
Something for everyone
And you've found it. This guide explores 25 destinations within driving distance of Tucson that are fun for the whole family. Whether you're looking for hiking and camping trips, lakes and waterfalls, history and ruins or city and small-town trips, there's something for you.
I've categorized the trips according to distance from Tucson. While the mileage is accurate, the driving distance will change depending on when you head out.
Save the map
To save the map for later use, click on the star to the right of the title. The map will be saved to “Maps” in the Google Maps app on your phone. To find it, open the app and click on the "Saved" icon at the bottom on the map screen. Then, scroll across and look for the word "Maps"—viola!
Now, it's time to plan that afternoon or weekend getaway. Let's do this!
Less than 2 hours away
Enjoy the flowers in Picacho Peak State Park
Distance from Tucson: 38 minutes • 40 miles
When spring hits Tucson, you'll notice. The cacti awaken with bursts of pink, orange, and yellow and the wildflowers run along the roadsides free and happy.
An hour northwest of Tucson, Picacho Peak State Park peeps out just west of I-10.
Whether you sweat the short, uphill scramble to the top (Hunter trail) or frolic (safely) among the wildflowers on the slopes, head out early before the temperatures climb. Sunset is beautiful, too.
There are also camping options available (and nearby RV parks) if you are looking to spend the night.
Shower beneath the hidden waterfall at Madera Canyon
Distance from Tucson: 48 minutes • 40.5 miles
From Madera Canyon, the views of Mt. Wrightson and the surrounding mountains are beautiful. It's refreshing to wander through the woodlands and pine forests with a chill in the air. You can hear birds singing as you climb the trails and the sunsets are supreme. And then there are the picnic spots and running creek.
One spring day, I went exploring and within minutes, found a waterfall.
Finding the waterfall
From the Proctor parking lot, walk the trail. You'll find a path to your right off the trail that echos the sound of rushing water after the rain. Take that. Before you come to a creek, take a right. You will be able to get a view of the waterfall, hidden in the rocks, from above. Crossing the creek and winding around with the path to the bottom of the waterfall gives you direct access to it. On a hot day (any time from spring to fall in Tucson), you'll want to stand beneath it—go for it, it's the cooling shower of your wandering dreams. If you have kids with you, they'll love to play in the water.
Take a picnic
Bring a change of clothes, climb into the car and head further up the road to Mt. Wrightson Picnic Area. There are a few huge picnic areas to choose from (equipped with grills) and you'll lose yourselves in the trees finding a table (in the best possible way).
Stay for the afternoon, hike or camp if you wish. If you're interested in my Madera Canyon hike or in other local waterfalls, here are my top hiking trails in Tucson, some with waterfall rewards.
Things to note
The day fee is $8 per vehicle—you'll pay where you park
Cool down on Mount Lemmon
Distance from Tucson: 1h25 minutes • 46 miles
This is a splendid summer activity—you'll need an escape from the sweltering city temperatures and this pine-covered oasis is it. Standing 9,159 feet above sea level, the mountain is a welcome reprieve from the +100 F temps in the city below.
With a handful of dining options (including plate-sized cookies from a cabin) and even more dog-friendly hiking paths, you can make a day of it. Whether you drive or ride (by motorcycle or road bike), take lots of water, wear a hat (and a sweater in cooler months), and soak it all in.
For all seasons
While the mountain is a little chilly in spring (there was still snow on the ground in March), the wildflowers will start coloring the trails—a perfect city escape.
The mountain is typically 20 F cooler than the city, so I'd recommend hiking and/or overnight camping in summer—read about it here. You can also enjoy the ski lift for amazing views off-season.
In autumn, Mt Lemmon boasts leaf glitter and warm tones. Read more about my fall experience along the Marshall Gulch and Aspen trails near the end of this post.
In winter, head to Ski Valley— the northeastern side of the mountain— which will be covered with white powder (almost 200 inches annually). Dress warmly!
Wish on stars at Kitt Peak
Distance from Tucson: 1h5 minutes • 51 miles
Located an hour southwest of Tucson, astronomy hub Kitt Peak National Observatory boasts the world’s largest collection of research telescopes (and offers nightly viewing programs for the public).
Astronomy not your speed? We took a trip just to stargaze with the naked eye. It's all quite spectacular. While I have yet to visit and do a nightly program, it's an experience on my to-do list before I emigrate.
Find your way in the dark at Kartchner Caverns, Benson
Distance from Tucson: 58 minutes • 55.5 miles
It isn't widely known that the limestone caves at Kartchner Caverns were a secret... for a decade. In the '70s, the land was owned by the Kartchner family. Two men—Tenen and Tufts—discovered the caves and rock formations, returning to visit and explore for four years before revealing their findings to the family. Once James and Lois Kartchner found out, they too kept the caves a secret. This is starting to sound like a game. I wonder who the weak link in the chain was? ;)
It was only at the end of the '80s that the Kartchner family sold the land to the state of Arizona. Over several years (and with millions of dollars), it was turned into a state park, with careful precautions taken to preserve it, and the rest is... history.
