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Road tripping from Phoenix? Here are 6 destinations to set your sights on

May 06, 2022
11 min read
Saguaro Curve
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With its dry, sunny weather and picturesque surroundings, Phoenix, Arizona, is a popular year-round destination with plenty of fun attractions. For travelers eager to get out of the capital, though, there are also many great spots within driving distance of the Valley of the Sun.

Explore the surrounding trails, incredible natural landscapes and smaller cities just beyond Phoenix. They offer iconic views and plenty of history — if you’re anything like me, learning the backstory of a destination is an important part of any trip.

Whether you want to discover a new favorite destination, or you're itching for a scenic escape after spending too much time inside over the past two years, here are six of our favorite road-trip destinations for a day trip or weekend getaway from Phoenix.

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1. Gold Canyon, Arizona

Lost Dutchman State Park over the Superstition Mountains. (Photo by David Kiene/Getty Images)
Lost Dutchman State Park over the Superstition Mountains. (Photo by David Kiene/Getty Images)

Distance from Phoenix: 1 hour

What to do in Gold Canyon

If you’re interested in getting some exercise while discovering the region’s history, head to the Hieroglyphic Trail. This moderate trail, located in the Superstition Mountains, measures 1.5 miles each way. It leads to a steep valley where you can take in sweeping views of the landscape, as well as ancient petroglyphs from Hohokam natives who called the region home about 1,500 years ago. After you work up an appetite, pop into Wahoo’s Restaurant & Bar, located on Topaz Drive in Gold Canyon, for beer-battered mushrooms and the namesake three-pound burger with house-made jalapeño cream cheese and bacon.

Related: Going on road trips this summer? Consider using these credit cards

Where to stay in Gold Canyon

Gold Canyon has a few places to bed down, but one of our favorites is Gold Canyon Golf Resort & Spa. The hotel features two 18-hole golf courses, Dinosaur Mountain and Sidewinder, and offers beautiful views of the Superstition Mountains. Rooms start at $265 per night. You can easily relax and unwind here after a day of hiking and golfing — just be sure to book with a credit card that will help you maximize your travel purchases, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve (3 points per dollar) or the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (2 points per dollar).

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Related: Why the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is a great pick for golf fans

2. Flagstaff, Arizona

The Walnut Canyon cliff dwellings. (Photo by E3SN/Getty Images)
The Walnut Canyon cliff dwellings. (Photo by E3SN/Getty Images)

Distance from Phoenix: 2 hours

What to do: Located northeast of Phoenix, this town is popular among hikers. It’s the perfect place to spend an afternoon or a long weekend thanks to its cool breweries (grab a pint at Lumberyard Brewing Company) and coffee shops (refuel at Kickstand Kafe). Travelers can also use Flagstaff as a comfortable overnight stop before venturing on to the Grand Canyon, which is only about two hours away.

Like Gold Canyon, Flagstaff is surrounded by trails. Head east to Walnut Canyon, with its sheer, vertical cliffs, to see endemic plants and animals, such as mountain firs, canyon wren and elk. It’s the perfect place to enjoy meaningful time outdoors if you’ve been working from home.

Related: 10 tips for anyone taking a road trip this summer

Where to stay: To get a taste of downtown Flagstaff, stay at the Hotel Monte Vista. Open since the mid-1920s, the Hotel Monte Vista sits just off historic Route 66. Guests can grab a drink at the cocktail lounge which was disguised as a newspaper publishing house during Prohibition. Room rates start around $100 per night.

If you’d prefer to book a stay with points, Marriott has four properties located right in Flagstaff. Just be sure to compare the cash rates before emptying your points balance, since rates start at $139.

Related: How to redeem points with the Marriott Bonvoy program

3. Palm Springs, California

Palm Springs, California. (Photo by Westend61/Getty Images)
Palm Springs, California. (Photo by Westend61/Getty Images)

Distance from Phoenix: 4 hours

What to do in Palm Springs

Honestly, who doesn’t want to escape to California for a long weekend these days? Quirky Palm Springs is the perfect road-trip destination for travelers seeking a sunny escape with excellent golfing, great food and stunning midcentury modern architecture. Tee up at the reopened Escena Golf Club, where you can also elbow up for California-fusion fare.

Related: 9 great restaurants for families in Palm Springs

If golfing isn’t your thing, venture out to Cabazon Outlets, a sprawling shopping paradise perfect for travelers looking to snag a deal at a bevy of shops ranging from Oakley and Merrill to Tommy Bahama and Brighton.

Related: 6 tips for surviving a road trip with a large family

Where to stay in Palm Springs

Spend the night at the Kimpton Rowan Palm Springs Hotel, where rates can get as low as 31,000 IHG points or less than $300 per night. Guests will enjoy spaces filled with midcentury furnishings, though the rooftop pool is the property’s crown jewel.

