While there's plenty to see in Phoenix, the state capital is an ideal base for exploring the myriad attractions of Arizona and getting a taste of all this diverse state has to offer. Enjoy your fill of the arts, food and nightlife in the city, then plan a trip out into Arizona's open spaces.

From sampling locally produced wine and skiing vertiginous slopes to encounters with Arizona wildlife, here are seven of the best day trips from Phoenix.

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Ski in the desert in Flagstaff

Travel time: 2 hours 15 minutes

Surrounded by the world’s largest stand of ponderosa pines, the mountain city of Flagstaff sits at 7000ft, and cooler temperatures lure visitors trying to beat southern Arizona’s soaring summer heat. It’s a superb place to ski, with an impressive 55 runs at the Arizona Snowbowl. This adventure zone hits its peak in winter when locals descend upon 777 acres of skiable terrain, but you can ride the high-speed gondola year-round for sensational views of cinder cones and Sedona’s red rocks from a lofty 11,500ft.

How to get to Flagstaff: The drive from Phoenix takes two hours and 15 minutes driving north on I-17 (slightly longer if you detour through Sedona along state routes 179 and 89A). The FlixBus has regular departures to Flagstaff from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

Slide Rock State Park Arizona
You'll be stunned by the beauty of Slide Rock State Park, with its natural water slides into Oak Creek © Fotoluminate LLC / Shutterstock

Explore endless hiking and biking trails in Sedona

Travel time: 2 hours

Although you can glimpse Sedona’s celebrated red-rock formations while driving through the city, hiking or biking among ponderosa pines and prickly pear cactuses elevates the experience into something sublime. Sedona’s 200 multi-use trails cover an impressive 400 miles, leading to sandstone towers such as Cathedral Rock and Bell Rock, which are believed to be "vortex" sites, or natural energy centers.

After communing with nature, grab a bite at the Indian Gardens Café & Market in Oak Creek Canyon. While you’re here, drop by Garland’s next door, a boutique brimming with authentic Indigenous items such as Navajo rugs and squash blossom necklaces.

On the way to Sedona, don’t miss Montezuma Castle National Monument, a spot shaded by leafy trees, where you can peek at the remains of an ancient pueblo (settlement) built by the Sinagua people in around 1050 CE.

How to get to Sedona: It takes just under two hours to drive the 116 miles to Sedona along I-17, connecting to state route 179. Private shuttle minibuses offer daily trips to Sedona from Phoenix.

Top 10 things to do in Sedona

Visit dozens of wineries in the Verde Valley

Travel time: 1 hour 45 minutes

As its name implies, the Verde Valley in Arizona’s high desert is a glorious shade of green, a refreshing change from Phoenix’s sand-hued desert landscape. The valley's historic towns have largely left their mining days behind, and today, communities such as Clarkdale, Cottonwood and Cornville have turned their hand to producing wines.

The valley produces a surprising variety of varieties, from Roussanne and Riesling to Grenache and Merlot. Sample the results during a self-guided tour on the Verde Valley Wine Trail or at the wine festival in spring.  

Take time out from wine-touring for an interlude at Tuzigoot National Monument. There’s a museum and well-preserved ruins of pueblos look out over the Verde River. Here, you can wander around ancient structures the Sinagua people lived in for hundreds of years before leaving the valley in the 14th century.

How to get to Verde Valley: It takes about an hour and forty-five minutes to drive to Cornville, 104 miles north of Phoenix off I-17. Cottonwood lies about 5 miles west and Clarkdale is another 4 miles beyond. Private shuttle minibuses offer daily trips to Cottonwood from Phoenix.

Lone Spur Cafe on Whiskey Row in Prescott, Arizona
For a genuine Arizona experience, pull into the Lone Spur Cafe on Whiskey Row in Prescott © Andriy Blokhin / Shutterstock

Drink whiskey in Arizona’s oldest frontier saloon in Prescott

Travel time: 1 hour 45 minutes

Once Arizona’s territorial capital, the mile-high city of Prescott retains its stately appeal, with Victorian homes and a Neoclassical Revival-style courthouse dominating downtown. At the heart of this area is Whiskey Row, named for the saloons that sprang up here during the gold rush to serve everyone from prospectors and cowboys to gamblers and outlaws. 

Wet your whistle at The Palace, the oldest frontier saloon in Arizona. Gunslinging legends such as Wyatt Earp, Virgil Earp and Doc Holliday once sidled up to its 1880s-era Brunswick Bar, which is still in use after it was rescued from a fire in 1900 (dedicated patrons carried it across the street to safety).

How to get to Prescott: This 100-mile trip takes about an hour and forty-five driving north from Phoenix on I-17, then east along state route 69. Private shuttle minibuses offer daily trips from Phoenix to Prescott.

Explore Jerome, the wickedest town in the West

Travel time: 2 hours

Jerome's gambling dens, brothels and copper mine (once the largest in Arizona) are long gone, but this not-quite-ghost-town (almost 500 people live here) still has hints of its days as the wickedest town in the West.

The winding road to the cliffside village of Jerome atop Cleopatra Hill leads to an enclave of historic buildings occupied by local art boutiques, restaurants and wine-tasting rooms. Plus there’s a museum and the quirky Sliding Jail, the remains of a concrete cell block that seemingly made a run for it.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this ghost town is reputed to have its share of paranormal activity, especially at the Jerome Grand Hotel, which housed the United Verde Hospital in the 1920s. Drop by the hotel’s Asylum Restaurant for lunch and views of the valley below.

How to get to Jerome: Getting to Jerome involves a two-hour drive (111 miles) north from Phoenix on I-17, via state routes 260 and 89A.

Woman on a white horse in a desert setting
Get the cowboy experience at the White Stallion Ranch in the Sonoran Desert near Tucson © Kris Davidson / Lonely Planet

Experience the Sonoran Desert up close in Tucson

Travel time: 1 hour 45 minutes

Sure, you can see saguaro cactuses in and around Phoenix, but there’s an otherworldly appeal to standing in great stands of these giants that can weigh up to eight tons apiece. Saguaro National Park, which is divided into east and west zones, straddles the city of Tucson. You can explore the park year-round, spotting historic limestone kilns and petroglyphs created by the Native American inhabitants of the area along well-marked trails. Visit from April to June when the saguaros burst into white blooms and bear red oval-shaped fruit.  

Need a reprieve from the heat? A drive on the Sky Island Scenic Byway takes you along twists and turns, eventually ending at 9000ft-tall Mount Lemmon, the highest point in the Santa Catalina Mountains and the southernmost spot in the continental US where you can go skiing. 

How to get to Tucson: It takes an hour and forty-five minutes to cover the 113 miles to Tucson on I-10. Bus and shuttle services to Tucson are available, but you’ll need a car to explore the park.

Spot black bears and bald eagles in Tonto National Forest

Travel time: 2 hours

If you’re yearning for some wilderness after spending time in the city, head to Tonto National Forest. Its 590,000 acres are studded with fossil-like travertine rock formations and dotted with mountain wildflowers, and the forest provides a home for species such as black bears, bald eagles and rattlesnakes.

Named for the Tonto Apache people who originally inhabited the area, this diverse ecosystem spreads from 1300ft to 7900ft, offering streams for trout fishing and pine tree-fringed backcountry trails galore. Naturally, it’s much cooler up here too, which makes seeking solitude in places like fast-flowing Fossil Creek and the paths in the Hell’s Gate Wilderness Area all the more appealing. Expect snow at higher elevations in winter.

How to get to Tonto National Forest: It takes about two hours to drive the 65-mile route northeast from Phoenix to Tonto on state route 87 (Beeline Highway).

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