Kartchner Caverns State Park now offers guided cave tours of varying duration with award-winning features, such as stalactites, needle quartz formations, and moonmilk. There are also options to picnic, park, and camp.
$7 gets you into the park, with additional fees depending on your tour of choice. View the tours here.
Other activities in Benson
Read up on literature from the American Southwest at Singing Wind Bookstore, located on a working cattle ranch
Ride horses at Double R Guest Ranch - there are over a dozen (really!) types of rides to choose from
Explore nearby Coronado National Forest, a hiking, wilderness, and camping haven
Picnic + wine down at Rune Wines
Distance from Tucson: 57 minutes • 56 miles
But first, gather supplies
Time Market is the queen of picnic supplies (think freshly baked loaves, cheeses, and deli offerings). Pick up all your heart desires and venture southeast to the Sonoita region for a lazy afternoon.
Sonoita wine region
Sonoita, a wine-growing region 50 miles south of Tucson, was the first region in Arizona to earn an American Viticultural Area (AVA) designation. What's that, you say? Wine in the desert? Regardless of the unfavorable dry climate, they're crushing it down there. Willcox is another famed wine-growing region, northeast of Sonoita, that has since been awarded the AVA designation.
As you head to Sonoita, the landscape changes—the cacti slip from view and pale grasslands seem to stretch as far as the eye can see. Before you start to feel like you've left civilization behind, this "off-grid winery and tasting room" pops into view.
Pull into Rune Wines, with your picnic supplies, and bask in the sun... tasting glass in hand.
While all the wines are superb, we are partial to their Wild Syrah, Viognier, and Rosé (especially in summer). Once you've enjoyed your spread, head into the hangar to check out the renovation. If you were there before the fresh lick of paint, you'd remember the wallpaper... my doodle contribution was an enlarged message from South Africa. ;)
To note: They're closed on Tuesdays and the tasting room closes at 5 p.m. If you're impressed by their wine, join their wine club here.
If you're looking for more beverage sampling, head to The Meadery just down the road for some inventive 'honey wine' flavors.
Dust off those cowboy boots and head to Tombstone
Distance from Tucson: 1h10 • 72 miles
For a day trip from Tucson, stop by historic Tombstone—but only if you're prepared to be challenged to a duel. Just kidding, there are actors for that.
The city, founded in the 1870s, was built to accommodate and entertain the hoodlums of that era. It's straight out of a Western movie—think saloons, brothels, jails housing notorious outlaws and the like. Well, it used to be anyway.
Today, you can visit the sites from famous movies, peek into preserved theaters, and buy slices of American history in art form or go on a mining tour all in the name of tourism.
And if you've seen the movie Tombstone, you'll want to stop by the OK Corral to watch a reenactment of the infamous gunfight between the Earp and Clanton gangs.
Other activities in Tombstone
Stop to smell the roses on the world's Largest Rose tree from March to May at the Rose Tree Museum
Whistle while you work at Tombstone's Goodenough Mine Tour (and hear stories of the mineworkers and how it operated in the '80s)
Amble along Allen Street cowboy style: whet your whistle at a saloon, chow down at a restaurant or simply play tourist and browse the souvenirs
Think on the harsh days in the 1800s at Boothill Cemetery
Pick up a copy of Tombstone Epitaph, a newspaper from the 1880s, that locals still print in the eponymous newspaper building
Shop vintage in Bisbee
Distance from Tucson: 1h35 • 95 miles
Just 25 minutes south of Tombstone sits mining town Bisbee. Dotted with cafes and coffee shops to get you started, pop on over for an afternoon of vintage and antique shopping on Main Street. Acacia Collectibles kept us entertained.
Other activities in Bisbee
Tour the Copper Mines with Queen Mine Historic Mining Tour
Walk down historical Eerie Street, showcasing preserved businesses and cars from the past
Browse the local crafts at High Desert Market
Visit Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum
Meet the local scaries with Old Bisbee Ghose Tour - there are tour options that rank from low to high on the "fear meter"
Stop for a bite to eat or drink at a local spot in Old Bisbee
Step outside the town to view the Lavender Pit - a massive mining pit
Go fruit picking at Apple Annie’s (+ try the apple cider doughnuts)
Distance from Tucson: 1h25 minutes • 90 miles
An hour and a half east of Tucson gets you to fruit orchards and a local U-Pick patch at Apple Annie's. The family farming operation began in the '80s with the intention to sell apples commercially, but when their orchard, with 6,000 trees, began to produce fruit, they had a change of heart.
They now share their orchard and farm with the community, with peaches and pears available to pick in addition to seasonal vegetables. A corn maze is open to the public in the fall, with activities and festivals taking place throughout the calendar year.