For Marriott loyalists, the Triada Palm Springs, Autograph Collection has a central location and rates from $275 or 40,000 points on off-peak nights. Just beyond Palm Springs, the clifftop Ritz-Carlton, Rancho Mirage will set you back 50,000 points on off-peak nights. Cash rates can drop as low as $250, but can exceed $600 per night.

4. San Tan Valley, Arizona

The San Tan Valley. (Photo by SCEDIT/Shutterstock)
The San Tan Valley. (Photo by SCEDIT/Shutterstock)

Distance from Phoenix: 1 hour

What to do in San Tan Valley

For a family-friendly adventure, visit Schnepf Farms, an organic farm where you can pick your own fruits and vegetables. With 300 acres, Schnepf Farms is the perfect place to enjoy fresh air and naturally grown, pesticide-free produce (peppers, cucumbers, kale and green onions, among others). They are especially known for their peaches, and picking season is usually in May.

Related: Farm to flight: Korean Air grows its cabin food from its own Jedong Ranch

If you’re into clean eating, check out the Queen Creek Olive Mill. You can tour the grounds and learn how to make extra virgin olive oil, the best uses for it in the kitchen and why it’s so healthy.

Related: 10 airlines that let you get your regional foodie fix

San Tan Valley also has incredible trails and peaks to explore, including the Goldmine Trail. The trail is relatively steep and takes you to the highest point in San Tan Mountain Regional Park, Goldmine Mountain.

Where to stay in San Tan Valley

Schnepf Farms offers several RVs and Airstreams available for rent for travelers searching for a weekend glamping trip. Some rentals come with outdoor seating and uninterrupted mountain views. Most rentals start at $198 a night, and you can’t beat the location.

5. Coyote Buttes North, Utah-Arizona border

The Wave. (Photo by Praveen P.N/Getty Images)
The Wave. (Photo by Praveen P.N/Getty Images)

Distance from Phoenix: 5.5 hours

What to do in Coyote Buttes North

Though quite a ways north of Phoenix, this stunning area is worth the drive — and a far cry from your home office. Visitors will be drawn to The Wave, a natural phenomenon in the Coyote Buttes North area along the Utah and Arizona border. This copper-and-tan-banded rock formation attracts photographers from around the globe.

Expect a six-mile round-trip hike to and from The Wave. You can hike there with a guide, but if you plan to navigate the trail on your own, a map and compass or GPS is recommended. Only a certain number of permits are available each day to hike to The Wave, so it’s important to plan in advance.

Related: 8 survival tips for wilderness hikes

You can also explore around Kanab, Utah, while you’re in the area. As the name implies, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park features vibrant sand dunes known to move as much as 50 feet per year. So even if you’ve been before, the view will be slightly different every time you return.

Related: The best U.S. state parks

Where to stay in Coyote Buttes North

The Grand Circle Bed and Breakfast is a charming place to stay, with easy access to beautiful trails in the area. Rates start at $120. This is just one of multiple hotels in the Canyon Collections group. Others include the Canyons Boutique Hotel, Canyons Lodge and Quail Park Lodge. There’s also a Holiday Inn Express and Suites in Kanab for IHG loyalists. Rates start around $120 and IHG members can redeem a reward night for as low as 20,000 points.

Related: Transferring ultimate rewards points to IHG

6. Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park. (Photo by Danny Lehman/Getty Images)
Saguaro National Park. (Photo by Danny Lehman/Getty Images)

Distance from Phoenix: 2 hours

What to do in Tucson

The West is full of beautiful national parks, but one of the most iconic symbols of the West is the cactus — and Saguaro National Park is full of them. Declared a national monument in 1933 by Herbert Hoover, the park has a long history. Learn about cacti in the gardens on the east and west sides of the visitor center, and take in beautiful sunsets on the Tanque Verde Ridge Trail (a half-mile hike) from the Javelina Rocks pullout on the east or from the Gates Pass on the west side. Sample Sonoran hot dogs (bacon-wrapped franks) which are a Tucson staple, or head to The Neighborhood for their award-winning Michelada.

Where to stay in Tucson

Camping at the Saguaro National Park is an option, but plan ahead because it’s first come, first served. Vehicles cannot access the campsites, so visitors must hike there. Camping permits start at $8 per campsite per night.

Looking for something a bit more upscale? Stay at the Westin La Paloma Resort and Spa, located in the middle of the Sonoran Desert. With views of the Santa Catalina Mountains, this Westin property has an ideal location with even better views. For a standard room, Marriott Bonvoy members would need 30,000 points per night during off-peak dates, and cash rates may be an even better value, starting as low as $189.

Related: The best hotel credit cards for 2022

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.