5 Family-Friendly Desert Adventures Outside Phoenix, Arizona

The Southwest is full of natural wonders, and the Grand Canyon State is no exception. Arizona is brimming with breathtaking rock formations, beautiful pine forests, and more saguaro cactuses than you can shake a rain stick at. It's no surprise so many want to take their family out to explore the majesty of the nation's 48th state.

However, suppose you're a parent living in Mesa, Scottsdale, or some other borough of the Phoenix metropolitan area. In that case, chances are you're a busy worker who doesn't have all the time in the world to research destinations and leave for days on end. That being the case, we've created this guide to the best day trip destinations from the Phoenix area. We hope it gets you and your family where you're going faster.

5 of the Best Day Trips From Phoenix for Families

1. The Tucson Area

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The Tucson area is packed with activities and attractions that are custom-fit to family fun. And, since the drive there generally takes a little less than 2 hours, it means you can do even more once you've arrived. So, if you're building a Tucson itinerary, it should include at least a couple of the following suggestions:

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  • Saguaro National Park
  • Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
  • Pima Air and Space Museum
  • Mission San Xavier Del Bac

2. Sedona Area

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The Sedona area is only about a 2-hour drive from Phoenix, and it makes for an excellent central destination on a road trip comprised of multiple stops. Your options include fun outdoor adventures like biking in Red Rock Canyon, swimming on natural waterslides at Slide Rock State Park, enjoying the photo-op-ready hiking trails at Devil's Bridge, or enjoying guided tours and horseback riding excursions sites like Oak Creek Canyon. Of course, if you're feeling like something just slightly more civilized, you can always visit the shops, art galleries, and restaurants located in the small town hub of Sedona.

3. The Prescott Area

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At just under 100 miles away, Prescott is one of the fastest and most accessible places to drive from Phoenix. As such, it is a preferred destination where great day trips come into play. The following options are attractions kids are known to enjoy:

  • Water recreation such as swimming, fishing, and kayaking at Watson Lake
  • Exploring the historic downtown area
  • Seeing the animals in Heritage Park Zoo
  • Scenic drives to the historic mining town of Jerome, AZ


4. Montezuma Castle National Monument

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There are many natural and artificial national monuments that lay within a one to two-hour drive from Phoenix. Montezuma Castle is a national favorite, and kids don't have to be briefed on the Native American Sinagua people to appreciate their handiwork. Your kids will probably be more curious about why your own family doesn't live in such a fabulous cliffside castle.

Similar destinations you might consider are sites like Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, which is only an hour's drive southeast of the Phoenix area. Then, of course, there's also the Tonto National Monument, which features historic cliff dwellings and is nestled only about 2 hours away among the majestic pines of the Tonto National Forest.

5. Flagstaff Area

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Besides the serene scenic drive through the Coconino National Forest, Flagstaff offers several attractions to choose from, depending on your family's preferences. Options include, but not are limited to:

  • Exploring the Coconino National Forest
  • Visiting the Lowell Observatory
  • For those coming during the winter months, snow sports at the Arizona Snowbowl.
  • Finally, if you feel like you've got a few more miles in you, there's the Meteor Crater Natural Landmark east of Flagstaff off the I-40 or Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument north off Highway 89. After all, craters always make a real impact, and kids blow their tops for volcanoes.

Who Didn't Make the Cut?

Day Trips from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon

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While family-friendly day trips from the Phoenix area to Grand Canyon National Park and the Colorado River might seem like a no-brainer to some, they're a no-go for us. At over 220 miles away, this popular Arizona staple takes around 3 hours to reach, meaning you'd likely spend as much as 7 hours on the road getting there when you add in bathroom breaks and stops.

And we're only talking about the South Rim here! Montezuma forbids you to attempt to drive to any other part of the canyon and back in a day with kids in tow.

Tombstone, Arizona

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We know, we know. It's a total bummer that we're not suggesting you head down to show your kids where the famous Old West gunfight at the O.K. Corral happened. We're talking one-day trips, and that ghost town is a 200-mile drive! Now, if you're planning a whole weekend getaway devoted to the history of the Wild West, that's a different story.

Mexico and Neighboring States

Just like the Grand Canyon and Tombstone, Mexico and Arizona's neighboring states are too far off to be considered serious contenders for the best day trips from the Phoenix area.

Got a favorite family destination for day trips from the Phoenix area? Help a mother (or father) out on our Wide Open Roads Facebook!

READ MORE: 5 Arizona Road Trips Bringing Culture & Natural Beauty to Life