When to go
Keep tabs on the event calendar for their annual peach harvest (end July), green chili roast (August), apple harvest (August-September), annual fall festival (September-October) and more.
On both visits in the fall, the country store (open year-round) overflowed with squash, peppers, okra, loud orange pumpkins, corn, and scarecrows. I picked more apples than I knew what to do with and stuffed my face with freshly popped kettle corn. The apple cider doughnuts were made fresh and the spiced scent drew a crowd.
Mark off an afternoon in your calendar and treat your family to an outing.
Camp at Chiricahua National Monument
Distance from Tucson: 1h50 • 117 miles
Less than two hours east of Tucson, a "wonderland of rocks" awaits. At Bonita Canyon Campground, there are neat, paved roads leading to a campsite; fire pits, picnic tables, and bear boxes (to store your food). There's a nearby store and trails on your doorstep. We loved our experience.
It's car camping at it's finest! We even brought our friends' pups along (and... the friends). The hiking is glorious—just make sure you have anti-bear spray... that's a thing, right? I mean, I wouldn't know, I was unprepared for wildlife down there.
Aside: I thought I might be eaten by a bear or mountain lion on the trail but that's because we stayed longer than everyone else and hiked alone up into the mountains... without bear spray (?!). Don't do that.
Other activities nearby
Take the Bonita Canyon scenic drive to Massai Point for spectacular mountain and valley views. It's the perfect place for a picnic! Many trails can be found along the loop offering remarkable views of the unique rock formations.
Soak in hot springs at Roper Lake State Park
Distance from Tucson: 1h50 • 124 miles
Okay, so you've either been wine tasting in Willcox and are on a mission to find sunset views and a soak or you've just hiked/driven to the top of Mount Graham (10,717 feet) and are looking for a spot to spend the night. Either way, head to Roper Lake (located east of Tucson, six miles south of Safford, in Graham county) and relax.
Once in Roper Lake State Park, take the Mariah Mesa Trail, a 0.76-mile loop, to find the natural hot springs. Relax and enjoy!
If you're motivated to get moving by the beauty that surrounds you, you can swim around the island or stretch your legs. Five miles of trails wind around the park, giving you the opportunity to move (should you feel the need). There are picnicking, fishing and boating opportunities and even a dog park. You can stay the night and camp, rent a cabin or bring your RV.
Other activities in nearby Stafford
Soak (even more) in the natural springs at Kachina Mineral Springs
Take in gorgeous views from the air with AZ Air Adventures hot air balloon rides
Watch for wildlife at Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area and take a picnic
Tour Mount Graham International Observatory from mid-May through October
Hunt for world-class fire agate at Black Hills Rockhound Area — it's free to dig
2-5 hours away
As you can see, we are bridging the gap from half-day to full-day and/or weekend trips. If you're looking for a weekend getaway, check out the following activities, which are 2 to 5-ish hours (traffic changes times) from Tucson by car.
See a concert in Phoenix (+ stay downtown)
Distance from Tucson: 2h45 • 113 miles
Arizona's capital is brimming with activity. I've visited on numerous occasions for a weekend in the city to dine, watch a sport's game or catch a concert.
This website has a list of concerts and shows to peruse.
Before your show, dine at The Clever Koi. And grab late-night drinks at Bitter & Twisted or Little Rituals if you're out and about.
Other activities in Phoenix
Hike Camelback Mountain
Camp or picnic at Cave Creek Regional Park
Watch the AZ Diamondbacks play at Chase field
Visit the Desert Botanical Garden
Slow it down in the Japanese Friendship Garden
View the marine life at OdySea Aquarium
Go for drinks in Old Town Scottsdale
Play golf, fish or picnic at Papago Park (and check out Hole in the Rock and Evelyn Hallman Park)
Check out the street art along Roosevelt Row (especially on First Fridays)
Take a walk beside Tempe Town Lake
On your way home, do stop for lunch (and an olive oil tasting) at Queen Creek Olive Mill.
Take a girls trip to Old Town Scottsdale
Distance from Tucson: 1h45 • 115 miles
If brunch, shopping, relaxing, and exploring is involved, count us in.
Scottsdale, a city within the Phoenix Metropolitan area, is boujee. If this wasn't 2020, one might refer to the bars, restaurants, and stores as classy, upscale, and/or trendy. Same same. Speaking of which, Scottsdale is home to one of the largest malls in the US, has a pumping nightlife, and serves a 'hella good' cocktail—see, boujee.
Ladies, head out to any of the following brunch spots for a good time: Morning Squeeze, Prep & Pastry, Olive & Ivy (but on the patio), and The Montauk. I'm salivating thinking about visiting again.
Happiness is not in money, but in shopping - Marilyn Monroe
Treat Scottsdale shopping like a marathon—an expensive one where you're replacing shoes every half mile and refueling on Champagne.
If it's brands you're after, head to Scottsdale Fashion Square—with over 200 stores, restaurants, and a movie theater, the high-end shopping complex has a lot on offer.
Then make your way to Scottsdale Waterfront and/or The Good Word Brand. While you're there, walk across the canal and meander along Fifth Avenue. Pop into Cactus Boutique and Leela Market—such beautiful stores. And do grab a refresher at Farm and Craft around the corner—their signature kombucha cocktails (I go for gin) are my favorite.
If you're not all shopped out, check out Vintage by Misty—vintage, but designer— and Old Town Scottsdale mall. I bet you'll need a caffeine fix about now—head to nearby Berdenas, it's oh so chic. If you'd rather have something sweet, Gelato Cimmino is delightful.
For a night out on the town, aim for the entertainment district—you can get there on the Scottsdale Trolley. Start at Riot House and let the games begin. Or simply wine (LVD Winery) and dine before heading back to your rooms for some in-house self-care. You do you.
Other activities in Scottsdale
"Uncork your Creativity" with Art of Merlot while you paint a masterpiece: brush in one hand, vino in the other
Pamper yourselves in style at Away Spa, Scottsdale
Rent an Arizona Party Bike - pedal and sip, pedal and sip
Sip on coffee at Regroup Coffee + Bicycles
Bike Old Town on ebikes with Pedego Electric Bikes - ask them about routes
Take the Scottsdale Trolley around Old Town for free
If you're there on a Thursday, don't miss the Artwalk - live music, handmade items, and paintings galore
Get out on the water at Saguaro Lake
Distance from Tucson: 2h10 • 130 miles
Need a desert escape to the water? Saguaro Lake is a fun-filled option for boating, tubing, fishing, and swimming. Other activities include cruises, trails to hike, paddleboarding, kayaking, and eating out. There's also the option to stay the night and camp.
If you don't have a boat, you can rent one from company Precision Marine. Pontoons, fishing boats, kayaks, and canoes can also be rented out.
When you get out on the water, keep your eye out for tiny coves, such as Camper's Cove, and rocks for cliff jumping.
Pro-tip: Get there early (like before 10 a.m.) in order to secure a parking or camping spot. Here's a link for the day rates and annual pass to Saguaro Lake.
Fish (and more) at Cibecue Creek
Distance from Tucson: 3h • 147 miles
Cibecue is a tiny town located within White Mountains Apache Reservation. The tribal lands house a canyon on the Salt River with clear waters and beautiful scenery. In addition to Cibecue Creek, which holds record-breaking large, brown Apache trout, there's a cascading waterfall that you can hike to.
Hike to the falls
The hike to the falls is an out-and-back trail, 2 miles one way with little elevation gain. To get to the falls, you drive along a dirt road (sketchy at some points) following the Salt River. You will pass primitive campgrounds along the way and cross the creek to park and get to the trailhead. Expect to get your feet wet while hiking and have some fun splashing about with gorgeous canyon views.
Getting the permit
Whether you fish, camp, river raft or want to see the falls, you need a permit from the White Mountain Apache Tribe. A Cibecue Falls Access Permit, which sets you back $30 pp, gives you access to all of the above. If wanting to do the trail, make sure to ask exactly how you get there. Browse permits online here (and take cash or a cheque to pay) and you'll pay for them at a self-pay station in the parking area or at the Sinclare Gas Station.
Backpack through rugged Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness
Distance from Tucson: 4h5 • 164 miles
Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness isn't technically that far from Tucson, but you can't beeline there. The mileage seems close compared to the timing but you have to drive around the mountains along unpaved roads after Willcox. This prepares you for what's to come.
Described as "primitive and unconfined recreation," great measures are taken to protect the "essential wilderness character and fragile environment" of Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness.
Let me be frank, you're in for a wild ride on this one. The paths aren't paved, there are no toilets, and picnic tables aren't carefully placed for your enjoyment.
If, however, you seek raw, untainted beauty, you'll want to stay for good. The 19,410 acres of wilderness is the kind of social distancing we dream of outdoors. There are rugged cliffs, flowing water (all year), and diverse flora and fauna to explore.
You're backpacking, with all your kit, and roughing it. You can hike from morning to night or take you time, spending up to three days out there. You'll pitch your tent wherever you see fit. You need stamina and suitable clothing to hike through gravel, sand, and water crossings.
Don't let that scare you though. Photographers and bird watchers flock to the wilderness, too. Caves and canyons will crop up as you explore. And if you're looking for striking fall foliage, welcome. The beauty seems endless.
Things to note
The guidelines for entering the park are strict. You must have a permit to hike, camp, and hunt in the area. Only 50 people are allowed in the area each day—30 from the west entrance and 20 from the east. Permit reservations open up to 13 weeks in advance of your date of entry and advance booking is required. Reserve your permit here.
Other activities in Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness
While you can wander through the wilderness with hiking poles and a pack strapped to your back, there are other things to do. The area is a serene spot for horseback riding, camping, and hunting. Don't skip this if you're a rugged adventurer.
Find the Tonto Natural Bridge in Pine, Arizona
Distance from Tucson: 3h10 • 202 miles
North of Payson, Arizona, lies pine-covered mountains, waterfalls, and unique rock formations in Tonto Natural Bridge State Park. The park is also home to a 183-foot-high, 400-foot-long tunnel or what has been referred to as "the largest natural travertine formation in the world." Cue the oohs and ahhs.
Whether you view it from the top or hike to the bottom, you'll want to check out the award-winning natural formation. The steep, 2,200ft Gowen trail gets you to an observation deck at the bottom, while the 500ft Anna Mae trail leads you to the half-mile Pine Creek trail and the natural bridge.
After viewing the bridge, stay to picnic or camp (head to Christopher Creek or Flowing Springs Campground), head along a trail or browse the gift shop.
*please note that advance booking is required for the campsites.
Other activities in nearby Payson
Shop for antiques on Main Street
Fish in the Mogollon Rim lakes, such as Woods Canyon, Chevelon Canyon, Bear Canyon or Willow Springs
Spend a family-friendly day at Rancho Tonto Catch-A-Trout
Camp in Rim Country by the lakes, creeks or forests
Hike the 5-mile Cyress-Stewert Ridge trail or 2.7-mile Peach Orchard trail
Bike Cabin Loop trail or 5.9 mile Trail 200
Birdwatch at Green Valley Park - there's also a playground and it's perfect for stargazing
Rent a kayak/canoe/SUP from Rim Country Recreation and take to the water
Splash in the Natural Springs at Fossil Creek (and/or hike to the waterfall)
Visit Montezuma Castle in Camp Verde
Distance from Tucson: 3h05 • 204 miles
This one's for the history buffs. No, we aren't talking about museums, we're talking ruins, castles, petroglyphs, and other cool archaeological discoveries in Camp Verde. And there's wine... and water to cool off.
But first, ruins. Head to the Montezuma Castle Visitor Center to pay an entry fee (currently $10 pp) and get your map. On site, short trails will take you to the ruins and the Montezuma Well, which has over 1.5 million gallons of water flowing into it daily. Insane.
Montezuma Castle National Monument showcases 12th-century cliff-dwelling ruins, which housed the Sinagua people for over 400 years. It's a five-story limestone castle that overlooks Beaver Creek. It was President Theodore Roosevelt that draw attention to the ruins after stating that they were "of the greatest ethnological value and scientific interest." The monument now draws 350,000 people to the site each year and although no longer open to the public for exploration, you can get a sweet view of the preserved structure from below.
Other activities in Camp Verde
Live on the wild side at the Out of Africa Wildlife Park and zipline over dangerous beasts with Predator Zipline
Visit a local winery and taste away - Alcantara Vineyards & Winery and Clear Creek Vineyard & Winery are a good start
Travel back in time at Fort Verde State Historic Park, where historic guided tours and recreations take place
Visit Hauser & Hauser Farms on weekends for bagfuls of farmers market produce
Seek out more ruins at Tuzigoot National Monument—12th century Sinagua homes—and at the Honanki Ruins, where other cultures shared the space
Learn about the history of the area at Verde Valley Archaeology Center
Hit the trails with Arizona Offroad Tours, LLC
Shop for up-cycled, repurposed furniture and home decor at Ruby Road Vintage Mall
Hike 3.9 mile Copper Canyon Loop Trail—not much elevation gain, suitable for beginners, takes you to a waterfall—or 2.5 miles to the Verde Hot Springs for a dip
Kayak along the Verde River or take it up a notch and go for a guided kayak and wine tour with Verde Adventures
Watch the sunset at Watson Lake, Prescott
Distance from Tucson: 3h10 • 216 miles
Sensing a trend in locations here: water, outdoorsy, active. Guess I've lived in the desert too long and am in search of places to cool off, huh? ;)
Watson Lake, located at 3101 Watson Lake Dr. within the Granite Dells, is a mere 4 miles north of downtown Prescott (pronounced 'Pres-kitt')—which you should definitely check out along the way. The lake is characterized by open, blue waters with islands, granite boulders, and wildlife. It offers boating, kayaking, canoeing, hiking, rock climbing, camping (in summer), and day picnicking. There's a scenic park, woods, a disc golf course, and playground equipment to keep everyone happy. Sign me up!
It costs a small fee to enter the lake area ($3 a vehicle). From there, head to the north or south ramp (where the canoe, kayak, and bike rentals are) and... get in the water.
When it's time for sunset, find one of the many secluded spots to enjoy the changing sky–—simply walk the trail around the lake perimeter for an uncrowded view. It really is unique and romantic, don't miss out on this one.
Other activities in Prescott
Venture along the street Whiskey Row - grab a drink at a saloon, step into an art gallery, buy local candy
Visit the Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary
Hike or bike the Constellation Trails
Use your phone for a walking adventure to solve puzzles/challenges around the city
Ride the Prescott Peavine Trail on a pedal-assist ebike
Go mead and cider tasting at Superstition Meadery (live music and tapas await)
Check out the rotating display at Prescott Center for the Arts
Visit the Prescott Farmers Market, an open-air market with various locations around the city (everything is raised or grown locally)
Glimpse a slice of history (and soak) at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
Distance from Tucson: 4h25 • 245 miles
Gila National Forest (pronounced 'hee-la'), located northeast of Tucson, is for the rugged adventurer. In addition to the sprawling Gila Wilderness area, the national forest features eight mountain ranges and unusual wildlife (such as Mexican Grey Wolves and endangered fish) spanning 3.3 million acres.
You know that I'm going to throw down the words hiking and camping next, right? Well, yes, but there's more on offer. There are hot springs on many of the trails and ancient ruins to view—cue your inner Indiana Jones (Chris would be proud).
Regardless of your activity of choice, head to the visitor's center. When you get there, grab an area map and ask about the water flow out there.
Soak in the springs
The trails with hot springs include: Lightfeather; Jordan; Middlefork; Turkey Creek; San Francisco; and Melanie. Lightfeather is just half a mile from the visitor center, while Jordan—the most popular—is a six-mile hike away.
The Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument is an archaeological site, relatively small in size, with in-tact buildings that date back to the 13th century. A group of Mogollon people lived there for around 20 years. What?!
The monument is half a mile from the trailhead—the summer guided tours start there too. It loops back around, so wear comfortable shoes and bring water.
Other activities in the area
Bird watching, horseback riding, stargazing, and nature walks. If you wish to camp, view more info. about the available campgrounds here.
Bar crawl in Flagstaff
Distance from Tucson: 4h5 • 257 miles
Home of the Snowbowl Ski Resort, Northern Arizona University students, and myriad microbreweries in the historic downtown area, Flagstaff is a sweet spot for a getaway. While the crisp mountain air is a definite draw, don't sleep on the nightlife—the downtown area is walkable and has a lot to offer.
I explored the city, the largest in northern Arizona, on a weekend ski trip with friends. Ski by day, safely trawl streets by night? We think yes! Although we didn't visit every spot on the list below, they come highly recommended; we'll be back for a bar crawl and some weekend fun.
Here's where to go
For bites to eat along the way, I recommend stopping by Pizzicletta, Red Curry Vegan, Tinderbox Kitchen or Asian Station—if you haven't eaten at one of bar stops.
May your evening bring you live music, local brews or a classy cocktail... or two (or three). As the South Africans say, 'keep it tidy!' — behave yourself and stay safe ;)
Other activities in Flagstaff
Explore Flagstaff's Arboretum
Ski at the Arizona Snowbowl - or drive up Snowbowl road off-season, the chairlift operates year-round
Take a stroll (or bike ride) in Buffalo Park
Do an adventure course at Fort Tuthill County Park
Stand in awe of the natural waterfall system, Grand Falls (a little further out)
Catch live entertainment at Heritage Square
Hike Kachina trail
Stargaze at Lowell Observatory
Check out Meteor Crater, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument or Walnut Canyon National Monument
Hike, bike, and horseback ride at Picture Canyon Natural and Cultural Preserve
Do a free, timed 5km run at Wheeler Park (on Saturdays)
Take a self-guided tour to the ruins at Wupatki National Monument (a little further out)
Hike the trails in Sedona
Distance from Tucson: 3h45 • 229 miles
Excerpt from my previous blog post:
Sedona is a surreal desert town that has gained popularity from its breathtaking landscape and arts community. It’s a spiritual place abounding with hikes, picnic spots, cafes with views, and gemstones.
On my third visit to Sedona, I met up with a group of Canadian friends wanting to hike the trails. Our favorite trails from the trip were Devil's Bridge, Bell Rock, and Cathedral Peak (a fantastic spot to catch the sunset).
Pro-tip: Visit in spring or autumn when the temperatures are cooler.
Other activities in Sedona
Go mountain biking on the Aerie to Cockscomb Loop trail
Go off-roading on the Broken Arrow Trail
Dine at Elote (and get one of their famous margaritas) - must be there when the doors open to get a reservation
Swim at Oak Creek Canyon, Grasshopper Point or Slide Rock State Park
Shop at Tlaquepaque Arts & Shopping Village - and stop by Pump House Station Urban Eatery and Market for coffee
Go wine tasting along the Verde Valley Wine Trail (don't miss Page Springs Cellars)
*Jeep, RZR, and helicopter tours are also an option if you have the money to spend.
For more, read my blog post: Things to do in Sedona, Arizona: Weekend itinerary
Walk historic London Bridge in Lake Havasu City
Distance from Tucson: 5h15 • 307 miles
Do you remember the song "London Bridge is Falling Down?" We used to sing it as kids. This bridge is the same bridge from the song. And, true to the lyrics, the bridge was falling down. In swoops an American to save it and... ramble ramble, long live the queen!
Here's how the bridge got to the US
London Bridge, a 1,000-foot granite construction built in the early 1800s, was sinking. The bridge, engineered by John Rennie, had withstood WW1 strafing from planes and modern traffic but was slowly sinking into the River Thames—about an inch a year.
Renovations were out of the question—too expensive. A new, wider bridge had to be built. But what to do with the exiting bridge?
In steps our star-spangled superhero, Missouri-born Robert McCulloch. Or was he tricked? Wait, too early.
City counselor Ivan Luckin decided that the best solution to the sinking bridge would be to *convince* America (let's drop the whole country there) to buy the bridge from Britain. Bold move.
Well, we know how the story ends, but humor me.
So, Luckin (the Brit) crossed the waters to the land of the free, motivated to sell London Bridge. Now hear this: it would be a tough sell. Londoners considered the bridge to be dull, not as glamorous as other city bridges. But no matter, Luckin marketed the jolly antique as a "timeless landmark." Well, well, how appealing!
Now, it's time: in steps our star-spangled superhero, Missouri-born Robert McCulloch. Let's be real, he was eccentric, with millions to his name (so we're told). He was, in fact, the same man to purchase thousands of acres around Lake Havasu, Arizona, with the hopes of making it a tourist draw. When he caught wind of London Bridge, an (outlandish) idea was hatched to bring the bridge to Arizona. And he followed through.
Settling on a price was difficult, but after calculating dismantling and shipping costs, the final price of the bridge was $2,460,000 (April 1968). How was it moved? Brick by painstakingly labeled brick.
The bridge, bought from London by American tycoon Robert McCulloch, is one of the most flamboyant antique purchases in history.
Taking into account shipping, assembly, and the addition of steel-reinforced concrete to ensure it didn't collapse, London Bridge was opened to the public (three years later) on October 10, 1971.
Although the scheme was a crazy one, Robert McCulloch successfully drew thousands of tourists and residents to the area. And today, London Bridge in Lake Havasu City is the second most visited site in Arizona each year (second only to the Grand Canyon).
Round of applause for McCulloch!
Walk London Bridge
Head to Lake Havasu Visitor Information Center, at 422 English Village, to embark on a half-mile historic walking tour. Get further details or buy an online version here.
Other activities in Lake Havasu City
Rent a kayak or go on a kayak tour of the lake with Southwest Outfitters
Hop on a bar on the water with Cruisin' Tikis Havasu - food, snacks, ice boxes, and children over 13 welcome ;)
Find over a dozen miniature lighthouses by boat with Lake Havasu Boat Tours
Lie on the beach or take to the trails at Lake Havasu State Park
View stock car races at Havasu 95 Speedway
Toss a disk at White Sands National Park
Distance from Tucson: 4h50 • 333 miles
I grew up on beaches with golden sand. Imagine my amazement on a trip to Iceland when I discovered black sand beaches (read about it here) and then, another discovery in Arizona... white sand in the desert. Pair that with a favorite beach activity—playing frisbee—and we have ourselves a winning combo.
The white, gypsum dunes of New Mexico cover 275 square miles, making White Sands National Park the world's largest gypsum dune field. From sledding and dune driving to picnicking and backcountry camping, there's more to do than simply roam.
Entrance to the park will set you back $25 per vehicle or you can get hold of an annual pass for just $45. I recommend the pass—it covers entrance fees at national parks and national wildlife refuges throughout the country (big save).
From the visitor's center, go on an 16-mile (round trip) scenic dune drive with hiking trails, picnic areas, vault toilets, and parking areas en route. When you've found your spot, whip out your frisbee and try not to lose it. ;) Bicycles and motorbikes are welcome to share the road.
You'll also want to take advantage of the soft sand on a plastic "snow saucer," which can be purchased from the gift shop if you don't have your own. Let the sledding begin!
To camp, you need to walk a mile to a campsite with shimmering sand with a star-studded ceiling. As romantic as it sounds, note that there are no restrooms and you'll need to bring your own water. The park implores you to "leave no trace," so please leave the dunes as pristine as you found them.
Marvel at the Grand Canyon
Distance from Tucson: 5h20 • 342 miles
Oh, yes, I dropped the Grand Canyon into this post. It's driving distance from where I live, how could I not? I have visited twice (well, almost four times). ;)
My husband and I made two failed attempts before I actually got there—one to the northern rim, which closes in winter, and once to the southern rim but our car broke down en route and had to be towed. Ridiculous, right? I finally made it there with my mom. And then, Chris and I went the following year so that I would stop talking about it. Hah!
With close to six million visitors each year, it's easy to imagine that this natural wonder is a sight to behold. Want your mind blown? (The answer is always yes.) Here are some fast facts.
The Colorado Plateau was carved by the Colorado River, which deepened and widened it into the layered masterpiece we know it as today
The canyon is 277 river miles long, 18 miles wide, and 1 mile deep
The popular south rim stands 7000ft or 2134m above sea level, 1000ft less than the northern rim
Only 10% of visitors view the canyon from the north rim entrance
I recommend heading along I-10 and I-17 and passing through Williams, Arizona from Tucson. The historic city is situated along Route 66 and is equipped with themed stores, restaurants, and quirky highway mementos. My mom and I swept through to snap a photo, grab lunch, and browse the knickknacks.
If you want to up your tourist game, catch the rail from Williams to the Grand Canyon and back.
Where to stay
If you aren't camping, book accommodation early! All lodges are reserved through US Park Lodging and you need to email them and get a response regarding availability. We weren't able to get a spot within the canyon but stayed the night a 10-minute drive away at the Grand Canyon Plaza Hotel and it worked out perfectly.
View your accommodation options here.
Best time to view
Visit the Grand Canyon in late spring, late summer or early autumn when the temperatures are most agreeable. The north rim is closed in winter... don't get all the way there and have to turn around—sigh.
You must catch a sunrise, sunset or both. We did both.
If you drove to the Grand Canyon, enter into the national park (fee attached), and park in lot A near the Visitor's Center (usually full). Catch the free park shuttle to Monument Creek Vista or Mohave Point in the western part of the park for the best sunset view. Get there at least 30 minutes prior to sunset to secure a spot... it will crowd quickly.
For sunrise, head east. There are dozens of pull outs to catch the sunrise and it won't be crowded. Dress warmly—think hats, gloves, sleeping bag, thick coat. Climb out when you find a spot you like the look of and wait, listen to the birds, and watch the new day unfold before your eyes. We stopped at multiple points, including Grand Viewpoint, before reaching Navajo Point, and the Desert View Watchtower and loved them all.
Havasupai Falls is located within the Grand Canyon but not just anybody can get there. For those of you interested in experiencing the dream-like falls, take note.
You must have a reservation prior to arrival at Havasupai. Reservations for the year open on February 1 at 8 a.m. and book up within minutes (seconds). Deadly serious. Before that time comes, you will need to create an account here in order to make a reservation.
The Grand Canyon is popular for a reason. You'll know why when you visit.
Need some help?
If you're looking to pack more destinations into a trip, here are some options that group nearby attractions or break up a drive:
Trip 1: Ultimate AZ Road Trip
Want the best possible sights in the shortest amount of time? This:
- Phoenix (brunch or lunch on the way up)
- Flagstaff* (Spend the first night)
- Grand Falls (Sight-seeing on day 2, if you have the time for a detour)
- Grand Canyon* (view for sunset and spend the night, view sunrise)
- Williams (day 3 brunch/lunch)
- Sedona* (dinner, spend the night, morning to explore)
- Gilbert/Scottsdale (day 4 lunch/happy hour on the return journey)
*I recommend that you increase the length of time you spend at the starred places if you are able.
Trip 2: Girl's Trip
Ladies, you can shorten the trip as desired but this itinerary makes for a fantastic time away with the gals.
- Old Town Scottsdale (lunch on the way up)
- Sedona (weekend retreat)
- Montezuma Castle (sight-seeing on the return journey)
- Queen Creek Olive Mill (lunch on the way home)
Trip 3: Adventure Trip
While these getaways aren't as common as the Flagstaff-Sedona-Grand Canyon locations, they are treasures waiting to be discovered. Ready? Go.
Wishing for water
- Phoenix (brunch or lunch on the way up)
- Lake Havasu City (weekend away)
- Mesa (lunch on the return journey)
- Picacho Peak (hike) and The Domes nearby (explore)
- Cibecue Creek
- Rock Art Ranch
- Petrified Forest National Park
- Willcox (lunch, wine tasting)
- Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness
Trip 4: Family Trip
Bring your wagon to the orchards and picnic before heading to the water for a fun-filled weekend. If you'd rather camp and take scenic drives, Chiricahua is for you.
- Apple Annie's (fruit picking on the way over)
- Roper Lake State Park or Chiricahua National Monument (weekend away)
- Saguaro Lake (weekend away)
- Queen Creek Olive Mill (for an outdoor lunch or gelato stop)
Full day driving
Looking for longer trips within driving distance?
Head to Horseshoe bend and Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona; Monument Valley and nearby Mystery Valley; or San Diego and Temecula for ocean waves and wine tastings (with a stop-over in Yuma to refuel and stretch your legs at Gateway Park).
Wow, we've come to the end (for now).
The out-of-Tucson adventures and experiences I shared above have kept me entertained for more than two years. And I'd repeat them over and over if I could.
Take a chance on some of the locations you might usually overlook; there is so much to explore in Arizona, you won't run short of an answer to "What should we do this weekend?"
Let me know what you're interested in or if you've been to some of the places mentioned above, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Pin the images below to save ideas for weekends to come!